Cultural Diversity Challenge
By Masood H. Kizilbash

The beginning of the 21st century has given rise to divisive threats, especially in the Third World. These threats arise from the polarization of society along cultural, ethnic and religious lines in the states and have already led to the fragmentation of some states such as Yugoslavia, Indonesia, South Africa etc, while others are about to meet the same fate.
The cause of the resurgence and assertion of cultural, ethnic and religious identities and the internal conflicts and wars that these identities have generated in the states, is generally ascribed to ‘state failure’ associated with corruption, neglect of small-scale agriculture, government control over the economy and financial repression. In nutshell, it is considered a purely domestic phenomenon. The truth of the matter, however, is that the international forces of globalization and democratic values that are sweeping across the world at the moment and are aimed at integrating with the global economy, have destabilized our societies and intensified conflict.
The forces of globalization have increased poverty and unemployment, especially in the Third World with half of the world’s population living on less than two dollars a day and one fifth of humanity — some 1.2 billion people — surviving on less than one dollar a day. In fact, globalization has not only brought about a fall in average income and high levels of unemployment on account of structural reforms but also promoted income redistribution, exacerbating a divide between a group or region and other groups or regions. Economist Mark Duffield has remarked that “rather than promoting stability, globalization has helped illiberal and quasi feudal forms of political economy to expand.”
Poverty in general and the redistribution of income in favor of one cultural group or the other in poor and economically vulnerable countries has given rise to cultural, ethnic and religious groups, each asserting itself in order to clinching economic and political power in the state. This is well articulated by Paul Collier in his paper ‘Doing Well Out of War: An Economic Perspective.’ He says, “At one extreme they (rebellions) might arise because rebels aspire to wealth by capturing resources extra-legally. At the other extreme they might arise because rebels aspire to rid the nation, or the group of people with which they identify of an unjust regime”. This grievance is based on economic inequality among groups and regions, manifested in unequal income or in the unequal ownership of assets.
The purpose of these groups is to use ‘differences’ as a medium for making economic and political gains. David Turton in his study War and Ethnicity lucidly makes this point: “What both sociological traditions appear to have missed was the possibility that a cultural, linguistic or religious difference might be defended and asserted not as only an end in itself but also as a means — and particularly effective means — to economic and political advancement”. The roots of ethnic, cultural and linguistic conflicts are, therefore, buried underneath the economic differences among different classes of society and organizations based on cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious lines use them as a means to demand their economic and political rights.
Now we come to Mr Sardar Aseff Ali’s article ‘The Question of Identity’. The writer makes out a case for discarding the ideology of Pakistan and adopting the cultural identity of the Indus Valley civilization as the basis of the state. He goes on to suggest that the Muslims of Pakistan belong to a South Asian culture that evolved through a huge South Asian diffusion of language, literature, food, poetry, architecture, painting, etc. His deductions are not based on the historical truth of economic disparity between Muslims and Hindus which motivated the Muslims of India to organize themselves to demand economic and political rights in an undivided India. Neither has he analyzed the causes of contemporary internal conflicts within states.
The ideology of Pakistan is purely based on a historical truth that following the wresting of power from Muslims, the British government of India remained suspicious of Muslims rising against its power in India. For this reason, it kept them in a state of economic deprivation. This was managed by them through the enforcement of discriminatory policies against Muslims in the services, business and industry. These policies helped to improve the economic and financial status of Hindus and opened up the gates of poverty for Muslims.
When chances of India acquiring an independent status emerged, there was fear among the Indian Muslims that the discriminatory policies of the British government in India, long embedded in the system, might be continued by the Indian National Congress party which was dominated by Hindus. It was this fear that led our pre-independence leaders to demand constitutional safeguards for Muslims in a future, undivided and independent India.
If any examples are needed in support of this reasoning, there are many: the Lucknow Pact of 1916, the 14-point rejoinder to the Nehru Report of 1928, the subsequent warning of Mohammad Ali Jinnah to Congress leaders at the All-Party Conference at Calcutta about ignoring minimum Muslim demands for representation in a future Indian government, the acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan framework by the Muslim League in 1945 and Nehru’s assertion thereafter of the right of carrying out amendments to the plan.
Surely, the demand of ‘constitutional safeguards’ by a cultural minority of Muslims was asserted as a means to ensure economic and political advancement in a future constitutional setup in undivided India. However, the majority represented by the Indian National Congress denied it and preferred the division of India rather than granting this right to a religious minority. But does it mean that we should reject the two-nation theory as the genesis of Pakistan or our statehood and substitute it with the Indus Valley Civilization? Will this substitution help galvanize various groups raging in our state on sectarian, ethnic and cultural grounds and bring harmony and unity? Will the renunciation of Urdu or Hindustani which evolved as a link language in undivided India to ensure cohesion among various cultural groups in Pakistan?
But these are not causes of our growing divide. The cause is globalization which has helped illiberal and a quasi-feudal form of political economy to grow in Pakistan and has contributed to a redistribution of income in favor of one group over the other. Hence, Pakistan today is riven by disparities among regions and classes. The assertion by these regions and groups emanate from economic factors. These groups are articulating their cultural identity for making economic and political advancement which has been denied to them since long.
The substitution of genesis of Pakistan by the Indus Valley Civilization will not bring internal conflicts to an end because the Indus Valley Civilization is not a ‘unitary identity’ of all federating units in Pakistan. The remedy lies in granting political and economic rights to all regions and groups for enabling them to make economic and political advancement. This is what is importunately pressing for the preservation of our identity as a state. This step needs to be supported by measures aimed at neutralizing the negative effects of globalization on our economy so that the size of the cake is not reduced and its distribution is not skewed further, giving rise to an upward swing in poverty levels and an assertion of cultural identities with renewed force.
Any linkage of the ‘Indus Valley Civilization’ with the huge South Asian culture is an escapist route and will not bail us out of our present problems. Identifying the Indus Valley Civilization with the broad-based South Asian culture amounts to forgetting the lessons of history that our country came into existence owing to the deliberate denial of rights by the majority to the Muslims. The majority in the South Asia has never rejected their pre-independence leadership for their political decision. Why should we? (Courtesy Dawn)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.