Pakistan Diaries: Karachi

Our time in Karachi was mostly occupied by the wedding.  Other attempts at being tourists were repeatedly thwarted by an incompetent driver or family commitments.  However on Christmas Day (a holiday that neither Sarah nor I celebrate) we got to go to Jinnah’s tomb.  Jinnah is the founder of Pakistan who negotiated its partition from India with Ghandi.  On Jinnah’s birthday, if you’re in Karachi, or you’re particularly patriotic, you’ll find yourself at his enormous tomb.

Politics in Pakistan is funny.  Without a great tradition for democracy, the best leaders are purely judged on how effective they are at running the country, and not by how they arrived at power.  Therefore General Musharraf, who executed a coup a few years before he discovered that he could be America’s best ally in the region, is not resented because of this.  In fact I heard a number of individuals sing his praises because of the progress he has made for the country.

I was definitely not prepared for the level of political dissent I found.  Every day in the paper pundits of all sorts yap, criticize, and posture in ways that would make Tucker Carlson proud and Jon Stewart cringe.  Dissent, criticism, and praise of the government is ubiquitous throughout the country, and nobody seems to fear for their safety except the former leaders of the country that were toppled in the coup.  This taught me a crucial lesson, not all coups result in dictatorships.

This is an amazing contrast to Cuba, where my Cuban friends were wary of criticizing Castro, and in fact wouldn’t even say his name.  If they wanted to refer to him in a sentence they would use their fingers to stroke an imaginary beard to indicate Fidel.

At Jinnah’s tomb on Christmas this was apparent as the guards on duty carefully orchestrated competing political parties who had come to pay their respects.  Presumably because it would have resulted in violence, one party was kept at the gates while another would approach the tomb.

After the tomb we went to a local hotel to have lunch.  This was uneventful except for the presence of Christmas decorations designed to make the Westerners feel more comfortable.  It certainly did nothing for us.  However Santa Claus made an appearance, and that made us both distinctly uncomfortable given his bizarre visage.

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