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How educational quotas have destabilized Pakistan's largest city

By Staff Writer

Karachi is Pakistan's largest city, with a population of about 11 million people of varying ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It accounts for 68 percent of urban Sindh's population.

The bustling city has a per capital income over two-and-a-half times Pakistan's national average. Another advantage is its relatively developed social and physical infrastructure.

In addition, in terms of education, the city is the home of almost half the graduates and post-graduates in Pakistan, and 60 percent of its labor force is educated

One would think that with such benefits, it would be a ray of hope, a model city in Pakistan, where poverty and illiteracy are often the order of the day. However, reality indicates the opposite. Karachi is a mess and it has been in the news both locally and internationally more often for the violence and mayhem that takes place there than for any kind of social or economic progress, especially since 1985.

That was when ethnic conflicts which have often been violent began slowly but surely destroying the fabric and stability of a once great city. No government since 1985 has been able to quell this deadly unrest. There are a number of socio-political reasons for Karachi's current situation. But one which plays an important role is the resentment among Karachi's unemployed educated youth.

The phenomena of the educated unemployed is not new or specific to Pakistan. It can be found to some degree in almost every country of the world. In 1994, nearly half of the unemployed in Pakistan were educated.

The unemployment of the educated is not only expensive, since it wastes valuable education dollars, it is also socially disruptive. Jobless but educated youth often become hopeless for any kind of future in Pakistan, or in a growing number of cases, become part of the brain drain and leave for countries in industrialized nations where there are more employment opportunities. In Karachi, it has led to social disruption and violence.

An unemployed person in Karachi is over three times as likely to be literate than illiterate. The educated unemployed are clearly overrepresented amongst the unemployed in urban Sindh which has the highest adult literacy rate in the country (52 percent), but also the highest number of unemployed Pakistanis who are literate (69 percent).

There are a number of reasons for the phenomena of the educated unemployed in Pakistan. However, one of these which has been at the center of the unrest in Karachi is regional quotas for employment in the civil service. This has led to a situation where the underqualified are getting jobs while the qualified have been shut out from these opportunities.

Despite the grim situation in Karachi, the federal government maintains a policy of assigning regional quotas for entry into the Federal Civil service. This practice was initiated in 1973 when an exception was made to the "Fundamental Rights Clause" in Pakistan's constitution. Under this clause, every Pakistani is entitled to employment opportunities without any discrimination. However, with the 1973 amendment, an exception was made for 10 years, during which the Pakistani government promised to improve education facilities and bring them up to speed with those of the country's more developed areas.

Here's an example of how the quotas work: urban Sindh, which is the most literate region of Pakistan, is assigned only 7.6 percent of the jobs. This is only two-thirds of the jobs available to Pakistanis from rural Sindh, which is half as literate, but has a quota of 11.4 percent. The province of Punjab has a 50 percent quota in the civil service. It is the only province where the adult literacy rate is lower than the civil service quota (33 percent against a 50 percent share in the civil service).

In 1983, when the quotas were to have expired, they were extended for another ten years. Although from a legal perspective, this exceptional clause stands lapsed, in reality, these regional quotas are still in use.

Although the aim of the 1973 quotas was to offer better chances to Pakistanis from disadvantaged areas of getting into the civil service, they have clearly not fulfilled their goal. For a Pakistani from Karachi, they have simply bred anger, resentment, unrest and led to stolen job opportunities for the qualified. It is high time the situation is corrected, not only for a more equitable distribution of jobs, but also, for the safety and sanctity of Karachi.

Date/Time Last Modified: 6/17/2002 3:44:44 PM

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