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Speech by His Highness the Aga Khan at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs 1976-03-12

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Event - 1976-03-12-A
Friday, 1976, March 12
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Aga Khan IV (H.H. Prince Karim)

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Let me first say how grateful I am for your invitation to speak to this distinguished audience in Karachi today and for your kind words about my family and about myself.

Perhaps I should begin by defining what I mean by the phrase “Nation States”. First it is the land area or areas over which a single government exercises authority in terms of internal administration and external defense and whose frontiers are recognized, legally or de facto, by other nation states.

It’s second vital component is that the population which, by and large, clearly acknowledges the right of its government to exist and through a dominant language, religion or culture, accepts a common national identity. It is a term which originated in the 19th century in Europe where countries such as Italy and Germany which previously consisted of dozens of small municipalities, became single nation under the pressure, either of external force or internal reform. Perhaps it was a combination of both.

Most countries of Asia, Africa and the Middle East are still in the process of forging their national identities after a century or more of colonial rule. Colonies were created with boundaries took little account of the region’s ethnic, linguistic, religious or cultural origin. The so-called “grab for Africa” was the most notorious example of this process that possibly also took place in Asia and the Middle East. The rapid decline of Europe’s great colonial empires had a number of causes Europe’s exhaustion by her own internal conflicts, culminating in her last World War, was matched by an equivalent growth of independence movements in the colonies. Movements which began as isolated revolts but which subsequently assumed international dimensions.

Beginning with the Indian sub-continent and West Africa, this process is now almost complete. And today only a few isolated pockets of colonial dominion exist as a reminder that for less than one hundred years, a half-dozen small countries in Europe dominated or indirectly controlled the greater part of the human race.

The task of these newly liberated nation states has therefore been two-fold. First, as I have said, they had to forge and consolidate a sense of national identity among their people. Secondly, they have had to reconcile this identity, small or large, weak or powerful, with the world as it is today. A world which is very different to the one which confronted the nation states of Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Whatever the difficulties, however, it is clear that the task of nation-building is an essential preliminary to any meaningful influence over the course of events in the regions or continents to which they belong.

The emerging nation states had to be recognized as viable economic units able to assert their power over their population which is willing to create a new national identity from often nebulous heritages of colonial and pre-colonial dynasties and which is capable of defending itself from external aggression and internal disaffection.

Not the least of difficulties facing the new nation state, is a centrifugal trend which can be detected all over the world. The recent troubles in Spanish Catalonia, the tragic story of Northern Ireland, the riots in Corsica, the Flemish-speaking minority in Belgium, the separatist movement in French-speaking Quebec in Canada, are current examples in the West. And the list is constantly growing.

The origin that these troubles may be of a religious nature as in Northern Ireland or they may derive from linguistic and cultural differences as in Canada, Belgium or Spain. There are also, very often, forces by hostile external forces whose objective is simply to weaken the administration by promoting discontent and even rebellion from within.

In every state, however, the desire to break away from centralised administration freed from the growing complexity of modern governments which in turn contributes to a sense of remoteness, disinterest and even cynicism among ordinary people. If this can happen to the long-established nation states of the West, how much more vulnerable are countries whose frontiers and populations were created at the whim of the empire-builders of the last two centuries. Is it really surprising that a huge country like Nigeria should have experienced a civil war when even the United States, a nation which evolved far more gradually, had to endure a similar agony before it too could to claim full nation state-hood.
If the unity of Canada is still troubled by the ethnic and linguistic claims of French-speaking Quebec, can one really wonder that new nations in Africa and Asia are confronted by similar difficulties?

In order to counter such perils, governments are usually compelled to adopt policies which at least respect and acknowledge regional identities even to the extent of allowing them a degree of local autonomy as well as a fair share of local development resources. America, Federal Germany and Pakistan itself are successful examples. To go any further, however, means the risks of further fragmentation and the creation of political and economic units which are too small and too weak to survive.

Too much delegation from the centre can also be a costly and time-consuming exercise. Decisions are delayed or compromised and especially amongst the newer nations, the task of creating a strong national identity amongst the population is made correspondingly more difficult. Indeed the growing demand of industrial technology requires huge manpower, international trade and dependence all require larger and more powerful national unity. It follows that there is little prospect of creating meaningful regional groupings such as a common market unless the individual national units are in themselves strong and viable. In an ideal world it might be possible to devise minimum criteria which would define the parameters of a viable nation state.

The fact is, however, it is difficult to see how such parameters could be agreed upon, let alone enforced. We should accept, therefore, that the final challenge to developing countries is to create an acceptable sense of national identity over a population and land area large enough to comprise a viable, political and economic unit.

The difficulties are much greater than most people realise. If only because so many of these countries were originally quite artificial creations of their former colonial rulers. The difficulties, however, should be seen in proper historical perspectives.

I have described some of the centrifugal forces at work in the Western Hemisphere in modern times. It is a matter of fact that none of them has yet been successful. The same could not be said of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled by the Habsburg dynasty which led a century ago central and Eastern Europe. In this case the extensive wars and revolutions culminated in the Great War of 1914 brought about by huge, unwieldy central power with its capital in Vienna and gave birth to the new nation states of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. I mention this example in a distant continent because it is easy to forget what substantial changes can take place in national frontiers over a relatively brief span of years.

Here in Asia we tend to think of Europe as long-established rich, powerful and enduring. Yet in terms of recorded history, this Western civilization and the great cultural and democratic tradition it represents, as described by its recent origin has been subjected to constant pressures of change and is still evolving. After the last World War, for example, which all but destroyed the economies of Western Europe, a number of the more far-sighted of its national leaders, faced often by continuing external pressures, conceed the need to create something more permanent than the old-fashioned, diplomatic treaty of alliance.

The evolution of united Europe, now generally known as the Common Market, is essentially a process of restricting or, at least, coordinating the sovereign rights of individual nation states in a number of specific areas. These include defense, foreign policy, trade, agriculture, assistance to backward regions, industrial monopolies, accounting systems, weights and measurements, customs and tariffs, crime prevention and technical research.

This is by no means a complete list. Yet it covers a vast range of national activities and the progress and integration in each sector has naturally varied considerably.

Some countries are more concerned with their immediate interest than with the ultimate objective of the Treaty of Rome which is complete economic and political union. It is conceivable, nonetheless, that some of us may live to see a degree of unity in Western Europe which will entirely reverse the trend of recent history and create a region of the world where men and women can move at will across the old national frontiers with a common passport, a single currency, speaking two or three languages, instead of twelve, and following a political and industrial unit at least comparable to the superpowers.

This trend towards its larger international associations, can also be seen in Africa where you have the East African Community, in the Middle East in the United Arab Emirates and in your own region the RCD of Pakistan , Iran and Turkey. Some of these regional groupings may appear to be rather slow in development but one must recognize that they constitute extremely ambitious objectives for countries which are still in the process of creating their individual national identity.
What then should we conclude in these conflicting times of history? The process of cooperation and the counter-forces of fragmentation. What in fact are these new responsibilities to which society should address itself. It is clear in the first place that the new Nation States of the developing world are faced with truly substantial burden.

On the one hand they need to develop strong political institutions which are deeply and broadly acceptable to their people in order to consolidate national unity. On the other they are either waging battle against permanent poverty or learning how to manage sudden and quite unacceptable development. Finally they are faced with the task of paving their path of creating new regional associations which are efficient, lasting and worthwhile.

Thank you.

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