A Muslim majority Indus Valley Civilization?
Who are we? For most of our history we have been caught between competing ideas about Pakistan. Is it a land for Muslims? What does an Islamic identity mean for the indigenous cultures of Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Gilgit–Baltistan and the people who migrated to India?
Greatness is created through synthesis, and when old ideas are challenged by new paradigms. The decade of the 1940s saw the North East states of British India challenged by secular Muslim nationalism. What does that mean to us? We are still in the process of understanding it. But in doing so, we have relied on too many easy answers. Our national identity is based on repudiation; we choose to identify ourselves in the negative: we are not India. Our inability to step forward is because we have failed to create any synthesis from the social and political currents available to us. Let us then challenge our paralysis and press forward with our inquiry — let us seek to imagine who we are, and who we could be.
Our history does not start with 1947, nor with Muhammed bin Qasim’s (in)famous and glorified conquest of Sindh. Those events are important but form an incomplete story of our past. Our heritage goes back to the Indus Valley Civilization, one of the first people to build the great cities of Moenjadaro and Harappa, a complex language and mathematical system, and centers of commerce in Asia. The source of this great civilization was the Indus River whose mighty banks nourished and fed its people. Today it is not nuclear weapons that protect our country but the Indus, whose artery and tributaries provide the life flow of our country. By remembering that we are the heirs of the Indus Valley Civilization, we can shift our focus from the anti to the river itself. We can concentrate on protecting our environment and saving the river that is literally the lifeblood of the country, and the source of our food and electricity. We are a natural nation bound by the Indus, if the Indus dries out the country will collapse.
This doesn’t mean that we completely ignore the advent of the Mughals, the conquest of the British, the height of Hindu-Muslim unity during the war of independence and its subsequent breakdown, despite the best efforts of members of the leadership class. And of course, the bloodshed in the years leading to Partition – events which concluded that religion was going to play a role, however so undefined, in the consciousness of the masses of Pakistan.
While religion comes from the same source, it is up to different countries and peoples on how to interpret it to enrich their lives. That is why the Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia is different from the one practiced in most of Pakistan. The role of religion (in all of its cultural, spiritual, non-denominational and ritual manifestations) will remain in society. What is important is for thinkers to channel it into a force that is creative and not destructive, inclusive and pluralistic, not one that imposes its will on the unwilling. One that is large enough to include free thinkers and conservative clerics. One that encourages selfishness and a spirit of citizenship. One that convinces individuals that they have greater aims than their everyday jobs, but does not encourage utopian personalities or apocalyptic thinking.
What is the relationship between the pre-Islamic, pre-Christian Indus Valley Civilization to today’s Islamic Republic of Pakistan? These two strands of the secular and religious deliberately create a powerful contradiction. Contradictions are good because they deny any single understanding of morality and create a vibrant society through debate and compromise.
Embracing our Indus past will enable us to reject Arab cultural imperialism in the name of religion, and will help us discard the Two-Nation Theory. We will be focused not on fighting wars with India, but in making the greatest cities in the world. Cities like those of the past, which valued trade and commerce and became the hub of Indo-Persian-Chinese commerce. Let our market places be flooded by people from all over the world and be a blend of cultures. We will be a country that celebrates diversity; ethnic diversity of the many languages and cultures around the ecosystem of the great river, and religious diversity, for it will be a country for (all types of) Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs who can respect this ecosystem. It will be a country that empowers its minorities. And once religion is prevented from being abused we can truly reconcile it with modernity and our legacy of British constitutionalism.
Once our conscious awakens to this idea, we will be a renewed nation. On the crumbling edifices of Moenjadaro and Harappa we will once more build great cities, and build a great country.
Asad Badruddin is from Karachi and holds a Bachelors in Quantitative Economics and International Relations from Tufts University, Boston. He blogs at octagonaltangents.blogspot.com and tweets @sasadb.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.