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Gulf of ethnic differences

By Qaisar Sultan

What makes fractionalization a fact of life in the countries with ethnic and religious diversity? The other question we may ask is: How far does ethnic fissure impinge on the peace and tranquility and progress of the country. The answer to the first question is simply lies in one word “Injustice”; it may be perceived or real. First of all there are separate identities of people that go as far as thousand years or few hundred years. There are clans, tribes, set of culture with distinct habits, language and traditions; the rest of social attitudes come with those backgrounds. The language barriers create some structural difficulties in ethnic relations and most of the time encourages disassociation. The dominant language or the official language comes in the way of acceptance. In so many countries, such as Turkey and Iraq, Kurds complained that their language was ignored; and thereby their children are not taught the culture and language.  Bengalis in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, felt cheated when Pakistani official language was Urdu. The fact is that those who are not proficient in official language has clear disadvantage.   One of the most powerful factors is religion of people; as we have seen in Iraq and Serbia. It is also important to understand that at a given time in the history of people, people start seeing the subtle differences and blow them out of proportion. Usually, during the tough economic times the ethnic differences intensify based on the distributional struggle; sometimes the impression of detestation due to the inequity becomes violent. When there is little to go around and the meek resources are squandered in corruption, the infighting begins. If the minority forgets and forgives, the majority attempts to take as much as the situation allows. The second factor is the intense feelings of one or the other group claim on the resources create strong ethnic identities.  Now, those groups that have power dictate the terms of social harmony and try to control the resources and power. One of the most intriguing issues for the social scientists is to study and understand the claims of indigenous people on power and resources. But most European and other regions have experienced something very different.

When Europeans had the power, they conquered other lands. Some of those lands had Aborigine population, such as the case of Australia; American Indians in North and South America had to suffer almost annihilation in the hands of settlers.  In Russia, the indigenous population was and still is treated very poorly by what they call Russian identity. The reason was that the European new comers or immigrants to those regions were lot smarter than the original population of those countries. The native population of Russia did not understand the structure of Soviet system and never demanded an independent country for the native people. The Slovaks, Moldavians, Baltic people, and people from the caucuses considered themselves superior to the Asiatic population. But once the Soviet Union was dissolved, the region was divided into smaller countries based on the ethnic and linguistic boundaries. It was the military of Soviet Union that kept all different ethnicities under the Russian ethnic control. In Iraq, Saddam and other tyrants including the kings controlled the Shiite majority under Sunni minority control through military and police power. After the end of the Saddam’s era, the Kurd population refused to live under Arab control; here we see the shifting of ethnic identities. If the biggest issue was the control of a sect of religion over the other sect, then why we find another ethnic issue that has taken over the religious issue. For example, the Muslim Bosnians were either Slovaks. We have seen a rapid development of ethnic feelings either on the line of religion or language or color. My point is that the ethnic phenomenon is not a fixed rule or an imperative and something that is rooted in our biological make up. We have seen in Sudan that the Muslin Arabs killed Black Muslims as they were different people altogether- So is the case in Algiers where Berbers and Arab identity gets confused.

 What we see in Pakistan, especially in Karachi, that the countrymen slaughter each other. The idea that we were very different people to begin with creates suspicion and havoc in the lives of people. How many people have to die to make a point or play politics on dead bodies? Is there one identity that should simply be called Pakistani? What convention makes it so sinister to be different; that one has a talent to speak a different language. But the politics of the country has been corrupted to a point that to take the human lives allow them to make a strong point of view. There is a sense of insecurity running so deep into ethnic psyche that one group feels cheated no matter what happens to their welfare. Karachi is one of the most polarized cities in the country; most sea ports are polarized as people come to do trade and find jobs. Karachi is also an industrialized city; there are jobs available for those who wish to work hard. Pathans are very hard working people. They have come to Karachi to find menial jobs. With the increasing population, they have been organized and like to have some political clout. The problem started when Ayub Khan cheated in elections and defeated Mohtruma Fatima Jinnah. Most Pakistani voted for her as we loved the sister of the founder of Pakistan, including people of Karachi. Ayub Khan sent an army of hooligans, lead by his son, Gohar Ayub; that scar has been a source of fall out between the two communities. The politicians have been exploiting this dissension for so long; every few years; we find hundreds being killed in the city. They blame each other. Then we have the ethnic war in Baluchistan where Balochi rebels enquired who was Punjabis and shoot innocent people. What has gone wrong with us? Are we all responsible for this mayhem?  Then we have indigenous people of Sindh who believe that one can’t become Sindhi even one changes the dress or language. The Mohajir leadership has been trying very hard to be accepted as Sindhis; NO CIGAR!


What is more puzzling is the fact that all of these sordid ethnic animosities seem to be endogenous; but there are indications that it has been directed partly towards an exogenous force. The power base and politicians find it convenient to satisfy their agenda of power and corruption through the fissure among varying ethnic groups. The fact is that Pakistan has been divided on the lines of ethnic identities; we have Baluchistan province for Balochis, Sindh for Sindhis, Punjab for Punjabis and Pakhtoonkhwa for Pakhtoon- We named provinces to define the ethnic differences and loyalties.  The pride of people, based on provincial identity, sometimes rightfully, give people a sense of belonging that part of the country. People living in America may call themselves from California or New York only because they lived there or born there; but they all believe they are first Americans. It is sad commentary to write that our politicians and a big number of our people have become so parochial that they can’t see beyond their ethnic identity.  It has to change now if we wish to live as a nation; only with one identity-Pakistani.

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