Reinventing Pakistan By Pervez Hoodbhoy

Reinventing Pakistan By Pervez Hoodbhoy

Dawn, 23 Mar, 2010

PAKISTAN is not a nation although it has been a state since 1947. Missing is a strong common identity, mental makeup, shared sense of history and common goals. The failure to effectively integrate flows from inequalities of wealth and opportunity, absence of effective democracy and a dysfunctional legal system.

Notwithstanding the recent outburst of Punjab’s chief minister, most Punjabis think of themselves as Pakistani first and Punjabi second. But not the Baloch or Sindhis. Schools in Balochistan refuse to hoist Pakistan’s flag or sing its national anthem, Sindhis accuse Punjabis of stealing their water, the MQM runs Karachi on strictly ethnic grounds, Pakhtuns adamantly want the NWFP renamed Pakhtunkhwa against the wishes of other residents, caste and sect matter more than competence in getting a job and ethnic student groups wage pitched battles against each other on campuses.

Pakistan’s genesis explains the disunity. Created as the Boolean negative of India — not India — there was little thought to how the new country might accommodate diversity. It did not help that its founder died just a year later. Mr Jinnah’s plans were ambiguously stated and he left behind no substantive writings. His speeches, often driven by the exigencies of the moment, are freely cherry-picked today. Some find there a liberal and secular voice, others an articulation of Islamic values. The confusion is irresolvable.

The determination to emphasise a singular Muslim national identity, and maintain a centralised state structure run by the colonial-era ruling elite, became the basis for governance. It proved to be Pakistan’s greatest burden. This became evident as the Baloch, Pakhtuns, Sindhis, and most dramatically the Bengalis in East Pakistan, launched struggles to be respected and pursue their own dreams. The independence of East Pakistan almost 40 years ago should have ended the illusion that religion and force can hold people together in the face of injustice and a lack of democracy.

Yet, religion still remains the strongest bonding factor. A recent survey of 2,000 young Pakistanis in the 18-27 age group found that three-quarters identify themselves first as Muslims and only secondly as Pakistanis. Just 14 per cent defined themselves as citizens of Pakistan first. Dejected and adrift, most see religion as their anchor. The common refrain of the post-Zia generation is that “every issue will be solved if we go back to the fundamentals of Islam”.

But these ‘fundamentals’ have multiple interpretations that fuel divisive and violent political forces, each convinced that they alone understand God’s will. Murderous wars between Sunni and Shia militias started in the late 1980s. Today, even those favouring the utopian vision of an ideal Islamic state are frightened by the Pakistani Taliban who seek to impose their version of the Shariathrough the Kalashnikov and suicide bombings.

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