I hope for a society that not only embraces difference but celebrates it: Pakistan is a federation of four provinces, seven large linguistic groups, a multitude of smaller linguistic groups, a number of castes and tribes and several religious and religious sects. This kaleidoscope of colour has often been brushed over with a dismal grey of “being Pakistani” – a message that is not only banal but has proven counter-productive.
The embrace must not just be cultural but also economic and political. At the very least, institutional mechanisms must be in place to ameliorate differences in economic and social attainment across groups. Legislation that seeks to integrate social groups (including gender) and a systematic data collection process to monitor gaps would constitute the heart of these institutional mechanisms.
The main cleavages around which discussions of inequality and inclusion should be based, we propose in no particular order of importance, are geography, class, caste and gender
Geography – Of the local south
A key cleavage for the exclusion/inclusion debate in Pakistan has been regional. Rounaq Jahan (1970) documents the bias in resource allocations between East and West Pakistan. Subsequently, Sindh, Baluchistan, KP and South Punjab have all, at one time or another, voiced concern on the distribution of the federal pie. Indeed, in his famous speech in April 2018, Imran Khan voiced concern over the huge disparity between the development budgets of KP province and Lahore city [Ref]. While documenting the geographical distribution of federal (and now provincial) resources is beyond the scope of this note, it is still constructive to get a numerical feel of regional inequalities. While an analysis that covered all districts of Pakistan would have been most illuminating, we are bound by data constraints to focus on Punjab.
Javaid et al. (2014) have constructed an asset index score at the district level using thirty multi-dimensional asset indicators to capture households’ asset profile. They find a huge asset score disparity even among the most developed districts. For example, asset score of Lahore (most developed district with rank=1) is 24 times that of Multan (district rank=11), 9.6 times that of Jhelum (district rank=9); 3.3 times that of Faisalabad (district rank=7) and 1.5 times that of Gujranwala (district rank=2). At another level, asset score of Rajanpur (the least developed district with district rank of 35) is 69 times away from Hafizabad (district rank=12), 31 times away from Sargodha (district rank=17) and 3 times away from Mianwali (district rank=21).
Class – Of apples not falling far from the tree
In the absence of nationally representative panel data, which would be ideal to study intergenerational mobility, I rely on the PSLM 2010-11 for some insight. The results that follow should be handled with care because of limitations discussed in detail in Burki, Memon and Mir (2015). This study finds that “40% of the sons born to bottom quintile father remain in the bottom quintile” while only “9 percent of the sons born to bottom quintile fathers make it to the top quintile”.
In a similar vein, “52 percent of sons born to top quintile fathers are in the top quintile”. That privilege is passed on from father to son is quite evident. If people were allocated to quintiles randomly, 20 percent of the sons of bottom quintile fathers should make it to the top quintile and 20 percent of the sons of top quintile fathers should be in the bottom quintile. Similar calculations from an older data set suggests that the problem has worsened and anecdotal evidence of inequality traps abound. Will Pakistan at 100 be a dynamic society where a person’s economic standing depends on their own merit or will it be a parochial society where success of the son depends on that of the father.
Ethnic – Of navigating primordial soups
Given the strong overlap between ethno-linguistic and regional identities, regional disparities are often couched in terms of ethnic disparities. It is true that the inequality between the North-Central and South Punjab overlaps with inequality between Punjabis and Seraikis. The purpose of treating regional inequalities separately was to highlight the fact that there is enormous difference between Lahore and, say, Jhelum.
While the economic dimension is important here, the political is, arguably, more important. A key question to be asked when Pakistan is 100 is whether members of all ethnic groups find themselves to be equal citizens. The structural absence of the Baloch and to some extent the Sindhis and the Seraikis are a cause of concern here. But the alleged involvement of the establishment in the enforced disappearances of those who are dissatisfied makes a discussion of relevant issues fraught with danger.
There is very little work on how well-integrated the different ethnic groups are into the economy. My own unpublished work suggests that there are large wage differences between ethnic groups that cannot be accounted for by standard measures of human capital. With wealth and capital concentrated geographically, the ethnic overlap suggests that these gaps will widen as Pakistan grows. Furthermore, to the extent that stunting among children affects brain development, human capital acquisition and future wages, regional differences in stunting rates suggest that these gaps will increase. A recent MA thesis at the LUMS Economics department suggests that a deficiency of investment in drainage and sanitation in Seraiki and Sindhi speaking areas may account for higher rates of stunting among these ethnic groups.
The literature on caste as an economically relevant category is also quite scarce. Gazdar’s work documents not only systematic discrimination against low caste people in Pakistan but how a bitter silencing of discussions of caste in the public sphere coexists with an obsession with caste in the private sphere. Will Pakistan at 100 be confident enough look at caste and its attendant vulnerabilities in their face?
Gender – Of the elephant in the room
One of the first questions that visitors from abroad ask when driving from the airport is “Where are the women?”. An absence of women from the paid work force (Siegmann and Majid), systematic discrimination in the labor force (Banuri and Memon, work in progress) and a culture that fails to punish most violent crimes against women, are dark stains on Pakistan’s socio-economic fabric. Integration into the capitalist order, for example through the increase of women’s participation in export oriented sectors such as textiles and sports goods has also not accomplished much in terms of empowerment (Munir et al). Moreover, Increased labor force participation has, often, come at a huge cost as men refuse to share the burden of house-work (Majid, work in progress).
Between 2000 and 2005, Pakistan was one of the few countries in the world to have higher female than male mortality below the age of five. (Guilmoto 2009). The number of excess deaths was 25,000 per year (Guilmoto2011). And while the sex ratios have, since then improved, (Sathar et al), the question remains: Will Pakistan at 100 give women their due dignity across all spheres or will we be content with proverbially putting heaven at their feet.
I see two main, inter-connected, problems that need to be resolved if the vision is to be achieved. One, despite numerous data sets it is difficult to make concrete statements about differences in economic and social attainment across groups. This is because data collection efforts are a response to problems perceived at high levels of aggregation. The sample strategy for the Labor Force survey, for example, appears to be incognizant of occupational stratification across gender and caste. Similarly, whereas the Demographic Health Survey is designed to elicit information on ethnicity, several rounds ask this information from only a subset of the sample.
Two, the dominant discourse of “we are all Pakistani” partly feeds into a resistance to collect identity information and ensure adequate data is collected to make definitive statements on group inequality. The absence of such definitive statements also facilitates the dominance of this discourse.
The Sustainable Development Goals, to which Pakistan is signatory requires the government to collect data on identity. To some extent the MICS is doing this. With time, there should be a rich data to analyse at least some cleavages.
The second problem is political and requires a political struggle. There is much to be said here, but not here.