The NPR Morning Edition host talks about Pakistan, the subject of his new book, Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi, and why some people might find him annoying.
What drew you to Pakistan and Karachi, the country’s booming city of 13 million? It began as a place that I was assigned to go, but I began thinking that Karachi was a place where I could see the future. Because it is this unbelievably quickly growing city—and there are cities like that all around the world. This urban landscape is being created before our eyes, and it feeds on itself.
How stable is the political situation in Pakistan?It is stable in a massively unstable way, if that makes any sense. Obviously it’s a gravely serious political situation, and it’s a country where you think things can’t get any worse, and then there’s a giant flood. And yet there is a resilience in the people. When I’ve been in Karachi, there have been weeks when the entire city will shut down because there’s a massive gunfight, assassinations, people driving around on motorcycles with weapons and killing people. Businesses close, kids can’t get to school. Then the violence abates, and the city just comes to life again.
How is Karachi different from the area where Osama bin Laden was hiding? One remarkable difference is the role of women and the visibility of women. If you go to the far northwest, women almost universally have to cover their hair, and they will not be in positions of authority. In Karachi, there will be women who dress conservatively, but there will also be women who have been allowed to go get an education themselves. Women can make a wider range of choices about their lives.