Feisal Naqvi

Invented Countries

In Uncategorized on August 27, 2008 at 3:07 am

All countries are invented. Some are just more invented than others.

Pakistan has been an independent country now for more than six decades. But every independence day, and this one was no different, is marked by a peculiarly morbid public discourse in which various talking heads either lecture us for going astray from our roots (and not emulating the Taliban) or else try and tap dance around their barely conceived belief that there is no particularly good reason for this country to exist.

My first answer is, and I apologise in advance for the profanity, who gives a damn?

My second, and more elaborate answer, is that we do not need to rationalise Pakistan. It exists. It is a fact of life. It does not need to be made part of a larger scheme of things. In any event, Pakistan is not any more intellectually conflicted or less predestined to exist than any other country.

Start from the point that the fundamental unit of human society is, duh, the human. With the exception of identical twins, all human beings are unique. So, whenever any two human beings decide to live together, they do so on the basis of a shared rationale. That rationale may be simple (a decreased likelihood of being eaten by sabre-toothed tigers) or it may be complex (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) but it is always a human construct. Which is to say, an arbitrary construct. And within the realm of arbitrary constructs, there is no discernible line dividing unions which succeed from those doomed to failure.

Take, for example, our perennial point of comparison, India. Churchill once said that, “India is a geographical term. It is no more a country than the Equator.” Churchill was absolutely correct, but only in an entirely trivial sense. Great Britain, for that matter, is equally a geographical term. The fact that it exists as a unified political entity has more to do with the vagaries of history than any predisposition towards unity amongst the Scots, the Celts, the Anglo-Saxons and their Norman invaders.

Perhaps the point becomes clearer when one looks at smaller unions. For most people, the first collective entity with which they identify is their immediate family. But families fight. Brother can turn against brother for the most trivial of reasons.

The same problem is visible when one looks at larger groups like “nations”. From the vantage point of Condoleezza Rice’s office, all the people of the NWFP look like one undifferentiated hostile mass.

Look more closely and those same people dissolve into Pashtuns, Balochis, Dards, Hunzakuts, Hindkowans and a host of other groups.

Focus on the Pashtuns and one learns that they are divided into four tribal confederacies, the Sarbani, the Batani, Ghourghushti and the Karlani.

The Karlani, in turn, are made up of eight tribes: Afridis, Waziris, Mahsuds, Khattaks, Tanolis, Orakzais, Dawars and Bangash.

And the Afridis, to take just one tribe, have a further eight sub-tribes, each of which is divided into clans, divisions, sub-divisions, sections of sub-divisions and what Wikipedia helpfully refers to as “minor fractions”.

The simple point being made here is that the human capacity for differentiation is unlimited. Some unions last. Some don’t. In the end, the only judgement is that of history.

Of course, while we wait for history to pronounce its verdict, there is an immediate problem to be addressed: how to hold together a nation of 170 million contentious souls?

The answer to that problem begins with the realisation that people differ, that people have always differed, and that people will always continue to differ. Once that fundamental principle is accepted, the quest to find the “one right answer” on which everybody can or should agree stands revealed as a fool’s errand.

Instead, the simpler way to proceed is to divide the search for a national ideology into two separate parts. The first part is the identification of the boundaries within which debate can take place. The second part is the search for a consensus on a particular issue within those boundaries.

So far as the first part is concerned, the answer is that we have already achieved that goal. The permissible boundaries of discourse are already settled by the Constitution of 1973. Battered and bruised that document may be, but there can be no doubt that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s greatest achievement remains the undisputed source of legitimate authority.

We come then to the second part. The answer here is that it doesn’t matter whether we agree or disagree; all that matters is that we agree on how to disagree. There is also no shame in acknowledging the fact that whatever answer emerges at this stage will be an arbitrary construct, liable to be reversed by the next regime.

All countries, as already noted, are invented. The successful ones are those which allow themselves to be re-invented.

This column appeared originally in the Daily Times.


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