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Pakistan: A State of Different Nations with a Common Religion

Naeem Khan DawarPakistan was created on the basis of a ‘two nation theory’ by dividing the Indian subcontinent into two states India and Pakistan. The rationale behind the formation of these states was to protect the legitimate socio-political and economic rights of the Indian Muslims from discrimination under Hindu majority rule; it cut across the diverse history of its different nationalities/religions that had co-existed for centuries, albeit with frequent conflict. Whilst the struggle for independence from British rule was waged by the Indian National Congress, a major political party representing all the people irrespective of their religions, cultures and ethnicities, the Muslim League formed in 1906 by the British loyalists,raised the slogan of ‘Islam in danger’ after 1940; the League succeeded in heightening the religious sentiments of Muslims and resulted in the creation of Pakistan in 1947 at the cost of millions of precious human lives.

                       Since 1947, the Pakistani ruling elite and its British trained military establishment, dominated by the Punjabis, have tried to create a common Muslim ‘nationality’ by suppressing the cultures and languages of its smaller nationalities.The exploitation of the Bengalis under the grip of Islam, resulted in the division of the East and West Pakistan and the independent Bangladesh came in to being in 1971. The atrocities meted out to the Bengali leadership and population is now openly acknowledged. The two nation theory with Islam as a binding force proved unsustainable.

                   A military operation against the Baluch nationalists in Baluchistan began during the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1970s. Since then, hundreds of Baluch ethnic nationalists have been killed and thousands more kidnapped, tortured and dumped. According to one estimate, more than five thousand Baluch have gone missing.

                         The fate of the Pakhtunkhwa has been worse even than that of other nationalist forces in the country. At the time of independence, a democratically elected government of Pakhtun nationalists in Pakhtunkhwa was dissolved by the British governor,Sir George Cunningham, on the orders of Muhammad Ali Jinnah on 21st August, 1947. The Pakhtun leadership along with thousands of its workers, were imprisoned for several years in various parts of the country by the newly selected Qayum Khan’s ministry under FCR (Frontier Crimes Regulations), including Bacha Khan and his son Abdul Wali Khan. The massacre of Khudai Khidmatgars at Babra, Charssada by the Qayum ministry in 1948, was worse than that at Janlliawala Bagh in 1919 by the British. Instead of accommodating the legal demands of the nationalists and accepting the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nature of Pakistan, the ruling elite and its security establishment has continued the British policy of patronising and supporting religious groups. One of the reasons behind the Islamist policy of the Pakistani state was to curtail the role of the Pakhtun nationalists in Pakhtunkhwa; that followed the non-violent philosophy of Bacha Khan against the state and tried to fight a constitutional war, unlike the Baluch Liberation Army (BLA) and other national separatist groups.

                       The Pakhtun population within Pakistan has kept alive their distinctiveness through language, culture and traditions, despite the deliberate Islamist and Jihadist policies by the ruling elite. The Pakhtuns, including the independent tribes along the border, have been under military law to a large extent with more than two million Pakhtuns being displaced; their houses and markets have been razed by Pakistani security forces during the on-going military operation Zarb-e-Azb. It is evident that the general sense of deprivation and alienation felt by Pakhtuns under Pakistani rule is foremost in the escalation of the security measures implemented by the government.

                     Reactions by ordinary Pakhtuns to offensive video, posted on the internet by Pakistani security personnel in which one of a soldier in a tribal area dressed in traditional Pakhtun female dress and made to dance to a Punjabi song at gunpoint by other soldiers in uniform can lead to open defiance and  rise of violent demonstrations.

                     Despite the sacrifices of the nationalists in general, and the Pakhtuns in particular, for the independence of this region, the Pakistani state authorities have continuously suppressed minorities, their cultures and languages; they have abandoned secularism and tolerance for Islamist and extremist policies. The Pakhtuns may be passive, but their continuing socio-economic and political exploitation, the degradation of their values and traditions may easily stir their feelings and lead to insurgency, the worse in a fragile country like Pakistan. The state managers will have to accept the fact that Pakistan is a country of different ethnic nationalities who each are entitled to equal citizenship rights, opportunities to develop and safeguard their cultures and languages. The targeting of nationalists, the suppression and murder of the common people, the demonization of cultural values by the imposition of a state sponsored version of Islam, will never succeed; these measures serve to widen the gap between the ruling elite and the ordinary people, promoting more violent unrest and perhaps another debacle on the pattern of Bangladesh.


Writer: Naeemullah Khan Dawar

The writer is a PhD student in the Department of History at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He hails from North Waziristan Agency. He can be reached at



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