The role of national ideologies cannot be ignored in shaping the trajectory of countries, especially those ethnically, linguistically and even religiously diverse countries whose nation-building process is seen by considerable local consensus to be a work in progress. A national ideology draws directly from the most important mutually-shared and prevalent aspects of the identities of the people constituting a nation-state. Most importantly, it galvanizes these commonalities into a notion of broader purpose and destiny characterized by visible objectives. The un-attainability of these objectives and this destiny without leaders and governments playing their role at the policy level is fairly obvious. However, given their unbreakable spiritual and psychological linkage with the unifying components of the identities of the masses, it is hazardous for numerous reasons for national leaders in the modern day to ignore them.
On the leaders’ behalf, to ignore in their policies this widespread national sense of destiny would be to ignore the national ideology that unifies the people they are chosen to serve and on whose money their governments run. Doing so would be catastrophic for both leaders and people. The former would lose the confidence and support of the latter and the latter’s expectations of the former to be the highest-level manifestation and affirmation of their coherence as a unified nation.
The loss of faith in the unifying national ideology would be inevitable, allowing the other, different components of their identity not commonly overlapping with their compatriots to take precedence over the common ones in their social and political lives. The internal socio-political environment would turn conducive to separatism since not only would one see his similarities to his countrymen as having failed to unify the state but he would also gravitate immediately toward his ethnic, linguistic or religious differences. The shunning of the national ideology because the leaders failed to act according to it would go hand in glove with an attempt to forge a new national ideology to maintain a sense of purpose in the world, with this new ideology represented by an active physical movement. Given the ‘betrayal’ dynamic undercutting the alienation from the national fold owing to the leaders’ pitiful abandonment of their duties to the national ideology, such a movement would likely enter into violence with the state.
Pakistan was not created in 1947 for reasons of geographical convenience or practicality and political tumultuousness has characterized much of its history. The feeling that it has all been worth it because Pakistan was created as a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims – thus created on ideological grounds – is of the utmost political importance for leaders who care about maintaining internal unity.
Pakistan is built on a network of identities many of which predate the existence of, or notion of, Pakistan by centuries. If the sense of sticking by the Pakistani state despite its many troubles for the sake of it representing Islamic unity is allowed to wither away vis-à-vis a leadership negligent of inculcating pan-Islamic principles in their policies, the people will simply cease maintaining the harmony between their ‘secondary’ identities and their ‘primary’ Muslim-Pakistani one. To feel appropriately represented by their leadership, they’ll merely opt for a ‘new one’ by attempting to carve out within the state’s boundaries spheres of political, economic and social life undercut by an emphatic rejection of the concept of Pakistan and an emphasis on separation and seclusion for their own ethno-linguistic or sectarian identity.
Or they could gravitate toward foreign entities where their older, more firmly established identity is seen as more properly represented in and respected by the political leadership. Regardless of whether or not such foreign entities would be hostile toward Pakistan, the greater attachment to them by large sections of Pakistan’s population would still be a crisis of sovereignty.
Does Pakistan currently bear any of the signs of the lack of a national ideology to create constant unity, motivation and vigour in its people and to act as a vanguard against hostile forces? From a number of angles, it seems to.
The relative lack of such a central national ideology performing the function of unifying the state as a whole can be seen by the non-response to subversive, divisive anti-state activities and their subsequent endorsement by significant sections of the country’s educated elite for superficial and shallow reasons. It can be seen as well from the absence of Kashmir-related rhetoric during election campaigns and the non-respect afforded to the concept of prioritizing the country’s national unity vis-à-vis hostile foreign propaganda by prominent politicians in their public discourse.
Red lines, enforced across the board without any need for politically executive directives on issues such as unity against external foes and their rhetoric and non-tolerance of subversive anti-state movements and figures are a natural outcome of a functioning and effective national ideology. Yet in Pakistan, crossing such red lines yields little consequence.
Thus, keeping in consideration the moral and practical duty of Pakistan’s leadership toward respecting the national ideology and working toward the objectives it projects, what path forward might the current popular and seemingly enthusiastic Imran Khan-led government take in terms of policy?
The task of formulating such a roadmap to a new Pakistaniyat is not difficult, if one combines both knowledge of current geopolitical realities and acknowledgement of the intrinsically and the politically, socially and strategically indispensable Islam-centric ‘Pakistani’ identity. It is undeniable that Pakistan’s national ideology is pan-Islamism. The people identify with their religious identity above their ethno-linguistic ones (‘pehley Musalmaan, phir Pakistani’ is a very common saying, which means ‘first Muslim, then Pakistani’) and this allows an overarching unity to be maintained.
In Kashmir and its Azadi, Pakistan can ask for no better source of a proper, comprehensive national ideology with direction and with a strong moral core to it as well. The Islamic identity as the unifying factor between Pakistanis and the Kashmiri peoples, the liberation of Kashmir as the objective and the right of Kashmiris to resist Indian oppression, provide a complete and appealing national ideology for Pakistan to follow.
Kashmiri liberation and freedom as an envisaged destiny would yield another considerable overall benefit to both leaders and nation in that it would provide a sense of a long-term struggle and the capability to view the various other battles and fights along the way as stages leading to that destiny. Why there is a need for this (and, indeed, a severe lack of it as of the current day) is apparent when one observes the current mood in Pakistan’s military and political elites vis-à-vis national security.
The unfortunate tendency of Pakistan’s military and political elites to declare the country’s impressive eradication of South Asia’s deadliest terrorist groups from most of its perilous territory as a final victory of sorts as opposed to recognizing it as merely overcoming proxies whose handlers remain in the same state of continuous war against the Pakistani state and nation shows a lack of drive and vigour. The domination of the ‘patriot’ scene’s discourse with issues of CPEC and development, economy and business and other ‘non-confrontational’ topics is curious considering that a great deal of work is being carried out by the national enemy of geopolitical dimensions that doesn’t bode well for Pakistan. A false sense of calm has evidently taken hold which seems to be disturbed only temporarily even when tensions with India spill over into military escalations as seen in Kashmir in February.
When the iconic Prime Minister Khan brings up in his address to parliament, mere days after Pakistan thwarted Indian aggression in Kashmir, ‘poverty in the region’ and other issues far removed from having to do anything with the essence of the country’s struggle vis-à-vis India as opposed to adopting a more rousing rhetoric, it is symptomatic of the lack of a proper national ideology and direction. The leader, despite his popularity and despite Pakistan’s momentum, remained oblivious as to the wonders he would do his own popularity vis-a-vis the patriots seen as a vital part of his party’s support if he made Kashmiri freedom the focus of his speech as opposed to merely emphasizing Pakistan’s lawfulness and innocence repeatedly.
As is inevitable in the real world context, a state with a vehement, uncompromising enemy only can only survive and thrive with a properly developed national ideology. The sorry state of Pakistaniyat over the last two decades or so can be remedied by bringing Kashmir back to the forefront of the agenda.
One-dimensional hostility to Pakistan has deeply permeated Indian media, all levels of its intelligentsia and certainly its body politic and the overwhelming support of the Indian public for oppressing Kashmiri aspirations is clear as daylight. What motivates this hostility is something deep enough to make Indians abandon even the charade of seeing the Kashmiri freedom struggle as a Pakistan-sponsored ‘secessionism’. India must thus not be treated as a state behaving irrationally under its current political regime which would be compelled to alter its behaviour by its enemy continuously citing international law and invoking ‘poverty in the region’ or something similarly un-compelling.
It must, instead, be treated as a long-time enemy which has transcended to another level of hostility against Pakistan not on the whims of its present government, but as part of the inevitable crescendo of a virulently anti-Pakistan, anti-Muslim political ideology that has always been deeply embedded in its socio-political fabric. Pakistan must thus abandon delusions which see what is transpiring between it and India as anything other than the most dominant ideology of India, Hindutva, waging all out war against the Pakistani state and necessitating a profound response.
For Pakistan, this profound response can only come in the form of championing the cause of the liberation of Kashmir as an unfinished agenda of partition, bringing its old score with the Indian state full circle.