Life and Death in Karachi
by Steve Inskeep
Pub Date 17 Oct 2011
In recent decades, the world has seen an unprecedented shift of people from the countryside into cities. As Steve Inskeep, host of NPR's Morning Edition, so aptly puts it, we are now living in the age of the "instant city," when megacities emerge practically overnight. One such place, Karachi, Pakistan, has grown from fewer than half a million residents in 1941 to more than 13 million today. As people flock to the city, a whole host of new conflicts has emerged as diverse populations interact and share the city's resources.
Inskeep's first book INSTANT CITY: Life and Death in Karachi (The Penguin Press; October 17, 2011) is a vibrant portrait of one of the world's fastest growing cities, informed by extensive research and interviews with a broad cross section of Karachi residents. Inskeep uses the events surrounding a 2009 bombing of a Shia religious procession-a act that that killed dozens of people and spurred subsequent acts of terrorism-as a jumping-off point to explore the numerous conflicts that divide Karachi, especially the religious, ethnic, and political differences among the residents.
Inskeep introduces us to the people of Karachi and the city's history, explaining the significance of events like the decision to divide Pakistan and India along religious lines in 1947, which ironically unleashed deeper divisions among residents. Today, there is much confusion about Pakistan, and Karachi is perceived as a violent place, but Inskeep finds remarkable signs of the city's tolerance, vitality, and thriving civil society-from a world-renowned ambulance service to a socially innovative project that helps residents of the vast squatter neighborhoods find their own solutions to sanitation, health care, and education.
"NPR's Steve Inskeep takes us on a colorful journey through a sprawling, terrifying city. It will interest anyone who wants to understand the wars the United States is fighting, as well as anyone worried about the future of Pakistan, which may be the most important question facing the world today. Impressively structured and briskly told, Instant City is the Friday Night Lights of terrorism."
-Thomas E. Ricks, author of Fiasco and The Gamble
"Smart, readable, and brimming with insight, Instant City is a deep dive into the life and history of one of the world's great megacities, where business, politics, crime and terrorism, ethnic and sectarian loyalties blend into a combustible political mix in the midst of a rich cultural tapestry that is a microcosm for Pakistan. We could all do well to learn more about Karachi, and Steve Inskeep's book is a wonderful place to start."
-Vali Nasr, author of The Rise of Islamic Capitalism and The Shia Revival
"Steve Inskeep has captured the vibrant, violent, pulsating rhythms of Karachi with a near native sensibility. His cinema verité prose brings you the sights and smells of this dystopian megalopolis on which the future of Pakistan may be riding. If Karachi can survive its violence and corruption, and thrive as a pluralistic city state then there is hope for Pakistan. If not, then the future is grim for this benighted land. Karachi represents the rich mosaic of Pakistan's different ethnic groups. It is the financial heart of a country whose instruments of state may be failing but whose inhabitants show great determination and creativity, surviving against all odds. Inskeep has written a worthy tribute to Karachi. He blends brilliant storytelling with an eye for detail and nuance that makes Karachi's sights and sounds come alive."
-Shuja Nawaz, Director, South Asia Center, Atlantic Council and author of Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army, and the Wars Within