Pakistan’s loss to India in the semi-final at Mohali, although disappointing and avoidable, should nevertheless be looked at with the view that the team performed well on the whole. Reaching the semi-final is an accomplishment, particularly given the team’s performance in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups. There are those who ask why can’t Pakistanis be united at all times, the way they were in the recent semi-final? George Fulton writes that Pakistanis unite only during cricket matches and wars with India.
It is unrealistic to expect a nation of 180 million-plus to think alike, except during sports events like cricket when everyone rallies behind Team Pakistan. In other countries, like Britain, such unity is not even on display during sports events. The English football team, for example, does not represent Scotland and Wales and the cricket team does not represent Scotland. This is kind of like Punjab fielding its own hockey team nationally, ignoring the rest of the provinces. Yet there are no cries about the lack of unity in Britain.
“What does it mean to be a Pakistani?” George asks, arguing there is no national identity other than ‘not Indian’. What does it mean to be Canadian other than not American? What does it mean to be a New Zealander other than not Australian? Incidentally, a Pakistani is more distinct, one who comes from a land that is at the crossroads of South Asia and the Middle East, from a culture that is a fusion of rich influences such that our vernacular may overlap with India’s to enjoy their films and songs and yet our script is akin to that of our fellow Middle Eastern Muslims, enabling many Pakistanis to appreciate the flow of Farsi poetry and the depth of Quranic Arabic.
George points out that only eight per cent of Pakistanis consider Urdu as their first language. In the 1998 census, when I lived in Pakistan, I did not tick Urdu as my mother tongue either, but this has little bearing on my view of whether Urdu should be our national language or not. Urdu may be the mother tongue of a minority of Pakistanis, but a majority is likely to believe that it should continue as our national language. Nevertheless, in due course, it is likely to imbibe from Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi and other regional languages to reflect more accurately the nation that has given it such status. The future of Urdu is not in Agra or Lucknow but in Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi. The varied Urdu accents across Pakistan, moreover, should be celebrated and not mocked.
Pakistan is no less cohesive than many other nations, nor are separatist movements unique to Pakistan. Scottish nationalism, until recently, held much sway. Catalan nationalism in Spain, Kurdish nationalism in several middle-eastern countries and, certainly, the Indian occupation of Kashmir are pressing challenges to the cohesiveness of those nation-states. In fact, national identity is most often nothing more than a set of shared experiences. It is instant understanding of words like ‘loadshedding’ and ‘enlightened moderation’ or brands like Beaconhouse, Mobilink and Hamdard, appreciating celebrities like Edhi or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, recounting the evolution from Nazia Hassan and Vital Signs to Coke Studio; from Fatima Suraya Bajia to Mehreen Jabbar and from dhoti shalwars to kaftans, joking about television ads for mosquito repellents, skin-whitening creams or halal banking, without having to go into lengthy background explanations, is what gives us commonality.
Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in expat Pakistani communities, that come together not just to raise funds for earthquakes and floods or to organise cultural fashion shows and watch sporting events, but also to collect ‘blood money’ for a Pakistani driver who may have accidentally killed someone in a car crash in Saudi Arabia or to provide employment to those who may find their way to Britain but do not have the requisite English skills to work for anybody other than a fellow Pakistani. Whether in Dubai or New York, I have witnessed Pakistani taxi drivers, coming from places as diverse as Waziristan and Gujranwala, refusing to charge fellow Pakistanis. So who says Pakistan is not one nation?
Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2011.