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Threading the eye of a needle

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As an idea, nationalism is no more than 300-years-old. According to the British historian, Linda Colley in Britons: Forging the Nation, it first emerged in England in the early 18th century. It fully matured in the mid-18th century, especially during the 1879 French Revolution. The Industrial Revolution in Europe (between the mid-18th and early 19th centuries) saw a radical transition in manufacturing processes and abandoned the idea of nationalism into the mainstream political and public spheres.

Industrial Revolution triggered the growth of a more integrated economy and the expansion of the middle and merchant classes. These were not from ‘royal bloodlines' and families, nor were they strictly attached to farmlands in specific areas, but they were at the core of the emerging integrated economy. Consequently, they began to identify themselves as being part of a nation with a shared history, language and culture. This led to an integrated identity that shaped a people's geographical and ideological nationhood.

As this idea swept across Europe, it was eventually adopted by the middle-class intelligentsia in Asia, South America and Africa, which were colonised by the European powers. Ironically, in the event of the fall of traditional powers in their lands, this intelligentsia adopted the idea of nationalism of their colonisers to reawaken their people by defining them as nations. Thus, various nationalist movements emerged which went on to dismante colonialism, forming countries in the name of varied nationalisms. Nationalism largely constructed on the basis of a people, sharing a geopolitical entity called a country, often requires a lot more to keep people united and attached to an integrated economy, society and polity. This entails the exaggeration of facts and even the formulation of myths about an imagined historicity of the constructed nation based on a largely mythical history.

But such a scenario begins to erode especially within nations made up of various ethnic, racial and religious groups. The solution to this is a constitutional, and political and economic ethos based on civic nationalism as opposed to one formed on the basis of a dominant ethnicity, race or religion. Civic-nationalism promotes national existence based on a shared and integrated economy and a pluralistic political system and state. Otherwise, nations comprising more than one ethnic, racial or religious group, often give birth to ethnic nationalisms. Feeling exploited by a nation dominated by one ethnic group, religion or sect, other groups form their own nationalisms. Interestingly, the process is similar. According to Stephen Rittenberg's Ethnicity, Nationalism, and the Pakhtuns: The Independence Movement in India's North-West Frontier Province, the roots of Pakhtun nationalism mainly lie in the class tensions in the former North-West Frontier Province and Afghanistan; between the landed Pakhtun elite (the Khans) and the educated Pakhtun bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. These tensions gave birth to Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan's Khudai Khidmatgar movement in March 1930. It was a secular and Left-leaning movement which tried to combine modern political ideas such as socialism and democracy and ancient Pakhtun code of ethics — the Pakhtunwali — to challenge the powerful pro-British Khans. The Khudai Khidmatgar became part of NAP in Pakistan and took the same route to oppose what it considered to be a ‘dominant Punjabi ruling elite’. In 1986, NAP became the ANP.

But much of Pakhtun nationalist literature does not begin in March 1930. It begins hundreds of years before, even encompassing the Pakhtuns' pre-Islamic history, thus creating the myth that Pakhtuns were an ‘ancient nation’. It must be noted that a large part of Pakhtun nationalism was neutralised by the Ayub Khan regime when he (being a Pakhtun himself) integrated a number of Pakhtuns in the country's economic and political mainstream. Same is the case with Sindhi nationalism. This nationalism is basically the creation of some powerful nationalist Sindhi intellectuals who, between the 1940s and early 1970s, constructed a detailed narrative that described Sindh as a ‘land of Sufis'. This was done to project the Sindhis as an ancient nation whose religious disposition was historically opposed to the one being advocated by the State of Pakistan.

However, Sindhi Prime Minister, ZA Bhutto was successful in co-opting much of this narrative and making it a part of Pakistan's mainstream nationalist canon. For example, by 1975, it was the Pakistan Government promoting Sindh as the ‘land of Sufis'. Second, Bhutto and his party, PPP, further usurped the Sindhi nationalist narrative by becoming a bridge that links the common Sindhi with the centres of influence in Islamabad. That's why the PPP continues to overshadow Sindhi nationalist forces in Sindh. The roots of Baloch nationalism — a recent occurrence — mostly lie in an event in 1947 when the newly-formed State of Pakistan compelled the leader of Balochistan's Kalat area to accede to joining Pakistan. But Baloch nationalist literature too, quite like Pakhtun and Sindhi nationalist narratives, often describes the Baloch as a people who were “an ancient, independent nation”. Muhajir nationalism, on the other hand, does not bank on any myths of ancient nationhood. It can't because, unlike other ethnic groups in Pakistan, Muhajirs are a non-organic community, organised (in the late 1970s) as an ‘ethnic group' of Urdu speakers who migrated to Pakistan from various towns and cities of India. The Muhajir nationalist construction was a reaction to them feeling rudderless in a country with established ethnic groups and the fact that Muhajirs, who were once part of the ‘economic and bureaucratic elite' in the 1950s, lost this position in the 1960s.

A Constitution and a State based entirely on civic-nationalist and pluralistic ethos could have gone a long way in appeasing ethnic nationalism which sprang up in Pakistan. Instead, the State tried to address this by first trying to club all ethnic groups in a suffocating ‘one unit' scheme, then created extremist religious outfits to counter ethnic nationalists. Results were drastic. The plan was (and still is) a monumental failure. The Constitution, especially the one passed in 1973, was a pretty balanced document. That is, in its original form. But the amendments made to it between 1974 and 1998 changed its complexion. It now stands seemingly vague, contradictory and devoid of its original civic-nationalist character. No wonder then, most judges, parliamentarians and scholars continue to spend most of their time discussing how to slip a camel through the eye of a needle.

(Courtesy: Dawn)




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