Pakistan’s Identity Crisis


Pakistan has a plethora of inherited problems, but the identity crisis did not count as a major one only up until lately as we had more important national concerns to deal with, or the media has played its part in a mass-projection of this question. In either case, this question stands tall.

This crisis has more to do with our pre-Independence movement for a separate state than contemporary politics. Let’s dig into our history to answer the relevance of this expression: “the identity crisis”.

Much before the advent of the East India Company’s rule over the Subcontinent, there used to be numerous rulers designated various principalities. They would rule over different sects, religions, and ethnicities without any prejudice to a particular religion or language. Time passed and the reins of power came into the hands of the British. The Subcontinent was to embark on a journey that would be unprecedented in this region’s history.

Since our rulers were British and they were dictated by their Parliament in the UK, European politics, therefore, had a direct influence on us. This was the age of industrialisation in Europe: the mid-18th century. It was engulfed in the revolutionary ideas of nationalism and liberalism, courtesy of Rousseau, John Locke, and Thomas Hobbes.

Their ideas appealed to the indigenous people of particular nationalities, which began to rise for their common identity. The climax of these movements was evident in the revolt against the ancient regime in the French Revolution, and subsequently in the revolutions of 1830 and 1848.

In the Subcontinent, very much to the east of the nucleus of such movements, non of such ideas were appealing to the natives since they had lived with each-other for centuries. Muslim and Hindus, Hindi speakers and Urdu speakers all lived together in harmony without the prejudices of language or sect.

The British realised the fact that the movements that challenged the established order in the West, the liberals and nationalists, were futile in this part of the world. Gradually, as the East India Company rose to power, so did their ambitions to sharpen the grievances between the two majority religions so that they can not challenge the authority together.

It was 1857, the War of Independence, which set the tone for the Britishers to implement “divide and rule”, their notoriously famous strategy, in order to create disharmony amongst the two majority religions of the subcontinent.

It is crucial to underline the stark difference vis-à-vis the West and the East. In the West, the movements which glued the natives together were based on a common language and culture. The prime example is the Italians and the Germans who attempted their unification against the foreign occupation.

The East as in the Subcontinent, was not engaged in any movement inspired by a common language. The driving force here was religion, more appropriately the religious extremism, which came into life because of the British rule. It was the identical “divide and rule” practice that the Austrians used in their Hapsburg empire against the indigenous nationalities, which was experimented by the British in the subcontinent.

These are the roots from where the idea of identity crisis emerged, but it was to be addressed by the political geniuses of that time. The British gave this idea a life. The remnants of which we experience today.

Cut short to 1940, the year of the Lahore Resolution when the idea of Pakistan, a separate state, was presented for the very first time from the platform of All India Muslim League. The idea was for a separate country for Muslims. It is worth noticing that the Pakistan Movement was a protest against the Hindus as their lawmakers. The agenda of this movement was not based on common language or culture, as in the West, but was based on common religion.

Albeit, it started to undermine the regional ethnicities, the advocates of this movement considered “Muslimhood” above their “Culturalhood”. It was in this pretext that Quaid-e-Azam declared Urdu as our national language and not any provincial language. Would that he declared Sindhi or Punjabi as our national language, imagine the disruption that would have occurred because then the province whose language was the national one would be more dominant. This was the farsightedness of Quaid-e-Azam and his brilliance in politics.

The aftermaths of being multiethnic nation confronted the state in the form of Bengali nationalism, which questioned our two nations theory to a humiliating extent. But the cause of its separation was not only nationalism. It is a whole factual story comprising of various complex causes that led to the disaster of 1971, which will be the matter of some future article. Hence, it was not the identity crisis, but an agglomeration of various factors that led to the breaking of Pakistan.

Nevertheless, by and large, the idea of Muslim nationalism trumped the ideas of ‘regional nationalism’ throughout the course of our history, at least in the West Pakistan. The foundations of our nation were established based on embracing diversity and exploring it for our benefit.

The idea of muslim as a nation gave the impetus for a separate state to the Muslim League. But, as of now, the state of Pakistan, which came into being as a result, has obtained its own life, and now the citizens, in majority, owe their allegiance more to the state and want to be called as “Pakistani”. Debates like the state undermines our identity, which was of no noticeable importance during the struggle for Pakistan, not only are futile, but also further divide the citizens.

Embracing the principle of unity in diversity, somewhat like our neighbours, should be the mantra. Today, the only question that should remain relevant is: what part do we play, as citizens, in national integration?__The Friday Times