Ethnicity and Provincialism in Pakistan
By Adnan Syed
Ethnocentrism is wrong, but what is worse is denial of ethnic identity/differences.
As different ethnic groups, we have more than enough commonality to be a
strong nation. Differences between sub-cultures/ethnicities exists in most
countries, but what holds a nation together is basic cultural, linguistic,
religious, historical, and/or geographic commonalities. We should accept and
respect our ethnic differences, after all Pakistan is a federation of such, and be
united as a nation based on our commonality in being linguistically/culturally
Indo-Iranian, racially mostly Caucasian, geographically based on Indus Valley,
having a common history, and following the religion/culture of Islam. All of
these common factors among the different Pakistani ethnic groups makes
them close to each other, yet very different from the Indians. These common
factors defines the Pakistani nationhood, not just religion as many Pakistanis are
made to believe in.
The present-day provincial setup of Pakistan has its origins from the British
era. The British rulers drew boundaries of provinces not based on ethnic
demographics, but the politics of that era for their interersts. As has always been
the case, the ethnic demographics have also evolved since 1947. In reality, the
current provincial setup of Pakistan is artificial. The large southern region of
"Punjab" is Seraiki, its southwest is Baluchi, and northwest Hindkowi. The huge
northeast part of "NWFP" is Hindkowi, and the north is Khowari/Shina/etc.
Almost half of "Baluchistan" is Pakhtun (northern part), with pockets of Brauhis
the central region and Jats/etc. in the southeast. Almost half of "Sindh" is
Urdu-speaking (urban areas). Not to mention the countless Afghan, Central Asian,
Iranian, Bengalee, etc. refugees, and inter-ethnic migrations in various parts
of the country. Though outdated and slightly flawed, here is an article of interest
on this subject by Ahmed Abdalla published in 1973:
For the last few years the question of Pakistan's "nationalities" is being
debated, propagated, supported and contested at various levels and in different
quarters. Unfortunately, in these lively discourses some basic issues have been
ignored. We shall make an attempt here to discuss and analyse two most salient
aspects of the problem.
Firstly, are the nationalities, so often spoken of , located in clearly
demarcated and distinct areas to division on regional basis?
Secondly, have the nationalities, whatever regions they are living in, settled
down permanently or, is the population pattern still fluid and changing, yet to
assume a final shape and a stable character?
Let us address ourselves to the first question province-wise:
NWFP: The province known as NWFP has an area of 39,283 sq. miles with a
population of one crore ten lacs. Its most populous district called Hazara on
the eastern bank of river Indus is inhabited, from Manshera downward, by
non-Pakhtuns, mostly Gujjars and Hindko speaking Pathans of mixed blood. In the
regions west of river Indus starting from the north, the people of the (former)
state of Chitral are non-Pakhtuns belonging to the racial stock of
Chinese Turkestan akin to the people of Gilgit, Skardu, Hunza, Yasin and Nagar.
Next, the majority of the people of the province’s biggest city, peshawar,
belong to various Iranian and Central Asian stocks and are not Pakhtuns. In the
southern region, half the people od D.I. Khan district are, again, non-Pakhtuns
mostly Awans, Jats, Rajputs and Baluchis.
In this context how would an advocate of four nationalities determine the exact
boundaries of Pakhtunistan which, if scrupulously adhered to on racial and
linguistic considerations, may shrink to very unpalatable proportions. This
population complex also Explains the limited success in NWFP of Wali Khan (a
protagonist of Pakhtunistan) in the general elections of December 1970.
BALUCHISTAN: The province called Baluchistan has an area of 134,000 sq. miles
with a population of about 24 lacs. Of the ten districts of Baluchistan
province, three districts viz Quetta-Pishin, Zhob and Loralai are
overwhelmingly Pathan; two districts viz Kachchi and Lasbela are inhabited by
Rajputs, Jats and their allied tribes while the remaining five viz Sibi, Chagi,
Kalat, Mahran and Kharan are largely Brohi-Baluchi. Even in some of the
tehsils of these five districts non-Baluchis are in majority. For instance,
Sharigh Tehsil ( Harnai ) of Sibi distric has a fairly large percentage of
Pathans. Population-wise about seven lacs are Pathans; over four lac Rajputs
and Jats and about one lac Punjabis, Muhajirs and Gilgiti labour taking the
total of non-Baluchis to 12 lacs leaving only 12 lac Baluchi and Brohi tribes
in a population of 24 lacs. In this state of affairs how much area
and what percentage of population of Baluchistan will accrue to a province
based on Baluchi-Brohi nationality? Out of ten districts they will, at best,
If the Baluchis/Brohis seriously think of having particular areas of
Baluchistan marked on the basis of nationality, they may indeed come to grief.
SIND: Sind has an area of over 54,000 sq. miles and a population of one crore
40 lacs. Of this about 55 lacs are Muhajars, Pathans and Punjabis. Of the
remaining 85 lacs, about 25 lacs are of Baluchi/Brohi origin ( Sindhi-speaking
), leaving barely 60 lac old Sindhis in a total of 140 lacs.
Most of the regions west of Indus from Jacobabad to Dadu are inhabited by
Baluchi and Brohi tribes since long before partition. After partition the
population pattern of the province has drastically and basically altered due to
the influx of refugees from India and immigrants from other provinces of
Pakistan. These refugees and immigrants, are of different origins. Any
attempt to re-demarcate the boundaries of the province of Sind on the basis of
nationality may diminish the size of the Sindhi nationality province to a
PUNJAB: Punjab has an area of 79,542 sq. miles with a population of 3 crores
75 lacs. It may be pointed out that the present boundaries of Punjab were
determined by the British more on the basis of political considerations than on
racial or cultural grounds. For instance, the D. G. Khan and Muzaffargarh
districts are overwhelmingly Baluchi, while Multan and Bahawalpur have, all
through history, had closer affinities with Sind than with Punjab.
Multan was the capital of Sind for a long time so much so that in western India
Sindhis were usually called Multanis.
Even today the spiritual home of the Sindhis is the tomb of Hazrat Bahauddin
Zakaria in Multan. Sindhis have such great veneration for this Saint that they
make it a point to visit his Mazar by walking bare-footed. If the Punjabis
think of basing their provincial boundaries on nationality, they may not be
able to retain all the areas that today constitute Punjab.
In view of this background, if the four nationalities concept is accepted, it
would become essential and unavoidable to re-demarcate the present provincial
boundaries which have neither racial nor linguistic basis. In case of
re-demarcation of provincial boundaries major portions of Hazara and D. I. Khan
districts of NWFP will go to Punjab; whole of D. G. Khan and part of
Muzaffargarh districts of the Punjab will go to Baluchistan; Three districts
of Baluchistan will go to NWFP and two to Sind while Jacobabad and parts of a
few districts of Sind west of Indus will go to Baluchistan.
If this exercise is resorted to, two problems will crop up: Firstly, several
sub-nationalities with strong historical claims will put up their own demands
for separate provinces which would be difficult to refuse. Whatever the claims
and pretensions of four nationalities, the rights and merits of the
sub-nationalities are much more strong and have a more cogent and powerful
historical backing. As such, further vivisection will become inevitable.
What is more important is that there is hardly an instance of these so-called
nationalities having a separate, distinct existence in history, Pakhtuns have
never presented a united front. Khushal Khan Khattak bemoans this weakness of
the Pakhtuns throughout his poetry and hurls the most bitter invectives on them
for their failure to forge unity. In fact the most outstanding aspect of the
Pakhtun history has been their refusal to act as one nation
As regards Baluchistan, its entire history is replete with struggles, wars and
rivalries between Baluchi and Brohi tribes not to speak of intertribal
conflicts among Baluchis and Brohis themselves.
Northern Punjab being the route of the invading armies from Central Asia into
Gangetic valley, never had any opportunity to have separate nationality.
As for Sind, it has been expanding and shrinking in size depending upon both
internal and external situations, particularly on the conditions prevailing in
Iran, Central Asia and India. At one time it embraced the whole of the
present-day Pakistan, plus vast portions of Rajputana in the east and Qandhar
in the west. And at another it was confined only of lower Sind with Thatta as
its capital. In this process it has been absorbing and shedding the
nationalities living to its north, east and west.
Moreover, even if it is decided to re-demarcate the present provincial
boundaries on the basis of nationalities, will the people living in one
province for generations agree to become part of another? Will the Sindhi-
speaking and Punjabi-speaking Baluchis, playing such important role in the
politics of the provinces of their adoption, consent to join Baluchistan?
Similarly, would the non-Pushtu-speaking people of D.I. Khan and Hazara wish to
be absorbed by Punjab? Same applies to Quetta Division, Lasbela, Kachchi, etc.,
Adoption of four nationalities basis and consequent re-drawing of boundaries
will necessitate holding of referendum in various regions of each province.
The result of such a referendum is anybody’s guess. Instead of solving the
problem it will open up a pandora’s box and lead to further vivisection.
For instance, once the four nationalities get their provinces strictly on the
basis of regrouping of nationalities, further rivalries inherent in those
nationalities will come up to surface. Clash between Baluchi-Brohi groups in
Baluchistan, between northern-southern Pathans in Pakhtunistan, between
Punjabis-Seraikis in Punjab and between Sindhis-Muhajirs in Sind, will become
inevitable. On what basis will the protagonists of four nationalities
theory deny the sub-nationalities their right to have separate status when the
latter have both history and language to back their stand.
Another important factor in this context cannot be overlooked. Each one of the
present provinces is multi-lingual. Pushtu, Hindko and Punjabi are the major
languages spoken in the NWFP; Punjabi, Seraiki, Urdu and Baluchi in the
Punjab; Baluchi, Brohi , Lasi, Kurd and Pushtu in Baluchistan; Sindhi, Urdu
and Baluchi in Sind.
PROBLEM OF MIGRATION
Next we shall discuss the second factor relating to the concept of nationality
which is as important as the previous one. Unlike India where people are
living a settled life in clearly demarcated regions based on various languages
in vogue there, the conditions in Pakistan are quite different, its population
being yet in a fluid state.
Large groups of people living in all the four provinces are still mobile,
constantly migrating from one province to another. There has been a regular
flow of Pathans and Baluchis into the Punjab and Sind which continues even
today. Lakhs of Pathans are employed in Karachi and other industrial cities
of Sind and Punjab such as Hyderabad, Sukkur, Larkana, Multan, Lyallpur,
Daudkhel, Rawalpindi, etc. Similarly, the flow of Baluch tribes into Sind
has not yet stopped.
The people of Punjab are also flowing out in small numbers into Sind,
Baluchistan and NWFP. They have either acquired lands or doing business in
Baluchistan and NWFP, in turn, are not free from influx from further west—there
being a constant flow of Powindas and others from Afghanistan.
It is generally believed that the Powindas go back after winter season. But
this is not so; several of them remain behind. It would be of interest to note
that many of our distinguished personalities are Powindas and recent
immigrants from Iran and Afghanistan. Maulana Mufti Mahmud, a leader of
Jamiat-ul-ulamai Islam comes from the Naaser tribe of Powindas. Gandapurs of
D. I. Khan are Powindas. From his mother’s side, Mr. Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo,
a leader of National Awmi Party is an Iranian Powinda. Some of his maternal
relations are still in Iran. General Mohammad Musa, former C-in-C of the
Pakistan Army belong to the Hazara tribe of Afghanistan; his father had
migrated from Afghanistan and settled in Quetta. General Yahya Khan, former
President of Pakistan is a Qizilbash from northern Iran whose family had
settled in Peshawar. That the process of the settlement of Powinda families
not yet stopped in NWFP and Baluchistan is proved by the fact that in 1972 the
NAP Government of Baluchistan put restrictions on their permanent settlement in
the Quetta Division. This measure was strongly resented by the Pakhtoon
leader, Abdus Samad Khan Achakzai on the ground that it was aimed at the
Pakhtun elements of Baluchistan's population.
A special personality who deserves mention in this context is the First Lady of
Pakistan, Begum Nusrat Bhutto, wife of President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. She is a
'Kurd' from Kirmanshah in Iran and belongs to the tribe which produced the
illustrious Muslim general and monarch Sultan Salahuddin Ayubi. Pakistan is
indeed fortunate to have its first lady from the kith and kin of a soldier of
whom the entire Muslim world is proud.
There are many other groups and individuals in Pakistan who have recently
arrived from Iran and Afghanistan and the process continues.
In this fluid situation, would the protagonists of four nationalities theory
agree to have the provincial boundaries re-demarcated, with resulting
restrictions on the flow of population from one province to another? It would
not only be impractical but outrageous and harmful to each one of the so-called
nationalities, spelling their economic ruin.
With the process of migration still in progress and the final population
pattern yet to take definite shape and form; with the so-called nationalities
inter-mingled with each other in every province; and with each nationality
carrying within its fold district sub-nationalities. It has neither historical
background nor geographical roots nor racial or linguistic basis. The idea is
irrational, illogical and anomalous. Its implementation would be
politically tragic and economically disastrous for all the four.
Pakistan is one of the few countries in the world whose provincial boundaries
cannot be demarcated on the basis of nationalities because of the intermingling
of various racial and linguistic groups with each other. In fact nationalities
in the true sense of the word do not exist in Pakistan in clearly demarcated
areas as they do in India, USSR, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Switzerland,
Czechoslovakia, Belgium, Canada, etc.
From Karakoram to Karachi, Pakistan is a solid land mass with distinct
geographical boundaries; inhabited by people of same racial stock, having a
common history, heritage, dress and diet; pursuing the same religion, with Urdu
understood by all and regional languages having a common script. Very few
nations in the world possess such strong uniting factors as the people of
Pakistan. Centrifugal and separatist tendencies that are at present being
highlighted by outside powers in collaboration with a few so-called leaders,
have hardly any roots in the masses. The people of Pakistan, irrespective of
the province they belong to, think and act alike. Separatist tendencies have
not even touched them; they are simple, religious-minded, hard-working innocent
folk. They regard themselves firstly Muslims, secondly, Pakistanis and
thirdly, their allegiance is to the tribe they belong to. Four
nationalities concept does not form part of their thought-pattern.
Published in 1973 by A. Abdalla
Back to Main Page