Anti-National Language Policy leads to Rule by Rich and Corrupt Elites

One of the major reasons that has led to the continuous deterioration of economy and culture in Pakistan can be attributed to the anti-national language policies by the status-quo troika. This status-quo troika consisted of rich ruling elites in the bureaucracy that quickly joined hand with the establishment and the landed aristocracy during the rule military dictators to keep the common people away from the corridors of powers. The instrument of this machination was the use of English, the language of the colonial masters (gora sahebs), to extend the colonial rule during post-colonial era through their replacement with indigenous brown sahebs, the rich English speaking elites [1]. The recent supreme court judgement by CJ Jawwad Khwaja [2] is a bold attempt to correct this wrong perpetuated over the last 68 years and to strike at the root of the status-quo’s power.

[Editing in Progress. Suggestions are welcome]
The discussion below giving examples from various institutions highlights that the dominant form of communications at all levels except the highest policy level is still Urdu and local languages (LL). Role of English is limited to making of the policy in an alien languages which common people should not be able to understand and also to ensure that policy making remains in the hands of the elites (brown sahebs) who are the real inheritors of the power from the departing colonial masters (gora sahebs) [3]. 

Schools and Universities

We know the sorry state of affairs in Urdu Medium schools. However, in majority of even private English medium schools, the level of English medium is pathetic. A survey has indicated that the maximum vocabulary of a typical English teacher in such English medium schools, is not more than four to six hundred. With such meagre and pathetic vocabulary, when these teachers conduct English classes, students know what sentences a teacher would use and when. They can even precisely predict what phrases they will say next. When schools force these teachers to speak only in English and also force the students to speak only in English, the results are disastrous because the teachers can neither make their student understand any thing nor the students feel confident enough to raise their hands and ask for any clarifications. This use of English under force and duress by teachers who have limited vocabulary impedes their ability to engage the students, to tell stories and other anecdotes in an interesting manner, and to stimulate the interests of students. Consequently, the willing expression of both the teachers and their students is stifled and strangulated; and teachers often resort to creating an environment of fear where asking of questions is considered as misbehavior. Teachers of technical subjects do not even make an effort to use English. They simply use Urdu or local languages to explain the technical contents. However, the tests and exams are in English. Therefore teachers take the easy route to just writing the contents of the book on the board and making the students copy that in their copies. Similarly, the students take the easy route to rote memorization over any attempt in trying to understand the contents.

Only the elite minuscule percentage of English medium schools that typically charge over Rs 15,000/= per month fees can afford teachers (at salaries around Rs 60,000 per month). These are the only places where one can expect some good quality English. However, these are the elite schools that cater to the rich and ruling troika of Pakistan. Here too the qualifying criteria is fluency of English. The only criteria for hiring of teachers is the fluency of English and Western modern dressing. But, these schools further create the elite class and does nothing to reduce the mediocrity.

The emerging scenerio has therefore been pathetic as depicted in the poignant Urdu saying, “Kawwa chala hans ki chaal, apni chaal bhi bhool gaya” (when the crow tried to walk the walk of a swan, it forgot its own walk). In fact, the students today neither know English nor Urdu.

With the exception of few elite universities, the situation in universities across the board is not much different. I need a separate post to describe the different techniques, methods and formats for teaching English that we have tried over several years with English department teachers of various backgrounds and competences in two universities. In our long meetings to discuss the efforts and their outcomes we often used to wonder about the efficacy of what can we do at the university level when the student getting admission has put in 12 years in English medium schools and had not learned much because they are neither readers nor writers. The state of English language learned by the students at the university level is not much different from the state described by this famous couplet of poetry by Momin Khan Momin:

Umr saari tu kati ishq e butaan mai Momin
Akhri waqt mai kya khaak musalmaan ho gay!

With the exception of English subjects, most other subjects are taught in Urdu. Teachers actually revolt when they are forced to teach technical subjects in English. They vociferously defend that if the objective is to teach the technical concepts, then why use English that impedes that learning!

With such confusion prevailing, over 99% of class room interactions, discussion, teaching takes place in Urdu or local languages. English is only used for writing the exam and tests. Hence the culture of mass ruttafication (senseless memorization) and production of people who neither have the capacity to express in any language nor any thing to express. The result is that we are mass producing Functional Illiterates. An illiterate is a person who does not know how to read and write. A functional Illiterate is a person who knows how to read, but does not read, and who knows how to write, but does not write. The educated majority in Pakistan are neither reading books nor writing books which is alarming.

Government and Governance

In Government offices, if you are dressed in national dress, your entry is difficult. If you are dressed as English Babu your entry is easier. If you talk in national/local languages your entry is difficult, if you talk in English language, your entry is easier. Interaction with government becomes easier if you have the right connections with the status quo powers. A telephone call would get your work done in no time. If you are not connected with the status-quo, you would need speed-money to get your task completed. If you are a commoner you will have to run from pillar to post; they will make you go from one window to another and at each window will ask you to fill out umpteen forms and applications; mind you, all would be in English. The system is rigged against redress of issues of common people.
If you are a government servant your promotion depends upon your ability to talk and write in English. This is the only language for file working and official notings, preparing of cases and getting their approvals. Merit and promotions all boil down to your knowledge and ability to draft in English.

I have noticed even bureaucrats of grade 21+ have difficulty of expressing themselves in Urdu extemporaneously what to talk about their ability to express themselves in English. They often send regrets at the last moment to functions where they are invited to speak. Most public officials are reading speeches written by their minions and in a manner so pathetic that exemplifies the state of English competency in Pakistan.

In every government office or department or ministry, whether at the federal level or the provincial level, discussions in the hall ways, in offices, in meetings with the officers, in dealing with the people, in participative discussions of meetings of officers, are all happening in Urdu or local languages. The only time English is used when presentations are being given on important matter where no discussion is intended or where the decision is already made. The final noting and decisions are all done in English so that only the English speaking and writing people have the decision making authority and right to promotion.

Assemblies and Lawmakers

Law bills are written and presented to parliament in English. Lawmakers; MNAs and MPAs rarely understand English with a competency to negotiate the nuances of English language in the law bills. Hence, discussion in the assemblies is in one direction and the law that gets promulgated says something else. This law is drafted by the status quo powers through careful deliberations of clauses that protect their interests. The inability of lawmakers to either understand this language or to appreciate its implications has led to the sorry state we are in where we are still using hundred year old laws of the colonial past with few amendments here and there.

The entire system is rigged to make the lawmakers coming from poor ground feel incompetent just because they lack command on English language. Had the language of law been Urdu, the lawmakers, MNAs and MPAs would have better understood the contents, and would have been better able to debate and also dessimate their intent to the masses. People, in turn, would have been able to comment and discuss the vires and nuances of the law that is being promulgated.

Courts, Tribunals, Regulators

Courts and tribunals and regulator hearings are platforms for those who can communicate in English. The irony is that all court proceedings either are conducted in Urdu or local languages but the decision is written in English. PLD is in English. The quality of case writing and published judgements is either not available or of poor quality [4]. Supreme court had to admonish the public officials and law ministry for not making these available. Add to the nonavailability of judgements to the common people, is the incomprehensibility by the masses of these decisions because of the foreign language in which they are written. Given the current state of English comprehension of lawyers, their ability to prosecute or defend the cases is poor. Consequently, litigants are mis-advised about the judgements and the cases are prolonged for the benefits of the lawyers and the associated legal touts.
The result is delay in dispensation of justice and the promotion of lawlessness and corruption.

Big Businesses, Multinationals and Banks, Markets

One would expect that the dominant mode of communication in big businesses and multinationals would be in English. But this is contrary to experience. Except for the board meetings, or formal meetings of the top executives, most of the communication taking place in most forums in these organizations is in Urdu or local languages. Whether it is communication or interaction with customers on telephone or in person, whether it is negotiations with the vendors, whether it is explanation of processes and giving of instructions to workers on the shop floors or in offices, whether it is training of sales persons and their interactions with customers, or whether it is interactions with other stakeholders, one would find Urdu and and local languages in most verbal communications. Written communications in English are often ignored and not read and have to be followed up with phone calls and meetings in person. Surprising thing is that business curriculum designers have also been ignoring this fact also [5].

Promotion in such organization is therefore not on the basis of competency of work but only on the merit of knowing the foreign language English and ability to make presentation to principals.

Small and Medium Enterprises and Informal Sector

This sector constitutes over 90% of businesses and over 95% of our workers. Again the predominant medium of communication is either Urdu or the local languages. This is where there are most non filers of tax for the simple reason as they can not fill out the technical forms or maintain the records in the language that is required by the tax authorities. Unfortunately, our regulators demand everything in foreign language. Hence most noncompliance is there. This may be a major reason for the graft and corruption we see in dealings with the regulators. The role of English in the development of this large sector has been debilitating and stifling.

Role of Dictators

It is important to note the role of military dictators in the impediments caused to the cause of national and local languages [6]. The rule of Gen Ayub and Gen Yahya consolidated the rule of the brown saheb. However, during Bhutto’s regime the hegemony of the brown saheb was reduced and the new constitution proclaimed the status of Urdu as the national language to be implemented in a specified period which ended during Gen Zia’s period who did nothing except paying lip service. The private English schools were the product of his time and also the start of the creeping influence of Cambridge system. After Gen Zia’s death because of the 8th amendment there was a musical chairs of BB and NS each taking two turns; during this time neither the courts could function nor the political institutions were allowed to develop. This was followed by the dictator Gen Musharraf’s 9 years which again were the hay days of the foreign cultural invasion. It was only during the post 18th amendment during Zardari’s time that constitution was cleared of the martial law aberrations and led to the empowerment of constitutional courts. This paved the way for SC to act during NS’s time. It can therefore be seen that Martial Laws had been stifling for the national aspirations and national languages, however, democratic rules have led to the empowerment of the national languages. 


[1]. Postcolonial discourse is an academic discipline that analyzes the cultural legacies of colonialism and of imperialism. Source: Boundless. “Postcolonial Discourse.” Boundless Art History. Boundless, 21 Jul. 2015. 

Also see an introduction at 
[2] Supreme Court orders govt to adopt Urdu as official language, Daily Dawn, Sep 8, 2015
[3] Urdu kay mukhalifeen ka almia By Orya Maqbool Jan
[5] Revamping Business Curriculum in collaboration with Industry, talk by Dr Irfan Hyder in 2nd Conference of Deans and Director of Business Schools organized by HEC and NBEAC, Karachi, 2015.
[6] Supreme Court, Nifaaz-e-Urdu Aur Afwaj-e-Pakistan, by Orya Maqbool Jan, Daily Express, Sep 14, 2015.

See Also:


  1. The rise of postwar Japan and Germany depends on use of Local National Language thae helps creative instinct and better interaction among people

  2. The rise of postwar Japan and Germany depends on use of Local National Language thae helps creative instinct and better interaction among people

  3. No country has ever used a foreign language to become developed. Neither Japan, nor Germany, nor sweeden, nor china, nor France, nor any European country. Myth of English as an international language.

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