Cover Story

A New Path

The burden of creating national unity falls more heavily on the Punjab.

By IRFAN MUSTAFA | September 2022

Punjab holds an uncontested significance in Pakistan’s socio-economic and political landscape. It has always retained its domination in the bureaucracy, population, economy and military. In political contestation, control over Punjab can make or break the government and ensure its national hold. However, this provincial prominence has a flip side of weak social fabric and compromised nation-building.

In a national setting and for the sake of national progress, stronger provinces have certain responsibilities. Unfortunately, Punjab has not played its due role expected of a province enjoying exclusive prominence. As the most well-resourced province, it should have ensured collective uplift of the country and egalitarian approach to development. In contrast, where politics remained a strategic game of thrones, geographical focus in favour of one province compromised the national interest and created an unnecessary and unhealthy provincial hierarchy. This exclusive focus only resulted in selective development, selective representation, selective accountability and consequent strengthening of clientelism and elitism. It deepened a sense of deprivation among others and provided impetus for secessionist movements damaging national cohesion.

Provincial disparity has historical traces in Pakistan. They are reminders of parochial structural arrangement resulting in Punjab’s martial superiority and the consequent exploitation and denigration of smaller provinces and their dismissal in national representation. Where political prowess wins a victory in Punjab and establishes a power hold, it reinforces the earlier societal divisions and perpetuates inter-provincial and ethnic differences. In a national arrangement of provincial units, a stronger province is naturally expected to take a lead in ensuring collective prosperity and arresting societal divisions.

One historical manifestation of this lack of cohesion is December 16, 1971. It is indeed disappointing that Pakistan has not learned from its dismemberment which has never been seriously talked about or discussed to draw lessons from. People of my generation have never had the humility to admit the wrongs we did, the truths we concealed, the rights we compromised and the differences we created which divided the country. We were shouldered with the task of safeguarding Pakistan, but we chose to splinter it for political gains. We owe our people and this country a sincere apology. Unfortunately, every time any province is exclusively focused upon for political gains, we end up sowing the same seeds that we earlier sowed and pushed for the creation of Bangladesh.

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Irfan Mustafa is Chairman, Delicious Holdings and Managing Partner, KFC Pakistan. He holds Business Administration degrees from IMD, Switzerland and IBA, Karachi.

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