Pakistani Nationalism and A Resurgent Pakistan in the 21st Century
Pakistan today is an increasingly homogenous, strong and integrated country, and the Pakistani identity is stronger than ever. Pakistan is surging economically, its strategic importance is increasing with the growing recognition of its contributions to global order. Democracy is taking root, and the political system is on the road to stabilization. It is a good time to be a Pakistani.
At 71, Pakistan is stronger, confident, and influential than it was at the time of independence in 1947. Today, Pakistan is one of the fastest growing economies and a key contributor to global peacekeeping and security. It helped open China to the world, aided the U.S. and the free world in defeating communism and is now helping Muslim nations in creating a military alliance to defeat the scourge of extremism and terrorism.
Pakistan is the seventh nuclear power, the sixth-largest army, and the 20th largest online consumer market. Pakistan also produces the best footballs for FIFA World Cup, the best mangoes, rice, medical and sports equipment, and even a multi-role combat aircraft, the JF-17 Thunder.
Pakistan’s soft power is expanding, with a vibrant pop culture, celebrity sportsmen and women, a growing fashion scene, booming catwalks, a nascent film industry, and trained human resource in startups, banking and politics that operates globally.
Now Islamabad is readying to play another strategic role in the twenty-first century. Pakistan is positioning itself as a trading hub and facilitator between China and the bustling markets of the Middle East, Africa, and beyond.
The regional tensions and the war on terror have not deterred Pakistan’s comeback despite the heavy toll it took on the country. The war in Afghanistan continues to cast a shadow, and Kashmir conflict remains a cause for instability due to India’s unconstructive approach and its obsession with weakening Pakistan. But the good news is that Islamabad, Kabul, Washington, Beijing and Moscow are renewing efforts for Afghan peace. The United Nations even is showing renewed interest in the Kashmir conflict.
Looking at the turbulent decades, it is easy to think Pakistan was always like this. The truth is that Pakistan has always been a country and a nation open to the world. In the 1960s and ’70s, the beaches of Karachi acted as the summer abode for Europe’s hippie travelers, and the economy and industrialization in Pakistan offered blueprints to the early planners of today’s economic miracles: China, South Korea, and the UAE. The PIA, Pakistan’s flag carrier, was ranked among the world’s best. Policymakers in Asia saw Pakistan Steel Mills in Karachi as a model for industrialization in a developing country.
Pakistan successfully sailed through the many crises in the region and within the country, thanks to its efficient and resilient civil and military bureaucracies. These two large bureaucracies of Pakistan have produced outstanding international figures, like anthropologist Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed, and military commander and statesman Sahabzada Yaqub Khan. Not to forget the talented Pakistanis, the cosmopolitan Pakistanis have been a keen participant in the global civilization. For example, His Highness Prince Karim Agha Khan is helping preserve global heritage sites, lawyer Asma Jahangir helped the United Nations investigate human rights violations in several countries, to name a few. A long list of accomplished filmmakers, novelists, musicians, and scientists have won international acclaim.
Despite four decades of regional wars and instability, Pakistani economy has grown exponentially, measuring at $313.13 billion at the end of June 2018.
Pakistan is an ideological state with the battle of ideas at the core of its story.
Today, Pakistanis are more integrated than ever. Pakistani ethnicities, cultures and languages have grown closer through marriages, proximity, adaptation and other forms of coexistence. The fourth, fifth and sixth generations of Pakistanis are likely to be fluent in multiple Pakistani languages, and have lived and moved around the country. This has helped Pakistan become a melting pot of cultures and languages. As one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the world, the evolving Pakistani nationalism and national culture helped even outsiders to assimilate and identify with the Pakistani identity. This is particularly true for the refugees from Afghanistan and Myanmar who strongly identify with Pakistani culture and identity.
Pakistanis are not divided. They have succeeded in building and nurturing a new identity and nationalism. More often than not the differences and divide we hear of being present in the Pakistani society are nothing more than differences regarding political ideologies. In 2018, however, Pakistani democracy and political system are stabilizing. In July 2018, Pakistan successfully conducted the fifth-largest election in the world.
We were not ‘partitioned’ or cut out of India in 1947. We gained independence from the British colonialists who ruled a political unit that produced two new states: Pakistan and India. We gained independence from the British. We did not get a ‘partition’ from India because, simply put, India as a state did not exist. No state by the name and borders of today’s India existed before 1947. Indian citizens established sovereignty on their land on August 15, 1947 for the first time in many centuries. The Indian independence was preceded by British rule and centuries of Muslim dynasties that spawned Pakistani identity. The year 1947 is the year when India emerged as a unified state ruled by indigenous people for the first time in a millennium.
Pakistani nationalism should not be defined in terms of the events of 1947, when the British administration, Indians and Pakistanis worked to carve out Pakistan and India out of the territories of the Subcontinent. The politics and diplomacy of the 1930s and 1940s that led to the rise of Pakistan explain how the territory was formed. However, Pakistani nationhood is a bigger, more complex, and possibly less explained story that deserves equal attention.
Pakistani identity is different in many ways to the identities of its neighboring states. The distinct Pakistani identity is both ethnic and cultural. Two events shaped the ethnicity and culture of Pakistan: the Aryan settlements, and the Arab conquest.
The early Aryan tribes largely settled down in today’s Pakistan, before some of them moved westward towards Europe. Later, Alexander the Great brought a large settlement of new ethnicities to what is now Pakistan. These settlements pushed back the original inhabitants of this land towards what now is India.
Later the Arab conquest brought Arab, Persian and Turkic ethnic mix to Pakistan. This last wave of settlements came with a new religion and culture: Islam.
With Aryans and other ethnic groups that lived here and the post-Arab conquest influence of Islam and Arab-Persian-Turkic settlements and culture, the distinct Pakistani identity began to take shape, culminating in the emergence of Pakistan on the world map in August 1947. The modern form and shape of this Pakistani nationalism could not have been articulated better than it was done by the Quaid-i-Azam (the great leader) Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Quaid fought for Pakistan’s independence and nationhood through peaceful, diplomatic and political means, and through the power of vote.
Modern Pakistan is the natural inheritor of the Turkic/Afghan dynasties and the Mughal Empire in the same way Iran and Turkey inherited the Safavid and Ottoman legacies.
As such, Pakistanis are a mix of Aryan and subcontinental ethnic influences, and the Arab, Persian and Turkic influences. Pakistani nationalism is strongly embedded in ethnicity, history, culture and religion.
Independence, Not Partition
The choice of our words when discussing Pakistan’s history and identity determines the level of our pride in our state. This is especially true in Pakistan’s case. Pakistan’s story is a little different and complex. It is not an easy story to tell. This is why it is more important to be accurate and particular in our choice of words, when narrating the story of Pakistan’s inception.
Here are three areas where Pakistan can be better represented by simply changing our choice of words:
It’s Not ‘Partition’: We were not ‘partitioned’ or cut out of India in 1947. We gained independence from the British colonialists who ruled a political unit that produced two new states: Pakistan and India. We gained independence from the British. We did not get a ‘partition’ from India because, simply put, India as a state did not exist. No state by the name and borders of today’s India existed before 1947. Indian citizens established sovereignty on their land on August 15, 1947 for the first time in many centuries. The Indian independence was preceded by British rule and centuries of Muslim dynasties that spawned Pakistani identity. The year 1947 is the year when India emerged as a unified state ruled by indigenous people for the first time in a millennium. This is an important distinction that Indian and foreign scholars often overlook, and they do so mainly because Pakistani thinkers and historians were late in establishing this fact. There’s no question of a ‘partition’ from someone who can’t grant it. It is just independence, not partition.
Pakistan Was Not Born in 1947: A distinct ethnic and cultural identity of the people in territories known today as Pakistan was established centuries ago. This distinct identity was strengthened with the advent of Islam. Many peoples and personalities passed through this land, acting as stepping-stones to the eventual emergence of modern-day Pakistan: from the Persian and Arab settlers, through to the Turkic Mamluks, and right to the Mughals, whose last stand in 1857 was the precursor to 1947’s Pakistan.
Not Just South Asia: Pakistan is the geographic, ethnic and cultural bridge to three great regions: South, Central and West Asia. Pakistan is ethnically and culturally linked to the three regions.
The world is full of amazing stories of nations and peoples. And Pakistan is one of them. It is a unique story of a country born in unusual circumstances, with an equally fascinating history, where many ethnicities and cultures came together.
Today, Pakistan attracts the attention of investors and statesmen. This could be unnerving. But as a resilient nation, Pakistanis can turn this foreign attention to their country into a source of strength.