Contestations of Pakistani National Identity: Are we moving towards a less religious, more inclusive identity?

June 18, 2022

CPPG, FC College at Madison, Wisconsin (virtually)

In 2019, I decided to form an FCCU panel for the prestigious Annual Conference on South Asia at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the United States. I invited former and current FCCU colleagues to join in. The panel included Chairman Political Science Department Ryan Brasher, Associate Professor Department of History Dr. Umber bin Ibad, and a former FCCU colleague who has now settled in the US, Dr. Charles Ramsey. The conference was supposed to be held in October 2020. The panel proposal was accepted and all four of us planned to meet at the beautiful campus in Madison, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic intervened. Initially, the conference organizers thought there was no need to change plans as the conference was several months away but, as time passed, it was clear the pandemic was going to stay. So, the conference was canceled. The news was disappointing for all of us but what could any of us, or the conference organizers, do. We were told that the conference would be held in 2021. In 2021, the success of the vaccination drive in the US raised our hopes and we again started dreaming of meeting. However, out of an abundance of caution, the conference organizers decided that the conference would be held online. In summer 2021, Ryan also departed for the US. So, our panel was evenly split between Pakistan and the US. Finally, the time arrived and the 49th Annual Conference on South Asia was held on October 20-24. Our panel was given the time slot of 3.45 pm to 4.30 pm CST on 23 October which was a very awkward time for Umber and me (1.45 am Sunday morning) but we were glad to, at last, be part of it. At the start of our panel, I introduced the participants and their papers, and then each one of us gave a paper presentation. The first paper, by Dr. Ryan Brasher, explored the dynamics of the uncritical acceptance of patriotism and Pakistani national identity by Christian and Muslim students in Lahore. Dr. Ryan’s research, counterintuitively, found that Christian students were likely to exhibit high levels of both uncritical patriotism and adherence to national identity. More surprisingly, his surveys showed that ethnic cleavages were more salient than religious ones as an ethnic minority (Pashtuns) students professed considerably less attachment to uncritical patriotism as compared to their Punjabi (Muslim and Christian) compatriots. The second paper, by Dr. Umber bin Ibad, examined the increasing controversies of national memory because of globalization. He questioned the singularity of the stateheld political imagination. He argued that the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor showed that the diasporic influences, tied with local voices, have created the potential for a non-antagonistic reimagination. Framing the study within the politics of memory literature, Dr. Umber’s study unpacked the multiple threads of remembering the nationalistic heritage of contemporary Pakistan. The third paper by me studied the contestation of national identity by comparing two Pakistan Army Museums, opened half a century apart in Rawalpindi and Lahore. I, based on academic literature, argued that Army museums can provide useful insights to understand how the Pakistani military wanted to construct or shape the identity of the country it controls. Many authors have argued that the military’s narrative was not evolving and it continued to show a strong proclivity for Islam and a hatred for India. My comparative analysis, however, demonstrated that the narratives weaved in the two museums using exhibits, galleries, and selection of heroes are not the same. The army museum in Lahore, opened in 2017, was less Islamic and anti-India and promotes a more inclusive, territorially-based national identity. The last paper, by Dr. Charles Ramsey, unpacked the ideological underpinnings of the movement away from Islamism in Pakistan. The author explores the concept of post-Islamism and expounds on how the religious thought of Ahmad Ghamidi, an Islamic scholar, could serve as both a harbinger and a catalyst for a new national narrative. The author also contrasted and rejected Islamism as an accurate descriptor of the aims of the traditional Hanafi schools of thought prevalent in South Asia. After the presentations, there was a lively question-answer session. In the end, I thanked all the participants.

Event covered by Dr. Raja M. Ali Saleem

About the Author

Dr. Saleem is an Associate Professor at CPPG. His research interests include religious nationalism, politics of Pakistan and Turkey, Islamist politics, and financial management