| Emerging from the veil
Pakistan: Nationalism Without A Nation' Edited by Christophe Jaffrelot, Manohar, Rs 650
Is nationalism passe' Globalization and ethnic tussles throughout the world have brought into focus the question of the viability of nation states. The failure of nationalism in one of the poorest third world states is the theme of the volume under review. Fifiteen political scientists from Australia, India and Pakistan attempt to analyze why M.A. Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan as the land of all Muslims in south Asia came to naught.
Pakistan had based itself on Islam. However, infighting between the Shias and Sunnis proved the failure of religion to provide an uniform platform for nation-building. Though Shias constituted only 20 per cent of the Pakistani population, says S.V.R. Nasr, Shia generals dominated the top levels of decision-making. In reaction, during the reign of Zia ul-Haq, the Sunnis attempted to overthrow the Shia dominance. These rivalries spilled over into society, resulting in communal clashes.
Despite a common religion, writes Christophe Jaffrelot, social and geographical factors created fissures within the Muslim ummah. Sindhis, Baluchis, Mohajirs and Punjabis are the disparate ethnic groups which constitute Pakistan. If a shared hatred of the Hindu “other” characterizes Pakistan today, a competitive nationalism among the various ethnic groups is no less a part of that reality.
The predominance of the Punjabis is a sore point within Pakistan. After the secession of East Pakistan in 1971, the Punjabis constituted 56 per cent of the total population of Pakistan. In fact, the predominnance of Punjabis was one of the principal causes for the emergence of Bengali nationalism in erstwhile East Pakistan. Ian Talbot argues that the seeds of Punjabi dominance can be traced back to the colonial times. The British recruited many Punjabi Muslims from west Punjab and in return, rewarded the “martial race” with land.
The canal colonies which developed under British patronage made Punjab richer than other provinces of British India. After the British departed, the Pakistan government persisted with the policy of granting land to pacify the powerful Punjabis. In 1981, 80 per cent of all tractors and 88 per cent of all tube wells in Pakistan were in Punjab.
The confluence of military, land and economic power not only strengthened the position of the Punjabis within Pakistan, but it also weakened the country’s nascent moves towards democracy. This process of “Punjabization” was accelerated when the Punjabi dominated army moved into the centre-stage in Islamabad as well
Other ethnic communities looked askance at the Punjabi ascendancy. Post-1947, the Mohajirs were enthusiastic about Pakistani nationalism since they benefitted from the burgeoning government sector. In 1961, the Urdu speaking Mohajirs, who comprised only 3.5 per cent of the population, occupied 21 per cent of posts in the civil services. But as a result of the rising Punjabi dominance and government cut backs due to economic reforms, claims Yunus Samad, the Mohajirs’ share in government jobs declined. No wonder, the Mohajirs have taken to violent protests lately.
Eric Gellner and Eric Hobsbawm have studied nations and nationalism in Europe. This volume attempts to break fresh ground by focusing on a non-European context. On the one hand, international commerce and developments in telecommunications have made inter-state frontiers fluid. On the other hand, different ethnic groups are reasserting their identities in reaction to the anxieties of globalization. It may be too early to predict the end of the nation-state but the tussle between ethnicity and globalization may be the greatest challenge in this millennium.