Pakistan was not formed as an Islamic nation. It was instead envisioned as a state designed to provide economic stability and opportunity to Muslims who, post-Partition, would otherwise have found themselves a minority in a predominantly Hindu nation. A state founded for Muslims is by no means the same as an Islamic state. Adding further to this confusion is the central question, what form of Islam was Pakistan meant to follow? Important also to remember is that it was not till 1956 that Pakistan was officially renamed the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’.
Time and again, Pakistan’s religious identity has been reinforced through military dictators such as Ayub Khan and Ziaul Haq. Ayub Khan strived to tie Pakistan to a religious identity through provisions in the First Amendment that clearly stated: “No law shall be repugnant to the teachings and requirements of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah.” Ziaul Haq ensured this was so in every aspect of daily life. Alienating moderate Islam and bringing a Wahabi interpretation into the public sphere, Zia changed Pakistan forever. An ideology so deeply rooted in the social fabric of Pakistan, it is not a surprise then that the country continues to struggle with an identity crisis 62 years later.
Adding to this crisis is the serious ‘anti-India’ paranoia that is embedded in our national history and social identity. At the most basic level, this is reinforced through the Pakistan Studies curriculum that teaches students little about Indian leaders and paints Muslim leaders as subjecting Pakistan to first an Islamic identity and then a nationalistic one. Such educational initiatives have given birth to a generation of Pakistanis marked with a politicised understanding of Islam and brainwashed by a strong anti-India rhetoric.
However, this generation is different. This is the first generation of Pakistan that is brave enough to question its government, army and intelligence agencies and argue against the supposed ideals of its state. Two reasons owe to this shift.
Firstly, the elite and urban youth of Pakistan today is more global. Whether at home or abroad, Pakistanis are interacting with their Indian counterparts through social networks, educational institutions and initiatives such as Seeds of Peace and Aman ki Asha, that foster better understanding between the future leaders of the two countries. Initiatives such as these are crucial if a combined South Asian identity is to be created based on equality, respect and mutual understanding.
Secondly and more importantly, is that the mass youth of Pakistan believe that domestic jihadi movements are a critical threat to the state. The problem they perceive is domestic bred and not a foreign entity. Bad governance, a weak state and lack of national security amongst other daily grievances have led the youth to believe that being a patriotic Pakistani does not entail being anti-India. The military leaders and policymakers of tomorrow are ready to mark a shift from the India-centric leaders of yesterday and today.
An easing of visa restrictions on both sides is hopefully the first step in many more to come. At some level, it is not the tangible grievances that separate the two countries but rather the pride that comes with them. Only an engaged and enhanced partnership based on mutual respect between both countries can trigger a dialogue. From what it seems, a proactive and educated youth is the answer.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 21st, 2011.