Whose ideology is it anyway? by Nadeem F Paracha


Whose ideology is it anyway?

Photo courtesy: Creative Commons

The following is what Sindhi nationalist leader and scholar, G.M. Syed, said about Pakistan’s future – and mind you, he said this way back in the summer of 1953: “In the years to come, Pakistan will not only become a problem for itself, but it will pose a danger to the world at large.”

Now how prophetic is that? Very. However, he was not the only one in those days casting a pessimistic shadow across the possible future of the newly-founded country. Those who agreed with Syed were were various Bengali and Baloch nationalists along with Pakhtun nationalist icon, Bacha Khan.

So what exactly were they reacting to? The answer to this question is quite simple and it is the answer to this that between 1947 and at least up until the late 1980s, it made an assortment of military dictators, politicians, ideologues and even some intellectuals denounce men like G M. Syed and Bacha Khan as traitors.

Very early on such Sindhi, Pakhtun, Baloch and Bengali nationalists and thinkers had started to raise an alarm about the cosmetic nature of what was beginning to be devised by the state as ‘Pakistan’s ideology.’

Starting with the 1949 Objectives Resolution, which for the first time introduced religion as a binding force for the young nation, men like Syed and other ethnic-nationalist icons correctly saw through the beginnings of a process which they feared the ruling elite would try to bulldoze an awkward reality with an invented illusion.

The awkward reality that was to be suppressed had to do with the fact that Pakistan was not exactly a single nation with a single language. It was a diverse country with multiple ethnicities, religions and sects. Each one of these had their own literature, language, culture and interpretation of faith, society and history.

The invented illusion in this respect was a monolithic, state-sponsored strain of faith that was to be imposed over ethnic and sectarian diversities described as dangerous cleavages by the state.

Logically speaking, constructing state-level unity out of this diversity should have been attained by providing a generous degree of democratic autonomy to the provinces. But instead of taking the logical democratic route in this context, the ruling elite began seeing this diversity as an existentialist and political threat to the country.


It is interesting to note that there is little or no evidence to suggest that there was ever a concrete plan to immediately turn Pakistan into an Islamic state.

However, when agitation by Bengali nationalists in former East Pakistan over the issue of making Urdu the national language broke out, this suddenly triggered the government to officially introduce certain theocratic concepts in the 1949 Objectives Resolution.

Even though these were no more than an eye-wash and the Pakistani leadership and society remained largely secular in orientation, but men like GM Syed and Bacha Khan were quick to sight a dangerous trend. To them the ruling elite was now willing to use religion to suppress ethnic aspirations.

The state and the ‘establishment’ of Pakistan painstakingly constructed this supposed ideology, so much so that (ever since the 1980s) it eventually started being used by intelligence agencies, certain politico-religious parties, and media personnel to actually justify the folly of the Pakistan state and military for patronising brutal Islamist organisations.


But whose ideology is it, anyway?

Until about the late 1960s it was normal to suggest that Pakistan as an idea was carved out as a country for the Muslims of the subcontinent who were largely seen (by Jinnah), as a distinct cultural set of Indians whose political and cultural distinctiveness might have been compromised in a post-colonial ‘Hindu-dominated’ set-up.

As Jinnah went about explaining his vision of what Pakistan was supposed to mean, there are no doubts about the historical validity of the notion that he imagined the new country as a cultural haven for the Muslims of the subcontinent where the state and religion would remain separate, driven by a form of modern democracy that incorporated the egalitarian concepts of Islam such as charity, equality and interfaith tolerance.

According to Professor Aysha Jalal, Jinnah’s view of Islamic activism in the subcontinent was akin to him fearing that Islamic zealots would harm the national cause.

However, in spite of the fact that a number of speeches by Jinnah can be quoted in which he is heard envisioning Pakistan as a progressive and non-theocratic Muslim state, there are, at the same time, examples of speeches by the same man (especially in the Punjab and the former NWFP), where he actually uses terms like Shariah and Islamic state.

No matter how intense the debate between those who saw him as a secular, liberal Muslim and those who claim that he was okay with the idea of Pakistan being turned into a theocratic state, the truth is, we might never really know exactly what it was that Jinnah actually stood for.


Jinnah’s death in 1948 reduced his party the Muslim League from being a dynamic organisation of visionary action, into a rag-tag group of self-serving politicians.

Gone too was the party’s ability to bring into policy the modernist aspects of Jinnah’s otherwise rather woolly vision. The idea of a progressive Muslim country got increasingly muddled and shouted down by the once anti-Pakistan Islamic forces.

The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) went on a rampage in 1953 in Lahore, hungrily overseeing the country’s first major anti-Ahmadi riots. By now, the famous speech by Jinnah in which he underlined the idea of religious freedom in the new country was conveniently forgotten as the ruling elite grappled confusingly with the crises.

Eventually, it caved in to the demands of the handful of vocal Islamic leaders by officially declaring the country as an ‘Islamic Republic’ in the 1956 Constitution.

It was classic ostrich behaviour; the sort a number of Pakistani leaders have continued to demonstrate whenever faced with the question of Pakistan and its relationship to politicised faith.

In 1956, misunderstanding Islamist activism as mere emotionalism, the ruling elite gave the Islamists a bone to play with, without bothering to explain to the rest of the people exactly what an Islamic Republic really meant in the Pakistani context – a country comprising of a number of ethnicities, ‘minority religions,’ and distinct Islamic sects.

Democracy in this case should have been a natural answer. But for the Islamists, democracy meant the emergence of ethnic and religious plurality that would encourage secular politics and further undermine the new-found notion of the Islam-centric Pakistani nationhood.

But was democracy really the answer to such a dilemma? After all, the second major step towards the widespread Islamisation of politics and society was actually taken during a democratically-elected left-liberal regime in the 1970s.

Stung and confused by the separation of the former East Pakistan and witnessing the collapse of Jinnah’s ‘Two-nation theory,’ the Z.A. Bhutto regime set about putting into practice the idea of socio-political and economic regeneration.

This idea saw the regime trying to synthesise socialist and nationalist populism with political Islam.

In 1973, the government invited a number of nationalist intellectuals and Islamic scholars for a conference in Islamabad, asking them to thrash out a more defined and well-rounded version of Pakistan’s ideology that would help the state and the government in salvaging the country’s lost pride (after the 1971 defeat in East Pakistan) and also help it keep whatever that was left of Pakistan, intact.

By the end of the conference, both secular and Islamic intellectuals concluded that Islam should clearly be defined as the core thought in the constitution and polity of Pakistan.  Recommendations were made to promote this core idea through the state-owned media, school text books and government policies.

Pakistan was renamed as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in the 1973 constitution while in 1974 the Bhutto regime (on the insistence of the religious parties), outlawed the Ahmadies as an Islamic sect.

Furthermore, although the government and society (until about 1977) remained largely secular and modernist, the idea of an Islamic state put forward by a government-sponsored conference ironically turned into a rallying cry for religious parties during their 1977 movement against Bhutto.

While Bhutto (like Anwar Sadat of Egypt) was busy taking to task his largely exaggerated communist, far-left and ethnic opponents, religious parties who had been sidelined after the 1970 elections began filling the political and social vacuum created by Bhutto’s strong-arm tactics against leftist student and trade unions and Baloch and Pakhtun nationalists.

Again very much like Sadat, some historians also maintain that Bhutto was allowed the mushrooming of Islamist student groups on campuses to subdue his opponents on the left.

The result? After badly shaken by the Islamist resurgence he himself had (albeit indirectly) set into motion, he was heckled all the way to the gallows by the very forces he had tried to appease.

Ziaul Haq and his reactionary regime that is correctly blamed for finally turning the Pakistani society and politics on its head with his controversial laws and acts in the name of faith, was really just a symptom of what that 1973 conference had suggested as an ideology.


Many years and follies later, and in the midst of unprecedented violence being perpetrated in the name of Islam, Pakistanis today stand more confused and flabbergasted than ever before.

The seeds of the ideological schizophrenia sowed by the 1956 proclamation followed by the disastrous doings of the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s, have now grown into a crooked tree that only bares delusions and denials as fruit.

As Islamic parties and reactionary journalists continue to use the flimsy historical narrative of Pakistan’s Islamic state-ism – and consciously burying the harrowing truth behind the chaos the so-called ‘Islamic ideology of Pakistan’ has managed to create – a whole generation is growing up to this cosmetic ideological narrative.

This narrative has continued to alienate not only religious minorities and various ethnicities (mainly Sindhi, Baloch and now even the ‘mohajirs),  it has created intolerance within various Muslim sects as well.

Recent examples in this respect is the way many puritanical Sunni Islamic groups reacted to conservative political leader Mian Nawaz Sharif’s statement sympathising with the plight of the Ahmadis.

In fact, even when the political leaders of all Muslim sects living in Pakistan do get together for a political cause, the state-constructed and all-encompassing Islamic narrative fails to mend the cracks present between the sects.

For example, during the 1977 movement of religious parties against Bhutto, leaders of these parties refused to pray behind one another during a break at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club.

Recently, during a rally against amendments against the Blasphemy Law, though Barelvi, Deobandi, Ahel-e-Hadith and Shia leaders joined hands, there were reports that Shia speakers were heckled by the supporters of radical Sunni groups. In addition, one of Pakistan’s foremost Islamic scholars, Javed Ahmed Ghamdi, has quietly flown out of the country in a self-imposed exile.

Ghamdi was facing a number of threats from certain puritanical Islamic groups.

His sin? He stood out as a mainstream Islamic scholar who was willing to bank on reason and a modern interpretive take on the holy book, eschewing the myopic literalism of the puritanical groups and of political Islam.

In other words, it seems the so-called Islam-centric ideology of Pakistan that began as a modernist and reformist project, has gradually regressed to such an extent that even the idea of having an informed debate on the subject of faith has become a taboo.

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and Dawn.com.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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80 Responses to “Whose ideology is it anyway?”

  1. Goga Nalaik says:

    Dear Nadeem,

    Waoo, very impressive and very well documented (as usual) article. It is indeed the excellent “rappel d’histoire” for our younger generation. How exact and pertinent you are in narrating historical facts and in your analysis. We certainly feel proud to have you as journalist in Pakistan. If we don’t learn from our past mistakes then sooner or later, we are condemned to disappear (this is what history tells us). Please keep showing us the mirror.

    Nadeem, keep it Up, we are with you

    Your fan

  2. Ram Krishan Sharma says:

    I would like to suggest the following for the betterment of Pakistani nation:

    (1) First find a sincere leader the like of Ata Turk or Mao who could control the Mullah and the Mufti ( by Election or Selection)
    (2) Take the best from each of the systems which exists in Turkey , India , and Singapore , i.e.
    control of religious parties ( from Turkey)
    Land Reforms ( from India)
    Law & order and cleanliness ( from Singapore)

  3. malang says:

    someone has commonsense finally….what but is commonsense…..it’s not that common….

  4. Subhash Mittal says:

    A very nice article. Quite informative & analytical.

  5. Fatima says:

    Very well written.
    Not completely original, as the author has expressed similar views before.

  6. Robert says:

    Wow! I always wondered about this myself and never expected a Pakistani to contemplate these things so openly!

    I always wondered about Jinnah and his idea of Pakistan..if the people are really the same, what can you expect redrawing borders and displace people and spread venom for generations?

    But the very fact that there are people in Pakistan that muse about these questions is a wonderful thing.

    Suddenly I am very hopeful for the people of the subcontinent. We don’t need to be one country..just live in peace, that’s all!!

  7. Anwar Yaseen says:

    Top piece and very timely. NFP is sharp when it comes to breaking through the myths of both the mullah parties as well as the so-called progressives.

  8. Sohail Sahto says:

    Yes,I fully agree with Paracha,you have correctly mentioned the faults in Bhuttos policies which ultimatly led to his fall,at the end of his rule he was left with no friends—In Left or in Right– thanks to ( Kausar Niazi) a JI trained so called visionary—how managed to replace the word– Socialism to Islami- massawat in the manifesto of PPP.

  9. Saif Khan says:

    The author hasn’t compared the current situation in Pakistan with that in India and that is why his thoughts come out so clearly. Kudos to NFP on sticking to the point. It is clear from the set of emails here that any such comparisons results in the respective countrymen behaving as if they have undergone a full lobotomy. Reason stops the moment any such comparison is made. Also all knowledge and wisdom comes from within and self evaluation/navel gazing. Reason can sink in only that way. For starters, I recommend that all such comparison in all media and education material in educational institutions inside Pakistan be removed. It is then possible then that we will think about ourselves instead of what happens across the border.

  10. Sarkar says:

    Hats off to NFP for this and other brilliant open-minded articles

  11. obaid rahman says:

    Qaida-e-azam dreamed a country, which is secular but for muslims for proving security to muslims from hindu majority . there was no need to bring religion into system and defence of pakistan. pakistan is muslim majority nation, and no chance of danger to islam in secular pakistan. but bringing religion into politics and system, we have increased the chances of religious confrontation, intolerance and extremism in our own country. democracy is not the priority of majority of pakistanis, that’s why there is no democracy in more than half time since formation of pakistan. religious leader have high jacked our education system and set wrong priority in our mind. now it is very hard to convince a normal pakistani for a democratic, secular and progressive nation. without respecting democratic values, we can’t adopt tolerance. without toleration and accepting the cosmopolitan society, we can’t mitigate violence.

  12. Ali Tahir says:

    Whenever I read NFP’s article, I feel like leaving Pakistan immediately. I don’t think throwing your nation into utter disappointment is such a good idea. Democracy takes time to flourish & developed countries have taken years to reach where they are now (I never take India as a role model). And I strongly beleive that Pakistan will flourish faster than any other nation. We’re already starting to see its effects reflected in many many decisions made by the govt. under public pressure. We’ll soon get rid of Mullah culture too. Please make a constructive criticism.

    • Abbas says:

      Ali Tahir

      I wish you all the best luck.
      You said democracy take time to flourish? How much my dear. Pakistan is already 61 years old.
      People get retired in that age

      • Ali Tahir says:

        I started counting from 2007 dear, its the first time democracy is taking effect ! I hate the present govt though..but democracy has never been given the chance to flourish before. Its just been 3-4 years, we have to keep our tolerance high. I have high hopes for my future generations

  13. Ibn-e-Maryam says:

    Excellent article, as usual. Honest analysis, thruthfully described. We need people like you in this country. May Allah bless you abunduntly.

  14. baloo says:

    I am from India and i live in US now. Growing up, we did not think too much about any ideology as to why we are indians. I don’t understand why Pakistanis have to waste so much energy and time on why they are pakistanis. Pakistan is just a land. Pakistan was a land before it became pakistan. It will be the same land after we are dead. The only question is what you did with your life and whether you lived happily with your family in that piece of land. Stop thinking about what you should be and live your life.

  15. aristhrottle says:

    “we might never really know exactly what it was that Jinnah actually stood for.”

    Maybe it is easier to find what he stood against? Which is not ideal, of course, for any person of stature to be defined as.

    “In other words, it seems the so-called Islam-centric ideology of Pakistan that began as a modernist and reformist project, ”

    It’s hard for me to put my mind across the idea that any religious ideology could be modernist and reformist – with regards to society. It is possible that there are modernist and reformist trends within a religion, but when any society has to explicitly rely on religion for direction, then that society, cannot be deemed to be modernist. One can understand if religion informs society within its narrow sphere, but if it permeates everything, then that society, in the long term, is doomed.

    Anyway, I am confused by your use of the terms “modernist” and “reformist” in this context.

  16. Conspiracy Tehreek says:

    Another wonderful piece NFP! The first paragraph is (sadly) true. We could have tackled this but we did our best to make this come true. What was supposed to be our strength-diversity,pluralism etc-was percieved as a threat. Now all we are left with is denial,hatred and fear….

  17. We have substantially drifted from the basic concepts of our founding fathers Quaide Azam and his associates. The state was established as “Pakistan” in 1947. Its conversion into the “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” was the beginning of our drifting away from the basic concepts of a country for the Muslims of the subcontinent where the state and religion would remain separate, driven by a form of modern democracy that incorporated the egalitarian concepts of Islam such as charity, equality and interfaith tolerance. The type of state Kamal Ataturk of Turkey created after the fall of Ottoman Empire. We have lost our way and are now being lead on a completely different path, by those who did not even support Pakistan movement and partition of the sub-continent, like Jamate Islami. Our country has been on a non progressive course ever since.
    We need to get back to the vision of our founding fathers of modern democratic country that incorporated the egalitarian concepts of Islam such as charity, equality, justice, interfaith tolerance and freedom for all its citizen.

  18. saif says:

    To our Indian friends,

    Partition violence was tragedy. It could’ve been avoided with better administration by our departing conquerors. If Pakistan was not created there would be a devastating civil war between Muslims and Hindus. There is no way the Hindu majority would hand over proportionate power to their 1000-year conquerors.

    Jinnah’s purpose was to preserve the culture and political relevance of South Asia’s soon to be marginalized muslims . At the same time, he envisioned a country where the rights of minorities would be respected. I don’t see why this is such a incomprehensible concept.

    One need not look further than the condition of muslims not named SRK, Kalaam & Premji.
    One need not look further than Gujrat or Kashmir.

    Finally, why should ALL subjects of the British Raj ( a collection of states, conquered by Muslims and consolidated by the British ) be forced to accept one nation? The problem is not the two-nation theory but the execution by our leaders.

  19. Salman – India says:

    NFP – This is top quality stuff. Sitting on other side of border I pray all Paskistani leaders should start accepting this and stop creating conspiracy theories against rest of the world.This will gradually bring a change in the thinking of new generation which lives in complete denial. Mullahs need a boot, completely eliminated from politics and confined within walls of mosque.You simply cannot enforce 7th century laws in a 21st century world.

    KHUDA Hafiz

  20. ALI says:

    “In the years to come, Pakistan will not only become a problem for itself, but it will pose a danger to the world at large.” Amazing prediction. With fire in their tongue and gun in hand the mullas are making sure it turns out true.

  21. Abdul says:

    Great article, keep writing. I always look forward to NFP’s articles

  22. Saad says:

    Great article, addressing exactly the issues that need addressing. The endemic intolerance in debate and opinion beyond religious perspectives, sometimes very bigoted, is stifling people’s lives today. They need answers to what it means to be a Pakistani today. I hope this article and those like it encourage this debate and allow for Pakistanis to refresh and regain their ideology and in doing so chart a clearer direction into the future.

  23. Shiraz says:

    Though many on this forum are calling it a confused and illusive thought, I totally agree with NFP. Its not illusive nor confused, he is elaborating the damage inflicted when you start mixing religion with governance. Though the two nation theory was propagated in the right direction, the ones who found themselves at the helm of affairs after Jinnah’s death used it the wrong way which resulted in nothing but a society, which was a liberal society, to become a biased one. Religion and state of affairs must remain separate.

  24. Kamal Memon says:

    Great piece ….. One of NFP’s best !

  25. Silajit says:

    Yet another great article backed with historical facts.

    Regardless of what Jinnah stood for, Pakistan has to face it’s present day set of issues with present day solutions. It is tragic that Islamic scholars who see this and would like to take a practical approach are also hounded out of the country.

  26. raja jaria says:

    As long as u have one person who is willing to b counted, u still have hope.

  27. Raj says:

    “…the truth is, we might never really know exactly what it was that Jinnah actually stood for…”

    That is the very source of Pakistan’s problem. The only way out, as far as I can see, is for Pakistanis to THINK RATIONALLY FOR THEMSELVES as to what type of country they want to live in. No point trying to second-guess Jinnah. After some clarity of thought, there WILL be painful moments in putting that enlightened thought into action. Every country goes through such pangs of birth/rebirth from time to time. Pakistan will not be an exception.

    All the best – a wellwisher from across the border.

  28. K Baloch says:

    One wonders as western world is proud of it smulticultural & multilingual societies,Pakistan denies the facts and realities that by acceptance of our multilingual and MultiCulturalism,we can develop better tolerant society then this we are in now.
    I 100% agree and appreciate you.Please keep it up.

  29. Saad says:

    Just like my own words proping out of my mouth, but then NFP is great to put them into written form and let the hundereds of thousands read them. I’m just wondering as to how to help you get this all across all the country so they can understand. So my people can understand that our diversity is our streangth and not our weakness. That we are Pakistanis because we are Sindhi, Pakhtoon, Baloch and Punjabis, that this country is a country for the muslims of sub-continent but not a theocratic islamic republic and that the religious fanatics claiming to be thw owners and savors of this country opposed her creation and are now taking her to a total disasster.

  30. kishor prasad says:

    I am regular reader of blog man.U have great thinking and facts in support of it.


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