Qaum, Mulk, Sultanat: Citizenship and National Belonging in Pakistan
by Dr Ali Usman Qasmi
Stanford University Press 2023, 444pp

Reviewed by: Prof Sarah Ansari, Royal Holloway University of London
5 January 2024
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This is a weighty tome! Physically it comes in at nearly 450 pp but more importantly its significance lies in the ambition and the quality of the scholarship that drives it. Combining theory with empirical ‘hard evidence’, for this reviewer Qaum, Mulk, Sultanat represents a veritable game changer in terms of bringing Pakistani developments to bear on wider global theoretical debates, and in the process relocating Pakistan to the heart – rather than languishing on the side-lines – of such discussions.

Qaum, Mulk, Sultanat thus makes a hugely important contribution to current understandings and ongoing debates linked to the making of post-colonial ‘nation states’. It approaches the core questions involved from a range of critical angles, constructing a multi-layered analysis of the strategies deployed by the state, civil society and individuals, the problems encountered, and the resistances mounted. What is also impressive is how the author has been able to mine archives in Pakistan so productively – not an easy task – to access untapped historical source material and to put it to such impressive use.

As Qasmi makes clear from the start, Qaum, Mulk, Sultanat addresses the mediating practices through which the post-colonial state sought to cultivate a sense of Pakistani national identity and its constitutive elements. At the same time, it exposes the strategies that individuals and communities pursued in order to contest the power of the state and its nation-building project(s). Accordingly, the chapters explore both the ‘legal’ side of the equation – what being a citizen entailed and how this was constructed – as well as the ‘performative’ acts of state-making. By detailing the efforts that so often went into establishing who was deemed to be a legal member of Pakistan’s political community, Qasmi underlines just how aspirational this project proved to be in practice, and where, how and why the new state had to work hard to generate a normative order of citizenship. At Qaum, Mulk, Sultanat’s core, therefore, lies an extremely carefully crafted and well-argued story about belonging and not belonging.

The ‘Introduction’ (pp. 1-47) – a tour de force in its own right – sets out the main theoretical arguments underpinning Qaum, Mulk, Sultanat’s approach towards wider debates on citizenship, emphasising how the latter have become more nuanced as their focus has shifted from Europe to encompass developments in other parts of the world. In so doing, it challenges what can often be overly abstract universalisms (and sometimes patronising ideas) regarding ‘inclusion’ found in existing literature on citizenship, reminding us of the fundamental importance of both time and place. As Qasmi explains, what has emerged is a problematic triangulation of state, nation and citizen, with inherent tensions between state formation, identity articulation and demands for citizenship rights. Following an extremely useful assessment of how far the discussion of the post-colonial nation-state in South Asia has been shaped by the rich literature on India after 1947, the Introduction sets out the broader vision of the book as a whole: namely how exploring Pakistan’s ideational basis of nationhood – qaumiyaat – can contribute to wider debates on the political theory of citizenship and the politics of national belonging in the post-colonial world. The focus then shifts to tracking and tracing the history of the transition from subjects to citizens in Pakistan, in the process highlighting the layered political repertoires through which Indian Muslims before 1947 and Pakistani Muslims thereafter articulated citizenship, nationality and statehood – qaum (home), mulk (country) and sultanat (state). These overlapping terms, with their various embodied and contested meanings, became the fabric out of which definitions of community, nationhood and minority came to be cut, constructed and remodelled in the decades following Independence.

Chapter 1 (‘Noah’s Ark?: the Making of Pakistan as Homeland for Muslim Nationals’, pp. 48-108) traces the deeply contested history of citizenship in Pakistan from the perspective of contemporary legal debates and the ‘bureaucratic archive’ where so much of this discussion is now stored. Drawing on this material allows Qasmi to capture the lived experiences of those individuals and communities marginalised by the processes, shedding light on later attempts to cancel or not extend citizenship to groups who lack documentation and have been internally excluded from official categories of belonging. While simply being born as Muslim was sufficient justification for the state to recover and ‘repatriate’ children cared for by Hindus and Sikhs living in post-1947 Indian Punjab, this (religious) marker of identity has not sufficed for much of the subsequent period of Pakistan’s existence when it comes to Muslims that the state would prefer to exclude.

In Chapter 2 (‘Quilting Islam: Pakistan as an Islamic State’, pp. 109-72), Qasmi provides a broader assessment of discussions and debates – playing out in locations such as the Cabinet, the Constituent Assembly, and contemporary newspapers – to advance understandings of how ideas about Pakistan as an Islamic state coalesced and divided opinion. While the 1949 Objectives Resolution may have laid down Islamic principles of democracy and egalitarian values as the building blocks for an Islamic state, and hence the “instrumental use of Islam to legitimise policies and politics” was a feature in Pakistan “from the very beginning” (p. 171), Qasmi challenges us to think about the longer-term mechanisms involved and to recognise how far the idea of an Islamic state had not been ideologically predetermined; “It can be a liberal Islamic state, as proposed by Liaqat Ali Khan in the Objectives Resolution; a socialist Islamic state, like that of Abul Mansur Ahmad; or the variant proposed by the Board of the Ta’limat-i-Islamiyyah”. That some early Pakistanis were unhappy at the ‘overdose’ of Islam being prescribed to them is clear from a letter cited by Qasmi that appeared in a December 1950 issue of the Pakistan Observer: “Now, Sir, Insha Allah, Masha Allah, Islamic life, Islamic death, Islamic dress, Islamic culture, Islamic society, Islamic State, Islamic education, Islamic Commerce – things very good in themselves – have been repeated ad nauseam without any practical implementation. They have become as irritating to us as sagoo and barely to a patient. We like to hear something new and refreshing” (p. 170-71).

Chapter 3 (‘Making the State National: Symbols, Flag and Anthem’, pp. 173-231) continues this theme of how the postcolonial state sought legitimacy by looking closely at ways in which the scripting of belonging played out on an everyday basis – from the language and lyrics of Pakistan’s new national anthem, to the use of national symbols on office stationary, and designing the architecture of the final resting places of Pakistan’s early political leaders (its ‘founding fathers’ such as Jinnah and Iqbal). For Qasmi, these were scripted protocols that represented pedagogical and affective public acts. Hence, through “an accumulation of meanings ascribed to different objects, whether forms of dress, artistic symbols, or poetic metaphors”, differences could be flattened as required by “the homogenised conjoining of the nation with the state” even if the decades since 1947 have been marked – in practice – by the failure of the state to achieve homogeneity. Indeed, the banality of nationalism and resistance against it, instead, have characterised Pakistanis’ collective experiences (p. 230).

Chapter 4 (‘Over the Moon: Ulema, State and Authority in Pakistan’, pp. 232-283) takes debates over the sighting of the moon as required by the Islamic lunar calendar to confirm religious holidays as the starting point for deeper reflections on the relationship between state authority and that of the ulema or religious scholars who ‘traditionally’ had been responsible for this key task. A whole series of contestations flowed from this clash of responsibility. Here, for Qasmi, is another example of the postcolonial state seeking to ‘nationalise’ religion for state-making purposes, in this case by over-riding the ulema’s claim to be custodians of religious authority. For the state, the aim of “One nation, one Eid” was a means of fostering national unity among its citizens (p. 45). Indeed, tradition was effectively re-visioned, with the temporal enchantment and ambiguity of the formerly unregulated lunar calendar replaced by “a regimented routine of proceedings of the hilal committee, the predictability of its deliberations on the reports received about the new moon, and the mechanistic outcome that renders alien what was once familiar and intimate” (p. 283).

In Chapter 5 (Scripting the National Time and Space: Archive, Calendar, Roads and Museums’, pp. 284-339), Qasmi draws together insights from across Qaum, Mulk, Sultanat to remind us how far belonging and affiliation could be mediated through history, culture and literature. “Writing the nation” through history, in other words, was “central to the project of postcolonial state formation” in Pakistan as elsewhere – after all, in some Pakistani school textbooks, ‘Pakistan’ is deemed as having come into existence when the first Muslim had set foot on South Asian soil. But as we also know, remembering involves forgetting alongside creative remembrance, and so here – as Qasmi argues – the Pakistan state has been hard at work since 1947. Take the project to establish a national museum that was proposed in the late 1950s and whose planning is explored here. Its plans outlined an institutionalised version of an imagined national past: and so Pakistani citizens would have seen – had they ever walked through its scripted space – “an emphasis on ‘ancient’ Buddhist sites as part of Pakistan’s rich heritage, a blurry vision of the Hindu ‘interlude’, and a nostalgic yet gleeful spark of the glories of an imagined Muslim past and its bright, utopic future” (pp. 338-9).

To conclude, what Qaum, Mulk, Sultanat achieves so magnificently through its combination of theoretical engagement and empirical case studies is to challenge us to rethink how Pakistan and Pakistanis were made (and – at times – not made) in the decades since the country was created. It is a book that should be at the top of the reading list of everyone interested in Pakistan’s postcolonial history, and postcolonial state-making more generally. Leaving the last word to Qasmi himself, we should not “dismiss the question of citizenship as settled or approached in a narrow legal sense but instead bring it to the forefront of political contestation by teasing out a historical narrative that connects with the present moment in the life of the republic, thus enabling alternative futures and multiple political subjectivities” (p. 355).

© Bloomsbury Pakistan 2024


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