Saraiki nationalist movement

ssSaraiki is an ethnic group in PunjabPakistan. There are approximately 30 million Saraiki people in central Pakistan (2002) speak the Saraiki language in the Sindh Punjab and Balochistan provinces, mainly based in the former princely state of Bahawalpur.

Beginning in the 1960s, Saraiki nationalists have sought to gain language rights and lessen Punjabi control over the natural resources of Siraili lands. This has led to a proposed separate province Saraikistan, a region being drawn up by activists in the 1970. The 1977 coup by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan, a centralist ruler, caused the movement to go underground. After his death in 1988 allowed the Saraiki movement to re-emerge openly with the goals to have a Saraiki nationality recognised, to have official documents printed in Saraiki, a Saraiki regiment in the Pakistan Army, employment quotas and more Saraiki language radio and television.

Several parties are working for this mission like Pakistan Saraiki PartySiraikistan Qaumi Movement, and Saraiki National PartyMajid Kanjoois one of the leaders of the Saraikistan movement.

Aims of Saraiki Movement

The Saraiki movement was the combination of the phenomenon of language planning and efforts to establish a collective identity to convince the Saraikis and others of the status of Saraiki as a separate language distinct from Punjabi. It also aimed to establish Saraikis as a separate nationality by invoking shared awareness of the local past among the people living in different cities and towns of the Saraiki region speaking different dialects of the Saraiki language Consensus on the name Saraiki for all the dialects spoken in the Saraiki region was a part of this reaction, The process of the creation of a Saraiki identity in south-western Punjab involved the deliberate choice of a language called Saraiki, as a symbol of this identity’. Language was chosen as a unifying symbol because an ethnic language serves its speakers as an identity marker…language is the only one [behaviour] that actually carries extensive cultural content’ and also because the leaders of ethnic movements invariably select from traditional cultures only those aspects they think will serve to unite the group and will be useful in promoting the interests of the group as they define them .

The two aims of the Saraiki movement namely; to assert the language’s separate identity and to secure for its increased official recognition’. One important objective was to establish Saraikis as a group and to create an awareness of a collective sense of identity among them. Initially the emphasis of the writers was to prove the language’s antiquity and determine its status as a distinct language and not a dialect of Punjabi.

Like many such movements, the Saraiki movement also started in the name of cultural revival and promotion. The articulation of the economic conflict with the upper Punjab which was given later came to the forefront after the language identity was established. The factors like geographical, cultural and linguistic differences with Punjabis and the settlement of Punjabis in Saraiki areas before and after the partition on their own do not account for the need of Saraikis to assert their separate identity through the Saraiki movement in the 1960s. What really lay behind it was the lack of development of the Saraiki region which was not voiced in the first phase, ethno-nationalism is generally a response to perceived injustice’. In general, the slogans and demands of the Saraiki nationalists have been coupled with linguistic rights and economic grievances, but in the late 1990s and the present decade the linguistic issue has ceased to have much importance, at least in the eyes of Saraiki political leaders. The proof is in the charter of demands made at the end of a Saraiki conference held in December 2003 in which out of twenty-one demands made from the government only one pertained to language (Daily Khabrain, 2003).

How was the Saraiki Identity Created?

“People will redefine themselves when circumstances make it desirable or when circumstances force it on them” . Dorian

The Saraiki middle class reacted to the threat to their language and identity and set out to develop an ethno-national consciousness in order to resist the assimilation of their ethnic group and language. The efforts towards this cause were directed towards creating a Saraiki identity. Initially this was done to counter the fear of identity extinction and to get rid of the ‘misleading’ label of Punjabis. These endeavors have been termed as the Saraiki movement’.

Outcome of the Saraiki Movement

The Saraiki movement has been successful at some levels. It is responsible for creating a sense of collective identity among the Saraiki speakers even if it has not been successful in forming a pressure group like that of Bengalis, Sindhis, Mohajirs (Urdu speakers) and Pakhtoons . Now the Saraikis are counted as one of the five indigenous nationalities and Saraiki as a distinct language at some official and unofficial levels. Saraiki was also included in the question about languages in the censuses of 1981 and 1998. Despite all this, however, the symbol of language which came out as the most powerful symbol in this movement has not yet acquired much evocative power’ . The Saraikis are still not as emotionally attached to their language as the speakers of some other regional languages of Pakistan are. The Saraiki movement helped to give a collective name Saraiki’ to different dialects and made people embrace this name for their collective identity but it ultimately failed to influence ordinary Saraikis to take pride in their language or consciously increase its usage in different domains.


The movement has found criticism throughout Pakistan. The following is a narration by Faisal Awan,an opinion author for the PakistanFirst organization.

“There is nothing wrong with the demand but the timing of this call is highly objectionable, amiss and incredulous. The champions of this call are trying to create a stir at the time when Pakistan as a country is facing daunting challenges of drooping economy, deplorable law and order situation, foreign and home grown terrorism, foreign secret agencies involved in fathering and funding domestic issues, government’s weakening grip on Balochistan issue, limping judicial system, and archaic educational system to name a few. There is hardly any front where our current cracked leadership and wretched nation is enjoying a sigh of relief.

One of the justifications given by the adherents of this cause is solely linguistic based and claims that Saraiki speaking people should have their own province. So are we planning to start dividing Punjab and Pakistan on linguistic basis? Saraiki is a dialect of Punjabi and if we are to start creating lingo-based provinces then the claims for a Hindko, Pothohari and Majhi province will soon surface and chain of uncontrollable movements for a separate province can take birth. It is a can of worms which if opened will defile minds across Pakistan.

Another aspect to this claim is that Bahawalpur should revert to its original constitutional representation which it had before the implementation of one unit and in addition also put other Saraiki districts under its control. The rationale given for it is that Bahawalpur and the Saraiki belt being far flung from the powerful Lahore fails to make an impact on the policies of Punjab province and has no Saraiki representation what so ever among the powerful policy making clans, and as a consequence, it is being ignored and deprived of socio-economic development. However, the factual truth is that the area in subject is a victim of feudalism and bureaucracy, which is consuming it and rest of the Pakistan like a canker. To counter their claim of scarce political representation from their area, below are some of the numerous political clouts from the Saraiki belt who have represented their area at various fronts: Muhammad Ali Durrani (PML-Q), Chaudry Pervaiz Elahi (PML-Q), Jehangir Tareen (PML-F), Mukhdoom Javaid Hashmi (PML-N), Sardar Athar Khan Gorchani (PPPP), Khan Muhammad Hussain Azad (PPPP), Farooq Lagahri – President of Pakistan 1993-1997, Balakh Sher Mazari – Prime Minister Pakistan 1993, Yusuf Raza Gilani (PPPP) – Prime Minister Pakistan 2008 – current, Shah Mehmood Qureshi (PPPP), Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Tasneem Nawaz Gardezi, Makhdoom Shahabuddin, Makhdoom Altaf, Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, and Riaz Pirzada, to name a few. Although some of the Saraiki politicians including Yusuf Raza Gilani the current prime minister correctly feel that a thorough and credible debate should occur in the parliament rather than making him an outright cartographer of some of the Saraiki politician’s fictional world.

With such star studded Saraiki political representation it is perplexing that nothing substantial could be crafted in the last 60 years and they could not influence the policy makers to carve policies for the socio-economic development of south Punjab and have suddenly created a highly questionable and suspicious agitation. The notable fact is that most of the infrastructure that betokens the development and importance of the Saraiki belt is either the courtesy of Nawab’s who ruled the Bahawalpur state before merging into Pakistan or Arab Sheikhs, who in return enjoy whooping concessions on turning Bahawalpur and Rahimyar Khan state acreage into private hunting lands, and nothing significant has been delivered in past 60 years by the “Saraiki politicians who are now demanding a separate province”.

If the philosophy behind the renaissance of this movement is reverting to the historical boundaries, then what to do with that part of NWFP which was in Punjab before November 1901. Does that mean redressing of all the provinces if historical boundaries are the criteria?

It can be a likely possibility that it may be a government backed stunt to sway the attention of Pakistani people from the core issues of economy, law and order, and terrorism which are crippling the fragile government day by day and they are finding it hard to grapple with on hand challenges. Many political analysts are seeing it as an attempt by PPPP’s government to weaken the PML (N) grip on Punjab and to disguise government’s dragging of approval of 17th amendment behind the pretense of a Saraiki province demand. PML (N) has several times clearly expressed its displeasure pertaining to the delaying of approval process of 17th amendment. However, the political stature of PML (N) in Punjab should not take a hit since it has not much support amongst the Saraiki belt and currently holds only eight seats from the Saraiki districts out of some forty odd seats.

At the government level though, PPPP has denounced the call for a separate Saraiki province both from the President and Prime Minister’s office and maintained its stance that it is against the fragmentation of the provinces. On the other hand PML (N) is amiable to the idea of calling a meeting with the Saraiki leaders currently living in the subject areas and chalking out a package to address the contentious issues.

Hypothetically if the Saraiki province is created, then WHAT? The same politicians who were representing Saraiki belt before will be dumped on the Saraiki’s again. How will they change things when they have not done a single bit in the past 60 years for them? What goods it has brought to Balochistan as being a province, as it still remains the most underdeveloped area of Pakistan and the reason for that is none other than the feudalism and lack of sincere and ardent implementation of development policies by the federal government and the baloch politicians. Interestingly, the champions of a separate Saraiki province demand, most of them enjoy a luxurious life in the serene and opulent areas of Lahore and Islamabad rather than the area which they are claiming is theirs and crying out in their interviews that they can not be a witness anymore to the deplorable condition of their people and the area.

To add another spin to this issue, with terror networks already present in southern Punjab and trying to strengthen their grip in that area, raising such an issue at this precarious time can provide the opening which India, Israel and their allies may be looking for to build upon and create a kind of mayhem as they have created in Swat and Balochistan. This will provide them the luxury to recruit traitors at will in the name of “Islam and getting your own identity”, as they have done in Swat and Balochistan. This may very well lead to opening another alarming front of a troubling separatist movement to deal with for Pakistan army and the already crippled government of Pakistan.

Although the timing of the demand in subject is highly unfortunate but it is a fact that the ground realities pertaining to the social and economic conditions of southern Punjab are extremely deplorable and demands immediate attention. Rather than chauvinistically demanding a separate province and expending energies towards it, the Saraiki politicians and intellects along with their peers in northern Punjab need to formulate packages for economic development, educational and judicial reforms, industrialization, improving governance, utilizing the resources efficiently and honestly, eliminating the terror dungeons, and lastly but most importantly go back and live among the people whom you are aspiring to lead. So that the people of their area should not feel that they have been again duped by bunch of charlatans like the past 60 years.”


  • Saraiki Language and Ethnic Identity by Dr Saiqa Imtiaz Asif.





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