Asia & Australia

Ethnicities in Pakistan

19/05/2009

By  Aamir Latif, IOL Correspondent

There is a large mixture of ethnic communities in Pakistan, a country of 170 million people. However, six major communities share 90 per cent of the total population.These ethnicities are Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushtun, Baloch, MohajiR, and Siraiki.

Four out of six, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushtun, and Baloch, have their own provinces, Punjab, Sindh, NWFP, and Balochistan, while the remaining two mainly reside in parts of Sindh and Punjab provinces.

 

Punjabi:

Punjabis are the largest ethnic community in Pakistan, who mainly reside in Punjab, the country’s largest, richest and most populous province. The total population of Punjab is around 90 million, almost 56 percent of Pakistan’s total population.

Punjabis are also settled in Balochistan, Sindh, NWFP and Pakistani administered part of Kashmir, which is known as Azad Kashmir.

Most of Punjabis reside in villages, and are involved in agriculture-related businesses.

Punjabis are further divided into two groups, Locals, and Mohajirs (immigrants). The second group migrated from Indian Punjab in 1947, at the time of partition of the sub-continent.  Though both groups have the same culture and language, still the locals are more dominant in agriculture, and politics, while Mohajirs are dominant in education, and business.

Punjabis have the biggest share in the government, army, economy, education, trade, and politics. The political party that wins elections in Punjab forms the central government. Punjab has 172 seats in the 342-seat national assembly.

According to statistics, those who speak Punjabi language are around 61 million.

Currently, the right wing Pakistan Muslim League (N), led by two-time prime minister Nawaz Sharif is the largest political party in Punjab, followed by Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of the slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the Pakistan Muslim League PML(Q) and right-wing Jammat-e-Islami.

At present, the PML(N) rules Punjab as it has 170 seats out of 378 provincial assembly seats, followed by PPP, 107, and PML(Q), 50.

Nawaz Sharif is considered the most popular leader in Punjab. Other popular leaders are prime minister, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, president Asif Zardari, and Shahbaz Sharif, the younger brother of Nawaz Sharif.

 

Sindhi:

Sindhis are the second largest community in Pakistan. They make up 24 million out of the 170 million population.

A majority of Sindhis reside in the southern Sindh province, which is the second largest province of Pakistan. Most of them are involved in agriculture related businesses as they reside in villages.

Sindh is basically a multi-lingual province, and its port city of Karachi is inhabited by all ethnicities. The province has always been very sensitive as far as ethnicity is concerned. The province has had a history of ethnic riots between Sindhis, Pushtuns and Mohajirs.

Currently, the PPP is leading a three-party ruling coalition in the province, as it won 90 seats out of total 167 provincial assembly seats in February 18, 2008 general elections.

Sindhis are basically inclined towards the PPP, which is the majority party in the province. Slain Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has undisputedly been the most popular figure for Sindhis.

However, the scenario has changed after her assassination on December 27, 2007. Though, the PPP is still the most popular political party of Sindhis, there is no particular figure among the party that could match the popularity of Bhutto.

President Asif Zardari, Nawaz Sharif, senior PPP leader Makhdoom Amin Fahim, and spiritual political leader Pir Sahib Pagara are prominent figures for Sindhis.

 

Pushtun:

Pushtuns are the third largest ethnic community in Pakistan, and make up make up 22 millions out of 170 million total population.

Pushtuns reside in all the four provinces of the Asian nation. Yet, a majority of Pushtuns resides in the northwestern frontier province (NWFP), and in the southwestern Balochistan province, which touch neighboring Afghanistan.

In Sindh, the southern port city of Karachi is the largest Pushtun-dominated city.

Pushtuns are mainly involved in manpower, labor, transport and hotel businesses. Most of the small tea cafes in Karachi and many parts of the country belong to Pushtuns.

Pushtuns have the second largest share in Pakistan’s powerful army and in the government.

Pushtuns are basically religious-minded people, and that is why religious parties have strong strongholds in the Pushtun-dominated areas.

However, there is an ostensible support of left wing Awami National Party (ANP), and the PPP. Every party has its political share in Pushtun-dominated areas.

Former Jammat-e-Islami Chief Qazi Hussein Ahmed, former opposition leader Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, ANP Chief Asfandyar Wali and Nawaz Sharif are the popular leaders of Pushtuns.

No single party or figure can claim the sole popularity in Pushtun-dominated areas.

Pushtuns have a very close ethnic and cultural links with Afghans. They belong to same ethnic background. That is why, Pushtuns are very much sensitive about US invasion of Afghanistan. This has led to a full-fledged war in tribal region between Pakistanis security forces and Pushtuns.

 

Siraiki:

Siraikis are the fourth largest ethnic community in Pakistan. They comprise around 20 millions.

Siraikis reside in all parts of the country, though their hub remains southern Punjab.

Siraikis have long been demanding for their separate province as they contend they are different than Punjabis.

Most of Siraikis are involved in agriculture. Their areas are famous for production of world-class cotton.

Siraikis have a considerable share in government offices, but not in the army

The community is known as voters of the PML(N) and the PPP. There is no Siraiki leader, which can be dubbed as popular among Siraikis for his nationalist views.

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, who is a Siraiki and who belongs to southern Punjab, Nawaz Sharif, President Asif Zardari and PML(N)’s leader Makhdoom Javed Hashmi are popular among Siraikis.

 

Baloch:

Balochs are the fifth largest ethnic community, with 18 million out of the total 170 million population.

Balochs reside in Balochistan, Sindh, and Punjab. However, over 60 per cent of the total Baloch population resides outside Balochistan.

Most of Balochs live in southern Punjab and in Sindh.

The Population of Balochistan is merely 6.5 million of which half are Pushtuns and other communities.

Balochs are involved in labor, transport and mines business.

The community has the least share among all ethnicities in Pakistan in army and bureaucracy.

Politically, Balochistan has  been divided into nationalist and federal parties. The PPP and the PML(N) do have popularity, but basically nationalist parties have their strong pockets in southern, and western Balochistan.

Sardar Ataullah Mengal, founder of the Balochistan National Party, Balochistan’s incumbent chief minister Nawab Aslam Raeesani and separatist leader Brahamdag Bugti, the grandson of slain Baloch leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, are all popular political leaders among the Balochs.

 

Mohajirs:

Mohajirs or immigrants are the multi-ethnical people descend from Arab, Indian, Afghan and Central Asian origin. They emigrated from India after the independence of Pakistan.

They are mostly settled in southern port city of Karachi, and parts of interior Sindh and Punjab. Karachi is the political and economic base of Mohajirs, who speak Urdu, which is also the national language.

Mohajirs are the most literate and united community in Pakistan.

Though it is a small community of 17 million, they have a huge share in economy, trade, army and in government offices.

Some Mohajir intellectuals formed a political party to protect the interests of their community in the name of Mohajir Quami Movement (MQM) in 1985, which soon became the largest party in Mohajir-dominated cities of Karachi and Hyderabad, and appeared as the sole representative of this community.

The party was later converted into Muttehida (united) Quami Movement in 1993, but the party remained restricted to Mohajirs and does not have popularity among other communities.

MQM self-exiled London-based leader Altaf Hussein is the most popular political leader among Mohajirs, followed by leaders of Jammat-e-Islami, the PPP and the PML(N).

The MQM, however, has lost a considerable ground among Mohajirs during the past ten years due to its support to the martial law imposed by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf.

 

Ethnic Relations:

Relations between different ethnicities in Pakistan are not always amicable.

The dominance of Punjabis in almost all fields has created negative sentiments among other communities.

People of Balochistan, and Sindh are particularly not happy with Punjab.

Punjabis have always been blamed for plundering the resources of other provinces, particularly gas and minerals rich Balochistan, which is the most under-developed province of Pakistan.   

In Balochistan, the grievances have reached an extent where angry Baloch youths have raised arms against the army which is dominated by Punjabis, and are fighting for “self-determination”.

The basic reason behind disharmony between Punjabis and other communities is the army.

Surprisingly, Three out of total four military rulers who ruled this South Asian Muslim nation for 36 years were non-Punjabis.

The first and second rulers, General Ayub Khan and General Yahya Khan, were Pushtuns, the third, General Zia-ul-Haq, was a Punjabi, while the fourth, General Pervez Musharraf, was a Mohajir.

Relations between Pushtuns and Mohajirs have become bitter too since 1985, following worst ethnic clashes between the two communities that have killed thousands of people in Karachi and Hyderabad cities.

Pushtuns dominate the transport, and hotel business in Karachi, while Mohajirs blame them for trying to control the local economy.

Same is the situation between Mohajirs and Sindhis in Sindh. As Mohajirs are more literate and rich, Sindhis, the local people of Sindh, developed a grudge against them.

This grudge has reached alarming proportions when Mohajirs formed MQM in 1985, which was seen by Sindhis as a bid to control the local politics.