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Nationalism and socio-economic development

17 October, 2015

By Riaz Missen


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Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has become under strong impression, and is inclined to believe, that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $50 billion infrastructure development project, is under serious threat by the forces that don’t want to see the people of this country prosper. These include both the home-grown militancy and the eastern neighbor, India.

Nisar, who is the central leader of Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), knows well the dynamics of domestic and regional politics. He knows well as to how the people, divided in brotherhoods and tribes, articulate and manipulate their collective interests with the state of Pakistan.

The racial groups and tribes, having stakes in bureaucracy, both civil and military, have been on the move since before the creation of Pakistan to enhance their space in the polity. Those not yet seen the dawn of prosperity have searched for proper place under the sun. The modern era has seen the birth of yet another phenomenon, ethnicity, which with the passage of time has given a particular direction to the country — the 18th Constitutional amendment has transformed Pakistan latterly into an ethnic federation.

Of course, India has the reason and the ability to pose the most serious threat to the integrity of Pakistan due to the reason that it occupies the regions wherefrom Indus River and its tributaries flow out. India occupies Kashmir and this fact defies both the reason and logic of partition of British India, which served as the basis of Pakistan movement.

The fact of the matter is that Pakistan is subject to pressures from both the eastern and western sides. After all, Iran is not that a simple country, merely managing its affairs in the Middle East. Its diplomacy has opened a window on its traditional foe, America and, consequently, brought Saudi Arabia to its knees.

Afghans have always been depending for their bread and butter on the planes of Punjab. They have been integral part of the Central Asian move to cross and occupy the other side of the Indus River. That Ahmad Shah Abdali could carve a state out of Iran was due to the fact that Mughal Empire had declined and there was none to keep him away from the Indus Valley.

Our security agencies may not be able to exactly locate the enemy but the reality is there. If Pakistan is in state of turmoil and lawlessness has become a major threat to the peace and prosperity of the country, it is clearly known that the state of affairs certainly goes advantage to one or the other neighbour around. Whether the nature of militancy is sectarian or ethnic, the gist of the matter is that it defies the writ of Pakistan over a swath of territory between the Durand Line and the banks of the Indus River.

In this backdrop, the wiser course for the decision-makers of Pakistan should have been to take the whole question of Pakistan’s survival against the fact that international boundaries divide its ethnic

groups among the surrounding counties. The case of Kashmiris, in this sense, is not that different from Pukhtoons and Balochs, which share tribal links inside Afghanistan and Iran.

The first and the most urgent task of the decision-makers, after the creation of Pakistan, should have been to link the existence of the country with history. After all there are traces of a state, greater than what we have right now, before the Arab invasion opened the door at Central Asian kings for invasion and occupation of the Indus Valley.

In the presence of enough natural resources, the most important one being the five mighty rivers, a varying landscape and the four seasons and the fertility to sustain robust agriculture, a strong and vibrant territorial nationalism was needed to defend the nascent state — something that the Quaid indicated to in his 11 August address to the 1st Constituent Assembly. But, quite unfortunately, communal /religious interpretation of Pakistan’s existence was adopted, giving ‘fair’ chance to ethnonationalism.

Why Pakistan did not move away from religious nationalism after the Fall of Dhaka? Now one may regard the conduct of the decision-makers as mysterious. The framers of the first ‘consensus’ constitution of the country assigned a vast space to the religious parties in the affairs of the state, which going by constitution is geared to be theocracy. Note the fact that the whole political scenario was dominated by the parties with their origins in the regions outside Punjab.

While the fact of religious militancy now stands exposed with loudspeakers turned off and the fiery hate-speakers finding difficult to meet their two ends, it is the extra-ordinary leniency towards ethno-nationalism that poses serious threat to the integrity of Pakistan.

The situation has becomes quite embarrassing after the devolution of power, which has rendered the ethnic provinces autonomous to the extent that the Centre can neither question their commitment to the socio-economic development process nor it can independently undertake mega projects (big water reservoirs) on its own.

While the Constitutional reforms (read 18th Amendment) have rendered Pakistan as an ethnic federation, it is hard to achieve the objective of national solidarity for the simple reason that the final goal of any ethnonationalism is not autonomy but independence for the associated group.

The constitutional reforms, which on the one side granted unprecedented autonomy to provinces and, on the other, killed the prospects of the new provinces, which a federation needs to create for effective delivery of public goods (health, education and justice), speaks louder about the mindset that once framed the Constitution and later reformed it.

Chaudhry Nisar, who has recently claimed the privilege directly interacting with the General Headquarters (GHQ), rather than through the Ministry of Defence, can be instrumental in drawing the fine line which nobody should cross. Militancy against state and its people, on whatever pretext, has no justification; it is the job only traitors do and glorify.

Chaudhry Nisar is exclusively right in believing and asserting that CPEC is under threat; so is the prosperity of Pakistan. What would certainly save this project, and the country from ultimate default, hinges on the ability of the decision-makers to check the growth of parallel nationalism, which the tribal mindset has spun to justify racial and tribal prejudices.

A strong nationalism, based on sovereign past of the region comprising Pakistan, is the only answer to the woes of Pakistan. A paradigm shift, whereby Pakistan, is taken as heir to a great civilisation of Indus Valley, will open the door of new politics. There is no dearth of forces acting to the benefit of the neighbours, even without being in league with them. It is basically the narrative, which glorifies racial prejudices in the garb of religion to undermine the logic of a vibrant and viable state.

Pakistan needs an ideology to infuse unity in a diverse society like Pakistan. Sect, race and ethnicity are divisive in their nature and, hence, can’t serve the basis of nationalism. Pakistan needs to explore its past for the way out. And guidance for the common citizens and the decision-makers as to how to manage affairs of the society and the state is so abundantly available in the works of sages, right from Baba Farid to Mian Muhammad Bakhsh, who dominated public discourse between 12th to 20th centuries in the Land of the Pure.

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