Countering sub-nationalist groups in Pakistan

Muhammad Hanif

PAKISTAN was created in August 1947 by dividing India into two dominions by the then British Indian government, based on the two nation theory, advocated by the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam,Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The two-nation theory stated that the Muslims and Hindus are two separate nations, with the opposing customs, religion and traditions; therefore, Muslims should have their own separate homeland outside of Hindu-majority India.

Hence, Pakistan was created on the name of Islam, which became the dominant identity of the Pakistani people.

After Pakistan’s independence, the majority of its people identified themselves as the Muslims, being conscious that as per the Islamic injunctions, they have to respect the minorities’ rights, who were part of Pakistan.

The Islam emphasizes that the life, property and the basic and religious rights of the people of other religions living in an Islamic state were fully protected. However, Pakistan started facing the issues of national integration since its inception, as some sections of the Pakistani population started preferring the ethnic or language identity over their Islamic identity.

The ethnic or language identity gives rise to sub-national groups, who make ethnicity or language as the basis for being a separate nation and start demanding a separate area to become an independent state. In some cases, the ambitious leaders of sub national groups ask for a separate state by citing that their rights were being usurped by the major groups and the government.

For example, in the then East Pakistan, in the 1948 the East Pakistanis had made Bengali language as their identity and demanded it to be the official language of East Pakistan, rather than taking pride in being the Muslims and the Pakistanis.

The Bengali was adopted as the official language of East Pakistan in 1954 despite that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the first Governor General of Pakistan, had declared in a speech in Dhaka that Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan, and he had expressed his concern that with more than one national language, Pakistan would not remain unified and would cease to function.

Ultimately, the Bengali language emerged as an increased symbol of national identity and a source of inspiration for East Pakistan’s struggle for independence in 1971.

In the process of Pakistan’s consolidation as a state and its nation building efforts, various sub-national groups continued to emerge.

In the 1960s and 1970s, a Pashtun party asked for a separate state to be named as Pakhtunistan comprising some areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Subsequently this group, the current ANP, joined mainstream politics and gave up its demand for Pakhtunistan.

Some groups in the Sindh province also did the separatist politics, till the time the Peoples Party emerged as a stake holder in the Pakistani politics in 1968. With the Peoples Party coming into power in Pakistan in the Centre and provinces many times, the old sub-national groups joined the mainstream politics.

Since some time, sub-national groups in the Balochistan province have emerged, which complain their province has been ignored by the centre in its economic development, although the actual reason was that mostly their Waderas have been in power in the successive governments of Balochistan and they did not use the available funds for the socio-economic development of the province.

But the main reason for sub-nationalism in Balochistan is that the young leaders of these groups have been misled by some foreign powers, especially by India, and India is sponsoring them to harm Balochistan and Pakistan’s integrity.

India is supporting their efforts by financing them as well by sponsoring terrorism by using the Afghan soil.

Most of the young leaders have been given refuge by some European countries and they are using their ethnic groups’ people in Balochistan to carry out terrorism with the support of India and some other foreign powers.

The foreign support to these sub-national groups, has increased, especially after the beginning of the construction of the CPEC.

In view of the above discussion, there is a need that appropriate political and economic measures are taken to bring the sub-nationalist groups of Balochistan into mainstream politics.

Now, when the war on terror in the former FATA and in the Balochistan province has been won by the heroic operations by the Pakistan military and the terrorists are sure that they cannot achieve their mission, it seems to be a suitable time to make political efforts through economic incentives to bring the leaders of the separatists groups into mainstream politics, if they commit to giving up their terrorist and anti-state activities.

Also, to neutralize the emerging sub-nationalist groups in other provinces, Pakistan government should take measures to bring non-violent/non state actors like the PTM, activists in GB, AJK, Liberals and Leftists, by bringing them into mainstream politics.

As a futuristic measure, efforts are needed to ensure better inter-provincial harmony and intensive national integration.
—The writer is the former Research Fellow of IPRI and Senior Research Fellow of SVI Islamabad.

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