02 December 2004

Pakistan's Competing Nationalisms

My description of the partition as the greatest blunder in the history of mankind is an objective assessment based on the bitter experience of the masses ... Had the subcontinent not been divided, the 180 million Muslims of Bangladesh, 150 million of Pakistan and about 200 million in India would together have made 530 million people and, as such, they would have been a very powerful force in undivided India. --Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Altaf Hussain, October 2000

'I have been a Baloch for several centuries. I have been a Muslim for 1,400 years. I have been a Pakistani for just over fifty.' The tribal chief Nawab Akbar Bugti Khan has little love for Pakistan. Secure in his heavily guarded, mud-walled fort deep in the Baloch desert, he runs a state within a state. Pakistan may have been in existence for over half a century but he still considers any Pakistani troops in his vicinity as part of an occupation army. Other tribal chiefs, feudal leaders and politicians in Balochistan, rural Sindh, NWFP and even some in southern Punjab share his attitude towards Pakistan. Islam was meant to be the binding force--but, for many, ethnic ties have proved to be stronger.

Like Israel, Pakistan was created in the name of religion. In 1948 there were just a few hundred thousand Jews living in their new country's territory; most Israelis came from elsewhere. When Pakistan was created, by contrast, there were already over 70 million Muslims living in the 'land of the pure' and they were by no means united. As well as the Bengalis in East Pakistan, the new state had to integrate five major groups: the Sindhis, the Baloch, the Pukhtoons, the Punjabis and the incoming Mohajirs [refugees from India; h-j-r as in Arabic hijrah 'flight']....

Whatever their background, Pakistani leaders have consistently seen expressions of provincial feeling as a threat to the Pakistani state. Nationalist leaders in the provinces have tended to associate such centralist attitudes with Punjabi arrogance. In reality, it has never been as simple as that. After all, [Mohammed Ali] Jinnah was born in Karachi, Ayub Khan was a Pukhtoon [= Pashtun, Pathan] and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto came from Sindh.
SOURCE: Pakistan: Eye of the Storm, 2nd ed., by Owen Bennett Jones (Yale Nota Bene, 2002), pp. 109-111

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