Reflections on Pakistan's Independence Day

Point of View, by Khaled Ahmed, 2006-2007 Pakistan Scholar, from Centerpoint, September 2006

Sep 01, 2006

Nations must revisit their nationalisms periodically. This Independence Day, which fell on August 14, Pakistan once again stuck to its "painful birth syndrome" that the Serbs made the world aware of so fearfully in the 1990s before going down.

Nationalism begins like this: "We became a nation amid great suffering. Our men were killed, our women raped, and our children held up on spears." The question then asked is: "Who did it?" The answer designates the enemy-state and forthwith nationalism is born.

In Bangladesh, the official account of the nation's birth states Pakistani troops killed three million people and butchered numberless children. The Pakistani press, especially Urdu—which scrutinizes the state of nationalism as opposed to the English one that scrutinizes the functioning of the state—reiterated the same "painful birth syndrome" this year too. Pakistan continues to discuss military dominance at home but remains incapable of linking it to the country's national birth spoiled by an en enemy with whom a "just" war must be fought.

Successor states have to do "nation-building." Unlike the historical state, they have to make a "mission statement." If their founding fathers are endowed with intellect, they create a tenable mission statement. If the "independence movement" lacks intellect, then the state winds up with an exaggerated mission statement.

This is what has happened to Pakistan. Each year, people interviewed in the streets on the occasion of Independence Day say Pakistan has not fulfilled the dreams of its founding fathers. Clearly, Pakistan has made impressive progress within the Third World community, but its nationalism is too immodest. Add to that the "welfare state" utopia insisted upon by its ideology, and the result is a permanently unhappy nation.

General Pervez Musharraf is correct in saying we must look at Pakistan as a "trade corridor." This is a modest re-interpretation of the geopolitical concept of "strategic depth." Pakistan's last foray into Afghanistan aimed to offset its territorial narrowness vis-à-vis India in case of war. For a narrow country, it's better to trade than fight.

But he doesn't link this modest thought with the project he has approved in Lahore: a monument called "Bab-e-Pakistan" that will immortalize the nation's "painful birth" in 1947 by commemorating the Muslims who lost their lives at the time of the partition of the Indian subcontinent. On August 14, Pakistanis usually think contradictory thoughts.


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