Are we a nation?

Pakistan is endowed with enviable strengths on the basis of which we can claim nationhood

Are we a nation?

Are we a nation because we live in a country which was created on the basis of the two-nation theory? This is true if we agree with primordialist Guibernau’s definition of a nation,‘a human group conscious of forming a community, sharing a common culture, attached to a clearly demarcated territory, having a common past and a common project for the future and claiming the right to rule itself.’

Or are we justified to consider ourselves a nation because we ruled India for more than eight centuries and we have historic territory, shared myths and memories, a common public culture and common laws and customs; the ingredients of a nation defined by ethnosymbolist Anthony D. Smith?

Very often our people claim they share a particular national identity based on belief in a shared culture, history, traditions, symbols, kinship, language, religion, territory, or a founding moment. This claim is not wholly unjustified.

Our people claim they share a particular national identity based on belief in shared culture, history, traditions, symbols, kinship, language, religion, territory, or a founding moment. This claim is not wholly unjustified

Modernists are of the view that nations are neither primordial nor based on ethnic groups. Instead, nations and nationalism are the products of modernity.

According to Ernest Gellner, one culture attained through one education system in one medium gives birth to nations and nationalism. He states that people become nationalists through ‘genuine, objective and practical necessity’ and not from ‘sentiment or sentimentality’.

Modernists claim that at the onset of the industrial era, nationalism emerged as a ‘spontaneous’ reaction generated by the need for a semi-skilled mobile labour force, which required a common education system in a common standardised language to produce homogenised, easily ‘replaceable’ individuals.

In this way, the nation becomes basically a cultural enterprise.

If we judge our claim of being a nation in light of the modernist formula, we find ourselves lacking on many counts. We are divided in groups and sub-groups on the basis of religious, ethnic and provincial sentiments.

Our basic cohesive force of Islamic ideology is marred with controversies generated by sub-ideologies. Parts are undermining the whole. Sectarian lines of Sunnis, Shias, Barelvis, Deobandis, Wahabis etc have created ideological controversies over the role of Islam in our polity.

Local leadership plays up strong provincial identitiessuch as Punjabi, Pathan, Sindhi, Balochi, Gilgatis and Kashmiris which overshadow Pakistani identity.

Within provinces, strong sub groups jealously cling to their linguistic and caste based identities such as Siraikis, Jat, Arain, etc. In Khyber Pukhtunkhwa (KP), there are Pushto speaking, Hindko speaking, Hazarawal etc.

In Sindh, there are Sindhis, Muhajirs, and Punjabi settlers. Ethnic exploiters continue to trouble Karachi. In Balochistan, there are Pushtoons, Balochis, Barohis, Punjabi settlers etc.

Our political and constitutional history is plagued with military interventions and truncated democratic eras. Consequently, the country facedfall-outs like ethnic and linguistic prejudices, sectarian and provincial fissures, class disparity and intolerance; all of which generated violence, terrorism and economic debility.

Maleeha Lodhi has summed up the fault lines in Pakistan’s polity as power asymmetry between political and non-political actors, a feudal dominated political order, over-reliance on borrowed growth, national security goals, the role of foreign powers, and ideological controversies over the role of Islam.

We are endowed with enviable strengths on the basis of which we can claim nationhood. We have one national language—the essential ingredient of modernist definition—which keeps us tied across the country. A strong army is not only a defender of territorial integrity but also rises above the banes of ethnicity, sectarianism and provincialism.

We have effective state systems and institutions to run the country. Literature and the media are playing an active role to help create this ‘imagined community’, as explained by modernist Benedict Anderson. And last but not the least, we have the strength to stand united in times of adversity.

On these foundations, we can build the nation. Our constitution clearly defines our ideology which must be respected by all segments and forces in the country. One education system, a shared culture and meritocracy ought to be employed to generate sentiments of nationalism.

Justice and tolerance will strike down ethnic, sectarian and class divide. Our sterling traditions and history can be highlighted to further strengthen nationalistic sentiments. There is also no harm in narrating myths and memories which enhance pride in our nationhood. If we follow these steps, the nation and nationalism will thrive.

In our quest to become a proud nation, we must not develop hate for other people and other nations. We should be mindful of the fact rightly pointed out by Francis Fukuyama that nationalism has troubled international society since the French Revolution and plunged the world into two World Wars in the twentieth century. We must become a proud nation ready to coexist peacefully with other nations of the world.


The writer is Honorary Director Centre for Peace and Security Studies, University of the Punjab, Lahore, Masters in International Security, War Studies Department, King’s College London. Tweets at N Elahi@Aaibak



Published in Daily Times, July 18th, 2017.