If you have some free time today, spend it watching this documentary:
Produced by Vice, this remarkable documentary on violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, begins with the statement, “in 2011, more than three times as many people were killed in Karachi than the number of people killed in American drone strikes in the tribal areas.”
Over the course of 42 minutes, Vice founder Suroosh Alvi and his co-host Basim Usmani take us into the heart of the slums of Lyari town, accompany a police operation ostensibly targeting the Taliban, join a Pakistan People’s Party politician on his first visit in four years to his hostile constituency, question heroin users on their addiction and, in a goosebump-inducing finale, share a ride with a self-proclaimed target-killer.
Complete with a catchy soundtrack, a heavy dose of sarcasm, and a fair share of cursing by Alvi and Usmani, the documentary effectively showcases the numerous problems which are facing Karachi simultaneously. Sectarian strife, ethnic tension, extreme poverty, mafia, drugs and a political situation dominated by political parties who regularly turn to violence and targeted killings – you name an ailment, Karachi suffers from it.
While the documentary fails to adequately address the nuance of most of the topics covered (any elaboration on the nature of religious extremism in the city is particularly lacking, with blanket references to the “Taliban”), the level of access Alvi was provided into areas that have been deemed “no go” is both remarkable and admirable. And some of the scenes really do capture a striking – and depressing – reality. As the police complete their “operation” against the Taliban, for example, the police deputy turns to his aides and asks “which tv channel was covering this operation?” Uzair Baloch’s “pimped out compound” (Alvi’s description) stands in complete contrast to the squalid existence of the residents of Lyari, his supporters.
I found the scenes at the landfill and with the heroin addicts particularly chilling. One of the young heroin addicts interviewed states in a matter-of-fact tone, “Really sir, we should just be shot.” Another, when asked if he is HIV-positive, at first shakes his head, only to give it a moment of thought and says, “Actually, who knows, I might be at this point.”
The documentary is available on YouTube and is divided into five segments, each about ten minutes in length. While it certainly shouldn’t be viewed as a definitive assessment of the current situation in Karachi, it’s a gripping watch and captures some pretty significant moments. (You can read interviews of Alvi here and here)