A Karachi Reboot
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Monday, October 10th, 2022
Dear Mustafa,

I am just coming to the end of an 8-day trip to Karachi. I was last here almost exactly 3 years ago in November 2019, just before our world was poleaxed by corona.

I have been looking for differences here and, superficially there are some. Imran Khan is history, at least for now; the sovereign bond is trading at 38% (Sri Lanka defaulted when it reached 36%); and the terrible floods damaged homes, infrastructure and livelihoods. But somehow this does not feel like change and Pakistan has come through worse. The change seems to sit more with me.

The pandemic years seriously reduced international travel and turned many people’s lives, including my own, into one that was more constricted, most obviously by the four walls of our “working from home’ existence. I don’t think we are close to understanding how this has damaged us as a society, but from a family viewpoint I can see the effects.

The Pakistani lens is very different. Surrounded as it is by Iran, Afghanistan, China and India its world view is far removed from my London-centric one, so I found myself, more than normal, listening to the Karachi board meeting and dinner party conversation and trying to achieve a ‘covid reset’.

At the end of 2020/21 I used to take early morning walks around Hyde Park with a friend. I remember clearly expressing my view that the virus we were hiding from could trace its origin to a human hand and that, when history was written the Wuhan wet-market would not be the villain of this story. I don’t believe this opinion is too controversial now as so much has been written on this, however, at the time, based on the reaction I got, I have never felt more like a nutty conspiracy theorist. What did I do? I basically kept quiet. In a time of QAnon and men in buffalo horns taking the Capitol I did not want to be lumped in with them.

Eighteen months later the Nordstream pipeline is sabotaged and the western view is set - clearly the Russians are to blame. But something is niggling in my brain, it does not make any sense. Why would they blow up the delivery mechanism for their largest export? The only countries with the expertise to undertake this action are the UK, Russia and the USA, so surely another logical explanation is that the USA have done this in order to ensure that Germany cannot enter into any deal with Russia and extreme pressure can be maintained? I push this to the back of my head, but in Karachi this explanation is the mainstream. In western media Professor Jeffrey Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia, tried to put this argument forward on Bloomberg TV, you can watch the clip here, and never has a interview turned so unexpectedly and been closed down so rapidly.

In our Market Comment - A Dialogue of the Deaf - in May 2020 we suggested that the USA was preparing to bring China to its knees as it had tried to do with Japan in the 1930s. We had the wrong target and we should rewrite this replacing China with Russia. However, the end result remains equally catastrophic.

However, it is only after a ‘Karachi reboot’ that I can actually start seeing and expressing another point of view.

See you in St. Johns Wood next week! Chris
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