India and Pakistan: A tale of two economies


Ankit Mital

Karachi is a brown city. It’s not just the arid landscape that dominates it. In part it is the male version of the ubiquitous national dress—salwar-kameez—worn in pastel shades. Mostly, it is the colour of the public and commercial architecture, betraying signs of an economic boom that was aborted by the early 1990s, before monuments of glass and steel came into style.

Nowhere is it more apparent than Karachi’s Jinnah international Airport, the biggest one in the country. It completed its last expansion almost a quarter-century back. And it shows, especially if you have flown in from the swanky new airports in Delhi or Mumbai.

Coming from India to Pakistan (or the other way round), the first natural instinct is to compare and contrast things with home. At first glance, apart from the Urdu signage, not much seems to separate Karachi from Delhi. It is a cliché, but people are really like us—and once they know you are from India, can be uncommonly kind and generous.

Roads are rather wider and smoother actually—but traffic signals are not much more than polite requests. The motorway-like city roads of Islamabad might give you the false impression that you are in a developed country.

Houses in the posh ‘Defence’ area of Karachi, named after the army-run upscale property developer—Defence Housing Authority, or DHA—can give South Delhi bungalows a run for their money in opulence and taste.

On the other hand, there is not much in the way of public transport, especially when compared to the Delhi Metro or Mumbai’s local trains. The spectacularly and lovingly decorated public buses—I was told that a bus or lorry owner may end up spending a princely sum of 10 lakh Pakistani rupees (about Rs6 lakh) on decoration alone—in Karachi are small and ramshackle, used only by those with no other option.

But nothing drives home the leap Indian cities have made more than the modern office complexes that have come up over the past two decades.

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