Last October, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan suggested that his countrymen watch a historic action thriller, Drilis: Ertugrul (“Resurrection: Ertugrul”). Aired on Netflix, this Turkish drama series claims international viewership. The Ertugrul craze reached unimaginable heights in Pakistan.
Although Turkish drama series have been aired before in Pakistan, Ertugrul is breaking all the previous records. According to a rough estimate, around 134 million people watched it from April 25 to May 14. As requested by Prime Minister Khan, Ertugrul was dubbed in Urdu and aired on the state-run channel PTV. The viewership of PTV’s YouTube channel has gone above 2 million while the popularity of series increasing with every passing day.
It would be an altogether different debate if, in Pakistan, Ertugrul were projected and perceived just as a drama. However, its depiction and description as a source of inspiration has exposed layers confusion that shroud the issue of nationalism in Pakistan.
In October 2019, Imran Khan expressed his dissatisfaction with the content of Pakistani drama serials. He criticized the national film industry for its imitation of Indian and American cinema. According to him, revival of past Islamic glory, remembrance of Muslim heroes and presenting narratives that are driven by the Muslim world instead of the West were compelling reasons to air Ertugrul.
In many ways, he seems to be right, but what is this Pakistani obsession with importing foreign ideologies, heroes and history when it comes to shaping the contours of nationalism in the country?
There are three main layers of confusion in which Pakistaniat (Pakistani nationalism) is shrouded. The first is internal.
Pakistan is a diverse multi-ethnic nation. It is a nation divided among Sindhis, Balochis, Pashtuns and Pathans. Ethnic debates have not been settled. This issue keeps stirring up political troubles on the floors of the National Assembly and the Senate.
The second layer is Pakistan’s affiliation with the Muslim world.
From its inception, the debate that embroiled a nascent Pakistan in never-ending internal strife was its status as an Islamic Republic. Since then, the country has been divided among hardcore religious ideologues and secular liberals, with no moderate scion in sight.
We affiliate ourselves with Saudi Arabia because of our Sunni majority, and with Iran because of the Shiite population in the country. Riyadh and Tehran can be labeled as hardcore religious conservatives in the Muslim world. Pakistan’s associating with them implies a trickle-down effect of religious ideologies in the minds of its nationals.
The perilous effects can be seen in the form of Islamabad’s involvement in Afghan jihad in the 1980s, the Sunni-Shia rift, and mushrooming growth of religious militant outfits in the country.
As if associating with the two poles of the Islamic world were not enough, our statesmen try to bring us closer to Malaysia, known as a progressive, liberal Muslim country. But the saga of Pakistan’s foreign attachments remains incomplete if Turkey is left out. One shade brighter, Istanbul is more progressive than Malaysia. Its progressive Western leanings are hard for Pakistanis to digest. Pakistani viewers, when they became aware of the Ertugrul cast’s Western lifestyles, began to post their resentment on social media.
In the end, what model or nation in the Islamic world do our statesmen want to present for Pakistanis to follow?
The third layer originates from Pakistan’s political inspirations from the Western world.
When Pakistan was a British colony, it followed the British political system. However, later on, when a parliamentary form of government did not go well with on-again, off-again military interventions, the US presidential system began to trend. To this day, Pakistani politicians and relevant stakeholders are unable to decide exactly which form of government suits the country. The pendulum of power keeps swinging from a parliamentary to a presidential system while the nation remains confused.
The confusion multiplied when China was predicted to be next superpower and Pakistan experienced a historic low in its relations with the US and that country’s allies in the “war on terror.” The Chinese growth model, Beijing Consensus and Chinese style of curbing corruption began to be projected as a model to follow.
There is no harm in that, but the question is, can we really successfully adopt Chinese practices while our minds are imprinted with Western norms and values? Again, what exactly Pakistani statesmen want to import from Chinese practices remains a matter of confusion.
Set direction of national compass first
The hard and bitter truth is that there never was Pakistaniat and nor are there any signs for it to dawn on the horizon. Unless the direction of the national compass is set, nothing can be achieved substantially in terms of defining Pakistaniat.
It needs to be decided first where we, as a nation, want to proceed. We need to set our national destination first. It should be decided whether a parliamentary or a presidential system is fit for the nation. The debate over which form of Islam best suits the Pakistani nation should also be settled once and for all.
Presenting a drama like Ertugrul, which is replete with the theme of merciless killing of infidels and indoctrinating with the power of the sword once again, should not be depicted as a source of inspiration. The present time is especially critical; it is the time when a National Action Plan is being implemented. Above all, a militant mindset is being shed.
It is high time that Pakistani leaders scratch their heads and start a debate on developing a consensus toward Pakistaniat. There is a need to consider ground realities. The leaders should adopt a mix of national, religious, realistic, rational, and globalized approaches toward evolving nationalism in Pakistan.