Pakistan: Ethnic Fragmentation or National Integration?
In light of the current ethnic polarisation, this paper briefly enumerates the elements of ethnic conflict in Pakistan. It, then, discusses the economic, demographic, political, and cultural developments taking place in Pakistan which tend to affect the inter-relationships among ethnic communities and between society as a whole and ethnic communities. Evidence is presented to support the argument that despite surface tensions and confrontations, there is an unmistakable trend of greater inter-dependence which can contribute to national integration. The paper further analyses the relationship between ethnicity, class, and the state. It identifies military, bureaucracy, capitalists, and landlords as the principal elements of the “ruling class”, and shows that the different ethnic groups have different class structures and differential participation in military and bureaucracy. It points out the near absence of “cross cutting cleavages” which tends to turn the class and power conflicts into ethnic conflicts. In conclusion, the paper, while underlining the shifting definitional boundaries and relative demographic and cultural homogenisation of the population, argues against the redrawing of provincial boundaries and constitutional recognition of “nationality rights” of fixed ethnic groups. However, it makes a case for the recognition of ethnic diversity in Pakistan, equal treatment of all ethnic groups, and protection and promotion of the languages and cultures of the different ethnic groups. It argues that national unity, security, and integrity will be achieved if the primary emphasis is placed on promoting equity and harmony rather than on suppression of ethnic differences in the name of unity.
Pakistan has been beset with one of the gravest ethnic conflicts of its history. In 1995 alone, more than 1700 persons, including more than 200 law enforcement personnel, were killed in its major city, Karachi.1 A militant ethnic party in Sindh is in violent confrontation with the Government and other ethnic groups. Ethnic polarisation in the province of Sindh is almost complete, and in Balochistan it has shattered the traditional fraternity between ethnic groups. Violence and insecurity related to ethnic conflicts have seriously disrupted economic activities in urban Sindh where there has been evidence of flight of capital to other regions and shyness on the part of foreign capital to invest, besides billions of rupees lost each year due to recurrent strikes. The late Feroz Ahmed was Professor in the School of Social Work, Howard University, Washington, D. C. 1 Hosain, Yasser, “Whodunnit”? [sic], Newsline (Karachi), November 1995, pp. 46-48.
The picture of Pakistan emerging from its ethnic situation reinforces the gloom and doom portrayed by its economic and political situation. On the surface, it looks as if ethnic and regional fragmentation is on the increase without mitigation. However, it is important to look at the other side of the coin, i.e., cooperation and integration, and look beyond the surface appearances. Traditionally, Pakistan’s ethnic diversity has been defined in terms of the existence of the four historical “nationalities”, the Punjabis, Sindhis, Pushtoons and the Baloch, a major linguistic group, the Urdu-speaking people, and several smaller ethnolinguistic groups. Recently, however, a party representing the Urdu-speaking people in Sindh has demanded the “nationality” status for its group, while there has been a consistent demand from a section of the population in Punjab for the recognition of Siraiki-speaking people as a distinct “nationality”. We have dealt with the question of ethnic identity elsewhere, and indicated our preference for the word ethnic group over nationality in order to avoid unnecessary conflict and appearance of a double...