By Waleed Hashmi
When Benedict Anderson declared that nations are nothing more than imagined political communities, many people began suggesting that identities (of individuals and countries) must be superseded. The argument simply states that borders are just lines drawn in the sand, and nationalism contributes to more conflict, bifurcation, and geopolitical volatility.
Consider Pakistan, where ‘primordial’ identities dictate the basic skeletal structure of society while kinship shapes its political culture and economy. While some claim that the country has no overarching culture or history, others feel that the only thing that unifies its citizens is their animosity toward India. Still others ardently support the country by placing it on a pedestal of cosmic importance, whether in terms of religiosity, military might, or otherwise. Some critics even identify Pakistan as a land of minorities, in which they are brutally persecuted and brushed to the margins of futility.
Irrespective of what side one takes, it may be said that modern-day Pakistan, with all of its fiery components, finds itself balanced on a sharp edge of adversity. Given its identity crises, the larger question that confronts this South Asian nation is: how does it reconcile the demands of its numerous identities and direct them towards a unified and prosperous political and economic vision?
Freedom of thought and diveristy of opinions could provide a productive start. Or to put it another way, the exclusion of differing opinions and convictions must cease. So long as Ahmadis, Shias, Christians, those with radical ideas, and seemingly all diminutive members of the society are forcefully divorced from the larger conversation, more chaos will result.
Unification, broadly seen, requires a harmony in thought, inclination, and action. A free and fair societal debate around political, social, and economic issues should ultimately lead to some sort of consensus. The risk is that in absence of stewardship, this discussion can also lead to paralysis and polarization, which is tragically the present predicament of Pakistan.
Let’s accept it; the dynamics of the globalization influence domestic setting far more than in the past, especially with the revolution in electronic communications. Interdependent economies, migration, advances in modes of transportation, cultural integration, the cavalier movement of ideas and products, and the recent advent of international terrorism, dominate and confuse the political and economic landscape.
Since external environment often disproportionately dominates the domestic setting, it is one more reason to adopt diversity in one’s outlook, and to check xenophobic tendencies. What’s important is not what each faction of society thinks, but how they reconcile their differences in the interest of a larger goal. Presently, the Taliban and array of other extremist groups operating in Pakistan believe in a different strategic outlook as compared to the business elite and the middle class.
Lack of consensus on what the future Pakistan should look like is perhaps the staunchest challenge impeding growth. On its shoulders lie the pressures of an increasingly globalized world, yet it struggles to coalesce its fractured components.
After Israel and Afghanistan, Pakistan receives the most aid from the US. The country is also Pakistan’s largest trading partner. In order to break out from these dependencies, and to compete with regional and global powers, it is essential for Pakistan to foster a climate of entrepreneurship and manufacturing.
Economists often claim that a manufacturing base is the main driver of upward mobility. However, these days, how a state manufactures and harness quality ideas determines its standing in the global marketplace. This, of course, is carried out through innovative research, design, and diversity of thought.
Nations seeking to expand their intellectual, manufacturing, and entrepreneurial limits are often the ones that propel to higher levels of modernity and economic stability. This is painfully obvious to many in Pakistan, but what prevents this from becoming a reality is an atmosphere of disagreement and intransigence over which path to take.
Achieving consensus is a messy process. When one lacks it, as Pakistan presently does, it becomes even more testing to present a case to the world on how the nation intends to fight extremism while at the same time succeed economically.
Luckily, Pakistan does not suffer from malnutrition of ideas; what’s missing is an inclusive discourse. Only when there is freedom of expression will the bad ideas get filtered out and productive dialogue may occur. It would not work for Pakistan to discard identities altogether as Benedict Anderson suggested. Instead, it should coalesce them in pursuit of political, economic, and intellectual edge.
The writer is a Conflict Analyst & Research Associate for The Global Traveler LLC, a Washington DC based security consulting firm. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Global Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University. Assertions in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of PoliTact.