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Review Of Ethnic Discard In Pakistan History Essay

4901 words (20 pages) Essay in History

5/12/16 History Reference this

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Ethnicity is not a new phenomenon in world politics. For a long time ethnicity was regarded as the sole domain of sociologists, where as on studies on International Relations and intra-regional developments it received little attention.

2.      Ethnicity: Definition and Theory:

Before coming to the ethnic problems in Pakistan, it will be helpful to define ethnicity. Etymologically speaking the word ‘ethnic’ is derived from the Greek word ‘ethnikos’ which referred to: –

(a)   Non-Christian ‘pagans’

(b)   Major population groups sharing common cultural and racial traits, primitive cultures.

Ethnicity denotes the group behaviors of members seeking a common ancestry with inherent individual variations. It is also a reflection of one’s own perception of one self as the member of the particular group. According to the Prof. Dawa Norbu: –

“An ethnic group is discrete social organization within which mass mobilization and social communication may be affected. And ethnicity provided the potent raw material for nationalism that makes sense only to the members of that ethnic group. Its primary function is to differentiate the group members from the generalized others”. [1] 

â-Student of national institute of Pakistan studies Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad

Ethnicity is based on an attachment that brings people together because of similar cultural patterns, so making the group a ‘closed network’. The forces of history, language, geography, economics and politics operate as additional factors to push the ‘togetherness’ toward well-organized and coherent traditions and institutions. A shared belief in Diaspora, as among the Poles of the nineteenth century or the Jews, Kurds, Kashmiris, Tamil, Sikhs, Palestinians and Afghans of the present century, may inculcate strong bonds of common solidarity. Thus, ethnicity would imply more than an experience of migration or sense of insecurity arising from being a minority.

Out of 132 countries in 1992, there were only a dozen that could be considered homogeneous; 25 had a single ethnic group accounting for 90% of the total population while another 25 countries had an ethnic majority of 75%. 31 countries had a single ethnic group accounting for 50 to 75 % of the total population whereas in 39 countries no single group exceeded half of the total population. In a few European and Latin American cases, one single case, one single ethnic group would account for 75 % of the total population. [2] 

3.      The Pakistan Case

The country under study here – Pakistan – comes under the third level, with one dominant ethnic group accounting for 50 to 75 % of the population, as the Punjabis are around 56 % of the total population. In the case of Pakistan, the regional assertion based on the ethnic identities came to the fore in more pronounced ways in the 1990s. Ethnic disaffection was simmering in Baluchistan and NWFP since the 1970s. Similarly, the Mohajirs of Pakistan were emerging as an important ethnic group with the growth of MQM since the 1980s as a major force in Urban centers in Sindh, especially in Karachi and the twin city of Hyderabad. The Sindhi assertion has along been there since 1950s. All this has to be studied against the background of the separatism within Pakistan that climaxed in the formation of Bangladesh in 1971. [3] 

The standard to define any ethnic division in Pakistan is language instead of any racial division, like most of the Western countries, or traits, stereotypes or some other social or inherited interactions, customs or common interests. People having different social structures, traits, customs and stereotypes but with same mother tongue are considered from same ethnic group. The ultimate phenomenon to judge one’s ethnic group in Pakistan is his mother tongue, so here we will study all linguistic problems under the subject of ethnicity and proceed it under a summaries topic “Ethnic discard in Pakistan”.

4.      Historical Background

To examine the ethnicity in Pakistan, we will have to search for its roots in the Pakistan movement. It was a movement of a special nature, led by the Muslim League under leadership of Mohammed Ali Jinnah; the Muslims` of British India were fed with the fond hope of an Islamic State as opposed to the secular, democratic ideals of State Advocated by the Indian National Congress, which sought to unify diversities. Pakistan movement was very strong in Muslim minority provinces; where Muslims feared Hindu domination most. Pakistan, however, was created in the Muslim majority Provinces of northwestern India and Bengal. Ethnic, linguistic and cultural distinctions set them apart. The socio-cultural outlook of the Muslim populations of the Muslim minority provinces (Bihar, U.P, M.P, and Hyderabad) had very little similarity with the Muslims in Sindh, Baluchistan, and NWFP and even in Punjab. The Sindhis, Punjabis, Bengalis, Biharis, or Hyderabadis followed different customs. They were different people who had more in common with their Hindu neighbors than with Muslims of other provinces. The founding fathers of Pakistan had hoped, however, that the cementing force of Islam would maintain the integrity and unity of the country despite the presence of various ethnic groups. [4] 

After the passing away both Jinnah and Liaquat, the League virtually became leaderless. The League leadership was heavily Mohajir dominated. Just after independence, out of 27 top posts of the country including P.M, C.M, Governor, Attorney General etc., Mohajirs numbered about 18. They were very well educated in comparison to the other ethnic groups. However, the oligarchic League leadership delayed the formation of the constitution, and remained over-dependent upon the old colonial set-up, which again had its ethnic bias with Mohajirs and Punjabis having an upper hand. [5] 

Thus Punjabi – Mohajir combine further did not like the idea of Bengali dominated Pakistan, culturally a stronger community in Pakistan and numerically preponderant. The ruling elite, mostly Urdu speaking Mohajirs from north India, was completely against the Bengalis [6] . There was a big gap between East and West Pakistanis society in terms of rituals and customs. Between 1963 and 1967 the percentage of poor – those whose income was below Rs. 300 per month – had declined in both rural and urban areas, from 60.5 % to 59.7 % and from 54.8 % to 25 % respectively. The actual number of the poor in both the areas had risen from 24.46 million to 24.8 million in rural areas, and from 6.78 million to 6.81 million in urban areas. Economic growth favored the industrial sector at the cost of the traditional economy, and it led to growth of the cities at the cost of the rural hinterland and small towns. Punjab and West Pakistan grew at the cost of East Pakistan. Authoritarianism became associated with economic disparity. Ayub Khan’s (1958-1967) rule especially harbored an ethnic bias. According to Mahbubul Haq, 1968, twenty-two families controlled two thirds of Pakistan’s industrial assets: 80 % of banking and 70 % of insurance. Majority of them were from West Pakistan. This hatred and the sense of discrimination against the Bengalis culminated in the bifurcation of Pakistan in December 1971. It was the first direct manifestation of the anguish of major ethnic groups against the dominant ethnic groups, i.e., Punjabi, Sindhi, Pathan, Mohajir and Baluchi, apart from many small groups like Seraiki, Hindko, Zikri, and Ahmadiya etc. [7] 

The rise of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and the PPP to power in 1971 presented Pakistan with another opportunity to define national identity in secular socio-economic terms. But he miserably failed to embrace democratic norms, thus shaking the foundations of newly established paramilitary democracy and federalism in Pakistan. Bhutto could not tolerate his PPP’s electoral debacle in 1970 elections in Baluchistan as well as NWFP and to meddle with the ethnic politics of these Provinces. [8] 

The ruling political elites in Pakistan have always sought to use the ideology of Pakistani nation against the demands of different nationalities as well as ethnic groups for greater provincial autonomy. The elite’s temptation to take any demand for autonomy as a mischievous conspiracy to divide and disintegrate Pakistan has had adverse effects and led to assertion of many regional identities. [9] 

5.      The Case of Baluchi and Pathan Assertion

Baluchistan is the largest province of Pakistan constituting 43 % of the total area. Even if the name would suggest that the province is named after the principal ethnic community, the Baluchi, in Baluchistan, the Baluch make up less than half of the population of the province. In fact Baluchi population residing in Karachi outnumbers the Baluchi population living in Baluchistan itself. Baluchis are divided into several tribes and clans and organized on the lines of traditional semi-feudal Sardari System. Firstly Z.A.Bhutto played the sardars against each other for their own interest and finally in 1976 he declared the system abolished. [10] Subsequently, Baluchi leader Ghaus Bukhsh Bijenjo gave the theory of four nationalities. Z.A.Bhutto motivated by desire to dominate Baluchistan and NWFP dismissed the elected provincial governments and put the Baluch nationalist leaders on trial before the special Hyderabad tribunal. These measures were seen in Baluchistan and NWFP as an assault on the autonomy of the provinces. The resistance in Baluchistan soon developed into a civil war. Bhutto ordered the armed forces to suppressing the Baluchi dissidents. The war against Baluchis lasted almost three years and many Baluchis were forced to flee Afghanistan. The war resulted in the killing of 5300 Baluchis and death of 3300 soldiers. The Shah of Iran also came to the help of Bhutto in suppressing the Baluchi nationalities, as [11] he was afraid that the contagion might spread to Iranian Baluchis too. [12] 

Again in October 1992, ethnic tempers ran high and clashes took place between the Baluchis and second largest ethnic group, the Pathans in Baluchistan, when 12 new wards were included in the Quetta municipal corporation. Pathans dubbed the decisions as faulty because according to them it was meant to outnumber Pathan councilors against Baluch to ensure the election of a Baluch mayor.

After the Chagai nuclear tests by Pakistan in May 1998, some Baluchi students hijacked one PIA plane to register their disapproval and draw international attention to the prevailing sense of discrimination in Pakistan against Baluch people and Baluchistan. The Afghan crisis in early 1980s also triggered ethnic tension between the Pathans and the Baluchis. [13] 

6.      Pakhtoonistan Case:

The idea of an independent Pakhtunistan is very old. The origins of this idea lie in the nostalgic association of the Pathans with the empire of Ahmed Shah Durrani, a Pathan, who gained control over the entire area from Persia to Delhi during the late 18th century. This empire did not last long. But the memory of this empire lingers in the popular memory and this has provided the legacy for those advocating Pakhtunistan. Apart from this the major ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Pathans are willing to support any movement for autonomy for Pathans in Pakistan. Continued negligence of NWFP by central leadership in Islamabad (claiming by ANP leadership) gives further legitimacy to the movement for ethnic assertion, which might assume disintegrative proportion. The gradual decline of Pathan representation in administration and especially security agencies has created lot of resentment among the Pathans. In 1968 Pathans were almost 40 % of the top military elite, thus getting the bigger share than the Punjabis (35-4%). Ayub Khan was himself a Pathan. For sometime, the large presence of Pathans in the state apparatus made it difficult for the advocates of autonomous or independent Pakhtunistan to convince the younger educated middle classes to believe that they were being ruled by other ethnic group. But later on the steps taken by the central administration contributed to their fear of gradual marginalization in the hands of the Punjabis. The massive influx of Afghan refuges into Baluchistan and NWFP in the wake of the Afghan war revived the Pakistani fears of on eventual revival of the Baluch and Pathan separatism in the 1980s. This in fact distributed the ethnic equation in Baluchistan leading to Baluch assertion for they were being ‘minoritised’ (outnumbered by Pathans). Similarly in NWFP, the huge Pathan-refugee population added to the confidence of the Pathans for renewed assertion. During this period, interestingly quite, regional parties were welcomed into alliances with mainstream national parties and such coalition succeeded in blunting the edge of ethnic assertion effectively for sometime till irreconcilable differences tore them apart leading to ethnic assertion by the regional parties again. [14] 

Thus, after the 1988 elections the Awami National Party (ANP) having considerable Pathan following made an alliance with the PPP and in 1990 formed a coalition government with the Islami Jumhoori Ittehad (IJI), and again with PML-N in 1997. This alliance broke down when the government of Nawaz Sharif refused to rename the NWFP as Pakthunkhwa. This marked apparently the return of the strategy of ethnic mobilization by the ANP. Begum Nasim Wali (the wife of Wali Khan) declared in an interview: “I want an identity. I want the name to change so that Pathans may be identified on the map of Pakistan”. She emphasized that Pakthunkhwa was ” the 3000 year old name of this area: the name used by Ahmed Shah Abdali who said he forgot everything including the throne of Delhi but not Pakthunkhwa”. ANP is also against the Kalabagh Dam project whose royalties the Pathans say is bound to go in Punjabi pockets [15] .

Post 9/11 scenario is quite different from past as a result of massive victory of anti-American, pro-Taliban, six party Islamic political coalition Mutahida majlis-I-Amal in Elections-2002.American hatred element eliminated the Pakhtunistan issue after so-called War against terrorism in Afghanistan by US led Allied forces, because of the close ties of Pukhtoons with Afghanistan both ancestrally and historically,

7.      The Mohajirs

Another serious ethnic tension, going on in Karachi, is the one between the Sindhis and the Mohajirs. The Mohajirs are the people who migrated to Pakistan mainly from gangetic belt of India, in 1947. The Mohajirs were not only in politics but also dominant in administration in Pakistan during the initial years. Out of 101 Muslim members of the Indian Civil Service, 95 opted for Pakistan, among whom only one third were Punjabis. The Mohajir represented only 3.5 % of the population, in the early years while they occupied 21 % of Civil Services post. Right since the beginning, the Mohajirs shared a dominant position with the Punjabis, who because of their former status of the martial race in British India represented 80 % of the armed forces. The reign of Ayub Khan saw the balance tilting in favour of Punjabi-Pathan axis. The Mohajirs were no longer in apposition to exert as much influence, as they did not vote for Ayub in the 1964 Presidential election.

Z. A. Bhutto’s PPP came to power in 1971. The Sindh saw it as the empowerment of Sindhi nationalism. At the same time Mohajirs saw Bhutto as Anti-Mohajir. Bhutto made Sindhi compulsory in Schools by passing the Sindhi language bill. It forced bureaucrats to use Sindhi as an official language. Mohajirs protested against this. Bhutto introduced a quota system under which 1.4 % of the posts in central administration were given to rural Sindhis (Sindhi hinterland) through the 1973 constitution. This affected the Mohajir preponderance in the Civil Service of the Province. In 1973 Mohajirs constituted 33.5% of the posts in civil administration, when they only represented 8% of the total population. The rural Sindhis occupied 2.7% of the posts in the junior grade and 4.3% of the posts in the officer grade. In the army they represented only 2.2% and their presence has remained more or less the same since then Zia, on the one hand supported Mohajirs for countering the PPP in its stronghold and on the other favoured Sindhi nationalism and also facilitated the Punjabi penetration in Sindh. The Karachi crisis is mainly between the Sindhis and the Mohajirs but there is strong presence of other ethnic groups too. Table-1 shows the real situation. In April 1998, a Mohajir boy’s love marriage with a Pathan girl triggered a new brand of ethnic clash resulting in many deaths.


Ethnic Groups in Sindh [16] 


Ethnic Group
























Mohajir ethnic consciousness found expression first in 1986 in the form of student activism, but very soon it consolidated into a political party – the Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM). Soon after its appearance, the MQM swept into power in the urban centers of Sindh, taking over the Mayor ship of Karachi and Hyderabad in 1988. This led to confrontation and the Province became the battleground for violence and armed conflict”. Army launched operation clean up in 1992 to clean Sindh of dacoits and anti-social elements. During the operation, MQM activists were harassed and fake-encounters occurred. Army also engineered split within MQM and the split away group was known as MQM – Haqiqi faction, which acts as an arm of the security agencies of the Pakistani State. The main MQM party was then known as MQM – Altaf Hussain faction. The leader of MQM – A, Altaf Hussain, lives in exile, in London. During the last decade, encounters between the two MQM factions and as well as between MQM – A and the Police and security forces took thousands of lives in Karachi. The city, which generated one third of the country’s GDP, has been termed by the New York Times as one of the violent cities of the World. It has had negative impact on the economic scenario, which is already under tremendous pressure after the Chagai explosions due to international economic sanctions. [17] 

There are many other small ethnic groups in the country and many linguistic groups as well. Various smaller linguistic groups often complain that they are not receiving proper treatment from the center.


Language distribution in Pakistan [18] 



No. Of speakers




























Among the above-mentioned linguistic groups, Seraiki-speaking people have proclaimed their independent ethnic identity within Punjab. They have demanded that Punjab should be bifurcated and Seraikistan would be constituted as a province. Mr. Taj Langah leader of Seraiki Movement, presented as a revolutionary Leader by Indian Radio “Akash wani” every week, with a strong financial support from Indian agencies is working for a separate Seraiki Province consisting of Multan, Bahawalpur and Dera Ghazi Khan Divisions.

8.      Disguised Truth with assertion to eliminate the Problem

As far as fulfillments of regional aspirations are concerned, after the secession of Bangladesh, Punjab has emerged as the focal point of the unity and integrity as well as the cause of regional assertion. Punjab became economically very strong after the successful culmination of ‘green revolution’ in 1970s.

Pakistan is a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country. The conflicting forces of unity and diversity could not be balanced due to prevalence of acute ethnic and linguistic variations and lack of mutual interdependence of national and regional sub-systems. The frequent outbreak of federal provincial and inter-provincial crisis such as the one-unit act, the Pukhtoons-Baluch struggle for maximum autonomy and the Sindhi-Urdu controversy in Sindh continues to disturb the federal equilibrium. In the process the ruling elites, in a bid to keep the union intact tends to gravitate more and more towards centralization. [19] 

When Z. A. Bhutto took over as the first elected Prime Minister of the country in 1971, there was some hope for he had made his intentions very clear on the issue of founding and strengthening a federal structure under which, regional aspirations could be effectively managed. He came out with the 1973 constitution. But within one year of passage of 1973 constitution, he himself violated the very ethos enshrined in the constitution. Zia used his full tenure (1977-1988) to destabilize the society, by pitting one against the other. He used Islam not as a cementing force to unite the whole society but to legitimize his illegitimate regime [20] . The restoration of democracy in 1988 raised some hope in this direction. But rampant corruption, growing fundamentalism, sectarian violence, etc., dampened the prospects of good, efficient and federalized governance. Bureaucracy, which is very important in any system, saw itself as the ultimate arbiter of Pakistan’s fate and soon linked itself with the army. The military bureaucratic collaboration proved lethal to the development of other institutions. The legislative branch remained sapless; the judiciary withered and the press stultified. Successive Prime Minister depended on the support of the Army to maintain public order. According to the Article 6 of 1973 Constitution, army rule could not be imposed, but it has been imposed successfully, first in July 1977 and recently in 12th October 1999.

The assertion of regional identities can be attributed to the shrinking resources too. Economy is in doldrums in Pakistan. Apart from gross mismanagement by the ruling elite – the army – bureaucracy- landlord troika – the nuclear engagement with India has taken its toll. Economic growth has faltered and is now incapable of keeping pace with Pakistan’s annual population growth rate of nearly 3%, from about 6% in the 1980s. Current military budget consumes roughly 40% of the gross national product. Much of the government spending goes on interest payment. After all this, the government does not have sufficient amount to meet with people’s aspiration. The chief interest of the elite in this situation has been to maintain status quo. [21] 

All this has had its effects on the regional aspirations. The formation of political outfits like PONAM (Pakistan’s Oppressed Nations Movement), which vows to fight for the rights of the oppressed nationalities in Pakistan, shows the way non-Punjabi ethnic and national identities are trying to assert themselves in the national political scene. It is easy to brush them aside as nominal parties without having any constituency or support base. But the sense of frustration that is simmering within may very well erupt posing grave challenges to national integration in Pakistan.

Pakistani society is ethnically diverse yet overwhelmingly Muslim. It is largely rural yet beset by the problems of hyper urbanization. It is a male-dominated society in which social development has lagged considerably behind economic change, as revealed by such critical indicators as sanitation, access to health care, and literacy, especially among females. Increasing population pressure on limited resources, together with this pattern of social and economic inequity, was causing increased disquietude within the society in the early 1990s.

Pakistan was created in 1947, as a homeland for Muslims in South Asia, and about 97 percent of Pakistanis are Muslim. The founders of Pakistan hoped that religion would provide a coherent focus for national identity, a focus that would supersede the country’s considerable ethnic and linguistic variations. Although this aspiration has not been completely fulfilled, Islam has been a pervasive presence in Pakistani society, and debate continues about its appropriate role in national civic life. During the 1990s, Islamic discourse has been less prominent in political controversy, but the role that Islamic law should play in the country’s affairs and governance remains an important issue.

There is immense regional diversity in Pakistan. Pukhtoons, Baluch, Punjabis, and Sindhis are all Muslims, yet they have diverse cultural traditions and speak different languages. Ethnic, regional, and–above all–family loyalties figure far more prominently for the average individual than do national loyalties. Punjabis, the most numerous ethnic groups, predominate in the central government and the military. Baluch, Pukhtoons, and Sindhis find the Punjabi preponderance at odds with their own aspirations for provincial autonomy. Ethnic mixing within each province further complicates social and political relations. [22] 

Expectations had been raised by the return of democracy to Pakistan in 1988 after the death of Mohammad Zia ul-Haq, by the continued economic expansion in the 1990s, and by some observable improvement in the volatile relations among ethnic groups that had so divided the country in years past. Also in the early 1990s, previously peripheralized social movements, particularly those concerning women and the environment, assumed a more central role in public life. As bilateral and multilateral development assistance has dwindled, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) committed to economic and social development have emerged and begun to take on important responsibilities. Nonetheless, the problems that confront Pakistan pose a significant threat to its cohesion and future.

Sociologists speak of a loss of a sense of social contract among Pakistanis that has adversely affected the country’s infrastructure: the economy, the education system, the government bureaucracy, and even the arts. As population pressure increases, the failure of the populace to develop a sense of publicly committed citizenship becomes more and more significant. The self-centeredness about which educator Ishtiaq Hussain Qureshi complained soon after independence is increasingly noticeable in many areas of social life. Although many people once imagined that economic development would by itself improve the quality of life, few any longer believe this to be true.

Family or personal interest and status take precedence over public good in Pakistan. Thus traffic laws are often enforced solely according to a person’s political clout rather than due process, and admission to school depends more upon connections or wealth than on ability. Salaries, as compared with bribes, are so inconsequential a privilege of employment that people sometimes plead to be given appointments without pay.

Failure to develop civic-minded citizenship is also evident in public administration and imbalanced government spending. For example, military expenditures vastly exceed combined expenditures on health and education. The bureaucracy, a legacy of the British colonial period, has not modernized sufficiently to incorporate new technologies and innovations despite efforts by the government staff colleges.

Although in the mid-1980s the World Bank forecast the advancement of Pakistan to the ranks of middle-income countries, the nation had not quite achieved this transition in the mid-1990s. Many blame this fact on Pakistan’s failure to make significant progress in human development despite consistently high rates of economic growth. The annual population growth rate, which hovered between 3.1 and 3.3 percent in the mid-1990s, threatens to precipitate increased social unrest as greater numbers of people scurry after diminishing resources. [23] 

9.      Conclusion:

Ethnicity in Pakistan is a story of ambiguous, often turbulent relations between the center and the provinces, and also the net result of political, economic and cultural alienation. At another level, it is a saga of majority-minority bickering, exacerbated by rapid demographic changes propelling new economic forces and contestations over census statistics, quotas and jobs. Ethnicity in Pakistan, despite a shared belief in lingual, territorial and cultural commonalities, is a complex phenomenon with strong prospects for a positive pluralism leading to national integration and acculturation-but only if unevenness in state-led policies is removed and fully empowered democratic institutions are allowed to function in the country vis-à-vis proper revenue distribution and sanctity of provinces rights should not be disturbed. Nevertheless, ethnicity within the Pakistani historical experience (especially after 1971) is not secessionist and tends to be generally integrationist.





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