Monday, November 27, 2006

Karachi needs better IDEAS

In this city awash with arms, where mosquito repellent is harder to come by than a pistol, the country’s administrators, in their infinite wisdom, have made a habit of hosting a biennial arms fair, the International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS). Grin and bear it, Karachiites were told, it’s good for the image of the city. “Arms for peace” was the organisers’ slogan. Orwell was smiling from his grave.

As VVIPS (Very, Very Insecure Persons?), foreign delegates and sundry other people from the military world converged on this city, even the most jaded Karachiites were left wondering what sins of their forefathers they were being punished for. Busy thoroughfares were closed, traffic diverted and parking disallowed as the special ones made their way to and fro in phalanxes of flashing lights. If the country’s guardians-cum-overlords wanted to prove that Karachi was a city of lights, they did a bang-up job - though perhaps not in the manner they hoped to. The administration’s idée fixe is an “investor friendly” country, but there is nothing friendly about a city under siege.

As sieges go, the one in Karachi vied for the beauty title. The obsequious CDGK mobilised hordes of workers to scrub roads, daub paint, erect billboards and drape the city’s thoroughfares with Christmas lights, even as dengue and other haemorrhagic fevers continued to stalk the city. Frightened residents desperate for fumigation were instead treated to scores of rented police cars and paramilitary vehicles. Let them eat cake was the message to the people of this city.

The toll the arms fair took on this city is still being counted. On the eve of the arms bazaar, some ingenious officials struck upon an idea to facilitate the movement of participants: close all schools in the city. Trading weapons for education was what brought this city to the knees in the first place, but tears of despair are no match for chutzpah. The venue for the bazaar was a stone’s throw from the nerve centre of the city’s administration, so that too was shut. The logic of madness is impeccable, Foucault has told us, and Karachiites would be hard-pressed to disagree. And for all the swarms of police, paramilitary and armed guards, it was business as usual for the petty criminals at Ground Zero. An indignant resident wrote to one newspaper, bemused at the mugging of a relative close to the venue. A delegate was relieved of his possessions at the door of the venue, by men in uniform no less. It would seem that the only people who came out of this whole sorry affair with their reputations enhanced are the petty criminals: at least they proved themselves to be equal opportunity bandits.

The upshot of deputising virtually every able bodied policemen to facilitate the arms circus was that the rest of the city wore an anarchic look. The police barely contain the beast of Karachi traffic at the best of times; however, with no one left to watch over the roads, drivers had a field day. The fair itself was shrouded in mystery: arms were being sold, but by whom and to whom nobody quite seemed to know. Ordinary Karachiites who weren’t privy to the secrets of the military elite were shut out altogether. When the organisers finally did condescend to allow some school children to visit on the last day, they shut up shop earlier than expected, leaving hundreds of schoolchildren stranded outside. So much for a “thank you” to this city.

Yet, Karachiites are nothing if not tolerant. The fair will be back in 2008, so here’s an idea for IDEAS: Karachiites will welcome the big men with their shiny toys, if the profits from the arms bazaar are used to finance the army and the savings in the defence budget are allocated to development expenditures in Karachi. Any takers?

1 comment:

k said...

Thats a brilliant idea! Savings from the defence budget allocated elsewhere.
I had NO idea this "FAIR" caused this much commotion. The IDEA of IDEAS was bizarre on its own though...