How a stronger regional identity can strengthen our national identity

Lahore Literary Festival

I am a daughter, a sister, a student, a friend, a Muslim, and a human being. Someday I hope to be a wife, a mother, a writer…and who knows what else the future will bring. Each of these is and will be part of my identity, and it is the combination that makes me who I am. And just as I am a proud Pakistani, I am also a proud South Asian. Losing one would be like losing a part of my body, making me incomplete.

If Pakistan is my heart, and Islam is my soul, South Asia is my eyes. It is the way I see the world, and, while not a complete picture, it is a window into who I am. Strengthening my vision in no way weakens my heart or my soul, and in some ways will actually make them stronger. This was the message of an important session ‘Negotiating a South Asian Identity’ at the Lahore Literary Festival.

The speakers noted that everyone’s identity is made up of multiple identities which are in constant negotiation. Speaking at the event, Sherry Rehman gave particularly important advice for strengthening Pakistan by increasing social and economic interaction with our South Asian cousins in India and Bangladesh without sacrificing our Pakistani identity. This can be accomplished through increased trade and travel. Such policy reforms would not only allow us to understand each other better, but to know ourselves better as well.

Earlier this month, India eased visa rules for 180 countries. Unfortunately, Pakistan was not one of them, despite the fact of increased business visa application from Pakistan. Thankfully, Commerce Minister Khurram Dastagir Khan has displayed wisdom and maturity in overlooking this slight and continuing to work for the best interest of liberalising the visa regime and improving trade and economic interaction.

Just as the European Union built a strong European identity and as a result strengthened its individual member nations by promoting not only free trade but also greater understanding and respect among them, building a strong South Asian identity can strengthen not only our region, but Pakistan itself.

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