‘Ethnicity will continue to make and break states’

Unless diversity is respected and democracy encouraged, ethnic issues can explode at any time causing great carnage, as has been witnessed in Karachi recently where ethnic strife is showing its brutality. - Online photo

KARACHI: Ethnicity is like a ticking time bomb and unless diversity is respected and democracy is encouraged, it can explode at any time. Also, ethnic identity will continue to play a role in the break-up and rebirth of the world’s states.

This view was expressed by former federal minister Javed Jabbar speaking at a lecture titled ‘Ethnicity and other factors: state formation, de-formation and reformation’ held on Tuesday. The lecture was organised by the University of Karachi’s Area Study Centre for Europe (ASCE).

‘Ethnicity will remain a potent factor in formation, de-formation and reformation of states. Other factors also matter. Diversity must be respected and democracy must be encouraged. However, in the next 90 years we are likely to witness very volatile times,’ said Jabbar.

He also observed that a Pakistani ethnic identity was still quite far away as he said ‘We are even more unique than Israel. Judaism has a very strong connection with ethnicity. It’ll take another two hundred to three hundred years’ for a Pakistani ethnic identity to develop.‘We have not even begun to create a genetic Pakistani identity. Perhaps this will change after more inter-marriages’ between the different ethnic groups inhabiting the country.Javed Jabbar described the historical development of states in some detail as well as discussing some of the bloodiest ethnic conflicts of recent times, such as those of Kosovo and Chechnya.The former minister said the formation of states was a relatively recent phenomenon in man’s history and cited the Greek city states as an example, while observing that the modern evolution of states began in earnest with 1648’s Treaty of Westphalia.

However, he said people often forget to mention the Madina city state founded by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) 1,400 years ago. Yet, he said, today both the holy cities of Makkah and Madina were under monarchical rule.‘Man has had a limited experiment with statehood. We are really learning how to run a state.’Regarding the explosive growth of states in the modern era, Jabbar said that when the United Nations was formed in 1945, there were 50 member states; today there were 192, which came to about two new states a year. He attributed this growth to nations forming after the decline of colonialism as well as the fall of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

He noted that there were six major factors contributing to the formation of states: continuity in land and people (ethnicity); states formed by invasion, conquest, migration and amalgamation; post-colonial constructs; integration of adjacent entities by war and revolution; religion-based states and finally, new entities arising from disintegration.With regard to the local context, Javed Jabbar said Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s 1948 speech in which he said that Urdu would be the only national language of Pakistan added to the alienation of the country’s former eastern wing.He said that when ethnicity mixed with religion it created ‘a potent mixture,’ specifically referring to the mostly Pakhtun composition of the Taliban, while he added that there were also several secular nationalist movements in Pakistan, such as that of Baloch nationalists, Sindhi nationalists as well as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

Kosovo and Chechnya

Comparing the troubled regions of Kosovo and Chechnya, Javed Jabbar said both these regions – the first a former Yugoslav province and the second a Caucasian republic under Russian administration – shared many things in common: they had Muslim majorities, both were conquered by non-Muslims as well as the fact that both experienced communist rule.Among the differences, he said that while Kosovo’s ‘liberation’ was supported by Nato and the US, Chechnya did not attract similar support. Also, Jabbar said that while ethnic upheaval increased in Kosovo after the Nato bombing targeting Serbian forces, Russian suppression in Chechnya was the same before and after the two wars Chechen separatists fought with the Russian state.He termed the western bombing of Kosovo ‘a show of remarkable compassion’ and an example of ‘new military humanism’.Prof Dr Naveed Ahmad Tahir, ASCE director, said in her introductory remarks that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – adopted by the UN in 1948 – called for human beings to be treated without any discrimination.‘States have violated this with impunity. Racial tensions have been fuelled by globalisation. Most states are multi-ethnic and have solved their problems through dialogue,’ she said. Prof Tahir added that ethnic issues have led to interventions by other states, specifically mentioning Indian military intervention in Sri Lanka as well as the ethnic trouble in the Caucasus.‘(Ethnic problems) are a very serious challenge to modern states. They challenge governance and threaten domestic and external peace.

(Source:Dawn: Wednesday, 29 Apr, 2009)




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