Should Pakistan be partitioned like Yugoslavia?


by Lawrence Sellin, Phd.


After World War II, Yugoslavia was organized as a federation of six republics, with borders drawn along ethnic and historical lines: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia with the two autonomous Serbian provinces of Vojvodina and Kosovo.

The Yugoslav federation worked successfully largely due to the strong leadership of president-for-life Josip Broz Tito, but after his death in 1980, a weakened central government could not cope with the growing ethnic and nationalist tensions.

Likewise, Pakistan is not so much a country, but an artificial political entity created by the British during the partition of India. It is founded on the ideology of Islam and is primarily composed of five ethnic groups that never coexisted – the Bengalis, Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis and Baloch.

It is ironic that the father of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, reportedly an atheist, who argued for a secular and inclusive Pakistan in his famous speech in the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 days before Pakistani independence, could, just a year earlier, display no qualms about asking Muslims to implement “Direct Action” which led to widespread rioting and bloodshed in the name of religion. Political psychologist Ashis Nandy wrote “Jinnah kept the ulema [scholars of Muslim religious law] at a distance throughout his life, but was perfectly willing to use them to advance the cause of a separate homeland for South Asian Muslims.”

Since its inception, Pakistan has operated according to several fundamental principles: Punjabi ethnic supremacy, fear of India, political control by the army and, lacking ethnic cohesiveness, using Islam as a domestic and foreign policy instrument.

Pakistan’s inability to establish a national identity beyond Islam began in the 1950s when the imposition of Urdu as a national language generated resentment amongst the majority Bengalis in East Pakistan, which, after a bloody conflict in 1971, separated from Pakistan to become the independent country of Bangladesh.

Karachi and adjacent areas have been plagued by political turmoil between the native Sindhis and the Urdu-speaking “Mohajir,” who migrated there during and after partition.

Balochistan, now its largest province, never agreed to join with Pakistan, but did so only after being invaded by the Pakistani military. For a succinct history of the forced annexation, see the article “How Balochistan became a part of Pakistan – a historical perspective” published in “The Nation,” an English-language daily newspaper based in Lahore, Pakistan.

Balochistan is in southwest Pakistan bordering Afghanistan and Iran with its southern coast on the Arabian Sea. It is rich in natural resources, including oil, gas, copper and gold, yet remains one of the poorest regions of Pakistan, where the vast majority of its population lives in deplorable conditions without access to electricity or clean drinking water.

Balochistan’s natural resources have been plundered by Pakistan, nuclear tests were conducted there without the permission of the Baloch people and the region has been subjected to military oppression for decades to extinguish ethnic aspirations and to maintain it as a de facto colony of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s attempts at quelling ethnicity-based grievances have only resulted in exacerbating them, encouraging provincial discontent and intensifying separatism. That occurs because

Pakistan has not diverted from its political playbook outlined above, namely, Punjabi dominance, irrational fear of India, military control of the political system, and the ever increasing use of ever more radical interpretations of Islam to mitigate internal dissent and exert influence regionally.

United States policy in Afghanistan is directly and intentionally thwarted by Pakistan and we would benefit from a change in the strategic landscape.

And so would South Asia.