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
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Administrator

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading and fastest ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sunroom / Conservatory / Extension Designers

£16000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Planning Assistant

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the count...

Recruitment Genius: Purchase Ledger Administrator

£5120 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be working for one of the countr...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence