Ethno-linguistic provinces

Published: June 25, 2011
The author is National Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Linguistic History.

The author is National Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Linguistic History.

These days, many statements by supporters of the Bahawalpur province and Hazara are making headlines. The ruling PPP is said to be studying the proposition and, at least in the case of the Bahawalpur province movement, seems to be actually supportive or sympathetic to it. The more cynical of the political analysts point out that this is a stratagem to weaken the power base of the PML-N, which is going to be confined to a smaller Punjab even if it does win the next elections and gets to rule the province again. As for the Hazara province, the ANP will not hear of it as it means losing the Tarbela Dam and, of course, other territory. But, precisely for that reason, the ruling PPP wants to keep that Damocle’s sword hanging over the head of its political ally.

But, even if we admit the truth of the cynic’s charges, the idea of dividing Pakistan into smaller provinces is a welcome one. I have not only expressed my support of the idea several times in the last 15 years but will bother the reader to refer to the conclusion of my book Language and Politics in Pakistan (1996). In this, I had stated that we need to divide provinces along ethno-linguistic lines. Such criteria cannot be applied to large cities which are multilingual and multiethnic. However, there can be at least three divisions of the Punjab: the southern one based on Siraiki; the northern one based on Potohari and the middle one on Punjabi. Of course, there are various other dialects of Punjabi but these are found in all major languages and one need not take them into consideration. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa could gain the Pashto-speaking areas of Balochistan but would lose the Hindko-speaking parts to the Hazara Province, the Siraiki-speaking areas to the Siraiki province and the Khowar and other smaller language areas to yet another province. Balochistan, too, would lose some parts but would be compensated by a less divisive Baloch and Brahvi community which could unite more effectively into demanding its rights.

I had refrained from giving any solution for Sindh, although in 1995 Sindh was already a divided province. Karachi and other major cities were predominantly Urdu-speaking and the rural areas were Sindhi-speaking. Yet it seemed unjust to me that Sindh should have its cities separated from it because, at one time, Mujahirs had been allowed to concentrate in urban Sindh. I realised that this was not the fault of the Sindhis but then it was not the fault of the Mujahirs either. Since my aim is only to provide the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people and it was not clear to me which policy would achieve this in Sindh, I had given no solution at all. Indeed, precisely because of the difficulties involved, I had left the solution to this conundrum to the people of Sindh.

I still feel that it is the people of Sindh — and for that matter all provinces — who should be consulted if any readjustments of provincial boundaries are to be made. Yet, seeing the turf battles in Karachi over the last few years, I think it may be productive to give Karachi the status of a city-state or province. It should be a free port with its own administration, taxation and other services which would benefit Urdu-speakers, Pashto-speakers, Sindhi-speakers and others. Karachi is now a great Pashtun city also and if the Pashtuns are not given power in it, the turf battles will continue. It also belongs to Sindhis, Baloch, Punjabis and, of course, Mujahirs. Karachi is a den of criminals at present but it has the potential of becoming a new Singapore. To realise this potential, it may be useful to make it an autonomously governed city. I do not feel this solution could be applied to any other part of the province of Sindh but I think such a solution to the problem of Karachi may be worth considering for the stakeholders in Sindh and the centre.

What are the advantages of ethno-linguistic divisions of the country? Firstly, such a step will stem the rise of ethnicity which uses language in order to create a group so as to confront the centre. Secondly, it will make Punjab smaller and the complaints against that province — and the civil and military elite which is predominantly Punjabi — will be diluted. Thirdly, federating units will feel they have a stake in the system. This will appear to be far more just and satisfying to them than to be included as provinces, which are internally divided, while ethnic groups are, by definition, homogenous.

The most important thing to remember is that all ethnic and linguistic politics resolves around the questions of power and money. In volume 4 of A Global Dialogue on Federalism edited by Anwar Shah (2010), comparative perspectives on “fiscal federalism” are discussed. In some federal systems — like Australia, Germany, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Russia, Spain and South Africa — the federal influence on federating units is strong. In Brazil, Canada, Switzerland and the US, it is weak. This means that the federating units have more flexibility to raise taxes and appropriate income than in the federations given in the first list. Now it so happens that the happiest and most stable federations are those in which the federating units have maximum fiscal autonomy. So if we want our country to be a stable and happy federation, we should not only divide it along ethno-linguistic lines but also give the federating units as much political and economic power as will give everyone a stake in preserving the federation.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (24)

  • Jun 26, 2011 - 12:28AM

    Balochistan, too, would lose some parts but would be compensated by a less divisive Baloch and Brahvi community which could unite more effectively into demanding its rights. This is exactly why it wont happen. Then again, we must be careful that the creation of new strong provinces doesnt lead to a situation faced for example in Spain at the moment, where individual provinces are really strong, fiscally independent and it has become quite difficult for Madrid to manage the Spanish economy during recession. Perhaps through research should lay the foundation of future demarcations, rather than populist rhetoric or political oppourtunism. Recommend

  • pleased
    Jun 26, 2011 - 1:13AM

    The solution my good honor friend is to have Sindh as a country, and send the Urdu back
    to Punjab. Sindhi as a culture as a language why not have Sindh as a country. Solution

  • bilal
    Jun 26, 2011 - 3:10AM

    stupid ………..karachi has only been non sindhi for 60 years.if karachi is separated it will start an ethnic violence and sindhis will feel in secure in pakistan.if u want to make karachi a province first make lahore,peshawer and quetta a province and then look at karachi.karachi is was and will remain a part of sindh.i as a sindhi karachite am offfended by this artical.i also think pakistan shud not have new provinces!Recommend

  • Syed
    Jun 26, 2011 - 3:37AM

    hmm its always nice to hear a balanced review of Karachi from North ! ( Which i rarely hear) Kudos, I agree with the points mentioned above, but I have one disagreement, the division you proposed are on basis of ethnicity, I would propose division on basis of economic and social status, although the result would be similar, but it would be a wise decision not to indulge (further) into ethnicities.Recommend

  • pleased
    Jun 26, 2011 - 4:03AM

    It is said and stated before you all. Have Sindh as country. Sindhi as a language, as a
    culture. ExpressTribune reject Sindh as a country!!Recommend

  • Syed Hussein El-Edroos
    Jun 26, 2011 - 7:21AM

    On the whole I agree as it should lead to better governance.When the time comes a refferundum should be held to get peoples feedback.Recommend

  • Mir Agha
    Jun 26, 2011 - 7:38AM

    Demarcations must keep in mind economics. New coherent administrative districts are a must if the people are to be given their due rights and responsibilities. Either empower the districts more or create new federal administrative structures. The case of the Pashtun in Balochistan is not that different from the case of mohajirs in Sindh. They (Pashtun and mohajirs) were afforded land and opportunities albeit in different times in history. Sindh is Sindh, no one should tinker with its present geo-political set-up. Creating new provinces or structures based on relatively new arrivals will create negative emotions amongst the people. Punjab is incoherent, it’s the muslim-majority remnants of a failed kingdom (the sikhs). Siraiki people have their own geographic, cultural, linguistic, and economic realities that are different from the real Punjab (majha) of Lahore, Sialkot, Faisalabad. Ditto for the Potohar/salt range region). There is little reason for a person in souther punjab or attock to have to go to Lahore to get justice or voice their concerns to the relative audiences. KP too is incoherent. Distinct cultures abound in it, the paharis, pashtuns, and the chitralis (kalash). AJK and GB are geographically and culturally fine.

    But all this can be made irrelevant if the local administrative structures are empowered.Recommend

  • Nasreen
    Jun 26, 2011 - 8:21AM

    I appreciate the author for presenting such a balanced approach in this note.
    I wish Pakistan should have more provinces thus we can improve the system of good governace which is seriously lacking from our system.And also, federating unit will be strengthned.Recommend

  • CB Guy
    Jun 26, 2011 - 10:51AM

    Smaller provinces on the basis of administration are a welcome idea. Smaller provinces on the basis of languages is the worst thing that can be done. Pakistan’s greatest dilemma has been the lingual nationalism. It never lets us become a nation. We are not Muslims first but Sindhis and Punjabis and so on. We are not Pakistanis first but Pathans and Balochs and so on.

    And if anyone thinks that i am from some area that does want or need division, i belong from Hazara Division. It has been an area deprived of its rights for as long as one can remember. out of the 8 Medical College (Government) in NWFP, only 1 is in Hazara which by the way has a population of 7.5 million out of the 20 odd million in the province. People even then have worked hard and made these facilities available to them. NWFP gets a massive chunk of its income from this area yet no development takes place. I still do not support Hazara Province as it is based on lingual bias. Recommend

  • Jun 26, 2011 - 10:58AM

    The issue of Karachi being separated from Sindh is a touchy one for my Sindhi friends. They consider it as their main port of call. The thinking by Urdu speakers is radically different. But it must be clearly mentioned that, historically, Karachi was not part of Sindh province but that of Balochistan. No wonder those Baloch who’ve read their history want Karachi to be named as part of Balochistan province!

    As a Memon born and living in Karachi, I think that Karachi must be separated from rest of Sindh so that this city may once again grow. People who compare Karachi with Lahore or Peshawar are mistaken here. Karachi is a true metro city whereas Lahore is only a cosmopolitan one. Lahore has a predominately Punjabi speakers whereas in Karachi all major linguistic groups are represented fairly strongly. Therefore, comparison of Karachi with Lahore is not only unfair it is factually not correct.

    The problem of Hazara, Seraiki and Gilgit-Baltistan provinces has grown radically in last 10 years or so. It is time the government of Pakistan decides what should be done about the boundaries. Delaying this division is not an option now. Recommend

  • Irshad Khan
    Jun 26, 2011 - 11:19AM

    When the time will come? Do you any idea or you want to leave things burning and bursting till dead end comes and nothing is controlable. Recommend

  • arif
    Jun 26, 2011 - 12:52PM

    The administrative, political, social, economic and ethnic problems of Pakistan can be solved by making all administrative divisions of the country as provinces. This will have following pluses.
    1. Ethnicity and language will not be an issue in these units as these will be virtually homogenous.
    2. Having 3-6 districts in fold, the size of unit will be ideal for administration, law and order, justice and socio-economic development.
    3. In case of governor rule or emergency in one unit, whole country will not paralyze.
    4. The issue of dominance or exploitation by one province will be buried for ever
    5. Healthy competition amongst units will bring excellent services for residents such as education, health, water, sanitation, roads, infrastructure and economic development.
    6. If new provinces are carved on ethno-linguistic basis, it will open Pandora’s box.
    7. Traditional feudal political structure will be transformed peacefully through a soft revolution with a participatory democratic process which would be responsive to community’s aspirations and needs.
    8. The units should not have big Governor Houses or CM offices. Commissioner’s houses/offices would serve this purpose. Similarly, no need for high profile ministers and big assemblies in these units. Only divisional level elected forums would be a good substitutes for assemblies and few members of such elected councils will be cabinet membersRecommend

  • Jun 26, 2011 - 1:45PM

    The easiest new province to make would be the Baloch Blochistan. There would be support for it in the Balochis and Pathans. But this is the least likely new province to form. The Pakistani federation would like to keep the larger province so that the Balochis do not give the upper hand, in a smaller province where they have an ethnic dominance. The same technique as practices by Iran in ‘Seestan o Balochistan’ province.

    The creation of a Karachi province will lead to a civil war in Sindh.

    Overall, the creation of new provinces will cause more problems than it will solve. Look at the blood letting that followed the mere renaming of KP.

    A better alternative would be to start teaching mother tongues in schools, starting with primary education. Shut down deeni madrassas. Evolve a national / provincial / local curriculum. Strengthen local government. Devolve power to the provinces, to pass on to the local governments. Try and preserve our ethnic and linguistic heritage, by making languages relevant for economic opportunity. Recommend

  • Jun 26, 2011 - 2:22PM

    I find this a balanced article on most issues except Karachi issue and it was rightfully pointed out that the problems of Sindh are more complex and should be left to the people of Sindh to agree to a solution. I would not support the idea of City-State or Province of Karachi just yet due to several factors.
    Firstly doing so will give practically limitless powers to criminals of the city that are being harbored by the political parties. Also declaring it a free port will not just create problems at the Custom’s end (they just love their under-the-table money too much) but also make Karachi a magnet for people from all over Pakistan since everything here will be cheap compared to the rest of the country. Already Karachi is suffering from over-population due to non-stop internal migration and it will get worse if declared as city state.
    In case of city-state the dominant groups in the city will likely to subjugate the weaker ones and mafias will find stronger holds than they already do. The police is controlled by Sindhis and Mohajirs, the transport by Pushtoons, the posh areas by military … everyone here is involved in wrongdoing one way or the other and it would get worse with time.Recommend

  • Salman Orangiwala
    Jun 26, 2011 - 2:27PM

    @ pleased

    Very unpleasing commentary though …”The solution my good honor friend is to have Sindh as a country, and send the Urdu back to Punjab ”

    ….and who Sir , would dare to do so ……?

    Please do not day dream , try to co-exist wihtout going into these mono-rhetorics ,
    Hat begets hate . And this “try” of your kind , will wipe out al ” Goods ” from the
    land of Sindh and Karachi . Trust me .Recommend

  • yousaf
    Jun 26, 2011 - 3:30PM

    please “express tribune” have mercy.Recommend

  • frank
    Jun 26, 2011 - 3:31PM

    As a Potohari Punjabi I find this article offensive and misguided. These new identities in Punjab have only emeraged since the creation of Pakistan. The solution is to change what is wrong with the state of Pakistan ie the unfair distribution of resources. In the case of Punjab Lahore taking everything and leaving nothing for the rest of us is the biggest gripe. Breaking up historical lands is not a solution to anything and in fact will create more problems than it solves. And besides who has the legal authority to partition the federating units of Pakistan?

    It is upto Muhajirs and other settlers in Sindh to adopt Sindhi language and culture. It is not upto Sindhis to adopt Hindustani culture. And why should Sindhis give up a part of their homeland to outsiders they gave refuge to in 1947? This is simply outrageous. Recommend

  • Jasjit Arora
    Jun 26, 2011 - 6:32PM

    Look, decide soon and go etho linguistic.
    It has worked out for the most part in my country.
    It is the reason why my Punjabi-Gurmukhi
    is alive and thrives alongwith Hindi
    and some two dozen other tongues.
    But then, don’t forget to mail us a license fee. ;)
    it is after all an all India arrangement! We did it first. Recommend

  • Arslan
    Jun 26, 2011 - 7:19PM

    @CB Guy:
    France, when it became a ‘nation’ in the 19th century, did everything to avoid the linguistic-ethnic division of its territory: what we call the “departements” over there are ‘scientific’ territorial divisions, done “without agenda”, and that’s why apart from some communities in South-West, you’ll never see a single individual from France claiming other identity than French.
    I think that’s the best solution, and then the central authority should do the same work for everyone.Recommend

  • Mo
    Jun 27, 2011 - 9:32AM

    this kind of rubbish is to be expected fro the tribune. Pakistan needs to strengthen local governments, but keep them under the current 4 provincial governments.Give City,Country and District councils the power to raise taxes and keep revenue.Share Royalties with the local government and provincial government. Some provinces complain they dont get enough federal money, but they themselves have a tax free budjet.First increase tax in your own province spend it on development and the federal govt will match spending through a formula. As for the top rated comment , United Sindh and United Punjab will join Pakistan along with United Bengal and Hyderabad and Ferozpur and United Kashmir. You may thinks its impossible but I assure you it will happen in my lifetimes Recommend

  • momers
    Jun 27, 2011 - 2:36PM

    I have been asking for this Karachi thinggi!! :)

    [> Yay for Karachi province! It can then

    be called City District Province
    Karachi. No no, not country!]1


  • N.K
    Jun 27, 2011 - 9:15PM

    No reason for Potohar to be seperated from the rest of Punjab! I am from Rawalpindi district and a proud Punjabi! Potohari is a dialect of Punjab just like faisalabadi is! I know so many people In Lahore who choose to speak Urdu instead of Punjabi, should we seperate that too? Our ethnicity is Punjabi, every 5 miles you go in Punjab you get a new word for something and every 10 miles you get a new dialect, is that any reason to split Punjab up? NO. India already made a mistake of doing this, don’t do this to Punjab in Pakistan. Tussi eh dekho: should the Mahji part of Punjab only be called Punjab since that is the strandard dialect? How stupid! Why do you want to split Pakistan up even more? If you split us up that is not going to change who we are. Urdu it self has dialects, should we split karachi up into different provinces too? Recommend

  • Suleman
    Jun 28, 2011 - 6:24AM

    This is worst idea some body said we think we r Panjabi or sindhi so mister this is our reality that we r Panjabi or sindhi and this reality since centuries not since decades or some 400 or 500 years and language is also dear to us because we r against imperialist thinking and slavery .Recommend

  • Adam Khan
    Jul 25, 2011 - 9:08PM

    This is a recipe for disaster. It will lead to unprecedented bloodshed & will prove to be the proverbial “last straw” or the “last nail” in …! The people must try to coexist & the intellectuals, activists, politicians, writers & others should make efforts to bring the people together not sow the seeds of division. The answer to such a move will off course be ‘then why not divide Pakistan’? Are you ready for it?


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