Pakistan has a plethora of inherited problems, but the identity crisis did not count as a major one only up until lately as we had more important national concerns to deal with, or the media has played its part in a mass-projection of this question. In either case, this question stands tall.
This crisis has more to do with our pre-Independence movement for a separate state than contemporary politics. Let’s dig into our history to answer the relevance of this expression: “the identity crisis”.
Much before the advent of the East India Company’s rule over the Subcontinent, there used to be numerous rulers designated various principalities. They would rule over different sects, religions, and ethnicities without any prejudice to a particular religion or language. Time passed and the reins of power came into the hands of the British. The Subcontinent was to embark on a journey that would be unprecedented in this region’s history.
Since our rulers were British and they were dictated by their Parliament in the UK, European politics, therefore, had a direct influence on us. This was the age of industrialisation in Europe: the mid-18th century. It was engulfed in the revolutionary ideas of nationalism and liberalism, courtesy of Rousseau, John Locke, and Thomas Hobbes.
Their ideas appealed to the indigenous people of particular nationalities, which began to rise for their common identity. The climax of these movements was evident in the revolt against the ancient regime in the French Revolution, and subsequently in the revolutions of 1830 and 1848.
In the Subcontinent, very much to the east of the nucleus of such movements, non of such ideas were appealing to the natives since they had lived with each-other for centuries. Muslim and Hindus, Hindi speakers and Urdu speakers all lived together in harmony without the prejudices of language or sect.
The British realised the fact that the movements that challenged the established order in the West, the liberals and nationalists, were futile in this part of the world. Gradually, as the East India Company rose to power, so did their ambitions to sharpen the grievances between the two majority religions so that they can not challenge the authority together.
It was 1857, the War of Independence, which set the tone for the Britishers to implement “divide and rule”, their notoriously famous strategy, in order to create disharmony amongst the two majority religions of the subcontinent.
It is crucial to underline the stark difference vis-à-vis the West and the East. In the West, the movements which glued the natives together were based on a common language and culture. The prime example is the Italians and the Germans who attempted their unification against the foreign occupation.
The East as in the Subcontinent, was not engaged in any movement inspired by a common language. The driving force here was religion, more appropriately the religious extremism, which came into life because of the British rule. It was the identical “divide and rule” practice that the Austrians used in their Hapsburg empire against the indigenous nationalities, which was experimented by the British in the subcontinent.
These are the roots from where the idea of identity crisis emerged, but it was to be addressed by the political geniuses of that time. The British gave this idea a life. The remnants of which we experience today.
Cut short to 1940, the year of the Lahore Resolution when the idea of Pakistan, a separate state, was presented for the very first time from the platform of All India Muslim League. The idea was for a separate country for Muslims. It is worth noticing that the Pakistan Movement was a protest against the Hindus as their lawmakers. The agenda of this movement was not based on common language or culture, as in the West, but was based on common religion.
Albeit, it started to undermine the regional ethnicities, the advocates of this movement considered “Muslimhood” above their “Culturalhood”. It was in this pretext that Quaid-e-Azam declared Urdu as our national language and not any provincial language. Would that he declared Sindhi or Punjabi as our national language, imagine the disruption that would have occurred because then the province whose language was the national one would be more dominant. This was the farsightedness of Quaid-e-Azam and his brilliance in politics.
The aftermaths of being multiethnic nation confronted the state in the form of Bengali nationalism, which questioned our two nations theory to a humiliating extent. But the cause of its separation was not only nationalism. It is a whole factual story comprising of various complex causes that led to the disaster of 1971, which will be the matter of some future article. Hence, it was not the identity crisis, but an agglomeration of various factors that led to the breaking of Pakistan.
Nevertheless, by and large, the idea of Muslim nationalism trumped the ideas of ‘regional nationalism’ throughout the course of our history, at least in the West Pakistan. The foundations of our nation were established based on embracing diversity and exploring it for our benefit.
The idea of muslim as a nation gave the impetus for a separate state to the Muslim League. But, as of now, the state of Pakistan, which came into being as a result, has obtained its own life, and now the citizens, in majority, owe their allegiance more to the state and want to be called as “Pakistani”. Debates like the state undermines our identity, which was of no noticeable importance during the struggle for Pakistan, not only are futile, but also further divide the citizens.
Embracing the principle of unity in diversity, somewhat like our neighbours, should be the mantra. Today, the only question that should remain relevant is: what part do we play, as citizens, in national integration?
Our historic identity is that we are the people of Indus Valley civilisation and this identity is distinct from Persia or the rest of India. River Kabul defines another civilisation. Indus Valley civilisation is a large region and has various regional diverse ethnicities and other fringe ethnicities draining into it.
Over the last century we have ascribed to a national identity based on Pakistan movement. But it’s more or less a citizenry overlaid on a deeply historical identity which is steeped in history and geography. Literature and cultural histories ascribe to this identity.
To explain this important distinction I can offer this opening verses of a poem:
جب اس دھرتی پہ نئ قوموں کی تخلیق ہوئ
ہم بکھرے لوگوں کہ گلدستہ کی تائید ہوئ
اک قوم تو شائد تھے ہی نہیں
مگر سبز ہلالی پرچم نے
کچھ ایسے خواب دکھاۓ کہ
ہم اس راہ پہ یکدم چل بیٹھے
So we are diverse ethnicities defined by the mighty Indus. Diversity is a strength and not a weakness and it ought to be respected and celebrated.
Readers may have noticed that I have not mentioned religion in the above discourse as it has changed over centuries from Hinduism to Buddhism to Islam but that’s not about identity
I can see that you are an optimist and that you’re putting a positive veneer on it. All the praise to you.
However, if you take religion away from Pakistan is there anything left? Didn’t Jinnah say it stands for “Faith, Unity, and Discipline”? [Not sure but perhaps he chose to draw a disinction from the pagan, disparate, and chaotic Hindus?]
You seemed to wipe away the millions of Muhajirs and Deccanis and others who migrated to Pakistan just ut of fear the Hindus are going to kill them (They did kill and the Muslim did the same). Or a distrust of Hindus’ capacity to make laws for Muslims. The syncretism of the Indus Valley civilization surely fed the soteriological streams of Buddhist, Jain, and various strains of Dharmic philosophies? Is the reason you say religion is not of consequence because Islam was a later import and adaptation with no roots here wheras those other “faiths” or philosophies were rooted here? I hope you can be honest with yourself. That has been our undoing: being ruthlessly honest with us. When we do, we can move on to build what can be. Rather than engineering perversely what was never there nor ever possilble.
All that said, no offense meant.
“Much before the advent of the East India Company’s rule over the Subcontinent, there used to be numerous rulers designated various principalities. They would rule over different sects, religions, and ethnicities without any prejudice to a particular religion or language.”
Really?! This is the problem with Pakistan – its wilful misreading of history entwined with a search for identity. One may as well as perversion of fact to suit its search for identity (instead of “misreading”).
Jump to your explanation of Bengali nationalism, two-nation theory going bust, etc. Wow! Are you sure you’ve completed middle school?
“It is a whole factual story comprising of various complex causes that led to the disaster of 1971, which will be the matter of some future article.”
Cannot wait for it, sir!
I can assure you there are millions (if not 100s of milliosn ) of Bengalis who don’t neccarily agree with “Banglabandhu” Mujib as their might be Indian who don’t agree with the fakir Gandhi or Jinnah’s own brown-saheb twin, Nehru. But find me one Pakistani who doesn’t deify Jinnah and I’ll give you a strong Pakistani with a deeply organic sense of identity. The lack of a capacity for critical thinking and lying to the self is charactersitic of Pakistanis. No one ever challanges this notion: ” This was the farsightedness of Quaid-e-Azam and his brilliance in politics.” No one ever notes his pettiness and his misreading of the trajectory of history. And, if they do, they will never comment. Just like Pakistan, ain’t it?
I respect your opinion and the way you articulated your words.
But. It would be a complete blind eye and a superlative state of intellectual paralysis if you only advocate “Bengali nationalism” as a force which broke Pakistan into two. There were economic, social and, above all, Indian intervention which cause the disintegration.
About Quaid: I would suggest you to read foreign authors in order to escape your pseudo-intellect state. How can you doubt his excellence in the subcontinent politics which praiseworthy academics like Ishtiaq Ahmed, and even his adversary Ayesha Jalal, accepts. He was a lawyer and he won his case for Pakistan is the most basic explanation I can offer to a state of mind which you are currently carrying in order to prove Jinnah’s excellence.
No offence meant (2).