Issues and debate on National culture, Nationalism and ethnicity in historical and post-colonial perspective of Pakistan; Prepared and Compiled By: Salma Peter John


As researchers have found over and over, the influences of national cultures shape strong value systems among people and the resulting shared values, preferences, and behaviors of population groups differ widely between countries.
This study examined the effects of National culture, Nationalism and ethnicity dimensions, in case of Pakistan and explores the relationship between national culture and state formation, Nationalism and ethic nationalism, arguing that this is a field of contestation where struggles over hegemony between various classes and social blocs are played out. Cultural nationalism has been the pre-eminent form of nationalism in the twentieth century, particularly within the anti-colonial and postcolonial contexts. In this paper, I will address the idea of national culture and nationalism as it relates to Pakistan. I will also attempt to demonstrate the manner in which ethnic nationalism has affected Pakistan since its birth as a nation-state and how it has and will continue to present problems for the state of Pakistan.
Pakistan is situated in the western part of the Indian subcontinent, with Afghanistan and Iran on the west, India on the east, and the Arabian Sea on the south. The name Pakistan is derived from the Urdu words Pak (meaning pure) and stan (meaning country). The northern and western highlands of Pakistan contain the towering Karakoram and Pamir mountain ranges, which include some of the world's highest peaks: K2 (28,250 ft; 8,611 m) and Nanga Parbat (26,660 ft; 8,126 m). The Baluchistan Plateau lies to the west, and the Thar Desert and an expanse of alluvial plains, the Punjab and Sind, lie to the east. The 1,000-mile-long (1,609 km) Indus River and its tributaries flow through the country from the Kashmir region to the Arabian Sea.
History: Pakistan was one of the two original successor states to British India, which was partitioned in 1947. For almost 25 years following independence, it consisted of two separate regions, East and West Pakistan, but now it is made up only of the western sector. Both India and Pakistan have laid claim to the Kashmir region; this territorial dispute led to war in 1949, 1965, 1971, 1999, and remains unresolved today.
What is now Pakistan was in prehistoric times the Indus Valley civilization (c. 2500–1700 BC). A series of invaders Aryans, Persians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and others controlled the region for the next several thousand years. Islam, the principal religion, was introduced in 711. In 1526, the land became part of the Mogul Empire, which ruled most of the Indian subcontinent from the 16th to the mid-18th century. By 1857, the British became the dominant power in the region. With Hindus holding most of the economic, social, and political advantages, the Muslim minority's dissatisfaction grew, leading to the formation of the nationalist Muslim League in 1906 by Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876–1949). The league supported Britain in the Second World War while the Hindu nationalist leaders, Nehru and Gandhi, refused. Britain agreed to the formation of Pakistan as a separate dominion within the Commonwealth in August 1947. Mohammad Ali Jinnah became governor-general. The partition of Pakistan and India along the religious line resulted in the largest migration in human history, with 17 million people fleeing across the borders in both directions to escape the accompanying sectarian violence.
The New Republic of Pakistan: Pakistan became a republic on March 23, 1956, with Maj. Gen. Iskander Mirza as the first president. Military rule prevailed for the next two decades. Tensions between East and West Pakistan existed from the outset. Separated by more than a thousand miles, the two regions shared few cultural and social traditions other than religion. To the growing resentment of East Pakistan, West Pakistan monopolized the country's political and economic power. In 1970, East Pakistan's Awami League, led by the Bengali leader Sheik Mujibur Rahman, secured a majority of the seats in the national assembly. President Yahya Khan postponed the opening of the national assembly to East Pakistan's demand for greater autonomy, provoking civil war. The independent state of Bangladesh, or Bengali nation, was proclaimed on March 26, 1971. Indian troops entered the war in its last weeks, fighting on the side of the new state. Pakistan was defeated on December 16, 1971, and President Yahya Khan stepped down. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over Pakistan and accepted Bangladesh as an independent entity. In 1976, formal relations between India and Pakistan resumed.
Literature Review
Culture is a global phenomenon; no society has ever and will never exist in this universe without a culture. Culture is derived from social, economic, legal, political and religious norms, values and traditions of the society. Culture shapes the behavior of individuals to act accordingly in different situations faced by the individuals in all spheres of life. Cotgrove (1978) stated that culture is the shared values, traditions and norms of a social system which are the most important aspect of a society.
Although, cultural anthropologists, Clofford Geertz and David Schneider, argue that “cultural systems must be distinguished from social systems and analyzed, in the first instance, as internally coherent wholes”. But, drawing a clear-cut line of distinction between social and cultural factors seems to be almost impossible. Socio-cultural realities involve two categories: (a) domestic society and domestic culture, and (b) global society and global culture. Other factors such as political, economic, religious, psychological, educational, and ideological all of these types are highly integrated with one another.
Society and culture have their political, economic and religious dimensions. One’s personality is affected by sociocultural processes. Education also directs and moulds one’s socialization process. In fact, personality, society and culture cannot be seen or comprehended in isolation as these components lead to formation of a Nation.
Nation has different meanings in different contexts. In worldwide diplomacy, nation can mean country or sovereign state. Nation may more broadly refer to a community of people who share a common territory and government; and who often share a common language, race, descent, and/or history.
In case of Pakistan, Pakistani state is committed to promoting a national culture in Pakistan, though some perceive that as an onslaught against their respective subcultures. Thus, at a lower level, subcultures or provincial cultures are in competition with the national culture. As Abdul Qadeer observes, “national culture has been the most controversial dimension of the notions of Pakistan”.
Nationalism can be restated as a collective identity revolving around a sense of patriotism connected directly to nation (Rourke and Boyer, 72). Nationalism provides a sense of belonging that can be linked with a nation’s language, religion or ethnic origins. For Pakistan, this sense of community was initially manifested through the idea of using Islam as a religious base to unify Indian Muslims to create a national identity (Haqqani,3).
Chatterjee in his an essay on “Nationalism as a Problem in the History of Political Ideas,” has the most sympathy for Anderson’s position, but, he asks, “What … are the substantive differences between Anderson and Gellner on 20th century nationalism? None. Both point out a fundamental change in ways of perceiving the social world which occurs before nationalism can emerge…Both describe the characteristics of the new cultural homogeneity which is sought to be imposed on the emerging nation…In the end, both see in third-world nationalisms a profoundly ‘modular’ character. They are inavariably shaped according to contours outlined by given historical models”
Adeel Khan contends that there is a tendency to view nationalism “as a group feeling that is reawakened by the spread of modernity” or to be interpreted “as a feeling created by industrialism, print capitalism and communication” (Khan, 84).
In "On National Culture," an essay collected in The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon argues that there are three phases noticeable in the development of a national culture (he would seem to have in mind both intellectual history in general and the various cultural practices in which novelists, poets, etc. participate). In the first phase, the native intellectual gives proof that he has assimilated the culture of the occupying power.
In the second phase, we find the native is disturbed; he decides to remember what he is. . . .Past happenings of the bygone days of his childhood will be brought up out of the depths of his memory; old legends will be reinterpreted in the light of a borrowed aestheticism and of a conception of the world which was discovered under other skies. . . . We spew ourselves up. (179)
In the third phase, the “fighting phase” (179), the native, after having tried to lose himself in the people and with people, will on the contrary shake the people.
In the third essay, "The Pitfalls of National Consciousness," Fanon rearticulates the inherent conflict between the national middle class and the masses. The former, embracing the values and ideologies of the colonial system (as manifested by the acquisition and display of opulent cars and homes), is conceptually incarcerated by the habit patterns established by the mother country.
Fanon suggests that this middle class, which assumes power at the end of the colonial regime, is inadequately prepared to replace the colonial system because of a lack of training and resources and must resort to sending "frenzied appeals for help the mother country" (p. 149). Thus, instead of independence, the decolonized nation states remain fiscally dependent and indebted to the colonial power.
We are in the midst of a great, confusing, stressful and enormously promising historical transition, and it has to do not so much with what we believe as with how we believe. (Anderson, p. 2).
The anthropologist Michael Fischer recently argued..."that ethnicity is something reinvented and reinterpreted in each generation by each individual and that it is often something quite puzzling to the individual." ... Political scientist Benedict Anderson has...has reflected upon the conditions under which modern national and ethnic groups have been invented (or "imagined"). "Nationalism is not the awakening of nations to self-consciousness; it invents nations where they do not exist." ...Tough the revolutionary ideals or the Declaration of Independence provided the popular slogans for the termination of aristocratic systems, new hierarchies immediately emerged, often in the name of ethnicity. The nation-state was viewed as an ideal, and ethnic homogeneity or racial purity was advocated by thinkers like Louis Agassiz and Arthur Gobineau....
Assimilation is the foe of ethnicity; hence theirare numerous polemics against the blandness of melting pot, mainstream, and majority culture. (Werner Sollers, And. 63)
A large body of political literature on the subject indicates that British legacy and United States support to the military regimes in Pakistan supplemented the grip of oligarchy in postcolonial Pakistan (Yong 2005). The potential factors that impinge upon national culture of Pakistan may include indigenous traditions, religious injunctions, amongst others British colonial past and current American influences are the central to the development of the country (Kazi, 2003; Khilji, 2003).
British Empire formally ruled the Indian subcontinent for over a hundred years with resultant unresolved political issues in many third world countries. This undermined the peace and stability of many postcolonial societies, including Pakistan, subsequently giving birth to nationalist and religious movements. Many postcolonial societies across Asia and Africa live with the by-products of colonial legacies: elitism and bureaucratic structures which the populace and institutions (Alavi, 1972, 1990; Kennedy, 1984; Waseem, 1997). Colonial masters chose hand-picked courtiers and subservient civil, military and landed elites to control the general public which was already divided on the basis of religion, ethnicity and language (Kazi, 2003). Since then religious and ethno-national intolerance continue to plague the national culture of many post-colonial societies, including Pakistan.
British Colonial Rule and United States have indelible impact on history, institutions, national culture in postcolonial history of Pakistan.
The ‘nation’, is understood as a political and moral community that needs to have the emotive force and inspire the kind of passion and loyalty that is required for the idea of the nation to ‘work’. The ideological labour involved in producing this loyalty to the nation is performed through the agency of ‘national culture’.
It is fair to say that by the twentieth century, cultural nationalism had become the hegemonic form of nationalism especially within anti-colonial national struggles. This was due in part to the fact that cultural politics formed a privileged aspect of anti-colonial struggles, because it was so effective in creating precisely the kind of ‘emotional attachment to the nation’.
Muslim nationalism, as an ideology and as a movement had its roots in Muslim minority provinces. This meant that, except for those who managed to migrate to Pakistan, most of the Muslims from these areas were not included in the nation-state whose creation they had supported. Many of these Muslims who had been active in the Muslim League struggle, including some of Jinnah’s own associates such as Ismail Khan and the Nawab of Chhatari, ultimately could not ‘tear themselves apart from their social milieu and cultural moorings’ and decided to stay in India; those who did migrate to Pakistan, could not but do so ‘with a sense of unease and remorse’ (Hasan 1993).
Thus, the very birth of the Pakistani nation-state split the ‘Indian Muslim community’ at the demographic level, but even more foundationally, it effected a contradiction within the very heart of the discursive construct of the ‘nation’. If the majority of the members of the ‘nation-as-community’ were only to be found, strictly speaking, outside the state which was purportedly its embodiment, then where/what exactly was ‘the [Pakistani] nation’? On the one hand, the discourse of the Muslim League was a triumphalist one, albeit tempered by the tragedy that was Partition.
Pakistan had been achieved and it was the Muslim League that had achieved it. Accompanying this was the implication that what was most needed now was not a preoccupation with the ‘other Dominion’, but a concern with the new ‘Muslim’ state. In its essence this was a conflict between territorial nationalism and an organically imagined community of Indian Muslims.
This, then, introduced a major paradox into the heart of the new nationalist project. How could Pakistan claim to be the nation of Indian Muslims if the vast majority of its constituency continued to live in the other Dominion, Hindustan, the land of the Hindus? Then, there was the question of non-Muslims: despite the division of Bengal and Punjab on a communal basis, and the communal riots which had accompanied Partition, the new Muslim nation-state included a significant percentage of non-Muslims, particularly Hindus. What was to be done with these Hindu Pakistanis who were a contradiction in terms according to the older definition of ‘the nation’ but whose equal representation in both senses of the term now had to be ensured within the new nation-state if it was to be true to its aspirations to modernity and claims of being a modern state?
It was clear that the old discourse of Muslim nationalism would no longer serve its purpose of constructing consent. How, then, could the various and diverse interests and identities which characterized the new nation-state be articulated into a new discourse of nationhood?
At the time of partition of India, Pakistan was divided into four main provinces: the Northwest Frontier, Baluchistan, in the east Bengal, and in the west Punjab. All four of these provinces hold a majority of Muslims. Frederic Grare states that even fifty-eight years after independence, Pakistan has been unable to either fully accommodate or eliminate the ethnic differences in its four provinces (Grare, 3). East Pakistan successfully seceded after violent conflict in 1971 and became Bangladesh.
Baluch nationalists in the province of Baluchistan have clashed with the Pakistani army four times since 1947: 1948, 1958, 1962, and in 1973-1977, and now in 2007, (when Sardar Bukti was killed by the army) due to state policy to suppress any autonomous nationalistic tendencies. Some Baluch nationals do not even think of themselves as part of Pakistan (Grare, 3). In 2005, the specter of ethnic nationalism raised its head once again when conflict and clashes broke out between the army and Baluch nationals at a time when the army had to contend with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and its supporters (Tohid).
The ethnic people of Baluch stretch across the borders of three countries: Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan (Grare, 4). In the 1970s, following a coup d’etat by Sardar Muhammad Daoud against Zahir Shah in Afghanistan, Daoud supported Baluch nationals against Afghan Islamists backed by the Pakistani army (Haqqani, 174). Pakistan moved to violently suppress any Baluch aspirations or goals toward nationalism.
The Sindh province was characterized by isolation from power centers. Historically, the area operated under a repressive feudal system very different from the northern regions of Punjab and the Northwest Frontier provinces. This feudal system existed prior to the British occupation. There was no middle class and the poor hari peasants were literally slaves to the ruling class of the waderos (Khan, 134). The pirs, religious guides or leaders, were the largest landowners who dominated the religious life of the Sindhi, a people largely illiterate and having no developed political consciousness. (Khan, 135). Hindu absentee property owners held 80% of the land in the province (134). In 1936, long before partition, Sindh was granted the status of a province by the Bombay Presidency (133). However, Sindh continued to remain politically unstable until partition of India and Pakistan and would lose that regional autonomy gained in status as a province (136). Adeel Khan states that the Sindh viewed the transfer of political power from India to Pakistan as just another form of domination (137).
Pakistan made the city of Karachi in the Sindh province the capital, and turned it into a separate federally administered area. This disenfranchised the Sindh from the economic and political leadership of their major city and a major source of revenue (138). There was also a class difference between the Sindhi and the Mohajirs (those Indian Muslims migrating from India to the newly formed Pakistan).
The Punjabi and Mohajir also demonstrated where their priorities lay when they replaced Sindhi language with Urdu as the language of instruction in schools. Language remains a source of national identification and a way of asserting autonomy. The Sindhis were prevented from seeking any form of identity through language, economics, land ownership or advancement in military service. 95% of the military consisted of Punjabis, Pashtuns and Mohajirs. The Sindhis were largely excluded and suffered the most when Pakistan was under military rule. It has spent a large part of its history under military rule. The Sindhis were also under-represented in government civil and bureaucratic positions, leading to further alienation.
The war between Afghanistan and Russia between 1979 and 1989 significantly contributed to Pakistan’s difficulties with ethnic nationalism, both with the Baluch and the Pashtun in Waziristan in the NWFP. In the initial stages of the war, the large migration of refugees crossing the border presented massive problems. Almost one million Afghan refugees flowed into Pakistan, initially, with that number jumping to three million by 1988 (Haqqani, 189). Haqqani also relates that Pakistani officials gave the different groups of mujahideen operating in the refugee camps the task of registering refugees upon their arrival in Pakistan which he states linked “access to refugee aid and membership in one of the seven mujahideen parties that Pakistan recognized” (Haqqani, 190).
The mujahideen recruited young refugees with no income to take up arms against Russia. The refugee problem and its link with the mujahideen may well have contributed to the facilitation and encouragement of the role Islam in the ensuing years. It certainly created a stronger sense of nationalism in the Pashtun.
The Pashtun live in southern Afghanistan and in the area known as Waziristan in the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan. They are a majority in Afghanistan, but a minority in Pakistan, except in the NWFP where they are 70-80% of the population (Khan, 85). Pashtun culture is significantly different from the Punjabis, Sindhis or the Mohajirs. They live in mostly mountainous regions and historically, their survival in the mountains depended on warfare and plunder. The Pashtun often served as mercenaries in the Persian and Mughal armies. For the Pashtun, there is no concept of a ruling class; there are just respected individuals who competed with each other “to influence the tribe by their qualities of moral rectitude, courage, wisdom and wealth”. They emphasize the ideas of honor, freedom and bravery and down play inequality, hierarchy and authority. The Pashtun only recognize authority, which is collectively imposed by the community. Adeel Khan notes that Pashtun society remains an area that continues to be regulated by tribal codes and customs.
Pashtun nationalism, both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, rose as Afghanistan started to carve out a national identity in the 20th century to replace tribal identification. Afghanistan made changes in the state system with an eye to nationalizing the country. Abdul Rehman Khan, at the turn of the century, introduced a national flag and a national anthem. Others after him formulated new policies in education and modernization and even wrote a constitution in Pashto, which became the national language of Afghanistan (Khan, 91). It is safe to say that Afghanistan’s sense of Pashtun nationalism deeply affected and influenced the Pashtun in Pakistan.
Another factor of Pakistan’s inability to successfully incorporate the Pashtun into a unified nation-state was the border dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The border is known as the Durand Line and concerns about it have haunted Pakistan from 1947 to the present. The two countries have tried to reach an agreement many times with the failure of the 1989 agreement collapsing because of the military’s policy of strategic depth (Sinkler, 100). Afghanis called the border illegal because it separated the Pashtun in Pakistan with those in Afghanistan. Initially, as partition began, the Pashtun called for independence, just as it had done with the British or in lieu of that, to be allowed to become part of Afghanistan (Sinkler, 85).
Another complication was that the All-India Muslim League, which claimed to be the sole representative of Indian Muslims, did not gain the support of the Pashtun. Adeel Khan relates that in the years prior to independence, a British governor, Cunningham conspired with the Muslim League to gain Pashtun tribal support with propaganda and financial incentives to the Khans (tribal leaders) and with instructions to warn the Pashtun of the danger of Muslims conniving with the Hindus (Khan, 95).
Selig Harrison maintains that today, the Pashtun continue to be exploited because the Taliban, who are primarily Pashtun, exploit secessionist and nationalistic tendencies among the millions of Pashtun on the border (Harrison).
Another nationalistic thorn in the side of Pakistan was the Bengali province (East Pakistan). The Bengali’s main complaint with Pakistan was that the government allocated the majority of revenue to developing West Pakistan to the detriment of East Pakistan. This was a province suffering from extreme poverty and lack of economic development (Sinkler, 62).
In 1970, the Awami League, led by Bengali nationalist Mujibur Rahman, was formed and won a healthy number of seats in the national assembly. The Awami League demanded that East Pakistan have the right to establish its own army and form its own economic policy. Pakistan responded by sending in the army to crush uprisings of Bengalis supporting separation. They failed to keep East Pakistan from seceding, because India was providing support in the form of military aid and troops (Sinkler, 62). Officially, Bangladesh became a nation state in 1971 and was first recognized as such by the USSR and India (Jaffrelot, 59).
Nationalist tendencies and allegiances, the role of Islam and border disputes are not the only factors that prevent Pakistan from becoming a unified nation-state. There are more than twenty languages spoken in Pakistan. Half of all Pakistanis speak Punjabi, a form of Urdu, with the next most common language Sindhi at 12%, followed by another Punjabi variant which 10% speak. Pashto accounts for 8% and Baluchi for just 3% (Library of Congress).
Pakistan was forced to postpone a 1991 census due to ethnic unrest and tensions because each ethnic group thought taking the census might result in violent reactions from other groups (Encyclopedia Britannica). There are roughly five ethnic groups in Pakistan and these roughly correspond with language as well. The largest is the Punjabi at 55 %, followed by the Sindhi at 20%, the Baluchi at 3-5%, and the Mohajirs at 10% (Encyclopedia Britannica).
Virtually every area of concern for Pakistan’s survival as a unified nation state is affected in one way or another by ethnic nationalism. The Pashtun always having felt like they belonged more with Afghanistan, has prevented Pakistan from bringing Pashtun under the national umbrella.
The question of the Kashmir is an issue of nationalism. At the time of the British Raj, it was a semiautonomous state with control over its own internal affairs but allowing the British government to have authority over external affairs (Sinkler, 29). Kashmiris themselves were divided on the idea of accession, making it difficult to reach agreement (Sinkler, 30). Three major wars have been fought between India and Pakistan over possession of Kashmir. Currently, both Pakistan and India reject United Nation intervention (Evans, 71).
Oligarchy in Pakistan allegedly involved in cronyism and promoted their ethnic group which encouraged inter-provincial and inert-ethnic grievances. Additionally, unstinting United States support to civil-military stimulated and galvanized the militarisation of state and enterprises. The incident of 9/11 brought Pakistan close to the US in global coalition of ‘war on terror’ as a result Pakistan received massive financial aids to transform institutions to combat extremism.
Historically, the demand for separation from India was due to “a secular nationalist demand of a section of Muslims who felt threatened, not religiously but economically, by the Hindu majority” (Khan, 69).
Pakistan’s sociocultural realities are factors that revolve around our culture of education, which is extremely skewed; religious culture, which is polarized and sectarian; and economic culture, which is widely unequal. Authoritarian and undemocratic attitudes and institutions are also among the factors. .
Nationalism, National culture and ethnicity will continue to present problems for Pakistan. Nationalism inherently involves the ability of the nation-state to gain its people’s loyalty and Pakistan has never been able to do that (Rourke and Boyer, 73). Conversely, history has shown Pakistan has never made any effort to obtain the loyalty of the people it governs.
Evans, Alexander. The World’s Hot Spots: Pakistan. “The Persistence of the
Indo-Pakistani Conflict” New York. Greenhaven Press, 2003: 71
Grare, Frederic. "Pakistan: The Resurgence of Baluch Nationalism" Carneqie
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Harrison, Selig S. "Beware Pashtunistan" Newsweek. 12, Nov. 2007.
Jaffrelot, Christophe. A History of Pakistan and Its Origins. London.
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Khan, Adeel. Politics of Identity: Ethnic Nationalism and the State in Pakistan.
London. Sage Publications, 2005: 69, 84, 85, 90-92 133-139, 150, 153-154, 156.
Krify News. “Pakistan daily warns against anti-US nationalism” Islamabad, 19 October, 2007.
Musharraf, Pervez. The World’s Hot Spots: Pakistan. “Pakistan must Join the War on Terror” New York. Greenhaven Press, 2003: 83.
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Sinkler, Adrian. Ed. Nations in Transition: Pakistan. New York. Thomson Gale. 2005: 29, 30, 62, 84, 85, 100
Tohid, Owais. "Will Rising Baloch Nationalism Undermine Pakistan's War on Terror?” Christian Science Monitor. 26, January 2005.
Aluko, M.A.O (2003). The impact of culture on organizational performance in selected textiles firms in Nigeria. Nordic Journal of African Studies, 12 (2): 164-179.
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