Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Publication Date: May 1st, 2023
By Arnold Zeitlin 8 November 2023
The book presents readers with a collection of essays under the grand title of Pakistan at 75 and they surely would expect an assessment of the state of this curious post-colonial nation-state after seven decades of development. In this case, readers would be disappointed. No conclusive assessment is offered. What is strung together under the title are half a dozen sketches of research on marginal topics, such as the significance of English at two Punjab universities and the impact of military road building on the people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
However, in her introduction to the research essays, Sarah Holz, one of the three editors and a former guest professor at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, comes closest to a broad assessment, noting that “for the past seven decades, Pakistan has been the scene of recurrent and protracted ruptures, contestations and deliberations about various ideas, issues, and questions of nation-building….”.adding: “As a post-colonial polity and society, Pakistan continues to engage in contentious debates and struggles of what it means to shed colonial legacies.”
As for the role of the military over Pakistan’s 75 years, Professor Holz recognizes that it is “a central actor in Pakistan’s political history.”She adds, without suggesting causes, that “Pakistan seems to contend with insecurity, instability, violence and militancy constantly….” In the rest of the volume, the military is virtually unmentioned.
That is not to say the information offered in the research articles has no value. Aftab Nasir, a professor at the Information Technology University in Lahore, reflects on the confusion over language, the debate over Bengali having been a factor in the country’s breakup. In speaking to students and faculty of Punjab University in Lahore and the University of Sargodha, Nasir asks: is English an advantage or a barrier? English is an official language in Pakistan, while Urdu is a national language teaching medium in most public schools. Pashto, Baloch, Punjabi, Saraiki, and Sindhi are provincial languages without official status but are most commonly spoken at home.
“The remnants of the colonial policy of establishing English as the official language of Pakistan,” Nasir concludes, “engendered the division of an already diverse society even further along linguistic lines….If not English, then Urdu might seem a better choice for creating a level playing field. But the status of Urdu as the official language and medium of instruction is highly contested historically, and many other ethnic groups, such as Baloch, Saraii Pashun, etc., feel discriminated….”
Other essays probe identity as shaped by Afghan refugees in one case and in another case by students at Quaid-i-Azam University. As useful as these essays are, the volume under its expansive title falls disappointedly short of offering a picture of Pakistan at 75.