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Pakistan’s Survival Dilemma

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 Pakistan’s history and ideology has played a significant role in understanding the complex dilemma of Pakistan’s survival. There is a popular conviction that Pakistan’s purpose has been ill-served, based on the notion that Muslims are a separate nation with Islamic ideology. The fundamental significance of this identity was found in the Muslims’ preeminent claim to power, which was considered the foundation for their purportedly exceptional status. However, there is no consensus on the definition of the Indian Muslim community. This difficulty was not aroused by class division or region but because Islam has multiple interpretations. Muslim intellectuals did not acknowledge these multiple interpretations and have weakened the very basis of ideology.

When the Muslim community developed in the framework of nineteenth-century colonial India, it acquired two broad meanings. One is the universalist dimension of the Muslim community based on religious faith, and the other is the Muslim community in India only. Many Muslims with limited political and social space turned inward to strengthen the scriptural underpinnings of their community. Many associated them with the rural Islam of Pirs and Sajjada Nashin, who opposed the Ulema’s interpretation of Islam. This conflict has aggravated the uncertainty about Pakistan’s ideology. After assuming Muslims as a nation, they acknowledge the right to political power. The legacy of these competing ideas has significantly impacted Pakistan, most importantly in the answer to its consensus dilemma.

After the country’s inception, an important question was who is Pakistani and what are the different interpretations of being Pakistani among Muslim intellectuals. What does it mean to be a true Pakistani? It could be observed that everyone in the country was armed with a rival version of Pakistani. The debate between sons of the soil and the migrants has taken the attention in the early few years of the country’s inception. The Bengali people promoted the ethnic identity of being Pakistani in opposition to those who placed Islam as the marker of their identity. This ultimately led to the break-up of the country in 1971. In the light of Cohen’s analysis, who considered the country’s fall as a religious and moral failure, not a political one, this had inflicted a serious blow to the fragile construction of country’s ideology. After the fall of Dhaka, some tried to  Punjabise Pakistan, which met with strong resistance from other smaller regions who favored the plural expression of Pakistan’s identity. The shift from religious to ethnic nationalism created problems for different minority communities because it labeled them as flawed Pakistani.

In 1980, during  Zia’s regime,, sectarian differences intensified, requiring a certain type of Sunni Islam as the defining feature of Pakistani universalism. Along with sectarian conflict, the politics of regionalism got momentum, and as a result, the tension between regional and Islamic expression of Pakistani identity remained unresolved. In Pakistan, the unintentional fusion of nationalism and religion that molded the nation’s creation and the purposes to which it was put for a long time, the state is more likely to practice institutional discrimination against non-Muslims due to authoritarian control. Many political regimes had moved far away from the Jinnah vision of secularism.  The political and authoritarian leaders decided to make a claim allowing them to reconcile their desire for a modern constitutional framework based on religion with their own (sometimes ill-defined) secular leanings. Islam was the model for a full social and political system that could adapt to the modernity of nationalism, not just a religion.

If we quote Jinnah’s speech to the constituent assembly that Muslims would cease to be Muslim and Hindus would cease to be Hindus not because of religion but in political terms because he was aware of the damaging effects flowing from the use of Islamic rhetoric to justify his demand for Pakistan. It is due to the contested role of religion in the state’s politics that almost took nine years to form the first Constitution. The notable difference was between traditionalist and modernist interpretations of Islam. Liaqat Ali Khan promoted the spirit of tolerance towards other religions and minorities. The objective resolution was passed, which was highly debated. According to some, this resolution ignored the progressive, democratic dimensions of Islam. At the same time, few asserted that the resolution was a true representation of Islam which rejected the separation between religion and politics. The debate between popular and divine sovereignty started that if, according to the resolution the sovereignty lies with divinity then it demands the shariah law to be implemented which was the concern for non Muslims citizens of the state. During 1960 Ayub’s campaign to ease the burden of Islam and promote a more secular discourse had cost his detractors among the ulemas and their Islamist ally tremendously. 

With General Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani state began to truly Islamize. Many sharia-based legislation were constitutionalized, and sharia courts and sharia benches in the High Courts were established to investigate If the judgments rendered adhere to sharia law or not.  To appease Sunni Islamist, the Hudood law was implemented, which devalued the status of women. During the reign of General Musharraf, this was changed. It can be observed that the language of Islam has been used at different points for the preservation of power. 

One of the key debates surrounding religion and politics in Pakistan is the question of whether the country should be a secular state or an Islamic republic. This issue has been a source of division and has shaped the political landscape. Supporters of a secular state argue that it would ensure equal rights for all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs. They contend that Pakistan’s religious diversity demands a secular framework to protect the rights of religious minorities and promote tolerance. On the other hand, proponents of an Islamic republic emphasize the importance of Islam as the guiding principle of governance. They argue that an Islamic state is necessary to uphold the values and principles of Islam, and that incorporating religious teachings into the legal and political systems is crucial to maintaining the country’s Islamic identity. This perspective has gained traction over the years, leading to the inclusion of Islamic provisions in Pakistan’s Constitution, such as the Objectives Resolution of 1949 and the controversial blasphemy laws.

In conclusion, the relationship between religion and politics in Pakistan is multifaceted and intricate. The debate over the role of Islam in the state continues to shape the country’s political landscape. While religion has had a significant influence, there are also diverse viewpoints within the country that advocate for a more secular approach and the separation of religion and politics. Balancing the aspirations of a diverse society, ensuring equal rights for all citizens, and promoting a harmonious social fabric are ongoing challenges for Pakistan as it navigates the relationship between religion and politics.

Shagufta Nawaz

The student of political science at Quaid e Azam university Islamabad.

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