Pakistan: a nation or a collection of ethnicities? —Yasmeen Ali

VIEW: Pakistan: a nation or a collection of ethnicities?

In rural Sindh, the PPP rules the roost. In the predominantly Urdu speaking urban Sindh, it is the MQM that will bag the seats. In Punjab, PML-N emerges supreme. In Balochistan and NWFP, it is an assortment of various ethnicity-based political parties that hold the ground. Where are the nation-state building leaders?

Yasmeen Ali, Daily Times, April 21, 2010

The perception today is that Pakistan is a hasty and ill thought-out throwing together of ethnic groups that now, after over 62 years of living together, are at each others’ throats and spewing hatred. The perception is that we have failed to gel together as a nation-state. Some sceptics paint the picture of a doomsday scenario. This may or may not be the reality. However, sometimes, perceptions are stronger than the reality itself.

Two concepts need defining here: ethnicity and the nation state. Ethnicity may be broadly defined as belonging to a group that shares the same characteristics such as country of origin, language, religion, ancestry and culture. Ethnicity is a matter of biological and historical affiliation and is not changed by the culture in which a person grows up. Ethnic identity is drawn from the realisation that a person’s thoughts, perceptions, feelings and behaviour are consistent with those of other members of the same ethnic group.

Contrary to this is the relatively modern concept of the nation-state. The nation-state is a state that identifies itself as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign, territorial unit for a nation. Nation-states use the state as an instrument of national unity in cultural, social and, above all, economic life. Early conceptions of the nation defined it as a group or race of people who shared history, traditions, culture, sometimes religion and usually language.

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