Pakistan remains a state in search of a nation
It is a question that has vexed Pakistan ever since it came into being in 1947 on the back of Jinnah’s two-nation theory. Simply put, that involved seeing the subcontinent’s Muslims as a distinct nation who deserved their own state, resulting in a geographically separated, ethnically disparate but religiously homogenous construct called Pakistan. India views the failure of the two-nation theory behind the 1971 breaking away of Bangladesh from this construct, but that does not tell the complete story. The emergence of Bangladesh was as much due to the absence of democracy, representative politics and federal structure in the erstwhile Pakistani state as it was due to the failure of a common religion as a basis for statehood. In any event, the emergence of an independent Bangladesh created even more doubts and questions on what exactly constitutes the Pakistani nation. Consciously and unconsciously, Pakistan has ended up trying to become an antithesis of India.
Attempts were made in the late 70s and 80s to infuse Pakistan with a more Middle-Eastern/Central Asian identity in an effort to dilute the geographic and cultural connection with the Indian subcontinent. However, notwithstanding the bloodiness of Partition, Pakistan’s most influential province, Punjab, is linked by language, culture and cuisine with the Indian subcontinent. So is Sindh, the second largest province. The realities of these links made it difficult for the shapers of Pakistani nationhood to deny links with obvious subcontinental (or South Asian) roots.
In an op-ed in The News, Ahmed Qureishi takes another look at the conundrum of Pakistani nationalism, but fails to evolve a reasonable position. There was no Pakistan before 1947, just as there was no Republic of India before 1950 so the question of which country was ‘partitioned’ out of the other is an irrelevant. But it is inconsistent to suggest Pakistan existed in some form since the Muslim invasion of the subcontinent a millenium ago while at the same time denying the religious dimension of Pakistani nationalism (and hence, the two-nation theory). Similarly, tracing back the roots of Pakistani ethnicity to Central Asia does not sufficiently distinguish it from its Indian linkage, because many Indians, especially in the Northern states, trace their roots back to the Aryan invasion.
The real answer to evolving a Pakistani identity is not to look at history for an answer, for the history of Pakistan is inextricably entangled with the history of India, or as some would argue, was a part of it until 1947. The answer lies in looking towards the future; for whatever reason, the Pakistani state is a reality today. Its more urgent need is to evolve a consensus on where it wants to go from here, not where it came from. For different reasons, the same holds for India too.
Related Link: Pakistan: Nationalism without a Nation, edited by Christophe Jaffrelot.