Is Pakistan Coming Apart?

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A half-century after it from the Partition of a new nation, Pakistan of becoming another Bosnia. The government in Islamabad, writes Christopher O. Hurst, a researcher at California State University at San Bernardino, "must now contend with peoples who feel far greater allegiance to their ethnic homeland than to the concept of a greater Pakistan."

When the Indian subcontinent was partitioned, and the Muslim-majority areas were combined to form Pakistan, the hope of M. A. Jinnah (1876-1948) and the other founding fathers was that, though the government was not to be a theocracy, the common Muslim identity would hold the country together. "Islam is a powerful force in Pakistan," Hurst writes in Studies in Conflict 6-Terrorism (Apr.-June 1996), "but pleas for Islamic unity have done little to pre-vent. . . ethnic and sectarian conflict." Such pleas certainly didn't prevent East Pakistan, geographically separated by India from the rest of Pakistan, from breaking away in 1971 to become Bangladesh. Indeed, that success- ful secession inspired other separatist move- ments in Pakistan-and steeled Islamabad's resolve to suppress them.

Pakistan's population of 128 million includes five major ethnic groups: the Punjabis (62 million) in the northeast, the Pashtuns (17 million) in the northwest, the Baluchs (three million) in the southwest, the Sindhis (17 million) in the southeast, and the Muhajirs, an "umbrella" group made up primarily of immigrants from India and their descendants, most of whom live in the Sindh region.

Ironically, in light of some Western observers' fears of Islamic "fundamentalism," religious political parties have never had much success with the Pakistani electorate. In the October 1993 election, the religious parties obtained only three seats in the 237-member National Assembly.

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