Pakistan – A National Identity Crisis – By Hammad Khan

Many forms of government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

–          Winston Churchill remarks in the House of Commons in 1947.

The absence of a consensus or even debates on the issue of the national identity of Pakistan has resulted in an identity crisis for Pakistanis. The fact that Pakistan has seen three “bloodless” military coups, and each of these three regimes lasted for at least ten years is an indicator that democracy is not sacred among the public nor has it been able to have its roots strengthened. The repeated suspension of the Constitution, which should hold a sacred place among the citizens, by the military dictators point to the notion that democracy is not dear to Pakistan. Much of the debate in intellectual and political circles has been focused on the issue of separation of Mosque and State. However, the general apathy and withdrawal shown, repeatedly by the citizens in the wake of military coups, towards democracy by the people is a troubling factor. Pakistan was created as a democratic state and the democratic values embedded in the national identity should be sacred to all the citizens. Jinnah famously laid down the foundation of a secular state in his Constituent Assembly speech in 1947.

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State.” Jinnah said, “Now, I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”


The confusion over the national identity of the country has repeatedly caused irresponsible and provocative policies towards India. The Pakistani army has historically propagated the belief that Pakistan serves as a counter to India. This ridiculous notion results in large allocations for defence  in the budget, excessive control of the military over foreign policy issues, and the confused strategy against the militants. The hesitancy and confusion shown in the policies against the militant organizations reflects a national dilemma; a national identity crisis. The notion that Pakistan is an Islamic Republic has been challenged by the militant organizations, which have their own vision for Islamic rule in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The military, which after acquiring nuclear weapons, has often portrayed itself as the “Defenders of Islam”. The hesitancy over the policies against the militancy is a direct product of the lack of a national identity.

The excessive defense spending, failed policies against the militancy, and rising extremism in Pakistan are just a few by-products of the identity crisis. Traditionally, the state has put excessive focus on the “Islamic Republic” part of the identity, when democratic values should have been emphasized. Pakistan is hardly an electoral democracy today, and it has a long way to go before becoming a liberal democracy. However, the consistent failure of government to deal with the existential threats facing Pakistan from within and the excessive abuse of power by the military point to the immediate need of an emphasis on DEMOCRACY AS THE NATIONAL IDENTITY OF PAKISTAN. The intellectuals in media and the political circles have the responsibility to start the debate. It is through repeated exposure that the citizens will start to identify themselves with democratic and liberal values.

Democracy needs to be declared as the national identity of Pakistan



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