Posts Tagged ‘pakistan identity’
I’ve heard U.S. officials and ‘experts’ lament that Pakistan is “not even a nation” and use this as a means to rationalize the country’s myriad problems. Not sure if they are trying to seem historically aware or are just irritated by the dominant role the country plays in U.S. foreign policy these days…but I think the statement is worth exploring briefly.
If by that phrase they mean Pakistan is an artificial nation conceived as a product of arrangements between colonial powers rather than growing organically over a long period or united by a sense of common identity or culture, then I think that comment is pretty meaningless. Anyone with a basic grasp of history would understand that most countries as we know them today are artificial by that definition, and colonial powers played a strong role in how the boundaries of these nations were constructed, whether by design, circumstance, or involuntary spasm. That became painfully clear to the United States recently in Iraq, for instance. Yet not every “artificial” country has Pakistan’s problems.
But there is something to this, and this article by Pervez Hoodbhoy articulates it better than anything else I’ve seen out there. I’d advise reading the whole thing, but to summarize, it basically makes a more reasonable argument that Pakistan is a fragile state that has failed to create a sense of nationhood. That is, its statesmen have been unable to create or construct a cohesive national identity because of jarring socioeconomic inequalities, ineffective democracy and a dysfunctional legal system.
The article is excellent because it takes into account both the historical genesis of Pakistan – carved out of India and driven by religious identity – but leaves plenty of room for agency as well so that it explains why Pakistan specifically has failed to create a sense of nation, from the painful loss of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) in 1971 to General Zia ul-Haq’s campaign to remake Pakistan into an Islamic nation.
What becomes evident, in Mr. Hoodbhoy’s view, is that an unjust, incompetent, ethnically partisan, and feudal secular elite in Pakistan has caused many Pakistanis to long for a radical religious alternative (such as a shariah state) despite the fact that this would clearly undermine basic rights if actually implemented along the lines of what the Pakistani Taliban desire.
The alternatives he advocates are pretty boilerplate: shedding feudalism, forging peace, and enacting a more federalist governance structure to ease ethno-nationalist tensions in Balochistan and Sindh; all in the name of integrating the Pakistani people into a cohesive nation via mutual interests instead of just an Islamic identity.
But it is a much needed one considering where the nation is now and where it may be in the future. Research conducted over the last few years shows that over 50 percent of Pakistanis favor a strict application of shariah law, only 14% of the youth define themselves as a citizen of Pakistan (compared to 72% who identify as Muslim), and the country will need to add 36 million jobs in the next 10 years to support a very young population that could be otherwise prone to radicalization (around 50 percent of Pakistanis are now under 20). Meanwhile, the country’s fledgling civilian government has failed to enact even the basic reforms needed to stabilize the economy.
Simply claiming Pakistan is an “artificial country” today due to its genesis absolves domestic actors of blame for failing to create a sense of nationhood for decades after independence which other ‘artificial’ states managed to do. One hopes they will display more wisdom and foresight in constructing this in the future than they have in the past.