Securing Our Way of Life: What Was Gen Raheel’s Meaning?



Much has been said already about Gen Raheel’s statement last week about ‘non-state actors’ undermining Pakistan’s national security. However there is another point made by the Army chief about the enemy that ‘lives within us and looks like us’ that has received less attention but may actually provide the key to understanding our current trajectory.

“In the world today, security does not only apply to borders, but securing our cultures and way of life are also seen as primary security concerns.”

At first, this seems to be unremarkable, but on closer review this comment contains a clue to the root causes of our troubles: The definition of “our culture and way of life”.

This is a question that has plagued our nation since the beginning, and continues to divide us. We are often warned of creeping cultural invasion, usually from India. During Jamaat-ud-Dawa’s rally in Lahore last week, Sardar Atiq Ahmad Khan gave this statement:

He said New Delhi was bent upon dominate Pakistan through various conspiracies including subversion and smuggling its secular and Hindu culture into the country’s boundaries.Dr Abul Khair warned against conspiracies to change the country’s ideology by thrusting secularism by force.

In another perfect example of this attitude, none other than a retired Pakistani foreign service officer wailed about the dangers of allowing young people to watch Indian movies. But he gives something away in his complaints:

In his appearance last Monday before the Supreme Court, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf sought some more time to deliberate on the issue of writing a letter to the Swiss authorities and assured the court that he would do his best to deal with it. “Mujh par vishvas karen” (trust me), the Prime Minister said, using an opaque Hindi word meaning trust, confidence, belief.

Raja’s use of Hindi in addressing the court was striking as well as jarring, given the fact that there are perfectly suitable Urdu words with the same meaning, not only those of Arabic origin – like yaqin and i’timad – but also indigenous ones like bharosa. Vishvas, on the contrary, is not one of the hundreds of thousands of words that are common to Urdu and Hindi, but has been given currency in India as a result of a campaign by Hindu nationalists to popularise or coin “authentic” local substitutes for “foreign” terms.

Why are words of Arabic origin considered “perfectly suitable” while words of Hindi origin are “foreign”? It all comes back to a flawed interpretation of ‘Two Nation Theory’. In this interpretation, Pakistan is defined as whatever India isn’t. Ergo, if something is considered ‘Indian’ then by definition it cannot be Pakistani. However this goes against historical and cultural realities.

Member of PTI Central Tarbiyati Council Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi explained the reality in a recent piece for Pakistan Today:

Culturally we have to stop identifying ourselves with Central Asia. We are a South Asian country and our cultural values are derived from it. Although many invaders came from Central Asia to South Asia for its riches, they all had to assimilate with the dominant culture of the conquered people. Our dress, cuisine and traditions are unique as compared to India but have a strong underlying component derived from it. Our ancestors might have been Hindu or Buddhist but we can’t ignore that our genes are derived from them rather than those who were alien to our lands. Consider that Arabic language and culture existed before the advent of Islam and those cultural values continued after it. Our curriculum should be focused on the achievements of our forefathers and their contribution to the world in medicine, physics, chemistry, architecture and mathematics. We have to redesign history courses to reflect these facts so that our youth have a stronger sense of identity with their past. Taj Mahal is as much our heritage as it is India’s. It may be located in Agra but its roots spread to Pakistan.

Why is there so much pressure to ignore this reality? The answer is a political one, and it may be surprising. The roots of this Indian culture-phobia can actually be traced to a movement against Pakistan. It is well known that Maulana Maududi was against Jinnah and the Pakistan Movement, and today that ideology is carried on not only by Jamaat-e-Islami but by groups like Jamaat-ud-Dawa and others.

Speaking at JuD’s rally in Lahore, Tanzim Islami chief Hafiz Akif Saeed said “Muslims should reject all worldly systems invented by the infidels and enforce the Caliphate”. The only way to do this, though, would be to undo Pakistan. Likewise, JuD chief Hafiz Saeed’s declaration that “Ghazwa-e-Hind is inevitable” is by definition an undoing of Two Nation Theory.

When America declared itself independent from Britain, it too did so based on a type of “Two Nation Theory”, one that declared that the people of America were no longer “British” but had their own unique culture. America did not pretend that their shared history never existed, however, or declare themselves more “European” than “British” and try to wipe out any trace of a shared heritage. America defined itself not by what it wasn’t, but by what it was. Today, America is stronger because of that.

Pakistan, too, has a rich and unique cultural heritage. This culture is under threat not from Bollywood movies or borrowing Hindi terms, but from historical revisionists and ambitious political activists who want to replace Pakistan with a mythical ‘Caliphate’ in which they, naturally, are giving the orders.

Revisiting Gen Raheel’s meaning about the need for “securing our cultures and way of life”, I can only hope that the Army chief is talking about the actual cultures (plural!) that make up our beautiful country, and not an imagined one that would tear it apart.