Tuesday July 23, 2024

Our national identity: A nation with a clear goal or without it?

By Zara Ahmed
August 14, 2021

As Pakistan is heading towards celebrating 74 years of its independence, the country still awaits the purpose of its establishment to be fulfilled. What was the purpose? It is a matter of perpetual debate between liberals and Islamists. Establishing a state for Muslims of the Indian sub-continent and enabling them to exercise their political rights, procure economic opportunities without confronting any social discrimination or carving out borders to establish a theocracy and transmitting residual political rights of Muslims to a handful of orthodox protagonists and constraining basic freedom rights to the forceful observance of sharia laws?

Different regimes sought to unravel Pakistan’s identity crisis and ideological conundrum, according to political expediency, often which suited to their own interests. Muslim League miserably failed to etch a layout of principles, which a nascent state required to scrape through constitutional, political and structural challenges. The leadership of the Muslim League succumbed to pressure from Islamist parties who wanted to impose their own exegesis of religion in a country, the creation of which they vehemently denounced until the League approached some factions of Ulema who were disgruntled at Congress’s Hindu-oriented politics to consolidate its weak organisation in Punjab and North-West Frontier Provinces. A political tactic of the Muslim League inadvertently provided them with a prospect to experiment with their ideals of an Islamic state.

The Islamic mode of governance for a majority of Pakistan Muslims implies social equality, justice, transparency and merit, most of them are oblivious of complex doctrines modelled on classical Islamic governance that orthodox elite advocate to enforce in the country.

The objective resolution which as Hafiz Mahfooz-ul-Haq stated "was a clear departure from preambles of the secular democratic constitution of modern times." The resolution attributed sovereignty of the state to God, ensured protection for minorities, and urged Muslims to modulate their lives according to Islam, it does not specify a peculiar model, on which the state would constitute its political and economic system. It was merely pre-independence rhetoric of Muslim separatism.

While League’s narrative remained obscure and flawed in determining the goals of the state, the Constitution of 1962 under Ayub Khan’s regime altered the name of the state from the Islamic Republic to Republic of Pakistan; with this he negated the fundamental principles of state. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (first elected civilian Prime Minister) wanted to alleviate a war-torn country through Islamic socialism. Zia-ul-Haq, the second military dictator had sought to impose puritan and misogynist reforms on the corpus of democracy and freedom of expression. Pervez Musharraf another military usurper enacted policies contrary to his predecessors and wanted to modernize the country. Successive civilian governments endeavoured to remedy the wrongs and remained successful to some extent but rather on paper and not in reality.

If anything, that can bring them all to a consensus is the subordination of women, declaring a particular sect heretic, and a war with India. But this bigoted consensus lacks a panacea for crucial dilemmas.

Education which is a significant tool for governments to disseminate their ideologies is used to distort history and inculcate a sense of victimhood and embolden young students to seek revenge for past injustices from non-Muslims. Rather than teaching the indigenous history of Muslims of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire who left a monumental heritage for the Indian subcontinent, Policy makers are delusionally obsessed with correlating the country’s past with Arabs and Ottoman Empire; with which Pakistanis have nothing in common except religion. Urdu which shares myriad similarities with Sanskrit is also ascribed to have roots in Turkish and Arabic. Despite imbuing so much religiosity and patriotism we have still failed to gratify ethnic grievances, eliminate religious discrimination and instil civility in the masses.

We condemn the US for imposing war on us but our inadequate memory ignores the fact that formed administrative leadership of Pakistan (comprising civil and military bureaucracy) decided to prefer concluding an alliance with the US, to enrich their fortunes or to assuage mounting challenges faced by a nascent state. In which goal they remained successful is evident from troubles Pakistan is currently struggling with.

Early leadership secured an alliance (SEATO - 1954) with a capitalist, non-Muslim state even before the basic framework and goals for policy making was enshrined in the first constitution of 1956.

Much water has been flown down the bridge in seven decades but the bridge remains a battlefield of nationalism and provincialism, ethnic conflicts and politics of alienation authoritarianism and autonomy, liberalism and orthodoxy.

The only goal successive regimes have pursued in Pakistan is to conceal diversity, censor dissent, disregard grievances, glorify tragic events as heroic sacrifices and justify bigotry as religious devotion.

Pakistan is still striving to determine its goal and identity as a nation, as our head of state intermittently enlighten Pakistanis with the egalitarianism of the state of Medina, accountability system of Saudi Arabia, economic development of China, political wisdom of former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Muhammad and moral virtues of Muslims through historical fiction television series of Turkey. However, these comparisons with the dismal state of affairs of Pakistan is an incoherent approach.

Pakistan remains strikingly different for 364 days of the year than what our political and military leadership preach on every Independence Day. For the rest of the year, our leaders vilify each other with allegations of treachery and heresy and everyone impose their own version of Islam and patriotism on others. Independence, struggle and sacrifices of ancestors should be honoured and celebrated but to eschew the fact that Pakistan secured 94th rank in the global quality education index, the country has a pathetic reputation for violations of democratic rule of law, civil liberties and minority rights- would aggravate the crisis, a conspicuous example of which we witness occasionally, when ethnic parties assert separatist sentiments, minorities get beaten, their worship places demolished and infiltration of non-state actors, these singular events often culminate in a haunting tragedy.

On its 74th anniversary, Pakistan stands at the crossroad of delusional rhetoric and thorny reality. Political leadership and establishment are acquainted with the fault lines in the system. Intellectuals, scholars, think tanks have devised strategies and road maps to reconcile conflicts and dilemmas but the manifestation is yet to achieve.

-The Writer is a student of M.A Final at Department of History, University of Karachi and can be reached via email at