If the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were an era of imperialism and colonisation, then the twentieth was definitely the century of the nation-building experiment.
The world could barely count a hundred sovereign states in the year 1800, many of which have no existence today. Take, for example, the Holy Roman Empire, Europe’s theocratic experiment. By 1806 it was gone.
In 1900, the list had expanded. The South American states achieved independence, Europe was fragmented into nation-states based on linguistic and cultural cohesion. In Northern Nigeria, there existed a Sokoto Caliphate, a Muslim theocracy, which lasted for a hundred years, only to be dissolved by the British in 1903, after their conquest of Nigeria. To this date, a large number of Muslims, constituting a majority in Northern Nigeria, desire the re-establishment of such a Muslim State.
By the year 2000, the list had famously expanded to ‘190 countries and territories where you can watch CNN.’
The hundred years between 1900 and 2000 had seen two major world wars, the emergence and decline of two major nation-building concepts, Fascism and Communism, the end of Colonialism and the beginning of neo-Imperialism. It also saw the emergence of religious homelands, for Jews and for Muslims, in Israel and Pakistan, surprisingly, each drawing inspiration from the other during the tumultuous years of their formation. The epitaphs of nations in the twentieth century are brief and poignant. The Soviet Union, died 1991, internal strife. Yugoslavia, died 1991, civil war. Czechoslovakia, died 1993, peaceful dissolution. Israel and Pakistan, despite internal divisions, hold strong.
It may be early days, histories of nations run into centuries, not decades, but 67 years after its formation, and 43 years after its splitting, is it safe to say that Pakistan was a successful experiment?
In a hostile neighbourhood, with four vastly different and competing ideologies arrayed against it, the very survival of Pakistan has been a miracle, somewhat. (A CIA report in 2006 famously forecast that Pakistan would have broken up by 2015.) Take a sample: China, communism. Afghanistan, loosely based on regional nationalism. India, pseudo-secularism. Iran, Islamic and Persian nationalism. Pakistan, …?
India has made no secret of its hatred towards Pakistan. Afghanistan’s present government has the worst of terms with Pakistan, and its intelligence runs a war within Pakistan’s borders. China is an ‘all-weather’ ally. Iran’s relationship is frosty at times, but resilient mostly.
Throw in to the mix the bad hand that Pakistan was dealt in 1947, when its borders were drawn, and fate would keep large chunks of Muslim-majority land away from it. In 1947, Pakistan had famously one factory, two medical colleges, and a few mills. It had no civil service, no currency, no bank, no Army. Most of all, it had no history. Unlike the Jews, who claimed that God had promised their return to Palestine, Muslims had no religious scripture to proclaim Pakistan, no political entity, and no precedent. It was fate, at best.
Decades later, Pakistan has 88 medical colleges, a few dozen universities, is a producer of cotton, arms, motor vehicles, fighter aircraft and nuclear weapons, and has also taken a few tentative steps towards becoming a stable, vibrant, democracy. The media is questioning the country’s culture, and education has brought a large, rural population out of poverty, and into the middle-class. Despite sanctions, a military confrontation, the ‘War on Terror,’ an earthquake, a Biblical flood, and daily bombings and killings, Pakistan’s economy has managed to grow at a steady rate over the last decade. Any other country would probably have collapsed long ago.
Pakistan is not without its failings. Tax collection is poor. Corruption is rife. Public display of arms, and the easy availability of guns and bombs, has made the country a hotbed of violent strife. Cities are bursting at their seams, power supply and distribution are below par. But the country has taken the problems head on. If the returning youth from UK, USA and Canada are any indication, then the appeal of Pakistan has grown over the last few years.
Most of all, perhaps Pakistan is nearer than ever to reconciling its formation with its existence. The intolerant Islamism practised in the Arabian Peninsula has led to bloodshed everywhere. Shia theology, as a counterweight, has seen Iraq and Syria implode. Pakistan, on the other hand, seems to be searching for the middle path, watchful of the damage hatred and sectarianism can bring. If talks with the Taliban bear fruit, then Pakistan would have turned the corner, which it seems determined to do.
Pakistanis, belatedly, have embraced the reality that they are citizens of the only country ever founded ‘for Muslims and Islam,’ and as a state, Pakistan has accepted the reality that despite the evident shortcomings in their practise of Islam, the people of Pakistan live and die for Islam.
So then, was it a successful experiment?