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Reconciliation between Pakistani nationalities – by Shahid Ilyas

This article is exclusively written for the LUBP by our valued reader and member of the Pakhtunkhwa Peace Forum (PPF) Shahid Ilyas. We are thankful to him for sharing his thoughts with us on this very important issue. (aliarqam)

Nation-building or reconciliation between nationalities

Far from being successful in building a “nation”, successive Pakistani rulers have not been even able to reconcile the different nationalities inhabiting the country. Before expanding on this, understanding what exactly a nation is, will be in place. The following are some of the definitions:

1-     an aggregation of persons of the same ethnic family, often speaking the same language or cognate languages.

2-     A nation is a group of people who share common history, culture, ethnic origin and language, often possessing or seeking its own government.

3-     the totality of people who are united by a common fate so that they possess a common (national) character. The common fate is … primarily a common history; the common national character involves almost necessarily a uniformity of language. (Otto Bauer, Austrian socialist)

4-     Nations are culturally homogeneous groups of people, larger than a single tribe or community, which share a common language, institutions, religion, and historical experience.

5-     a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory.

Applying the above elements to the peoples living in Pakistan, one is frustrated, to say the least. Do the Baluchis, Sindis, Pakhtuns and Punjabis share a common language, culture, history? Do they cherish common heroes?

Some of my friends will argue for a Pakistani nationalism on the basis of common citizenship and the principles of equality and the rule of law. With them it can be argued that the Pakistani state has neither offered an equal citizenship (theory not withstanding) to its people nor the rule of law. They can put forward the case of India, but it can be argued that neither India is the best example in terms of national cohesion nor can be Pakistan compared to India in terms of democratic traditions, the gap between haves and have-nots, economic growth, democratic governance, the practice of federalism, and last, though not the least, the sheer size of India that makes it more than just a state.

Pakistan has, however, been successful – though to a very limited extent – in forging a sort of “national-identity”, a feeling of oneness between the citizenry, on the basis of the religion of Islam – the raison d’etre for the creation of the islamic republic. But this identity, as we see on daily basis, has backfired and has taken a sinister turn, in which we see the Punjab based lashkars rushing to Waziristan to help their Pashtun counterparts there and vice versa.

Something must have gone wrong for the catastrophy that is Pakistan. Although this is going to be a long-drawn debate in Pakistan as extremists extend their reach and things get worst, one is tempted to venture into some of the causes which might have landed us in our troubles. Could not there be other factors than religion which could have been put forward by our founding fathers to justify their claim for the partition of India and creating a country for the Muslims? For example culture, history, language, heroes etc? This is a tricky question. They could (and they did indeed) cite a different culture and history, but that was to land (and they did land) them in tracing their pedigree to Mohammad Bin Qasim – the famous muslim general – who conquered Sindh and Punjab in the medieval ages. Or they could trace their roots to the early Muslim saints who (allegedly) caused Islam to spread in the Indian sub-continent, but still it leads to an identity that has its roots in the religion of Islam. To claim a separate identity sans Islam was impossible because no such identity existed in terms of language, culture, skin color and civilization. The one that existed was necessarily the one that came to us by virtue of our faith, Islam. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan realized that in the 19th century, and Iqbal and Jinnah discovered it in the 20th century.

Coming to the question as to what went wrong. Once Pakistan was created, its leaders should have understood that religion – if it succeeded to be identified as the sole reason for the creation of Pakistan – was going to play havoc with the life of the people. Therefore, they must have taken steps towards creating secular reasons for the creation of Pakistan. Here comes in the need of recognizing the separate identities of its five constituent units, which, they could have argued, had come together to form a federation voluntarily for sheer secular reasons of putting together their common power in order to preserve their different identities, safeguard their geography – using their joint power –  and safeguard their political rights to rule themselves without any danger from external interventions, and preserve their economic wealth and coordinate the same in a way that increased their best use for their respective nationalities. That would also have necessitated a real federation in which the center was entrusted with defense, foreign affairs and currency to be so managed as to contribute to the interests of all the constituent units. These subjects would have been managed with equal representation from all the federating units.

But that was not the case. The central government of Pakistan opted for seeking unity in uniformity. It refused to allow their languages a due status, dismissed their provincial governments and put the Sindhi, Balochi and Pakhtun leadership in jails. New dismissive terms were coined – like provincialism, “lisaniet”, fifth columnists, – to beat the leaders of the different nationalities with. Here the situation can be best described by quoting the English saying “to eat the cake and to have it too”. On the one side, some of the founders of Pakistan would like to turn the tide and see the emergence of a secular Pakistan, while on the other hand refusing to accept the basis on which a secular Pakistan could have been erected. You cannot say that Pakistan was not created in the name of Islam and yet not allowing things than religion as the raison d’etre of Pakistan to take shape. The Pakistan that we see today, sticks to its guns and refuses to recognize the diversity of its constituent units in terms of language, culture, race, history and economic resources. It continues to impose Urdu on its population, exploit the provinces economically, refusing them their right to rule themselves, undermining their cultures and histories and refusing to confer a due status on their heroes.

Is our failure in “nation-building” complete or there are still chances of success? This is an extremely important question that needs to be paid attention to by those forces who rule Pakistan. They should do so with the spirit of “something is better than nothing”.

First of all, we have to sincerely recognize our failure in “nation-building”. Secondly, a deep probing into the question of whether it could ever be possible in the first place to “build a nation” the way we approached it since 1947 and before? Briefly, we tried to build a nation on negative factors which included: making the Pakhtuns, Punjabis, Sindis, Baluchis and Bengalis “un-learn” their histories, cultures, languages, and heroes, and learn new Pakistani history, heroes, culture and language. And finally, we need to identify ways and means through which a Pakistani nationhood could be helped born.

The first step towards nation-building could be to start a process of reconciliation between the four major nationalities inhabiting Pakistan. This decision will require a deep understanding and honest recognition on the part of Pakistani military, business magnates, intelligence agencies, clergy, politicians and civil society that the problem does exist, it is grave, and that it needs an urgent attention and highest priority.

Once all the above groups build a consensus on the gravity of the situation and its urgent resolution, a high conference of the notables of the four nationalities could be called which could also be joined by top military generals, chiefs of the spy agencies, political leaders and representatives of civil societies. The conference should publicly renounce the injustices of the past and its resolve to find ways to build a new Pakistan.

The conference should chalk-out ways and methods of working towards a new “Objectives Resolution” for the new Pakistan, in a certain period of time, which should not exceed more than one year.

The new objectives resolution should clearly state that only defense, foreign affairs and currency will remain with the federal government and all other subjects will belong to the provinces.

It should also state that the central legislature will be unicameral, in which all the four nationalities will have equal representation.

The executive should be based on the principle of its rotation between the four nationalities.

Balochi, Punjabi, Sindhi and Pashto should be declared as the national languages and English as the language of the central government, and of the provincial governments if they chose so.

The provinces will have the right to take measures towards protecting their respective economies from unfair competition.

The size of the army will be determined by the central legislature and all the federating units will have equal representation in the armed forces at all levels. The same principle will be applied to all institutions which are paid to by the federal government.

The offices of the chiefs of all federal institutions will rotate between the provinces for equal period of time.

A new Pakistan – built on these principles – can accomplish many things. All Pakistanis will have the chance to live according to their own cultures, cherish their respective heroes, understand their respective histories, and promote their languages. All these under the protection of a truly “central” government and a truly national armed forces. For this reason alone, they will feel proud in identifying themselves with Pakistan. And this new lot will be called “Pakistani nation” – a nation that draws strength from the principle of unity in diversity.

About the author

Ali Arqam


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  • This is a great article overall.

    I like:

    The size of the army will be determined by the central legislature and all the federating units will have equal representation in the armed forces at all levels. The same principle will be applied to all institutions which are paid to by the federal government.

    I don’t like:

    (ref: all the four nationalities will have equal representation; English will be the official language instead of Urdu etc).

    Treatment of Urdu (and Urdu speaking persons and other languages and communities) in this post.

    Currently in Pakistan, around 7.5% of the population, or about 13.5 million citizens identify themselves as ‘indian’. Of this number over 8.5 million reside in Sindh and over 4 million reside in Punjab and Islamabad. The vast majority reside in urban areas.A large number of muhajirs are educated and earn decent income,thus muhajirs are among the most highly educated and richest.


    Their right to language and identity is as respectable as that of the Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis, Baloch etc.

    Further, the article ignores certain important ethnicities in Pakistan, e.g. Saraikis, Hazaras etc. Also completely ignored are the people of the Gilgil Baltistan region. Are they children of a lesser god?

  • Excellent article.
    The executive based on the principle of rotation between the four nationalities should atleast be debated within political parties.

  • @Abdul, at the time of Partition, those who spoke Urdu were less than 3% of the population. A smaller, but significant section of the migrants, spoke languages like Gujrati. In that regard, imposing the language of less than 3% on the 56% that were Bengali was a disastrous policy by Jinnah that rebounded in terms of the language riots that took place then. Furthermore, before partition, there was no Urdu spoken in Karachi. After partition, the Sindhis became strangers in their own land and were severely disadvantaged, like the rest of the non-Urdu speaking population, in getting public sector jobs as they required Urdu! ZAB is reviled amongst certain sections of urban Karachi because be sought to redress this balance via the quota system.
    No doubt Urdu speakers are well educated and contribute positively to society as do other segments of the population. However, the imposition of Urdu as a national language was part of a larger tactic of developing a hypernationalist narrative that saw Pakistan as a “Fortress of Islam” and that viewed Pushtun, Baloch, Sindhi, Balti, Gilgiti and other oppressed ethnic nationalist groups (that were based on secular cultural ethos) as rif raf who were to be treated with suspicion.

  • @Abdul, Those who speak Urdu should have the same rights to protect their language and culture as afforded to other ethnic groups; nothing more or nothing less. Clearly, the imposition of Urdu as a national language and the accompanying hypernationalist discourse has done nothing to assuage the genuine concerns of ethnic nationalist Balochis, Sindhis or Pushtuns. 1971 proved that a fake Islamist ideology or one language was not a cohesive but a divisive factor instead. This is not an attack on Urdu as a language of significant cultural achievement.

  • @Ali Abbas

    In principle, I agree with all what you have written. My intention was to alert the author of the article under review to make his stance more inclusive and equitable.

    I wanted to to alert him to the fact that the very notion that Pakistan comprises four nationalities is false and misleading.

    I will however treat the debate of national language as separate from the current discussion.

  • A policy of reconciliation between all provinces of Pakistan is necessary to avoid any sectarian violence in future.

  • Not only urdu speaking, rather all those who migrated including punjabies will have to dissociate from the idea and the prctices to be the ultimate ruler of this country under the pretext that they have given sacrifices for pakistan and will have to abandon all those policies which weaken democartic forces and will stop collaborating with nondemocratic forces to hagemonise the majority by using army and beurocracy as they were engaged in so called survival of the fittest which succeeds in maintaining only the migrants the ruler.This does not mean that feudalism is to prevail. Feudalism must end by distributing lands to the deserving locals.