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Mahawish Rezvi Headshot

Karachi's Violent Existence

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I went home for the holidays this year - to Karachi, the commercial capital of Pakistan. I had a fitting with a designer, newly famous after his showing at the much talked-about Pakistan fashion week. Blissfully driving to his home, I noticed a procession of people charging my way. Then I got a phone call from my dad saying, "Come home now! There has been a bomb blast in the city."

Karachi is a city of contradictions. For the most part the port city had been sheltered from all the suicide bombings happening every day across other cities of Pakistan. But the peace is fragile, shattered easily.

Karachites always say their city is safer than Lahore or Islamabad, where the Taliban have a taken a liking to blowing up military institutions and markets. According to some estimates militants have killed nearly 3,000 civilians since July 2007 in Pakistan.

But in Karachi the calm is uneasy. Violence is always just underneath the surface waiting to erupt at any given moment. In late December a bomb went off in a religious procession killing 43 people. The people in the procession then turned into an angry mob lighting shops in the wholesale market on fire, costing millions of rupees in damages.

Karachi is the economic hub of Pakistan. It contributes nearly 70 percent of the country's taxes. And violent events of the past few months have left the city suffering. Businesses have had to remain closed for days at end. Political parties use the unrest to their advantage calling for strikes, which cause more harm to the local economy.

But then there is this resilient side to the city as well. Its citizens venture out even when the security situation is tense. People go about their daily lives as much as possible. Weddings, one of the favorite pastimes of Pakistanis, continue till the wee hours of the night. Women continue to shop endlessly and if one chooses to ignore the news, life can be very normal, consisting of dinner parties and weddings at a regular basis.

As a Karachite I have the ability to be desensitized by the security concerns, but a phone call last week from home struck close. My cousin was at the biggest public hospital of the city when a bomb went off. It was part of a twin bombing earlier this month that killed 31. A suicide bomber drove a motorcycle into a bus and later a bomb exploded in the parking lot of the hospital where most of the injured were being treated. My cousin wasn't injured, but having a family member so close to the violence was a reminder of what we are living though.

The people of Pakistan are paying the true cost of this war. Operations in the north of the country lead to retaliation by the Taliban in our cities. Karachi is said to have been a safe haven for the Taliban. It is easy to hide amongst a population of nearly 18 million people, in a city lacking proper infrastructure.

Karachi has had an ever changing demographic. More Pashtuns are arriving, leading to ethnic tensions between the various ethnic groups who have shared this city for the last few years.

Have the Taliban decided to attack the country where it would hurt the most, its economic hub? All I can say to my fellow citizens is to remain resilient. People from all walks of life show their resilience every time there is a security lapse in the city, families from all corners do not hesitate to populate the teahouses, bazaars and kebab shops till late at night.

My hope is that bomb blasts disappear from this beautifully diverse city of mine. And that Karachi continues to host more fashion weeks, film festivals and weddings for years to come.