Is Pakistan A Natural Or Constructed State? Why Is Nationalism Considered Ultra Virus In The Country? – OpEd


Nationalism from A Historical Perspective

We can track the European nationalism from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 which effectively put an end to religious identity being the defining reason for both social cohesion and war in Europe. This was the start of the great powers like Great Britain, Germany, Italy, and France of Europe, the foundation for the creation of the US and the Latin American nations based on nationalism. Later on, the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars across Europe and the “nation-making” of the nineteenth century including the expansionist policies called colonialism or colonization of other nations across the world led them to the carnage of the First and Second World Wars.

At the end of WWI, there was the humiliating Treaty of Versailles European map remained illogical and mixed up with various nationalities. Because the Treaty of Versailles was unable to create coherent nations in Europe, the Middle East including Asia and Africa. For example, only Poland contains a population of two million Germans.

This illogical political division of various nations across the globe resulted in another carnage, the “Second World War “. The post-Second World War decolonization by the European powers created new nations in the Middle Easter, Asia, and Africa that were as illogical and non-nationalistic as they did in Europe. Consequently, Post-colonialist nationalism has led to many serious conflicts—as Palestinian versus Israel between India and Pakistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, Rwanda and Congo, Cambodia and Vietnam, North and South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore, and, not least, Israel and the Arab world.

State Nationalism Versus Ethnic Nationalism

Here I would like to refer to the conflicts of ethnic nationalism of Kurd, Palestinian, Afghan or Pashtoon, and Baloch versus state nationalism in their respective countries.

Post-SWW geographical and political maps divided the Kurds into four countries. The countries of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey contain the areas where the Kurds live – countries where much of the present-day conflicts are taking place. Therefore, Musa Anter, a Kurd writer, who was assassinated by the Turkish Government in 1992 has rightly written in this regard. “If my mother tongue is shaking the foundations of your state, it probably means that you built your state on my land”. 

The above quote is a glorious personification of ethnic romanticism, brimming with emotions of “Ethnic Nationalism”. The author emphatically hits Bull’s eye, by meticulously depicting the failure of state-nationalism versus ethnic nationalism. 

The creation of the illogical state of Israel at the heartland of Arabs and the aggressive state nationalism of Israel against the ethnic nationalism of Palestinians, has resulted in the three bloodiest Arab-Israeli wars, and the most recent is the Gaza- Israel war.

Like Palestine, the Kashmir dispute involves the exercise of the right of self-determination of its people free of foreign or alien occupation following the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. The people of Kashmir are confronted with the superior Indian military and economic power.

The Afghans or Pashtoon too have been victims of their geography and the great game being played on their land for the last one and a half century. The Afghan land was divided by the British colonial power into two countries Afghanistan and imperial India under the Durand line arrangements. In the same way, they have been kept divided after the creation of Pakistan and within Pakistan.

The same has happened with the Baloch people. They have been divided into three countries Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan, and within Pakistan into three federating units, Baluchistan, Sindh, and Punjab.

State-nationalism versus ethnic-nationalism is a question confronting modern nation-states. In the modern nation-state system, we see that state-nationalism was invented after the French Revolution to replace the loyalty of citizens from monarchies to nation-states and the experience remained successful because France was a natural state, having a single ethnic, linguistic, and cultural history. Whereas in constructed states across the world, state nationalism is in constant conflict with ethnic nationalities particularly in Israel and Pakistan.

State Nationalism Versus Ethnic Nationalism in Pakistan’s Case

The entire political campaign for the creation of Pakistan was built on the narrative of the “two-nation theory” which became the basis of state nationalism of Pakistani nationhood. However, upon the creation of Pakistan, the Hindu factor vanished. Regrettably, our political leadership could not recover from its hangover of success built on the religious identity of two-nation-theory. Particularly after the founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah while addressing the constituent assembly on 11th August 1947 instead of stating “Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims,” had stated, “the state today ceases to be Muslim or Hindu” essence of state-nationalism could have been different today.

Resultantly, the state continued with its stubborn reinforcement of the same religious identity through “Objectives Resolution” in 1949, where all 21 non-Muslim members, in a 75-member assembly, had voted against the motion and the same defective identity became the substantive part of the all three constitutions of Pakistan.

The reason behind this was migrating political elites led by Liaqat Ali Khan, at the helm felt politically insecure as they lacked their roots, political constituency, and political support in newly independent Pakistan. Hence, a Nation-State in its natal infancy not only exhibited its naïve disdain towards dissenting voices of all religious minorities but also overlooked ethnic identities like Pashtoon, Sindhis, Baloch, and Saraikis which had existed here for centuries before the creation of Pakistan. 

This all-new-designed state nationalism and state narrative snubbed indigenous ethnic nationalities and their history, cultures, and heroes who were sons of the soil, all together and fought against the occupation of colonial power in the sub-continent.

This question of aggressive state-nationalism versus ethnic-nationalism was seen with the adoption of “Urdu ‘’ which was spoken by the migrated Urdu-speaking population of hardly 7% as the national language. This was alien to every ethnicity existing in East and West Pakistan combined and was questioned by the majority of Bangla-speaking Bengalis in East Pakistan including other ethnic nationalities in western Pakistan. This ultimately disintegrated Pakistan upon the “Fall of Dhaka” in 1971, which was purely a result of an unaddressed “ethnic question” coupled with aggressive exploitation of their resources and non-representation in the governance system. The fact of history is that the linguistic identity and ethnic nationalism of Bengal succeeded in defeating the state’s narrative of religion-based state nationalism.

The continuation of unjust state nationalism based on exploitation, exclusion, majoritarianism, rhetoric, manipulation, and securitization is confronted with heterogeneous ethnic nationalism or sub-nationalism. This all stems from linguistic, ethnic, and cultural identities, and has spread across the four provinces in the country including the Urdu-speaking minority in Sindh, Seraiki speaking in Punjab, Pushto speaking in Balochistan, and Hindko-speaking Hazara region in KPK. These all are the manifestations of such flawed state nationalism. 

To be precise, Pakistan is faced with a complex multi-layered ethnic nationalism versus state nationalism, which has resulted in regression, bad governance, rampant corruption, mistrust, regionalism, political destabilization, economic degradation, cracks in social infrastructure leading to disintegration tendencies in ethnic nationalities. 

The problem demands immediate revival, a revisit of the whole scheme of state nationalism, and meaningful, serious dialogue with ethnic nationalities to mainstream them within the existing physical and constitutional boundaries.

Furthermore, the sheer agonistic approach of the ruling majority in the country has resulted in violent reactions from all ethnic groups, emanating from fear of identity loss, exploitation of their resources, and political manipulation. This has placed the state as well as ethnic identities in a shared peril of mutual mistrust and conflict. The “ethnic question” or ethnic nationalism, particularly in Baluchistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, therefore has become existential in nature and demands immediate attention from the state and society, alike.

Pakistan has been coping with the identity dilemma since its birth in 1947. Our clueless and illogical wandering for identity, while deliberately ignoring and making a mess of Indigenous history and cultural roots of ethnicities has robbed us of our centuries-old integrating identity and hereditary narrative of earliest civilisations in Mehrgarh, discovered in Baluchistan dating back to 7000 B.C., 1000 years before Mesopotamia. The Indus Valley Civilization with the cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro in Sindh at its centre lasted from 2600 to 1900 BC and Gandhara in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Our ruling elites attempt to construct an artificial text of history, from Muhammad Bin Qasim to Ghauri, Ghaznavi, and fictional characters of Turkish TV serials. Our quest to connect with fake and imported identities has proved counterproductive rather collapsed. The state should uncover and patronize facts from history to tell mesmerizing legends of ancient civilizations rising and collapsing along the banks of the great river Swat, Kabul, and Neelam Jhelum converging into the Indus.

How to Come Out of this Quagmire?

On a national level, our narrative for state nationalism based on religious identity should switch from a superficial or rhetorical approach to a realistic, indigenous, inclusiveness, penetrating, acceptable to all ethnic groups in the country. 

The state must espouse every ethnic identity present within Pakistan without discrimination of their number, culture, language colour, creed, or faith. 

State nationalism should become a beacon of the spirit, carrying a message of invitation to integrate and liberate not to subjugate discriminate, or corrupt the ethnic nationalities, their history, their heroes, art culture, and languages.

The state should encourage and support every initiative taken by an ethnic group or nationalities, large or small, to preserve its history, culture, language, ethnicity, and religion. 

The state should recognize all ethnic nationalities and their claim over the resources in their respective territories within the boundaries of a new consensus social contract as India did in the 1920s, by creating new provinces through the inclusion of Article: 3 to their constitution. 

Pakistan, however, contrary to the historical facts has preferred to preserve the status quo. In the wake of multiple economic, political, judicial, social, and security challenges, it is now high time that the state and ruling elites both civil and military should re-think on state nationalism, ethnicism, and national security. Practical steps must be taken to initiate a grand national dialogue for the creation of new provinces to dilute the majoritarian role of Punjab, and remodelling of the whole political and governance system. 

Pakistan’s past and present depict a Hobbesian and Machiavellian nightmare since what both of them feared the most —life being “nasty, brutish and short”— is at play in Pakistan. And the state and government that they envisioned, which was supposed to act as a bulwark against this possibility, is nowhere to be found since creation.

Let everyone be very clear; Pakistan’s state has a legitimacy problem in public, particularly in the eyes of ethnic nationalities. They have lost trust in the ability of the state to provide them with an environment where they can pursue their well-being without any fear. We are facing challenges in understanding diversity, especially at the national level.

The lesson of history is that no nation-state can subjugate another nation-state or ethnic nationalities within its boundaries through military means alone if its people are not prepared to accept the state as a legitimate entity and are prepared to lay down their lives for the sake of their ethnic identity and their rights. Vietnam, Afghanistan, Central Asian nations, Eastern Europe, Germany, former Yugoslavia, former Czechoslovakia, South Africa, Palestinian versus Israel, and Pakistan in 1970 are the recent examples of this experience in human history. 

Being a constructed nation, what is needed for Pakistan is a carefully worked out long-term grand strategy. Our policymakers must remember that national power in terms of political stability, social harmony, economic and technological strength, and military might cannot be achieved through hollow statements, false and fabricated narratives and mere moral or religious arguments. Fair play, just, and inclusive strategies play a decisive role in determining the positive outcome of major challenges facing the country.

Sher Khan Bazai

Sher Khan Bazai is a retired civil servant, and a former Secretary of Education in Balochistan, Pakistan. He can be reached at [email protected].

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