Faraz Qasim moved from his hometown of Hyderbad, Sindh to the economic centre of Pakistan, the city of Karachi, in 1999. He enrolled as a student at Iqra University, and settled into life as an undergraduate.
Like every student, he worried about exams, grades and papers. But unlike other young people going to university around the world, he also had to think about ways to survive the rampant crime that dominates daily life in Karachi.
"Street crime is very, very high," Qasim says. "It's not just random, it's well organized, and it's coordinated by political parties." Big companies are targeted for money, he explains, but these gangs also terrorize individual citizens. Kidnappings, extortion, cell phone snatching and car-jackings are all part of daily life in this seaport hub.
Karachi: City of Crime
With an estimated population of 23.7 million, Karachi is the capital of Sindh province and holds the distinction of being one of the world's 13 largest cities. And, of these cities, it is the most dangerous, according to Al Jazeera. With a homicide rate that breaks the scale at 12.3 people murdered per 100,000 residents, it's no wonder that the city has obtained a sort of infamy for being an epicenter for lawlessness and crime.
Figures released by Pakistani authorities for 2013 number motorcycle and vehicle thefts at approximately 33,000. More than 3,000 murders were reported to police, along with 108 cases of kidnapping. Many more crimes remain unreported, says the US State Department.
"People know that the political parties are corrupt, and that they are causing a lot of the problems, but there's nothing anyone can do about it, there's no protection," say Qasim. "The elections are rigged, and so the corrupt people keep the power." This is a sentiment shared by Talat Aslam, editor of The News, an English-language news paper in Pakistan. "Crime and politics have gotten juxtaposed," Aslam said. "It is very difficult to disentangle where one ends and the other begins". In 2011, 476 of the 1732 homicides in the city were considered politically motivated.
Despite its shockingly high crime rate, Karachi's law enforcement is woefully understaffed. There are only 26,000 police officers working in this city, That works out to a ratio of just one officer for 1,524 people, reports the Inter Press Service. Some law enforcement officers are assigned to the protection of a single individual, further reducing the ability of law enforcement to battle crime in the region.
Faraz Qasim & the Carjackers
"When I was in college, there were two attempts of carjacking on me," Qasim explains calmly. "I survived both."
Qasim experienced his first incident in December 2000. He was 20 years old. Concerned about a security feature on the car that could cause the vehicle to lock up, the carjackers forced Qasim and his friend along on their joy ride. A struggle ensued, but the two friends managed to escape. "I ended up with nine stitches in my head," says Qasim.
Qasim's next encounter with carjackers came less than a year later, in June 2001. "It was like a scene out of a movie. There was three of them, and one of them had a gun. I fought with them." Qasim struggled to defend himself alone, and somehow managed to grab the gun. He shot one of his attackers. The man died.
Qasim reported both incidents to the police, but there was no resolution in either case.
"They weren't the most positive experiences," Qasim says. Still, he finished his studies, and then moved onto to a position as a television reporter with Dawn TV.
Later, he married his childhood sweetheart, and they now live in Milton, Ontario with their twin sons. Quasim has left behind is life of fighting crime. These days, he spends his time working part-time while completing a Graduate Certificate in Journalism-New Media at Sheridan College.
Qasim says that street crime is still a major issue for those living in Karachi. He says that there have been a number of initiatives to help stem the flood of these criminal activities but these efforts are in vain. "It goes down for a few days," he says, "and then it's back. Because there are politicians and political parties behind these problems, it never helps."