There is a lot of debate about the two nation theory and whether it was the right approach to demand a separate country for Indian Muslims. But the real question we should be asking is what the national identity of Pakistan is today. The utility of two nation theory expired on August 14th 1947 after achieving the purpose. Now we have to come up with a new model that defines Pakistani identity.
A nation is defined as a group of people that have shared cultural, linguistic and historic tradition. Language plays a dominant role in defining a nation for instance China, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, Iran and Greece are all linguistically defined nations. But no country is 100% homogenous comprising of only one ethnicity. Culture is another factor that brings people together to form a nation. In modern times shared values and ideologies have emerged as builder of national identities. America, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia are diverse societies but are held together by set of values that permeate all cross sections of the society.
Most of the Muslim countries have failed to construct national identities because of natural tension with pan-Islamism. Islamic scholars have promoted the idea that nationalism is an antithesis to the values promoted by the religion. This requires substantial debate. The most basic objective of any political unit is to serve the people residing within its domain. From that perspective almost all verses of Quran related to charity makes it clear that it should be dispensed on relatives, neighbors and those passing through the city. All these segments of a society are local in its reach. Similarly Islam recognizes cultural diversity of the people and instruct to celebrate it rather than oppress it but does not recognize it as a political unit. Charter of Medina was signed on this premise. When these two things are combined it is quite clear that countries with definite boundaries are not anti-Islamic in nature. As far as pan-Islamism or foreign policy is concerned, Quran instructs that countries with Muslim majorities should form security and trade alliances with each other.
Pakistan is at the early stage of nation building with no unique well defined identity of its own. We are currently a tribal society with ethnic and sectarian identities being more prominent rather than a shared vision, values and ideology that tightly bind us all together. Islam is a universal religion so it does provide us with a strong sense of affinity with other Muslim majority countries but when we try to bring it down to define our narrow national values it creates tension. Islam, as a dominant religion in Pakistan, can provide broad set of values that are acceptable to all citizens. For instance, freedom of religion; social justice; charity; freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly are all Islamic values.
Based on the above discussions, what should be the parameters of Pakistani identity? We have to first identify the vision in persuasion of which we all came together to form a nation. That vision which is abundantly clear from Quaid-e-Azam speeches was formation of an Islamic Social Welfare state on the pattern of Charter of Medina. Charter of Medina offered equal citizenship rights to all and non-discrimination in justice.
Culturally we have to stop identifying ourselves with Central Asia. We are a South Asian country and our cultural values are derived from it. Although many invaders came from Central Asia to South Asia for its riches but they all had to assimilate with the dominant culture of the conquered people. Our dress, cuisine and traditions are unique as compared to India but have a strong underlying component derived from it. Our ancestors might have been Hindu or Budhists but we can’t ignore that our genes are derived from them rather than those who were alien to our lands. Consider that Arabic language and culture existed before the advent of Islam and those cultural values continued after it. Our curriculum should be focused on the achievements of our forefathers and their contribution to the world in medicine, physics, chemistry, architecture and mathematics. We have to redesign the history courses to reflect these facts so that our youth have a stronger sense of identity with their past with which they can align themselves. Taj Mahal is as much a heritage of us as it is for India. It may be located in Agra but its roots spread to Pakistan.
Language is a dominant factor in nation building and for us it is Urdu. Quaid-e-Azam emphasized in his Dhaka University address that Urdu should be the national language of Pakistan. He was not discriminating against Bengalis as many commentators are proposing but that it was a neutral language with the potential to become an international cultural force. He did not propose that federating unit should give up their languages but rather that the national and official language should be Urdu. He was looking far ahead in the future and understood that accepting regional languages will never allow a Pakistani nation to emerge. Secondly none of these regional languages were as refined as Urdu to become a cultural force. The reason is that Urdu is one of the youngest international languages and fixed many structural short comings that other languages have to live with. Today Urdu is emerging as a fast growing international language. It is now understood in India, Pakistan, Middle East, and Africa. It is about time that Pakistan provide it a necessary boost by making it an official language and slowly phase out English. We can learn from the example of Algeria which has successfully introduced Arabic as an official language replacing French despite being a colony of France for over 150 years. It is interesting that elites of the country educated in English medium schools instead of adopting its script are promoting roman Urdu. Almost all billboards in major cities are written in Urdu with English script. This trend is damaging for promotion of Urdu and should be discouraged.
Our politicians and religious scholars have been playing the card of ethnicity and sectarianism for political gains. These acts have been detrimental to our nation building efforts. Going forward we have to withheld our support from all these divisive efforts and marginalize them. Without a stronger nation with its own unique identity we cannot claim our rightful place in the community of nations. All nations have to go through this process of removing divisions and cleavages. But if we don’t start the journey today we will never reach the destination. It is about time we celebrate and take pride in our Pakistani identity.
By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi