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Asia

Young Pakistanis challenge religious identity of the state

Pakistan celebrates its 65th Independence Day on Tuesday, August 14. Yet it seems that many young secular Pakistanis are questioning the religious foundation of the state.

There are many in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan who don't think there's much to celebrate about the "independence" of a country whose economy is so heavily dependent on the World Bank and the IMF. Inflation and unemployment in Pakistan are currently higher than ever, and a lot of young Pakistanis are desperate to leave the country in search of jobs.

At the same time, there are others who maintain that Pakistan has not entirely failed. They point to its vibrant civil society, to its functioning - albeit corrupt - legislative body, and its somewhat independent - albeit incompetent - judiciary.

Critics of Pakistan's ubiquitous army blame the military generals for not allowing democracy to flourish in the country, and for supporting religious extremism to serve their own ends.

Supporter of an Islamic party during an anti-NATO rally

Pakistani liberals are worried about the growing influence of Islamic groups in the country

Many political commentators believe that Pakistan currently faces its worst existential crisis, in the form of the Taliban insurgency in the north-western Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and in the separatist movement in the western Baluchistan region.

The world - especially the US and other Western countries - is keeping a close eye on the instability of nuclear-armed Pakistan. If the state were to disintegrate, it could result in a regional catastrophe beyond anyone's control.

Against this backdrop, Pakistani youth are more frustrated than ever. Young people are now even questioning the ideological framework of the partition of India in 1947.

Partition a mistake?

Mavra Bari, an Islamabad-based journalist, thinks that any country founded on the basis of religion is bound to have problems.

"I am a Pakistani, but it does not necessarily mean that I am a Muslim. Similarly, just because someone is Muslim does not mean they are more patriotic than non-Muslim Pakistanis," Bari told DW. "The religious ideology has adversely affected Pakistani citizens, particularly the minority communities," she added. She said that the premise of the partition was faulty.

For her part, Karachi-based classical dancer and theater actor Suhaee Abro told DW that "it would have been better for the people of the Indian sub-continent had they lived together."

Founder of Pakistan Mohammad Ali Jinnah, center; last British viceroy Lord Mountbatten, left; and Lady Mountbatten

Did the partition of India do more harm than good?

Islamabad-based filmmaker and social activist Wajahat Malik went to the extent of calling the partition "one of the biggest blunders of the 20th century."

"What benefits have the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent reaped from the partition of India except that they are now scattered in three different countries [India, Pakistan and Bangladesh], and are subjected to sectarian and communal violence?" said Malik in an interview with DW.

In his view it is ironic that "religious bigotry, extremism, sectarianism and tribalism are shaking the foundations of a country which was carved out in the name of religion."

But not all Pakistan youngsters think this way. Sarwar Ali, who is based in the United Arab Emirates, believes the partition of India was an inevitable consequence of the Second World War. He does, however, feel that Pakistan needs to improve its governance issues.

Omar Quraishi, a Pakistani entrepreneur, told DW that the concept of an Islamic state was not such a bad idea because it was beneficial for the growth of the individual. He commented that Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was unable to impart his political wisdom and vision to his successors.

Peace with India

Indian Border Security Force soldiers, in brown uniform, and Pakistani Rangers soldiers, in black uniform, at Wagah border

Pakistan and India have fought three full-scale wars since Partition

Young, liberal Pakistanis tend to say it's important to focus on the present rather than dwell on the past. They believe that Pakistan needs to start anew, get rid of its religious identity and improve ties with India and other countries in the region. They don't believe Pakistan can prosper if it is not at peace with its neighbours.

Malik believes that the best way for India and Pakistan to develop a closer relationship is through more interaction between their peoples. "People-to-people contact, trade and tourism are the way forward for the two countries. When people come together, the states will follow suit," he says.

Khizar Sharif, who works for an internet company in Karachi, told DW he didn't believe a solution would be found until both India and Pakistan reduce their defense budgets and spend more on social development and people's welfare.

But the dancer Suhaee Abro is more optimistic. "We need more support from the people of both Pakistan and India. It is a long road and we need to be patient. I am sure there will be a change," she says.

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