As we all gear up to celebrate defence day, in the cusp of news sparring between India and Pakistan, and a seemingly endless war on terror (which, in essence, is as much an existential battle as it is a physical war), it is perhaps pertinent to pause and review what exactly it is that we are fighting for. What precisely is the ideal that forms our identity as a people? What do we stand for as a nation? What is the singular thread, if any that runs across each of our spirits, to bind us as ‘one nation’?

Famously, Benedict Anderson, who currently is a Professor Emeritus at Cornell University in his acclaimed book Imagined Communities, defined ‘nation’ as: “it is an imagined political community- and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.... Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined.... Finally, [the nation] is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately, it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willing to die for such limited imaginings.”

If Professor Anderson is correct, what are the “limited imaginings” for which Pakistanis – all Pakistanis - are willing to die? Even more conservatively, is there an idea that almost all Pakistanis can agree upon and rally behind?

The answer, in this regard, can entail a philosophical stroll down disparate paths of identity.

For convenience sake, however, this question can be investigated through a prism of three different ideologies: religious, cultural, and political.

First, the religious. For a nation that has (deceptively) redefined its historical narrative with slogans such as Pakistan ka maytlab kya? La Illaha Il-Allah, and culminated this ideology into its written Constitution by proclaiming Islam to be the State religion (Article 2), the tenets of which are a valid legal ground to strike down legislative provisions and executive action, it is perhaps natural to assume that Islam is the one idea that unifies almost all of the 200 million strong population of this country. However, a closer look would reveal that “Islam”, at least in Pakistan, is perhaps the most undefinable force. To begin with, we have a large and vocal population of Sunni Deobands, all of whom share a philosophy of Islam that militates against the rest of the population (regardless of their sect or belief). While these fanatics are not a majority amongst our population, they enjoy large enough numbers to hold the entire nation hostage (as and when necessary).

Standing just a little bit to the left, is the overwhelming majority of moderate Muslims who, even while proclaiming and following Islam, neither wish to kill nor die for it. They have kids to raise, jobs to keep, and ambition to pursue. Further on the side is the Shia minority, whose belief in Islam is coloured by their faith in the Imam occultation, much more so than the Mullah across the street. Guided by a markedly different corpus of hadiths, they find it hard to agree with the sunnis across the isle on most of the fundamentals of religion. And of course, on the fringes, are the even most minority sect of Islam, who mostly concern themselves with not being killed for their religious beliefs as opposed to advocating it.

Lost in this quagmire, it is impossible to find a religious strand that binds the nation of Pakistan.

Second, the cultural. The truth is that even after almost seven decades of independence, people in different parts of Pakistan live their lives according to clashing cultural identities. People living in large parts of interior Sindh, the arid expanse of Baluchistan, the war-stricken mountains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and the oft-flooded belt of southern Punjab, all exist in a cultural universe that is markedly different from Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore. In fact, the two cultures often view each other as enemies, the evil that needs to be routed from within us, for our society to exist, at peace with our self. The jirgas, the panchayats, and evils such as honor killing are viewed with the same sort of disdain in the drawing rooms in Karachi, as the fashion shows of Lahore are viewed in Miranshah. These places, furthermore, share disparate languages, multiple dialects and a deep misunderstanding of each other’s norms. In the circumstances, it is impossible to find a cultural identity that unites all Pakistanis.

Third, the political. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, there are 266 political parties in the country; at least nine of which are major political parties holding meaningful sway over the voters. As is evident, from our national obsession with political drama (reflected in the daily news and talk shows), politics in Pakistan is a deeply divisive banner. While there are jiyalas and loyalists on all sides, there seems to be no political ideal that unifies the people behind any tangible political cause.

What then is a uniting force amongst the citizens of our country? A dispassionate investigation into this question would reveal an uncomfortable answer: despite all our religious, cultural, and political differences, the one idea that most of us (close to almost all of us) can nod our heads to is that of anti-Indianism. Not that we all wish to see India ‘destroyed’ or ‘conquered’ (though some of us do), but each of us want Pakistan to somehow ‘win’ against India – on the field of cricket, in trade negotiations, in international relations, in cultural entanglements, in intelligence warfare, and most of all in military combat. And so, in this way, anti-Indianism is perhaps the most widely applicable national identity among the people of Pakistan.

This is disturbing, not because we must all wish for India to succeed or be better, but simply because we should not be a nation that defines its identity in the negative. The idea that unites most of us should not be contingent upon another. We must not endeavour to succeed simply in order to do better than our rival.

It is time for some soul searching in Pakistan. It is time for us to look inwards to find our identity. An identity that is constructed out of positive desires to build a better education system, healthcare, law and order, justice, and above all, in pursuit of a peaceful Pakistan for our future generations. This is the only ‘imagined community’, the only fraternity, for which should be “willing to die”.