The Dilemma Of Ethnic Politics

By D. Asghar

It is often debated that why political process is so weak in a country as old as Pakistan. Yes the direct and indirect military intervention is one of the primary reasons, but the poor performance of political parties, must share the blame as well.

The country and its population is bitterly divided on ethnic and in same cases, arguably on religious lines. This division impacts the political parties to a great extent, as what are the political parties, a reflection of the sentiments and views of the general populace.

Sadly right after its inception, the founding political party, The Muslim League has been divided and subdivided into so many factions and branches, denoted by an alphabetic letter that it is hard to keep up with who represents which faction. It is almost an alphabet soup.

The PPP, was able to boast being a representative party of all four provinces, but the rules of engagement have changed tremendously in the recent years. Over all it has a perception of being a “Sindhi dominated” party often using its infamous “Sindh card” to its advantage.

MQM, which started out as “Muhajir Qaumi Movement”, even with its refined renaming of “Muttahida Qaumi Movement” cannot change its overall image. It is a party of ethnic Urdu speaking minority on the surface, but on the mean streets of Karachi often remembered by different names.

The ANP is supposedly secular and progressive, following the non violent principles of Bacha Khan. In reality it is a Pukhtoon party with Pukhtoon vote base of Khyber Pukhtunkhaw. Similarly, we have JUI-F, although a religious yet a political party but wielding its KP centric clout to the maximum.

Balochistan is riddled with BNP, JWP and many others that cater to the ethnic culture of that particular province. PML-N, the second largest party after PPP, headed by twice elected former PM Nawaz Sharif, is more or less a “Punjabi party”, with its roots firmly grounded in the Punjab province.

With these divisions along ethnic lines of diversity and lack of cohesive nationalistic ideologies, we have such weak political parties. They cobble up coalition governments, but due to lack of unified national strategy and varied interest, typically engage in “bargaining tactics.” Not to mention, there are “non political forces” who do not want any political culture to prosper in the country. In the end, we have weak coalition governments, often held hostage by stakeholders, who end up hurting the process and alienating the electorate. The disenchanted electorate ends up considering the military a viable option, and often forgets that all military does is creates another PML with a new letter comprised of its cronies.

The solution lies in a strong two party system, where both parties are truly representative of the entire electorate of the country. The parties must have roots in all four provinces and their ideologies and manifestos are aligned, not on the basis of the regional language but overall national interest. The formation of governments would be a lot easier and the transition from one to the other would be relatively smoother and painless. The political process will prosper and the voters interest will not be held based on geographic, tribal or linguistic lines. It will be a new era in national politics, where Pakistan and its national unity will truly be at the forefront of any agenda.


D. Asghar is a Pakistani American. A Mortgage Banker by profession who loves to write as well. He blogs frequently at popular South Asian websites. A repository of some of his scribbles is He can be reached at

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