Politics of nationalism

Can only development and speaking for the rights of the province be described as nationalism?

Syed Akhtar Ali Shah March 10, 2021
The writer is a practising lawyer. He holds PHD in Political Science and heads a think-tank ‘Good Governance Forum’. He can be reached at aashah7@yahoo.com

Nationalism as a modern movement is taken as a sentimental attachment to the soil, and feeling of being one through a historic process. Historically, people have remained glued to their native soil, to the traditions of their parents, and to established territorial authorities. The spirit of nationalism gained impetus towards the end of the 18th century, shaping public and private life as one the greatest determining factors of modern history. Because of its mesmerism and all-encompassing character, nationalism is often thought to be very old; sometimes it is mistakenly regarded as a permanent factor in political behaviour. The flowering of nationalism began during the 19th century in Europe and in Third World countries, in particular Asia and Africa, during the 20th century. To this end, the Pakhtun political landscape is no exception.

Khushal Khattak, Ahmad Shah Abdali, and Ghazi Amanullah are considered to be the precursors of Pakhtun nationalism in history. While Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan, Khan Abdul Wali Khan and Abdul Samad Achakzai stand out as one of the greatest exponents of that nationalism, the spirit of nationalism was carried forward by Khan Abdul Wali Khan along with a dedicated core of leaders such as Ajmal Khattak. Poets, writers and scholars like Ghani Khan, Qalandar Momand and Kakaji Sanobar Hussain Momand further helped augment the feeling of nationalism among the people.

Nationalism has remained the cardinal principle of Khudai Khidmatgar, National Awami Party, National Democratic Party and now the successor, Awami National Party (ANP). The slogan has remained the rallying cry of the party. At the same time, Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party under Mahmood Achakzai also claims to be a nationalist party working for the upliftment of Pakhtuns. Similarly, the Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) has also been organised on the same lines.

Recently, another group of youths, having two MNAs and an MPA, has been organised claiming to be the true torchbearer of Bacha Khan.

There is no doubt that among all these political entities, the ANP has a greater historical legacy full of sacrifices dating back to 1909. Therefore, the present leadership of the party offers themselves as the true and rightful representatives of that legacy to the exclusion of all others.

In response, during 2008, the people of NWFP — now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) — overwhelmingly elected them to the provincial assembly by providing a chance to implement their ideology. To their luck, they forged an alliance with Pakistan Peoples Party at the Centre and in the province. The PPP under the leadership of Asif Ali Zardari stood for provincial autonomy and so did PML-N, with a government in Punjab. The 18th Amendment is considered as a landmark achievement towards provincial autonomy and the rights of the provinces in the affairs of government. The ANP used the occasion as a bargaining chip to rename NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa but due to the vehement opposition from the PML-N, it had to remain content with Khyber as a prefix to Pakhtunkhwa; as such the dream could not be fully realised. Again, the sense of identity remains blurred due to the common use of K-P instead of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Although the party had successfully launched and completed development schemes with a vast network of universities, colleges and schools, it lagged behind in promotion of Pashto as a compulsory subject in schools. To date, majority of the students cannot read and write Pashto, therefore, these students are not familiar with Pakhtun national heroes and Pashto literature.

Can only development and speaking for the rights of the province be described as nationalism? If so, Jamaat-e-Islami leaders like Senator Mushtaq and Inayatullah Khan are also pleading the case for provincial rights through their assembly speeches and public writings. The same stands true for Ahmad Kundi of PPP who with facts and figures presented the case of the rights of the province in the provincial assembly. Akram Durrani of JUI also follows the same lines. Recently, the addition of other streams of nationalism, consisting mostly of youth, is not only a new dimension but also a fragmentation of nationalist forces. In this context, if all are singing the same song with the same tune then what is the difference?

With this new trend, while many political parties are harping on the rights of smaller provinces or of K-P, nationalist parties with historical legacy must do some introspection to appear different, attractive and acceptable to the masses. No doubt that their historical legacy in the form of politics, poetry, short stories, novels, and sacrifices is a great asset. Despite that they have not made substantial progress in parliamentary politics. Obviously, something is missing.

New situations require new solutions according to the dictates of the times. Mere ethnic slogans are not enough to attract people unless these parties espouse the causes of the toiling masses, speaking their language and problems. Besides claiming to be ideological and nationalist they have to organise dedicated cadres, giving space to merit and not only to the rich. Such parties must not be dominated by the feudals, industrialists and big businessmen but by intellectuals, professionals, members of the middle class, and above all, working class and the youth to achieve their vision.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2021.

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