Multi-polar Identities – MQM on hunt for Loin’s share of US $ 1.5 Billion Aid for Pakistan

Author’s note – Last Tuesday (September 15), SAIS organized a presentation by Dr. Zaidi (introduced him as one of Pakistan’s leading political Economists) on the topic of multiple identities of Pakistan and how Pakistanis increasingly feel that they belong to the Middle Eastern region and not to South Asia. There were several interesting comments from the professor who ignored Sindh and Sindhis all together in his presentation and pretended that Karachi was a separate unit from Sindh. My impressions on this presentation and follow-up question and answer session are shared below.

By: Khalid Hashmani

Washington DC. September 12, 2009 – This week a senior leadership team of MQM headed by General Musharraf, Governor of Sindh, and Mayor of Karachi accompanied by a large cast supporting delegations is visiting Washington DC. Their mission is to secure a lion’s share of recently allocated US Aid. This team also includes Dr. S. Akbar Zaidi, who is well-connected to US think-tank organizations. Last Tuesday (September 15), Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) organized a presentation by Dr. Zaidi (introducing him as one of Pakistan’s leading political Economists) on the topic of multiple identities of Pakistan and how Pakistanis increasingly feel that they belong to the Middle Eastern region.

According to Dr. Zaidi, although Pakistan has not changed its borders in the last 38 years, it is undergoing a marked identity change. In a way, there are competitive tendencies between its South Asian identity and Muslim identity. Pushing further, Dr. Zaidi said that in a way Pakistan had been excavated from South Asia and placed in the Middle East region.

In the first part of his presentation, Dr. Zaidi explained that the term “South Asia” was created by the US State department for an area that used to be known as Indo-Pak subcontinent few years ago. He added that Pakistanis seem to be very proud of the fact that their country has been part of several civilizations and feel in varying degrees to belong to Middle East, South Asia or Central Asia. Not only that, but because of being a neighbor of China, they feel affinity with Chinese Muslims and also consider to have been influenced by Chinese Civilization. There is even a confusion in some international organizations on the question of identity of Pakistan. He gave the example of World Health Organization (WHO) which lists Pakistan in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.

Commenting on the “official” point of view, he said increasingly, Pakistani officials are branding Pakistan as a Middle Eastern country with focus on its “Muslim” heritage. When dealing with Chinese, they cite the impact of Chinese civilization to promote business relations with China. He called this as “Multi-polar identity” for the sake of profit making and said that these aspects have increased identity crisis among Pakistanis. He questioned as to who has the right to decide whether Pakistan was a South Asian, Central Asian, or Middle Eastern country?

Emphasizing the “identity” changes in India and Pakistan, Dr. Zaidi said that people in both countries view their identities differently. He continued pressing this point by adding that even in India the liberal view that Pakistan belongs to South Asia is rooted in their sadness due to breakup of Punjab and largely confined to North India and as well as migration of large number of Indians to Pakistan and vice versa. He said “partition” is now genuinely celebrated in both India and Pakistan. The fear of Pakistanis is that in a South Asian association, India would be dominant player is a factor that is pushing Pakistanis towards their Muslim identity. Dr Zaidi said that the Pakistani establishment, which is mainly composed of senior military officers believes that the notion of “South Asia” was miss-construed as it implies India’s dominance where Pakistan is marginalized. The establishment thinks that now that they too are a nuclear power, they should be treated and considered equal to India. He added that in fact India is changing too – India is becoming more Hindu India as Pakistan is becoming more Muslim Pakistan.

Talking about major ethnic groups and provinces of Pakistan, he said that despite “Sarhadi Ghandi”, whose role is largely exaggerated, people living in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) feel more closer to Kabul than to the rest of Pakistan. He said that Baloch trace their history in a totally different direction and do not think that they have anything to do with Asia. He continued that is is only Punjabis and Mohajirs who feel that they belong to “South Asia”. Dr. Zaidi emphasized by saying that “in fact Pushtun and Baloch would contest being part of South Asia.”

Dr. Zaidi did not mention Sindh and Sindhis until a member from audience pointed that out and expressed disappointed for Dr. Zaidi’s failure to talk about the sufi and non-violent Sindhis whose civilization has survived for thousands of years. The same member of audience also criticized the failure of Mohajirs to assimilate with Sindhis. Dr. Zaidi said that Mohajirs and Sindhis will never be able to bridge their difference and are in fact diverging further. Another member of audience then told Dr. Zaidi that Karachi will always remain part of Sindh and increasingly become Sindhi even if Mohajirs refused to learn Sindhi language as more and more Pathans will start learning Sindhi and adapt Sindhi as their first language as the earlier migration of Pathans did.

Talking about economics and migration, Dr. Zaidi said that some say that Pakistan is a Middle Eastern country as many Pakistanis have migrated to UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other gulf countries. He continued that old “Karachi-Bombay” business hub is being replaced by “Karachi-Dubai” business hub. He said that Urdu had become second language in Middle East. He backtracked from this argument in the Question-Answer session, when a member of audience pointed out that more Indians than Pakistanis had migrated to the Gulf region and what he said about spread of Urdu in these countries was in fact the use of Hindi language as Indian films had been popular in that region for decades.

Talking about civilian-and-military interests in Pakistan, he said the perception of Pakistani military was that the military would end up loosing its clout if relations between India and Pakistan improved. It is for this reason that they have always sabotaged civilian regimes whenever they tried to have good relations with India. He said many Pakistanis feel that Pakistan is ruled by Saudi Arabia and the USA. The visits by Pakistani civilian leaders such as General Musharraf and Mr. Nawaz Sharif to seek intervention of Saudis on their behalf in Pakistan is an indication of that influence.

19 September, 2009

About Author: Mr. Khalid Hashmani is a Washington DC-based veteran human rights activist. He is the founding President of Sindhi Association of North America (SANA) and Chief coordinator of Sindhi Excellence Team (SET) that participates in advocacy activities on behalf of rural Sindhi.