Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Different narratives of Pakistan


Your Name:

Recipient Email:

Documents relating to the Pakistan Movement. -Photo by White Star
Documents relating to the Pakistan Movement. -Photo by White Star

Politics is known for coining new slogans and creating visions of the future. This becomes more common near election time when different political leaders and parties offer new and catchy slogans for the betterment of the people. We often hear the narratives and slogans of “New Pakistan” and “Jinnah’s Pakistan” as the frameworks for articulating the present and the future of Pakistan. These are two visions of the nature and dynamics of the Pakistani state and society.

There are several competing visions of Pakistan. The advocates of different narratives of Pakistan are passionate about their vision and slogans and make a selective use of historical evidence to support their contention and reject the competing visions.

Why multiple narratives and slogans?

Sixty-six years after independence, Pakistan’s political and societal elite have not been able to develop an enduring consensus on the nature and direction of Pakistani state and society. Different slogans are raised to protect and advance each partisan societal narrative. There are several reasons for the proliferations of the visions of Pakistan and the attendant slogans.

The early demise of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in September1948 did not enable him to transfer his charisma to the institutions and processes of the new state of Pakistan. Had he lived longer to evolve a constitutional framework for Pakistan, we would have enjoyed greater legitimacy because of his blessings, establishing a grand narrative of the present and the future of Pakistan.

Quaid-i-Azam’s death created a serious crisis of leadership inside and outside the ruling Pakistan Muslim League. Liaquat Ali Khan, prime minister (August 1947-October 1951), offered a narrative of Pakistan in his speeches on the objectives of the resolutions in the first Constituent Assembly, 1949. But, competing narratives, especially by orthodox and fundamentalist Islamic leaders, contested the constitutional democratic and modernist Islamic perspective as advocated by Liaquat Ali Khan and others.

The delay in constitution-making and the lack of political continuity also adversely affected the efforts to create a broad-based understanding on the features of the state system and societal arrangements. The political governments changed frequently during 1951-58 which weakened the political forces. This made it possible for the military to step directly into the political domain and assume power in October 1958 and three other occasions.

The political order created by the military regimes in Pakistan reflected military ethos of control and management. It could not accommodate the pressures for political participation and socio-economic justice. Their efforts to create a selective consensus provided a temporary solution to the problems of national identity and the future of the state and society. This selective consensus unravelled when military rule came to an end for one reason or another.

Another reason for emergence of multiple narratives of Pakistan and the slogans associated with each narrative is the inability of the political leaders to evolve an acceptable framework for the relationship between the federal government and the provinces. They could not adequately address the issues of representation of the provinces in federal institutions, distribution of administrative and political powers and financial resources. The initial framework of federal-provincial relationship was based on monolithic nationalism to the exclusion of other ethnic, linguistic and regional identities.

This approach to federal-provincial relations caused much bitterness in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) and smaller provinces and administrative units in Western Pakistan (the present-day Pakistan). The region-based political and societal elite challenged the hegemonic federal model and underlined the need of recognizing provincial rights and interests in the constitutional and political arrangements. The first major attempt to accommodate provincial concerns was made in the original 1973 Constitution which included many new institutional arrangements and procedures to upgrade the status and role of provinces.

Two major strides in 2009 and 2010 made unprecedented efforts to strengthen the position and role of provinces. In 2009, the criterion for allocation of resources from federal divisible revenue was changed in the 7th National Finance Commission Award from single criterion on population, to multiple bases for distribution of resources between the federal government and provinces. This decision accommodated the demands of the provinces with lesser population and more problems of under-development and poverty.

In 2010, the 18th Constitutional Amendment brought about drastic changes in the nature of the Pakistan federation by tilting the balance of power in favour of provinces. The concurrent list of subjects in the constitution has been done away with and about 20 departments have been shifted to provinces that now enjoy greater autonomy than was the case in the past. The formula for ownership of natural resources and sharing of electricity and gas profits is a step forward in creating participatory federation.

Selective use of history

While building the narrative for the future and inventing slogans, the political leaders and intellectuals make a selective use of history and often engage in re-writing history in order to justify their projected notions of the present and the future. They selectively pick up historical events and statements of the leaders for justifying what they want to achieve today.

The advocates of a loose federation or a confederation for Pakistan adopt a literalist approach towards the text of the Lahore Resolution and refuse to take into account the changes that took place in the demands of the All India Muslim League during 1940-47. Though this resolution did not provide any formula for distribution of state power in the proposed Pakistan state, many people insist on making the constitution of Pakistan on the basis of the text of the resolution. It is an example of selective use of history and rewriting it to meet the requirements of the present.

There is a common tendency to interpret Quaid-i-Azam’s statements according to the need of the speaker, and his statements and words are given new meanings in order to support one’s point of view in the contemporary political discourse. If Jinnah has used the word “Islam” or the “Quranic principles” or the “Sharia”, no effort is made to understand the context of his comments and what he actually meant, given his intellectual and legal orientations. Rather, the person invoking Jinnah, interprets his words or statements in a manner that strengthens his current political agenda.

Major narratives

We can identify various scenarios of the present and future of Pakistan in the statements of political leaders and writings of intellectuals and analysts. Some of the leading narratives over the years have been:

  1. The original grand narrative
  2. The regionalist scenario
  3. The Islamist vision
  4. The Jihadi Pakistan
  5. Islamic-sectarian Pakistan
  6. New Pakistan
  7. Jinnah’s Pakistan.

The original grand narrative of Pakistan was advocated by the Muslim League leadership and others associated with it in the first decade of independence. They acknowledged the relevance of Islam to nation and state building because they had advocated a new nationalism as alternate to the Congress-led, secular-one nation nationalism by invoking Islam as a mark of their national identity and an instrument of political mobilization. However, they wanted to make Pakistan a modern democratic state. This narrative assigned the highest priority to representative governance, constitutionalism, the rule of law and equal citizenship. Islamic history and traditional Islamic laws were viewed as one of the sources of law that was to be made by an elected assembly. They agreed that no Pakistani law should violate the basic teaching and principles of Islam but the religious leadership was not given the final word to decide if the legislation conformed to the teachings and principles of Islam. This matter could be decided by the superior judiciary or parliament itself. The original grand narrative placed the highest premium on monolithic and state-security dominated nationalism with the slogan of one religion, one Quran, one state, one nation and one national language.

The grand narrative of monolithic top-directed state system was questioned by political elite with strong roots in provinces. The first successful challenge to the political elite dominating the federal state came from East Bengal in the 1954 provincial elections. The ruling Muslim League, symbolizing the assertive and centralized federal system lost the election to an array of political parties that articulated the issue of provincial cultural-political identity, rights and interests. The most eloquent expression of provincial rights and interests was the formulation of the Six-Point Formula (1966) by the Awami League for redefining the federal-provincial relationship. This formula was updated before the 1970 elections by the Awami League and issued as the main election demand which received enthusiastic support of the people in East Bengal. In western Pakistan the opposition to the integrated province of West Pakistan, established in October 1955, increased with time. The integrated province of West Pakistan was dissolved and four provinces were revived in July 1, 1970.

The third narrative of the present and future of Pakistan and its attendant slogans were evolved by conservative and orthodox Islamic circles, especially Islamic parties and groups that wanted to assign a central role to Islamic teachings and principles in governance and societal affairs. The Islamic clergy and their staunch followers viewed all affairs of the state and an individual’s life as the function of and subordinate to Islam as articulated by them. They wanted to reshape Pakistan’s political order that gave them an in-built advantage in the name of Islam. The Islamic elite diverged among them on the details of the Islamic political system pertaining to the incorporation of modern democratic norms, the electoral process, scope of law making by an elected legislature, a strict enforcement of the sharia laws and who was to decide the Islamic nature of the state and its laws.

The military government of General Zia-ul-Haq (1977-1988) adopted Islamic conservatism and orthodoxy as the official creed of Pakistan and used the state apparatus and the reward system to enforce religious orthodoxy and conservatism in the state system and the society to the satisfaction of conservative religious clergy.

A new dimension was added to the Islamic narrative when General Zia-ul-Haq’s military government joined with the United States and conservative Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, to create Afgan-Islamic armed resistance movement against the Soviet troops that entered Afghanistan in the last week of December 1979.

Pakistan partly pulled back its support to militant and Jihadi radical Islamic groups after the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001. However, these groups continued to function because Pakistan’s state authorities had not totally abandoned them. Further, these Jihadi organizations developed strong societal roots in Pakistan.

The slogan of “New Pakistan” was floated primarily by Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) in connection with the May 2013, general elections. The PTI election manifesto described the new Pakistan as being inspired by the views of Allama Iqbal and Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and stood for “justice, peace and prosperity” for all people. The manifesto makes the “catch-all” promises for improvement in the affairs of the state and society and a better and prosperous future for all. This is simply an election slogan and combines ideas from the original grand narrative, the Islamist vision with inclination towards the notion of Jihadi Pakistan.

The notion of “Jinnah’s Pakistan” overlaps with the original grand narrative. The major focus is on the political discourse of Quaid-i-Azam and the resolutions of the Muslim League in the pre-independence period. Both projected the establishment of Pakistan as a homeland for the Muslims of British India in order to protect and advance their socio-cultural identity, rights and interests.

Neither Jinnah nor the Muslim League resolutions in the pre-independence period argued that a separate state was needed because Islam was in danger in British India or Islam would be obliterated in united independent India. Jinnah talked of the concern and anxieties of the Muslims. He advocated worldly political, social and economic demands of the Muslims in his famous “Fourteen Points”, his discourse on constitutional issues after his return to India in 1934 and the speeches made at the Lahore session of the Muslim League (March 1940). Subsequently he focused on protection and advancement of the political future of the Muslims of British India.

Pakistan’s salvation lies in implementing Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan in letter and spirit. There is a need to go beyond slogans and adopt definite measures to improve the quality of life for the common people. Other visions and narratives of Pakistan will lose their attraction only if Pakistan is genuinely transformed on the basis of the principles enunciated by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

The writer holds PhD degree from the University of Pennsylvania and is Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Punjab University, Lahore. He is a recipient of the Presidential Award Sitara-i-Imtiaz.

Comments (13) Closed

BRR Aug 14, 2013 06:32pm

Expecting one frail one man - Jinnah - to be the load bearer of sanity for all times to come, is neither rational nor possible. Blaming the absence of Jinnah for Pakistan's problems is very sill\y - what about 60M people other than Jinnah? were they incompetent?

All these narratives are ok, no need to have one narrative. The problem only comes when the people become incapable of acting rationally, when they become impotent.

darr Aug 15, 2013 01:33am

Whatever, We can not live in past. Present Pakistan is in pain with stagnant society and direction less confused masses.Pakistan's salvation lies in living people adoptable to new time and space. Hatred, paranoia ,poor self esteem , intolerance and national complexes are leading us no where. Our elders did well and sacrificed what was required at that time, Now the time is different, We the living, have to learn to live in this competitive time, Enough of intellectual rumination, This is time to act and let past go.

ss Aug 15, 2013 03:28am

Jinnah, no doubt, was a secular leader but his misfortune was that he thought he will be able to create a secular country whose very foundation defied every logic of secularism (two nation theory). In my opinion, the person revered as Baba e Quam is actually responsible for depriving Muslims of Pakistan the only opportunity of living in a multi plural, multi religious society which would have instilled tolerance in them. We can see how badly Pakistanis need tolerance today. I also disagree with all those who claim that had Jinnah lived longer he would have created democratic institutions in Pakistan. Lets take a look at the brief tenure of Jinnah as "Governor General of Pakistan"

Jinnah lived for only one year after the birth of the nation, but in that time he set the standard of a top-down administration, adopting the style of Moghul emperors, not democratic leaders. To begin with, Jinnah decided not to become the country

Riaz A Chaudhry Aug 15, 2013 09:26am

Zia-ul-haq added his own version, "one ummah, one Quran, one state, one Amir" to the original grand narrative. This is the narrative also held by the Taliban, and mostly blasted on pulpits in masajids in other parts of Pakistan. It reminds me of Hitler's narrative witch I quote, "Ein Reich, ein volks, ein Fuhrer"- One realm, one race, one dictator.

American Aug 15, 2013 12:38pm

Jinnah and Muslim League used the demand for partition as a bargaining chip in negotiating for greater share of power in a post-British India. They never expected, and therefore, were quite unprepared for managing the new country. Wiley Nehru and clever Mountbatten were smart enough to realize the buffer value of Pakistan between Afghanistan and India, as well as the nuisance value of NWFP. Jinnah walked right into the trap and got what he wanted...a moth eaten Pakistan with more problems than he could handle. Good riddance !

Pakistan Aug 15, 2013 05:04pm

Very well written piece, but the odd thing is not many people bothered to comment.

Truly an informative and intriguing article on Pakistan and Pakistanis' dilemma.

Khurram Aug 15, 2013 08:32pm

You're either saying that no narrative we know is completely accurate or claiming that perhaps you've done the most comprehensive research to suggest that what you may be writing up next time will be the true reflection of the ideology of Pakistan. Either way you're in the same boat.

I wonder why now we have to argue about narratives and history of Pakistan? Why did you wait for 14th August to cast doubts about the ideology of Pakistan and pollute people's minds with that? Why?

PL Raina Aug 15, 2013 09:54pm

I A well written article about present state of affairs in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan have been struggling to find their own identity as a nation. To maintain their identity they should have focused on their roots rather than on religion alone.They tried to distance themselves from the country of their origin, India and tried to think themselves as inheritors of Arabian Muslim culture.One has to understand that culture identity and religious identity can not be same.There are over 40 Muslim Countries each with their own cultural identity.Muslims living in India do not have this problem.

Vakil Aug 16, 2013 12:02am

@BRR: I think that you have not understood the point the author is making.... the question isn't that there were NO competent people left etc etc, but that there were TOO MANY "competent" (what exactly this word means for Pakistan is another debate altogether!) people around but with CONFLICTING "competencies" (or narratives as is referred to above) .. one might say a case of "too many cooks spoiling the ... whatever" -- and the end result of all that is there for us to see (and taste it, if anyones dares!)

Jalaluddin S. Hussain Aug 16, 2013 08:27am

"There is a need to go beyond slogans and adopt definite measures to improve the quality of life for the common people."

I fully agree with the above conclusion of the author and feel that this is the only way to improve the social, political and educational conditions of Pakistan.

Jalaluddin S. Hussain Aug 16, 2013 08:45am

The demise of an original vision is not a new phenomenon at all. In the recent past we can give the example of the break-up of the Soviet Empire, but by the same token, build-up of an industrial and progressive South Korea.

Let Pakistanis work hard and implement policies based on the slogan: "Friendship towards all and malice towards none".

Syed SM Aug 16, 2013 10:05am

A bold comment by SS. It is easy to play with sentiments of people specially where education level is too low and educated class is selfish(eyes on jobs only). It is very difficult to convert sentiments and emotions into practical and long lasting progress. . If any of our leaders had studied geography of metric standard he would know that all the rivers flowing into West Pakistan originated and flowed through Kashmir. Pakistan is an agriculture country. Without water it will be barren desert. Why then accession of Kashmir to Pakistan was not ensured before declaration of independence. Nehru and congress leaders after direct action call and cripling of interium government due to non cooperative attitude of Liaqat Ali Khan were convinced to part away with Muslims demanding Pakistan. They would have certainly agreed to Kashmir going to Pakistan. This blunder not only denied uninterrpted water source to Pakistan but also resulted into converting it into a security state and army rules from time to time. The Muslim League leaders were from feudal class they did feel much for the poor. This resulted gross neglect of poor in East Pakistan and other back ward areas of West Pakistan. Our leaders only achievement is saving feudal system.

Jo Black Aug 16, 2013 10:17am

@ss: I do believe Mr. Jinnah was a secular person by heart but by profession he was not secular. This is why he wanted partition. we can argue many more things about him. he wanted a separate country for him not for the Muslims.