How to destroy the nation-state of Pakistan.
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he firebrand interior minister of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) party, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, made a typically nonintellectual gaffe in the National Assembly last week; but he will not be properly reprimanded for it. Khan stated in the course of his familiarly unbuttoned harangue condemning Bangladesh for having hanged a rapist leader of Jamaat-e-Islami: “I am a Muslim first and a patriotic Pakistani later.”
No one in brainwashed Pakistan will realize how Khan has delegitimized the state of Pakistan he serves as its interior minister. By proclaiming his supra-state identity, he was in fact trying to place himself in a “moral position” to violate the sovereignty of Bangladesh which he could not do as a “patriotic Pakistani.” The pan-Islamic Muslim label is routinely claimed by religious parties who want the Constitution of Pakistan changed to reflect faithfully the edicts of the true Shariah. Terrorists also claim the right to “correct” the “errant Pakistani state” on the basis of their superior Muslim identity.
Unfortunately, those, like Najam Sethi writing in The Friday Times, who have dared to criticize Khan for making himself supra-state, will be excoriated and subjected to the ignominy of being called American agents, thus laying them open to terrorist attacks—which may actually be carried out by another “Muslim-first”-believing policeman!
The Muslim-first slogan, of course, comes from the community of clerics who began in the early 20th century to reject the nation-state and nationalism. In fact, their jurisprudence rejects international frontiers and makes states who offend Islam fair game for their cross-border warriors. But the nation-state in which they live ensures equal rights to all Pakistanis, not to all Muslims. That’s why if you ask a Pakistani Christian or Hindu about his identity he will forcefully assert his Pakistani identity. His embedded message is: “Please treat me at par with Muslims.”
Last year, Zakir Naik, a “renowned” Islamic orator of India, was on a TV channel talking to British Pakistanis about their identity. (His entry into the U.K. was thereafter banned.) He said why get embarrassed when the Brits ask you: “Are you a Muslim first or British first?” His solution to the dilemma concealed in this question was: ask a counter question, “Are you a human being first or a Briton first?” No one saw through the falsehood of this formulation: being human precedes even the Muslim identity and, therefore, bars Muslim Brits from claiming to be Muslims first.
Naik said: “Turn the tables, let the Brit be embarrassed. When asked this question, he will have to say he is a human being first. The situation created by this confusion will spare the Pakistani Brit the dilemma of a clash between his religious identity and his national one.” But what Naik said pertained to an issue that raises its head in Pakistan too. And none other than Pakistan’s interior minister has highlighted it.
I once conducted a TV debate in 2006 with an audience. Those who said they were Muslim first won by a 90 percent count. Pakistan is an Islamic state and all of us are Muslims; therefore, it is easy to say that we are Muslims first and then Pakistani. The Pakistan Movement should also support this thesis because we claim that Muslims had become a nation before they demanded a state.
But the nation-state poses a problem. Why do the non-Muslims insist on being Pakistanis first? The answer is that they want to be treated equally with other Pakistanis. If they emphasize their Christian or Hindu identity and put it before their Pakistani one, they might be treated unequally. The nation-state in Europe favors multiple identities and demands that all identities be treated equally. And for that, all those who live in the U.K. must call themselves British first.
The question arises: Why do only the Muslims as a minority insist that they are Muslims first? It is clear that unlike the Christian minority in Pakistan, they, as a minority group in non-Muslim countries, want to stand apart. What is hidden behind this gesture is a refusal to integrate and a nation-state is bound to clash if its various communities don’t integrate. And the trick is that expat Pakistanis in the U.K. know that the U.K. will treat them equally under law even if they don’t integrate.
Not so in Pakistan. The nation-state has wanted to gloss over secondary or tertiary identities to create unity. In Pakistan, the first problem that arose was linked to regional identities: Sindhi, Punjabi, Bengali, Baloch, Pakhtun, etc. The state wanted them to be only Pakistanis and said so. When it did not work, it abolished the provinces. Now as far as religious identities are concerned, Pakistan is overwhelmingly Muslim, and most of us don’t care if non-Muslims are treated unequally. If we were like the Brits, we would have said we are Pakistanis first.
But when in Pakistan you say “Muslim-first,” you in a way destroy the nation-state of Pakistan and place yourself in a position to violate the sovereignty of other Muslim states. That is what interior minister Khan did this past week. The nation-state is no utopia, but it is better than any other kind of state.
In Pakistan, the non-Muslim instinctively wants to integrate as a Pakistani; in the U.K. the Muslim minority wants to stand apart. There, the majority wants to be British first on the principle of equality; here the minority non-Muslim is appealing for equality as a Pakistani. The conclusion is simple: the majority community in Pakistan doesn’t much care if the non-Muslims are treated unequally.
Pakistan follows the rest of the Muslim world in thinking about the modern state. There was a time when it was normal for a Pakistani to say that he was a Pakistani first; now he says he is a Muslim first, little realizing that he is negating the modern state. Most of the states in the Muslim world began as modern states, but are now on the brink of choosing a pre-modern order that is a stranger to democracy.