The quota system has remained a contentious issue and a politically divisive factor in Sindh. Leadership of the Urdu-speaking community has been debunking it as discriminatory whereas Sindhis consider it as an affirmative action plausibly in line with principles of fairness.
Allocating special quota in education and job opportunities for any disadvantaged groups is not an alien concept. Reverse discrimination against dominant groups in favour of marginalised groups is a well-recognised approach adopted to redress social imbalance for the sake of socio-political stability. Quota system is in vogue in many countries in various forms.
In Malaysia, native Malays called Bumiputras get preferential treatment in education, housing, property and jobs through article 153 of the Malaysian constitution. Jinnah’s 14 points also included a demand for constitutional provision to ensure adequate share for Muslims in all services of the state and in local self-governing bodies. In 1926, the British authorities allocated 25 per cent seats for Muslims in civil services based on their 24 per cent share in population.
In Pakistan, the quota system was actually introduced in 1948 when Liaquat Ali Khan was the prime minister who was the real architect of the quota system. A notification issued on September 1, 1948 laid down recruitment policy for the central services. Under the policy 15 per cent quota was reserved for the candidates who had not yet acquired the domicile of Pakistan. Karachi was separately allocated 2 per cent seats although its population was 1.3 per cent. East Bengal and West Punjab, including Bahawalpur, were assigned 42 and 24 per cent share respectively.
Ironically, the founding province Sindh was not provided separate quota and its share was subsumed in 17 per cent of Sindh, Khairpur, NWFP, Frontier states and tribal areas and Balochistan states. Sindhis had not yet recovered from the shock of a forced separation of Karachi from Sindh when their share in central jobs was merged with other provinces unlike Bengal and Punjab. Sindhis were disappointed by this discriminatory policy in a newly-created country for which their assembly was the first to vote.
The quota system was further refined in 1949 when 20 per cent seats were allocated on merit but the share of Sindh and other provinces and tribal agencies was further trimmed to 15 per cent. How this unjust distribution of job quota impacted Sindhis was evident from the figures presented in the constituent assembly in 1952.
Share in the senior federal government bureaucracy revealed that there was only one Sindhi-speaking deputy secretary among 91 secretaries, joint secretaries and deputy secretaries. The corresponding share of Punjabi and Urdu-speaking officers was 40 and 33 respectively. This discrimination continued unabated.
In 1973, when the quota system was introduced through the 1973 constitution, the share of rural Sindh in federal jobs was much less than that of the urban areas. According to the census report of the central government, there were only 300 seats of rural Sindh compared to 1900 of urban areas on various positions of grade 16 to 22. In class-1 positions, Sindhi-speaking were only 2.5 per cent against 49 per cent Punjabi and 30 per cent Urdu-speaking officers.
During the one-unit era, provinces were merged into the West Pakistan and the quota for provincial jobs was allocated based on administrative divisions. The spirit of this divisional-level quota was to ensure that developed and under-developed areas do not compete for jobs in each other’s domain that could have potentially deprived under-developed areas at the expense of developed divisions.
Sindhis were completely marginalised during the one-unit era. During this period (1955-1970) 20 DIGs were posted in Sindh that included 12 Punjabis, 6 Urdu speaking and only 2 Sindhis. During these years not a single Sindhi-speaking divisional commissioner was appointed in Sindh. Only one Sindhi became a secretary in West Pakistan in 1970.
Representation in the armed forces was even more skewed. Renowned scholar Khalid Bin Saeed mentions in his book that in 1960s out of 201 senior military officers, not a single one was Sindhi speaking. Tahir Amin in his book “Ethno Social Movements in Pakistan” mentions that in 1983 there was only one Sindhi senior military officer compared to 20 Punjabis and 17 Urdu-speaking officers.
All these figures were tip of the iceberg only. Certainly this was not the dreamed destiny for Sindhis when their political leaders voted in favour of Pakistan. Crevasse between the urban and rural areas was widening to an alarming state and it was fueling an ethnic conflagration in Sindh. Sindhis were already fuming over millions of acres of their barrage land that was flippantly allotted to the non-locals and they were completely disenfranchised in the state affairs. This was the context when an intra-provincial rural-urban quota in jobs was contemplated.
Rural-urban quota was introduced in 1970 by the erstwhile martial law administrator Rakhman Gul. Under this arrangement, 40 per cent seats were reserved for urban areas of Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur (against a population share of 30 per cent) and 60 per cent for the rural areas. Subsequently, the quota system got constitutional cover in 1973. Provincial quota of Sindh in the federal jobs was further divided into 7.6 per cent for urban areas of Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur and 11.4 per cent for rural areas. This distribution is grossly misinterpreted as quota for Sindhi and Urdu-speaking candidates. In fact both urban centres and rural areas had sizeable population from both communities.
According to the census of 1998 (16 years after the quota system was introduced), total population of the aforementioned urban centres was 10.8 million that included 5.4 million Urdu-speaking, one million Sindhi-speaking and 4.4 million other linguistic groups. Whereas in rural areas there were approximately one million Urdu-speaking, 17.2 million Sindhi-speaking and 1.4 million other linguistic groups. In other words, neither urban centers were purely Urdu-speaking areas nor were rural areas purely Sindhi-speaking areas.
Although allocations under the quota system were flagrantly violated, it helped Sindhis to get mainstreamed in the state affairs by increasing their share in jobs. According to a research paper “managing ethnic conflict: the case of Pakistan” authored by Charles H Kennedy, the share of Sindhis at senior level bureaucracy remarkably increased from 2.7 per cent in 1973 to 6.7 per cent in 1986. During these years, new schools, colleges and universities were established in rural areas that opened a new vista for rural Sindhis to compete for the public sector jobs.
Meanwhile, Punjabis and Pakhtuns emerged as dominant groups in federal government jobs. In fact the share of jobs lost by Urdu-speaking community was occupied mostly by Punjabis and Pakhtuns. Share of the Punjabis and Pakhtuns on senior level federal government positions increased from 53.5 to 57.7 per cent and 7 to 12.1 per cent respectively between 1973 and 1986. Although share of the Urdu-speaking reduced during these years, their chunk continued to surpass their allocated quota.
Renowned intellectual Mohammad Waseem in his paper “affirmative action policies in Pakistan” revealed that in 1993 share of the urban Sindh was 9.51 per cent against an earmarked 7.6 per cent, whereas the share of rural Sindh was 7.63 per cent against an allocation of 11.4 per cent. The same situation continues to persist even four decades after the quota system.
According to the annual statistical bulletin of federal government employees and the employees of autonomous/semi-autonomous bodies/corporations (2011-12) issued by the establishment division, the urban Sindh’s share remained higher than the allocation. In federal government jobs, urban Sindh had 26,871 seats compared to 34,224 rural seats. It makes 44 per cent of provincial share, i.e. four per cent higher than the allocation. In grade 22 jobs, urban Sindh had 13 seats against only three of the rural Sindh. Similarly, in autonomous bodies and corporations, urban Sindh possessed 49,265 seats against 39,595 of rural Sindh. It is 15.42 per cent more than the constitutional right.
Urban centres of Sindh still have far better indicators of human development compared to the rural areas due to better opportunities of development and jobs. Nevertheless quota system can be debated to align it with new realities when a sizeable population from rural areas has migrated to urban centres during recent decades. Ultimately, permanent residents of the province have to resolve all thorny issues amicably.