For 62 years, since the birth of Pakistan, language has played a controversial role in terms of our national identity. Many may argue that Urdu played a unifying role when it brought together Muslims across British India. But has our national language been more of an asset or an obstacle in a post-partition Pakistan? Has a constitutional amendment for the recognition of Urdu as our national language led to a greater division amongst different ethnicities? Have we allowed the political force of language to drive us to the brink of anarchy? Urdu should not be used as the sole unifying factor or a pre-requisite to being a Pakistani. It may be a factor, since language and nationalism have been intertwined for centuries. But today we find that Urdu is powerful enough to identify Pakistan as a nation, but also strong enough to drive a wedge between a Punjabi and a Sindhi.
In all four provinces of Pakistan different languages are spoken. Though it is a fact that Urdu is the language spoken by the majority of Pakistan, it no longer has the same impact or importance the language carried prior to partition of India. Urdu played a controversial role while Pakistan still consisted of an East and West wing. Those residing in East Pakistan preferred Bengali as the national language, whereas those in the West wing chose otherwise. One may argue that this rift in language played an even bigger role in separating the two wings then India itself. The citizens of Baluchistan have also come to feel isolated from the rest of their country over the years, and although language has been a lesser factor in this isolation, it has certainly added fuel to the fire.
Pakistan is facing a tumultuous period in its short history. Many different forces, be they economical, political or militant, have plagued Pakistan. The danger of terrorism still looms over our heads. The Pakistan Army has done a tremendous job in rooting out this menace from within our borders, but it’s time we play our part as well. It’s very easy to sit down and sip lassi’s in our drawing rooms – criticizing the government for their lack of competence or corruption – but we need to unify our shattered country. Our confidence has been broken, but not our backs.
Language has definitely been defined by ethnic unity and cultural identification, but as Robert King explains in his article Should English be the law? We need to find our “unique otherness”. This concept of unique otherness as articulated by King is something “almost mystical that holds [multilingual nations] in a union transcending language”. This could be anything from customs, cultural traditions, political institutions and religion or even simpler concepts like consensual allegiance to cricket and the national flag.
We as Pakistani’s seem to have forgotten our fundamental uniting factor, and with the current problems we face today, it is essential that we be united. We need to understand what it means to be Pakistani. Waiving our flags on the 14th of August or celebrating the 6th of September are only two pieces in our puzzle of national identity: the others are scattered, waiting to be collected. If we were to understand and abide by this concept of “unique otherness”, our nation would be immune to linguistic destabilization, having found a stronger unifying factor than a common language. Therefore I believe we should put less emphasis on Urdu bringing Pakistani’s together, and pour more energy into collecting the remaining pieces in our puzzle of national identity.