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The quota controversy

The quota system needs to be debated and aligned with new realities after a sizeable population from rural areas has migrated to urban centres during recent decades

The quota controversy
Urban centres have far better indicators of human development compared to the rural Sindh.

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 Pakistan, the quota system was actually introduced in 1948 when Liaquat Ali Khan was the prime minister. He was the real architect of the quota system. A notification issued on September 1, 1948 laid down recruitment policy for the central services.

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.

Naseer Memon

naseer memon
Naseer Memon is a human rights activist and civil society professional. He may be reached at [email protected]


  • In the name of ‘protection against discrimination’, this unevenness is existing only in Sindh province. The gaps between regions within the province have to close — faster than they have over the last 40 years. Thank you very much for writing with referrences, as always. Excellent article

    • Mr. Memon. Did you ever think about the Dishonest and incompetent crooks deupted on top tier positions under this ‘Quota’ system amnesty?
      And if you by any chance have visited rural sindh where majority of Sindhi speakers live.. i am sure you would be compelled to rewrite your narrative about Schools and Universities in Sind unless you your financial needs are taken care by someone who want to fuel the hatred between Rural and urban Sind that division by the way is also created by some of the feudal lords who still chain the mind and bodies of the poor harees and continue to enjoy the Luxuries in Karachi after behind elected. The biased write-up and twisted mindset utters loud that Merit shall never prevail in this country Lest we come out of the Blindfolded mindset of Ethnicity racism and linguistic discrimination.

      A Forced overseas Worker.

      • Agreed with you. The writer is biased and tried his best to justify illegal Quota System. Quota System is the only problem that is causing destruction in urban youth and it never allows them to avail opportunities.

  • I think quota issue is totally baseless. The Federal Public Service (CSS) exam is totally controlled by independent federal body, then how much Urban domiciled candidates have been applying yearly? is there provincial quota system restraining to people from Urban areas for qualifying to CSS exam? It nothing make any sense from every corner. Yes a bad governance of Sindh government is different issue. Those who are not associated politically with ruling parties either they are from Rural or Urban they still eyeing for jobs on merit so if some one from Urban or Rural he has been facing same inequity due to failure of merit system in Sindh province.

  • Very good research based article which sheds light on very manipulated issue in sindh.
    MQM and other groups has used this issue for their own gains and have brutally misguided the public.
    It has also shed light on plight of sindhi people from the day one of the creation of Pakistan.
    Everyone must read this article to understand the situation in sindh and Sindhi sentiments

    It would have been good if the writer would have written bit more on the imbalance and unequal opportunities of education and economy of rural sindhis. The laws which bar sindhis to buy or avail opportunities like evaluation property act etc.

  • Thank you for such a great piece based on facts & figures. Hope that educated & sane people within Urdu speaking community will now leave this “quota system” issue for further political manipulation

  • Urban and rural disparity exists in all the provinces of Pakistan, then why in 1973 a division of urban and rural quotas was created in Sindh only. This prejudiced treatment in the province has in fact, not only created but deepened the division of Sindh between the Urdu and Sindhi speaking population. This divide has grown in four decades to the level of demand of creation of a new province further fueled up by the terribly bad governance and gross incompetence shown by rural dominated government of the province during the last decade. In the case of division of the province, the future historian may point the 1973 rural urban quota as the dominant variable and cause of division.

  • Jamil Soomro, New York City

    My congratulations to Mr.Naseer Memon on his outstanding article.He has painstakingly fully
    researched the plight of Sindhis after 1947 to the present time.After reading the article one
    gets the true feeling of sadness for the Sindhis what they have had to endure in the name of
    Pakistan.The people of Pakistan should take this into consideration.

  • Stop Quota System , Stop Discrimination , stop racism. How long will you keep justifying this destructive Quota System. The writer is biased and there is nothing in his writing that can be appreciated or encouraged. The rights of people of Urban sindh can not be abolished.
    Late Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto introduced quota system in Sindh based on rural and urban division. Initially, it was established for ten years only but, since Bhutto, it has continuously been extended. Now, 43 years after it was introduced initially, it is still in place. Provincial quota of Sindh in the federal jobs is divided into 7.6 per cent for urban areas of Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur and 11.4 per cent for rural areas. Since 1981 census, the urban Sindh population share in the province doubled from a 30% share to almost 60%. The rural urban quota system was supposed to end by 1983 after the 10-year period, but it has continued ever since.

    The share of population of Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur is almost 15% to

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