[lg policy] Pakistan: National language and Pakistani languages: the only way out

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Tue May 23 11:02:49 EDT 2017

Literary Notes: National language and Pakistani languages: the only way out
Rauf Parekh <https://www.dawn.com/authors/418/rauf-parekh>Updated about 13
hours ago
  1 Comment

AT the one-day symposium, organised by Idara-i-Farogh-i-Qaumi Zaban (IFQZ)
to discuss the status of Pakistan’s national language and Pakistani
languages, the participants seemed to agree on many issues. But on three
points there was an absolute consensus: 1) every Pakistani language should
be protected and promoted; 2) English should immediately be replaced with
Urdu as official language; 3) there is only one language that should be
Pakistan’s national language and it is Urdu. These thoughts were later made
part of the recommendations unanimously approved.

The debate on Pakistan’s national language and Pakistani languages has been
raging ever since the introduction of a proposed constitutional amendment
bill in the National Assembly of Pakistan. Titled Constitution (Amendment)
Bill 2014, the bill sought to amend Article 251 of the 1973 Constitution of
Pakistan and proposed that nine Pakistani languages — namely, Balochi,
Balti, Brahvi, Punjabi, Pashto, Shina, Sindhi, Seraiki and Hindko — be
declared Pakistan’s national languages along with Urdu.

Later, the proposed bill was introduced in the Senate of Pakistan. Titled
The Proposed Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2016, the bill was approved by a
Senate committee but with amendments. According to Dawn (May 11, 2017),
“the Senate’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice approved on Wednesday a
Constitution[al] amendment Bill to give the status of national languages to
Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi. The committee approved the bill
introduced by Senators Sassui Palijo and Mukhtiar Ahmed Dhamrah with
certain amendments. The amendment to Clause (1) of Article 251 of the
Constitution was proposed to declare Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto and Balochi as
national languages along with Urdu”.

This writer has had the honour of attending four symposia that were
convened to debate the language policy and/or proposed amendment bill,
three at Islamabad and one at Karachi. The first was held at Air University
in October last year. Titled ‘Language Policy Dialogue’, it chose English
as the language of the conference to recommend a language policy for
Pakistan and most of the deliberations were in English. To add insult to
injury, an Indian-origin US scholar was invited to deliver the keynote
address, perhaps an intentional and obvious sign to tell what would be the
shape of things to come.

Two more symposia took place on the issue, one at Pakistan Academy of
Letters (PAL) in the last week of February this year and the other at
Karachi University early this month. The fourth one was organised by IFQZ
last week. While most of our nationalist friends were vociferous at the PAL
conference and zealously supported the proposed bill, many of them seemed
shell-shocked and disappointed at the IFQZ symposium and contrary to their
previous stance favoured Urdu as “the only national language of Pakistan”.

The reason was that the proposed amendment bill introduced in the Senate
has been modified and seeks a reduced number of languages to be declared
national languages. It has disillusioned the supporters of the other
languages — namely Balti, Brahvi, Seraiki, Hindko and Shina — that were
included in the bill earlier but have been dropped from the bill approved
by the Senate’s committee. This writer had urged the participants at PAL’s
meeting that declaring a few languages national languages would create a
sense of deprivation among the speakers of other languages and it would be
tantamount to opening a linguistic Pandora’s Box as there are 76 languages
spoken in Pakistan.

The IFQZ symposium offered some insight as different linguistic, ethnic and
national issues came under the spotlight. Irfan Siddiqi, adviser to the
prime minister, declared in unambiguous terms that “Pakistan’s national
language is Urdu and it should remain undisputed”. Stressing the importance
of other Pakistani languages, Siddiqi said our constitution emphasises the
protection and promotions of the other Pakistani languages. While giving
details of the government’s efforts to implement Urdu as official language
he stressed the government’s “seriousness” on the issue.

Iftikhar Arif, IFQZ’s director general, while emphasising respect for the
mother tongues and all Pakistani languages, highlighted the efforts made by
IFQZ (formerly National Language Authority, or NLA) to prepare Urdu for
implementation as official language. Arif said Urdu “is ready in every
respect to be implemented as official language and thousands of government
employees have been trained to use Urdu as official language”.

Prof Fateh Mohammad Malik, the former chairman of NLA, in detail described
how the final recommendations were prepared for implementation of Urdu as
official language by NLA in 2007 and submitted to the then government. He
recalled the days when Mufti Mahmood in NWFP (now KP) and Bizenjo in
Balochistan had declared Urdu as provincial official language and Punjab
was about to adopt Urdu, things were slowed down on political grounds.

Masood Mufti, Ehsan Akber, Jaleel Aali, Wahid Bakhsh Buzdar, Jabbar Mirza,
Fatema Hasan, Nasir Abbas Nayyar, Hafeez Khan, Parveen Malik, Mohammad
Ziauddin and some other speakers represented at symposium the different
parts and languages of Pakistan.

Other recommendations to be sent to the government through IFQZ included
the creation of an independent language commission, providing funds for
protection and promotion of all Pakistani languages, restoring NLA’s former
name and its authority, allowing provincial assemblies to adopt any
Pakistani language/s as official language/s, declaring Urdu as medium of
answers along with English for all service commissions’ exams, inclusion of
nine major Pakistani languages as optional subject for service commission
exams and adopting Urdu for all judicial proceedings and writing legal

The sprit at IFQZ symposia was that of mutual respect, national integrity
and national identity. The recommendations presented at the symposia
suggest ways to get out of the linguistic quagmire that the proposed
amendment bill has landed the nation into.


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