Recently, a former military dictator Pervez Musharraf made headlines. In an interview with BBC, he lauded the rules of former military dictators, saying, “Dictators set the country right … [and] military rule always brought progress to Pakistan.”
Of course, he lied. But there is another trumped-up story, far terrible, told also by a former and the first military dictator, Ayub Khan. Implying in a way as if he was a true statesman, Ayub Khan once discredited the institution of democracy in Pakistan. Before his impaired judgement, democracy was a luxury that Pakistan could hardly afford. Of course, he too lied. Democracy has never been a luxury for Pakistan: given the country’s socio-political and economic dynamics and its geopolitical sitting in a zone largely dotted with diverging and confrontational wires of global power politics, democracy has always been imperative and dispensable for Pakistan.
Pakistan is a multilingual, multiethnic and multicultural country. The interplay of all these forces makes it culturally rich and diverse. With the exception of some religious minorities, population of the country is linked to their religion – Islam. Apart from a common religion, the links that are associated with common history and language are very weak – or even missing – among the Pakistanis. The culture of ethnic groups in Pakistan has been greatly influenced by many of its neighbours; being part of the Indian subcontinent, many aspects of its culture, from foods to dresses and from artefacts to handicrafts and cuisines, present a striking resemblance to those on the other side of the Radcliffe Line. On the one hand, the Pashtun culture is immensely linked, historically and emotionally, to their ethnic counterparts in Afghanistan. Similarly, the Shiites, which form a large part of Pakistani society, and the Baloch have many cultural linkages with the people of Iran.
Language is the basis of ethnicity in Pakistan. The languages claimed as mother tongue include Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, Seraiki, Kashmiri, Brahui, Hindko and Pothwari. Each of the country’s principal languages has a strong regional focus. The linguistic divide is so strong that even the provinces are named after the major languages and/or ethnic groups.
From here emerges a great challenge for Pakistan: preserving this cultural diversity and turning it into a factor for national unity. However, so far, all the cultural differences and variations generated systemic fault lines and, on time and occasions, have been instrumental in impeding the process of formation of a single distinct cultural entity. Here, it seems needless to mention that the loyalty of our successive military dictators to their own pockets and power, and their insensitiveness to ethnic fault lines played a leading role in fragmentation of society and creating cultural particularism.
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