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Why Karachi Matters

The latest offering from the imprudent documentary crew at Vice magazine is a guide to Karachi, Pakistan’s center of finance, education, and bloody violence. From burned-out neighborhoods to a smoldering dump on the outskirts of town, the Vice boys fraternized with all the elements of a gangster city: inept police forces, murderous politicians, mafioso shadow governors, and even the junkies.

As Suroosh Alvi, co-founder of Vice, narrates:

In 2011, more than three times as many people were killed in Karachi than the number of people killed in American drone strikes in the tribal areas.

Why does that matter? Because Pakistan matters—whether you’re an American worried about the extremists, an Indian worried about the nukes, or an Afghan worried about Pakistan’s ambitions. Basically, Pakistan is a powder keg, and Karachi is the detonator that could set it all off.

Hat tip to Michael J. Totten, who insists that the video should be “required viewing for journalists and American foreign policy makers who deal with Pakistan for a living.”

I’ve been to Karachi a couple of times on my own, and while I didn’t get into some of the slum areas profiled in the Vice documentary, I saw enough to take the basic point. I’ve been there when the city was nearly shut down over outbreaks of ethnic and political violence; there are some incredibly bright and public spirited people in this city, but so far they are nowhere near charting a realistic program to halt an inexorable downward slide.

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  • KevinV

    I’m training in Urdu right now in advance of a posting to Pakistan on USG business, and I have to say that this was a real wake-up call for me. All of my language instructors are decent, hard-working and patriotic Pakistanis, and they obviously are in a great deal of pain about the state of their country. This seems…well, it seems like a hopeless situation. With nukes.

  • DougS

    Vice Mag!!! Check out 3/5 for the best example of why WRM is posting this….a Keystone Cop raid on Taliban. Imprudent is the word.
    Other excellent Vice travel docs: North Korean Labor Camp in Russia and this
    their guide to Liberia.

  • Lorenz Gude

    Michael J Totten is one of the few modern journalists I trust, in part because he is reader supported and in part because I have read him for years and I have never felt he was filtering his reporting to conform to a ‘narrative’ much less a hackneyed (and therefore instantly recognizable) meme. He may err, he may at times be blinded by his own culture, but boy he works hard to call it as straight as he can. The Net disintermediates the ‘narrative’ and both Totten (reporting) and Prof Meade (informed opinion) provide a refreshing alternative to the same old same old.

  • Luke Lea

    Why Karachi matters? Karachi doesn’t matter. Not to us anyway.

  • Luke Lea

    @ KevinV – “This seems…well, it seems like a hopeless situation. With nukes.”

    But does Pakistan really have nukes? I raise this question because her original demonstration looked like dynamite (with peasants) and because Israel doesn’t seem worried. Of course when India set off theirs the Pakistani people felt they had to have one too, whether they could afford one or even had the capacity to build one was a separate question. In these circumstances it was in everyone’s interest — China, India, U.S., Israel, the Pakistani elite itself — for Pakistan to appear to have nuclear weapons rather than actually build them.

    Something else made me suspicious. You may remember there was an incredible amount of detail in the mainstream media about how exactly Pakistan fooled the West to build their bomb, complete with the cooperation of German and Canadian companies that shipped critical components. Well, that is just the sort of “story” the CIA knows how to “create” (and that Israel knows how to sniff out were it real). You’ll note we never learned zip about how India developed their bomb.

    Of course all this would be strictly top secret.

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