Karachi is like 25% of all of Pakistan’s economy, and it just simply not functioning. This was the opinion of Stephen P. Cohen, a senior fellow on foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, expressed recently on a radio show.
Cohen was interviewed on the Bloomberg Surveillance show by host Tom Keene and co-host Ken Prewitt. “I am stunned at the demographics of Karachi when I study their population growth and their absolutely unique demographics,” said Keene according to a transcript dated May 26. “What does America need to know about the future of Karachi,” he asked Cohen.
“Karachi could have been – I sound like Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront” – could have been a major economic and trade centre in the world, analogous to Singapore or Hong Kong,” said Cohen. It was one of those British cities that was on the Imperial trade routes and, of course, now that Asia has become more important, Karachi sits between the Gulf and the rest of Asia.
But, of course, it has gone steadily downhill from the creation of Pakistan, he went on to say. “Its demography is that it is divided between three or four different ethnolinguistic groups, which are mutually exclusive.”
“So it is a – if they got along well, it would be an amazingly complex city, a lot like New York,” he said. “But, of course, they don’t get along well and it is in the context of a failing Pakistan economy of which Karachi is a major part.”
The Bloomberg Surveillance co-host, Ken Prewitt, then asked whether it was ethnic strife that went wrong or if there were other factors. “Generally speaking, former British colonies have done certainly better than former French or other colonies,” Prewitt added.
According to Cohen, there were two great cities in British India that were in a sense euthanized by Partition. One was Karachi, when Pakistan was created. “Karachi lost a bunch of its Hindu land, the rest – parts of India to the east of Karachi,” he explained. “And the other, of course, Calcutta. Calcutta was one of the empire’s great cities and partitioned in the halving off of Pakistan from India and eastern India meant that Calcutta lost its Hindu land.”
According to Cohen, these two great cities lost their purpose – much of their purpose. But Karachi remained a valuable and important city until, of course, the military moved the capital from Karachi to Rawalpindi and then Islamabad, a “remote, isolated station” at the time.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2011.