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Cricket and national identity

Published: April 1, 2011

The writer is a lawyer and political commentator based in London

Pakistan’s loss to India in the semi-final at Mohali, although disappointing and avoidable, should nevertheless be looked at with the view that the team performed well on the whole. Reaching the semi-final is an accomplishment, particularly given the team’s performance in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups. There are those who ask why can’t Pakistanis be united at all times, the way they were in the recent semi-final? George Fulton writes that Pakistanis unite only during cricket matches and wars with India.

It is unrealistic to expect a nation of 180 million-plus to think alike, except during sports events like cricket when everyone rallies behind Team Pakistan. In other countries, like Britain, such unity is not even on display during sports events. The English football team, for example, does not represent Scotland and Wales and the cricket team does not represent Scotland. This is kind of like Punjab fielding its own hockey team nationally, ignoring the rest of the provinces. Yet there are no cries about the lack of unity in Britain.

“What does it mean to be a Pakistani?” George asks, arguing there is no national identity other than ‘not Indian’. What does it mean to be Canadian other than not American? What does it mean to be a New Zealander other than not Australian? Incidentally, a Pakistani is more distinct, one who comes from a land that is at the crossroads of South Asia and the Middle East, from a culture that is a fusion of rich influences such that our vernacular may overlap with India’s to enjoy their films and songs and yet our script is akin to that of our fellow Middle Eastern Muslims, enabling many Pakistanis to appreciate the flow of Farsi poetry and the depth of Quranic Arabic.

George points out that only eight per cent of Pakistanis consider Urdu as their first language. In the 1998 census, when I lived in Pakistan, I did not tick Urdu as my mother tongue either, but this has little bearing on my view of whether Urdu should be our national language or not. Urdu may be the mother tongue of a minority of Pakistanis, but a majority is likely to believe that it should continue as our national language. Nevertheless, in due course, it is likely to imbibe from Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi and other regional languages to reflect more accurately the nation that has given it such status. The future of Urdu is not in Agra or Lucknow but in Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi. The varied Urdu accents across Pakistan, moreover, should be celebrated and not mocked.

Pakistan is no less cohesive than many other nations, nor are separatist movements unique to Pakistan. Scottish nationalism, until recently, held much sway. Catalan nationalism in Spain, Kurdish nationalism in several middle-eastern countries and, certainly, the Indian occupation of Kashmir are pressing challenges to the cohesiveness of those nation-states. In fact, national identity is most often nothing more than a set of shared experiences. It is instant understanding of words like ‘loadshedding’ and ‘enlightened moderation’ or brands like Beaconhouse, Mobilink and Hamdard, appreciating celebrities like Edhi or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, recounting the evolution from Nazia Hassan and Vital Signs to Coke Studio; from Fatima Suraya Bajia to Mehreen Jabbar and from dhoti shalwars to kaftans, joking about television ads for mosquito repellents, skin-whitening creams or halal banking, without having to go into lengthy background explanations, is what gives us commonality.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in expat Pakistani communities, that come together not just to raise funds for earthquakes and floods or to organise cultural fashion shows and watch sporting events, but also to collect ‘blood money’ for a Pakistani driver who may have accidentally killed someone in a car crash in Saudi Arabia or to provide employment to those who may find their way to Britain but do not have the requisite English skills to work for anybody other than a fellow Pakistani. Whether in Dubai or New York, I have witnessed Pakistani taxi drivers, coming from places as diverse as Waziristan and Gujranwala, refusing to charge fellow Pakistanis. So who says Pakistan is not one nation?

Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd,  2011.

Reader Comments (36)

  • Inspired
    Apr 1, 2011 - 11:35PM

    It is instant understanding of words like ‘loadshedding’ and ‘enlightened moderation’ or brands like Beaconhouse, Mobilink and Hamdard, appreciating celebrities like Edhi or Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, recounting the evolution from Nazia Hassan and Vital Signs to Coke Studio; from Fatima Suraya Bajia to Mehreen Jabbar and from dhoti shalwars to kaftans, joking about television ads for mosquito repellents, skin-whitening creams or halal banking, without having to go into lengthy background explanations, is what gives us commonality.
    BRILLIANT. There should be a Like/Recommend button for articles also! I miss Nazia Hassan and I’m only 18! What a legend!

  • Apr 2, 2011 - 12:24AM

    The future of Urdu is not bleak in India as you guys thing. Some of you visit Indian metros for a while, interact with Hindi-ised or Anglicised upper class elite for a few days and get this impression. Visit Malegaon, Burhanpur, Tonk, Vaniyambadi and innumerable such cities or towns in India, or in Muslim ghettoes of the metros, then you will find the truth.

  • Anoop
    Apr 2, 2011 - 12:33AM

    Fine. You cannot explain the Identity so very easily. It is a combination of many factors which vary constantly.

    But, when I look at my country I see Democracy flourishing, a Secular Constitution and a pluralistic populace and I feel proud. What does a Pakistani associate his country with?

    With the absence of any genuinely good things to be proud of, Pakistanis adopt Religion as their Identity, ignoring many contradictions which come with it.

    But, the biggest common Identity of Pakistan is, as George Fulton explains, is Un-India. Which again brings Religion back into the picture.

    Sometimes you have to leave ego aside and think about such things. You will realize that the idea of India is to be secular, democratic and the Identity of being Un-India encourages sub-consiously anti-democratic and extremist thoughts slandering a Religion along with it.

  • Cakeboy
    Apr 2, 2011 - 1:03AM

    For a moment there I thought this was going to be yet another post on the Mohali match.. Seriously get over it.

    But, I liked this post.

    As for Anoop. You described you country as having all the qualities we lack. That makes India un-Pakistan. Glad to see you base your identity on us and have none of your own.

  • Anoop
    Apr 2, 2011 - 1:14AM

    “That makes India un-Pakistan. Glad to see you base your identity on us and have none of your own.”

    –> If you want to twist the underlying meaning of my post to suit your ego and win an argument, go right ahead.

    I being a South Indian from Bangalore, have so many Identities embedded in me. But, one is for certain I do not associate my Country and my Identity with a country which is ranked 10th on the failed Nations list.

  • Sardar Khan
    Apr 2, 2011 - 1:48AM

    @Cakeboy: Silly thinking.

  • Raja
    Apr 2, 2011 - 2:40AM

    Ms. Ijaz Khan
    You wrote “The future of Urdu is not in Agra or Lucknow but in Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi.”

    Are you Allah’s authority to decide on the future of Urdu?

    The future of Urdu IS in Agra, Lucknow AND Lahore, Karachi.

  • Apr 2, 2011 - 3:05AM

    We are a nation and no one should worry about it.

  • vasan
    Apr 2, 2011 - 6:24AM

    I think you missed the point in Anoop’s message. Our identity and pride is because all the qualities we have which each country, in our opinion, would like to or should have for its population to prosper and lead a civilised life. Not because Pakistan or some zombi land does not have it.
    And by the way our shame is the we dont have many qualities which we would like to have, like transparency in politics, corruption , slow judiciary etc,.

  • Truthseeker
    Apr 2, 2011 - 6:29AM

    The following two definitions, though are for all kinds of nations, but in the prevalent socio- political environment define Pakistani nationalism, which has peterd out after the battle of Mohali.
    1. A silly cock crowing on its own dunghill. ( Richard Aldington)
    2. An infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind. ( Albert Einstein)

    In the age of nations, six or seven decades are considered as infancy, hence pre Mohali era ( post Mirpur) was when Pakistani media was behaving like a silly cock crowing on its own dung.
    And now post Mohali period has started for the nation, with hike in gas prices initiating the onslaught of measles in the pockets of poor Pakistanis.

  • prashanth
    Apr 2, 2011 - 7:29AM

    Analyse this:
    Urdu originated primarily in Delhi (mogul military camps).
    Chaste Urdu is Lakhnavi -UP, India.
    Jinnah’s only surviving decedents are Indian citizens – the Wadias and are flourishing in India.

  • Ahmed
    Apr 2, 2011 - 9:07AM

    Ayesha is totally missing the point. Urdu is basically an Indian language with roots in Uttar Pradesh (Lucknow, etc). It is a linguistic descendant of Khariboli, and ultimately a descendent of Sanskrit. And, Urdu is not a distinct language from Hindi. They are both registers (i.e., dialects) of Hindustani. I should know given that I have a doctorate in South Asian linguistics and am a professional linguist/historian.

    The point is Pakistan has nothing distinct for itself that is not also Indian. None of the pre-islamic history will ever be associated with Pakistan. Mohenjodaro, Panini, and Chanakya will be called Indian as an all inclusive term. Just as Homer is a Greek poet, not a Turkish poet though he hails from what is now Turkey. (Turkey and Islam didn’t exist back then, and neither did Pakistan.) And, the post-Islamic part of history? That is India’s too, as the centre of Indo-Islamic civilization was Delhi, not Pakistan!

    And, to top all that, Pakistan’s “not India” syndrome has caused us to disown practically everything that is ours. We even unwittingly threw out our own local languages like Punjabi to embrace an Indian one! Even the Indians won’t do that. When there was a thought of pushing HIndi as a national language in India in the mid-70′s, it just failed. As the south indians wouldn’t hear of it and won’t give up their own languages! Now, that is what I call a strong identity.


  • SA
    Apr 2, 2011 - 9:28AM

    I really wish there was a Like button for the articles. At least this one deserved it! Beautiful piece.

  • Ankur
    Apr 2, 2011 - 9:46AM


    I normally love what you write in this space, but this particular style of comparing stuff with others does not suit, each nation has its unique identity, and its own socio-cultural environment, Pakistan cannot be compared to GBR or CANADA simply because of this logic..why dont you write on Afridi’s statement after he returned home. He simply said “Why is India so special for Pakistanis?” He does not understand, I am sure your audience might not understand too.

  • bangladeshi
    Apr 2, 2011 - 9:47AM

    Can the author expaing the creation of Bangladesh? If pakistanis are closer to Middle Esterns why the land of pure not implementing the Sharia and ban the non-halal banking? It seems Pakistanis are a confused lot, not knowing for what exactly they want. To be a pure Islamic nation shinging light to all other Islamic brethern or to be the same for just name sake.

  • antony
    Apr 2, 2011 - 10:06AM

    @cakeboy , YOu need some basic reading skills which you lack while commenting about anoop’s comment. India is secular ,democratic and plural in its identity …This is her identity ..This is unlike pakistan … Pakistan identity is we are not like India ..and another emotive is we are muslims …as if there are no muslims in India .. So please work out a new explanation of pakistan identity

  • myja
    Apr 2, 2011 - 10:52AM

    A very nice article and well articulated…George’sopinion about ideology of Pakistan is influenced mostly by those intellectuals who considered that Pakistan movement was some kind of game plan by influential urduspeakers who wanted to safeguard their interst in divided India. He should meet people or atleast their descendeants in far flung areas of KP (the northern end of the united India…. far far away from the influence of southern urdu speaker elites) especially the tribal belt who canvassed for Pakistan) and even today live Pakistan with their every breath ….George go meet them and see Pakistan and its ideology which didnot die with the fall of Dhakka. Had the two nation theory a fad Bangladesh would had made a confederation with India. Meet a bengali who was a pakistani once ( talking about people in their sixties and likes) and see the shine in their eyes… Buying his argument would mean that uprising in the Chatagang hills means collapse of Bengali nation and similarly at other places as well…Nationalism at times is very fluid idea so dont pass judgements based on superficial intellectual thinking ..’

  • Baloch
    Apr 2, 2011 - 12:47PM

    this coming from someone who’s settled abroad comfortably,come to pakistan madam and witness the realities first hand.only time we unite is during war and cricket matches.

  • ThePalmist
    Apr 2, 2011 - 3:39PM

    Now you want to foist an Arab identity on Pakistanis? Take a good look of yourself and your friends in front of a large mirror. If you are still convinced that you look ‘Persian’ or Arabic, explain why Pakistanis are treated with disdain or derision in the Middle East. The only identity that yoy haved is that you are an exporter of terrorism. Hindu blood flows in your veins, whether you like it or not. Next you will claim that Pakistanis are of European descent! What a joke!

    Canada, USA, New Zealand have theit distinct and proud identitities. To compare Pakistan’s non-identity with those ino Western nations, is the height of ignorance and delusion.

    PS: If Pakistani taxi drivers in New Yourk City offer free ride to fellow Pakistanis, they will go broke in a week. Please don’t invent stories that cannot pass muster

  • Ajay
    Apr 2, 2011 - 4:16PM

    You made a point very pointedly

  • Manoj
    Apr 2, 2011 - 4:29PM


    Even in 21st century you are trying to justify two nation theory. A theory which Mr. Jinnah can not sale even to his daughter, who is an Indian citizen.
    Just keep in mind, two nation theory was propagated by feudal and elite muslim of India to keep power to themselves in the name of Islam. Because, independent India was going to be democratic where rule of majority was certain and these class was afraid of loosing their political power. Otherwise for 700 years when muslim were rulling class in India, no muslim ever thought that hindus and muslims are two nation and can not co-exits. therefore, it was aversion to democratic set up and lust of power which promoted Elite muslim to ask for pakistan. Today’s pakistan is exactly the same as was seen by your founder, a country which has either undemocratic govt. or ruled by fuedal people like Zardari and shariff.
    People of pakistan is not the citizen of pakistan they are for all practical purposes has been reduced to being subject (Riyaya) of these dictotors or elite.

  • Shehzad Shah
    Apr 2, 2011 - 4:32PM

    I find it interesting how often the most patriotic Pakistanis are the ones who have chosen not to live here. Nationalism itself is often a nebulous concept. One view of it is expressed by Bernard Shaw who said nationalism is the belief that your nation is the best in the world simply because you were born in it. Someone else has called it racism with good PR. In that sense George’s question is also imprecise because it requires the questioner to first define what exactly he means by a ‘nation’. Is a nation defined by common language and ethnic origin, such as the Japanese or Persian nations? Or is it based on certain ideals such as those defined in the American constitution, with membership available to all those who can accept the same? There are also plenty of arbitrary nations such as in the kaleidoscope of African nationalities, following no logic other than the historical accidents of where certain colonial powers managed to plant their flags. Pakistan and Israel are somewhat unique experiments in nationalism based on religious identity, and the results to date are mixed at best.

  • chandran
    Apr 2, 2011 - 5:28PM

    This author questioning about the Urdu feature in india. Today pakisthani generation dont have and idea about the Indian muslim population. 16% of billion population are muslims i.e. around 160 million people are muslims in india after the partion. and they maximum speak urdu. And every indian state have Aligarh muslim university branch to teach urdu. More over the are second majority in india.

  • Maulana Diesel
    Apr 2, 2011 - 7:10PM

    I am really perplexed. If India is such a fantastic place and Pakistan is only death and gloom then how come all you Indians write your comments on our newspapers? Are there no web based newspapers in India or is it that you think India is such a perfect place that no reform of any sort is required. Or maybe in reality it is the inferiority complex you guys carry in your genes that attracts you to spend hours gloating on Pakistani newspapers. Get a life!

  • Ravi [India]
    Apr 2, 2011 - 11:05PM

    @Maulana Diesel:
    1) Are there no web based newspapers in India ???
    NO you are absolutely wrong
    2) is it that you think India is such a perfect place that no reform of any sort is required??
    you are absolutely right
    3) inferiority complex???
    are you crazy????/
    Inferiority complex with worlds 10 most possibly failed state

  • MAK
    Apr 3, 2011 - 12:40AM

    Can we get the editor to filter out comments from Indians (read Hindus). They really have no positive input here other than to try to prove themselves to be better than us. Their delusional, malevolent, and juvenile obsession with Pakistan get tiresome and irritating after the its initial novelty. It is hard for them to accept that we have basically rejected the idea of living with Hinduism as the majority way of life. We have very low opinion of Hinduism and very little that we can hold in esteem. That is just the way it is and will remain. The best we can do is to learn to live with each other as good neighbors but India seems more interested in trying to dominate us and that is just not going to happen.

  • Apr 3, 2011 - 1:31AM

    Thanks for mentioning Nazia Hassan in your post. As its her 46th birthday and her death was a great loss to the nation. I created her facebook fan page 2 years back for the all Pakistani’s around the world and all the fans of music to remember her and I achieved my target when I brought her fans to one single page. Her facebook fan page is


  • An Elder Pakistani
    Apr 3, 2011 - 5:31AM

    All Indians are so critical and burnt out why? Relax, if at all you are on a Pakistani newspaper we can softly comment on the article. Bangladeshi bhai don’t look back you have done a very good job now continue in the direction.

  • ani
    Apr 3, 2011 - 5:55AM

    Great response. Love it.

  • Krishna
    Apr 3, 2011 - 7:47AM

    Why does Pakistan has to be Un-India? Did we not live together for centuries. Did we not fight foreign rule together?

  • Ravindra Mishra
    Apr 3, 2011 - 10:05AM

    @Maulana Diesel: My dear Maulana, I read the Tribune Express and the Indian Express. I read Dawn and Dainik Jagaran. Apart from the fact that I have a lot of time on hand, I have realised that it does not help one bit hurling unsubstantiated opprobriums at each other. Now how did I become so wise you ask. Because, I read and interact with Pakistanis in my daily life and I interact with Pakistani bloggers on forums and threads such as this. And everytime I do that, it is amazing how much they know (and don’t know); and how much my prejudices and biases need adjusting too. These are just a few advantages. Pray consider them.


    Now, true there are trolls and spammers on these threads. Don’t let them throw you off. That is exactly their intent. It always has been. They were there even before the partition. Now, that hasn’t worked out truly well for all the three countries now in the sub-continent, has it? We are all suffering under the joint weight of history. I think I am not making too fine a point here.


    Next, Urdu may not have the same status in India as when the Mughals were in Delhi.
    The reality is that it will never quite have that same status, but that is not to state the truth as it is. Urdu, was the language of the elite in the Muslims and some Hindus too. Consider that there were famous Hindu and Sikh shayars and short story writers. The name of Munshi Premchand comes to mind. Munshiji used to pen stories, sometimes in Urdu and sometimes in Hindi. Sometimes he would pen them in Urdu first and later in Hindi. Other times, Hindi would come first and Urdu next. The two languages have always had this symbiotic relationship. Their grammatical similarity (congruence really) is not accidental, nor by design. IT IS NATURAL. Because they both came from the same civilisational milieu. If you can accept the fact that they are the products of the same civilisation, it becomes an inviolable principle. Otherwise, you have to justify it using the two nation theory.


    Urdu, does not need a ‘revival’ in India. We use it extensively in form of Hindustani. Bollywood movies and song lyrics are replete with its imprint. Even the software (most of it is bootlegged in Pakistan) which is used for typing Urdu in computers is InPage; an Indian creation from Concept Software of Haryana! Prior to this innovation, Urdu texts were composed using skilled human calligraphers. Now there is a skill that is dying out … and this is a real loss of culture for both India and Pakistan. But calligraphers are not paid well enough, so nobody wants to do this time honoured work.


    If Urdu was down and out in India, how is it possible that a Sahir Ludhianvi would go to Lahore and return to Mumbai to pen his immortal poems in that language? How did Kaifi Azmi reconcile his being a Socialist, an Indian, a Muslim and an Urdu shayar in this Hindi ‘dominated’ culture? Why is it that Faiz Ahmed Faiz was unable to do so in Pakistan, being a Socialist, a Pakistani, a Muslim and an Urdu shayar? And Faiz, we all concur, was next to God’s angels in his mastery of this tongue. How about (even though commercialised) Javed Akhtar? What language is it that Jagjit Singh, Pankaj Udhas and Talat Aziz sing in India? What language does Sampuran Singh’s (Gulzar) use to shape his emotions into memorable couplets? Is it not Urdu? Are these not examples of Urdu not having lost its place in India?


    Is Urdu simply Urdu only if Muslims use it? I raise it because, Pakistanis have invested into Urdu a large aspect of their identity. It has also been used by certain obscurantist sections of Muslim leaders in India to create a ghetto mindset because it serves them as vote banks. Instead, the response of India has been to accommodate all the three variants of the same grammar and syntax. It’s official media is Hindi heavy. It’s entertainment and literary forums are slanted towards Urdu in content, if not the arabic characters. It’s daily language is Hindustani, spoken in so many dialects across the country. We pick and choose, what we are comfortable with. And we know, that Ghalib will sound just as wonderful and come out ahead of Zaukh, irrespective of whether he is written in Nastaliq or Devnagari.

  • vasan
    Apr 3, 2011 - 2:56PM

    MAK: You are spot on. Our opinion about Pakistan is exactly what you think about Indians and the relationship you would like to have with Indians (read HINDUS). But since we are not religiously indoctrinated, since we are not religious bigots and since we believe in plurality, our opinion is only about Pakistanis and not the so called “muslims” or Islam followers. Just turn your terrorism switch off and we can live as peaceful neighbours with min contacts. Any thing more than that is not wanted by Indians.

  • Muhammad
    Apr 4, 2011 - 4:59AM

    Hear, hear! This article was a delight to read.

  • Maulana Diesel
    Apr 4, 2011 - 7:58AM

    @vasan…ok i have turned the terrorism switch off. Now get lost!

  • G.K
    Apr 4, 2011 - 9:57AM

    Urdu can’t be national identity of Pak.Indian movies or even Arabian culture can’t be ur national identity.Pak is on its way,desperately seeking its national identity.If Taliban takes over Pak,though nobody wants it, then national identity will be some thing diff.Pak is in the middle of sharp arbian culture and modest Indian culture.Even Arbian people don’t consider Pak as an arbian culture.

  • vasan
    Apr 4, 2011 - 11:57AM

    Maulana Diesel : I wish it is as simple like turning off a Petrol/Diesel pump. Did u get it signed by Kayani, Oops. Zardari is already in the queue for Kayani’s signature on something about Kashmir. Only Miliband has sent him there. After he gets it signed then it will be ur turn. Pl let me know once u get it signed. Good luck

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