Unfortunately, 68 years after its inception there still are radical differences in socio-economic conditions of different parts of Pakistan. As a result people from certain areas are more privileged as compared to the others. These privileges not only include better living standards but also access to better educational facilities. As a result quota system has been introduced in Pakistan to ensure equal opportunities for people all over the country. Certain people, with their flawed arguments, criticize quota system, which is absolutely unfair.
In Pakistan, all federal jobs are distributed according to fixed quotas. Same quotas are also applied for scholarship opportunities of Higher Education Commission (HEC) and so on. These have been developed based on the population of the provinces and federal territories. Similar practices are followed in India and many such developing countries of the world which do not have uniform socio-economic development within their boundaries.
The main advantage of quota system is that it provides equal opportunity for people from all over the country for jobs and educational opportunities. Educational standards in Karachi and Lahore are much better than that of Chagai district, for example. If people from Chagai district are forced to compete for jobs with people of Lahore on same grounds then it would certainly not be fair. Fixing a quota system where people of Chagai can compete with people of other developed districts would be fair and that’s what quota system does.
In this context a misconception needs to be cleared. Equal opportunity does not mean that same opportunities should be provided to people from different backgrounds. It actually means that people from various degrees of privilege are provided a platform of equal standing where they can compete with each other. An additional favor in form of quota system help the people form under-developed regions to be at equal standing as people from developed regions.
It’s claimed that quota system in Pakistan is responsible for all problems in bureaucracy and educational institutes as undeserved candidates get selected. This is wildly untrue and a perception based on incorrect and biased judgment. Candidates who are selected on quotas have been seen to have performed as good, if not better, as compared to the candidates selected on the so-called merit basis.
Moreover, in the quota system debate the oft-repeated word is merit. Merit in this case refers to an arrangement where everyone can compete for a job or educational opportunity irrespective of their background and level of privilege. The need for merit is often used to criticize quota system and demand its abolishment. In a society like Pakistan merit is nothing more than an illusion. It’s just a fancy word used to deprive the under-privileged people from their rights. It would only be fair to have a merit based system when all 146 districts of Pakistan have the same level of education, which is not a possibility in near future.
Quota system is often bashed for unfair reasons, but problems in its implementation are often ignored. People from relatively developed areas often use their influence and power to get selected on quotas reserved for under developed areas. For example, many civil servants belonging to Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) have issued domicile certificates to their relatives from Balochistan who then get selected in CSS exams on Balochistan’s quota. The need of the hour is to implement the quota system in an impeccable manner. All loopholes in this system should be eliminated so that the real beneficiaries of quota system are the people for whom it has been designed.
Furthermore, the quotas need to be revised to help pace up the process of socio-economic development in under-privileged areas. At the moment quotas reflect the population of the provinces irrespective of the level of development in them. It would be wise to revise quotas based on the formulas used in 7th NFC award where under-developed provinces got more share than their population. Similarly, quota of Balochistan, FATA and other under-developed areas must be increased and quotas of developed provinces should be reduced.
It needs to be understood that quota system is not a permanent solution. It will not remain intact forever. So it should not be analyzed in the sense that it’s a permanent solution to the aforementioned problems. However, this system should continue as long as there is no uniformity in all provinces and regions of Pakistan in terms of education and socio-economic development. How much time that process takes is not known, but given the trend of development in Pakistan - CPEC eastern route preference being an example - it’s not anytime sooner.
The critics of the quota system rather than opposing it should vouch for pacing up the process of uniform development across the country. They should channel their efforts to prefer the under developed regions of Pakistan in development rather than unfair criticism on quota system. Disrupting the process of equal development level in the country would be source of several conflicts which will continue instability in Pakistan for unforeseeable future.