Crisis of Nation- building in Pakistan

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Pakistan, a major South Asian Muslim country ranking seven in the population worldwide, is currently passing through a turmoil encompassing almost every aspect of national life, marked by internal rifts, instability, conflicts, economic stagnation and an atmosphere of uncertainty. If we analyse the underlying reasons behind this state of affairs, we can pinpoint many reasons but one fundamental question raised is that whether Pakistan is suffering from all this due to failure in amicably undertaking the process of Nation-building since its inception. If so, what are the factors which caused this failure and what implications this failure caused for Pakistan. Historical analysis of the country before and after independence will be carried out to reach to any conclusion as nation-building is an abstract construct which cannot be described in empirical terms and can only be discussed in descriptive manner.

According to encyclopedia Wikipedia Nation building refers to the process of constructing or structuring a national identity using the power of the state. Scholar are divided on the basis of nation. Some favour ethnic nationalism who consider shared identity, culture, belief in common ancestors and history as the basis of nation. On the other side some consider common geographical boundaries or territories as the bais of nation. In the latter case geography overrides other factors but it needs a conscious deliberate effort because according to Walker Lonner the essence of nation is psychological.

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In the current discourse of development, the concepts of Nation- building and State building have got major importance both for the purpose of consensus building and establishment of political order. If the people of an area intend to develop in any sense of the word, one of the most crucial step to be taken by them is the establishment of a collective body to organise their internal matters and make dealings with other people. In the pre-modern era loyalty to an empire and affiliation to a religious fraternity were considered the cohesive forces that contributed as building block for the creation of such collective body.In the modern era, with the rejection of monarchy and religion as the basis of political unity and action there had to be carved out new foundations for the establishment of political entities (known as State and Nation in the modern era). Europeans were the pioneers in this process who successfully established natural states on the basis of languistic or racial affiliation. Although they had to pay the price in the form of two bloodiest World wars in this process, but at last they were overall successful in settling this matter on enduring basis.

When European powers colonised the countries of Latin America, Asia and Africa, they tried to transform the societies of those countries in the light of their own historical experience. In this regard they endeavoured to export their concept of nationalism and state formation to the colonised areas through the use of education and political power. They were successful to create a local elite class who internalized these ideas but they remained unsuccessful in infusing these ideas across the masses of the colonised world who remained embedded in their primitive thoughts of kinship, tribe and religion.

If we particularly focus Indian sub—continent, we can easyily observe that during the colonial period the most obvious division which emerged was religious divide between Hindus and Muslims. There are various reasons described by scholas of different schools of thought. Some consider it a result of British Empire’s policies of divide and rule evident from the Partition of Bengal on religious lines by the Britishers in 1905 and promulgation of separate electorate for religious groups in 1909. Some regard it the result of fear of Muslim minority from the dominance of Hindu majority in the future independent democratic India and some consider it a natural outcome of the vast Civilizational and cultural gap between the two. Indian National Congress, the main self-proclaimed secular force at that time, headed by Ghandi and Nehru, proclaimed all Indians to be consisting of a single nation.

The basis of this proclamation was negation of any religious, ethnic and linguistic identity to be the foundation of nationhood and affirmation of common Indian civilizational heritage as the valid foundation of nationhood. Ghandi said, “The English have taught us that we were not one nation before and that it will require centuries before we become one nation.This is without foundation.We were one nation before they came to India…It was because we were one nation that they were able to establish one kingdom. Subsequently they divided us.”

In contrast All India Muslim League, claiming to represent the Indian Muslims, headed by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, proclaimed the Muslims of the sub-continent as a separate national entity, apart from other inhabitants of India. Their proclamation was based on religious identity as well as conscious affiliation with the heritage of distinct Islamic Civilizational and conscious detachment with Indian Civilization. Jinnah said, “Mussalmans are a nation according to any definition of nation and they must have their homelands,their territory and their states…We wish our people to develop to the fullest our spiritual, cultural, economic, social and political life in a way that we think best and in consonance with our own ideals and according to the genius of our people.” In 1940, after the failure of endeavours to come on any constitutional arrangement with Conress, Muslim League demanded the division of India on religious lines and creation of independent Muslim state consisting of Muslim Majority areas of British India. After seven years of this demand Pakistan emerged as a separate state on the World map. From the onset Pakistan had to face internal contradiction regarding its national identity.

First of all Pakistan was based on Muslim religious nationalism, which extends to all the Muslims of the world beyond geographical boundaries. So it was not clear what distinguished and separated Pakistani Muslims from other Muslims living in different parts of the world as well as the neighbourhood of Pakistan. The same question was iterated by a prominent Baloch nationalist leader Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo in these words while speaking to the parliament of princely state of Qalat in opposition of proposal of annexion of the state with Pakistan in 1947. “We are Muslims but it is not necessary that by virtue of that we should lose our freedom and merge with others. If the mere fact that we are Muslims requires us to join Pakistan, then Afghanistan and Iran both Muslim countries should also amalgamate with Pakistan”.

Secondly, what would will be the position of other religious minorities living in such a country which was considered to be a state established for the Muslims. A third question emerged was that what was the relation of those Muslims who remained in India with the newly established Pakistan because during Pakistan Movement the demand articulated was the creation of a state for the Muslims of whole India and it is also an historical fact that the Muslims of Muslim minority provinces contributed far more than Muslim majority provinces in struggle for the creation of Pakistan. Principally these questions had to be addressed intellectually and politically by the new leadership.

Related to the same, there was also issue of reorientation of the state in accordance with the aspirations of the people and promises of the leaders. Founder of the state and father of the Nation Muhammad Ali Jinnah didn’t survive long and died soon only after one year of the establishment of Pakistan. The colonial state structure, the new state had inherited in the form of civil and military bureaucracy was indeed possessing capacity to function well but it had got over-developed at the expense of political democratic institutions. Moreover entrenched in its colonial mindset and traditions, it couldn’t deliver in the direction mentioned above without proper overhauling. Overhauling could not happen because independence and division was achieved by peaceful and legal manner without any upheaval. The founding party ie Muslim League, which was supposed to provide national agenda, cohesion and leadership to the nation proved incompetent and incapable in this regard. The leadership of Muslim League mainly belonged to elite class predominantly landlords having no meaningful connection with the masses.

Elite class had maintained a Patron-client relations with the state officials during the colonial period which they kept on unchanged after independence without realising the changed circumstances. This caused a pre-dominance of civil and military bureaucracy over politicians in formulation of national policies and setting of national agenda. Being secluded from the aspirations of common people and enclaved in their bureaucratic tunnel vision, the bureaucracy focussed only on solving day to day administrative affairs instead of engaging itself in any serious process of agenda setting.

Thus ambiguity in national identity and postponement of the task of national agenda setting hampered the process of nation-building. A further major setback was the imposition of Martial Law for four times in the history of the country which removed any hope of consensus building and development of the institutions which could be helpful in nation-building process in the long run. The vacuum was filled by the uprising of linguistic ethno-nationalism as the country was prone to it due to cultural and linguistic diversity in the areas comprising Pakistan. This diversity combined with the hue and cry of real and perceived injustices with the federating units due to over-centralisation during the long Martial law regimes, resulted in the debacle of Eastern part of Pakistan in the shape of Bangladesh in 1971 because of unripened nation-building process. Four times insurgencies occurred in Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan by area and Urdu-Sindhi Riots errupted in the first half of the 70’s in Sindh province, were also the product of this phenomenon. In the same way ethnic confrontation between different ethnic groups which has been going on in the biggest economic hub of the country i.e Karachi for the last two and a half decades is also the outcome of this unresolved crisis.

Pakistan, a nation devoid of any historical roots because of absence of centuries old history as ‘Pakistani nation’ does require a state-led process of Nation-building by highlighting commonalities, structuring national ethos on the basis of these commonalities, operationalising them in terms of practical steps and embedding them in national collective consciousness through well-thought education. We don’t need to construct them rather we need to structure them in an inspiring manner and more importantly to formulate our internal and external policies in accordance with those ethos instead of paying lip-service to them. According to 1973 consensus based constitution the four basis of our national identity and unity are Islam, federalism, parliamentary democracy and respect of basic human rights. If Islam can motivate and mobilize people elsewhere in Arab countries, Iran, Turkey and Malaysia, it can show its magic in Pakistan in a more profound way because Pakistan is pioneer in constructing its polity on the basis of Islam. It can serve both our cultural and ideological purposes.

The only requirement is to adopt Islamism, complete adoption of Islamic system, rather than shallow Muslim nationalism which has proved unsuccessful in providing strong base for national identity, solidarity and cohesion. It will resolve all the unsettled questions by presenting Pakistan as the base camp for pan-Islamic unity and by demonstrating the benevolent relations with non-Muslim minorities according to the teachings of Islam. Pakistani people have shown their want for democracy by struggling for this cause. Democracy will foster sense of participation and empowerment in the public and will help in extending avenues of consensus building. By more commitment to federalism we can ensure decentralisation of power and provincial autonomy which will enhance national cohesion. By keeping regard of human rights we will be able to develop a more civilised society where every citizen will live happily.

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Crisis of Nation- building in Pakistan. (2016, Sep 01). Retrieved from

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