Every nation is an imagined community, to borrow from Benedict Anderson, creating the perception of a single unified whole for sociopolitical reasons thus nation building requires the construction of myths to construct a narrative; the perception of an idea that a group of people unite over. The French Revolution, the American civil war, the Indian freedom movement, all historical incidents feed into the creation of these myths.

There is no need to even put the myth of the nation into action. The holocaust was enough for the world to ensure Israel comes into existence; Israel in itself has no obligations to ensure it protects Palestinians from persecution.“Liberty, equality, fraternity”, the national motto of France comes from the French Revolution. Under the motto France has colonized countries and engaged in hundreds of wars and conflicts. The Statue of Liberty is the first sight of America for hordes of people chasing the American dream. It proudly reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” all while the United States of America imposes strict anti-immigration laws.

The myth of a nation is a romantic idea to keep a group of people geographically clustered together believing in the idea of nationalism. The myth is the lens through which every citizen should see the truth, reality and history.The US constitution states that all men are created equal but the man who drafted that statement, Thomas Jefferson, owned black slaves.  Telling Americans the fable that George Washington told the truth when he cut down a cherry tree makes them feel good about themselves, and their Presidents. The country almost tore itself apart in a bloody civil war a mere 150 years ago but today it celebrates military leaders on both sides of the war equally.

The American dream is well and truly alive despite these historical facts. The United States of America is regarded as the ultimate vanguard of democracy in the world despite denying its citizens the right to vote based on gender, race and social class for centuries. The myths keep the dream alive.

Pakistan has a similar historical story to tell. A country carved out by a mass of people behind a charismatic leader who fought for their freedom: A country of refugees; hordes upon hordes of people walking hundreds of miles in search for a home with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Why do we never hear about the Pakistani dream?

Pakistan has always taken an influx of refugees from both the east and the west; a nation where the founder promised that people will be free to go to their churches, temples and mosques. This is what Pakistan should have been, a nation people dreamt of living in. We needed to create stories and myths about how Pakistan stood for freedom and independence. Instead somewhere along the way we let the narrative of our nation be hijacked due to fear of violence and intimidation. We broke the dream of Pakistan.

Pakistan was not simply Iqbal’s dream; it was a dream a generation dreamt. Millions of people left everything to chase this dream. Nothing summarizes the sentiments of the entire generation better than the following passage from Faiz Ahmad Faiz,

“Ye  daagh daagh ujaala, ye shabgaziida sahar,

Woh intezaar tha jiska ye woh sahar toh nahee,

Ye woh sahar toh nahee jiskee arzoo lay kar,

Chalay thay yaar kay mil jaye ga kaheen na kaheen,

Falak kay dasht main taaron kee aakhri manzil,

Kaheen toh ho ga shab-e-sust mauj ka sahil”

This is not the Pakistan envisioned by migrating hordes. This is not the Pakistan envisioned by Quaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah or Fatima Ali Jinnah or Husseyn Suhrawardy or Sir Zafarullah Khan. Where did we lose our way?

If nation building is myth building then we must have not constructed the myths to sustain the dream of Pakistan. Myths and ideas that the masses could believe in and unite but our leaders instead chose ideas that could be used to control the masses. The myths of colonization persisted and nation building seized as soon as we founded a country.

The vacuum left by statesmen, thinkers and the government was filled by political opportunists. The easiest route to asserting authority was invoking religion. Religious leaders who had opposed the creation of Pakistan now wanted to carve out political space for themselves in the country. As the civilian government ceded control, the religious right encroached upon the idea of Pakistan and hijacked the narrative of the country.

The Lahore Riots of 1953 should have been a turning point for the country. A chance for the new country to stand up for the principles upon which it was founded on but instead the religious rights and the mobs won. A founding father, Sir Zafarullah Khan, was forced to resign simply because he was an Ahmadi. The subsequent judicial inquiry, known was the Munir Report, warned the country in 1953 of the perils of using religion to incite mobs but it seems like the deep state understood to be a road map to seize power and thus the first Martial Law was imposed.

The military and the religious right in Pakistan are not natural allies. The Pakistani military was a British trained force that continued to follow the policies and practices of the British after independence. There was no compulsion to follow religious practices in the military. A soldier’s immediate loyalty lies with his commanding officer. However, the military and the religious right have formed a mutually advantageous relationship in Pakistan. The religious political parties give the military legitimacy in the masses and the religious narrative ensures constant recruitment and high morale in the military.

The military’s primary role in the history of Pakistan has been to protect the country against India. All considerations of civil liberties, democracy and nation building have been subservient to this fight for basic survival. Economic and social progress took a back seat as Pakistan was embroiled in wars against India.   

The threat of India became the primary myth to bind the nation of Pakistan. The religious right provided a constant stream of fighters and calls to Jihad to rally the entire nation against the enemy. The military has by and large succeeded in using the religious right to keep India at arm’s length but in its primary role of security, it has ignored the crucial task of nation building.

The task of nation building should not fall on to the military. The military is taught to fight not build social and civil institutions but unfortunately the military has been in direct power in Pakistan for so long that the task of nation building has also fallen at their door. By forming an ally with the religious right, it has at times given them a carte blanche to control the narrative of the nation.

One of the myths created by the religious right to build the nation is the imposed duty of Jihad on every Pakistani. The same calls for Jihad against India that served us well in 1965 have come back to haunt us. We lost half the country in 1971 due to sustained wrong decisions by the political leadership since Partition. The Taliban we created to liberate Afghanistan have splintered into terrorist groups in Pakistan. Using mujahideen to create strategic depth have opened multiple flanks for the military to fight in.

Pakistan has not engaged in large scale direct conflict with India for a couple of decades but it has maintained its training of guerilla fighters in both Kashmir and Afghanistan. These fighters have the basic skills of soldiers but lack the discipline of the military. They were easily turned against the nation by the same calls for Jihad. When the first religious extremist proclaimed publicly that Jihad against the state of Pakistan was allowed was when the civilian and military leadership of Pakistan should have worked on changing the narrative of the country but we waited till December 16th, 2014 to wake up to the threat.

In March a park full of children was bombed on the day of Easter in Pakistan. A man was attacked by a mob at the airport. Tens of thousands of people laid siege on to the capital. These are not crazy lunatics who have come out of nowhere. They are the direct results of the myths we have created. If we fail to dispel those myths and work towards creating a new narrative for the nation, we are bound to commit the same mistakes as our ancestors.

It is no coincidence that the TTP attacked the park on Easter. The religious militants in Pakistan are seeking to religiously cleanse Pakistan, and they are supported by the state structures. Even where there is no direct support, the leadership is silent fearing their life. A majority is silent because it assumes the terrorism is ordained from God just because it is committed in the name of God. The religious right does little to distance itself from religious militants. There is little direct criticism of militant organizations by political leaders.

The conversation needs to shift from violence, war and elimination to the narrative of the country. Pakistan is not a terrorist state. There is militancy and terrorism in most nations in the world but the state and the people distance themselves from violence by non-state actors. Pakistan needs to categorically distance itself from terrorists and terrorism, even when it is done under the name of Islam.

If anything, Pakistanis should be at the forefront of the fight against Islamic militant organizations as they kill in the name of the God we worship. If we truly believe that their actions are against the teachings of Islam then we need to disassociate ourselves, our country and our religion from these people, but it is not enough to criminalize the perpetrators of violence. We also need to change the perception of Pakistan, and that can only be done by creating a new narrative.

A narrative not dictated by war, violence and hate but a narrative built on the dreams of a generation of people. A narrative not dictated by a single religion but rights of religious freedom. We need to stand equally when people of other religions or sects are attacked as we do when people of our own faith are attacked. The people of Pakistan need to be at the center of this new narrative.

And we do not even have to create these new myths and stories. They exist in our own history and the very idea of Pakistan. We have simply let politically motivated actors tell us what Pakistan stands for rather than discovering it for ourselves, as we do with religion. We need to learn to separate religion from people claiming to hold religious authority. Just because a man with a beard is telling us that religion ordains us to do something does not necessarily mean that religion does. 

The fountainhead of the Pakistan movement, the Lahore Resolution stresses upon safeguarding the rights of all minorities and religious freedoms. If we replace the myth that “Pakistan was created in the name of Islam” to “Pakistan was created to protect the religious freedom of people”, we change the conversation from who a true Muslim is and who specifically Pakistan was created for to an idea. An idea that a mass of people felt they would not have the right to practice their own religion in a United India and fought for the independence to do so in their own nation.

If this is the story we tell our children rather than our history books reducing the entire freedom movement to Hindus and Sikhs murdering helpless Muslims then we can raise a generation who believes in a principle rather than the fear that Islam is under threat from other religions. A nation is not a material tangible thing; it must be built on ideas and principles rather than a specific group of people.

We need to dispel the myth that our ethnic, racial, religious and gender identities must be subservient to our national identity. A united nation can be a diverse nation. We have perpetuated the myth that unity means uniformity. By celebrating the linguistic, cultural and historical diversity in Pakistan we can reinforce the fact that Pakistan was built as a safe haven for different groups of people to live together harmoniously and freely rather than a nation dividing itself over discussions of how a Pakistani woman should behave or what constitutes as being Pakistani or not. We are all different, and we are all Pakistani, and that is completely alright.

Pakistan was created as two discontiguous masses of land. The need of some people to usurp political power was so great that it resulted in the creation of the myth that regional autonomy was cancerous to Pakistan’s sovereignty. Bengali could have easily have been given the same status as Urdu, or Punjabi, or Sindhi, or Balochi, or the multitude of languages spoken in Pakistan, without it being looked as a threat to Pakistan that needed to be violently crushed.

The Pakistan resolution states:

“No constitutional plan would be workable or acceptable to the Muslims unless geographical contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessarythat the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.”

By allowing people to govern themselves in smaller communities and local governments, Pakistan looked to continue the culture of independence and state sovereignty in India. The United States shows a bunch of states with their own laws and government can co-exist. Pakistan was meant to work on a similar model with independent constituent units united under a strong federation and single military force as the resolution states that these states notice the use of the plural, shall be autonomous and sovereign.      

These myths of regional autonomy, religious independence, protection of fundamental rights and the promise of freedom will result in a mass of people believing in the country not out of a religious or national duty but due to their believe in the principles that the country stands for. Not out of fear but out of an internal desire to be free.

By altering the way we teach our history and reinforce ideas of Pakistan, we can build a more tolerant nation that celebrates diversity rather than suffer from religious, civil and ethnic strife. It is a long road but without taking the first step towards creating new stories, new myths and a new narrative for the country, we are bound to repeat the same mistakes of our history.

There will be another Peshawar. There will be another Lahore. We will get together and mourn again, wonder where it all went wrong and the next day repeat the same mistakes. We have inherited this journey of sorrow but there is no reason not to break the circle and start afresh.          

Let us be the generation that dreams the dream of Pakistan as the generation that walked a million miles in search of that dream. As Faiz concludes,

“Falak kay dasht main taaron kee aakhri manzil,

Kaheen toh hoga shab-e-sust mauj ka sahil”