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Karachi as a province

January 11, 2014

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THERE is little disagreement on the suggestion that Pakistan needs many more provinces than the existing four (five, if one includes Gilgit-Baltistan). From aspects of political economy to being able to better administer smaller units, many arguments support the idea of numerous new provinces.

The argument that more provinces would break Punjab’s hegemony over the rest of Pakistan and parts of what currently constitute Punjab itself are equally valid. A Seraiki and Hazara suba are a key requirement for the people of those regions. It has been suggested that the older 12 divisions of Pakistan, with modifications, should become provinces or autonomous administrative units. One of them was Karachi Division.

The issue of making Karachi a province is laced with emotion. Any such demand is seen as incendiary and challenges the supposed integrity of the Pakistani nation-state. Karachi’s political economy must be studied to consider whether a city of 20 million could exist as a province or even as an independent territory.

Karachi is Pakistan’s most developed economic and social administrative entity. In almost every economic and social indicator, it tops the list of Pakistan’s 106 districts. In terms of literacy, based on the 1998 census, Karachi has the second highest literacy ratio after Islamabad (72.4pc) with 72.2pc. However, Karachi Central has the highest literacy ratio in Pakistan with 76pc. In the case of female literacy, Karachi Division has a higher literacy rate than any other district in Pakistan at 63.9pc — Karachi Central has a literacy ratio of 73.9pc and Karachi East 70.1pc.

A study by Syed Ashraf Wasti and Minhaj Uddin Siddiqui, ranking 101 Pakistani districts according to the level of socio-economic development and using various indicators and statistical techniques, ranked Karachi on top or second. Similarly, Haroon Jamal and A.J. Khan computed and ranked the districts according to an index of multiple deprivation and established that Karachi was the ‘least deprived district’ of Pakistan, with the least incidence of poverty.

It’s not surprising that Karachi dominates much of Pakistan’s revenue collection statistics. Much of Pakistan’s economic, manufacturing, services and related production and value addition still takes place here. Karachi contributes more than 35pc of all Pakistan’s direct taxes. Of the share of direct taxes and revenue collection in Sindh, Karachi contributes almost 96pc of the province’s share; it also provides around 35pc of total sales tax collected in Pakistan showing a strong consumer base.

It is critical to examine demographic and linguistic structure and trends in Karachi before making political demands related to creating a new province. Many important facts about Karachi must be highlighted. Karachi’s population growth rate over the last few decades has been falling and may have stabilised. The next census might reveal different figures, but this is what we have right now.

Importantly, the migrant population in Karachi fell from almost 33pc in 1981 to near 22pc in 1998 — not surprising given the first wave of migrants to Karachi from India completely changed the city’s demography. Migration is slower now, and almost all from within Pakistan. This has a major impact on the future of Karachi’s demographics.

As more migrants have come to Karachi from the rest of Pakistan, despite a stable growth rate for the city, the proportion of non-Urdu speakers has increased. Haris Gazdar predicts that by 2025, non-Urdu speakers would constitute 60pc of Karachi’s population.

Given the desire for more provinces, arguments have been made for making Karachi a province. While serious political factors would inhibit such a move, it seems clear, using limited data conducting static and non-dynamic analysis ie, not considering the repercussions, that if Karachi was made a separate entity — a province — it is likely to be better off economically.

This statement is clearly limited and comes with ‘ifs and buts’, but on the surface it seems that since Karachi contributes 95pc of the revenues collected from Sindh, if these were allocated to Karachi and the money stayed with it, it would have a major, positive impact on the city. Karachi would not need additional federal government assistance.

Under a redefined, negotiated agreement with the centre, with much of the self-generated revenue kept for it, Karachi would be more than self-sufficient and would have a surplus too, some of which could be transferred to the centre or the other provinces. There’s little doubt that the existing economic base of Karachi, ceteris paribus, would allow Karachi ample resources to develop and be self-sufficient with a surplus.

However, Karachi’s linguistic distribution raises complicated issues. Unlike a Seraiki province, or one in the Hazara or Potwar region, Karachi’s population is not homogenous. Karachi is no longer an Urdu-speaking city. It is a hugely multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic city. Urdu speakers, while the main ethnic group, are by no means the dominant majority.

Any attempt to make a province only on linguistic lines would face the consequences of pressure and opposition from other ethnic groups in Karachi. As a province, Karachi would need to accommodate all the different linguistic and cultural groups living in the city. It might even address the issue of ethnic differences, since Karachi province would speak for the people of Karachi, regardless of their ethnicity.

Karachi has benefited from the huge contribution of numerous ethnic groups in Pakistan who have either migrated here or who supply skills or capital. Karachi province could be beneficial for all its residents regardless of the language they speak. Incidentally, the same arguments would apply to a strong and autonomous city government as well.

The writer is a political economist.