Lost Pakistaniat

Posted on October 16, 2007
Filed Under >Qandeel Shaam, Society
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by Qandeel Shaam

What is patriotism but the love of the food one had as a child – Lin Yutang

There are many questions I struggle to solve – for instance, does the soul weigh 28 grams, why 72 virgins and why not just 1? Is Lichtenstein a country? Why do the Brits call private schools ‘public’, why is the green tea pink? How does Kamran Khan always manage to look like a very sad and cynical koala bear?

But there is one question that has persistently sat like a shrapnel in my mind: What does it mean to be Pakistani, what is Pakistaniat?

I’ve yo-yoed between Pakistan and Europe all my life, and with the passage of time this question has come to mystify me more and more. Moments of reflection over what your national identity is, and what it means, usually occur when you’re not in your home country. Maybe it has something to do with being labelled a “Pakistani” or feeling like an outsider, but living in the West can really intensify one’s ethnical awareness. This often results in an exaggerated sense of national identity where you see Pakistanis in the West acting more Pakistani-like than those living in Pakistan! For a brief time I was also overcome with a disposition to jingo, but then I moved to Pakistan….

Now you have to understand: for a Pakistani to move back to Pakistan after having proudly performed a stint of patriotism in the West can be quite a shocking experience. Whatever you thought was Pakistani can very quickly evaporate into the coiling miasma of confusion that shrouds our country. The contretemps first jolts and then disillusions you, because you slowly come to the realization that Pakistan is positively mired in an identity crisis.

You have the Western-wannabe’s and the religious extremist-wannabe’s. An extant grey zone that falls in between is either too small or too muted to buffer these two extremes. The Western-wannabe’s are primarily concerned with being liberal without embracing liberalism: for example, aunties who mull for hours when deciding just how deep they should let their plunging necklines plunge before it starts to look too inappropriate for a charity fundraising event to help emancipate the poor. The same aunties are also dedicated to ensuring that the only ‘liberty’ their maids ever see is a market in Lahore.

On the other hand you have the religious extremist-wannabe’s. Their narrow, retrograde interpretation of Islam creates new lines – and intensifies old ones – of demarcation based on belief, sect, creed, even beard length (!). It preaches Islamic unity but is practiced on the paradoxical premise that intolerance (even violence) against people with differing isms is condonable.

Western- and religious extremist-wannabes have their own sets of insecurities and prejudices and view everyone through such a discriminatory prism. These groups and the forces they exert deserves exclusive attention, but for the purposes of this article it is suffice to say that the dichotomy of Westernism and religious extremism in Pakistan has caused more friction between Pakistanis, propelling the drift away from a core Pakistaniat, a sense of oneness.

So when I moved back to Pakistan I found that oneness to be lacking; after years of living up to the facade of a “Pakistani” in the West I found Pakistan itself to be devoid of any such identity. I think that generally speaking Pakistanis have always had a clique mentality, but it’s augmented and intensified. So you see now multiple little groups all bopping their heads against one another.

And yet we speak of being Pakistani and Pakistaniat. We don’t just speak of it we feel it as well. When I am in Europe I again feel Pakistani. How can we feel something that doesn’t really exist?

The article opened with a quote from the Chinese writer Ling Yutang,

“What is patriotism but the love of the food one had as a child”

. I interpret this as memories of our childhood and the nostalgia they bring, and how it’s from these memories and nostalgia that there emanates a sense of self identity. So if I’m in Europe and eating samosa chaat or listening to a Pakistani song or qawali that was popular in my youth, it will almost always invoke a warm feeling of nostalgia that reminds me of where I come from. I’m not sure whether I should consider it a tragedy that the only vestiges left of the Pakistaniat I used to feel and know have become hazy reminisces, or whether I should feel glad that the feeling is not lost all together.

Photo Credits: Photos for this post are taken from flickr.com

59 responses to “Lost Pakistaniat”

  1. Adnan says:


    Ancient India were United? I read different state rulers used to fight with each other.

  2. Paul says:

    Hi there,

    I do not understand one thing. Why did people living in current territory of Pakistan wanted to separate from India? Weren’t hey one, unite country since ancient times? What was India doing to this lands that people living there didn’t want to belong to that country? What made them feel like separate nation? I do not understand that. It is only 60 years old country and India has much longer history. Why couldn’t India stay unite without loosing current lands of Pakistan and Bangladesh?


  3. Yasin Latif says:

    Stop this negative propaganda, DO what ever you like to do but don’t spread this self mad image for Pakistan.

  4. Kashif says:

    I am Kashif, a student from Ohio. I have few points to mention about Pakistaniat in me here…

    I have lived my life in Islamabad, until 2 years back, when i came to US for further studies. After 2 years of my existence in US and seeing what is the image of Pakistanis here, I am very frustrated.

    Somebody asks me, if i am an Indian. When i say that i am a Pakistani, I am sidelined. The internships are favoured to Indians. Somehow, these westners think that Indians are very intelligent species on earth, and others not. Some feel that all those who come here for graduate education are undergrads from IITs(regarded as better than Stanford univ by them.) I am forced to listen to listen to bollywood songs, to keep me “socially updated”. Suddenly, being an Indian here is the “cool” thing, or an “in” thing. Worst is – Indian muslims treat me as a second fiddle. One thing I have noticed here, is that Indian muslims consider India first and then Islam. We have foolishly fallen into the religious circle. We consider fellow muslim from any part of world as our brother. Indian muslim considers fellow Indian (Hindu or Christian or Sikh) as his brother.

    And why am i writing this in a pakistaniat column? Because there is no room for Pakistaniat outside Pakistan. Many of our fellow Pakistani brothers call themselves Indians. Many Pakistanis start an “Indian” restaurant. Why do we have to be a second fiddle to India. India is on its way to global economic power. So be it. We should not get bogged down by that. Indians are present all over the world. So be it. Indians control the silicon valley. So be it.
    We should maintain our prudence, despite all odds.
    Pakistan zindabad.

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