Pakistan’s Challenge of National Integration

While the elite class already has little to do with political consciousness and decision-making, it’s the middle class of any country that incorporates rational decision-making into political choices and paves way for a feasible governance mechanism by entrusting power in the hands of the right people.

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Cohesion for the pursuit of harmony aimed at achieving a goal of collective security and national development with the units setting aside their ethnic biases sounds like a relishing dream to think of. But unfortunately, it’s not a pragmatically viable portrayal for Pakistan, at least anytime sooner. The feeling of being united for mutual pursuits which are meant to procure a common good for all is something very appreciative for the development indexes of a nation.

However, the realization of such dreams becomes a herculean task for states that are drenched in violent sectarian and ethnic conflicts. For decades Pakistan has witnessed unwelcomed chaos that gyrates around the lynchpins of religion-social and racial segregations in political and economic spheres. Scrolling through the scrapes of history, multiple divergences are realized that contributed to what has now become a threat to national integration and cohesion.

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Understanding the matter better

Beginning right after the inception, the early debacles with the neighbor state over Kashmir in 1948 and later on in 1965 in Indo-Pak country was gradually garbed on a destructive aisle. Worsened by the lags in constitution-making, and frequent dissolutions of legislative assemblies by the bellicose adventures of nonpolitical entities, together contributed a lot to maneuver the landscape in favor of disintegration. The language riots of 1952 calling for the Bengali language to be declared a national language of Pakistan had set the path of disintegration of our eastern wing in 1971.

And not to miss, how the world witnessed the episodes of the state’s brutal attempts to subdue fundamental rights of citizens by opening up fire on protesting Bengali students at Dhaka University on 21st February 1952 which had laid the foundation of separatism and depravity among the eastern wing of Pakistan. All these factors brewed the crisis of integration in the early years after inception.

But the most uniquely complicated factor among all of these, which wasn’t a result of ill-informed policy-making or any miscalculated political adventure, but rather a natural corollary of events taking place before independence, was the diverse structure of federating units and the subsequent unsuitable state formation for those units in governance setup of Pakistan. Punjab for instance had been one of those six undivided provinces since 1901, N.W.F.P although given provincial status as early as 1901, couldn’t practice unit hood in the true sense till 1937.

On the other hand, Sindh got provincial status in 1935 after separation from Bombay while Baluchistan, like now, also lagged on developments then and got actual provincial status in 1970, after getting free for Governor General Rule. The difference in timing and the resultant capacity development in these provinces has been one significant factor even today when Punjab tends to outdo as compared to the other three due to comparatively better governance mechanisms developed over time.

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The state formation, as aforesaid, also didn’t suit the requirements of the state at the time of inception. While the unicameral legislatures dominated the state functionaries till the 1973 constitution, the vertical top to bottom dependence of units over highly and more precisely overly centralized centers created fiscal issues and tufts between the federation and the units that unfortunately continue to exist despite the NFC awards. Corruption and red-tapism that halt the due standard of meritocracy is yet another chapter of the story to be explored.

The corruption fiasco

The relative gruesomeness of these ills can be ascertained from the fact that Pakistan is just dropping on the Corruption Perception Index for the last 3 years consecutively. From a rank of 117 out of 189 in the year 2018 to being 120th in 2019, the picture got even bleak in the 2020 report while we dropped to 124th place among 189 countries ranked.

This economic fallout and rampant malpractice culture which remains unaddressed by and large led to a sense of what one comprehends as negative political culture. While the elite class already has little to do with political consciousness and decision-making, it’s the middle class of any country that incorporates rational decision-making into political choices and paves way for a feasible governance mechanism by entrusting power in the hands of the right people. The negative political culture tends to deteriorate the middle-class political consciousness and their decision-making becomes prey to momentary incentives at the hands of power mongers.

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Alas, these politico-economic degenerative factors didn’t solely proliferate the disintegration mantra among the deprived and aggrieved masses of the land of pure, rather another set of factors under the ambit of religious dogmatism too blotched the scenario that was already dithering between survival and security. From lack of clarity in the ideological arena, with swift sliding from secularly religious at the time of inception, to comparatively modernist identities in 60’s and 70’s, the gradient got steeper as we entered 80’s and cloaked our facets in radical Islamization. The drift had been gradual but surely operative in ’90s as a moderate Islamization approach had been adopted and it still continues even after decades despite witnessing a ‘clash of civilizations in the premise of the global war on terror.

This lack of clarity, on one hand, impeded a directive strategy for Pakistan as a state to adopt and on the other hand led to the manipulation of every contour of religion for personal pursuits of those used to manipulate power balances in their favor. Feuds over moon sightings and lack of concurrence in religious celebrations present an apt case in point when reflected upon over the years.

The integration rhetoric is also depleted by stratification in the state education system whereby three parallel systems operate with alienation from each other. Cambridge system on the extreme left resonates the liberalist ideas and the Madrassah system on the far right echoing conservativism and rigidity while the public sector dwindles between both attempting to traverse a trajectory from right to left. A single national curriculum has been a directive measure taken by those responsible to mitigate the differences, although, it has its own dire implications and concerns are being raised by policy analysts and academicians on its viability.

The posing threats

Indian involvement in Balochistan and consistent anti-state practices by BLA and BLF also pose a threat to our state security along with being detrimental to national integration. Although India is in denial over any such involvement but Kalbhushan Yadav’s presence in Balochistan and Harbiyary Hikmatyar’s as well as Bugti’s request for asylum to India corroborates Indian propaganda behind this chaos and demands stringent accountability by virtue of international customary practices.

Changing regional dynamics, Afghan crises and multifarious factors underlying Indian bellicosity call for certain remedial initiatives by our state in order to get over the diverse effects posed by disintegration with our units. With Afghanistan’s unstable political and governance order, the FATA echoes can be anytime spurred against the state narrative, if we fail to promptly address them. Their lack of contentment over constitutional status and non-procurement of their share in the federal divisible pool despite being promised by Federal, Punjab, and KPK is only sketching the picture bleak and grim.

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Also, the separatist chants raised by Hazara in KPK need to be realized by the state. Ethnicities do find firm ground in their mother languages. The Hazara have been long demanding a due concurrence over Hindko language, In order to mitigate their negative reverberation, the state can come forward and start with gradual steps. In this arena establishing language departments in local universities can serve the purpose at the earliest. Taking steps further, cultural and linguistic boards that work on provincial levels of all the provinces can be effective and promising.

The state has to take the lead to consolidate its units, without adopting a differentials approach thus crushing identities like ethnic cleansing. Or an assimilative or pluralist approach whereby the former works through coercively integrating all smaller identities into one central character and the latter dwells upon allowing multiple identities to coexist without any concurrence. The federation model is the only answer for Pakistan to hold together its units firmly in a nexus that defies all odds.

Professor Hamid Kizilbash, had aptly reflected upon the situation of those involved in the political, religious and sectarian upsurge. “The people we ignored are taking their revenge.” Unless the state comes forward to address the grievances of all the ethnic and religious groups without hampering their right to uphold their cultural identities, Pakistan cannot combat the disunity that is likely to take a toll on our national progress and collective security in the longer run.

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The recipe is clear and easy; it’s now for the state to act in the right direction without wasting any more time in laying the burden of responsibility on those who came in power before them. At this point in time when Pakistan has to play greater roles in the regional political framework, stability within its own frontiers is imperative for any major policy decision.

The author is a media researcher associated with the University of Punjab. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.