According to Nelson Mandela, “National integration is the ability to create a sense of belonging and unity among diverse communities within a country.” For Pakistan, national integration has been a huge struggle since its inception. Before the British colonial rule, all the Hindus and Muslims were living unitedly for many centuries. When colonial masters came, they did not only occupy the territories, but also employed the divide and rule strategies. After gaining independence, the contemporary ruling elite is doing the same through their contradictory policies. The elite that was already blessed under the colonial British Raj, became the ruling class of this newborn country. It created deep polarization and a void among the masses for gaining their self-interests. The linguistic, ethnic, and religious divisions that were created under the British Raj to divide and rule are still pretty much relevant. What causes more misery is that the ruling elite in Pakistan instead of making efforts toward national integration adopted biased behavior against small provinces; non-political entities got involved in the political affairs of the country; and political parties of Pakistan also remained loyal to their parties, not the nation. This article aims to highlight the various contradictions which are creating deep polarization in the country and recommends a holistic approach for national integration.
When Pakistan gained independence, the ruling elite projected Islam as a source of unity. In theory, they constructed a narrative of ‘La ilaha illalah’ meaning “No One, but Allah”. In contrast, they pursued the policies of self-interest and legitimized un-Islamic rules. For instance, instead of preventing bribery, institutions themselves practiced such horrendous acts. Abu Huraira (May Allah be pleased with him), a close companion of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) reported, “The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him said, “Allah has cursed the one who offers a bribe and the one who accepts a bribe to receive a favorable judgment.” (Source: Musnad Aḥmad 9031).
As far as ethnic nationalism is concerned, rulers only in theory have perpetually illustrate it as a source of unity because the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in his civic address in Quetta Municipality addressed nationalism as a base for cohesion. He stated, “We are now all Pakistanis, not Balochs, Pathans, Sindhis, Bengalis, Punjabis, and so on and as Pakistanis we must feel, behave and act, and we should be proud to be known as Pakistanis and nothing else”. In practice, the people in Pakistan have ignored ethnic identities. Ironically, the political leadership has not understood the fact that unity can be adopted with individuality as well.
Arguably, the ruling elite interpreted this theory wrongly. To them, all ethnicities are one despite their various histories and cultures. While unity lies in diversity and not in imposed national integration. This rigid behavior caused not only the separation of Bengal, but also its unresolved grievances took the country on the road to ethnic differences. Furthermore, the process of Islamization in the 1970s and 1980s has fueled religious and sectarian differences as well.
Balochistan is a case study of above-mentioned contradictions where the ruling elite has adopted biased behavior. For instance, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was supposed to be a game changer for its people first. In contrast, it has increased grievances among the people of the province. For example, a bill was recently passed for a university in Lahore with the name “Pak-China Gwadar University”, and the fishermen in Gwadar have grievances about losing their jobs on account of Chinese trollers. Consequently, human development is on the decline. According to the World Human Development Report, Pakistan has fallen from 154th to 161st position in 2022. After the decline in the human development index, it is against common sense to believe that national cohesion can be achieved in Pakistan by following the same patterns.
As far as political contradictions are concerned, the struggle for power within the ruling elite has further exacerbated ethno-religious and sectarian differences. The dominant ruling class on the one hand argues that they are a- political. Paradoxically, they entrenched a particular political model.
Furthermore, all political parties in general and mainstream political parties in particular run massive campaigns and mobilize people through various narratives in their respective manifestos. In their proclamations, they claim that they will provide relief to the people and will bring prosperity to the country. In contrast, they not only sign deals with the un-democratic forces, but they also compromise their political power as well. Parliament under them is working like a rubberstamp institution. Most recently, lawmakers have passed 54 bills without studying and discussing them much as the president Arif Alvi has claimed that he has not passed a couple of controversial bills, still, those were passed by the lawmakers bypassing the president. Besides this, the judiciary has also deliberately or undeliberately played a key role in this deep division. For instance, the Dhosso Case of 1958 is one of the examples that legitimized a dictator’s rule. On the one hand, the judiciary reiterates that it will do their constitutional duties. On the other hand, the judiciary has unconstitutionally encroached on the domains of executive and parliament through Suo Motu notices. To sum it up, it is inevitable to go by the book to stabilize the country. This can be done through avoiding contradictions, free and fair elections, and implementation of the division of power among the parliament, executive, and judiciary. Each individual and the ruling class, in particular, should realize that Pakistan is left with no other option but to make fair and correct choices now. It is the time to cultivate a society through education, awareness, merit, and the rule of law for a holistic national integration. This cannot be done by the ruling elite alone, but every individual should equally contribute to steer the country out of this complex time.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.