Delusions. They’re what keep us going here in Pakistan. Our survival instinct kicks in and [apparently] happily accepts what it being thrown our way, whether we agree with it or not.
We, Punjabis, are the most despised ethnic group in Pakistan. We are the majority. We wield the most power. We are the rulers, the feudals and the military. We have managed to isolate each and every ethnic group of our country. They all hate us. And I don’t blame them.
I don’t want to launch into a long list of Punjabi wrongdoings. It would eat me up with guilt and will take up lots of time since the list is, unfortunately, endless. Needless to say, we, the Punjabis, have managed to usurp most of this country’s resources. We have promoted only ourselves. We have developed Punjab and left all the other provinces in the margins. Most of Balochistan is a barren wasteland. We exploit their resources, such as gas, and, in return, do not even grant them access to what we are taking from them. Sindh and the Frontier have similar grievances against us.
I propose that the problem isn’t just about exploitation, but also about honour and ideology.
Punjab has been through numerous rulers and kingdoms over the years, just like most of the subcontinent. The Indian sub-continent was never united; it was a conglomerate of kingdoms that constantly warred with each other. A rich and fertile land like Punjab, with her five flowing rivers, abundant harvest and tolerant culture, was never part of one kingdom for too long. We, the Punjabis, are as old as the Indus Valley Civilization itself. One of the most ancient cities in the world, Harrapa, is found here. Punjab was too tempting for anyone to resist. Anyone who came close wanted a piece.
Because Punjabis had to live with constant disruptions and new rulers on a regular basis, they learnt to adapt as best they could. Punjab’s numerous crops were to be protected. So instead of fighting, Punjabis tended to come to terms with their new rulers. This, in my opinion, was actually a pretty smart move- far better than waging wars for centuries. This also made Punjabi culture quite tolerant. There were hardly any forced conversions in the land since it was already quite multi-religious. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Parsis, Christians etc all lived together very peacefully. In fact, Islam was not spread by the sword here. No, it gained popularity because of the numerous Sufi saints, such as Bulleh Shah, who preached that God was love. Punjabis learned to reach an understanding with any others who walked amongst them. Punjabi culture is extremely hospitable, and people were welcomed to Punjab with open arms. Instead of resisting and fighting the latest conqueror, Punjabis accepted and worked with their new leader. Wise choice. Wars and chaos would destroy Punjab’s goldmine: her fertile crops.
The Islam of Punjab is quite different than the Islam of the rest of our provinces. Sindh’s first converts were born out an invasion by Muhammad bin Qasim, an Arab. The hermeneutics of the Islam practised in Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan is a syncretism of the tribal cultures of those lands, which are a blend of traditions from earlier religions and cultures. The tribal system of honour is a code that is deeply entrenched in the psyche of these ethnic groups, and is inseparable from their practice of religion. One example of this is the belief that honour killings are divinely sanctioned. What I am saying, and what I am going to get a lot of flak for, is that the Islam and culture of the tribals is different from that of Punjab’s. Whereas the tribals believe religion to be inseparable from honour, the Punjabis do not see it that way because of the tradition of tolerance in the Punjab.
The tribal ideology consists of fierce loyalty to the clan. This, in turn, leads to a strong sense of honour. Indeed, it is a grave crime to dishonour the clan in any way, shape or form. Honour killings are an excellent example of this because when a woman’s sexuality is illicit, it doesn’t just damage her reputation, it brings dishonour to the whole family, and thus the clan. This is why so many innocent women- including rape victims- end up meeting their death. Even the slightest accusation is reason enough to believe that one’s honour is threatened. Similarly, if a member of the clan converts to another religion or marries a member of the rival clan, the honour code- and loyalty- is threatened. This certainly was not true in pre-partition Punjab where many families, including my own, had Hindu, Sikh and/or Christian relatives. My paternal great-grandmother, much like the vast majority of my family, was a Brahmin covert, and my mother still has many Hindu relatives across the border. Punjabis, like I said before, were a tolerant people who lived peacefully side by side despite differences in religion etc. (I say “were” tolerant because we are now too influenced by intolerance and extremism that is plaguing our society.)
This is a very crucial difference between the Punjabis and the tribals. To them, and to the many ethnic groups who moved from India, we are seen as weak people who sell out to anyone who rules us. We seem to have no loyalty to our tribe or clan. This makes us seem like we place far less importance on honour than the others. Our acceptance of others is also not exactly seen as a positive step. Our ideology, which is to tolerate and work with whoever is in power, is seen as a sign of weakness. We are not ready to fight for what we stand for like they are. We also are not as focused on being Punjabi as say the Pathans are about being Pashtuns. We do not defend our culture to death like most others do. We don’t even teach Punjabi in schools here! Perhaps it is because we are the majority, and thus are not threatened. Our rich land and the fact that we are the majority of the population certainly doesn’t help give us more credibility.
Punjab today, however, has certainly delineated from its tradition of tolerance. Sadly, this was one of the worst influences we could have adopted. Also, the fact that the state has split the country along lines of ethnicity has only lead to resentment against the Punjabis, and quite stupidly, we are becoming their self-fulfilling prophecy of oppressive, hegemonic rulers. This is why the next Prime Minister of Pakistan cannot, and should not, be a Punjabi. In a country that is bitterly divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, this would a disaster akin to civil war. Sindh, which displayed its awesome and crippling strength of agitators in the days following Benazir Bhutto’s death, will not accept a Punjabi leader. A Punjabi can no longer stand for the federation; they will only be seen as yet another symbol of Punjabi dominance. Unfortunately, since the elections are most likely to be rigged, not only will we have a Punjabi Prime Minister, Pervaiz Elahi from PML-Q, but we will also have a powerful Mafioso man, and immensely corrupt feudal who will illegally return to power, and loot and plunder the country like he has been doing for years. As responsible citizens we have to ensure that this doesn’t happen. If it does, there is a real danger that we will break up. And if that happens, India will also have a vested interest in the region because of our nuclear arsenal. This is yet another reason why we need to have free and fair elections. Those supporting Musharraf blindly, like Sajida Hina Khan are in fact doing the biggest disservice to this country. Those who claim that their families have fought hard for this country should finally stop putting their foot in their mouth and do something. If they don’t, they’ll be as responsible for the chaos that ensues as the corrupt leaders they support.