One of the best defences of nation-building was penned and published by Mowahid Shah in the Pakistani journal, TheNation, under the title A Plague of Provincialism. In the issue of August 30, 2012, he writes: “The ‘sovereign’ Parliament has constituted a panel to oversee the establishment of new provinces in Punjab [which since independence in 1947 has dominated Pakistan both militarily and politically]. Instead of devising new methods to unite, they have been tasked to come up with new tricks to divide. Who gave them the licence to dismantle what they have not built?”He continues: “When America was facing secession 150 years ago during its civil war, the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln - the man most responsible for saving the Union - declared: ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand’.“One may query whose agenda is being served? An impartial diagnosis of the 1971 debacle [the secession of Bangladesh or East Pakistan], along with identifying who stood to benefit from it, would have prevented today’s plague of provincialism.“The Wall Street Journal of March 9, 2011, advocated, ‘rearranging the basic building blocks of Pakistan.......This means backing provincial autonomy and linguistic identity as an alternative to the centralised pan-Islamism’. [But] the drive for new provinces will not just halt there. It could be a pathway to a polarised polity, which may well be irreversible.......The dangers of letting loose a locust-like swarm of separatism and sectarianism are not being fully grasped, [but] the so-called “champions of change” have chosen to go with the flow.......Those partaking in any panel or plan to sub-divide the nation shall be joining the everlasting roster of shame.“In testimony on February 8, 2012, before a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee of the US Congress, Ralph Peters, a US military analyst, said: ‘We need to ask honestly why Balochis are not entitled to a Free Balochistan, why the Pashtuns....... are not entitled to a Pakhtunkhwa for all Pashtuns.......It’s time to abandon Pakistan and switch our support wholeheartedly to India’.”Certainly, the context in present-day Pakistan can legitimately lead to such opposition to the Islamic principle of political self-determination, known as haqq al hurriyah or political freedom, which respects the nation as a group of people, who share the same sense of history; the same values in the present; and the same hopes for the future. But it is unwise to generalise.Sometimes alliances and confederations are more stable and stronger than centralised but artificial sovereign states, and this may apply especially to the places of crisis today, ranging from Thailand and Burma to Somalia and Mali. The American policymakers have sought to stabilise the status quo, with all of its injustices, either by breaking up existing organic nations, like Vietnam and Korea, or by trying artificially to “build nations” in countries, like Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Sudan, and a dozen other crisis zones, whereby the very nation-building that is supposed to avoid or solve crises creates them.The movement to transform the United States of America from a confederation to a federation, and then to centralise it further, caused the civil war, weakened the United States as a model for the world, and helped lead to the search for an American empire. Power should go from the bottom up, from the sacredness of the individual person to the sacredness of various levels of human community, all the way up to humankind, not from the top down, based on modern ideologies that deny the very existence and essence of anything sacred.Ibn Khaldun, the first student of civilisations and of sociology, introduced the concept of good asabiya in contrast to the bad asabiya. Centralising political power usually creates the bad asabiya, whereby one’s identity is based on not belonging to anything else and in justifying one’s own religious and ethnic tribalism by denigrating every community other than one’s own. The interfaith ummah developed by the Prophet Mohammad, Salla Allahu ‘Alayhi Wa Salam, and reflected in the Constitution of Madinah, was a model of legitimacy coming from the bottom up, namely, through the individual person and family and tribe to a higher level of community based not on any secular collectivism, but on the ultimate sovereignty of God.Unfortunately, in the era of sovereign states, which started with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 and reached its peak in the creation of the state of Israel three centuries later, the centralised state itself displaces God as the only legitimate object of worship and instead subjects the search for knowledge and justice to the gods of power, prestige, plutocracy, and rampant pleasure. This hopeless search for self-identity is the greatest barrier to peace, prosperity, and freedom through the interfaith and intercommunal harmony of compassionate justice for everyone. 

The writer is the former adviser to the late President of the United States Richard Nixon, and is former Deputy Director (for Planning) of the United States National Security Council. He has authored or co-authored more than a dozen books and over 50 professional articles on comparative legal systems, global strategy, and information management. Email: