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THE CRISIS OF NATION-BUILDING IN PAKISTAN, Challenges and the Way forward

THE CRISIS OF NATION-BUILDING IN PAKISTAN, Challenges and the Way forward

“[W]e are Muslims, Islam had taught us this. Here I think you will agree with me that whatever else you may be and whatever you are, you are Muslims. You belong to a nation now. You have now carved out a territory, [a] vast territory, it is all yours. It does not belong to a Punjabi or a Sindhi, or a Pathan or a Bengali, it is yours. You have got your central government where the several units are represented. Therefore, if you want to build up yourselves into a nation, for God’s sake give up this provincialism.”
— Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah; March 21st, 1948

Pakistan’s emergence on the world map as an independent nation-state is one of the most interesting episodes of the 20th century. It is unique in the sense that the thirty million Muslims of India, apprehensive of being sacrificed on the altar of the numerically-large Hindu community, aspired to constitute a separate polity of their own. What was more interesting is that this demand, couched in religio-cultural terminology, was predicated on the worldview of Islam whose philosophy, literature, history and social system are poles apart from those of Hinduism. Thus, religion served as the source of cohesion and solidarity among the Muslims concentrated in the new state. Since the nascent state inherited a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic heterogeneous population with diverse socio-cultural backgrounds, the odds of fission and fragmentation always loomed large. To fend off the likelihood of this rupture, Pakistan was in a crying need of, more than anything else, an integrated and well-knitted nation with a common sense of identity. Lamentably, owing to the opportunism and shortsightedness of the political elite, this remained a pipedream, and this haunts us even today.

What is National Integration? 

The word integration generally means “unification” or “incorporation”. It is a process of harmonizing things in such a way that they become fully parts of a big whole. In political jargon, it implies various social, cultural and ideological group loyalties welded into a single, compact community with its own national outlook. Furthermore, it is the reconciliation of individual group interests with those of the big entity of which the smaller groups are the constituents. Even though the group loyalties are natural to be upheld, they never take precedence over the broader interests of the big entity. The individual identities are, thus, merged into a comprehensive national identity.

Vehicles of National Integration

1. It is always built upon the precept of unity in diversity. The divergences of thoughts and beliefs are recognized, and tolerance vis-à-vis racial and linguistic differences, is its part and parcel. Political and ideological dissensions never give way to dislocations, and when necessary, wholehearted compromises are made at the expense of individual interests.

2. For the units to be integrated into a one whole, the dispensation of justice and equity between the units is sine qua non in order to thwart the concentration of power and resources into the hands of only one unit. A unit must not unwarrantedly be in advantageous position, to the detriment of the other. 

3. National integration is nothing but the manifestation of close cooperation between the government and the governed, and among the provinces. When the citizenry lapses into the sentiment of alienation and estrangement, the disintegration sets in.

4. ‘Integrative behaviour’, which is cultivated in citizenry by the political system through various agencies of socialization, paves ultimately the way for the national integration, cultivating the sense of ‘oneness’ and ‘unity’ among all the people.

Descent into Turmoil

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, while addressing the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, declared:

“I sincerely hope that with your support and your co-operation we shall make this Constituent Assembly an example to the world. The Constituent Assembly has got two main functions to perform. The first is the very onerous and responsible task of framing the future constitution of Pakistan and the second of functioning as a full and complete sovereign body as the Federal Legislature of Pakistan.”

Unfortunately, death did not spare him time to steer the course of this newborn state, the disastrous consequence of which was that it fell into the hands of inept and egoistic politicians who pulled the country off the constitutional path and met a total fiasco to measure up to the provision of the rudimentary needs of the masses and pursue a balanced policy to nip in the bud the seed of provincialism.

Why Nation-building Failed in Pakistan?

a. Delayed Constitution-making

A constitution is a social contract that lays down concrete rules for the business of the government to be carried out in line with. It also determines the relationship between the ruler and the ruled, guarantees the fundamental rights and provides for the necessary governmental machinery.

Unfortunately, it took Pakistan nine long years to draw up a constitution, albeit fractured and inefficacious, only to be wrapped up within nearly a couple of years, kicking off the beginning of bleak authoritarianism in the country. Oblivious to the popular aspirations and canons of law, the dictators kept on ruling the roost for many long years. Federalism morphed into centralism, driving a wedge between the state and the provinces.

b. Democracy: A Distant Dream

Since independence in 1947, Pakistan has remained in quest of a genuine democratic order. The intermittent so-called democratic systems – which though wore the facade of representative governments – could do no better than military regimes to win over the masses. Needless to say, the continuous operation of representative institutions bolsters up confidence of people and their trust in the government, cultivating democratic values in them to have their say, one way or the other, in the affairs of the country. In addition, every major issue is resolved by taking all the stakeholders on board. The possibility of anomic political behaviour is thus quelled to a considerable degree. However, Pakistan lurked between authoritarianism and pseudo-democracy. Its search for a feasible political order is still on.

c. Socioeconomic Disparities

Building socioeconomic institutions in view of the dictates of the Quran and Sunnah – the end Pakistan was carved out to secure – turned out mere rosy promises. Far from it, the landed aristocracy and the industrial class clung on to the power and remained at the helm of affairs of the state, thus resisting every move intended to rationalize the economic system. Land reforms were inveterately opposed. In urban areas, wealth was accumulated in a few hands only and the gulf between the haves and the have-nots widened more than it was in a united India.

Under such circumstances, it is preposterous to expect of masses who are unable to even keep their body and soul together owing to grinding poverty and backbreaking inflation to be at peace with the system characterized by mismanagement, poor governance, corruption and favouritism.

d. Provincial Autonomy and Resource Distribution 

The discourse on the provincial autonomy precipitated dissidence from the very get-go. The reluctance of the West Pakistan’s elite to acquiesce in Bengalis’ demand for representation in accordance with their population, and a full-fledged measure of provincial autonomy, eventually culminated in dismemberment of East Pakistan.

Afterwards, acrimony that ensued from the fact that one province was getting lion’s share in the state’s wealth – to the detriment of others – became more and more acute. The smaller provinces began raising hue and cry about being deprived of their resources without the rightful loyalty. The discourse of smaller provinces to be treated as a colony by the Punjab-dominated centre began to gain a widespread currency, thus disillusioning the units with the federation.

It warrants serious attention here that the financial issue is two-layered, viz., parallel (between provinces), and vertical (between provinces and the centre). The National Finance Commission (NFC), a constitutional device to map out a comprehensive formula for revenue- and resource-distribution between the federation, and the provinces, and among the provinces themselves, always falls flat to come up with a consensus formula agreeable to all the contending parties.

e. Overruling of the Established Moral Values

Demographically, Pakistani society comprises 48.2% Punjabis, 13.1% Pushtoons, 11.8% Sindhis, 9.8% Seraikis, 7.6% Urdu-speaking (Muhajirs), 4.2% Baloch-Baruhis, 2.4% Hindko-speaking and several other small ethno-linguistic groups. These ethnicities have hardly anything in common, except religion. Therefore, the conflicts of interest are likely to ensue, which require an insightful leadership so that these are resolved politically through means of transparent dialogue and concessions. However, the state, instead of alleviating their woes, has invariably resorted to the crude use of force to stamp down those voicing their grievances. Enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in Balochistan are a pertinent case in point. The same policy of repression is being employed to suppress the Sindhi nationalist groups.

The Way Forward

1. For a viable political system to hold the field, the masses need to be oriented into a democratic culture, ensuring that continuation of the political process. More importantly, supremacy of the constitution, and for that matter of institutions, must take precedence over the individual interests. The undemocratic tendencies need to be discarded forthwith at micro and macro level.

2. More concerted efforts should be put in for achieving the goal of nation-building. The regional and local identities should be harmonised in order to evolve a broad national outlook. But for this idea to be realized, the rule of law, constitutionalism and respect for ethnic and cultural heterogeneity operating on the maxim of ‘unity through diversity’ must be modus operandi of state administration.

3. Power must devolve to the lowest rung of administration. An appreciable measure of decentralization and provincial autonomy would come in handy in bolstering up the confidence of people in the system, and in the long run, will help in making the dream of national integration come true.

4. The political parties should be organized on broad national lines. Moreover, these parties should abandon the ill practice of exploiting prejudices of people. Equally important is for the state to offer an olive branch to all the disgruntled groups or units. The Baloch and the Sindhis must be made to sit in the driving seat without any external interference – besides their reaping the harvest of the resources extracted from their respective territories. The thorny issues, say, Kalabagh Dam that fuel the grievances of the smaller provinces better be abandoned unless a broad consensus is achieved.

5. Sincere attempts should be directed at rooting out all the socioeconomic disparities as they impede the process of national integration. Unless the menaces of corruption, nepotism, poverty, illiteracy, parochialism and intolerance are curbed, the national integration will continue to be a mere theoretical ideal.

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