The vast diversity of Pakistan’s culture and ethnicity gives it a rich heritage, yet this very diversity has been the foundation of many problems, because Pakistan is only bound together by one common factor, Religion.
So Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is said to have predicted the future of Pakistan pre-partition from India. Many Pakistani’s will refute these claims and put it down to his allegiance of the predominantly Hindu congress in India. While this may be so, one cannot ignore that his predictions were fairly accurate.
The Punjab is densely populated and Lahore’s radius is continually expanding due to migrants from other areas of the country eager to find work and take advantage of the limited resources within the Lahore periphery. The lack of development outside the few major cities means the vast population living in poverty in remote villages come to cities such as Lahore, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi and Multan to find work and education. And resources such as gas and electricity, which is in short supply even for the middle class.
Many tribal peoples have long been demanding their own provinces so that they may have greater local autonomy and allow the provision of schools, hospitals and industries in currently remote underdeveloped areas.
Prime Minister Gilani, of Seraeki background, has finally decided to create a new province for the Seraeki speaking people. The Hazara peoples are also demanding a separate province from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Some rumours surfaced that Gilani was backing the establishment of a Seraeki province to allow the opportunity for his son to be crowned chief minister of the new province. So is this all just part of the wider nepotistic culture in Pakistan? The very culture that plagues the country from politics, to industries, down to small businesses.
So while one of the manifesto points for the PPP will be the conception of a Seraeki ‘Suba’, the PML-Q is promoting the creation of a Hazara province, for which the PPP has also pledged its support. This means development of the new local authority government buildings, schools and hospitals… hopefully. Administratively this could make perfect sense. The provinces would have more power to develop their districts rather than being neglected as they have been in their 60 year history.
There is of course the threat to the country as a whole, that any further divisions could cause “extreme nationalist forces” chiefly in the Balochistan region, as warned by Raza Rabbani, A PPP senator from Sindh. A move to break up Sindh could destabilise and shred the society giving rise to further bloodshed. With Karachi inhabiting a cosmopolitan society, the ethnic and religious violence could put the country into turmoil. The mistreatment of ethnic Sindhis for the past 20-30 years and the continuous sunni-shi’ite conflict has only worsened.
Foreign news only covers the Taleban, however the internal tensions that are quite possibly more of a threat to the future of Pakistan are suppressed from media attention. These tensions are the guerrilla coalitions fighting for independence from Pakistan, and the army which is repealing this mutiny with such chauvinism.
Balochistan forms 44% of Pakistan, but is only inhabited by half the population of Karachi. Its expanse is rich in minerals, yet the region is beleaguered with poverty. And this is where the simmering anger is deep rooted. There is much foreign interest in Balochistan. The US find the vast covert region of Balochistan ideal for their spy bases, while International businesses are eager to exploit the copper, gold and oil reserves. Balochistan provides one-third of Pakistan’s natural gas, but only a fraction of Balochis themselves have access to this. Gwadar is a case of adding insult to injury, where land is being illegally sold to developers of Karachi and Lahore, snatched away from the locals, who have been residing there for centuries, because they cannot prove ownership of the land.
The rebels are frustrated with the lack of attention from the Government, and wrought with anger that their riches are being pilfered from them. President Zardari or Prime Minister Gilani have not once visited Balochistan in their four year rule so far.
This bears the hallmarks of the ’71 battle when the governing body made the same mistakes. East Pakistan was neglected, yet its exports earned 60-80% of Pakistan’s Foreign exchange. East Pakistan contributed to 54% of Pakistan’s total population, yet the total development expenditure in East Pakistan was a third of the expenditure in West Pakistan. It seems the military and the Pakistani Government have a very short memory.
While Balochistan could survive without Pakistan, Pakistan simply cannot survive without Balochistan. So efficient and well thought out politics would perhaps comprise the maintenance of Baloch, honouring the people’s requests and grievances in exchange for natural resources. Unfortunately the ruling elite in Islamabad are too busy topping up foreign bank accounts to astutely plan the future of Pakistan.
Often Baloch activists and intellectuals, regardless of their ethnicity, are abducted, tortured and then their mutilated bodies are dumped. Balochistan has seen targeted killings of its university professors, intellectuals, professionals and repression of the people is remarkably reminiscent of the way in which intellectuals were ruthlessly murdered at Dhaka University. East Pakistan has been a prime illustration of this abysmal state of affairs, yet Pakistan’s ruling elite and military repeatedly make the same blunders.
Pakistan’s notion of one country united by religion is being tainted by its continuous ethnic discrimination since its inception. The sheer ugly repression of non-Punjabi minorities is nauseating. Perhaps Jinnah did not plan through his vision well, was he too optimistic?
Pakistan was created on the basis of religion alone, where ethnicity and language were gravely overlooked. Unfortunately as long as human nature dictates, ethnic discrimination will exist.
So where does this leave Pakistan? I worry that Pakistan’s disintegration may come sooner than expected, and a best case scenario would be continued sectarian, religious and culture induced violence. So I haven’t been conclusive, perhaps that’s because there will be discrimination whatever the outcome. As much as I hope for a better future for Pakistan, optimism would be naive.
While Punjabis may not directly discriminate against their Pakistani counterparts, the concentrated wealth of resources and facilities in the Punjab makes the remainder of the population feel they are drawing the short straw. The Kalabagh Dam that would have provided Pakistan with much needed cheap electricity was due to be constructed in the Punjab, where the Indus river flows down from, however it’s erection has been disputed as it could potentially mean further water shortages downstream in Sindh and Balochistan, among other environmental issues, which are already arid regions. So the situation isn’t entirely clear cut. Should the South sacrifice their crops for the availability of electricity to the rest of the country?
And the creation of new provinces after 60 years of despotism is just another marketing strategy for power. It might be puerile to assume that the politicians finally found their consciences.