Elections In Pakistan And The Rise Of Provincialism: The Case Of Punjab University

elections in Pakistan and the rise in provincialism - the case of Punjab university
Source: Express Tribune

The elections are only a few months away. It is expected that the national and provincial assemblies will be dissolved sometime in June and the general elections in Pakistan will take place towards August. All the major political parties in the country have been in campaign mode for the last few months and each party is coming back with rhetoric that sells best with the masses.

There are of course pledges to overcome Pakistan’s energy crisis, eradicate corruption and mismanagement of resources, alleviate poverty and create more jobs. Now if the political parties were to stick to these traditional promises, there wouldn’t be an issue. However, there is a sudden and rather acute rise in the politics of provincialism, creating an unholy environment that every Pakistani should be worried about.

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Let’s take the case of Punjab University as an example. Although among the most prestigious institutions in the country, Punjab University is no stranger to violence. In fact, student groups affiliated with various political parties or movements have always been at loggerheads with each other, occasionally making the campus an unfortunate battlefield of sorts.

The rise in ethnic tensions is often most pronounced close to the general elections in Pakistan. Young minds pumped with politics of hate become foot soldiers for political parties that feed on sentiments of provincial disharmony.

The oft repeated script was once again put into action yesterday when students belonging to Pakthun Baloch Students Union (PBSU) and Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) violently clashed, resulting in several injuries and a partially burnt classroom.

The Vice Chancellor, in his official categorically said that the matter was being investigated and blame could not be be placed on any one student group.

However, the Vice Chancellor’s plea to not assign blame on any one student group fell on deaf ears and the political groups were quick to propagate provincial hatred.

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Suddenly, it wasn’t two student groups against each other but Jamaat vs the Pukhtun/Baloch movement. An emotionally charged and politically motivated cyber war unused in the aftermath of the unfortunate incident with each group blaming the other for the violence.

Even the newspapers – and I’m talking about the most esteemed publications in the country – were unable to report a more investigative account of the violence. No one seemed to ponder as to why would a group of students attack another group without any provocation?

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These two videos, alleging that the members of IJT severely beat-up a Pukhtun/Baloch student a day before violence broke-out perhaps explains what led to the clash between the two groups on January 22.

The issue at hand is not the sporadic outbreak of violence in the university campus. Violent incidents are only symptoms of a cause that runs much deeper than what meets the eye.

It is important to carefully study the decades of hate that the student wings of our political parties have passed onto generation after generation of students. No child is born a violent bigot. This ethnic prejudice has been taught to our young people very systematically by most – if not all – political forces to ossify their stronghold in educational institutions and garner support during election years. This is no different from the colonial doctrine of divide and conquer.

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Emotional young people are propagated systematic hate against other ethnicities and provoked to take up violence. If a young soul loses his or her life in the process it only goes to strengthen the hate narratives that the political party had been preaching on one hand and on the other hand helps to secure sympathy votes for its leadership.

With elections in Pakistan scheduled for August this year, provincialism will continue to experience a surge. Political leaders will reinforce ethnic hatred in their high octane speeches during campaign rallies, social media will be used to spread fake news to fuel provincial divide and our young people will continue to be exploited as foot soldiers to meet political ends.

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It is one thing to take rightful pride in our identities as Punjabis, Pukhtuns, Balochs, Sindhis, Saraikis and Mahajirs but it is quite another to allow political forces to exploit our love for our ethnicity and turn us against each other.

As citizens of Pakistan, we will have to look beyond the obvious, unlearn the hate that we have internalized through decades of propaganda and reject ethnic politics for there is no pride in violence and no shame in harmony.

Long live Pakistan!