Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City

In This Review

Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City
By Laurent Gayer
Oxford University Press, 2014
256 pp.

Karachi is one of the world’s most violent cities, beset by strikes, riots, bombings, arsons, murders, massacres, and mutilations carried out by a staggering array of actors, including student and labor movements, political parties, criminal gangs, sectarian extremists, and the Pakistani Taliban. Sporadic attempts by government forces to reclaim control have only intensified the violence. But Gayer patiently uncovers the latent patterns of order that allow the city to function and to produce one-quarter of Pakistan’s GDP and handle 95 percent of its foreign trade. Violence often takes place within factions that are disciplining their own dissidents or represents a phase of negotiations among rival parties—negotiations that also include episodes of cooperation. Communities segregate themselves, and people learn to interpret street scenes to avoid trouble. The abundance of interest groups and conflicts makes the story sometimes hard to follow, but the larger message is clear: the sheer number of violent organizations and the tenuous balance of power among them—what the author calls “armed consociationalism”—prevents the city from spinning out of control. Gayer’s own evidence, however, shows that the situation is steadily getting worse.

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