Affirming diversity: The only way forward to unity – by Suleman Akhtar

From out of all the many particulars comes oneness, and out of oneness come all the many particulars- (Heraclitus, Fragment 54)

One, while formulating and distinguishing salient idiosyncrasies of Pakistani nationhood, cannot take liberty to overlook the historic as well as ethnic roots which contrive whole national scenario. Looking deep into pages of history, a marvel come to the fore that people of this region[read: Subcontinent], as a bulk, has never been a nation since antiquity, as per any definition of nationhood, rather small groups of homogeneous races marked by diverse cultures, languages and traditions, be it Assamese, Dardic, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, Altaic or Semitic. That was Ashok of the Maurya dynasty, who at first gathered more or less all distinctive groups under his empire, at the cost of horrible bloodbath. After his death, inexorable retaliation from different regional groups led to demolition of Maurya Empire. Allaudin Khilji of Khilji dynasty and Aurangzeb Alamgir of Mughal dynasty, by many historians, are considered as only rulers after Ashok who reigned over whole subcontinent until British throne stepped in.

For the mutual repugnance of tribes is one of the oldest matters in the world. Human history is marked by the mass migrations of people belonging to different ethnic origins, speaking different languages and celebrating different cultures. Unless the presence of common binding factor or mutual goal, mass mingling and settling of diverse ethnicities in the same geographical locality incorporates racial and ethnic antagonism. Fear of the others is considered as one of the most instinctive human characteristic which, subsequently, lays basis of animosity for others. An overall view of world reveals that ethnic tensions are deliberately deteriorating the social structure of different countries like Cyprus, Sudan, Indonesia, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Srilanka-you name it.

Pakistani society is multi-layered in its fabrication and each layer is divided on secondary and tertiary levels with diversities in languages, ethnicities, religious beliefs and sects, cultures and traditions. People associated with pluralistic traits are highly inclined to their specific identities that are deeply rooted in peculiar cultural and ethnic histories. Inside a whole national scenario, they like to identify themselves on the basis of ethnic association instead of adhering to the artificial national identity. State has deliberately failed to forge all entities into a national identity which may represent the aspirations of all inhabitants.

One may, correctly, hold unreasonable partition responsible for the present punctilious situation but, looking to the neighboring country that has succeeded to forge a national identity, more reasons are required to identify the malady afflicting us. The roots of failure trace back to the days when a small group of people, deprived of any legitimacy, merged the four provinces of West Pakistan into one homogeneous unit. Officially, One-Unit scheme was implemented in October 1955 by declaring Lahore as provincial capital. Ridiculous vindication, given for that horrible act was, to counterbalance the numerical domination of the ethnic Bengalis of East Pakistan. That was the inception point of notorious Punjab dominance policy which, later, paved way for devastating inter-ethnic conflicts and threw all other ethnic groups in deep abyss of uncertainty and dubiousness.

Declaration of One Unit scheme, generating a hostile environment, stirred the whole national scenario. Sindhi were already leery of state intentions regarding mass settlements of Muhajirs in Karachi and transfer of “University of Sindh” from Karachi to Hyderabad. They took the decision as peril for their centuries’ old tradition and “Anti One Unit” front was established under the leadership of Hyderbuksh Jatoi, G.M.Syed and Abdul Majeed Sindhi. Baloch politicians regarded One Unit as worse than British-Raj and, as reaction to its imposition, the Khan of Kalat proclaimed Balochistan’s independence and was crushed by force. At last, Balochistan was pronounced as “disturbed area” due to escalating struggle of Baloch people against One Unit scheme. Pakhtun nationalists expressed their resentment and at last Khan Abdul Ghafar Khan, of the National Awami Party turned his back on national politics and said he would work for the attainment of separate homeland for Pukhtuns. In 1958 West Pakistan Legislative Assembly passed a resolution calling for the undoing of One Unit arrangements, but General Ayub Khan blocked the move and Martial Law was imposed to save One Unit. The rest, as they say, is history.

Most lethal expression of this articulated artifice national identity is imposition of State Religion. Religion in subcontinent, as a whole, has always been predominately a cultural issue rather than a puritanical unyielding faith phenomenon. Centuries’ old correlation and intermingling of diverse faiths and beliefs has molded into a distinctive form of religion in general, and Islam in particular, which is practiced by different local sects with their own particular signature. Had religion the matter of utmost preference for inhabitants of this country, they would have been a distinctive nation in their attitudes and other issues, which, presently, is not the case. Interminable state efforts to introduce and impose a puritanical version of religion, which has nothing in common with ground and cultural values of this region, have caused to create a deep sense of insecurity and precariousness among different sects who find their distinctive identities in danger.

Adding in our misfortune, many of so-called liberals, also join hands the security state establishment in the particular matter and assert the apprehension of dissolving all pluralistic traits whilst deliberately discounting the persisting ground realities and inevitable relation of people belonging this part of earth to their distinctive identities. To urge that, would be tantamount to deprive the untouchables of this dystopian society of their existence and throw them in Indian Ocean.

To summarize, Pakistan is not a nation of individuals at all but a nation of groups, that ethnicity is defining experience for most Pakistanis, that ethnicities are permanent and enduring. These are diverse identities that establish the basic structure of Pakistani society and the basic meaning of Pakistan history. Assimilation of uniqueness is not a way forward at all but recognizing and affirming diversity may lead us to the point of nation building.

E pluribus unum !

28 responses to “Affirming diversity: The only way forward to unity – by Suleman Akhtar”

  1. This is an excellent post, Salman, on a much neglected topic.

    The federation of Pakistan will remain weak and artificial unless cultural and legal rights of all ethnicities, religions and sects are fully acknowledged and respected.

  2. Some Comments from Facebook.

    In Diversity Lies Our Unity

    This is an excellent post, Salman, on a much neglected topic.
    The federation of Pakistan will remain weak and artificial unless cultural and legal rights of all ethnicities, religions and sects are fully acknowledged and respected.

    Suleman thanks for tagging. This style of starting with classic references is so amusing.

    ‎@Suleman, thanks for tagging me in this wonderful article. The chauvinist attitudes towards our sub-national groups and the insistence on homogeniety has been the death of us. For instance, the lowest support in the country for the Taliban is amongst the Pushtuns (5%) and yet our civil society types keep on bullying and foisting the dishonest and insensitive point of view that the “Taliban are an expression of Pushtun Nationalism”!

    ‎@Suleman. Thank you for tagging me and forwarding this excellent article. Keep writing on these subjects which are of great importance.

    I was just passing by.. a glimpse.. and then a read… excuse my intrusion..but could’nt stop…interesting facts, figures and, if this is a book.. its priceless… please sign a copy for me !!

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