Unresolved disputes

November 21,2018

My point merely is that both sides have strong arguments but, whereas other countries have solved such problems, we haven’t been able to.

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Since the introduction in the 1970s, of quotas for government jobs in Sindh – based on whether a person was domiciled in rural or urban Sindh – Mohajirs have held a grievance.

They feel that not only are they disproportionately underrepresented in government jobs, but this is so despite having better qualifications.

Sindhis, on the other hand, believe that the quality of education available to rural residents of Sindh is so poor that it would be grossly unfair to ask rural children to compete with those from the cities. Moreover, given the paucity of private-sector jobs in the interior of Sindh, there would be massive unemployment if governments didn’t employ rural residents in disproportionate numbers.

My purpose here is not to litigate the case for either side. My point merely is that both sides have strong arguments but, whereas other countries have solved such problems, we haven’t been able to. I think if both sides were to argue their cases and work and decide jointly, an acceptable solution can be found – one that will avoid mistrust and resentment. Yet, till now we have failed.

My assertion that there is resentment and mistrust can be gauged not just by listening to the speeches of nationalists on both sides but also by looking at the vastly dissimilar voting patterns of Mohajirs and Sindhis. Politicians on both sides normally talk to their own supporters who act as echo chambers and a political coming together of the two groups never takes place.

Even with the introduction of tens of television channels and newspapers and multiple internet forums where these issues are discussed, there hasn’t been any understanding of the other side’s position. To use a couple of much-used clichés, our television channels produce much heat but no light and we end up talking at each other rather than talking to each other.

Similarly, during the first Faizabad dharna, TLP workers were sure that the PML-N was trying to undo the second amendment. PML-N leaders however were equally sure that this was an effort to weaken and malign them. And when leaders from both sides made their case, they were only believed by their respective sides and no one was willing to listen to the other. There was no rational argument or discussion at all. A lot of passion and cursing. Again, a lot of heat but not much light.

I can give example after example of disputes that we aren’t able to resolve and thus sweep under the rug – only for these disputes to emerge later with greater intensity. Whether it is issues that deal with interprovincial harmony, water resources, dam-building, distribution of gas, feelings of disenfranchisement or alienation on the part of some groups, corruption or civil-military divide, in Pakistan we are never able to resolve these issues through open and rational debates.

When given a chance, we hurl accusations against each other but convince only our own sides, and continue to hold our resentments towards others.

Why is it that we find it easier to treat our adversaries as enemies and not as our compatriots who deserve to be heard just as we ourselves deserve to be heard? Why do we find it easier to label others as unpatriotic or anti-Islamic or anti-democratic rather than listening to their arguments and present cogent arguments of our own? And why do we assume that our adversaries are the worst people on earth and are engaged in all sorts of conspiracies against us, and always attribute the worst possible motives to them?

How can the process of nation-building be successful when so many issues are left simmering? How can the nation be united when so many groups hold some real or perceived grievance towards the state? How can democracy take deep roots in Pakistan if we aren’t able to solve significant issues through the democratic process?

We have so many universities and think tanks in our country and yet we hardly ever see serious reports from these institutions on proposed solutions to our problems. In the end, even our think tanks often become advocacy groups.

One possible solution to this issue is for us to give everyone a seat at the decision-making table. But isn’t that what our parliament does? Doesn’t it provide seats to everyone, from nationalists of all stripes to hyper-patriots, from fundamentalists to moderates to secularists, from male chauvinists to liberal feminists, from industrialists to the landed gentry to average farmers? And yet even our parliament hasn’t been very effective. Perhaps the ruling coalition, whichever party it represents, should give more say to marginal groups with grievances. Or, perhaps we are expecting a miracle. Perhaps decades’ old issues will not be solved in months and it will take time for the democratic process to bring all disaffected Pakistanis into its enfranchised fold.

Religio-political controversies have been lingering in Pakistan for years. Most ordinary people don’t engage with such issues. But for many disaffected, alienated Pakistanis such issues give them the power to take out their resentments towards the governing elites – hence, the destruction of public and private property.

But it is time we started listening and talking to disenfranchised groups, letting them air their grievances through democratic means so that they feel have a stake in Pakistan and its democracy. We need to resolve long-standing problems rather than letting them simmer and then lead to resentment towards the state.

The writer has served as federalminister for finance, revenue andeconomic Affairs.

Twitter: MiftahIsmail


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