A nation is qualitatively different from a crowd. As the soul keeps the body together and protects it from decay so does the unity of purpose keep a nation united and productive.
Japan was bombed to ashes in World War II but it rose again with even more vigour due to its national character. Being small and defeated did not stop it from charting an astoundingly unique path to progress.
In our case, the story is shamefully different. We are divided along regional, ethnic, linguistic, and religious lines to the detriment of our nationhood. We boast of our ancestors’ moral standing and achievements and do nothing or little to make our progeny proud of a strong and stable Pakistan. Someone has rightly said that those who are proud of their ancestors are like potatoes whose best part is underground.
So far no serious effort has been made for nation-building. The ideology of Pakistan, which otherwise should have been a unifying force, has itself withered away over time. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who was a staunch advocate of united India, had once asserted that the Partition was in reality the division of Muslims which would cause a section of them to suffer in India as a minority forever.
The ruling elite and religious leaders have used Islam to attain and retain power without ever trying to reform state and society in line with its egalitarian principles. Gen Zia, in order to appease one segment of society, tried to enforce Shariah through various legislations whereas Gen Musharraf, in order to oblige another segment of society, promoted liberalism under the cloak of enlightened moderation. These top-down approaches of Islamisation and liberalisation caused immense harm to the Pakistani polity.
Besides religion, education continues to divide the nation. Pakistan is a contested terrain for the graduates of two different education systems. Contrary to a belief in the beauty of unity in diversity, they look at each other through coloured glasses of ‘them versus us’.
The madressah graduate is conditioned to follow and preach text without context whereas the graduate of the contemporary education system is trained to believe in and follow the western worldview and lifestyle. The problem is not how one chooses to live as long as it is not imposed upon others by force. Sectarian differences, blown out of proportion under state patronage, now pose an existentialist threat to Pakistan.
The federal character of Pakistan was supposed to strengthen inter-provincial relations and uniform socio-economic development. The 1973 Constitution was carefully crafted to ensure harmony among various state organs by introducing proper check and balance in governance mechanisms in addition to guaranteeing fundamental rights to all citizens irrespective of their colour, creed, or race.
This binding document, too, has been subjected to subversions and manipulations with the result that there is a persistent tug of war between state institutions (in some cases institutions take precedence over the constitution), regional economic disparity, and centrifugal tendencies.
In order to keep the country intact and put it back on track, the political leadership has to show sagacity by transcending partisan thinking. Political differences between ZA Bhutto and Sheikh Mujeeb culminated into the disintegration of Pakistan. Building dams and roads, though important for economic development, should be given less attention than any project initiated for nation-building.
A Chinese philosopher is reported to have once advised the king to give top priority to national unity followed by addressing economic problems and then security if all of those challenges could not be confronted and reconciled at one time. Is our leadership cognizant of their vital responsibility at this critical juncture?