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Pakistan: what is national identity?

  1. Introduction
  2. The Mosaic of identities
    1. Punjabi
    2. The Sindhis
    3. Mohajirs
    4. Pathan and Baluchi minorities
    5. Kashmiris
  3. The political construction of national identity
    1. The notion of national identity
    2. Pakistani Muslim identity or identities ?
    3. Language:Unifying or divisive ?
    4. Foreign policy and national identity
  4. Conclusion

With around 140 million people, Pakistan gained the status of a nuclear power in 1998, but also came to be known as a rogue state ('rogue stat’) in the eyes of the United States. Under the international spotlight since the Afghan crisis of autumn 2001, and following the attacks of September 11 on the United States, Pakistan remains a country which is still little known. Its history is marked by two instances of trauma related to its founding.

The first is the trauma of partition of colonial India in 1947 which gave birth to two new independent states in the region, India and Pakistan. The latter arose from the blood of countless massacres and riots after extensive migration of the population. The second trauma is that of the dismemberment of 1971: East Pakistan gained independence and became Bangladesh. The independence of Bangladesh shows that the construction of 1947 was an artificial act. The Pakistan of today is reduced only to the western borders that it had before 1971. Under these conditions, we easily understand the huge shock of identity suffered by the population during these decades.

In 1947, the leader of the Muslim League, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, said: "Here is a stateless nation. Let us first form a state, and we will then have the time to determine the matters of detail". Quite the contrary, from 1947, Pakistan was primarily a state without a nation. However, behind the invention of this nation also raises the thorny question of national identity. As we see in the first part, Pakistan is composed of an ethnic mosaic that multiplies the local and regional identities.

In the given circumstances, how may it achieve a coherent whole, while taking into account the particularities? Is this task possible, or does it impose a model identity? This is the question we will study in the second part, through the efforts of successive governments of Pakistan to establish and build the national identity by looking at the various elements that constitute it.

The concept of national identity raises issues of inclusion and exclusion within a community, thereby posing the problem of citizenship, access to political power and resource allocation. Civilian and military regimes have succeeded in building a nation state around strong local, regional and ethnic identities which have been in existence since long before 1947, and which continue to question the design of homogeneous national identity for the state.

What kind of religious symbols, historical, linguistic and cultural differences are used in this aim to achieve a common national identity? Though the symbolic referents play a major role in the construction of identity, they are not the only means available to achieve this goal. Conceptions of identity, whether national or otherwise, are constantly evolving, and, in the case of Pakistan, the official nationalism is also shaped and changed by popular beliefs and feelings.

A central question about the national identity of Pakistan is in a dilemma about which identity should be recognized? What identity do we want to achieve? Should we encourage a Muslim identity or a Pakistani identity? In a country where 97% of the population is Muslim, speaking of Muslim identity seems obvious. In the absence of a clear definition of the Pakistani identity- with criteria other than Islamic elements- Pakistani and Muslim identities are often used interchangeably and are interchangeable, if not synonymous.

Tags: Pakistani, Muslim identities, popular beliefs and feelings, citizenship, official nationalism, Islamic elements, rogue state

[...] In 1948, Ali Jinnah declared outside the University of Dhaka that "the national language of Pakistan shall be Urdu and no other" and that "anyone who tries to deceive you on this issue is the enemy of Pakistan”. The Bengali student movements were suppressed in blood, including that of February When the Bengali language was promoted as the national language in 1956, it was too late to appease the spirits. Urdu did not evoke a sense of identity shared by all provinces of Pakistan. [...]


[...] While President Musharraf took action, it was rather soft, because he could not go too far in his fight against Islamist groups, as he would run the risk of encountering the incomprehension of the population and call into question the religion, which, though fragile is still a foundation on which Pakistani national identity is built. Conclusion The policy of cultural and linguistic assimilation was based on the error that the Bengalis and Sindhis, among others, would be inclined to abandon their traditions in exchange for a Pakistani identity which is narrowly defined. [...]


[...] In this regard, it should be noted that the concept of national integration is eminently Western. In 1947, the departure of the British Empire from India, and the creation of Pakistan gave rise to important questions about the political, economic and social policies to be implemented to replace the colonial framework. Both states were supposed to be built into nation states, while the territorial boundaries were supposed to incorporate a culture and a common history. However, governments in Southeast Asia and elsewhere believed that national integration or assimilation were an essential goal of political development, as defined by experts and Western politicians. [...]

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