Celebrations for a country still divided

Pakistan 50 years on: Despite decades of political strife, people still came together

A small crowd at Islamabad's folk festival, held to celebrate Pakistan's 50th independence anniversary, watched as two horses danced to a folk tune. A group of youngsters joined the dance while others clapped to keep the beat. All were dressed in traditional costumes, but those who watched them were wearing blue jeans, fashionable western trousers and shirts. Unlike the craftsmen, who spoke one of Pakistan's four provincial languages, they spoke a mixture of Urdu and English, the two official languages of the country.

But not all in the crowd were alike. Those from Islamabad looked cleaner and had a fresh, confident look. Those from the adjacent city of Rawalpindi looked a little different. They were not as fresh as the other group and did not use English.

Those from the nearby villages were different from both the groups. Wearing long cotton shirts and trousers, with little cotton scarves around their shoulders, they gave a distinct rural look. It was a vivid illustration of the different faces of Pakistan, 50 years after independence.

Not all of the country has welcomed the celebrations of the past two days. "All this dancing and singing is a sin, we should not allow this in Pakistan as it was created for Islam," said Naveed Ahmad, a student from a local college and a supporter of the Islamic militant Islami Jamiyat- i-Tulaba group. The group is affiliated with Pakistan's Jamaat-i-Islami party which opposes such displays of popular entertainment. "While people have little to eat, our rulers are wasting money on bringing dancers and singers to Islamabad to celebrate the golden jubilee. This can't be permitted," said Jamaat's leader, Kazi Hussain Ahmad, while addressing an independence day rally in the north-western city of Peshawar.

In the northernmost corner of Gilgit, police arrested 16 students for allegedly desecrating the national flag. The people of Gilgit, a semi- independent principality until 1947, have not been fully merged with the country because Gilgit was technically a part of the disputed Kashmir territory. In the south, a small group of Sindhi nationalists refused to participate in the national celebrations because they claim that the government was turning the native Sindhis into a minority by settling people from other areas in Sindh.

The other largest ethnic group in Sindh is that of Mohajirs, the Muslim immigrants from India who dominate the cities of Karachi and Hyderabad. Although they came to Pakistan 50 years ago, these people are still struggling to find an identity in Pakistan. They are still called "Mohajirs" which means "refugees" in Urdu and Arabic.

The religious divide has pitched Pakistan's Sunni majority and its small but powerful Shiite minority against each other. Hundreds of people have been killed in religious and ethnic violence in Pakistan during the current year.

Then there are those who see Pakistan as part of the Subcontinent and thus sharing a common culture with India. There are others who see Pakistan as integrated with the greater Muslim world of Central Asia and the Middle East and don't want to hear about any affiliation with India, even if only cultural.

There is a third group of intellectuals, who claim that Pakistan has existed as an entity separate from India even 3000 years ago, when the Indus valley had its own identity.

Fifty years of political instability and economic deprivation has further complicated the scene. There are more than 20 political parties in the country which keep wrestling with each other for power. This continued bickering has allowed few elected governments to complete their tenure, and the army has ruled Pakistan for 25 of its 50 years of independence.

This is what the intellectuals in Pakistan describe as the country's identity crisis. But somehow these crises only seem to bother the country's politicians and intellectuals. Most Pakistanis have learnt to live with their country's complex and often confusing cultural, ethnic, religious and political divides.

Abdul Huq, a senior accountant at a multi-national company, said: "I live in Islamabad which is a modern city. I work on computers. Surf the Internet. Exchange business messages with Europe and North America every day and yet when hear the call for prayers, I turn off my computer, move my face towards Mecca and say my prayers. I see no conflict between my faith and my work."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks