What are major elements of the social structure of Pakistan?

Major elements of the social structure of Pakistan center around family units. Berādarī is an important element and refers to the organization of society along patrilineal lines. The eldest male in most households holds the most influence. Women are usually kept in seclusion with exceptions among the rural poor.

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One the most notable features of Pakistan's social system is its inbuilt resistance to change. As Pakistani society is based on a large profusion of tribes, each one steeped in patriarchal values, this should come as no surprise. The fundamentally tribal nature of Pakistani society ensures that it remains rigidly...

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One the most notable features of Pakistan's social system is its inbuilt resistance to change. As Pakistani society is based on a large profusion of tribes, each one steeped in patriarchal values, this should come as no surprise. The fundamentally tribal nature of Pakistani society ensures that it remains rigidly hierarchical, with considerable political, personal, and spiritual authority vested in tribal chiefs, clan leaders, and religious leaders.

At the national political level, the ongoing existence of these social hierarchies and their deeply entrenched power militate against the implementation of radical change, even in those areas such as the tackling of corruption, in which there is a fair degree of consensus. Though Pakistan is formally a democracy, the powerful influence of clans, tribes, and religious leaders acts to exclude the common people and their democratically elected representatives from having any significant influence on the operation of the political system.

In that sense, one could argue that Pakistan's is a traditional, conservative society with elements of a modern political system grafted uncomfortably on top. These incompatible elements have generated considerable tensions that show no signs of being addressed, let alone resolved, until and unless the entrenched power of tribes, clans, and religious leaders is seriously challenged.

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In Pakistan, society tends to be based on the patriarchal elements of extended family units and clans. In many parts of the country, Pakistanis live in large, multigenerational familial households. The eldest male of the household, be he grandfather, father, uncle, or the eldest brother, is usually in charge and makes most of the significant decisions for the family as a whole.

Like in neighboring India, a social caste system exists in Pakistan. However, kinship and clan membership take precedence over caste. Berādarī refers to this organization of society along patrilineal lines and is extremely important in much of Pakistan. Many marriages occur within one's own clan or berādarī.

The role of women in Pakistani society varies by social class. Among most wealthy and middle-class families, adult women are kept in seclusion. This practice is known as purdah. Typically, these women are only permitted outside of the home when chaperoned by a male relative and wearing face coverings.

Poorer women in the agricultural sector actually tend to have more autonomy than their wealthier and urban counterparts. These women do not practice purdah, as they are needed outside of the home performing essential duties in the fields. Some wealthy and middle-class urban families have begun adopting Western cultural elements and have relaxed elements of purdah.

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The traditional tribes of Pakistan, located principally in the North West Frontier Province, play a central role in the social identity of their members and, as a result, the social structure of this part of Pakistan. In many cases, a tribal members' political identity is first that of a member of his clan and, secondly, as a citizen of Pakistan.

Outside of the tribal regions, Barādarī—a form of caste identity—plays the dominant role in social structures to the point that political parties and politicians in the country more often draw their support from caste fellows than along ideological lines.

Finally, religion is a major factor in the social structure of Pakistan. Islam is the official, state religion of Pakistan and as much as 99% of the country are Muslim, with Sunni Islam being the dominant variety.

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Pakistani society is deeply divided along religious, ethnic, and status lines. The state is composed of four provinces: Punjab (the largest), Sindh, North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), and Baluchistan. The largest ethnic groups are Punjabis (about forty-five percent of the total population), Pashtuns (fifteen percent), and Sindhis (fourteen percent).

While in Punjab the caste frameworks (biradri) play a key role in shaping social interactions, in the rest of the country, tribal structures are more important. Tribal chiefs and large landowners hold most political positions and use their influence to their own advantage. Industrialists, many of them Muslim migrants from India, have less political power than traditional tribal and feudal elites.

Inequality and the social exclusion of landless laborers, tenants, and members of the lower caste is a basic feature of social life that the state does little to change. There is also huge gender inequality; males have considerably more access to education and enjoying the dominant position in society.

The role of religion is very important in Pakistan. Three quarters of the country’s population are Sunni Muslims and about twenty percent are Shia. Sectarian tensions are strong; sometimes there are violent attacks on Shia mosques. The ongoing conflict with India over the Kashmir region, which both countries claim, and the war in neighboring Afghanistan have strengthened the influence of Islamic extremists and radical terrorist organizations; these organizations sometimes attack cities, state institutions, and army bases. The social role of the army and the secret services is also very important, as military regimes have governed Pakistan for about half of its independent existence.

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