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Ethnic harmony: a lesson from Malaysia

September 12, 2012

I AGREE with the assessment of Mir Tassadaq (Sept 3) in his letter ‘Holiday: Malaysian example’, which was about healthy conditions prevailing in Malaysia, but there are a few caveats which I would like to add having lived in that part of the world for most of my life. The credit of the Malaysian success goes primarily to the enlightened leadership of Mahathir Mohamad. Malaysia is a multi-racial and multi-religious society, with one half being Malays and the other half being Chinese and Indians.

Prior to independence, the Malays were mostly small land-holders and lived peacefully in their villages. The Chinese and Indians mostly controlled businesses and professions, though a significant number of Indians worked in rubber states owned by the British.

The economic disparity between the Malays and non-Malays was enormous. Mahathir realised that the only solution to this problem was to raise the educational level of Malayas. This he did by making education the top priority and the first major project undertaken was to build the University of Malaya. This university is still one of the best in the region.

This was achieved without any intra-ethnic conflict. The Chinese and Indians were left to follow their religious and cultural practices. No pressure was ever put on any group to convert to Islam. In other words, Mahathir followed the policy of live and let live. This also meant there was peace in the region, and conflict with Singapore was avoided.

Sadly, Pakistan went in the other direction and intra-ethnic, intra-religious and now sectarian conflict has grown with no solution in sight.

However, I hope we have learnt a lesson from the emergence of Bangladesh that religion per se cannot hold a nation together. The language, race, history and culture are all very important factors.

Tolerance is the only way to survive if we want peace in a diverse country like Pakistan. This is the most important lesson to learn from Malaysia

DR VIQAR ZAMAN Karachi