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“State’s neutral role can help solve identity crisis”

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Islamabad/16 April 2019

Participants at a daylong discussion stated that citizens look towards the state to set the tune of interaction with each other. But the state’s inability to stay neutral when dealing with plural identities results in mistrust leading to conflict at times. To avoid conflict the state should promote inclusivity towards each and every group.

The dialogue was on “Coexistence with Multiple Identities”, organized by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), with a select group of experts, academics, lawyers, and social scientists from central and northern Punjab. PIPS Director Mr Muhammad Amir Rana moderated the concluding session.

Participants argued that identity is what one thinks of one’s self. It is a tag, a distinctive characteristic of an individual or group, which can change when connected to a new identity. “It is not a permanent thing”, they said, pointing to a sense of “historical continuation” in identity. Identity gives a sense of self-existence, columnist Khursheed Nadeem added.

Participants argued that the guiding principles that shape someone’s identity are constitution, religion and curriculum. Yet, whenever the issue of identity is discussed, the problem of identity crisis rears its head.

Columnist Khursheed Nadeem said one of the reasons of identity crisis in Pakistan is the state’s inability to play a neutral role. That is why some groups think that the state is allied to one. He suggested that being the custodian of identities in the country, the state allows local identities to flourish which will also address conflict in the society. Participants widely discussed role of state, religion, and culture in identity crisis of Pakistan, its impact on youth and social contract of Pakistan. Many asserted that having a certain identity itself could be a problem.

When it comes to identity crisis in the country, they said it is linked to poor governance, educational system and political economy. Similarly, tension between individual and state also results in identity crisis. Imbalance in social power structure also causes identity crisis.

One of the manifestations of identity crisis is conflict among different identities. Otherwise, it was said, that there should be a healthy competition. It is because of this crisis that violence is bred, and people are unable to express themselves openly.

Meanwhile, Secretary General of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Harris Khalique said the state’s structural problems cannot be solved without addressing its economic problems.

Participants further suggested that the Constitution should provide level playing field to promote inclusivity for multiple identities in Pakistan. Diversity in the country should be accepted to address this crisis.

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