By: Yasmeen Ali


The perception today, is, that Pakistan is a hastily and ill thought out throwing together of ethnic groups, which now, after over 62 years of living together, are at each others  throats spewing hatred . The perception is, that we have failed to gel together as a nation-state.  Some skeptics paint the picture of the doomsday scenario .This may or may not be the reality. However, sometimes, perceptions are stronger than the reality itself.

Two concepts need defining here. Ethnicity   and   the nation state. Ethnicity may be broadly defined as belonging to a group that shares the same characteristics, such as country of origin, language, religion, ancestry and culture. Ethnicity is a matter of biological and historical fact and is not changed by the culture in which a person grows up. Ethnic identity is drawn from the realization that a person’s thoughts, perceptions, feelings and behaviors are consistent with those of other members of the ethnic group.

Contrary to this is the relatively modern concept of the nation-state. The nation-state is a state that self-identifies as deriving its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign entity for a nation as a sovereign territorial unit. Nation-states use the state as an instrument of national unity, in cultural, social and above all, economic life.

Early conceptions of nation defined it as a group or race of people who shared history, traditions, and culture, sometimes religion, and usually language.

Pakistan was created in 1947 as a rare example of carving a geographical territory on the basis of religion. Without going into a lesson of history, let it  suffice to say, slowly, but gradually, ours  has been a  disintegration more into ethnic groups rather than facing challenges as a nation-state. Religion does, of course, play a vital bonding role,  the creation of Pakistan is a living example of this. However, other elements play a very important role and cannot be over looked  ie language, culture, norms , ancestry.

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Strong leadership, aimed at providing equal opportunities to multilingual ethic groups can play a pivotal role in nation building. Unfortunately, if we look at our political parties, they have marginalized themselves on ethnic grounds. Analyse   the make-up of the political parties ,.The division on ethnic lines is all too obvious. In rural Sindh, PPP rules the roost. In urban Sindh, pre dominantly   Urdu speaking, it is the MQM which will bag the seats. In Punjab, PM L N emerges supreme. In Baluchistan and NWFP, it is a  motley of various ethnic based political parties that   hold the ground. Each party has carved a niche for itself, but, on ethnic lines.. Where are the nation state building leaders? All I see, are midgets, racing for small gains, ignoring the bigger picture ,  each trying to clobber the other .In the process., Pakistan, is the loser. Parties based on ethnic lines reek of separatism. Ideally, these must be banned by the Constitution. Yes people may have problems living in an area. Why fritter it down to ethnic levels ? Parties must only be allowed on a national base., not ethnic basis to drive a schism on grounds of ethnicity.

A Pakistani juggles with three hats. That  of  a   Muslim. That of member of an  ethnic race and last, that of a Pakistani. The problem arises when the hat of ethnic race becomes so firmly set, that it dislodges that of a Pakistani. For the section of the population, with a greater bend towards religion, it is the hat of a Muslim that plays a dominant role. Unfortunately, we hardly, if at all, see the Pakistani cap being firmly entrenched.

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To see a root cause of the strengthening of ethnicity, let us take the example of Baluchistan. Baluchistan is Pakistan’s largest province in terms of area (44% of the total land mass) but the smallest in terms of population (5% of the total population).More than two-thirds of its inhabitants reside in rural areas, whereas half of its urban population resides in  in Quetta, Khuzdar, Turbat, Hub and Chaman. The basic amenities,  are missing for the average Baluch ie clean drinking water, low education level, inadequate and insufficient heath care facilities. Literacy rate in Baluchistan is 29.81%. Minerals  is the major asset of Baluchistan as is natural gas. The irony is  ,the use of gas in the province itself is low. This owes to limited piped natural gas and liquid petroleum gas. Electric power supply is concentrated in urban areas and the availability is much less in provincial areas.  Education is a neglected chapter. Rate of infant mortality remains the high in Baluchistan .  It is the economic deprivation that has been the root cause of Baluch discontent. This , has been well exploited by the local leaders and our neighbor. But at the end of the day, it remains the responsibility of our successive governments, who have failed to evolve a cohesive economic plan for the development of Baluchistan.  There is no infrastructure in this impoverished   province.   Economic development of provinces coupled with  economic independence of states, from external support, cannot be emphasized enough.

For a country like Pakistan consisting of many ethnic identities, it is the leadership that must provide equal opportunities to all ethnic groups,  either big or small, equal opportunity to flourish, to education, health facilities, justice, and the chance to improve their lot. In a case where the process of nation building is not democratic in it’s  pure sense, it becomes tainted and an impediment to societies to raise themselves above being ethnic groups and to   think and act as nation-states. All groups, whether on the basis of religion, ethnicity, culture or language must be treated equally in every sense of the word ,  to be a part of, the process of nation building.


I cannot but quote Jinnah:

“The change in the world is always brought by one man, whom we call “the leader”. Who has the vision and the force not only to make people dream, but to reach and live that dream. He is intelligent enough to foresee tomorrow. He is selfless and courageous to the extent of being ready to scarifies everything and express truth even if it defames him. People fellow him where he takes them. He is the one who accelerates history and for whom nature proclaims itself. “What a man””.

The writer is a lawyer & masters in Mass Comm. Currently  teaches in Mass Comm. Dept. of Beacon House National

Yasmeen Ali

University. She owns & moderates her blog