Reinventing Pakistan

Pervez Hoodbhoy at Chowk:

The determination to emphasize a singular Muslim national identity, and maintain a centralized state structure run by the colonial-era ruling elite, became the basis for governance. It proved to be Pakistan’s greatest burden. This became evident as the Baloch, Pashtuns, Sindhis, and most dramatically the Bengalis in East Pakistanis, launched struggles to be respected and pursue their own dreams. The independence of East Pakistan thirty years ago should have ended the illusion that religion and force can hold people together in the face of injustice and a lack of democracy.

Yet, religion still remains the strongest bonding factor. A recent survey of 2000 young Pakistanis in the 18-27 age group found that three-quarters identify themselves first as Muslims and only secondly as Pakistanis. Just 14% defined themselves as citizens of Pakistan first. Dejected and adrift, most see religion as their anchor. The common refrain of the post-Zia generation is that “every issue will be solved if we go back to the fundamentals of Islam.”

But these “fundamentals” have multiple interpretations that fuel divisive and violent political forces, each convinced that they alone understand God’s will. Murderous wars between Sunni and Shia militias started in the late 1980′s. Today, even those favoring the utopian vision of an ideal Islamic state are frightened by the Pakistani Taliban who seek to impose their version of sharia through the Kalashnikov and suicide bombings. More:

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