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Back | Programme Area: The Social Effects of Globalization

Pakistan: Ethno-Politics and Contending Elites



This paper forms part of the authors' larger study on ethnic conflict and development in Pakistan. After a brief discussion of the formation of ethnic consciousness in the context of contemporary post-colonial states, the authors describe the key features of the ethnic situation in Pakistan. The bulk of the paper is taken up with an analysis of the evolution of ethnic tensions and violence in the province of Sindh. The dynamics of these conflicts are studies within the larger context of national politics and development policies and patterns. There is also a discussion of the role played by regional ethnic associations and institutions such as the state, the political parties, the bureaucracy, the judiciary and the army in the unfolding of ethnic conflicts in Sindh.

Although Islam provided a unifying element in Pakistan, the ethnic diversity of the country proved to be a source of dissension and conflicts. The suthors attribute this largely to failures of national leadership to share power and to pursue equitable development policies. The initial disparities in resources and development among different ethnic groups were exacerbated by concentration of power at the centre and discriminatory economic policies. The failure to share power and abide by the electoral process resulted in a dismemberment of the country with the creation of Bangladesh as a separate state.

The province of Sindh has been convulsed by ethnic conflicts since the early years of independence. The immediate source of its problems was the mass migration of refugees from India at the time of the partition of the sub-continent. These refugees, known as mohajirs, came in the subsequent years to constitute a significant proportion of the population of Sindh and to form a majority in some urban areas, especially Karachi. In view of their better education and skills, they took the place of the departing Hindu middle class professionals and business groups. Through their alliance with the ruling Punjabi elite in Islamabad, the mohajirs were able to obtain preferential access to resources dispensed by the state. This set the stage for their conflict with the nascent Sindhi middle class which felt deprived and discriminated against in its native lands. The conflict was further sharpened by the arrival of migrants from the Frontier Province. A portion of the massive arms destined for Afghan refugees found its way into the streets of Karachi. This, together with drug smuggling gangs operating in the country, provided a fertile terrain for a series of violent conflicts from the mid-1980s among different ethnic groups in Sindh.

The authors argue that successive federal governments sought to manipulate ethnic differences to promote their own narrow interests. Likewise, key institutions such as the army, the political parties and the bureaucracy failed to provide mechanisms for mediation and conflict resolution. While there have been periods when ethnic tensions have been dormant, no serious attempt has been made to deal with the root causes of the problem.
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  • Pub. Date: 1 Jun 1993
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISSN: 1012-6511
    From: UNRISD