Imran Khan has exhorted “Pakistanis” to consciously absorb and practice “Pakistaniyat” to redeem respect and honour in the international market place of independent and sovereign nations. An exploration of this notion or concept, however, leads to troubling questions rather than easy answers. What, we might ask, are the salient, unique or distinguishing features of “Pakistaniyat” for Pakistanis at home and abroad? How do these square with foreigners’ perceptions of “Pakistaniyat”?

To be sure, we are not Indians. But then the rest of the world isn’t either. So there’s nothing unique about that.

Of course, we are Muslim. But then there are a billion other Muslims out there, over 400 million in the rest of South Asia. So this isn’t a distinction of identity. Nor have we managed to create a unique “Islamic state” that separates us from other nation-states and provides some sort of political marker, like for instance Shiite Iran or Wahabi Saudi Arabia.

There is nothing unique about the colour of our skin, dress or food either. We are part of the “brown” people of the world. The shalwar-kameez of our women is the staple of nearly all of India while our men are variously decked out. The irony is that our wonderful cuisine is served in “Indian” restaurants outside Pakistan. And our Sufi music, to which we lay claim so proudly, is rooted in classical Sub-continental gharanas.

If we were situated at any historic or civilizational crossroads, we could claim some identity or appreciation on that score. But we are still far from becoming the gateway to the natural riches of Central Asia or a conduit for oil and gas to the rest of Asia, let alone the world.

We definitely have calm oceans and sandy beaches and majestic mountains and great rivers and verdant valleys of incredible beauty. But where are the leisure retreats with dollar-rich tourists?

We might have tried to become a centre of higher educational excellence like India. Or offered affordable specialist facilities for “medical” tourists. But our graduate degrees are an acute embarrassment, our PhDs are not recognised anywhere in the world and our post ops nursing care is amongst the poorest in the world.

We were among the top cotton producing areas of the world. Yet our industry hasn’t significantly added value. Indeed, “Made in Pakistan” garments are a rarity amidst quality clothes from dozens of other similar countries. In fact, we hardly manufacture anything industrial that can compete internationally. That is why our high value-added imports are twice as much as our low value-added exports and we face a perennial balance of trade and international debt crisis.

Our reputation isn’t built on pillars of trust, accountability and public service institutions of democracy and justice that could elevate us to the ranks of upright nations and industrious peoples. Our Tax:GDP ratio is among the lowest in the world because we cheat and launder money with an air of respectability and self-righteousness. Indeed, our ruling elites are heavily invested in the very West that they decry so hypocritically at home.

Our language, Urdu, has fortunately progressed to the stature of a national language, despite violent hiccups in its journey among the other “nationalities”, regions and languages of Pakistan. In fact, the more India consciously tries to abandon or Sanscritise it, the more it acquires a unique Pakistaniyat status, at least in its literature and culture. But misplaced state attempts to Arabize it at the expense of its essential Persian roots have diluted its power no less than its “democratization” by the influx of English words and terms. The fact that Pakistani Pashtuns, Sindhis and Baloch still clutch at their native languages in everyday discourse and culture suggests that language is not central to “Pakistaniyat”.

Unfortunately, however, much of the influential world has rather negative perceptions of “Pakistaniyat”. Our green passport is the 4th most distrusted and least acceptable passport in the world. Over 250,000 Pakistanis are annually deported from the West and Middle East because of fraud or criminality. Since our ruling classes formally embarked in the 1980s on the mission of “Islamising” state ideology and societal consciousness, we have invoked extremist versions of militant, jihadist Islam that have destabilized not just our own Pakistan but also the region, threatening societies, cultures and geographies far beyond our own. If Osama bin Laden is a “martyr” in Pakistan, if the Taliban are perceived as “Made in Pakistan” strategic assets, if we are shielding Hafiz Saeed from the FATF, if the nuclear weapon in our basement is an Islamic Bomb, if the rucksack that explodes in a subway in London or New York or a knife attack on innocent bystanders is subconsciously attributed to some Muslim with Pakistani origins or links, what does that say of “Pakistaniyat”?

Some of us who are as old as Pakistan may recall a very different Pakistan from the one in which we live today. Time was when Pakistani women wore a simple dupatta over their heads for modesty but not a hijab or niqab for political identity or statement. Time was when the Pakistani passport didn’t require any visas for global travel. Time was when Pakistanis didn’t much care about how they were identified, when Sunnis, Shias, Qadiyanis, Deobandis, Barelvis, etc., were purely religious denominations instead of political ones. Time was when the state was ideologically neutral and Muslims, Christians, Parsis and Hindus lived peacefully together. Time was when a BA degree qualified a graduate to be fluent in English and Urdu instead of being lost in both. Time was when PIA was internationally lauded for being “Great People to Fly With” rather than a pariah airline flown by pilots with fake licenses. Time was when Pakistaniyat was defined by modesty, moderation and peaceful coexistence rather than arrogance, false pride, double-dealing, extremism and aggression. In fact, “enlightened moderation” was a password in the first three decades of Pakistan which subsequently failed to turn back the transformational tide of 1980s history.

If truth be told, the old Pakistaniyat barely survived the break-up of Pakistan in 1971 but the post 1980s Pakistaniyat is leading us into violent political and religious upheavals at home and isolation and hostility abroad. It’s time to stop deceiving ourselves and put Pakistaniyat in right order if we truly love Pakistan.

Najam Aziz Sethi is a Pakistani journalist, businessman who is also the founder of The Friday Times and Vanguard Books. Previously, as an administrator, he served as Chairman of Pakistan Cricket Board, caretaker Federal Minister of Pakistan and Chief Minister of Punjab, Pakistan.