Affirmative Action in Pakistan: Striving for Equality, Struggling with Challenges

Affirmative action has been debated and discussed in various countries worldwide. In Pakistan, it is no different. Implementing affirmative action policies aims to address historical inequalities and create opportunities for marginalized communities. While these policies have merits, they face criticism for potential drawbacks and unintended consequences. We shall explore the good and the bad of affirmative action in Pakistan, shedding light on its impact and implications.

Historical Context and Rationale

Affirmative action in Pakistan is rooted in the country’s history of socio-economic disparities, particularly among marginalized communities. These policies aim to counterbalance past discrimination’s effects and provide all citizens equal opportunities. Affirmative action aims to uplift marginalized groups, such as ethnic minorities, women, and people with disabilities, by ensuring their representation and participation in various sectors of society.

The Good: Addressing Historical Injustices

One of the primary benefits of affirmative action in Pakistan is its potential to rectify historical injustices. By providing quotas and reserved seats in educational institutions and workplaces, these policies help bridge the gap between privileged and marginalized communities. Affirmative action can create a level playing field by ensuring that individuals from underrepresented groups have access to resources, education, and employment opportunities previously denied them.

For instance, implementing reserved seats for ethnic minorities in public universities has increased their representation in higher education. This has empowered individuals from marginalized backgrounds, enabling them to compete on an equal footing with their privileged counterparts. Such initiatives have the potential to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and uplift communities that have long been marginalized.

Promoting Diversity and Inclusion

Affirmative action also plays a crucial role in promoting diversity and inclusion within society. By diversifying educational institutions and workplaces, these policies encourage exchanging ideas, experiences, and perspectives. This can lead to a more tolerant and inclusive society where individuals from different backgrounds collaborate and learn from one another.

Implementing quotas for women in political decision-making positions is a notable example. It has resulted in an increased representation of women in politics, enabling their voices to be heard and their concerns to be addressed. This positively impacts policymaking and helps ensure that diverse perspectives are considered in the decision-making process.

The Bad: Potential Drawbacks and Unintended Consequences

While affirmative action policies aim to promote equality, they are not without their drawbacks and unintended consequences. Critics argue that these policies can lead to reverse discrimination, where individuals from privileged backgrounds face unfair disadvantages. Additionally, there is a concern that affirmative action may result in lowering standards or merit-based criteria, compromising the quality of education or workforce.

The Quota System

The quota system, a form of affirmative action, has faced criticism in Pakistan. Critics argue that it perpetuates a culture of entitlement and hinders merit-based selection processes. There have been instances where individuals with lower qualifications have secured positions solely based on belonging to a specific group, leading to a perception of injustice among those who were more qualified but excluded.

Another challenge lies in the potential for tokenism, where individuals from marginalized communities are included merely for symbolic purposes, without genuine empowerment or equal opportunities. This can undermine the effectiveness of affirmative action, as it fails to address the root causes of inequality and instead creates a superficial appearance of diversity.


Affirmative action was first introduced to bridge the gaps that existed due to racial tensions in American society. Meaning it would only exist for as long as the issue existed and no longer than that. The problem is that the gap is yet to close more than 60 years since this step was taken in the Kennedy administration. This has led to many cases being fought in US courts to challenge the legitimacy of affirmative action and for good reason.

The rationale is that with systems like that of quotas, members of underprivileged communities would be encouraged to better their circumstances and eventually—along with the other advantages that these communities would be receiving, since it is (technically) the government’s responsibility—they would be integrated into the rest of society to the extent that there is no disparity present. That, of course, is not happening the way it should be.

Take the issue with quotas, since that is one most highlighted. There are quotas present in many universities for admissions from areas affected by terrorism and other provinces. These seats are given to those among these groups with the highest merit. However, it needs to be considered that it depends purely on a person’s domicile, and the other conditions they had to go through are not considered. If a person has been affected by terrorist activities their whole life, and they still managed to build a strong enough educational background to make it to one of the top universities, that is fine. But someone with the requisite domicile who has lived in a safe and secure city their whole life does not deserve this seat. However, they would have the highest score and thus secure the seat anyway. This is how affirmative action works in our country.

As long as this issue is not resolved, and their identity is seen as the sole reason for providing them the privileges of affirmative action (as already mentioned in the previous article), these steps are pointless. This needs to be taken up with those responsible because if this is abused, many others who have worked much harder than those being benefited are instead discriminated against. This is how a system put in place to end discrimination becomes a tool for it instead.

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