Managing Diversity in Pakistan: Going Beyond Federalism (W-131)

Managing Diversity in Pakistan: Going Beyond Federalism (W-131)

Publication details

  • Monday | 11 Mar, 2013
  • Yunas Samad
  • Working Papers
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Prof. Yunas Samad (D.Phil. Oxon)

University of Bradford


Introduction :

The paper considers various theoretical perspectives that underscore the relevance of managing difference in a multinational state and the various strategies used by states in regulating difference in general and in Pakistan specifically. It then briefly illustrates the central features of federalism at different points in Pakistan’s history and considers actually the practise of managing difference at various historical junctures. A critical analysis of the various alternatives is then deliberated on and an evaluation of the pros and cons of each approach is made allowing for reflections on possible policy development. Management of Ethnicity in the era of globalization

Ethnic mobilizations have been a persistent problem in Pakistan’s history and considerable angst and blood has been and is being spilt over this issue. The breakup of the country in 1971 with the emergence of an independent Bangladesh and continuing difficulties today in Balochistan are a key reminder of the seriousness of the issue.  The concern is that on the 41st anniversary of the independence of Bangladesh there is almost a complete amnesia here in Pakistan with hardly any reference to the events that led up to breakup of the country in 1971. Those who do not learn from history are bound to repeat their mistakes and the same mistakes are being repeated by resorting to a military solution for a political problem in Balochistan.

To compound the problem, ethnicity has become more significant, generally, in the era of globalization. The process of social change has initiated processes that unleash ethnic and national movements challenging state systems, which were locked in states during the Cold War. The processes leading to the collapse of nation states, emergence of virulent forms of ethnic movements demanding statehood have been invigorated by the emergence of transnational processes that side-step the nation state, directly intersecting with the locale. It is a testament to the impact of globalization, which has been in part responsible for the explosion in ethnic and nationalist conflict (Barber 2003, Castells 1997), testified by the collapse of Yugoslavia, Somali and the emergence of East Timor and South Sudan as independent countries. It is in this context of transnational processes promoting ethnic national movements that Pakistan’s enduring difficulty in managing differences needs to be seen in the issue of managing difference, in particularly the separatist impulses in Balochistan are more difficult to handle due to transnational character of the opposition. In other words, state control has become vitiated by contemporary ethnic militancy that has diasporic support, financial and technical, mainly in Oman and Gulf states and uses transnational media, located in Europe and the USA, as both a political and cultural tool evading national control and challenging ideological hegemony.

Formally Pakistan is a federation; however, federalism has only been operating partially in its history, which has intensified complaints of majoritarian rule. Long stretches of military rule with its majoritarian compulsions have exacerbated the difficulties of managing ethnic mobilizations. A highly centralised, top-down style of control associated with authoritarian rule simply exacerbates the difficulty in managing difference as shown by the Balochistan example. Thus any discussion on Federalism its refinement and advancement is grounded on the assumption of democratic rule and rights of citizenship.

Managing difference is a major concern for most nation states and various strategies are employed on the macro and micro level that involve various combinations of power sharing and recognition of cultural difference. For Charles Taylor, the philosophical premise is that lack of recognition causes harm (Goldberg 1994). Identity politics is shaped by its recognition or its absence or misrecognition and absence or misrecognition causes harm. The issue of absence or misrecognition causing harm becomes apparent when an overview of various strategies for managing difference is made.  A taxonomy of managing difference can be broadly divided into two strategies, those that attempt to eliminate difference-genocide, forced transfer of mass population, partition and/or secession; and those that try to assimilate or manage difference – ranging from various form of majoritarianism, including hegemonic control, arbitration, cantonisation or federalism, consociationalism or power sharing and multiculturalism (Mc Garry and O’Leary 1993).

In Pakistan, it is alleged, partitions, transfer of population, genocide, secession, assimilation, federalism and hegemonic control have all been applied for the elimination and regulation of difference. Partition of British India into two independent countries was accompanied with transfer of population in order to eliminate religious difference making Pakistan more than 95 per cent Muslim. This strategy of removing diversity persisted into the 1950s when communal violence in East Pakistan led to the forcible departure of the entire Hindu population to India. Finally the military’s response to the political demands of East Pakistan was allegedly an attempt to use genocide to eliminate difference and when this failed it resulted in succession and the emergence of an independent Bangladesh. In post-1971-Pakistan dominant mode has been hegemonic control within a federal context, and the breakdown of hegemonic control has resulted in other procedures being applied (Samad 2007:90-101).