The challenge of national integration

Updated March 23, 2019

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The Quaid was a strong advocate of national integration.
The Quaid was a strong advocate of national integration.

“We are now all Pakistanis — not Balochis, Pathans, Sindhis, Bengalis, Punj­abis and so on — and as Pakistanis we must feel, behave and act, and we should be proud to be known as Pakistanis and nothing else’. Quaid-i-Azam Moham­mad Ali Jinnah said in a reply to Civic Address presented by Quetta Municipality on June 15, 1948.

The challenge of national integration in Pakistan is as old as the history of this country. Formed on an ideological ground with the religion of Islam as its prime source of identity, Pakistan began to face numerous issues of language and ethnicity in its formative phase. Ethnic nationalism began to be in conflict with religion particularly in the then East Pakistan where language movement emerged as a cogent force challenging those who wanted that the country should be governed according to the ideology of Islam rather than language, ethnicity or place of origin. Quaid’s warning that the people of Pakistan should be alert and cognizant from those forces who wanted to plant the seeds of ethnic nationalism and secession made sense.

The Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940, had called for the establishment of Muslim states in the Muslim majority regions of northwest and northeast. However, that resolution was amended in a convention of all members the Muslim League’s central and provincial councils from all over India in Delhi on April 7-9, 1946, whereby, it was declared that “the zones comprising Bengal and Assam in the North-East and the Punjab, North West Frontier Province, Sindh and Baluchistan in the North West of India, namely Pakistan Zones, where the Muslims are in a dominant majority, be constituted into one sovereign independent state and that an unequivocal undertaking be given to implement the establishment of Pakistan without delay.”

National integration in Pakistan only emerges in times of natural disaster, national dilemma or an external threat. Once the threat is dealt with, the internal contradictions re-appear.

In a book entitled Sheikh Mujibur Rahman The Unfinished Memoirs (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012) the reaction of Bengali participants in Muslim League’s convention held in Delhi about dropping the word ‘states’ as mentioned in Lahore Resolution with ‘state’ is stated as: “The resolution that was taken there altered the Lahore Resolution in some ways. Only Mr. Hashim and a few others objected when the word ‘states’ of the previous resolution was replaced with ‘State’ but they were overruled and the emendation was adopted. Scholars can perhaps decide whether this convention had the right to alter the terms of resolution adopted in Lahore in 1940.” It is another story how things unfolded when Pakistan came into existence without Assam, united Punjab and Bengal. Pakistan became a unique state with a geographical distance of more than 1,000 miles between its eastern and western wings with hostile India in the middle. No country in modern history was created by states as in case of Pakistan. Why the challenge of national integration was not taken seriously by the leadership in the nascent state of Pakistan and how feelings of ethnic nationalism permeated particularly in the then East Pakistan? How sense of deprivation deepened in East Pakistan and in the smaller provinces of West Pakistan and why issues which triggered the disintegration of Pakistan were not resolved?

National integration cannot be artificially created but it evolves as a result of a process of social and economic justice along with democratic political pluralism. Cultural, lingual and religious variations exist in many countries of the world but it is the wise and prudent leadership which provides a sense of participation, opportunities for progress and development. In case of Pakistan, after the assassination of the country’s first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, the West Pakistan dominated military-bureaucratic elite along with feudal class and clergy began to propagate the notion of strong centre and used religion to artificially integrate the diverse provinces of the country. But, religion alone cannot be a binding force to integrate dissimilar people of a country as a nation. There are other essential requirements to unite people as a nation like economic progress, human and social development, justice system, rule of law, political pluralism, non-discriminatory policy of state by providing equal opportunities regardless of religion, caste, race, language, gender and place of origin. The absence of such requirements cannot transform people of a country as a nation but can cause ethnic, racial, lingual, religious and sectarian polarisation.

The Soviet Union under the communist ideology tried to form a Soviet man and woman keeping in mind diverse ethnic and lingual contradictions in that country. But, that policy failed because it was based on top-bottom approach and imposed on people in a superficial manner. United States, which has numerous lingual and ethnic variations has to a large extent succeeded in creating American man and woman because of a policy pursued at the grassroots’ level in a democratic set-up particularly its uniform educational system. India, the neighbour of Pakistan has hundreds of languages, several cultures and religions but has been able to prevent disintegration because of its democratic political system as neither the military nor any ethnic gro­up is allowed to dominate a multi-cultural and multi-religious society.

Pakistan’s dilemma of national integration needs to be examined from three different angles. First, Pakistan came into being as a result of an accord reached between the Muslim majority regions of North West and North East of the Indian subcontinent. That accord was the result of a demand which was made through Lahore Resolution of March 23, 1940, and then reiterated in Muslim League’s convention in Delhi held in April 1946. Two-nation theory was the essence of the creation of Pakistan as the founder of the country and his colleagues in the Muslim League realised that in an undivided India with a Hindu majority, the Muslim minority will not be able to live as equal citizens.

Unfortunately, after the creation of Pakistan, religion which was the bond trying to integrate the nascent state became weak as economic and political exploitation of the majority province of East Pakistan and the smaller provinces of West Pakistan under the system of one-unit and parity unleashed the process of ethnic and lingual nationalism. Second, democracy, rule of law, justice system and good governance which shou­ld have been the essence of the new state of Pakistan went into obli­v­ion. Democracy became the first casu­alty because of military-bureaucratic nexus to seize power through unconstitutional means. Back to back imposition of martial law and military takeover diminished hopes to transform Pakistan as a viable nation state.

Ironically, feelings of Pakistani nation only surfaced at the time of an external threat or natural disaster. Be it 1965 war or the recent terrorist attack at Pulwama, surge of nationalistic feelings among the people of Pakistan helped to unitedly deal with issues threatening survival of a country. Earthquake of October 2005 and the terrorist attack on Army Public School, Peshawar on December 16, 2014, also united the people of Pakistan. But, once such threats receded, Pakistan’s internal contradictions in the form of political polarisation and ethnic/lingual discords reappeared. It is yet to be seen what will be the duration of current spell of national harmony and unity in the wake of Indian threat or once the threat fades, will the country revert back to political schism, inter and intra-provincial disharmony?

Third, national harmony and integration requires ownership of the land, resources, good and bad things of a country. Except few exceptions, the history of Pakistan is full of episodes which reflect lack of ownership. Nations are not created by mere slogans but through sheer hard work, integrity, brilliance, planning and statesmanship of the leadership. Unfortunately the menace of corruption, nepotism and bad governance tends to reflect the lack of ownership of the country as majority of the people, including those representing various state institutions are interested in protecting their personal, community, clan or group interests than the interests of the country as a whole. The tendency to find faults with the country and not doing anything to remove things which cause social, economic, political and governance crises means the lack of ownership.

Furthermore, the propensity to seek and explore migration as an option so as to achieve a better life abroad means lack of responsibility and commitment to put things in order. Pakistani diaspora, which reflects brain drain from the country is more than 10 million as their migration means to a large extent the failure of state to fulfil essential needs of citizens like clean and safe drinking water, better education, equal employment opportunities, housing, public transport, health and basic security. Even after the induction of the new government in 2018, the migration of people abroad has not stopped and the brain drain continues. Lack of ownership with the resources and public institutions means there is absence of commitment for the country.

The failure of national integration in creating Pakistani man and woman has much to do with dysfunctional educational system of the country which is unable to provide equal opportunities to children to seek basic quality education. In the absence of a uniform educational system, particularly in terms of curricula and mode of education, one cannot expect the youths of Pakistan, who are around 50 per cent of the population, to seek attachment with the land, values, culture, history and other characteristics of the country. It should be state’s responsibility to provide free, compulsory and quality education to all the citizens of Pakistan till high school regardless of their class, language, sect, religion and place of origin.

Those wielding power and other stakeholders in Pakistan who are living in their comfort zones, it is their responsibility to examine and analyse how in other countries having diverse cultures, languages and religions, the process of national integration was unleashed and reached to its logical conclusion. Unless there is political will, determination along with honest, clear and a visionary leadership, one cannot expect a country to remain united and integrated as a nation.

In case of Pakistan, the situation is perplexed and rather challenging because it was created as a state like Israel on religious grounds. While Jews from all over the world reached their new homeland along with different cultures and became a majority in a land which was earlier called as Palestine, in case of Pakistan, those who had migrated from India with a common language Urdu were a minority as local people living in a new state already had their established languages and cultures. Therefore, for national integration, whether in case of the United States or India, language was not a major issue as English and Hindi, which were the languages of dominant groups in the two countries were adopted. In case of Pakistan, Urdu was declared as a national language despite the fact that it was not the mother tongue of the majority and was considered only as a lingua franca. As a result, conflict over national language emerged in the formative phase of Pakistan when Urdu was rather imposed on the then East Pakistan. Although, in 1956, Bengali was given the status of a national language along with Urdu, the damage was done and Bengali nationalism became a major force culminating into the disintegration of Pakistan in December 1971. The post-1971 Pakistan failed to learn lessons from the trauma of separation as language riots in Sindh broke out when Sindhi was declared as a language of the province by the Sindh Assembly in July 1972. Urdu is a mode of communication and is the language of the provinces of Balochistan, KPK and Punjab yet, it is not the mother tongue of 90 per cent of the people of Pakistan.

It is not only language which matters as far as national integration is concerned but tolerance and acceptance of each other regardless of variation in culture, class and religion also matters. Biases on ethnic, cultural, lingual, religious or sectarian grounds can never lead to political or economic stability. Pakistan’s predicament is prejudices and intolerance on the basis of language, place of origin and sect still persists. For instance, in a TV channel interview, prominent nuclear scientist and the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan bluntly talked of the alleged prejudices he had faced. When people start identifying themselves with their language, culture, religion and sect and not with the country, one cannot expect national integration to take place. When lingual and ethnic consideration undermines merit in appointments and promotions, that country can never emerge as a unified nation.

Many countries face the challenge of national integration but in some cases their leadership is able to integrate diverse people by ensuring social justice, tolerance, rule of law, good governance and democratic pluralism. Pakistan’s quest for national integration would remain elusive unless the bottom-top approach is adopted where a sense of belonging to the country evolves at the grassroots’ level. Care for the resources of the country and pursuing a tolerant approach vis-à-vis those who are different in race, language, class, religion and sect will go a long way in promoting what is called as “Pakistaniat.” Promoting the culture of merit instead of favouritism and nepotism is also the essence to achieve the goal of national integration.

Furthermore, no mode of communication can effectively promote national integration as railways because people belonging to different provinces and regions travel together and share their language, culture and way of life. In a nutshell, an insecure state will patronise a particular class or an ethnic group in order to sustain its hold over power but will not be mindful to the damage done to the country by pursuing such a policy.

The writer is Meritorious Professor of International Relations and former Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Karachi.