It is a sad reflection on the state of Pakistani scholarship that legitimacy in the formation of Pakistan is still, with periodical regularity, called into question – including in Pakistani newspapers. The two main factors underlying withholding legitimacy to Pakistan can be attributed to a lack of theoretical/conceptual analysis of state formation in general and that of Pakistan in particular; and absence of understanding the historical and comparative determinants of state formation in other countries, and especially of the Pakistani state. If one wishes to suggest policies that can induce a better Pakistan, then one needs to understand – and critique – the discourses and practices of Pakistani politics. In this, serious Pakistani scholarship has been lacking.

Dissatisfaction with the dire straits that Pakistan currently finds itself in has given rise to the oft-repeated claims that Pakistan has deviated from the Quaid’s vision of Pakistan. This of course is the case. But a cursory glance at other postcolonial societies indicates that most of these have also deviated from their founding fathers’ vision as well: Ghana today is not what Nkrumah envisioned; nor Indonesia of Soekarno; Egypt of Nasser; Algeria of Ben Bella; and India of Gandhi/Nehru (notwithstanding India’s bragging about how powerful it has become, it remains one of the poorest countries in the world on a par with poor African countries measured by most per capita indices such as per capita income, mortality rates, civic facilities, health and so on).

The Quaid along with other founding fathers did not create or have complete control over the internal socio-economic structures of their countries. These had been created by a complex configuration of institutions and structures inherited from colonial rule that were used by the first generation of Pakistani politicians for their own ends. Added to this were the inadequate national policies after independence, and the impact of predatory manipulations of imperial countries. For example, if in the 1970s the USA and USSR wanted a punch up they should have done so in Siberia and Alaska, and not devastated Afghanistan, with its fallout on Pakistan. It is these factors that mainly account for the deviations of postcolonial societies from their founding fathers’ almost utopian visions of their futures.

Questions are also raised as to whether religious identity can constitute the basis for forming Pakistan. A comparative analysis of state formation in historical and comparative context would have rendered this question obsolete. Religion has been central to the formation of many European national identities: Poland, Ireland, Greece, England, among others. In the US, Protestantism (and massive violence) played a vital role in the construction of the new American nation and religion continues to be important despite the constitutional separation of Church and State. Zionism and Arab nationalism in the Middle East have both been influenced (albeit in very different ways) by religious histories and identities.

It is often asserted by scholars and columnists that Pakistan is ethno-linguistically too diverse to constitute a nation; but there are many other countries in the world with greater ethno-linguistic pluralities: India and Nigeria. The latter with a population of around 300 million is reckoned to have up to 500 different languages. Similarly on the question of Pakistani identity and national consciousness: It is asserted that these attributes are weak or absent in Pakistan. But identity is not fixed; it develops over time as a result of degrees of effort made by the state. Identity is also relative, so that a Punjabi is a Punjabi only in relation to say, a Pathan. But both are Pakistani in relation to an Indian. The weak national identity attributed to Pakistan is often contrasted with the highly developed national identity imputed to Western countries, for example in Britain. However, the diverse cultural histories and contemporary cultural life of Britain were organised and stabilised as a national culture relatively recently, during the period 1880-1920. The British state took a leading part in this process.

Good scholarship would have indicated that Pakistan was one among a host of other states that came into being in the modern period: with the breakup of the Hapsburg Empire a large number of new states came in to being. Similarly with the breakup of the Ottoman, French and British Empires, scores of new states came into being in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Among the new states that emerged were India and Pakistan. And the historical conditions that resulted in the formation of India also determined the formation of Pakistan. Prior to British rule, India was a geographical and regional entity. It became a state in the present sense only during British rule. The idea of India as a trans-historical and ancient homogeneous society is posited anachronistically and therefore is spurious.

Many of the problems considered specific to Pakistan apply to other countries as well. For most contemporary states that came into being after the demise of the modern Empires experienced all the trials, tribulations, disputations and ambivalences that Pakistan experienced: fixing the boundaries, question of political representation, status of minorities in the new state, nature of the constitution, and so on.

So next time someone wishes to problematize the formation of the state of Pakistan, they should engross themselves in analysing the formation of the hundred plus new states that have been formed in the last hundred years or so – and they will discover this astonishing fact: That Pakistan is one of a very small handful of states that were voted into existence. Contrast this with Jordan. Its foundations were laid by the British Army during the Mandate Period after the First World War.

It is not only the present debilitating situation of Pakistan that has compelled many to question the basis on which Pakistan was formed. Doubts about its formation have been around since its inception. This is based on a flawed logic which asserts that if Pakistan is experiencing such difficult times at present, then the reasons for its formation must have been false. But one cannot logically deduce the primary causes for Pakistan’s formation from its major political consequence. Nor should one conflate the structure of subjective motives implicit in the Pakistan movement to secure a state, with the subsequent historical events and conditions in Pakistan after its formation. It took the Pakistani state’s negligence, avarice of its elite and imperial powers to bring it to the brink.

 The writer is a freelance columnist.