Pakistan is dropping English as its official language and switching to Urdu, a popular language in the Indian subcontinent.
The long-rumored change was confirmed by Pakistani Minister of Planning, National Reforms, and Development Ahsan Iqbal in an exclusive interview with TIME.
Iqbal said the change was being made because of a court directive. The Pakistani constitution, which was passed in 1973, included a clause specifying that the government must make Urdu the national language within 15 years, but it had not been enforced.
Still, Iqbal said the country is not entirely abandoning English, which will still be taught alongside Urdu in schools.
“It means Urdu will be a second medium of language and all official business will be bilingual,” he said.
Some Pakistanis fear that the move is part of an official backlash against the younger generation, which has been more open to Western culture.
But Iqbal argued that the move would help make Pakistan more democratic, since it will “help provide greater participation to people who don’t know English, hence making the government more inclusive.”
Urdu is just one of a number of languages spoken in Pakistan, but it retains a cultural cachet as the language of movies and music as well as the Islamic religion, while English has been more popular among elites and government ministries.
According to the CIA Factbook, nearly half of Pakistanis speak Punjabi, the language of the Punjab region, while only 8% speak Urdu. Several other languages are spoken by a fraction of the population.
The decision to break away from English creates a stark contrast with Pakistan’s neighbor and longtime rival India. English was the official language of the area that now comprises both countries under British rule, which ended in 1947.
Despite a similar language clause in its constitution, India continues to use both English and Hindi as its official languages.
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