Measuring nationhood By Niaz Murtaza - Thursday 14th April 2011

WHY do some states enjoy peace while others are ravaged by strife? An analysis of the strength of nationhood provides insights into this puzzle.
Nations and states are distinct concepts. Nations are large religious, ethnic or other identity-based groups concentrated highly exclusively in a region, usually with a history of some autonomy. States are geographical units recognised as sovereign internationally. Ideally, states should be built around nations to enhance cohesion. However, colonisation often locked several nations within one state and divided one nation across several states.
Thus, the strength of states` nationhood varies considerably depending on innate and experiential factors. Innately, the lower the number of identity groups internally and the larger the physical barriers with neighbours, the stronger is nationhood. Experientially, innumerable factors enhance nationhood, e.g. the period of independence, good governance, common threats/struggles and shared politico-economic ideology.
Armed with this framework and without further ado, let`s jump straight into the hornet`s nest: how strong is Pakistani nationhood? However, let us do so by placing the question on a broader objective canvas.
Japan has existed as an independent state since 800 AD and, as an archipelago, is separated physically from others. Additionally, more than 90 per cent Japanese are Yamato and Buddhist. Japan is a full democracy according to the Economist`s Democracy Index, signifying quality governance. Thus, Japan scores high on almost all determinants of nationhood. Unsurprisingly, Japan is remarkably free of internal strife. An abstract notion of Indian nationhood based on shared religion and culture has existed since antiquity even without statehood. India today encompasses high religious homogeneity (more than 80 per cent of the people are Hindu) but enormous ethnic diversity and bound by a shared culture.
India is a flawed democracy under the Democracy Index. Thus, India scores high on many but not all determinants. Unsurprisingly, India has suffered strife, mainly along its axes of religious (Kashmir, Punjab and the northeast) and ideological (Maoist insurgency by ancient tribes) diversities.
Pakistan or a separate Muslim state in India never existed before 1947. Muslims across India shared regional ethnic identities with non-Muslims. However, somewhat like the ancient concept of Indianness, an abstract, pan-India notion of Muslim nationhood evolved gradually.
This was based on innate religious commonality but was cemented further by experiential factors: ruling India as a minority, losing the associated privileges under the British, facing the worrying post-independence prospect of being ruled by those they had earlier ruled (often injudiciously) and launching an independence movement.
However, Muslims had launched a `soft` (reconcilable) two-nation theory, reflected in the acceptance of the Cabinet Mission proposals, rather than the `hard` irreconcilable version launched by hawks after independence.
Pakistan today encompasses high religious homogeneity (more than 95 per cent of the people are Muslim) but significant ethnic diversity and is bound by a shared culture. Many of its ethnic groups extend into states with which it has porous, often hostile, borders. Pakistan has alternated between dictatorship and democracy and has experienced consistently poor governance. Thus, Pakistan scores high on some and low on other nationhood determinants. Consequently, it has experienced a split with a physically separate and ethnically distinct wing and other significant ethnic/sectarian strife.
Finally, Sudan is a figment of the colonial imagination. While north Sudan had its historical kingdoms, south Sudan was colonised during the 1800s. Sudan today is full of religious, ethnic, tribal and racial divisions. It has been an autocracy throughout with rapacious governance. Thus, Sudan scores high on hardly any nationhood determinant. Consequently, it has experienced rebellions in the centre, south, west and east, and will split into two this year. The case of several African countries is similar.
Several lessons emerge from this analysis. First, deep identity divisions undermine nationhood and countries with them start with a disadvantage. Unsurprisingly, most developed countries today, European or East Asian, have historically been highly mono-identical. However, such innate disadvantages can be overcome through good governance, as shown by ethnically diverse Switzerland, though this requires significant investment and decentralisation.
While this can slow progress, doing so is still worthwhile. China is developing faster than India due to its autocratic politics. However, while homogeneous China can risk such autocracy diverse India cannot. India is better off sacrificing speed to maintain internal cohesion.
Second, multiple identities are common, both within states and individuals. Identities and their preference order tend to be fluid and evolve over time based on circumstances. Multiple identities and changes therein tend to be subjective and should not be seen as immoral or criminal by outsiders based on `objective` standards. Thus, identities are personal domains.
Third, neither scholarly work nor international law provides guidelines about which nationhood is compelling enough to deserve statehood, leaving existing precedents as the only available guide. Their analysis shows that the majority of countries today fall well short of Japan`s high nationhood score and many actually enjoy high scores on only a couple of nationhood dimensions.
Facing internal diversity and understandably desiring cohesion, many states have emulated old-fashioned school principals who enforce discipline through bland moral sermons and upon their unsurprising failure start administering corporal punishment. Ignoring natural human instincts, states demand that people discard centuries-old ethnic identities and follow, instead, recent, colonialism-created, state identities.
In fact, they should emulate customer-oriented banks that encourage people to place the bank`s card topmost in their wallet sleeves and use it as their most preferred item by demonstrating concrete superior benefits of membership over other cards. States must not demand but encourage people, through good governance, to gradually adopt the state identity card over ethnic ones without abandoning the latter.
Pakistan too emulates school principals. Pakistani nationhood is neither as rock-solid as Japan`s nor as vaporous as Sudan`s. However, assuming itself to have Japan-like nationhood, Pakistan has demanded `Pakistaniat` rather than instilling it through quality governance. It would do well to follow customer-oriented businesses which zealously provide tailor-made quality services to diverse customer segments.
The writer is a research associate on political economy issues at the University of California, Berkeley.

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