A journey into the world of Karachi’s neglected population of Afghan refugees

01 February 2011

AS I DRIVE PAST the Pakistan Air Force dormitories, whizzing past the busy roads leading to Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport, airplanes hover above like bloated mosquitoes in the clear February morning; below them, crows and mynah birds also seem to float calmly in the colourless sky. The first sign that one has landed in Karachi is a giant fluorescent-yellow McDonald’s sign just outside the airport; here, it is the golden arches that greet newly arrived travellers—rather than a flag, a welcome sign or the gleaming visage of some ghastly local politician.

After passing the airport, leaving behind its security officers wearing bullet-proof vests and helmets, things begin to look desolate. Driving away from the hustle and bustle of Karachi proper, the roads begin to seem wider even though they’re not; there are just fewer cars on them. I pass a spate of schools, all in gaudy residential bungalows, their names painted across their gates and balconies: My Little World School, White House Grammar School, Middle East Middle School. On the left-hand side of the road, there is a wasteland; on the right, more learning centres, with names like ‘Little Hearts Grammar School (Parsi Administration).’

But the wasteland will not remain barren for long: a massive golf club, resort and spectacular getaway for the rich is being built on the recently levelled land. Billboards mark the boundaries of the luxury retreat, depicting Arab-looking businessmen grinning at Western-style houses, confident golfers resembling a pre-scandal Tiger Woods, and glittering glass lobbies staffed by legions of secretaries, all of whom will be stomping through this dry land, with its wild shrubs and rocky soil, soon enough.

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    Fatima Bhutto is a Contributing Editor at The Caravan. She lives in Karachi. Her last book, published by Penguin in November 2013, was The Shadow of the Crescent Moon.

    Keywords: Pakistan Kabul Afghanistan UNHCR Fatima Bhutto Ruth Pfau Karachi Aghan refugees uzbek fundamentalist leprosy Tuberculosis Afghan Mujahir Refugee Camp Amean J Hasan Islamia Public School