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Fallacies of nationalism and the 18th amendment — by Dr Manzur Ejaz

For a large section of the establishment, religious identity was the only one compatible with Pakistan, thus seeking national identities was automatically unpatriotic

The passage of the 18th Amendment, specifically, the naming of the NWFP as Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa is a major turn in Pakistan’s history. This marks the beginning of the slow process towards recognising our diverse nationalities and their aspirations. The new law has shied away from going all the way by not recognising linguistic identities, but this is a matter of time only. It is a clear indication that to survive as a country, Pakistan has to adopt a much more rational ideology.

There were times when merely mentioning Pakhtunkhwa was considered to be an anti-Pakistan conspiracy to create a separate country, Pusthoonistan. Pakhtun nationalists led by Wali Khan, despite changing party names, were never accepted as patriotic Pakistanis despite their public assurances. However, when Nasim Wali Khan joined the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) against Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1977, it was clear that the Pakhtun separatist element, if any, was thrown into the dustbin of history. It also meant that the political formation of the Frontier province would struggle within Pakistan. By then the economy of the frontier region was so integrated within Pakistan that traditional nationalism had become redundant, as was pointed out by the late Dr Feroz Ahmad in his weekly journal, Pakistan Forum.

Nonetheless, a large section of the establishment remained suspicious. For them, religious identity was the only one compatible with Pakistan, thus seeking national identities was automatically unpatriotic. Bhutto had departed from the traditional ideology in the earlier period by rehabilitating Sindhi as a national language of Sindh but he did not go far enough to rationalise the system. As a matter of fact, he spent his last years fighting the Baloch and Pakhtun nationalists. Bhutto’s sensitivity towards the central Punjabi ethos overcame his rationality because he had come to power due to the overwhelming support from the main hinterland of Punjab.

Nawaz Sharif’s hesitation towards renaming the Pakhtun province reflects the traditional thinking of central Punjab, where he has replaced the PPP’s political grip. Furthermore, it is not by chance that the 18th Amendment, which gives more rights to the provinces, besides renaming the Frontier province, has been put forth by a government that derives a better part of its power from smaller nationalities and is not totally dependent on central Punjab. It is also true that Punjab’s political thinking has also tremendously changed: unlike the past, there have been no big protests against the new name of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or the enhancement of provincial rights in the most powerful province, Punjab.

The way in which Pakistanis have accepted the renaming of the Frontier province, as well as giving the provinces more powers, indicates an ideological shift. Unlike the past, it is being recognised that the national identities of Pakistan are not in negation of Pakistani patriotism. Misplaced obsession with a monolithic national identity was unrealistic and counter-productive. It created many frivolous problems that places like India and South Africa avoided by carving national unity through recognition of diversity.

India had recognised the rights of diverse nationalities to a great extent. Many provinces were created to accommodate the historical background, cultures and languages of the people of various regions. Some critics still hold that India has not gone far enough in this direction to recognise the rights of the nations living within its boundaries. However, the Indian set-up was much more realistic than Pakistani centralism. Despite acceptance of diversity, Indian patriotism has not suffered in any way. Therefore, by recognising the diverse cultural identities that Pakistani nationalities have or transferring more rights to the provinces, nationalism or patriotism is not going to suffer. As a matter of fact it may strengthen because every nationality will feel that it is getting its due share in the federation. However, following the Indian or South African models requires conscious efforts for the creation of a new national identity that is not solely based on religion.

The constitutional reforms committee shied away from recognising the national languages of Pakistan. Most probably, the opposition would have come from the usual suspects: the establishment, politicians of Punjab and, maybe, from Karachi. The ideology behind opposing linguistic rights is also part of an infatuation with monolithic Pakistani identity. It is believed that besides religion, the Urdu language is the only binding force in Pakistan. This is a misperception because the recognition of 29 national languages by India has neither affected the nationalism of its people nor the common use of Hindi.

Despite the shortcomings of the 18th Amendment, it is a step in the right direction. It is quite clear that Pakistan is forced to rationalise its system. The army’s decision to fight religious extremism and parliament’s move to grant more rights to nationalities will help Pakistan to become a viable state in the long run. Most of these actions are being taken under compulsions but that is how history moves.

The writer can be reached at manzurejaz@yahoo.com

Source: Daily Times