Pakistan: language policy prevents proper communication

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Dec 30 15:07:17 UTC 2005

>>From PakTribune

Bridging the divide
Thursday December 29, 2005 (1636 PST)

Riaz Missen
riazmissen at

With Pir Pagaro favouring the KBD project and terming its opponents
"irrelevant", the MQM has found the due reason to abandon its stance that
consensus should be built before the dam. There is no opponent of KBD in
NWFP except ANP as PPP, PML and Tehrik-i-Istaqlal have a reason to support
the idea. Balochistan having little relevance to the issue, the federation
needs only a corresponding political will to go ahead. The opposition
parties have thumped desks in the Parliament for the last five years; they
have important reservations on the rehabilitation efforts of the
government vis--vis the recent earthquake but they are not willing to be
part of the exercise. When there is nothing to protest, they find a cause
in the restoration of 1973 Constitution as it existed before Musharraf`s

The PPP-P and the PML-N are bound by their interest to create problems for
the government. They aspire to benefit every crisis it happens to confront
now and then; the interest of these `mainstream` political parties hardly
goes beyond the `safe as well as honourable return` of their leadership.
The KBD is overdue, for the project is under consideration since two
decades as a replacement dam meant to overcome the deficiencies of Mangla
and Tarbela. Why it has become a political issue when it means cheap
electricity for the energy-deficient country and more water for the
thirsty lands of its provinces? Who has interest in the delay of the
project? The issue definitely needs to be analysed beyond the souls
dancing in the streets and chanting slogans against the federation.

The controversy over the Kalabagh Dam issue has left many important
lessons for the federation. The most important one is that sub-nationalism
is an anti-development ideology like sectarianism. However, the fact of
the matter is that the state tends to be patronising such forces through
one or the other policy; it has not detached itself from the undertakings
originating in the colonial era. No state in the world can afford to
discriminate its people on the basis of creed and colour. The modern
nation states even don`t segregate their citizens on the basis of their
gender in the matter of employment and provision of justice. So Pakistan
has to profess a progressive approach to move forward; global age is just
knocking its doors.

The state needs to recognise that it is a pluralist entity. Merely
endorsing this fact will end many of its dilemmas and resolve a lot of its
governance related problems; it is all about being just while handling
diversities the country is marked with. State can`t deny identities to the
people they have claimed since centuries; it has a task to keep them in
their well-defined realms. There is an established fact that about
fifty-eight languages are spoken in Pakistan; people have become adapted
to different cultures in their bid to respond the challenges of varying
landscapes and weather conditions they fill earth between Himalayas and
Arabian Sea.

People in the rural areas think in terms of biratharies, tribes and clans;
those in urban areas stick to sectarian and ethnic identities. There are
also people who view the world divided between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The problem arises when the state fails to strike a balance and plays a
role in imposing value system of the one on the other. Encouraging the
people to avail immense opportunity offered by globalisation is an uphill
task. Discouraging monopolies in social, economic and religious realms is
another. The strategy will remove checks on the middle class and help it
multiply in numbers. There will emerge new forces essentially having stake
in the strong federation. They will be bound by their nature to willingly
pay taxes and abide by law of the land.

Bridging communication gap between federation and the people is necessary
to inaugurate the era of goodwill in Pakistan. The global age has provided
immense opportunity to the country to overcome anomalies in its
decision-making process. The federation maintains a large information
structure in the form of radio and television networks; but its very
language policy prevents the proper communication of its core messages to
the general populace the space left is readily occupied by the
rumour-mongers. Identifying only few languages from the many is bound to
be a wrong policy; it promotes prejudices and alienation among the people.

It is time to increase the choices of the people in regard to products and
leadership; they have inalienable right to information so that they should
reach judicious decisions as voters as well as consumers. Failing to
achieve this end means nothing but missing a chance to have right position
among the comity of nations. The only cost of this exercise is to shun
ethnic and sectarian prejudices. Federation needs a `fair deal` to
inaugurate an era of good will. The conditions of harmony between state
and people are not difficult to identify in the global age. There is need
to discourage parochial tendencies among the people through infusing sense
of justice among its people and should avoid playing any role in
encouraging divisions in the society. Also, the state has to act on the
side of the common people, consumers and the taxpayers, not the
monopolists who have so far not only failed the people but also the state
as well.

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