Of National Identity
by Mohammad Akbar
Continuing from my last week’s writing; the political parties are in great position to instill a new idea of identity in the masses. Our intelligentsia and academics need to partner up with these political parties. It is easier to sit during talk shows and comment in length on what is wrong with the political parties and an entirely different thing working alongside them to better them. We have political parties claiming to have national outreach and being equally representative but not many believe that such claims are sincere? If anything, we need a political party that could at once be representative of those living in Swat valley and those living in the plains of Southern Punjab. At the time of independence, the Muslim League was supported by a passion that had more or less equally strong following in Punjab and as well as Bengal. The masses need basic necessities of life; any sort of promise related to these necessities is most welcome but who actually delivers? It is maybe because of an absent unification force that efforts at development have been sporadic and unrepresentative; there is grievance amongst the vulnerable segments of society and dissatisfaction amongst the more privileged. But at all times we know that we can do more for ourselves; but the problem is we do not know to what end we will be sacrificing our resources; in the end we choose to benefit ourselves and others on basis of sect, religion, caste and ethnicity and hardly ever as Pakistanis.
It was easier before 1947, the Muslims of Indian Subcontinent had a collective vision which was championed by a political party that was indeed true to its words and was truly representative. We had a common enemy to work against; the colonial forces. But today, we think as individuals, I sit here, thinking about my future, any sort of undertaking benefitting those around me depends upon who I am as an individual and not because of some sense of duty as being a citizen. A common man will only contribute to good governance if he feels some sort of faith restored in the mechanisms of governance. The social contract will only come into play once the people feel the presence of a state; for most part state fragility is becoming more apparent in recent times.
We spend endless hours deliberating over development problems and how to tackle them but out there in the masses, we need to make the soil fertile so that the efforts to sustain development can be fruitful. The masses need an identity they can relate to. The identity of Pakistan needs a definition because we need to behave and act as a nation; previously mixing state and religion has not worked well for us and a secular state will appear as scandalous to many. We need to renew our approach towards defining what being a Pakistani means for the generations to come. The most important actor undoubtedly in this process is the youth as they form a major chunk of the population; the youth is more educated than their predecessors and more aware of the challenges that today’s world represents. So far we are only striving to compete with the West in terms of development and economics without realizing that in today’s world their national identities are well defined and continue to serve as an important something that they hold on to, something most of us in Pakistan do not accord the value it deserves, the value it demands.
Our nationalism is muddled with religious and nation state impulses and as both of these come into conflict, our identity gets muddled. The problem is that these two are becoming increasing mutually exclusive and a lot of that has to do with our half-hearted experiments with religion like the attempt at Islamization during the 1980s, international trends such as War on Terror and our own brand of fanatics. We don’t want to be extremists but we certainly don’t want to be secular either.
This crisis will find become increasingly difficult as the masses gain consciousness from their long and deep slumber. The duty rests with the intellectual and political elite who are shaping the future and who are also providing leadership for the country. It is these people who have to broaden their visions and project a better Pakistan in future into the minds of Pakistani people.