An independent think-tank

‘Social justice, inclusive decision-making can greatly foster the spirit of cohesion’

June 21, 2019


While there is a lot of talk about social cohesion, it often fails because of injustices emanating from inequality in the country. Social injustices force people to resort to their group-based identities, who think they are being disliked and others are liked merely because of who they are. To overcome such thinking, the state should take serious steps in dispensing social justice across the board. Not only will it instill a sense of responsibility in the citizens towards the state, but people’s own engagement with each other will increase.

These came at a discussion in the report launch of “Who am I?”, a study on identity and coexistence in Pakistan, conducted by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based organization. The discussion was attended by scholars, journalists, experts, and students. PIPS’s director Muhammad Amir Rana moderated the discussion.

The report notes that when people in Pakistan are asked who they are, they mostly refer a particular group, based on their beliefs, ethnicity, home towns. In smaller provinces, ethnicities are focused on, whereas in Punjab, religion too comes under discussion.

So common is it that even the discourse on human rights in Pakistan is often of identity rights. Interestingly, individuality, and individual rights, are not much centred on.

Harris Khalique, Secretary General of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), argued it is because of “social injustices”, injected by material and economic inequality across the country, that they are bound to think in group terms. They think they are disliked and others are liked merely because of who they are or what they belief in. And the state, for its unitary obsession, has a historic role in aggravating those differences, he said.

Gender activist Farzana Bari agreed, saying that even when it comes to gender rights, the issue at the core is about “material” inequality between different genders. That is what sustains patriarchy, she said.

Dr Khalid Masud, former Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology, hinted that governance matters are often ignored in these debates. Whereas the whole world is debating the pros and cons of globalization, the debates in Pakistan are still stuck with group identities and their link with nation-state.

The report also noted that inside the country, identity-based politics is rising, with people affiliated with religious, nay sectarian, and ethnic parties – clearly showing where the society is headed.

Parliament expert Zafarullah Khan agreed the issues are not peculiar to Pakistan, but the world has learnt the “art of managing” such issues. One way is through inclusive decision-making process, which is greatly aided by parliament.

Constitutional safeguards can help bring to the mainstream those on the fringe, the report noted. Of immediate attention are residents of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan, whose representatives lack power with matters of their area and people; persons living with disabilities, who are not even accepted as identity, and for whom   there is no specific law; and religious minorities, who lament how they got excluded by state’s tilt towards one religion.

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