National integration — challenges for Pakistan


Muhammad Asif

SINCE its birth on August 14, 1947, Pakistan has been faced with inherent multidimensional and multidirectional internal as well as external pressures posing challenges to its territorial integrity and survival as a sovereign state. These challenges mainly emanate from Pakistan’s geographical location, hostile neighbours, and diversification of its population on provincial, racial, ethnic, linguistic and sectarian basis. In addition to the inherent vulnerabilities of Pakistan, the country has been under pressure due to self-inflicted scars, which propped up mainly due to the incompetent leadership. Propagation of Pakistan’s image as a radical Muslim state, political instability, economic susceptibility, below par performance of constitutional institutional are some of the worrisome challenges that have come into existence due to mismanagement and maladministration. The dismemberment of Pakistan in December 1971, which resulted in the metamorphosis of the erstwhile East Pakistan into Bangladesh, testifies how India took the advantage of our inherent geographical handicaps, and mishandling of political turmoil by the insincere and incompetent military and political leadership.
The growing ethnic divide in Pakistan is a matter of serious concern to its solidarity and territorial integrity. The ethno-national movements that sprout from time to time are detrimental to the national unity. In Balochistan province, history of insurgencies is as old as the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The Baloch insurgent raised arms against the state in 1948, 1958–59, 1962–63 and 1973–77, and the ongoing insurgency since 2003. The Armed groups demand greater control of the province’s natural resources and political autonomy. Baloch separatists have attacked civilians from other ethnicities in the province. From 2010 onwards, attacks against the Shia community – though not always directly related to the political struggle – were increased that contributed to intensify sectarian tension in elsewhere in Pakistan, as well.
However, according to a Baloch analyst, Malik Siraj Akbar, insurgency in Balochistan has considerably weakened. In an article titled “The End of Pakistan’s Baloch Insurgency” he has reported that Baloch militants had started killing their own commanders. Considerable number of Baloch, militants taking advantage of reconciliation offers, have laid their weapons. In April 2016, four militant commanders and 144 militants surrendered. Another 600 rebels were killed and 1,025 surrendered in August 2016. In April 2017, 500 Baloch rebels surrendered to the state, including the members of Balochistan Liberation Army.
The News International has reported; a recent Gallup survey revealed that the majority of Baloch do not support independence from Pakistan. Only 37 percent of the ethnic Baloch were in favour of independence. Amongst Balochistan’s Pashtun population support for independence was even lower at 12 percent. However, a majority (67 percent) of Balochistan’s population did favour greater provincial autonomy, which prompted the federal government to initiate democratisation steps. In the 2013 provincial elections, the Grand Alliance, dominated by Pashtun and Baloch nationalist parties, after winning the majority seats, formed the government. The local government elections held in 2015, on the order of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, helped to further decentralise policymaking for local population regarding health, education and sanitation.
After the emergence of Sindhi middle class and the adoption of Sindhi language as the official language in the Sindh province in early 1970s, tension between Sindhis and Mohajirs (Muslims, particularly the Urdu speaking, who migrated from India to settle in urban centres of Sindh after the creation of Pakistan) began to rise. In the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan, framed by Pakistan People’s Party of a Sindhi leader, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the population of Sindh was divided into rural and urban districts to ensure that Sindhis were better represented in the provincial and national assemblies as well as government jobs. The Mohajirs felt that they had been marginalised to promote the economic and political interests of Sindhis by their leaders. The movement launched by the Mohajirs for their rights evolved into the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) in mid-1980, which called for the recognition of Mohajirs as a separate ethnic group on the basis of their common culture and language. The MQM movement has contributed towards a well-defined Mohajir identity in Pakistan. The sectarian divide particularly between two major Muslim sects; Sunnis and Shias has always been exploited by the intelligence agencies of hostile states as well as some Muslim countries to promote their sectarian ideologies. After the Afghan War, which unfortunately coincided with Iranian Revolution in late 1970s, Pakistan became an arena for the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two major proponents of Sunni and Shia schools of thoughts, respectively.
Despite the experience of East Pakistan debacle, our current internal scenario provides a number of identical expanses and vulnerabilities that are being exploited by our enemies. In some ways, our current security scenario is quite identical to that of 1971. In 1971, it was India, supported by the erstwhile Soviet Union, militarily intervened to split Pakistan because of Pakistan’s unfavourable geographic, political and military situation in the East Pakistan. Now the same old enemy of Pakistan has teamed up with the some other global actors to destabilise Pakistan. In addition to its close economic and military ties with China, Pakistan’s nuclear assets seem to have prompted the US to enter into a strategic partnership with India to ease an Islamic state into an ineffectual South Asian country subservient to India.
Due to the Indian presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan has been surrounded by hostile forces, which are using Afghan territory to fuel provincial, ethnic, linguistic and sectarian rift among Pakistanis, particularly in the area of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the South Punjab. But it never means that there are no indigenous interprovincial, ethnic, sectarian and linguistic issues that warrant immediate reparation. The grievances of Baloch nationalists, and of Urdu speaking population of the urban Sindh are among the more grim issues that need to be addressed urgently, so as to counter the exploitation of dissidents among these communities by foreign intelligence agencies.
— The writer, a retired Brig, is professional educationist based in Islamabad.

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