Campaign against the 18th Amendment and Disenfranchising provinces will backfire

By Umer Farooq

On December 26 last year, I came across a tweet by Ijaz-ul-Haq – President of his own faction of the Muslim League – which read:

While in the gym today people were asking whether Pakistan will ever have a unified health and education policy. The answer was thanks to the 18th amendment, we can’t. All provinces have their own syllabus – Heroes and ghost schools.

This tweet evoked, in my thoughts, the possibility of a full-fledged campaign against the 18th Amendment, under which many subjects including health and education were devolved to the provincial governments and legislatures.

Ijaz-ul-Haq is known to be well connected in the power centers both in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.  If analysed in the light of the recent debate on the 18th Amendment in Islamabad, his tweet makes “some” sense. 

A low-key campaign against 18th amendment is already underway. Two major political parties, PMLN and PPP, which played a major role in the passage of the 18th Amendment, host a substantial body of opinion within them that strongly opposes provincial autonomy under 18th amendment.

The current ruling party, Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI), has shown no penchant for provincial autonomy either. Some of the leading military and political leaders have also been quoted in the media equating the 18th Amendment with the Sheikh Mujeeb’s Six Points, which ultimately led to the breaking of East and West Pakistan in 1971.

The main argument against the 18th Amendment is that it will allow each province to have a curriculum and syllabus of its own, enabling them to celebrate their own “local” heroes in the curriculum.  

What will become of the so-called national heroes then? The heroes whose struggle against the British and Hindus founded Pakistan; in the years following the Resolution of 1940 that demanded a separate homeland for the Muslims in the sub-continent.

Currently, the Pakistan Studies’ books only celebrate our national heroes who happen to be from the Muslim minority provinces of British India. Pakistan Studies’ books, taught in Pakistani schools, before the passage of 18th Amendment hardly mention the local heroes of the four provinces.

The argument that the 18th Amendment will allow the provinces celebrate their separate heroes is a flawed one. The fact that these four provinces do have their own heroes to celebrate gives these provinces, and their major ethnic groups, to celebrate their own heroes. These provinces also have well developed languages and in some cases thousands of years of history of literary production.

Each of these ethnic groups has its own cultural and political heroes, who make a major part of their shared history. On top of it all is the distinct economic and political interest each ethnic group and province has.

In the current situation, ruling these fully-fledged cultural, economic, political and linguistic units from Islamabad, with the help of bureaucratic structure deeply immersed in the political culture of strong center, was a highly unnatural arrangement. And the attempts on part of this bureaucratic structure to impose on the nationalities the cultural and political heroes propagated by Islamabad has always has backfired in the past. If anybody has any doubts in this regard, they should visit Balochistan and comprehend the political troubles the province is currently facing.

However, in a first step towards “local” and “authentic curriculum”, in 2014,Balochistan’s provincial government started a project to “remove flaws (in the existing curriculum)” and formulating a new curriculum that would be prepared in accordance with authentic political and cultural history of Balochistan.

However, bureaucracy in Islamabad will have to realize that imposing “invented” cultural and political heroes on different and diverse ethnic groups will not take Pakistan on the path of development and progress. Pakistani culture is a composite culture with multi-ethnic and multi-religious traditions making it unique.

If we exclude Baloch culture and its heroes—or for that matter any of the cultural traditions of other ethnic groups– from the Pakistani cultural tradition, what we will be left with is nothing more than the bureaucratic structures of Islamabad. Essentially Baloch culture is Pakistani culture and Baloch culture cultural heroes are Pakistani heroes. Similarly Sindhi poetry is Pakistani poetry. Punjabi Food is Pakistani food. And Pashtun music is Pakistani music.

Pakistan culture cannot exist and sustain outside or separate from the cultural traditions of our major ethnic groups and several sub-cultures that form part of Pakistani cultures.

Renowned Indian historian Romila Thapar has recently written a book entitled “Indian cultures as Heritage”. In her book, she has expressed the opinion that culture cannot be used in a singular form as no society on earth can have a single unified culture. According to her, culture could only be used, or defined, in a “plural” form as every society is formed of multiple existing cultures.

During the past 70 years, an attempt was made to invent nationalistic “Pakistani cultural heroes” in Islamabad, who were “imposed” on all the provinces. This not only failed but backfired as well. Pakistani culture and political system will only be strengthened if we include the heroes of other ethnic groups in the meta-narrative of Pakistan. Excluding these local heroes from national pantheon will amount to cultural disenfranchising of the Pakistani people.

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