Flaws of Pakistani nationalism

Published: January 3, 2015
The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and tweets @FarrukhKPitafi

The writer is an Islamabad-based TV journalist and tweets @FarrukhKPitafi

Oh you who guides the chosen few, I am okay to be led by you,

But do let me go astray, when the destination is but a step away…

Aey Jazba e dil, Behzad Lucknawi

He stands on the cricket pitch in his oversized pair of glasses with a totally clueless expression. In the background, his mother’s voice-over goes on: “What’s wrong with my son? He is not good in studies,” she wonders out loud, “he is not good in sports”. Then we are told that the little protagonist in the television commercial is suffering from iodine deficiency. And that was how the campaign for iodised salt was launched, or at least that’s how I remember it.

In case you are wondering what that has got to do with Pakistani nationalism, then the answer is: everything. Pakistan is not just a geographical entity, it is home to 180 million people. People who just refuse to die. Like Douglas Adam’s Vogons, these simple-minded, thick-willed, slug-brained creatures just refuse to perish despite evolution’s clear verdict against them. Their vessel, this country, too, like a Vogon’s ship, looks as if it has been not so much designed as congealed. But sadly bureaucratic as they are, there is nothing they — we — are good at. Sports we play to lose. Serious economics we rarely bother about. Imagination, what’s that exactly? And education? Surely, you are joking. So is the Pakistani nation, too, suffering from iodine deficiency of some rare sort? The answer to that will come a bit later. Let me explain why I am asking these questions.

After the Peshawar attack, we were expecting something concrete, something definitive. After week-long deliberations, our Treebeard and other political Ents came up with a 20-point to-do list. Sure, we hanged a few bad guys while doing so but that’s the extent of it. And in this 20-point National Action Plan (NAP), most are a bit too vague or abstract and may require a lifetime to implement. Compare it with how the US reacted in the aftermath of 9/11, or for that matter, India after the Mumbai attacks. But of the 20 points, one is easily doable. That of setting up military courts.

Terrorists threaten and kill judges and witnesses alike and then get away. Some run their crime syndicates from within prisons and break out of them whenever they want. So this is the simplest method possible. Task an officer to try them, because he can take the pressure. Then, if proven guilty, put them in a state in which they will not be able to kill more unarmed civilians and state functionaries. Troubling as it may sound, you will agree it is simple and realistic. But no wait. The civil society and our moderate politician friends who could not protect my civil liberties from terrorists for over a decade, remember the candlelight vigil for Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti and how many were there to attend them? But here is the problem. The ground I concede to the state can be recaptured. We know how to do it; we have done it all our lives. But the ground lost to the terrorists, to the TTP, to the IS or al Qaeda cannot be regained, ever. So why all this hesitation today?

Is it too much to ask to behave like a nation for once? I know you will say we are not a nation. Wake up, sir. I have travelled extensively throughout the length and breadth of this country. I have the seen expression on the faces of our Sindhi, Pakhtun, Baloch, Seraiki, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Muhajir and countless friends from other ethnicities when Pakistan loses a cricket match to India. I know what is in their hearts as it shows in their eyes. We are one bloody nation, one hell of a bloody nation, but a nation nevertheless. It is time to come out of denial and start acting like one.

Francis Fukuyama says social contract is not the only way to create nations and states. Wars do that too. Our generation has seen a fair share of them. So mothers, what this kid, this Pakistan, lacks, is not iodine, but the ability to come out of denial about its nationhood and nationalism. Nationalism is not the jingoism of Zaid Hamid et al but faith in a common purpose; in this case, survival.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2015.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Gp65
    Jan 3, 2015 - 2:07AM

    ” Compare it with how the US reacted in the aftermath of 9/11, or for that matter, India after the Mumbai attacks. But of the 20 points, one is easily doable. That of setting up military courts.”

    How US acted in the aftermath of 9/11 is being questioned. While setting up department of homeland security to co-ordinate terror related inelligence and upgrading airline security is appreciated – people question the 2 wars in he name of ‘War on terror’ and the cost in blood and money it imposed on Americans. Not just that, the Patriot Act which weakened fundamental freedoms of Americans is also being questioned. The kind of interrogation techniques used are now being seriously questioned in the Congress.

    Not sure what you think India did in response to 26/11 besides perhaps upgrading its coastguard. In any case, in India no air chief would agree to carpet bomb its own citizens in its own territory (e.g. the Maoists) – however much people maybe angry at the brutalty of the militants.

    Even Kasab was t tried by a military court but rather by a civilian court.mgiving up hard earned freedoms and oing for military courts due to fear simpy means Pakistan has lost o the terrorists and allowed them to snatch its freedoms. Please do not adocate military courts. Yes, improved witness protectio programs and protection to judges who try controversial cases is certainly called for.


  • Tousif Latif
    Jan 3, 2015 - 2:42AM

    When famous Bollywood director Mehboob made one of the most successful movie “Mother India”inculcating nationalism into Indian bones we ridiculed it as an attempt to fill in the ideological void.Today we are experiencing the same ,an ideological vacuum.National language,national dress,national game,everything national is despised.Our ruling elite invests abroad,lives abroad and have no serious engagemen with this country.Nationalism traditionally is the narrative of the capitalist class but unfortunately in our country baboos are the decision makers.Country may prosper or perish their fortunes keep on swelling.This are driving us to their ends!Recommend

  • wonderer
    Jan 3, 2015 - 8:49AM


    “After the Peshawar attack, we were expecting something concrete, something definitive.”

    If we had woken up after 26/11/2008 there would have been no 16/12/2014.

    “Is it too much to ask to behave like a nation for once?”

    No Sir, it is certainly not too much. But can you teach us how it is done? Pray, do it fast.


  • Vik Joshi
    Jan 3, 2015 - 10:16AM

    Dear @author… “…from other ethnicities when Pakistan loses a cricket match to India. I know what is in their hearts as it shows in their eyes….
    So can we then also conclude that you (Pakistanis) need India (with all negative vibes of course) in order to ‘survive as a nation’? All I can see here is that you guys seriously have a problem ‘upstairs’ i.e. in your own heads — sad to say this, and I mean it with all due respect. God Bless you all.


  • Ejaaz
    Jan 4, 2015 - 12:23AM

    Yes Sir, we are a nation. We are the fortress of Islam.


  • Sumit
    Jan 4, 2015 - 12:45AM

    Here are things India did apart from “upgrading coastguards”:
    1. NIA (National investigation agency) was formed. The Agency came into existence with the enactment of the National Investigation Agency Act 2008 by the Parliament of India on 31 December 2008.
    2. Post the 26/11 Mumbai terror strike, four regional hubs of National security guards (Black cats) were operationalised in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata to reduce reaction time.
    3. Maritime security was revamped
    4. Centre-State coordination and cooperation on matters related to internal security
    5. Modernization of equipment
    6. Increase in defense and security budget by large amount
    7. Correlation of internal threats with external security and vice-e-versa by the administration and the armed forces
    8. Special training of State Police and Central Para-military forces
    9. Development of multiple layers of security and more effective response mechanisms that was present at that time.


  • m7
    Jan 4, 2015 - 2:02AM

    You will not be a nation unless you stop using words such as “Muhajir”. This is the level to which you have to change.


  • Sheila Zulfiqar Ahmed
    Jan 4, 2015 - 2:05AM

    Mr. Farrukh…Its a very well written article , expression wise ..from the perspective of patriotism and one can feel you rightly sharing the pain of helplessness at the failure of our politicians to unite and deliver on this most crucial front of our national existence today i.e combating terrorism in the most robust way possible. The state of denial , notwithstanding , we are a Nation of great potentials and abilities and hence I didn’t like you comparing us Pakistanis with Douglas Adam’s Vogons although some of the characteristics could be similar but you could specifically refer to the similarities only rather than calling us entirely Vogons…We are currently not too good in Sports but we should not forget our past achievements and nascent talent …we have produced Economists like Dr Mehboobul Haq who had been hired by fellow Islamic countries to design their economic policies…We had a great banker in Agha Hassan Abidi …it is another matter that our Governments have been choosing ( willingly or by way of coercion ) to accept foreign economic advices and plans l more than any indigenous genius could have formulated for us and this is a big reason for our failure at the economic planning front. I could agree with you if you had mentioned the fact that currently we are lacking behind in such fields currently. National traits and national practices are two different things and unfortunately referring to Vogons refers to national character and trait more than practices Secondly we have all the ingredients of a great Nation and that is why AllahSWT helped us create Pakistan Hence this country is very much designed to be a great nation though our failure makes it appear more as if it has rather congealed into what it is today . Thanks for expressing our mutual pain at the failure of our politicians to confront the menace of terrorism with our full force and one can only hope those who oppose military courts may be able to correct their misplaced “humane” logic behind it…Lastly, Eide Miladun Nabi (S.A.W) mubarik to all .


  • javed Iqbal
    Jan 4, 2015 - 7:42PM

    @Ejaaz: Fortress of WHICH Islam???


  • Last Word
    Jan 4, 2015 - 10:01PM

    Nationalism is most dangerous when practiced to extreme and without humanism.


  • sridhar
    Jan 5, 2015 - 9:25AM

    ( I have the seen expression on the faces of our Sindhi, Pakhtun, Baloch, Seraiki, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Muhajir and countless friends from other ethnicities when Pakistan loses a cricket match to India.)
    Bad analogy. All above have been brainwashed to hate Indians (which they equate with hindus). Hence the common expression of disbelief/disdain at losing a cricket match to Indians.
    But State has not created a good mechanism by which these disparate ethnic groups can have a dialogue with each other, interact and understand each other.
    Today, middle class Indians are forging close contacts. My cousin in Delhi (a Tamilian) is married to a Punjabi hindu girl. When State creates a common platform (economic, intellectual, what have you), then things automatically happen.


  • Ehsan
    Jan 5, 2015 - 8:28PM

    Please live up to the moment, and just for once read the news in archive from the 80s. You will see the same narrative, simply because our neighborhood was attacked by a superpower.
    Again, we have the same thing going on. Our very identity is bein challenged, and we have certainly gone to New depths because Indians are telling us the meaning of Pakistan.
    Only five peaceful years and we will again lead. We did in 80s and 90s, we will do again.


  • Naveed Ahmad
    Jan 6, 2015 - 7:58PM

    Sir, no doubt you are right after an age of 68 years we are not not a nation because everyone has his own agenda and wants to apply it at any cost.. We don’t have 1 leader who can do that. After Peshawar tragedy we are still on the same wrong track we even don’t have yet decided our next plan it is on the way but after wasting crucial and important time what we will get from it?? Answer is nothing because we mix and confused our self with religion Islam is a religion of peace and love we should learn from it… No permanent policy is there from our so called experienced Sharif’s government.. Kindly do something positive and permanent to finish menace of terrorism from this land of happiness… we want peace and security. we want our children to remain alive… We have to join hands to get freedom liberty, peace and security. only we can win this so called war when we become one and as a nation we can defeat terrorism otherwise no attempt to get rid from it will fruitful at any cost. Without becoming one nation it is just as hammering a cold iron….


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