Monday, May 4, 2009

Karachi Women: Persecuted or Paranoid

Fear travels fast in turbulent times. A few weeks ago, a friend in Karachi wrote to me about women around her feeling afraid of harassment by pro-Taliban men when they went out in public. She quoted incidents she had heard of occurring in shopping markets frequented by the elite of the city. As residents of the bustling, diverse economic capitol of Pakistan brace themselves for more political turmoil and violence coming from the Taliban-military conflict, they are increasingly afraid of the conflict reaching their own neighborhoods. While an extremist religious revolution has never exactly found favor in the larger Pakistan (the extremist Jama'at-e-Islami has never been a nationally representative party), lately, fear has taken over political justifications.

This article sheds some light on the streak of paranoia, or well-founded fear the Taliban have provoked in the women of Karachi.

Beginning of the End

As things in Pakistan steadily deteriorate, political pundits on the American media are now predicting a takeover of the state by the Taliban, citing the attacks on Buner, less than sixty miles away from the Pakistani capitol. The latest casualty figures released by the Pakistani military in Buner show some success for the army, which says its operation is continuing smoothly. But civilian deaths have continued to rise.

Some of these pundits, like conservative radio host Monica Crowley, have a told-you-so-esque angle to their predictions--snide and gleeful but largely ignorant of the facts. For instance, Crowley declared this week that the Taliban will now 'take over the South', without having a clue of the stark differences between the ethnic and political makeup of Southern and Northern Pakistan. Despite Taliban's intrusions in the metropolis of Karachi, there is much that will stand in the way of a religious revolution in Sindh and Baluchistan before the Taliban, hailing overwhelmingly from the North, "take 'em over". A nation-wide civil mutiny this is not. It's a little more complicated.

Other analysts, especially former CIA and military officials who have had more experience with the region are more cautious in their prediction. The optimism of yesterday has waned. But it is clear that many see the situation completely out of control of the current Pakistani President. Yet another military rule is being predicted; those who created the monster in the first place must step in to leash it.

As for Pakistanis like me, I'm doing what Pakistanis have always done. Waiting. Waiting for another chapter, another explosion of "democracy", another new beginning of another end. May God keep folks back home safe.