Pakistan’s Identity Crisis

Posted on January 17, 2016 Articles



Abductive reasoning commands, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” It is called the duck test and is quite useful too. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov used it only last year to justify the choice of his country’s targets in Syria. “If it looks like a terrorist, if it acts like a terrorist, if it walks like a terrorist, if it fights like a terrorist, it’s a terrorist, right?”

Today, Pakistan qualifies as a country on most counts and a nation state on many. But, somehow, the common perception within and without is that of an artificial nation, an inorganic unity, something liable to fall apart at any time. That it has already happened once in the past and Bangladesh is an independent country today lends credence to this theory. But it is a theory, all right. Anyone who has seen the pre-1971 map of united Pakistan will tell you that it was a painfully unrealistic entity. Two flanks of a country so far apart that their archenemy sat right in the middle, with less than zero common bond, could hardly think about staying together. It was a silly idea ab initio. The fact that they remained together for a quarter of a century shows how hard the poor things tried. But they were, ipso facto, never meant to be together. So they are not. This cannot be said about today’s Pakistan. Geographical contiguity trumps all arguments. Those who pretend to want to leave this federation do so just to be taken seriously. More of that later. Let us digress a bit.

One of the biggest myths of our times is the idea of organic nations. As if nations are born like organisms. They are not. They are created by men and their response to forces of history, namely chance, change and challenge. Every nation has a beginning, no matter how far back it goes in history. It is through regimentation of minds that they teach people to forget those humble origins. So what they say goes. Mother earth was not born pock-marked and scarred with national boundaries. Men banded together for convenience and created them. Therefore, every country in the world today, and I mean every country, has fault lines within it, many latent, most underrated and understated. But they do.

Then what shakes our self-confidence. Why do we refuse to believe we are capable of becoming a nation? Perhaps, the state’s own confidence is at fault here. Pakistan is what its makers made it. Jinnah made it a Muslim state, Liaquat Ali Khan an Objectives Resolution-compliant one, Bhutto a constitutional Islamic state and Zia a Sharia-compliant, war exporting, non-alcoholic beer. When it cannot be sure about its own identity, how can the state give us a plausible narrative? After 9/11, the state realised it cannot bank on religion for much longer. But it has done little about an alternative since then.

As a result, look at what the subjects are doing right now. Many in the religious circles would want it to lose its own identity and become a tiny part of a vast theocratic empire. Sub-nationalists, at least the ones with the bright idea of leaving the federation, would want this relationship to end and what comes next doesn’t matter. None of this country’s federating units can survive on their own as separate, independent countries. Other options are as dismal. For instance, why would a province that has incessantly complained about being ignored by a tiny federation comprising four units want to be a part of another, larger, messier one? I have reasons to believe none of them would want to end up as the 30th Indian state, the 34th province of Afghanistan or the 32nd Iranian province or part of a brutally oppressive Daesh empire. Strategic importance comes and goes. Not worth playing dice with fate.

We became a country in 1947 because no one truly wanted us. We are the white walkers. Dwellers of lands beyond the wall, beyond the peripheries. Anyone who offers us an olive branch today does so not in hubb-e-Ali but due to bughz-e-Muawiya. That interest, too, will pass. Then what?

The state, too, yeah the very state that passes the duck test, needs to change its attitude and think big. No glorified fiction needed for history. No one truly wants to leave you. Focus on opportunities and hearts and minds. Through the power of reason you can convince everybody. The ultimate proof of Pakistan’s viability is that it works.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 16th, 2016.