Pakistan's Underground Drug Parties

On top of the Pearl Continental Hotel in Karachi, the fountains were filled with chocolate. Two hundred people people had dressed up in ball gowns and suits to dance and mingle. There was booze. There were drugs. And 26-year-old Myra Zafar made sure to arrive early.

"We got there early so we wouldn't miss anything in case there was violence and we had to leave," said Zafar, requesting her name be changed for this story.

In a country dubbed the world's most dangerous, life goes on, every day and every night, especially among the well-heeled. Suicide bombs now explode with such unprecedented regularity here that they have become routine.

But the elite in this country don't let violence halt their move toward decadence, toward parties with imported liquor, imported cocaine and imported themes like "ghetto glam."

A few years ago, "chemical and designer drugs were never a part of what was going on here," said Munizeh Sanai, a 26-year-old disc jockey here.

"Slowly but surely it embedded itself into the culture of parties here," she continued, "because of the kind of culture that's developing with launching parties and stars and starlets. The whole thing is having an effect of glamorizing drug use, and I think it's all over the place now."

A third of Pakistan lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Like India, this country is filled with villages whose women have never been educated and whose families have never traveled.

But that is a world away from the cacophony of Karachi's young bourgeoisie, who have more money and more control over a recently unleashed media. They are also more and more influenced by the West.

"They're like any party, anywhere in the world," said 29-year-old Asim Butt, an artist, of his city's soirees. "I've partied in London, San Francisco, New York. There's a degree of emulation -- people returning from these places, Western capitals, having internalized all of that."

There are no official numbers for the continuing evolution of Karachi's scene. But go to a launch party for an Armani cell phone, and you'll see the new Karachi. Go to a club where the waiters are dressed up in gladiator outfits, and you'll see the new Karachi.

"Parties here are really crazy these days," says Numrah Javaid, 23, a student at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture, whose campus is about 1,000 feet from Karachi's sandy beach. "People drink, people smoke up, if they want to. Yeah, they're pretty crazy."

Javaid, unlike most of the people a foreign reporter talks to, isn't shy talking about politics. "I think there's access to everything these days. And obviously, there's no stop to it. Thanks to Musharraf, there's no stop to anything at all."

Since Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf took power in a bloodless coup in 1999, the economy has for the most part surged. Between 2002 and 2007, annual economic growth averaged more than 7 percent. The stock market soared 40 percent last year and foreign investment flowed into the country, rising almost 50 percent as of last June.

That benefit has largely gone to the rich, for the most part missing the rest of the country.

Not far from the hotels that host parties, and the neighborhoods where the booze flows, Kasim Ali sells fruit. He hasn't always, but he can't find another job. "I make 200 rupees a day," he said. "But my bills are more than 150 rupees per day," meaning he puts less than a dollar into his pocket at the end of each day.

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