Why Pakistan has to choose between nationalist and Islamist identities

Over the past few months, developments in Chinese Xinxiang region targeting Muslims have re-ignited a debate about identity-crises among many Pakistanis. This identity debate was brought to forefront during Mush regime when he chanted slogans of ‘Sab Se Pehle Pakistan’ (Pakistan First). At that time, people were a bit confused and statements like ‘firstly I am Muslim, secondly I am Pakistani’ were used to satisfy both religious and nationalistic ideas. For many, being Pakistani and Pro-Muslim is the same thing and following ‘Sab Se Pehle Pakistan’ doesn’t push you to choose sides between Pakistan and Islam.

This theory works perfectly as long as interests of Muslims all around the world are in line with interests of Pakistan. For example, having protest against Indian oppression in Kashmir in the name of Islam goes hand in hand with nationalistic view point. However, things change dramatically when you think about having a protest against Chinese oppression in Xinxiang where Chinese govt. has got so low that people aren’t even allowed to name their kids ‘Muhammad’. With CPEC being presented as fortune-turner for Pakistan, any voice raised against Chinese govt will be scrutinized through magnifier and there is also a fair chance for protestors to get labeled as ‘RAW agents’ who are working against national interest.

This situation puts right wing majority of Pakistan on the crossroads and their ideal of Pakistan being a representative of Muslims throughout the world is shaken to its basis. More than that, they are pushed to choose sides between their nationalistic and religious ideals and it’s not possible for them anymore to mix black and white and live happily with grey. I am quite sure that even if only one state in USA puts the same ban of naming babies ‘Muhammad’, you will witness a huge outcry in Pakistan from every segment of the right wing majority. From street protests to Twitter trends, there will be nothing but absolute rage and fury. This is true because USA is largely looked upon as enemy of Pakistan among masses which, along with India, wants to destabilize Pakistan. For China, emotions are totally different and so is the reaction.

For me, nationalism and religion can’t go hand in hand as there will be situations where interests of Muslims will be directly opposite to interests of Pakistan and it’s not possible to satisfy both. Among right-wing opinion makers, I don’t think anybody other than Dr. Israr Ahmad had a clearer stance about this topic who thrashed nationalism as a flawed idea and pushed Muslims to come out of identity dilemma by choosing Islam over nation (and I second him in that). Secular opinion-makers also agree to the same idea, but they choose national interest over Islam that practically translates into ‘Sab Se Pehle Pakistan’.

This identity crisis has resulted in a confused mindset which has led Pakistan neither to Islamic state nor to secular state.Rather it’s an ugly mix where nationalistic and religious ideals are at up against each other every now and then. Chinese oppression raises a few eyebrows translating at most into murmurs, whereas Indian oppression triggers high intensity protests.

As of now, whether you put this on Zia or someone else, the matter of the fact is that Pakistan is not a ‘nation-state’ in the essence of the term. It’s time for masses to decide which way they want to go otherwise we will be whirling in circles covering a lot of distance with zero displacement.

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