Pakistani nationalism, like all nationalisms, is based on what Ibn Khaldun called asabiya or the ‘group feeling’ that people living inside a state must possess. It is used by the state to create unity, solidarity and patriotism, which must result in a national effort to create prosperity and good life.
But each nationalism has some exceptional aspects, or so the nations feel. To create internal unity, states may use the threat of an external enemy or even create an external enemy if it is not present. An ideology may also be created to cement the otherwise clashing identities inside the state. Ideologies are usually coercive unless subjected to a paradoxical experiment: encouragement of diversity to create stakes for all identities in the preservation of the state.
Pakistani nationalism has two exceptional aspects, both aimed at creating internal unity and cohesion: fear of India as ‘external enemy’, and religion. And both tend to be coercive. This affects the quality of the ‘social contract’ behind the legitimacy of the state by rendering it partly non-voluntary.
The India-centred nationalism was fashioned early in Pakistan’s history by a political elite that had relocated to Karachi from India. The wars with India that followed spread it to the national elite dominated numerically by Punjab. Because of the wars, the Pakistan Army was given an aura based on ‘national gratitude’ for the soldier. Like all nation-states, the state of Pakistan attached its display of nationalism to the Pakistan Army.
The Pakistan Army today is repository of Pakistani nationalism. It dominates all the institutions of the state and has taken longer to effect an internal reconsideration of its India-centred nationalism than the civilian political elite. The textbook is on its side and not on the side of the intellectually more supple political leadership.
Anatol Lieven in his book Pakistan: A Hard Country (Allen Lane 2011) thinks a dominant Pakistan Army, like of that of Kemal Ataturk, could have used nationalism to create a modern state. But the nationalism it has espoused — positing victory over an undefeatable India — can only cause it to damage Pakistan further. He writes:
“The US and international response to the Kargil adventure of 1999 and to the Mumbai terrorist attack of 2008 should have demonstrated to Pakistan that, quite apart from India’s own strength, the international community will not tolerate Pakistani attacks on another nuclear-armed power … Thus, while the Pakistani military can maintain the existence of Pakistan, it is not nearly strong enough to transform the country into a successful modern state” (p.66).
His final verdict goes like this: “The nationalism on which the military relies to maintain its own morale and discipline serves to draw the country into dangerous international rivalries and equally dangerous entanglements with extremist groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiba. If there were to be another successful terrorist attack on the United States by a Pakistan-based terrorist group, US retaliation could threaten Pakistan and its army with destruction” (p.67).
The civilian ruling elite in Pakistan is innovative about the dysfunctional India-centric aspects of nationalism, but it is not able to interfere in the gradually hardening gloss of the religious ideology of the state. Neither they nor the Pakistan Army can prevent the ideological leadership of the state from passing to the Taliban and al Qaeda. The Pakistan Army’s adoption of the doctrine of jihad and its creation of non-state jihadi warriors under this doctrine has permitted more centres of power than the state can sustain.
Fear of the Pakistan Army once informed the thinking of civilian institutions; now fear of the nonstate actor trumps that fear and lowers the Pakistan Army’s stature.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2012.
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