Friday :: Sep 3, 2010

Ethnic/Linguistic Demographics of Pakistan


by eriposte

In my series of posts on South Asia last year, I discussed the roots of Pakistan's overall failure as a state - especially authoritarianism and Islamization, tied integrally to the suppression of linguistic identities. Recently, someone asked about my thoughts on the impact of Pakistan's terrible floods and how that might impact Pakistan's future social, economic and political trajectory. I'm going to write a bit on that topic hopefully by next week, but to facilitate that discussion, I believe it is important to first understand Pakistan's linguistic and electoral demographics at the national and provincial level. It is easy to talk about the people of Pakistan as if they constitute a homogenous population - the reality is Pakistan is fairly complex (as I've discussed before) and we need to have a basic understanding of that complexity to be able to make any kind of informed judgments on Pakistan's future. In this post, I'm going to briefly discuss the linguistic demographics of Pakistan. In my next post I'll discuss some electoral data and then I'll use the data in these two posts to comment on Pakistan's possible trajectories.

The source of the raw data used for this post is this undated data set from the Government of Pakistan's website. It is unclear which year this data was assembled (I'm assuming it is recent) but since the objective of this post is to illustrate overall differences and general trends, the precise numbers are less important than the relative comparison across linguistic groups and provinces in Pakistan. The most important takeaway from the data shown in this post is that Punjabis and Mohajirs, who dominate Pakistan's power structure and governing elite, generally tend to be over-represented in the urban areas of the provinces they live in, whereas Sindhis, Balochis and Saraikis, who have long been suppressed linguistic groups in Pakistan, tend to be over-represented in the rural areas of the provinces they are most concentrated in. Pashtuns fall somewhere in between. While all groups tend to have meaningful representation in urban and rural areas in several provinces, flood impact tends to be higher in rural areas and those groups that happen to be concentrated more in rural areas are therefore likely to see more impact.

Before we dive into the data, it is worth recalling what I pointed out in previous posts [emphasis mine]:

...Although the conditions under which India and Pakistan were created in 1947 were somewhat similar, the differences in the structures of the principal political parties in both countries and the visions and actions of their respective leaders, as well as the class and power structure in Pakistan, led to Pakistan becoming an authoritarian and unrepresentative non-democratic state. The Pakistani leadership placed higher importance on superficial national unity than on ethnic/linguistic rights and the power base was dominated by generally wealthier and more literate ethnic minorities (Urdu-speaking Mohajir and Punjabi-speaking Punjabi elites) who successfully suppressed both the linguistic majority group (Bengalis) and other linguistic minorities (Sindhis, Balochs, Siraikis, etc.) by retaining most of the power in the new Pakistan. This suppression was enabled by the fact that the structure of Pakistani government soon after independence was modified to make the civil bureaucracy far more powerful than the political class, and the bureaucracy and military - the two most powerful institutions - were initially dominated by Mohajirs and Punjabis. Representative democracy was thus antithetical to the main interests of the Mohajir-Punjabi ruling elite and this became clear when they declared Urdu - a language spoken by the minuscule Mohajir minority - to be the sole official language of the state under the guise of 'unification', thereby suppressing other languages. The fact that, unlike the Indian National Congress, the largest political party in Pakistan - the Muslim League - was dominated by minority Muslims from India (especially Urdu speakers) rather than the ethnic/linguistic groups hailing from the new Pakistan, and was therefore not a truly representative body, also facilitated this trajectory.

One of the indirect ways to visualize the dominance of Punjabis and Mohajirs (and to a smaller extent Pashtuns, primarily in the military elite) in the Pakistani power structure is the over-representation of these linguistic groups in Pakistan's capital city, Islamabad. As the first chart below illustrates, Punjabis and Urdu-speakers are significantly over-represented in urban Islamabad compared to their overall population in Pakistan, with Pashtuns not far behind. Sindhis and Balochs (and the minority Saraikis who live especially in Punjab) are badly under-represented in the capital city compared to their overall population in Pakistan. [NOTE: Charts like these don't prove that over-representation in population implies over-representation in power - rather, the chart is included to reflect on the fact that over-representation in power has been accompanied by an over-representation in population at the main seat of power in Pakistan. The current political power structure in Pakistan (which I will discuss in my next post) is a bit more nuanced, but no one denies that the military still plays a dominant role in Pakistani politics.]

Pakistan_v_Islamabad_pop_TLC_eriposte_2009.gif

In the next few charts, the linguistic demographics of each of Pakistan's major provinces is summarized.

SINDH

Sindhis are the majority group in Sindh province. However, they are dominant primarily in rural areas of Sindh. Urdu-speaking Mohajirs form the majority in urban Sindh, which also has significant numbers of ethnic Punjabis and Pashtuns (in addition to Sindhis). It is worth recalling that a key reason why many Sindhis felt suppressed over many decades in Pakistan is the presence of originally migrant Mohajirs (from pre-partition India).

Sindh_pop_TLC_eriposte_2009.gif

PUNJAB

The province of Punjab is dominated by Punjabis, with Saraikis who tend to be more heavily concentrated in rural Punjab and a smattering of Mohajirs especially in the urban areas (seats of provincial power). It should not be surprising that the Saraiki community has also felt somewhat economically and politically suppressed over the years.

Punjab_pop_TLC_eriposte_2009.gif

BALOCHISTAN

Balochistan, which has seen insurgencies and much internal strife in the last few decades, has a significant Baloch majority but this has been eroded over time by the growth of other linguistic groups - especially Pashtuns and Punjabis (the former in both rural and urban areas and the latter primarily in urban areas). Balochistan has Pakistan's highest rural poverty rate and this tends to affect predominantly Balochs and Pashtuns.

Balochistan_pop_TLC_eriposte_2009.gif

NWFP and FATA

The NWFP of Pakistan, now renamed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are mostly dominated by Pashtuns. [NOTE: I am not including Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in this post].

NWFP_pop_TLC_eriposte_2009.gif

FATA_pop_TLC_eriposte_2009.gif

SUMMARY

To view all of the above data in perspective, I've created a couple of additional charts below. The first chart below shows how each linguistic group is over- or under-represented in urban areas of Pakistan's provinces compared to their overall (average) population % in each province. The second chart compares the urban and rural population percentages of each linguistic group within each province. (I am also including the Islamabad and FATA territories, and excluding Pakistan-occupied Kashmir).

The key takeaways from these charts:

  • Mohajirs dominate urban Sindh and tend to be over-represented in the urban areas of pretty much all of Pakistan's provinces. This is not surprising considering that they tend to be more educated and wealthy and as successful migrants from pre-partition India, sought to preserve their power base and success when they moved to Pakistan.
  • Punjabis, who dominate Pakistan's military and power structure, are likewise over-represented in the urban areas of virtually all of Pakistan's provinces in comparison to their overall populations within those provinces [Note: Punjabis dominate both urban and rural Islamabad compared to their national share of the population, but more so in the rural areas - hence the negative number in the charts below for Islamabad].
  • Pashtuns are concentrated primarily in NWFP, FATA and Balochistan and tend to be roughly equally represented in both urban and rural areas in NWFP/FATA. They also have some presence and slight over-representation in urban areas of Islamabad and Sindh. This is consistent with their significant participation in Pakistan's power structure, especially given the strategic location of the NWFP.
  • Sindhis are present mostly in Sindh and to a small extent in Balochistan. They are severely under-represented in urban Sindh.
  • Balochs are present mostly in Balochistan. They are fairly under-represented in urban Balochistan.
  • Saraikis are present mostly in Punjab and to a lesser extent in Sindh and NWFP. They are fairly under-represented in urban Punjab.
Urban_v_Overall_Pakistan_TLC_eriposte_2009.gif

Urban_v_Rural_Pakistan_TLC_eriposte_2009.gif

The most important takeaway from the data shown in this post is that Punjabis and Mohajirs, who dominate Pakistan's power structure and governing elite, generally tend to be over-represented in the urban areas of the provinces they live in, whereas Sindhis, Balochis and Saraikis, who have long been suppressed linguistic groups in Pakistan, tend to be over-represented in the rural areas of the provinces they are most concentrated in. Pashtuns fall somewhere in between. While all groups tend to have meaningful representation in urban and rural areas in several provinces, flood impact tends to be higher in rural areas and those groups that happen to be concentrated more in rural areas are therefore likely to see more impact.

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