Ethnic Division of Pakistan: More Dhaka-like Debacles in the Offing

Ethnic Division of Pakistan: More Dhaka-like Debacles in the Offing

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Asif Ali Zardari

Islamabad — The ethnic division of Pakistan could lead the country towards more debacles like the fall of Dhaka in 1971, as the movements for new provinces are gaining momentum, with the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in forefront in favor of carving out Saraiki province from Punjab.

In the past the country faced disintegration due to tussles between two major political parties from East and West Pakistan. The disintegration of Pakistan is a heartbreaking episode in the history of the country, with great violence and upheaval and many deaths as the then-new state of Bangladesh was born out of Pakistan due to a power dispute between the Pakistan People's Party headed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Awami League chief Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

There were numerous reasons behind the disintegration of Pakistan, but the worst was discrimination against the people of East Pakistan by West Pakistan served as a stimulant to the movement for the separate state of Bangladesh.

The Bengalis were complaining about their treatment by the central government in West Pakistan as they were deprived of their basic rights and employment quota in major government departments and organizations. The key posts in both the civil and military bureaucracy were occupied by the West Pakistanis and the people from East Pakistan were treated like bonded laborer.

The top military pundits called the fall of Dhaka a conspiracy hatched by India and the then super power, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). So when the USSR disintegrated on December 26, 1991, Islamabad and Washington exchanged messages of congratulation.

Now, once again there are mass movements launched by various linguistic groups to divide the country on an ethnic basis that can definitely lead the country towards disintegration under the current political regime.

In 1971 East Pakistan was separated from West Pakistan when the Pakistan People’s Party, the current ruling party, insisted on forming the government despite being a second majority after the Awami League. The Awmai League deserved to form the central government as it had maximum seats in the National Assembly from both East and West Pakistan.

For the first time in Pakistan's history, the Pakistan People's Party has given maximum autonomy and resources to the provinces under the 18th Amendment and new National Finance Commission (NFC) award, which has weakened the hold of the federal government on many important issues.

Similarly, it was the PPP which boosted the demand for a separate Saraiki province and gave support to the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid) PML-Q demand for Hazara province only just for political interests, ignoring the consequences of an ethnic division of Pakistan.

The PPP has already tasked its manifesto committee to deliberate on Saraiki province. Exploiting the grievances of the people of the Southern Punjab against the provincial government in Lahore, the PPP and PML-Q joined hands for dividing Punjab on an ethnic basis. The PPP and PML-Q have already submitted a resolution for Saraiki province in the Punjab Assembly. The people of Southern Punjab complain of discrimination in development funds distributed in the province.

Now, the two main political parties of the present — the Pakistan People’s Party and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz — are at loggerheads over the issue of new provinces.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, which is the main stakeholder in Punjab, has termed the division of Punjab on an ethnic basis a conspiracy against the integrity of Pakistan. However, its leaders from Southern Punjab, especially its central senior vice president Javid Hashmi, have been calling for more provinces in the country. Hashmi has suggested that the Punjab should take lead through its division into four provinces for better administration and facilities to the people.

The people of Bahawalpur are also demanding a separate province. Supporters of the Bahawalpur province are also against the division of Punjab on an ethnic basis and see the demand for Saraiki province as a conspiracy to foil their struggle for separate province.

Sensing the intensity of the demand for Saraiki province, the PML-N formed a committee on new provinces.

The committee in its report called for more provinces in the country on an administrative basis. However, it strongly opposed the division of Punjab on an ethnic basis. The PML-N called for the formation of a national commission on new provinces, which would devise a plan for creation of more provinces across the country.

The people of Thal, a desert situated in Punjab province, comprises five major districts. The people of Thal have also a unique living style and a different culture and tradition. After the demands for new provinces, they are also asking for a separate province due their different culture from the people of Punjab.

Northern Punjab comprises Rawalpindi division, which is also known as Pothohar. There are also calls for separate Pothohar province.

If the issue of Saraiki province is not tackled carefully by both the PML-N and PPP, the demand for new provinces on an ethnic basis could emerge from other provinces as well.

According to some political experts, the formation of new provinces in the country on the ethnic basis will be dangerous for the integrity of Pakistan. The experts opine that the new provinces will not be able to manage their affairs due to lack of resources.

They claim that Pakistan disintegrated in 1971 due to the same reason – resentment among Bangalis against a strong federating unit.

The future of Pakistan looks for the moment like it will entail the creation of dozens of small provinces with their autonomous administration systems or several independent states to replace these provinces, which would be the end of the present state of Pakistan.

All of the political parties in Pakistan are trying to exploit the issue of the new provinces on the ethnic basis. However, the opponents of the new provinces called this division a conspiracy against the integrity of Pakistan that would create hatred and differences among the people of various provinces. They opine that the creation of the new provinces should be on administrative basis.

Some of the movements for independent states and separate provinces include:

Balochistan Insurgency
Balochistan is the largest province of Pakistan, having huge oil, gas, gold, coal and other mineral resources. The movement for an independent Balochistan has been going on since 1947 as a majority of the tribal leaders were against joining Pakistan.

Besides small scale army actions, Pakistani security forces have conducted two major operations against Baloch nationalists since the 1970s. Some Baloch nationalists are demanding maximum provincial autonomy, while the insurgents demand an independent state. The insurgency gained momentum after the killing of Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Abkbar Bugti during President Musharraf's regime in 2006.

Pakistan's central government has been accusing the separationists of receiving funds from India and other neighboring countries including the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The Baloch insurgents are targeting the people of other ethnicities, especially Punjabi. Many Punjabi people have been killed in Balochistan, showing the insurgents resentment towards the most populous province of Pakistan. At least 16 Punjabis, who were traveling to Balochistan through a bus, were killed by the gunmen in August 2010 after proving their identity as Punjabi.

Many insurgent groups including the Balochistan Republican Army, Baloch Liberation Front, Balochistan Liberation United Front, Baloch Defaee Tanzeem and Lashkar-e-Balochistan are operating in Balochistan.

Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) or Baloch Liberation Front is the strongest group among the insurgents. Most of the attacks on government assets, officials and army bases have been claimed by BLA.

The Baloch Liberation Army was headed by Mir Balach Marri, son of prominent politician Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri. Balach Marri was killed in Afghanistan in 2007. The late Nawab Akbar Bugti was also accused of supporting the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) when a military operation was launched against him.

Pakistan believes that the BLA, which has a strong network in Afghanistan, is being funded by India.

Brahamdagh Khan Bughti, grandson of Nawab Akbar Bugti, is another freedom fighter, who wants an independent Balochistan state. Pakistani officials have claimed that they have strong evidence of Brahamdagh Bugti's links with the India spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW).

The present government has announced a development and reform package, Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan, (beginning of rights of Balochistan) to win back the insurgents, but they rejected the package and called for an independent state.

Recently, the Awami National Party (ANP) demanded a separate province for Pashtuns in Balochistan with the name of Southern Pakhtunkhwa.

Insurgency in FATA
The Federal Administered Tribal Areas in North West of Pakistan have been facing an extremists' insurgency since the deployment of the army in 2001 as part of the international war against terrorism. About five thousands Pakistani soldiers and officers have been killed in the ongoing military operations in various parts of the North West of Pakistan.

The militants (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) had set up their separate Sharia courts and ruling systems in various parts of the tribal areas, including South Waziristan and North Waziristan agencies, Orakzai, Bajaur, Khyber Agency, etc before they were driven out from their strongholds.

The TTP wants to establish an Islamic government in Pakistan by implementing a Shariah system across the country. Before successful operations in Swat and some tribal areas, the Taliban had set up parallel administrative and judicial systems.

The tribal elders have also demanded a separate province for the tribesmen. While addressing a ceremony at the Presidency wherein FATA reform orders were signed by President Asif Ali Zardari, Munir Orakzai, an elected representative from FATA, demanded a separate province for the tribesmen.

Renaming North West Frontier Province as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
On the demand of the Awmani National Party (ANP) — a Pashtun nationalist party — the PPP-led central government renamed North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through the 18th Amendment. Even before officially renaming NWFP, President Asif Ali Zardari had been mentioning Pakhtunkhwa in his official speeches to parliament and United Nations General Assembly just to appease his Pashtun nationalist allies.

President Zardari achieved two political objectives by renaming NWFP; he created more political space for his party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and weakened the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) in Hazara division — the PML-N's stronghold — as the Hindko-speaking residents of Hazara were strongly opposed to the Pakhtukhwa name.

The Hindko-speaking residents of Hazara vehemently reacted to the new name for their province by launching a movement for a separate Hazara province. Many people were killed and injured in the ensuing violence in the Hazara division.

The Hazara movement was led by Sardar Haidar Zaman, former Nazim of District Abbottabad. The public representative of various parties from the area also announced their support for the movement, while the PML-Q of Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain made maximum political gains by openly supporting the Hazara movement.

The Pashtun nationalists were celebrating what they called achieving identity, while the residents of Hazara were dying on the roads. The PML-N lost its support base by opposing Hazara province on ethnic basis.

MQM and Jinnahpur Plot
In early 1990’s the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM), which was later renamed as Muttahida Qaumi Movement, was accused of plotting separation of Karachi — the largest city of Pakistan — for the Urdu speaking immigrants from India as Jinnahpur.

The government at that time launched a military operation when some ethnic groups turned their respective areas into "No Go" areas. Hundreds of people were killed in those operations. The government claimed it recovered maps of Jinnahpur during the operation. The MQM accused the government of genocide of the Urdu speaking people.

The civil and military establishments decided to divide the immigrants in the 1990s and Karachi was turned into the city of weapons.

The MQM was divided into two factions, one led by self-exiled leader, Altaf Hussian and the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (Haqiqi) led by Afaq Ahmed.

Nowadays once again the port city has been converted into a battlefield as more than 800 people have been killed in various incidents of target killing and violence since January 2011.

During the recent violence, the demand for a separate province for Urdu speaking people in Karachi re-emerged. Wall-chalking, the writing of political graffiti on walls along city streets, has become epidemic in some parts of Karachi, with many such messages calling for a separate province for immigrants. If Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were divided on ethnic basis, then the Urdu speaking people could also demand their separate province.

Some of the Sindhi nationalists have been calling for separate Sindhudesh state since 1972 against what they call the discriminatory attitude of the Punjabi-dominated establishment.

The Sindudesh ideology was presented by the famous nationalist politician Sindh GM Syed, who has passed away in 1995.

GM Syed formed Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) in 1972 to separate the province from Pakistan as he thought Sindh were not getting their due rights.

Now Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) is headed by Dr. Qadir Magsi. Recently when the PPP-led government restored Musharraf’s local government system in Karachi and Hyderabad and then in the whole Sindh, the nationalist parties staged protest demonstrations and nine persons were killed and many injured in the violent protests.