Creating New Provinces

Deliberately ignoring indigenous history and cultural roots has robbed us of our centuries-old integrating identity and hereditary narrative of Sindhu-civilization.

“If my mother tongue is shaking the foundations of your state, it probably means that you built your state on my land.” Musa Anter, a Kurd writer was assassinated by the Turkish Government in 1992.

The above quote is a glorious personification of ethnic romanticism, brimming with emotions of “Ethnic Nationalism”. The author emphatically hits bull’s eye, by meticulously depicting the failure of state-nationalism versus ethnic nationalism. However, naive, or wily, the statement simultaneously ignites a hellfire that will engulf the state as well as the ethnic group alike.

State-nationalism versus ethnic-nationalism is a question confronting modern nation-states. State-nationalism was invented after the French Revolution to replace loyalty of citizens from monarchies to nation-states. While the narrative of state nationalism has been successful in integrating European states speaking a single language, we find state nationalism struggling in nation-states comprising multiethnic groups. This article is an attempt to discuss challenges and propose plausible solutions to the ethnic question in Pakistan.

The entire political campaign for the creation of Pakistan was built on the narrative of “two-nation theory”. However, upon the creation of Pakistan, the Hindu factor vanished. Regrettably, our political leadership could not recover from its hangover of success built on the religious identity of two-nation-theory. Resultantly, the state continued with its stubborn reinforcement of same religious identity through “Objectives Resolution” in 1949, where all 21 non-Muslim members, in a 75-member assembly, had voted against the motion.

In hindsight, one wonders that Muhammad Ali Jinnah while addressing the constituent assembly on 11th August 1947 instead of stating “Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims,” had stated, “the state today ceases to be Muslim or Hindu” essence of state-nationalism could have been different today.

The migrating political elite at the helm felt politically insecure as they lacked their roots and political support in newly independent Pakistan. Hence, a Nation-State in its natal infancy not only exhibited its naïve disdain towards dissenting voices of all religious minorities but also overlooked ethnic identities which had existed here for centuries before the creation of Pakistan. This all-new-design, state narrative, snubbed indigenous history, cultures, and heroes who were sons of the soil, all together. From Muhammad bin Qasim to Ghauri, Ghaznavi and fictional characters of Turkish TV serials, our quest to connect with fake and imported identities has collapsed.

In the very beginning, the adoption of “Urdu ‘’ as the national language, which was alien to every ethnicity existing in East and West Pakistan combined, was questioned by “Bangla speaking” Bengalis in East Pakistan. Bengalis saw replacing the Bangla Language with Urdu as an invasion of their ethnic identity, mother tongue, culture, and history while the state on its end viewed the nonconformity of Bengali ethnicity as treacherous, anti-state, and rebellious.

This question of state-nationalism versus ethnic-nationalism was ultimately settled with the disintegration of Pakistan upon the “Fall of Dhaka” in 1971. With the advantage of hindsight, today, we can infer with reasonable confidence that “Fall of Dhaka” was purely a result of an unaddressed “ethnic question”. The fact of history is that the linguistic identity and ethnic nationalism of Bengal succeeded in defeating the state’s narrative of religion-based nationalism, hands down. Regrettably, even historic tragedy as grave as “Fall of Dhaka’’, either failed to convince the state to reconsider its out-of-place narrative of religious nationalism built on erroneous romanticism, or the state lacked in creative thinking to construct an all-inclusive narrative of state-nationalism, one that could “liberate not discriminate”.

State-nationalism, confronted with heterogeneous sub-nationalisms stemming from linguistic, regional, ethnic, sectarian, and religious identities, has spread across the four provinces in Pakistan. The Urdu-speaking minority in Sindh, Seraiki speaking in Punjab, Pushto speaking in Balochistan, and Hindko-speaking Hazara region in KPK. To be precise, Pakistan is faced with a complex multi-layered ethnic question at the state as well as provincial levels, and the problem demands immediate attention of the state.

The self-doubting state views ethnic voices for recognition as its rivals and anti-state. Violent reactions from some ethnic groups, emanating from fear of identity loss, or political manipulation, has placed the state as well as ethnic identities in a shared peril of mutual mistrust. The “ethnic question” therefore has become existential in nature and demands immediate attention of the state and society, alike.

With available data from the past 75 years, it is not difficult to deduce that Pakistan is coping with the identity dilemma since its birth in 1947. Our clueless wandering for identity, while deliberately ignoring indigenous history and cultural roots has robbed us of our centuries-old integrating identity and hereditary narrative of Sindhu-civilization.

On a national level, our narrative for nationalism should switch from a superficial approach to a penetrating one. The state should uncover and patronise facts from history to tell mesmerising legends of ancient civilizations rising and collapsing along the banks of great river Indus; it has been flowing through all four provinces of Pakistan for thousands of years. There could be no better metaphor of integration for the four provinces and other sub-nationalities residing in these provinces. The state must espouse every ethnic identity present within Pakistan without discrimination of color, creed, or faith. State nationalism should become a beacon of the spirit, carrying a message of invitation to integrate and liberate. The state should encourage and support every initiative taken by an ethnic group, large or small, to preserve its history, culture, language, ethnicity, and religion. The air of mistrust between state and its ethnic diversity needs to be exchanged for mutual trust and peaceful coexistence where state provides means for preservation of every ethnic identity in a peaceful environment.

The Indian National Congress delivered on its promise of recognizing all ethnic groups, in the 1920s, by creating new provinces through the inclusion of Article: 3 to their constitution which provides a detailed framework for creation of new provinces in India. Pakistan, however, has preferred to preserve status quo. I reckon it is time that we change the way we think about nationalism, ethnicism, and national security, to liberate our future generations.

To win trust of its diverse ethnic groups and settle wrangling among major ethnic questions within the four provinces the state shall have to do more than hollow promises. Practical steps must be taken to initiate a grand national dialogue for creation of new provinces. The creation of new provinces can win the trust of the diverse ethnic identities and not only settle the ethnic question but also improve administrative efficiency and quality of governance for the citizens of Pakistan. Contrary to a popular belief that creation of new provinces will weaken the federation, every plausible logic suggests that such a move will further strengthen the federation. By virtue of size, each of the four provinces has in the past and can in the future continue to exert pressure on federal authority. However, creation of new provinces will reduce the sizes of provinces and increase interdependence between provinces, as well as their dependence on the federal government. Hence, provinces will not be able to intimidate the federation with threats of disintegration.

To further substantiate the case for new provinces, data confirms that the population of the countries that rank top ten in happiness, environment, per capita income, and law and order indexes in the world is less than 35 million, with an odd exception. It’s no mystery: the lesser the size, the greater the focus. Hence both ethnic and administrative imperatives strongly recommend the creation of new provinces; it shall be in the interest of the people of Pakistan and would consolidate our drive for national integration.

Sardar Fida Hussain
The writer is the former Secretary General of Tehreek Suba Hazara.

Sardar Fida Hussain
The writer is the former Secretary General of Tehreek Suba Hazara.

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