In Pakistan and abroad, the question of Pakistan’s “national identity”,â€œ or apparent lack of it’s â€œ is a hotly debated subject. It is often implied that Pakistanis struggle to define themselves â€œ an issue which, amongst others, has led to the unhappy state of affairs we find ourselves in today.
On identity, there are two fundamental ways of thinking. The first suggests that a “successful” national identity can only be one that is homogenous, rigidly defined and strictly followed, with any difference or deviance deemed unacceptable. The more similar people think they are, the more likely they are to stick together. This may sound simple enough but the reality is far more complex, particularly in a country as spectacularly diverse as Pakistan. With a multitude of faiths, ethnicities, languages and cultural affiliations co-existing within one national boundary, any exercise to crush difference and force sameness on people cannot end well â€œ we have only to look back at the events of 1971 to know this.
So how else can one ‘hold together’ a nation of 180 million?
The second viewpoint suggests that instead of frowning upon difference we could just embrace it. Instead of devising schemes to veil our diversity, we could celebrate it. Our greatest strength could be the fact that so many different histories and experiences have come together to form a country where each citizen can claim to be Pakistani with equal confidence. This would be so much easier than constantly having to devise “false nationalisms” to persuade people that they are, and have to be, the same. However, this union can only ever be a voluntary enterprise, which is why suppressing a people’s language, denying someone the right to practice their faith or not allowing a province to exercise meaningful powers will not work.
It’s high time we stopped playing the politics of exclusion, spending all our time deciding who is more or less Pakistani. Rather, we should utilize the brilliance and potential of our 180 million-strong population, over 60% of who are under the age of 25. And let’s be proud of the fact that a country created from the aspirations of many and the resolve of a few still stands today, despite the gloomy predictions of those who were convinced of its eventual failure.