An alienating identity

In the garb of an Islamic identity, the state in Pakistan took pains to keep other kinds of associations at bay. First, we alienated ourselves from the Hindus because we were Muslims, and then we kept on alienating millions of our own.

Umair Rasheed July 17, 2010
The cold-blooded murder of Baloch nationalist Habib Jalib, suicide attacks on Ali Hajveri’s shrine and last month’s brazen strikes on the Ahmedi places of worship in Lahore are three seemingly separate incidents. Yet they point to a harsh reality that we have to live with - there is no room for dissent in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Dissenters, whether religious or on other important questions that challenge the hegemony of the small Punjabi-dominated establishment, get exterminated at will.

Groups like Khatam-e-Nabuwat and Jammat-Ahle-Sunnat (an offshoot of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba) openly issue statements condemning Ahmadis and Barelvis respectively, guarding their narrowed and fundamentalist version of Islam in much the same manner as the Pakistani state upholds and enforces its view of the Pakistani identity.

It is an open secret that the above-mentioned and other such groups including the Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish-e-Muhammad etc were a brainchild of the state-run intelligence agencies and were created to strengthen the state’s hold internally and facilitate its regional strategic interests – so-called Kashmir and Afghan jihads.  

The events mentioned are therefore a continuation in the series of atrocities the state and militant groups have been committing in attempts to impose an alienating Pakistani identity based solely on the notion of Muslim nationalism.

Back in 1947, we successfully evaded the threat of Hindu domination in a united India by convincing our colonial masters that the Muslims of India were one nation. Sixty-three years down the lane, an average citizen of the Islamic republic is caught in bread-and-butter concerns, still waiting for the salvation promised by our founding father on August 11, 1947.

Nationalism is a slippery slope and post-colonial states are infested with the steepest of such slopes. I dare to say that the myth of the two-nation theory busted with the separation of Bangladesh. Not so much because Muslims could not constitute one nation, but because a nation-state was a political setup evolved in the aftermath of European enlightenment and its guiding principle was the separation of church and state.

In Pakistan’s case, our elite (which surprisingly was based not in the areas that form present day Pakistan, but in the United Provinces of British India) waged a political struggle against the British and the Hindu elite. Once they got a separate country all to themselves, they left no stone unturned to enforce a unifying Islamic identity upon any and everything falling within its borders-the objective resolution of 1949, the Hudood ordinances and the blasphemy laws are some glaring examples. In return, the people saw the anti-Ahmedia riots of 1953, the sunni-shia conflict all through 1980s and 1990s and the Talibanisation. In trying to forge a monolithic Islamic character, the state also became oblivious of the ethnic and regional plurality that characterized the people falling in its domain. It patronized Urdu –a minority language –throughout public offices, television, and schools, and discriminated against regional languages (and hence, their speakers).

In retrospect, we regained our independence but retained the same colonial state machinery which was by definition an authoritarian entity representing only the British crown’s and latter on state officials’ interests. Unlike the evolution of nation-state in Europe where society and state developed an symbiotic relationship, our part of the world is marred with “over-developed states and underdeveloped societies,” meaning that the state has no social basis and can act independently and at the behest of state functionaries and the political elite.

This kind of state can very effectively employ religion to its selfish ends. In the garb of an Islamic identity, the state in Pakistan took pains to keep other kinds of associations at bay. From textbooks in public schools to the supreme text of the constitution, state tried to consolidate an overriding Islamic character, bypassing the ethnic, sectarian, linguistic, religious and economic divides. The result was an alienating identity.

First, we alienated ourselves from Hindu community because we were Muslims, and then we kept on alienating millions of our own (the Eastern wing, followed by the peripheral groups including the Baloch, Seraiki, Sindhi and the religious minorities) in trying to prove that we were Muslims.

How 'Pakistani' would the relatives of Habib Jalib,those martyred at Ali Hajweri shrine and the Ahmedi worship places be feeling, or for that matter the IDPs from Swat, the separatists from Balochistan, and the millions of peasants and wage labourers, who despite their right to vote our incapable of bringing material improvements in their lives, is anybody’s guess.

So far, national fervor accompanied with a portrayal of others as our arch-enemies  has only helped the cause of the military, bureaucratic and political elite by providing them with one after another excuse to avoid spending on health, education and economic uplift projects. For the people it has brought poverty, misery and disillusionment.

Had state functionaries accepted that what Cyril Radcliffe drew on the sub-continent’s map was an amalgamation of diverse social groups, different linguistically, ethnically and religiously and provided them with proportionate representation in state-employment, education-sector, and above all the legislature, we could have avoided the present state of affairs and developed a more inclusive, multi-national and stronger Pakistani identity.
Umair Rasheed Works at the Lahore desk of The Express Tribune and tweets @umairrasheed1
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Mustafa | 13 years ago | Reply very impressive umair. You must write frequently.
zarrar | 13 years ago | Reply Well written umair. A very good insight, looking forward for more such work
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