Working Paper No. 70. The Open City: social networks and violence in Karachi.


The very features of Pakistani society that are represented so prominently in Karachi - ethnic and sectarian heterogeneity, political fragmentation, economic disparity, demographic pressures, steady erosion of the state's institutional capacity and the footprint of international conflict - are the ones that challenge the stability of the nation state. From being the national political pulse, the city withdrew into its own violent politics in the 1980s - development that paralleled a wider process of political disarticulation in Pakistan. This paper provides a perspective on institutional breakdown, using political violence as an index.

The analysis of conflict and violence in Karachi presented here focuses on the processes that made Karachi an open city - openness to migration and informality. The informalisation of public provisioning, which was often aided and abetted by state organisations, was premised on the legitimisation of private non-state arrangements for contract enforcement, and the strengthening of social networks based on kinship, ethnicity and sectarian identity. Qualitative accounts of the histories of land use in six very different types of localities are interpreted using this approach, which offers an understanding of breakdown as well as recovery and the prospect of political negotiation.


Working Paper No. 70 (series 2), London, UK; Crisis States Research Centre, 44 pp.

Working Paper No. 70. The Open City: social networks and violence in Karachi.

Published 1 January 2010