Younger generations in Pakistan are attached to Middle East & its issues despite never having lived there
Back in the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s, the activists and the educated lot of Pakistani society at large were deeply interested in local problems, be they of the Bengalis, Balochis or Kashmiris. Fast-forward to 2015 and you’ll find a Pakistan that is more consumed with Middle Eastern political issues, has more sympathy for Palestinians than Kashmiris, Pakhtuns, Baloch and our very own minorities suffering daily in the country. Run a simple social media network analysis, and the results are staggering: the Palestine issue is ‘the’ dominant humanitarian discourse of youth in Pakistan while the subject of minority rights is way behind, and the Kashmir issue non-existent.
While most commentators blame Zia’s Islamisation for the apathy at home, this process really starts from Bhutto’s pan-Islamic foreign policy posture, aligning Pakistan with the Middle East and its politics. Bhutto’s Middle East posture, followed by Zia allowing Gulf states to imbed their identity under the guise of ‘Islam’ across Pakistan, produced two generations of Pakistanis that are apathetic to the rights of Christians, Ahmadis and the Baloch, but are the first to weep for Palestinians facing discrimination. Even targeted attacks on minorities are played down and diluted by arguments that ‘more Muslims have died in attacks’. This shows an inability to tell the difference between targeted violence against minorities and the general violence in the country.
The most destructive aspect of this Middle Eastern influence in Pakistan, is not the sectarian rift, intolerance or religious bigotry that it brought with itself destroying our social fabric, but the psychological and emotional aspect of it, separating Pakistanis from the issues of Pakistan. The younger generations in Pakistan today are unconsciously attached to the Middle East and its issues despite never having lived there. This social and psychological engineering that has produced the current generation in the country is by no means accidental.
While this Gulf-centric discourse (achieved through the funding of madrassas and the tampering with history textbooks) is frequently talked about, what is neglected is the impact of the Pakistani diaspora living in the Gulf and the West, on this discourse. Those living in the Gulf are, naturally, directly influenced by it. They are often considered second-class citizens in these countries and are made to look up to the local ‘torchbearers of Islam’. Those living in the West, especially in European countries, develop a deep sense of connection with the Middle East and its issues — partly because the mosques or religious centres they visit are connected to or are funded and run by Middle Eastern governments. This makes them more aware of the problems of the Middle East than those being faced back home. Both these groups are also the ones most likely to use ‘al-Bakistan’ number plates on their vehicles when driving in Pakistan.
A more recent but most damaging phenomenon is the educated and somewhat wealthy Pakistani student going abroad to study in the UK and other places. The attachment to Muslim student societies, local mosques overemphasising the Middle East, and the British-born Pakistanis consumed with issues of the Middle East over the years, all combine to trap these international students in a particular kind of discourse on Islam and politics. It’s hence, not a surprise that while living in the UK, most British-born Pakistanis I interacted with were fluent in Palestinian political issues but had little awareness of Pakistan’s political and social landscape.
The current generation in Pakistan, especially the one that is well off and has a monopoly on the national narrative is facing an acute identity crisis. This generation lives in a bubble, protected from the harsh realities of the country, injected instead with the pain and misery of the ‘far-away’ land. This disconnect from Pakistan and its pressing issues is at the very core of our inability to internalise the narrative and develop a national identity, safeguard the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, and more importantly, decolonise Islam in Pakistan from Middle Eastern culture.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 31st, 2015.
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