National ethos gap
Though a hugely important matter, national ethos hardly ever features in national discourse.
Although we celebrated 75 years of our existence with enthusiasm and fervour, yet this time there is a pervading and ominous sense of something missing-something plaguing our identity, unity, progress, spirit of happiness and faith in the future direction of the country.
Is it the absence of a recognizable national ethos that we can all own, appreciate and strive to nurture and protect?
An ethos that describes who we are as a nation a collective identity that we are all proud of?
For that is what the Quaid advocated, a nation united with common aspirations for the future, peace, development, respect for all faiths and all citizens to be equal and free, living in a progressive and democratic society with the rule of law and justice prevailing.
So why has it been so difficult to define what our national ethos is? The national ethos needs to be nurtured in every individual in a society, especially in a society like Pakistan which is multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-lingual.
However, before nurturing it and inculcating it among the populace and particularly the youth, it is important to identify and define what our national ethos is.
An ethos is a character, set of beliefs, values, feelings, spirit and principles common to a people.
Ethos defines, identify and assigns behavioural and aspirational values to a people. Therefore, an ethos is not innate but is taught, made widely known, practised, praised, repeated and continually improved.
Ethos are models and ways of life in which children are socialised and to which the collective belongs.
No community or nation wants to be identified as charlatans. Therefore, national ethos is defined as a unique characteristic of the nation that binds one individual to another, and binds individuals to the state.
Specifically, national ethos refers to the character, attitude, ethics, personality and beliefs in some matters that describe the characteristic spirit of a nation.
It refers to the particular values, traditions, identity, and above all vision of a nation’s future.
National ethos is exemplary and promotes excellence and the pursuit of excellence by one and all for the good of the collective.
Children should grow up witnessing hard work being rewarded; knowing playing by the rules signifies civilised behaviour; that crime does not pay; that justice rides the long road but she eventually arrives; and a hard won reputation, if abused, will fly away in a plane and return on a tuctuc.
National ethos is essentially aspirational and if we do not work hard for it together as one, it will elude us, like it has for the past 75 years.
Today we see Pakistan grappling with ethnic antagonism, lack of national ethos, lack of inclusivity, lack of true devolution, divisive elections, absence of security and safety, corruption, nonexistent shared prosperity and responsibility.
Indeed, the Motto and the National Anthem of Pakistan enshrine core values which should form our ethos: May we dwell in unity, faith and discipline in peace and liberty; justice; service; and, in common bond united to build our nation together.
So, what does it mean when 75 years after independence we still fail to clearly define our collective national ethos?
Why is it that we keep changing the order of the words in our Motto, keep assigning our own interpretations of what the flag represents and above all changing the very name of the country oscillating it between the original which was just “Pakistan” and “The Islamic Republic of Pakistan’.
We have yet to determine what form of political governance is best for us despite clear guidance of the Quaid and 1973 Constitution which was unanimously approved.
If I may dare say, that it is collective and damning indictment of Pakistan’s past leadership, beginning only a few years into independence when after quick changes of governments and assassination of the first Prime minister, Martial Law and military interventions became the norm rather than the exception derailing democracy which was one of the core values stressed by the Quaid.
The separation of East Pakistan and continuous political disagreements and unrest in Balochistan and KP resulted in challenging the very basis on which Pakistan was created.
It was, therefore, not be an exaggeration to say that we lack national ethos because of the failed politics and policies of the persons who have led the country almost since independence.
All else should be analysed through this prism of failed politics, policies, priorities, efforts at national integration and building a nation with a single and defined direction.
Quaid taught us that resources of the country belonged to all; and that one Pakistani was for all and all for one.
But where are we today, practising the philosophy that public resources exist to be plundered by those in authority and with access.
Sectarianism and parochialism galore all around, excellence retracting in the face of aggressively spreading mediocrity and a pervading culture of abuse, intolerance, hypocrisy and bigotry in the public space.
I firmly believe that Pakistan’s elections are neither divisive nor violent. It is the strategies of politicians that are divisive before the ballots and violent after.
Politicians, not the electorate, see elections as a zero sum game. Politicians acting as tribal chieftains, not the voting public, preaching that it’s-our-turn-to-eat gospel.
Politicians, not people, are now justifying corruption in the county as looting by “our own where previously others looted our share”.
Each one claiming to be more patriotic and his brand of Islam or democracy is better than that of others, everyone calling everyone else traitor and thief and following some hideous agenda against the state.
If we are ever to have a common national ethos, this has to stop and stop now. At the governance level, it is politics that concentrated decision-making over national resources at the centre and created marginalised peripheries by skewing the distribution of the resources.
Politics created the devolved units by passing the 18th Amendment and politics is killing them by starving them of funds.
Politics is now defining inclusivity as the expansion of the executive rather than the creation of policies geared to reducing poverty; promoting equality of opportunities; increasing access to resources, employment, basic services and, crucially, entrenching public participation in decision-making.
Our curse is our politics by politician, selfish and powerful pressure groups and other stakeholders which have corrupted and polluted what would have been our national ethos and policy priorities.
The Constitution is no more sacrosanct and is used as a crucial tool for political re-engineering.
What needs fixing in Pakistan is the politics. And it can only be fixed by collective participation of all and not by shutting other players out.
The country needs inclusion and not exclusion, political exclusivists practicing divisive politics need to be marganalised if we are ever to develop an identifiable National Ethos leading us to Unity, Faith and Discipline, the golden principles and foundation of a strong.
The objective of national ethos formation can be achieved by inculcating four main dimensions of national ethos: values, feelings and spirit, beliefs and identity among the youth.
This will form the basis of norms and social behaviour which eventually be transferred to the masses and build the national ethos of Pakistan so desperately required.
Therefore, national ethos can be said to be central to the agenda of nation-state formation, especially in achieving the goal of national unity and national integration.
—The writer is former Ambassador, based in Islamabad.