Karachi might not be a safe place to live but neither is Houston

Published: October 2, 2015

Being gunned down outside a famous restaurant after a meal is hard to come to terms with.

What is the chance of a bad outcome, like death, in Karachi? Based on anecdotes circulated on social media and what you read in the news, you might assume that chances for a series of unfortunate events remain high in this city.

This conception prompted a friend to do some calculations to gauge the chance of an unexpected death in Karachi, compared to any major metropolitan city in the US. Assuming how the calculations were fairly accurate, the bottom line was intriguing.

The likelihood of an untimely, unexpected death was similar in the two places.

Comparing the death rates in Karachi with other cities and countries was perhaps meant to be an intellectual discourse, following the meaningless death of a colleague’s sister in Karachi. Being gunned down outside a famous restaurant after a meal is hard to come to terms with. I speculate it might have been an outcome of a botched cell phone or handbag robbery attempt. Although difficult to rationalise, it is after all, Karachi. Such occurrences are, unfortunately, all too frequently heard and shared. Even a single incident feels like one too many if the victim is known to you. The mind (and heart) tends to assume that tragedy is at everyone’s doorstep in Karachi, irrespective of what the statistics reveal.

Most people, including myself, had not quite come to terms with the tragic demise of our colleague’s sister, but in its wake, a series of emails were exchanged. The objective of the process was meant to be a catharsis of sorts, by providing a forum to vent. Regardless of the likelihood of a bad death being similar in two markedly distinct places like the US and Pakistan, some colleagues were adamant that it was time to pack up and move (or move back, as the case may be) to a safer haven, like the US.

That got me thinking about some traumatic experiences of mine. In the not too distant past, I have experienced two incidents myself that shook me up:

1. My car was shot at. The trajectory was straight through the number plate, back seat and the bullet had then lodged into the glove compartment up ahead. Luckily, or perhaps by divine intervention, my daughter was not in her car seat. The bullet had neatly penetrated the infant car seat, along with the back seat.

2. My house was burglarised. The front door was rammed through and it hung on its hinges. Cabinets, drawers, wardrobes, kids’ toy chests, everything had been rifled through. The burglar alarm was ripped off the wall and thrown on the ground, rendering it ineffective. The telephone cable outside had been cut. Luckily, all this happened while we were out for dinner.

What if we had been home and the burglars had decided to force themselves on us and our kids?

The thought sends chills down my spine.

The instances above also form a part of the statistics – a game of luck and chance, perhaps.

You might have assumed that it occurred to me in Karachi.

Typical Karachi stories, you say?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but both episodes, now etched in my memory, were in two different localities of Houston, Texas, where I lived for a long time, prior to my relocation to Karachi two years back. They occurred over a five-year period, from 2008-2012. The burglary happened in one of the best, and presumably safest, neighbourhoods of Houston.

Perhaps, I am a harbinger of bad news for saying that assertions that claim upscale neighbourhoods of the US are far safer than their counterparts in Karachi stem from a false sense of security. My basic premise is that when an unfortunate, unexpected event happens to you, you become a part of the statistics, and that then becomes your reality, no matter what the odds of that occurrence are. So, delving into percentages and likelihoods to explain or rationalise poor outcomes seems to be an exercise in futility.

Perhaps the same goes for what ‎happens in Karachi. If something bad happens to you then the odds of it happening in Karachi is a meaningless discussion point, in my opinion. Or in the words of a friend,

Statistics provide little comfort when you are the victim.”

How you deal with the probability of an adverse outcome, being beyond the scope of this blog, will be a story for another day.

Asad I. Mian

Asad I. Mian

The author is an ER physician and a writer/blogger/innovator whenever he's off. He is also an Associate Professor at the Aga Khan University. Other than the Biloongra series of bilingual books for children, he has written An Itinerant Observer, published in the US. He can be reached on Twitter @amian74 and his blog (anitinerantobserver.blogspot.com).

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Faisal Javeed

    Do you prepare gift packs for dacoits when going out of your home in Houston ? Ask people living in Karachi and they will tell you what gift pack means, means a cheap phone and a wallet with little money to give immediately to the person when he puts a gun on you. I was recently in Beijing where as per some stats the safety index of walking alone at night was above 70 compared to a 33 of Lahore. Here I live in a safe and you can say posh kind of area and I am afraid I will not go out on the society’s service lane on foot after 11 at night.Recommend

  • Humza

    I don’t know what world you live in but I felt much safer waking about the streets of Lahore, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi than in many American cities such as Chicago, New York or Los Angeles. I can’t comment about Karachi but I would say that most major cities in Punjab, Pakistan are safer than most major US cities in terms of violence and likelihood of being robbed. – this would apply equally to upscale and run down neighborhoods.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Karachi and Houston are the same!!

    It’s like saying hallucination and reality are the same.Recommend

  • Pzn

    Oh please! I have walked alone in downtown Chicago, San Francisco, Houston several times alone at night….. Plus driving alone at night is very normal. …. And I am a woman. It’s just a matter of knowing which specific pockets to avoid. Recommend

  • SuperNeo™

    Problem with both the cities issame… Houston has highest number of illegal Pakistanis (include fake asylum seekers) and karachi (do i need to say )?Recommend

  • Ali

    Yeah thats false. If you take a look, in many American and Canadian, as well as European cities, women walk alone. They dont get harassed or assaulted like how a lone woman would experiance in Pakistani cities.Recommend

  • Jim

    Jim – London
    This modus operandi invented by Mian Sahib to gauge safety of a city is a third class third world mentality.It does not matter what sort of crime take place in big cities around world but it does MATTER how many crime are solved,resolved & punished.Pakistani courts right from Ex-President Zardari,Iftikhar Ch.and common policeman are steeped in corruption & conviction rate is 5%.What a wonderful country in 21st Century.Long live corruption.Corruption Zindabad.Pakistan Piandabad.Ha,ha,ha…..Recommend

  • MJ

    There are gangs in Houston that have informers (desi guys) who work for jewelers that specialize in Indian/Pakistani jewelry. Police in various surrounding states have apprehended thieves with lists of gold buyers from Houston and Dallas. A lot of Hindus prefer to keep their gold at home, instead of in bank lockers, because of their belief regarding blessings derived from Lakshmi as a consequence of keeping wealth nearby. These gangs use this knowledge and specially target homes of Asian families. Ironically even these burglaries cannot be so successful without the involvement of desis who provide insider information or actually commit these crimes themselves.Recommend

  • Raza

    you are literally either trying to tell a very lame joke or you have no idea what you are talking about. Crime is a problem in every city of every country but to compare New York, Chicago or LA with Lahore, Gujranwala and Rawalpindi is hilarious. We Pakistanis love to exaggerate to a level that’s even beyond funny. New York and Chicago are big metro cities so they have higher crime than let’s say Long Island or Orange County. But they are still nothing compared to Karachi, Lahore, Gujranwala or Rawalpindi. And this doesn’t even take into account investigations and prosecution of criminals which America is good at while in Pakistan a crime most certainly means no one will be caught and punished for it. Buddy I really don’t know which country you came in but it surely wasn’t America in the 21st Century.Recommend

  • curious2

    Karachi is the most dangerous of the world’s mega-cities, with a murder
    rate of 12.3 per 100,000 residents (Al Jazeera). None of the world’s 13
    largest cities come within 25% of Karachi’s exceptional murder rate. It’s always listed in the top 10 when violent /dangerous cities are listed – comparing it to Houston is inappropriate.Recommend

  • Malveros

    Spot on !Recommend

  • Rohan

    Give 100 people a choice between Karachi and Houston and all 100 will say Houston.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely pointed out…… one things you missed :
    – Population wise Karachi is about 2 or 3 times the size of Houston. Being in the developing word, Karachi is burdened with factors that Houston would not have to deal with……..so when making comparisons this plays a significant role.Recommend

  • Humza

    Now that we are making comparisons, try going to downtown Pittsburgh at night and honestly tell me whether it’s safer than downtown Lahore. I am sure you will find Lahore, Pindi or Gujranwala many times safer. As for your relatively safe suburbs for any town in Western Pennsylvania, it won’t be much different than any suburban neighborhood in Lahore such as DHA but US DO outrank major cities in Punjab for violent crime, robberies, rapes and even fatal accidents. I doubt if you have ever lived in the US if you can’t understand these basic statistics.Recommend

  • Adi Pranoto

    I’ve never visited Karachi or Houston. But few photos from Houston made me realize that crimes and murders are happening in Houston too, while few photos from Karachi made me remember Beirut during Lebanese Civil War.Recommend

  • ارشد حسین

    Sir i live in Karachi Sohrab Goth Area and never been burglarized or snatched. I don’t say its safe but appreciate what the author mean. Remember a Urdu speaking living in Pashtoon speaking area. !Recommend

  • ارشد حسین

    You should have compare the technology, stats of development and Law and order. By comparing these, Karachi is quite safer hence without these things.Recommend

  • ارشد حسین

    You come to racism.Recommend

  • ارشد حسین

    And you problem is COMPLEX.Recommend

  • MJ

    If you are from downtown Pittsburg, i.e. that you are a local you will know what to do, how to navigate and who/what to avoid. Going to those areas sticking out like a sore thumb owing to your different ethnicity puts you into a different ball game. Now imagine a foreigner, especially someone who looks/dresses differently in the tough parts of Lahore/Gujranwala during the day, let alone the night time. Once the novelty factor wears off, the poor sole won’t survive for more than 5 minutes.Recommend

  • tungi

    lahore is a very safe city. i have never felt threatened walking alone in streets at nightRecommend

  • tungi

    but lahore is safer cuz it has many gated communitties.Recommend

  • Humza

    I concede that policing and solving crime is better in the West but that doesn’t take away from the fact that there is more violent crime in major US cities in the first place. You are talking about solving crime cases but I am arguing that there is much less violent crime in the first place in the Pakistani cities I mentioned. Typical 3 rd world mentality to not grasp what is being said but just spouting sensationalism for the sake of it. While you are at it, remember that violent crimes in colleges and universities in Pakistan is much less than in US colleges and universities. Look at those killed in violent shootings at US schools and colleges and compare that with Pakistan. I am not talking about crime in UK counsel flats either – God save the Queen ! Rule Britannia and all that but live in your delusions that the life of the 3 rd world migrant is so great in the UK where so many live on social assistance where they are alienated from mainstream society and resorting to joining extremist groups.Recommend

  • Waseem Anwar

    You are dead wrong, Sir. Are members of political parties shooting each other in Houston. If I were were card carrying Democrat should I watch my back while out on the streets of Houston. There may be police corruption in Houston but no way bad as in Karachi. How many extra-judical executions happen in Houston ? Are university professors being shot in Houston for being the wrong sect. Crime sure is bad in Houston and America is bad compared to Europe but the criminals in Karachi also in the bureaucracy, the police and also in politics.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Rohan, kindly speak for yourself.Recommend

  • Abhishek Chaturvedi

    karachi is the most dangerous cityon earthRecommend

  • Raza

    Now coincidently, I happen to be very familiar with Pittsburgh since my cousin goes to the University of Pittsburgh Med School and you’re literally the first Pakistani I know to even make the comparision. Is there relatively higher crime in downtown Pitssburgh? yes it is but that’s when you compare it with other US areas. There is no compariosion between Pakistan and the US. I happen to live in Baltimore, much worse for crime than Pitssburgh and this year happened to be worse then normal, but there’s yet no comparision with Pindi, Karachi or Lahore. And I have lived in DHA Karachi. Downtown Baltimore, Is much much safer than DHA karachi. Ofcourse not some West Baltimore areas like Lexington but overall, still much better.
    Now this is getting really comical. You literally cited no statisitc at all apart from your own opinion yet you said I “can’t understand basic statistics”. Well try giving some credible statistics first please? Now if you percieve Lahore, Pindi or Gujranwala to be safer, then sure have fun, facts don’t have to change your mind, but there will be no truth to that other then your perception.Recommend

  • Hoss12

    How many dead bodies in gunnysacks were ever found in Houston?
    How many lawyers were burned alive in Houston?

  • Faisal Javeed

    I dont think you read my reply completely. Ok I will tell you where I live. It is in Tech Society canal bank road. Come and walk there on service lane around mid night or stroll through new campus are around the same time Recommend

  • abhi

    Where are the numbers dude?Recommend

  • Humza

    If you were to check a number of popular web sites like neighborhoodscout.com you’ll quickly get a handle on how bad violent crime is in American cities. There are crimes stats. I am not talking about purse snatching or groping but violent home invasions, robberies, shootings and similar things. Since your cousin is at UPMC, just ask him how safe he feels walking about down Pittsburgh and I can guarantee you, he’ll tell you Lahore is 100 x safer. I never mentioned Karachi but I can guarantee too major cities in Punjab have nowhere near the type of violent crime that goes on in major US cities. Yes Baltimore is a hotbed of violent crime but you really need to grasp what and why such things are going on like the narcotic epidemic and gun violence. I lived on Liberty Ave when I was an intern at St. Francis but anyone who lived in Spring Hill and Franklin Park would tell you that there is a crime problem everywhere. And yes Lahore, Gujranwala and Pindi are much safer from a violent crime perspective – Note I am not talking about road accidents or other factors but we are talking about VIOLENT CRIMES which are far greater in all US cities without exception. Again I am not talking about Karachi where I do not travel to when I go from the US but only cities in the Punjab.Recommend

  • Humza

    So by your argument, if you are a local and know a local, you’ll know what neighborhoods to avoid and hence avoid crime? Doesn’t that apply to any city anywhere in the world? I can distinctly remember being told day one when I moved to Pittsburg, ” Do not cross over there” and “do not leave even any change exposed in your car because your windshield will be broken”. Try to understand the nature and severity of violent crime in the US which is not like the petty crimes that go on in Lahore or other Pakistani cities ( Karachi excluded). The gun violence, gang violence, drug culture and sheer rage of some young people all contributes to this phenomenon. No sugar coating of reality changes things. Those of us who live in the US yearn for stricter drug laws, more access to rehab for millions of addicts and more community programs for unemployed youth but you want to compare petty crimes in a developing country to these real problems?Recommend

  • raj

    In US, at least you would know that the police would be unbiased and will take the perpetrator into jail through CCTV and other means unlike Karachi where police is usually involved in the crime. You can get killed anywhere but there should be a sense of security that people in Karachi does not have but they dont have a trust on justice.Recommend

  • raj

    point is not crime. Its everywhere but the main thing is you would have trust on US police that they will catch the thief unlike pakistanRecommend

  • Raza

    See I get what you’re saying but i think you aren’t getting my point. What I am trying to say is that there is higher crime (not just violent crime) in big metro cities but that is always compared to the state, national or maybe district figures. neighbourhoodscout.com compares Pittsburgh crime rates with Pennsylvania’s there and national figure to tell us it’s higher. I agree when you say there’s higher crime in metro cities in US but you lose me when you extend your claim and say Lahore or Pindi are safer because frankly there’s no statistic that says that.
    See I live in Baltimore but i can tell you I’ve walked down late nights alone in baltimore and I haven’t ever faced any bad situation. Now that doesn’t mean I should deny Baltimore is worse for crime than many cities because although I never experienced it, statistics show that Baltimore isn’t good for crime. And yes I understand you’re talking about violent crimes only.

    Even if you just count violent crime, there is no basis to say Lahore and Pindi are much better than US cities because like I said apart from your perception there is no statistic that compares and confirms this claim.
    All this without even getting into the fact that crime in Pakistan including Punjab is highly under reported because of many reasons.Recommend

  • Humza

    I also see what you are saying but I think in Pakistan people just ignore the reality that there is a real crime problem in the US whereas they like to sensationalize things in Pakistan. Yes there is poverty related crime and violence in Pakistan but I still would say it pales in comparison with what goes on in the US. I think you just need to open a newspaper from any major American metropolis and compare it with a newspaper from any similar city in Pakistan (Karachi excluded) and you will quickly get a handle on where there is more violent crime. Crime may or may not be under reported in Pakistan but the fact remains, Pakistan ( Punjab at least) does not have the gang problems, narcotics issues of a comparable level , gun problems that exist in major US cities. Family related violence, personal vendettas, political crime and poverty related crimes do not compare with the gun violence, armed robberies or home invasions in major US cities.I am not saying that Pakistani cities are better than US cities since obviously a developed country with more resources has better infrastructure and civic services but we are taking about violent crime which is more in the US.Hats off to you if you roam the streets of Baltimore at night without a worry !Recommend

  • stevenson

    Lahore is safer than US cities. Not just because of housing societies but even where there are crowds shopping and busy streets.Recommend

  • yoho7788

    I live in UK. I am originally from Lahore Pakistan. I have never felt unsafe anywhere in UK or Pakistan. The only time I was threatened and felt unsafe was on a New York subway station while travelling from JFK airport to Manhattan. Even Buffalow NY felt safer than New York City. Recommend

  • Raza

    That is exactly my point. “people like to sensationalize” I agree people do that a lot in Pakistan especially but that is my point, exaggerating is what you (unintentionally it seems) end up doing when you say “it would pale in comparison with US”. Yes crime is high is US but is it worse than Pakistani cities? No true. Why? Because no statistic prove the this hypothesis. What would happen if I pick up a newspaper? See you are basing your whole argument on perception and you may perceive Pakistani cities to be safer than US, but again your perception doesn’t mean you can call it a fact by citing proof. Besides, you say “crime may or may not be under reported”; if crime is under reported that completely changes basis of reporting. If it’s under reported, then you don’t can’t possibly know how many crimes were committed because they were never counted. You keep saying certain types of crimes (eg armed robberies) are higher in US cities but you don’t show any statistic nor acknowledge the under reporting of crime. I you compare a place where crimes are not under reported with a place where under reporting is not a problem, you aren’t really comparing fairly. And even with that, crime still is higher in Lahore than in Pittsburgh for one and more in Pakistani cities than US cities. Of course it’s not about which city is better, we’re comparing on just crime so that’s all we’re talking about.

    Your entire argument is based on perception (pick up a major newspaper, neghbourhoodscout, your own experience, experiences of people you know) and it may seem like it’s worse but what i’m saying is it’s really not, because perceptions aren’t cited for making factual arguments, statistics are and no statistic proves your hypothesis that US cities are worse for crime than Pakistani(major Punjab) cities.

    Thanks, I hope it stays the same but the situation doesn’t seem really good this year. Just to put it out there, I’ve actually walked a couple of times in Karachi (DHA) too (not as much as Baltimore) without an incident so that’s there too.Recommend

  • King Trollo

    obviously fallacious

    mexico city has a rate of 16 per 100000, sao paulo has a rate of 18 per 100000 and rio de janeiro has a rate of 30 per 100000