The headlines may scream "war, drone bombings, militants, kidnappings," but they fail to reveal the positive strides which the city of Karachi has experienced lately. With a population of over 15 million, Karachi is Pakistan's largest city and the world's fourth largest metropolitan city. It's a bustling hub of commercial activity as well as a city in the throes of social change. The poor huddle in shanty-towns amidst the well-to-do enclaves where the abundance of wealth is staggering, yet the city continues to reinvent itself as pockets of civil society take root.
Take T2F (The Second Floor). It's a new café cum hangout for Karachi's budding poets, writers, artists -- basically anyone looking for a welcoming public space to meet and mingle with others interested in fostering Karachi's nascent intelligentsia. The brainchild of Sabeen Mahmud, a young woman with the goal of 'intellectual poverty alleviation' (I love that term!), T2F has gained a faithful following of activists committed to being the change they dream about under her PeaceNiche banner. Social entrepreneurs, engaged youth, civic-minded citizens -- they're all here discussing the future of their country the way they imagine it. Sabeen has succeeded in creating a space which encourages the 'space between your ears', as she puts it.
Take Cynara Siddiqui, a free-lance documentary filmmaker. She's a veteran news videographer from the DAWN English-TV program who's currently working on a timely documentary for French TV about Pakistan's social issues. Committed to capturing societal changes by turning her keen eye towards Pakistan's unsung heroes, Cynara's ability to move amongst the people and translate their stories for Western audiences is invaluable to the future of global news. With her upbringing in Switzerland, Pakistan, and England, it's going to be internationally-savvy, bi-lingual, global citizens like her who will be the new voices of tomorrow.
Take Sumbul Khan, curator of the Poppy Seed Gallery. An "experimental art space committed to promoting critical reflection on Contemporary Pakistani Art", the gallery is a forum for art lovers who gather to discuss and encourage artists from all over the country. The variety and breadth of exhibitions held in its first year alone is a testament to Sumbul's vision of bringing art to the people and vice versa. Readings, drawing with live models, exploring religious art, bringing art critics and artists together -- it's all happening in this new gallery.
In a patriarchal society rife with tribalism, it's remarkable that the women are the engineers of social change. Keep an eye on these three visionaries in particular. When is the world going to realize that the women of Pakistan already envision a future free from war, but need more of us to join them in making this mirage a solid reality?