The critical question still remains unanswered: is it the ruling elite or the sub-state elite responsible for the crisis of national integration and identity in Pakistan?
Two popular discourses inform the debate on national integration and identity crisis in Pakistan. The first approach associates the two phenomena as inextricably linked with the overtures of the Pakistani state. The reason(s) why a sense of Pakistani or Pakistaniyat is weak relates to the ruling elites, both political and military, failing to engender such a notion since independence. According to this approach, the sense of Pakistani or Pakistaniyat was relevant somewhere in the past but that is a bygone era and successive rulers of the country have widened the gap between themselves and the masses through nepotism and corruption resulting in the institutions of the state becoming weak. The weak institutions mean that no substantial change has come to transform the lives of people and instead a further deterioration in the quality of life is being witnessed in Pakistan and with it the perennial crisis of national integration and identity. The second approach, as opposed to the first, sees the crisis of national integration and identity from a bottom-up perspective arguing that the presence of divisive forces within the country, and also their collusion with foreign enemies of the state is the primary causal variable. According to this interpretation, successive ruling elites since independence have tried the best that they could but that their efforts have been thwarted by a recalcitrant sub-state ethnic elite. This sub-state ethnic elite is essentially regressive (maintaining their rule and authority in anachronistic tribal and rural fiefdoms) and have been a major internal challenge to the the authority and sovereignty of the Pakistani state.
What is national integration and what are its concomitants? National integration implies the amalgamation of national diversity into a common political culture which celebrates the diversity of its constituent units but then coheres towards a common ideational goal. Simply put, national integration accepts the diversity of the nation and does not discriminate between ethnicities or other minorities on purely cultural or racial grounds. A state which does not accept the diversity of its constituent cultural parts and expressively discriminates against ethnic group(s) is termed as an ethnic state. An ethnic state or ethnocracy is a negative for social cohesion for the institutions of the state and government privilege one ethnic group over others.
Similarly, an identity crisis plagues Pakistan. In this case, people do not identify themselves with Pakistan but with their own ethnic group first and hence denigrate the Pakistani identity. Abdul Wali Khan was once asked by a reporter whether he was a Pakistani or a Muslim or a Pathan? Wali Khan replied that he had been a Pakistani for thirty years, a Muslim for 1300 years and a Pathan for 5000 years. The identity crisis is also manifest in a confused sense of political culture which celebrates the religious aspect of Pakistani identity but then proclaims a secular form of politics and constitution. The religious identity, or the support for such political parties, has also been quite weak with electoral victories being bagged primarily by secular parties such as the PPP, PML (N), PML (Q) and MQM. The rhetoric of Islam and Pakistan has been the backbone of the ideational structure of the Pakistani state but when it comes to applying the tenets of Islam in terms of policy-making, the ruling elites have shied away from the religious project. Furthermore, the identity crisis in Pakistan is also manifest in the social domain, and relates to immigration. A Gilani Research Foundation poll highlighted that support for immigration in Pakistan is higher than the global average which stands at 34%. Why would this not be the case in a society where people are highly disillusioned, un-empowered and insecure, where they are more likely to be robbed of their personal belongings when out in the public, where the Mafia rules the roost even in major cities like Karachi, and where political parties’ workers are routinely killed for their respective allegiances. Who would want to live in and believe in the idea of Pakistan?
The critical question still remains unanswered: is it the ruling elite or the sub-state elite responsible for the crisis of national integration and identity in Pakistan? It is, indeed, sad in itself that 65 years after independence our sense of integration and identity remains weak. Although the alarmist would wont to answer in ways which absolves the ruling elites of all faults and blame the intransigent sub-state elite or the ignorant masses, it is the ruling elite that is to be blamed. A strong sense of national integration and identity is not generated through empty slogans or sloganeering but through policies which improve the lives of citizens. In Pakistan, sadly, the sense is rapidly deteriorating with the conditions in which people now find themselves in. There is nothing essentially lacking in Pakistan, in terms of natural resources and human capital; what is lacking is a commitment on the part of the ruling elites to drive the state forward. One hopes that the ruling elites realise that the idea of Pakistan is in a crisis and has to be rescued before it is too late. It has to be remembered that unity, like a plant or tree, has to be watered, nurtured and cultivated on the part of those ruling the state through effective political, social and economic policies. If this does not transpire another year, and many more years, will pass and with it the hope for a Pakistan which stands as one with unity, faith and discipline!