Pakistaniat : The Crisis of Identity

Bradistan Calling


What can I give to Pakistan as a present on its 62nd Birthday, What else than an article on its chequered history and identity. Bertrand Russell famously said,” There are three great civilisations in East i.e. India, China and Islam”. Pakistan is blessed to be located at the crossroads of all these great civilisations. In my humble opinion this is the biggest strength of Pakistani identity.


Celebrating the T20 victory in Bradfor,I left my intellectual hat at home and donned the green flag to go on the street and celebrate with the Bradistan boyz and girlz, not that I consider myself a “flag waving nationalist”. My loyalties might be a bit shaky but I would never dream of waving a tricolour of Republic of India. It is a different story when it comes to patriotic movies like “Baghat Singh” or “Mother India”, my eyes fill with tears of pride.

I don’t follow Pakistan cricket team fanatically; I am well past my youth days of 1992 world cup victory. I still remember how the Pakistanis, all over the world, spontaneously came out on the streets singing dancing, waving their flags, congratulating and hugging strangers. It was similar story this time as well and all major motorways in and out of Bradford were blocked, there were long queues in front of sweet shops and police had to restrain some hot-headed youth who insist on sitting on the roofs of their cars while waving the flags, girls with Pakistanis T-shirts with loud anthems on their car stereos.   These scenes were repeated across Bradford, Birmingham, Manchester and London.   Obviously the rightwing mullah brigade (made in Saudi Arabian clone factory) does not like Pakistanis singing and dancing on the street in sinful jubilation.

In itself winning a minor or major sports tournament cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be termed a national achievement. Do we really go over the top in our celebrations? probably yes, but the Pakistanis from the Jackson Heights in New York city to the Afro-Baluch slums of Lyari in Karachi and from Chinese border in the north to the deserts of Punjab and Sindh felt a real sense of excitement after continuous bad news of terrorist attacks, lack of electricity, breakdown of governance and the economic and social crises in Pakistan.

Foreign governments and research analysts continuously rank Pakistan in the category of at risk of becoming a failed state. These analyses are probably too far fetched if not completely inaccurate. Pakistan is facing a Population explosion of 180 million people, but Pakistan is also bursting with energy and talent. Pakistani scientists, doctors and professors are among the best in the world. It would probably be irresponsible to rank Pakistan with countries like Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Sudan or Zimbabwe.

Pakistan is fighting a war for its survival against the Islamic terrorists. Pakistan was envisaged as a country for Muslims by liberal Muslim elite of India, not an Islamic theocracy. Pakistan, at its birth, had the vitality and diversity of a multiethnic multilingual and multi cultural country. Unfortunately rightwing pan-Islamic ideologues like Maududi, To- fail Mohammed and their protégé Islamist dictator Zia conspired to sell the soul of Pakistan to the devilish terrorist from Middle East.

Despite its religious and cultural pluralism, Pakistan suffers an identity crisis. The founder of Pakistan Mr. Jinnah articulated his vision for the constitutional rights of all citizens irrespective of their religion, race or background, in a speech to legislative assembly on the eve of independence. But the Islamists want to turn Pakistan into a colonial outpost of puritanical Saudi Arabia. Even Baluch separatists are more democratic and secular than the so called champions of “two nation Hindu-Muslim ideology” of Pakistan.

 Recently Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan has tried to link the Pakistani identity to Indus Valley Civilisation, which prospered the areas of current Pakistan 5000 years ago. But can a vision from past heal the fault lines in the current Pakistani identity, possible but highly unlikely.

Pakistan is a reality which the sceptics of partition of India cannot simply wish away. Pakistani identity is a fluid and dynamic paradigm and religion alone cannot provide the basis of a modern nation state. The Islamist tried to wipe out the colourful mosaic of songs and culture through imposition of their mono-chrome Islamic culture on TV, newspapers, magazines, painters and performing arts.

World famous Pakistani historian and anthropologist late Ahmed H. Dani described, Pakistan’s landscape and culture as many countries rolled into one; Northern Areas are Central Asian Switzerland , Frontier is Afghani, Punjab and upper Sindh are North Indian and Baluchistan and lower Sindh are Middle Eastern. Up until 2004, Pakistan used to have half a million European and American tourists every year.

The Himalayan valleys in Northern Areas, The Kite Runner festival of “Basant” in the ancient and  walled inner city of Lahore(capital of North Indian culture), cultural and religious tourism for Sikh and Hindu pilgrims are still as good as any in the world. Pakistan has to showcase the Indus Valley and Ghandhara Buddhist civilizations, Basant festival, performing arts festival, truck art, chicken-Tikka Masaala Mughal cuisine, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh pilgrimage places to new markets.Festivals at Shiv Mandir in Katas Raj and Kali Mandir in Hinglaj Balouchistan can bring Non-resident Indians(sikhs especially) NRIs from Europe and America. Its high time Indians are allowed free access to Pakistani destinations.

In today’s Pakistan, despite the terrorism the media is free but there are certain “red lines”, which no one dares to cross. Pakistan national broadcasters TV and radio try to revive the art and culture through works of great writers and thinkers like Faiz, Faraz, Parveen shaker,S H Manto, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi,Ibn Insha and painters like Guljee ,Sadqeen and A R  Chughtai. Recently International bestsellers of Pakistani writers have made waves in media.  Arguably, the art and the literature are limited to the elite. Unfortunately, the local languages and culture is in decline due to global satellite TV entertainment.

Sufi Islam (with its colourful religious ceremonies) has inspired singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali, Junoon and Shafqat Amanat Ali to project a soft image of Pakistan to world wide audiences. Sufi saints’ folklore and romantic folktales of Heer-Ranja(Punjab), Sassi-Pannu(Baluch), Saiful –Maluk(Kashmir/Hazara) and Umer-Marvi (Sindh) inspire and bond  Pakistani masses  together.

English socialite, Jewish Heiress Jemima Khan, recalled listening to the Sufi Rahat Nusrat Fateh singing classic poet Ghalib at heritage Haveli (mansion) of the grandson of poet philosopher Dr. Iqbal , a stone-throw away from “Royal street” (the infamous dancing girls’ street) and “Food  street” Lahore, in the company of thespian legends, among them Indian Muslim Naseer-uddin shah(who co-incidentally played the role of  Ghalib in biographical movie) . The write-up captures the contradictions and beauty of Pakistani identity.

Pakistan’s biggest export to its eastern neighbour, India is culture in form of Poetry, Pop music, Sufi Qawali and its TV dramas. Indians consider Pakistanis as a custodian of Mughal  Muslim tradition of undivided India, Urdu Bhasha is the lingua franca of Bollywood movies.

Cricket is the passion, entertainment and pastime of the working, lower middle class Pakistanis. For the masses the pride and joy of winning a world championship was immeasurable. The cricketers become overnight heroes of the Pakistani nation. Pakistani cricketers (as a team), barring the two “Jehovah’s Muslims” Yousaf(a Christian  apostate) and Inzimam(ex-clubbing fanatic  turned Islamist), are the new poster boys for modernity, liberal lifestyle and international success, the fast bowler “Rawalpindi express” Shoaib Akhter is more (in)famous for his night-clubbing and binge drinking than for his cricketing talents. Even the neighbouring Afghanistan has caught the cricket fever, despite the game being banned by the puritanical Taliban in mid 90s.

 We should not let chauvinistic nationalism blind us from the shame of military blunders and human rights violations but Pakistani society still has the vitality to rise again from ashes after every major crisis and disaster. In Struggle for democracy in 1980s, floods of 1992, earthquake in 2005, judicial movement in 2007 and refugee crisis in Swat valley and fight against Islamic terrorism, Pakistanis unite and open their arms for their less fortunate brothers and sisters. 99% of the Pakistanis are not the isolationist fanatics, that world media and the Islamists portray them to be. Pakistanis have a new found confidence that they can compete with the best in the world despite all difficulties.

Three of the current cricketing heroes namely Yunus Khan, Shahid Afridi and Umer Gul are ethnic Pushtun and come from North West Frontier, an area battling the Islamist terrorist. Cricketing success has shown the youth of Pakistan a new way. Back on the streets of Bradistan even the English, Indian Gujarati and Bosnian Muslims joined in the chants of “Boom Boom Afridi”, and I said the future is bright the future is green.

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