Growing Polarization and its Impact on Pakistan

By: Muhammad Zain Ul Abideen

Polarization is when a society splits into different factions at extreme ends, without a connecting middle ground. Pakistan’s political, religious and social systems are diverse in nature. There are four provinces of Pakistan i.e Punjab, Sind, KPK, Baluchistan and Federal territories like Gilgit Baltistan. Pakistan is heterogeneous society where people live under their own certain traditional values. Different regions have their own cultural values which are very diverse in nature. Political, Religious and Social Polarization is enhancing day by day in Pakistan that is precarious and hazardous for the future of our country.

In Pakistan, there are three mainstream political parties i.e PTI, PML.N and PPP with many other small politico-religious and ethno-nationalistic parties like JUI-F, JI, MQM, ANP etc. Currently, Pakistan has become very polarized in political sphere due to vested interests of political leadership. All parties are trying hard to gain power through whatever means to rule over Pakistan. Competition among political parties is the beauty of democracy but Political extremism would be hazardous for masses of Pakistan. Polarized politics has a vast impact on Pakistan and it has created security threats to  state which was founded on the principles of Peace and Prosperity. Internal contradictory factors are leading our nation toward violence and clashes against the state institutions. It’s very desperate for there is no middle way to reconcile with each others. Throughout history, unwise decisions by political powers lead to polarization. Political point scoring, identity politics, Ethnic Politics, feudal system, elitism, corrupt and weak institutions, all these factors leads to political polarization and it is increasing rapidly that can result into a fragmented nation-state of Pakistan. 

Islam is official religion of Pakistan and approximately 98% of Pakistanis are Muslim. Religious Polarization is also on peak in Islamic Republic. Parties like JUI-F, JI and TLP, are playing religious card in order to pursue their own narrow political interests. Religious parties chanted Blasphemy slogan to exploit the ordinary masses in order to pursue the vested interests. There are many religious sects or factions in Pakistan. Sunni Muslims follow theology of Hanafi, Maliki, Shaffi with inclination towards Sunni Sufi orders like the Qadiri, Chishti and the Suhrawardi which constitutes about 65% to 70% of population. On the other side, Shia community in Pakistan is approximately 15% of population. There is diversity in Shia’s beliefs about their own sect i.e Ismaeli Shia’s and twelver Shia’s. Religious parties want supremacy of Islamic law in Pakistan with every party with its own extreme interpretation of Islam. Sectarianism is the main problem especially after Iranian revolution in 1979.  Religious extremism was mainly started in Pakistan during Zia era who through his own version of Islamization program enhanced polarization in Pakistan specially between Sunnis and Shias.

Resultantly during 2000’s, Hazara Community members were killed by Taliban at Quetta. Hundreds of Shia’s have been killed in Pakistani Northern areas GB, Parachinar and Chelas. In 2009, around 40 Shia’s were killed in Karachi suicide bombing. In 2013, about 113 people were dead during attack on Hazara community. The responsibility of blast was claimed by terrorist Jhangvi group. Killing of Salman Teaser is yet another degree to determine religious polarization in Pakistani society. Recently, Christian woman Asia Bibi was released on Supreme Court orders with clergy and laymen divided over the decision. TLP, which believed that international powers conspired to weaken Muslims emotional attachment with last prophet (PBUH) by setting Asia Bibi free. Few claimed that there were certain elements in PTI government and state institutions who are hell-bent to manipulate blasphemy law. We can take the example of Atif Mian case. Atif step down from economic advisory committee due to adverse pressure from extremist factions of Pakistan. Above mentioned statistical facts and figures showed that Pakistan is not an cohesive state in term of religious beliefs. Even above of it all, there is polarized opinion of religious man and modern man in Pakistan.

Social polarization refers to segregation within society or the splitting of society at extreme level with no middle way to reconcile with each other. It may emerge from inequality, discrimination, economic deprivation etc. There are different social classes in our country which we can categorize in three classes.  Elite, Middle and lower class. All these classes have their own dynamics. Elite class is dominant in Pakistan and other classes are struggling for their survival. Unfortunately, feudal system in Punjab, Sind and Khan (Jirga) system in KPK and Baluchistan is the crux of social polarization in Pakistan. People are divided in classes in the name of economy, cast, sects and identity. Pakistan has two systems; one for the elite and one for the rest of the people which leads to injustice, discrimination and inequality among masses.

Domestic violence in Pakistan is also the result of social polarization in male-dominated society. Still in some areas of KPK and Baluchistan, women don’t have a right to vote and have no role in societal matters. Women in Pakistan are facing different form of abuses. Physical violence, dowry deaths, acid attacks and honor killing are results of social polarization. According to one statistic facts, around 20% to 30% women in Pakistan have suffered some form of violence just because of the culture of economic inequality and around 5000 women are killed annually from domestic violence. Pakistan stands as the sixth most hazardous country in the world for women, with cases of sexual abuse and domestic violence recording a rapid rise.

Polarization has significant negative impact on Pakistani society. Diversification is not a bad thing but at extreme level, it would be poison for nation. It has great influence in the poor development. Due to polarization, domestic and religious violence is increasing with the passage of time. Polarization has very precarious impact on the mentality of ordinary man of Pakistan. People are not tolerating in nature due to religious extremism. Different religious factions in Pakistan have their own interpretation of Islam. Comparatively, chances of conflicts in Pakistan are higher due to religious and political polarization. In order to protect their own interests, many groups also try to use the intolerance of mobs and mob mentality as weapon to suppress the opponent. People are divide on identity, ethnic, cast, sect, social status, rich and poor etc. Because of all these factors, it has great impact on elections of Pakistan. Identity politics is the crux of Pakistani nation.

The problem is not the issue itself; the problem is how to deal with the issue. Unfortunately, in Pakistan the issue of polarization has not been given any serious attention both by government, media and society. Government alone cannot solve it, and involvement of civil society is even more important. Mass awareness campaign on large scale is a viable and sustainable solution to counter the problem. Government with the help of NGOs and social scientists as well leaders of various political and religious groups can reduce the problem of growing polarization by efficiently utilizing the print, electronic, social media and public figures.