Karachi Update

So this happened in Karachi yesterday: 35 injured in violent protests in Karachi

We started getting news, through WhatsApp and on Twitter, that social media was going to be shut down because of what was happening in Islamabad: an 18 day protest by religious extremists that got violent when the police attempted to clear it out. Around lunchtime, maybe 2 pm, we started hearing that there were protests near Star Gate and the airport (that’s on the other side of town from where I live) that were spreading to Shahrae Faisal, the city’s main artery.

By 4 pm they’d come to Teen Talwar (the Three Swords roundabout, a major landmark in south Karachi). I got a call informing me the Alliance Francaise and Cote Rotie would be closed for the rest of the day. The group of protestors there was quite small, but we don’t take chances with students and teachers.

Evening plans canceled, we stayed home and tried to follow the news, but once most people were pushed off social media except for those with VPNs, it was hard to know what was really going on. We heard in the evening that the army had been called in by the Interior Ministry to take control of Islamabad.

It’s quiet in Karachi this morning. I expect the Rangers (paramilitary forces who have been in de facto control of Karachi for the last 2 years) are keeping an eye on things, but they usually let the police handle protests like these, unless they really go out of control.

When something like this happens in Karachi, you just sit tight and restrict your movements to your neighborhood. Shops and small markets are still open, so are gas stations. But things can quickly turn nasty, so at any point you might find the gas stations closed and boarded up and roads blocked. C’est la vie a Karachi…

In case you’re wondering what sparked these protests in the first place, it seems that there was a slight amendment to the 2017 Election Bill’s election form which dropped the words “on oath” when talking about how all candidates would have to declare they believed in the finality of the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him (this point is in fact the basis of anti-Ahmedi discrimination — that Ahmedis do not believe in this finality and that makes them non-Muslims).

Our politicians are now making it a point to publicly swear — on social media, or for the press — that they believe in the finality of the Prophet (peace be upon him). This is political grandstanding akin to McCarthyism in 1950s America: instead of anti-Communist vows, we have religious vows, to “prove” patriotism, because in Pakistan, being a Sunni Muslim (male) is a condition to being a full-fledged citizen of Pakistan, it would seem.

Religious nationalism is a dangerous thing.

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