From Arabization to Turkification: The Identity Crisis of Pakistan

Pakistan – the cradle of one of the most ancient Indus Civilization – has been suffering from the identity crisis since its independence in 1947. The conflict of identity crisis was evident since the very beginning as the political elite was mostly influenced by the Western culture while among the common masses, the Islamic roots were embedded. To bridge the gap, the common ground was found in the shape of the Arab. The emotional association of Pakistani public with the Arab land, especially Saudi Arabia, and the financial and political benefits of Pakistani political elite with the Arab Monarchs, helped both the state and the society to start a joint venture. However, today, the trend seems to be altering towards Turks as Arabs have started to lose their charm.

Pakistani society remained an inclusive platform over which the traditions of Sufism flourished. The moderate nature of the society began to fumble when the Arabization was introduced in the 1980s. The Arabization brought with itself the segments of fundamentalism and “Salafism” i.e. to return to the practices of forefathers. Hence, any new practice was termed as blasphemous which bred the sectarianism in the country. The formation of sectarian groups, target killings and the rise of Islamist parties were the notable features of this process.

Arabization was the by-product of the funding for Afghan Jihad. As the religious factor motivated the masses to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, US arms and KSA funding helped in establishing the madrassahs and training the students. Resultantly, in the name of Islam, the foreign ideology was inculcated in the minds of the masses and Arabization became synonymous with Islamization. However, two factors supplemented the diminishing status of Arabization within the Pakistani society. One is the arrival of Crown Prince, Muhammad bin Salman, who introduced the modernization while the second is the weakening status of Arab Monarchs in the region and beyond.

Thus, the Pakistani elite and society who relied upon the Arabs for the interpretation of Islamic norms were left in disarray. The vacuum was filled by yet another player who has the history of enjoying the equally dignified status in the Pakistani society i.e. the Turks. Turks have had the important role within the context of subcontinent considering the Mughals who traced their roots back to the Turkish origin. Another important factor is the honour of Ottoman Empire which was greatly celebrated among the Muslims of the subcontinent. The Khilafat Movement against the dismantling of the Empire was the testimony of the sentiments of Indian Muslims.

Regionally, Turkey is eyeing at reviving its status of being the leader of the Muslim World. The Islamist roots of Justice and Development Party from which President Erdogan belongs and the subsequent ideology of “Neo-Ottomanism” indicate Turkey’s intentions. Along with that, its rivalry with the Saudi Arabia has both the historic and strategic essence.

Historically, it was the House of Saud who collaborated with the British in disintegrating the Ottoman Empire and establishing the independent Arab states. Strategically, the greater engagement of Turkey in the neighbouring states along with its opposition to Israel for Quds has bestowed it the distinguished status among the common Muslim masses. Conversely, the growing relations between Arabs and Israel have indoctrinated the sense of betrayal among the Muslims. However, ironically, Turkey stands as one of the major trading partners of Israel in the region and beyond.

Nevertheless, the growing affiliation of Pakistani public with Turkey also lies in latter’s support for the cause of Kashmir upon which Arabs generally remained silent. The cultural intervention through Turkish Drama Industry has also captivated the minds of the public. Recently, the decision of PM Imran Khan to air the Turkish Drama Serial “Diliris Ertugrul” have had the mesmerizing effect on the Pakistani public who feel “revealed” after knowing the “Islamic History”. All of this is an attempt to keep the relevancy of the Islamic values among the public. As Arabs remained the cradle of Islam, Turks generally dominated the Islamic history from late 1200s to early 1900s.

However, in the quest of finding the appropriate meaning of Islam, the Pakistani political elite has always compromised on the indigenous values. The “import” of Islam from Arabs and Turks has weakened the socio-religious fabric of the Pakistani society. In the name of Islam, the foreign ideologies have been the intruding factor among the public which confuses them with the brand of Islam. Under the President Erdogan, the Turkish Nationalism has blended itself with the Islamic consciousness, resulting in the Pan-Islamist version of Turkey, otherwise known as Neo-Ottomanism. Through the Pan-Islamist approach of Arabs, Pakistan has already bore the consequences in the wake of intolerance, now the replication of the same approach through the Turkish version would not be of any benefit. In order to evolve in the international politics, the state must maintain its own identity and ideology rather than being the party to the geopolitical rifts.

Fraz Naqvi
Fraz Naqvi
Fraz Naqvi is an MPhil Scholar and Research Associate at Regional Rapport. He has the experience of working with think tanks and writes for various news websites. His areas of interests include Middle East, Foreign Policy and Political Economy.