By Shirin Naseer
As a country that was created to protect the rights of a minority within the subcontinent, Pakistan started off as a guarantor of equal rights and opportunities for all subjects of the state. Unfortunately, with the passage of time, due to a lack of clarity in its foreign policy objectives and political instability, multiple problems related to security and the evolution of a national identity arose. With the rise of Bhutto in the early 1970s and the intense Islamization drive launched by General Zia later, Pakistan’s crisis of identity only deepened. The idea that the state would have nothing to do with the religion of its subjects, that they were free to go to their temples, churches and mosques as highlighted in Jinnah’s inaugural address was put aside to gain short-term benefits from aligning foreign policy objectives to those of global superpowers. The notion that Pakistan was an Islamic state rather than one with a majority Muslim population also made it difficult to construct an inclusive definition of Pakistani nationhood.
Today, the country is at the brunt of religious and sectarian bigotry and hatred as scores of innocent Pakistanis lose their lives to violence and lapses in the security infrastructure and a lack of political will to reshape Pakistani identity. The role of religion has always been important in Pakistan because religion was used also as a tool to mobilize people who were ethnically and racially diverse otherwise. Jinnah’s early demise kept the nascent country from fully understanding the role of religion after its creation. Debate on Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan: whether it was to be secular or not, is still inconclusive. While some saw it as an articulation of the desire for Pakistan to be a secular country, others feared that the Pakistani state would crumble if it separated itself from religion.
No matter which side of the debate one falls on, one cannot deny the damage caused by the thoughtless manipulation of religion to fill the vacuum left by the inadequacies of the political leadership in paving way for the evolution of Pakistani nationhood. At a societal level, there is a glimmer of hope as people have shown their will to stand up to terrorism and extremism after the Peshawar Attack. The idea that needs to be driven home is that Pakistan is merely a Muslim majority country where people belong to diverse ethnicities, religions, and cultural backgrounds. This may be difficult to manage given that the problems faced by the country have been allowed years to grow but it is not entirely impossible. The consensus between Pakistan’s political parties for a full-fledged revamp is awe inspiring and encouraging. It is the perfect time to reshape the concept of Pakistani national identity: Pakistan’s only salvation lies in this.