On Thursday, during an All Parties Conference (APC) organised by the Qaumi Awam Tehreek (QAT) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP), which was attended by representatives of Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), as well as members of the civil society, put aside their differences and came out in strong opposition to Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) demand for a separate administrative unit for Karachi. This show of resolve was made in the background of MQM’s increasingly persistent demands for Karachi to be separated from Sindh. An across the board political coalition against an administrative proposal would usually be a sign of political maturity; since principled stances are taken despite differences. However, the whole issue of a separate administrative unit for Karachi is still being contested on polarising ethnic and divisive fear mongering. The MQM taps the so-called ‘Mohajir’ concerns; fanning stories of oppression and economic subversion against the Urdu speaking urbanites by the evil Punjabis and Sindhis. The APC presented even more fantastic theories involving international plots to destabilise Pakistan and heavily played the ‘Historic Sindh Integrity’ card. While everyone was busy painting demons, no one really debated the economic, pragmatic or administrative side of the issue; which by any standards of logic comes prior to any such demand. What is the economic benefit? Or harm? Division of taxation responsibility, administrative advantages, population, education; all of the factors which would constitute a rational argument for, or against a separate Karachi, were sorely missing.

A province comprising of a bustling economic metropolis is an interesting concept. The prosperity of ancient Athens, Thebes and renaissance Venice, as well as the meteoric rise of modern city-states such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai show that if done right, the autonomous city can generate massive economic growth. With the majority of the revenue generated invested within the city, it can become significantly well off. Karachi contributes 35% of all the direct taxes collected in Pakistan, and it generates 96% of the revenue for the province of Sindh. With a locally drawn administration and increased revenue, Karachi has the potential to not only mitigate its law and order issues, but to generate surplus revenue which could be sent to the federation. On the flip side of the argument, the loss of this revenue for use by the federation and especially Sindh would be a hard blow to recover from. How willing would Karachi be to share its bounty? Wouldn’t a province that controls the main artery of Pakistani economy be in a position to bully other provinces? How would it react to national issues and tragedies if they have absolutely no bearing on the metropolitan bubble?