Most school text books that are called ‘Pakistan Studies’ usually begin with the words, ‘Pakistan is an ideological state.’

Pakistan Studies was introduced in the national curriculum as a compulsory subject in 1972 by the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Over the decades, these books, that are regularly taught at all Pakistani schools and colleges, have gradually evolved into becoming one-dimensional manuals of how to become, believe and behave like a ‘true Pakistani.’

Though the content in these books pretends to be of historical nature, it is anything but.

It’s a monologue broken into various chapters about how the state of Pakistan sees, understands and explains the country’s history, society and culture - and the students are expected to believe it wholesale.

Many detractors have even gone on to call it an indoctrination tool.

It was introduced as a compulsory subject (almost in a panic) by the Bhutto regime soon after the country lost a war with India in 1971 and consequently its eastern wing (East Pakistan).


Pakistan had come into being in 1947 on the back of what its founders called the ‘Two Nation Theory.’

The Theory was culled from the 19th Century writings of modernist Muslim reformists in India who, after the collapse of the Muslim Empire in South Asia, began to explain the region’s Muslims as a separate political, cultural, and, of course, religious entity (especially compared to the Hindu majority of India).

This scholarly nuance, inspired by the ideas of the nation-state introduced by the British Colonialists, gradually evolved into becoming a pursuit to prepare a well-educated and resourceful Muslim middle-class in the region.

Eventually, with the help from sections of the Muslim landed elite in India, the emerging Muslim middle-classes turned the idea into a movement for a separate Muslim homeland comprised of those areas where the Muslims were in a majority in India.

This is what we, today, understand to be the ‘Pakistan Movement.’

However, when the country’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah - a western-educated lawyer and head of the All India Muslim League (AIML) - navigated the Movement towards finally reaching its main goal of carving out a separate Muslim homeland in South Asia, he was soon faced with an awkward fact: There were more Muslims in India than there were in the newly created Muslim-majority country of Pakistan.

Jinnah was conscious of this fact when he delivered his first major address to the country’s Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947.

Though during the Movement some factions of his party had tweaked the Two Nation Theory to also mean that the Muslims of India desired an Islamic State, Jinnah was quick to see the contradiction in this claim, simply because more Muslims had either been left behind in India or refused to migrate to Pakistan.

Islam during the Movement was largely used as an ethnic card to furnish and flex the separate nationhood claims of the Muslims. It was never used as a theological roadmap to construct an Islamic State in South Asia.

In his August 11 speech, Jinnah clearly declared that in Pakistan the state will have nothing to do with matters of the faith and Pakistan was supposed to become a democratic Muslim-majority nation state.

He went on to add: ‘ … you will find that in course of time (in Pakistan) Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims; not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.’


Rare footage of a snippet from Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech.

Some extraordinary circumstances (World War II, the receding of British Colonialism and rising tensions between the Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities in India) had combined to hand Jinnah a Muslim-majority country that had fewer Muslims compared to those who stayed behind in India.

Within this Muslim community were various sects and sub-sects with their own understanding and interpretations of the faith.

Then, the country also had multiple ethnicities, cultures and languages - some of them being more ancient than Islam itself!

Keeping all this in mind, Jinnah’s speech made good sense and exhibited a remarkable understanding of the complexities that his new country had inherited.

But it seems many of his close colleagues were still in the Movement mode.

A number of League members thought that with his August 11 speech, Jinnah was being a bit too hasty in discarding the Islamic factor from the new equation and opting to explain the new country as a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Muslim-majority state.

So soon after Jinnah’s speech, an attempt was made by these leaders to censor the draft of the speech that was to be published in the newspapers.

It was only when the then editor of Dawn newspaper, Altaf Hussain, threatened to take the issue directly to Jinnah that the League leaders relented and the full text of the speech was published.

Jinnah died in 1948 leaving behind a huge leadership vacuum in a country that had apparently appeared on the map a lot sooner than it was anticipated to.

The leadership of the founding party, the Muslim League, was mostly made up of Punjab’s landed gentry and Mohajir (Urdu-speaking) bourgeoisie elite.

The bureaucracy was also dominated by these two communities, whereas the army had an overwhelming Punjabi majority.

Either the multi-cultural connotations of Jinnah’s speech were not entirely understood by his immediate colleagues or simply side-lined by them.

There is very good reason to believe that these connotations somewhat threatened the League’s leadership because the Bengalis of East Pakistan were the majority ethnic group in the new country and the democratic recognition of multi-culturalism and ethnic diversity of Pakistan would automatically have translated into the Bengalis becoming the main ruling group.

After Jinnah had promptly watered down the Islamic aspects of the Pakistan Movement, the League’s leadership that followed his unfortunate death in 1948, decided to reintroduce these aspects to negate the multi-cultural and multi-ethic tenor of Jinnah’s speech.

But things, in this respect, get even more complicated when one is reminded of how it was actually Jinnah who triggered the first serious expression of ethnic turmoil in Pakistan.

In March 1948, Jinnah delivered two speeches in Dhaka (the largest city of the Bengali-dominated East Pakistan).

The speeches were delivered in English and were made at the height of a raging debate within the ruling Muslim League on the question of the country’s national language.

Bengali leadership in the League had purposed the Bengali language on the basis that Bengalis were the largest ethnic group in Pakistan.

However, the party’s Mohajir members led by one of Jinnah’s closest colleagues, Liaquat Ali Khan (who was also Pakistan’s first Prime Minister), disagreed by claiming that Pakistan was made on the demands of a hundred million Muslims (of the sub-continent) and that the language of these Muslims was Urdu.

Of course, it was conveniently forgotten that the majority of these millions of Urdu-speaking Muslims had been left behind in India and that at the time of Pakistan’s inception, Urdu was spoken by less than 10 per cent of the country’s population.

Faced with this dilemma and aggressively pushed by the arguments of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to declare Urdu as the national language, Jinnah arrived in Dhaka and in his two speeches there insisted that, indeed, Urdu was to become the country’s national lingua franca.

Jinnah (left) and Liaquat Ali Khan (right) share some matters during a smoke break in Karachi (1947).
Jinnah (left) and Liaquat Ali Khan (right) share some matters during a smoke break in Karachi (1947).

As the Bengalis went on strike and held widespread demonstrations protesting the contradiction in the government’s decision, Jinnah ordered that the Bengali writing system (close to Vedic and classic Sanskrit) be replaced with Arabic script and even with the Roman script.

It was as if the government was suggesting that Bengali could not be adopted as the national language because its writing system looked too much like that of Hindi.

Jinnah’s desperate attempt to replace the Bengali writing system was vehemently challenged by Bengali intellectuals and politicians and he had to beat a hasty retreat on the issue.

But Urdu did become the national language.

The Bengalis’ resentment found immediate sympathisers within other non-Punjabi and non-Mohajir ethnic communities.

Sindhi, Pushtun (and eventually Baloch) intelligentsia were alarmed by the way the state and government had treated the Bengalis’ demands, and foresaw the same happening to their own languages and ethnic cultures.

But instead of anticipating future fissures in the country on ethnic lines, the League (after Jinnah’s death), became even more myopic and wallowed in its self-serving naivety about using Islam as a slogan that was supposed to dissolve ethnic nationalism among the Muslim majority of the country.

The slogan might have worked to haphazardly pull together the Muslim minority of various ethnicities and cultural leanings of India during the Pakistan Movement; but there was no guarantee that it would be able to do the same in a country where this minority had become an overwhelming majority.

Ideally a system and constitution advocating direct democracy should have been worked out to facilitate and streamline the political and cultural participation of all ethnicities in the nation-building process.

But this wasn’t done. Political and cultural expressions of ethnicity were immediately treated as being threats to the unity of the nation and the answer to this threat, ironically, came from elements, most of who were once staunchly against the creation of Pakistan.

Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, though steeped in the progressive Modernist Muslim tradition of Sir Syed’s ‘Aligarh School of Thought,’ was, however, willing to continue to use Islam selectively to maintain the cherished unity of the Muslim majority of Pakistan.

Being a Mohajir, he wasn’t the ‘son of the soil.’ Meaning, unlike most Sindhis, Pushtuns, Punjabi, Baloch and Bengalis, he was born outside of what eventually became Pakistan and didn’t have a large constituency based on language and ethnicity in the country.

So it is understandable why the notion of Islam being a unifying factor was important to him.

But the question was what kind of Islam?


Liaquat Ali Khan speaking at the Constituent Assembly (1947). His government faced an aborted military coup attempt by left-wing sections in the military and the Communist Party of Pakistan in 1951. He was eventually assassinated by a lone gunman the same year.

This question hadn’t really mattered during the Pakistan Movement in which the Muslims of South Asia were agitating as a minority. But then when a large part of this minority became a majority in Pakistan, the historical, political and theological divisions and crevices between this majority’s many sects and sub-sects began to seem starker than before.

To men like Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan was to be explained as the organic culmination and natural result of what poet/philosopher Muhammad Iqbal had been contemplating and advocating before his death in the 1930s.

That is, Islam in Pakistan was to make all ethnicities and sectarian differences secondary compared to the precepts of Pakistani nationhood.

But what exactly was this nationhood about?

A good part of the answer first came from a man who during the Pakistan Movement had denounced Jinnah as an ‘infidel.’

Islamic scholar and chief of the fundamentalist Jamat-e-Islami (JI), Abul Ala Maududi, was not an Islamic cleric.

He was a well-read and prolific journalist and thinker.

Though his commentaries on Islam were highly conservative, this was a radical conservatism of sorts. Because not only did he take to task the Muslim nationalism of the likes of Jinnah (claiming that nationalism had no place in Islam); he even managed to offend many scholars of the Deobandi and Barelvi Sunni sub-sects, accusing them of being wedged in ancient clerical traditions (Deobandi) and distorting the true message of Islam through unsavoury innovations (Barelvi).

Thus, it can be claimed that Maududi emerged as a renegade branch from the same tree that was planted by Modernist Muslims like Sir Syed and then carefully nurtured by Iqbal.

The difference was that to him the Muslims’ renewal as a political and cultural force depended not on Muslim nationalism but on an evolutionary process in which Muslim societies were to be ‘Islamized’ from below so that they could be prepared for Islamic laws (Shariah) to be imposed from above (the state).

Islamic scholar and Political Islamist, Abul Aala Maududi.
Islamic scholar and Political Islamist, Abul Aala Maududi.

Another problem Maududi had with Pakistan was that he considered the new country to be in a state of jahiliyat – Arab word meaning ‘ignorance’ which describes the time in Mecca before the arrival of Islam.

So it was ironic when Liaquat and his aids, agreed to adopt a portion of Maududi’s thesis on Political Islam while passing the 1949 Objectives Resolution.

When the Resolution was passed in May 1949 in the Constituent Assembly, it was supposed to be an outline of what the final constitution of the country should look and sound like and also what Pakistani nationhood should be about.

Just a year and a half after Jinnah had described Pakistan as a democratic Muslim-majority state where religion and state would largely be separate, the Resolution now declared Pakistan to be ‘an Islamic entity’ in which no law or policy would be allowed to contradict the teachings of the Qu’ran and the Sunnah.

There was uproar among the country’s Hindu and Christian communities (called ‘minorities’). Their leaders accused the government of ignoring Jinnah’s original vision and of submitting to the dictates of his enemies (Maududi, etc.)

Liaquat tried to pacify the detractors by pointing out that the Resolution had envisioned a progressive and democratic Islamic country and that the minorities need not worry.

Maududi’s party, the Jamat-i-Islami (JI), decided to end its boycott of doing politics in Pakistan after the Resolution, despite the fact that the Resolution did not translate into meaning that the government would begin to legislate Shariah laws immediately (or was even willing to).

The government might have thought that it had successfully defined the finer points of Pakistani nationalism through the Resolution, but the truth was, things in this context got even more complex.

In 1953 vicious riots erupted in Lahore against the controversial Ahmadiyya community when JI and another fundamentalist party, the Majlis-e-Ahrar, demanded that the community be declared non-Muslim.

In 1956, shaken by the riots, constantly challenged by Sindhi, Baloch, Bengali and Pushtun nationalists, and finally realising that the 1949 Objectives Resolution had done precious little to clear the foggy notion of Pakistani nationalism, the Constituent Assembly got down to finally author the country’s first full constitution.

In the constitution, the ethnicities and leftists were appeased with the promise of holding direct elections based on adult franchise, while the fundamentalists were given the space to officially and constitutionally define Pakistan as an ‘Islamic Republic’.

Whereas most activists and politicians on the left weren’t entirely happy with the contents of the Constitution, Maududi readily exhibited his satisfaction by declaring it to be, sufficiently Islamic.

Members of the Muslim League and the Republican Party sitting outside the Constituent Assembly in Karachi just before passing the 1956 Constitution.
Members of the Muslim League and the Republican Party sitting outside the Constituent Assembly in Karachi just before passing the 1956 Constitution.

In 1957 most of the detractors came together in the left-wing and secular National Awami Party (NAP) and were confident that the party was in a good position to win the most seats in the promised direct elections (that were to be held in 1958).

But in late 1958, President Iskandar Mirza, who wasn’t happy with the Constitution nor with parties like NAP, conspired with the military chief, Ayub Khan, and dismissed the assembly and imposed the country’s first Martial Law.

Mirza had described the 1956 Constitution as ‘a prostitution of Islam for political ends.’

President Iskandar Mirza (third from left) with heads of Pakistan armed forces (1958). Mirza suspended the 1956 Constitution calling it ‘a prostitution of Islam for political gains.’
President Iskandar Mirza (third from left) with heads of Pakistan armed forces (1958). Mirza suspended the 1956 Constitution calling it ‘a prostitution of Islam for political gains.’

Just 20 days after the imposition of Martial Law, Mirza was in turn dismissed by Ayub and forced to leave the country. Ayub, as Chief Martial Law Administrator, became the sole centre of power in the country.

He wasted no time in exhibiting his disgust at what had transpired in the county’s politics after Jinnah’s death, and got down to completely scrap whatever had emerged as Pakistani nationhood in the preceding decade and took it upon himself to once and for all give a definitive shape to Pakistani nationalism.

The great debate

Today, one often comes across ageing liberals and former leftists who fondly remember the decade-long Ayub Khan dictatorship (1958-69) as being perhaps the most liberal and secular era in the country’s history.

The irony is that most of them had opposed and actually agitated against the regime as student activists and young journalists.

They often speak about how the people of Pakistan rejoiced when Ayub took power because they were sick of the power games between the politicians and the bureaucrats.

However, there are also those who accuse Ayub of setting the precedence for military intervention in politics in Pakistan, and giving the institution a taste of direct political power that led to three more military dictatorships in the next four decades.

Ayub was a practicing Muslim but almost entirely secular in his political and social outlook and (in one of his first speeches) promised to ‘liberate the spirit of religion from superstition and move forward under the forces of modern sciences and knowledge.’

But understanding that a nation-state requires powerful myths to base its justification upon, Ayub became the first Pakistani head of state to overtly use the state to devise a more holistic national ideology.

Ayub Khan addressing the nation.
Ayub Khan addressing the nation.

He formed the Advisory Council on Islamic Ideology (ACII) and the Islamic Research Institute and populated both with liberal Islamic scholars.

Imagining himself to be a latter day Ataturk and a Muslim de Gaulle, Ayub claimed to express Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan which, to him, was about a modern Muslim-majority state with a strong economy (based on heavy industry) and a sturdy military that would not only protect the country’s borders but its ideology as well.

The religious parties, incensed by Ayub’s secular policies and the fact that he was getting most of these sectioned by the ACII, finally moved in to directly challenge him.

Political parties had been banned by Ayub in 1959 but he lifted the ban in 1962.

The parties on the left like the National Awami Party (NAP) opposed him for his overt capitalist manoeuvres, his regime’s close relationship with the United States, and his refusal to entertain the demands of the Sindhi, Baloch, Bengali and Pushtun nationalists for decentralisation, democracy and provincial autonomy.


American TV report on Ayub’s first visit to the United States in 1961.

Religious parties, especially the fundamentalist Jamat-i-Islami (JI), largely focused their opposition on Ayub’s secular policies. And rather uncannily, by attempting to mould a national ideology, Ayub gave the JI the idea to take the concept and turn it on its head.

The term ‘Pakistan Ideology’ (Nazriah-e-Pakistan’) was nowhere in the founders’ speeches during the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

When Ayub’s 1962 Constitution highlighted his regime’s understanding of Pakistani nationalism to mean a Muslim (as opposed to an Islamic) state where a modern and reformist spirit of Islam, culture and science would guide the country’s politics and society, the JI opposed it.

The backdrop of a stage shows portraits of Ayub and Jinnah. Ayub claimed that he was evolving Pakistan’s nationhood according to the modern and progressive dictates of Jinnah.
The backdrop of a stage shows portraits of Ayub and Jinnah. Ayub claimed that he was evolving Pakistan’s nationhood according to the modern and progressive dictates of Jinnah.

It was at this point that the nation for the first time heard the term Nazriah-e-Pakistan.

It was first used by JI’s Professor Khurshid Ahmed who suggested that the Pakistan Ideology should be squarely based on policies constructed on the teachings of the Qu’ran and Sunnah and should strive to turn Pakistan into an Islamic State because it was on the basis of Islam that the country had separated from the rest of India.

Of course, very little was mentioned in this context by the Professor about the fact that the JI had been one of the many Islamic parties that had actually opposed the creation of Pakistan, calling it a nationalist abomination.

An economist and one of the leading members of Jamat Islami, Prof. Khurshid Ahmed, is said to have first coined the term ‘Nazriah-e-Pakistan’ in 1962.
An economist and one of the leading members of Jamat Islami, Prof. Khurshid Ahmed, is said to have first coined the term ‘Nazriah-e-Pakistan’ in 1962.

The debate as to exactly what kind of a vision drove Jinnah to demand a separate Muslim country in South Asia, and what should constitute Pakistani culture and nationhood reached a peak in the late 1960s, when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto formed the socialist Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), and when Sindhi, Baloch, Pushtun and Bengali nationalists had accelerated their agitation for provincial autonomy.

To the JI, the story of Pakistan began not during the Pakistan Movement, but with the invasion of Sindh by Arab commander, Muhammad bin Qasim, in the 9th Century who defeated the region’s Hindu ruler, Raja Dahir.

Sindhi scholar and nationalist leader, GM Syed, rubbished the notion and went to the extent of declaring that to the Sindhis, Muhammad bin Qasim was a usurper and Raja Dahir the hero!
Sindhi scholar and nationalist leader, GM Syed, rubbished the notion and went to the extent of declaring that to the Sindhis, Muhammad bin Qasim was a usurper and Raja Dahir the hero!

Sindhi scholar and nationalist, GM Syed, rejected Ayub’s modernist interpretation of Pakistan’s Muslim nationhood, as well as JI’s Islamic version. He suggested that both were not compatible with the cultural and historical moorings of Pakistan’s non-Punjabi ethnicities.

After witnessing the ascendency of leftist parties and student groups in West Pakistan, and the growing agitation by Bengali nationalists in East Pakistan, the JI declared that socialism and secularism were anti-Islam ideologies akin to atheism.

This claim drew the newly-formed PPP into the debate.

Prominent intellectuals in the PPP and those sympathetic to its cause, especially Hanif Ramay, Safdar Mir and poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, retaliated by first emphasising the JI’s pre-1947 anti-Jinnah rhetoric, and then suggesting that Pakistani nationhood and culture were multi-ethnic and multi-cultural and best served by democracy and socialism.

JI’s founder and Islamic scholar, Abul Ala Maududi, wrote that the leftist, liberal and secular Pakistani political organisations and cultural outfits were the ‘Trojan Horses’ through which they had infiltrated the Pakistani society, government to erode Pakistan’s Islamic character.

In 1969, progressive poet and thinker Faiz Ahmed Faiz, wrote an extensive paper that defined Pakistani nationhood to mean a multi-cultural/multi-ethnic entity with roots in progressive Islam and with the potential to become a culturally rich, progressive and politically modern state.
In 1969, progressive poet and thinker Faiz Ahmed Faiz, wrote an extensive paper that defined Pakistani nationhood to mean a multi-cultural/multi-ethnic entity with roots in progressive Islam and with the potential to become a culturally rich, progressive and politically modern state.

Interestingly, as the movement by leftist political parties and student groups against the Ayub dictatorship gained momentum in the late 1960s, Ayub’s Information Ministry had already begun to mend fences with the JI.

By the time Ayub resigned in 1969 and handed over power to General Yahya Khan, the JI rebounded to become an ally of the military regime.

General Yahya was a notorious drinker and womaniser but smart enough to use Maududi’s status as a prolific Islamic scholar to blunt the leftists’ push against the military regime.

Informed by his intelligence agencies that an election at best would produce a hung verdict, Yahya agreed to his opponents’ demand to hold the country’s first direct election based on adult franchise.

As Ayub’s idea of Pakistani nationhood dwindled, JI made its own concept of Nazriah-e-Pakistan one of the main planks of its election manifesto.

Expecting to bag an impressive number of seats in the Parliament, JI (along with most other religious parties), was soundly beaten by the PPP and NAP (in West Pakistan), and by the Bengali nationalist party, the Awami League (in East Pakistan).

Yet again the project of moulding an ideology of Pakistan acceptable to all Pakistanis had come to a dead-end. In fact, it seemed that it was now destined to end up in the dustbin of history.

The compromise

It might as well have, had Pakistan not gone to war with India and then badly lose that war.

Shiekh Mujeebur Rheman’s Awami League had won the highest number of seats in the 1970 election (albeit all in East Pakistan).

In theory, his party should have been invited by Yahya to form Pakistan’s first popularly elected government.

The military, dominated by the Punjabis in West Pakistan, and Bhutto’s PPP, pointed at Mujeeb’s ‘anti-Pakistan rhetoric’ and suggested that he would use the Parliament to separate East Pakistan from the rest of the country on the basis of Bengali nationalism.

A delay in the handing over of power to the Awami League saw the eruption of a full-scale civil war in East Pakistan.


A 1971 snippet from American TV network ABC’s show on the violence in East Pakistan.

Thousands of Bengalis lost their lives in the conflict as the Pakistan Army employed brutal tactics to stem the Bengalis’ march towards independence.

The military also recruited members of the JI in East Pakistan to form death squads against Bengali intellectuals, journalists and students.

Acts of brutality were also committed by the militant wings of the Bengali nationalists against military personnel, non-Bengali residents of East Pakistan and those Bengalis who were accused of collaborating with the Pakistan Army.

Thousands of Bengalis crossed over into Indian Bengal as refugees. Though India was by now backing the nationalists, it was in December 1971 that it entered the fray, decimating the Pakistani armed forces.

The defeat saw East Pakistan become the independent Bengali state of Bangladesh. In early 1972, a group of officers forced Yahya Khan to resign and hand over power to Z A. Bhutto.

Bhutto’s party the PPP that had swept the 1970 election in former West Pakistan’s two largest provinces, the Punjab and Sindh, on a socialist manifesto, formed the government at the centre and in the mentioned provinces.

Another left-wing party, the National Awami Party (NAP) that had won the largest number of seats in the former NWFP and Balochistan was able to form coalition governments in these provinces.

The first phase of the Bhutto regime (1972-74) was dominated by the radical left-wing of the PPP.

However, since Pakistan found itself reeling from an expensive war, a demoralised army, and fears that India and the Soviet Union may go on to fan separatist movements in NWFP, Balochistan and even in Bhutto’s own home province of Sindh, his government sanctioned a project to mould an ideological narrative that would help the state redeem the floundering belief in a united Pakistan.

It is believed that the new nationalist narrative was first and foremost devised to uplift a defeated army. But by late 1972 it began to make its way into school text books.

In a nutshell, the narrative went something like this: West Pakistan was always the real Pakistan because it’s a cohesive and seamless region that runs from north to south along the mighty Indus River. This region’s population had predominately been Muslim (ever since the 12th Century), and though it may have a number of ethnicities, they all had similar views on Islam.

This was to suggest that the Bengali-dominated East Pakistan that lay thousands of miles away from West Pakistan had always been an unnatural part of what had appeared on the map as Pakistan in 1947.

The study of Pakistan Studies, a subject that exclusively dealt with the history and culture of the country (based on the above narrative) was introduced and then made compulsory for school and college students.

In the early 1970s the new narrative was still very much a work-in-progress and largely retained content from history books that were in circulation before 1971.

Thus, in 1973, the PPP government organised a large conference in Islamabad in which some of the country’s leading intellectuals, historians and scholars were invited.

They were requested to debate and thrash out a nationalist narrative that could then be turned into a state ideology and imposed through legislative means and proliferated trough school textbooks.

One of the most influential scholars to appear from the exercise was the veteran conservative historian, I H. Qureshi.

Qureshi was not much of a Bhutto supporter. Yet, the Bhutto regime decided to use Qureshi’s writings on the Pakistan Movement to make up for the bulk of the content that made its way into the Pakistan Studies books.

Books such as this one by conservative historian, I H. Qureshi, were brought back into circulation in the 1970s by the Bhutto regime. According to Qureshi, the ‘Pakistan way of life’ and the ‘Islamic way of life’ were synonymous.
Books such as this one by conservative historian, I H. Qureshi, were brought back into circulation in the 1970s by the Bhutto regime. According to Qureshi, the ‘Pakistan way of life’ and the ‘Islamic way of life’ were synonymous.

Though the Bhutto regime was populist, socialist and largely secular, in 1973 it managed to get a consensus from all the parties to unveil a new constitution that rebranded Pakistan as an Islamic Republic and proclaimed that all laws in the country would be made in the light of the teachings of the Qu’ran and the Sunnah.

JI and other religious parties had explained the break-up of Pakistan in 1971 as a consequence of its rulers’ refusal to turn the country into an Islamic state and thus, giving secularists and ethnic nationalists enough reason and space to dictate terms and harm the unity of the country.

The second phase of the Bhutto regime (1974-77) saw the slowing down of its socialist projects and the declining influence of PPP’s socialist and Marxist ideologues in the policy-making process.

The regime’s capitulation in the event of the agitation and the demands of the religious parties to declare the Ahamadiyya community as a non-Muslim minority was at least one symptom of Bhutto’s rightward shift.

By the time of the 1977 election, the PPP manifesto all but eliminated the word socialism from its manifesto. Its regime, elected on a relatively radical socialist and largely secular program in 1970, had (within a matter of five years), become a somewhat odd mixture of nationalist populism, and an equally populist expression of Political Islam.


Bhutto asking the people to recognise Bangladesh during a 1973 rally in Lahore. The crowd asks him not to. Bhutto gets frustrated and says that Bangladesh can then go to hell! Nevertheless, his government finally recognised Bangladesh in 1974.

Bhutto it seems had sensed the Islamic revival taking place across the Muslim world after the 1973 Arab-Israel War.

Though the war had ended in a stalemate of sorts, oil-rich Arab monarchies enjoyed a sudden rise in profits from after they slowed down oil production and greatly jacked-up oil prices.

The profits gave the oil-producing Arab countries power to influence Muslim regimes that did not have the fortune of owning vast oil fields.

Saudi Arabia hardly played a role in the matters of Pakistan before 1973. But after 1973 Bhutto’s Pakistan (just like Sadat’s Egypt) began to court the oil-rich Saudi monarchy, hoping to fatten their countries’ struggling economies with hearty hand-outs from their wealthy Muslim brethren (‘Petro- Dollars’).

But the money came with a condition. The Saudi monarchy was a passionate proponent of a rather puritanical strand of Islam (‘Wahabism’). It had alarmingly seen the rise of socialist regimes in Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Algeria, Sudan, Somalia and Pakistan in the 1950s, ‘60s and early ‘70s.

After 1973 when it began to pump money into Muslim countries, with the money, also came the allusions and nudges to undermine leftist ideologies and kick-start an intellectual and political exercise to ‘Islamize’ governments and societies according to the Saudis’ interpretation of faith.

Arab monarchies had struggled to stay afloat against the onslaught and rise of secular Arab nationalism (‘Arab Socialism’) in the 1950s and 1960s. And in spite of the fact that most of these monarchies were allies of Western powers, they were also conscious of Western political ideas such as democracy trickling into the mind-set of their citizens, especially the younger lot.

From 1973 onwards, Petro Dollars began to be disbursed and distributed among Western and Muslim academics, intellectuals, governments and (Muslim) religious leaders, along with, of course, on the construction of beautiful mosques.

What began to appear from this exercise was a Political Islam that was anti-left, anti-Zionist, anti-secular but pro-West, pro-business, pro-monarchy and with a healthy bank balance.

After trying to appease the Islamic lobby by introducing certain Islamic clauses in the 1973 Constitution, and then agreeing to constitutionally declare the Ahamadiyya community as a non-Muslim religious minority, the Bhutto regime moved in to appease its new-found Saudi friends and donors.

Since by now the Pakistan Ideology had begun to place Pakistan’s historical roots in lands from where Arab horsemen had begun to invade India from the 8th Century onwards, it was decided that the Arabic language too should be adopted and taught in schools.

Since till about 1975, the Pakistan society and government had remained largely secular, Bhutto might have felt secure in believing that he was successfully keeping his left and liberal constituencies satisfied along with the conservative religious sections of the society and Pakistan’s new Arab donors.

So it must have come as a rude shock to him when in December 1976, a 9-party alliance of religious and anti-Bhutto parties united under the umbrella of the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA).

The alliance geared up to face Bhutto’s PPP in the 1977 election. And it was only when the PNA used the words ‘Nizam-e-Mustafa’ (The Prophet’s System) as its main slogan, it became apparent that the Bhutto regime’s experiments in the still elusive territory of the Pakistan Ideology had actually ended up providing his opponents the space and idea to use Islam as an electoral tool.

Another factor that Bhutto might have undermined was that Saudi Arabia was not only cultivating relations with the Bhutto regime, it was also on very good terms with religious parties such as the JI.

Instead of countering PNA’s religious overtones by falling back on its original appeal of being a populist ‘pro-poor’ party, the PPP went on the defensive because according to Bhutto’s analysis, now it was the Islamic revival factor that needed to be eyed and then grabbed.


In 1976 PTV began running a series called ‘Tabeer.’ It depicted the 1857 Indian Mutiny as a Muslim Jihad against the British and their Hindu allies and the beginning of the Pakistan Movement.

The word Islam outnumbered the word socialism in the party’s new manifesto and for the first time religion became the central point of debate and discussion during an election in Pakistan.

Claims and counterclaims of the PPP and the PNA on who was a better Muslim became so intense that an editorial in Pakistan’s largest English daily, Dawn, pleaded to both the camps to keep Islam out of politics.

The PPP trounced the PNA in the National Assembly election. The PNA cried foul and accused the Bhutto regime of rigging the polls. The truth was that the regime had rigged only a handful of seats (in the Punjab) and would have won the election anyway.

But Bhutto wanted to change the country’s parliamentary system into a Presidential one and for that he desired a big majority in the National Assembly.

PNA refused to contest the Provincial Assembly elections and instead, began a protest movement that soon became violent.

Demanding Bhutto’s resignation and fresh elections, PNA supporters, mostly made up of right-wing, urban middle-class youth and supported by the industrial and trader classes that were greatly stung by the Bhutto regime’s socialist manoeuvres, poured out onto the streets.

Demanding Shariah, PNA activists attacked bars, nightclubs and cinemas during their 1977 protest movement against Bhutto.
Demanding Shariah, PNA activists attacked bars, nightclubs and cinemas during their 1977 protest movement against Bhutto.

Surprised by the tenacity of the protesters, Bhutto began emergency talks with the PNA leadership.

The ironic aspect of the movement was that when the PNA and the protesters began to use Islamic symbolism and slogans, these were culled from what the Bhutto regime had inducted into school textbooks and governmental lingo.

But since both PNA and PPP were going on and on about Islam without ever bothering to explain exactly how they were planning to turn a religion based on moral and social codes into a functioning political and economic system, this eyewash was addressed by another eyewash.

In July 1977, Bhutto’s own General toppled his regime in a military coup and promptly arrested him.

General Ziaul Haq was handpicked by Bhutto, in spite of him having a history of being highly conservative and an admirer of JI’s chief and Islamic scholar, Abul Ala Maududi.

When he imposed the country’s third Martial Law, Zia took PNA’s Nizam-e-Mustafa rhetoric and turned it into a draconian, and then a legislative ideological project, giving the whole concept of the Pakistan Ideology its starkest and weightiest Islamic aspect thus far.

Bhutto was hanged in April 1979 through a sham trial.

The grand concoction

General Zia’s interpretation of Islam was derived heavily from the Deobandi Sunni Muslim view.

The model undertaken by Zia for his Islamization project was based on Maulana Maududi’s theory of the state, and the Jamaat-e-Islami became the only political party that could freely function during the time.


Ziaul Haq declaring Martial Law on PTV (July 1977).

Zia had shrewdly noted how even some of the most secular Pakistanis had largely remained silent when Bhutto declared the Ahmadiyya community non-Muslim.

Islam was the perfect kind of excuse for a tyrant to flex his muscles, especially in a country where the middle-classes and upstarts who had travelled to oil-rich Arab countries had confused the power of the Petro-Dollar with the power of the strict strand of Islam that they came into contact with there.

Maududi’s Pakistan Ideology that had been battered by the voters in 1970 and then mutated into meaning something closer to Bhutto’s equally convoluted ‘Islamic Socialism,’ fell into the hands of Zia who gave it his own twist.

But he not only made it a part of school textbooks; he also began to actually express it through the draconian laws that he described as being ‘Islamic.’

Law after law based on a particular and orthodox understanding of Islam was rolled out, so much so that by the time of his death in 1988, the 1973 Constitution, that had originally been a product of progressive and democratic intent, became the enshrinement of laws that till even today give both a religious, as well as a constitutional cover to what are indeed acts of religious violence and bigotry.


1982 PTV footage of Zia announcing his dictatorship’s new set of so-called Islamic Laws.

But while all this was being weaved into a more aggressively propagated ideology by the state, the Zia regime was soon confronted in this respect by a number of close colleagues of Muhammad Ali Jinnah and secular historians.

They suggested that the so-called Pakistan Ideology was always a concoction of the religious right and the military-establishment to sustain and justify their undemocratic hold over a multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian polity.

After toppling the Z. A. Bhutto government in July 1977, Zia almost immediately got down to the business of transforming the ideological complexion of Pakistan, peddling it as a state that was supposedly conceived as a theocratic entity.

However, Zia and his ideological partners, mainly the Jamat-i-Islami (JI), soon hit a brick wall in this respect when they couldn’t endorse their revisionist narrative with any of the sayings and speeches of Jinnah.

Zia thus banned the mention (in the media and school textbooks) of Jinnah’s famous speech that he made to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, and in which he clearly described Pakistan as a progressive, non-theocratic Muslim-majority state.

His Information Ministry then ‘advised’ PTV and Radio Pakistan to only use those sayings of Jinnah that had the word Islam in them.

The practice only stopped with Zia’s assassination in August 1988 and Jinnah was finally spared the false beard Zia kept pining on the founder’s otherwise shaven chin.


Benazir Bhutto on Zia’s Islam and legacy.

Nevertheless, no civilian government has dared to alter or expunge the ‘Islamic laws’ planted in the Constitution by the Zia regime.

The fear of being declared ‘anti-Islam’ and ‘anti-Pakistan Ideology’ overrides the will to throw out these laws that have wreaked havoc on various sections of the society, especially the women and the minority communities.

These laws have also ended up actually institutionalising moral hypocrisy and even religiously-motivated violence.

Thus, in the last two decades, whole generations of educated, middle-class, young Pakistanis have grown up believing that Shariah was Jinnah’s main aim, and that the so-called Pakistan Ideology emerged from the sacrifices rendered by their elders during the Pakistan Movement.

A Pakistan Studies textbook.
A Pakistan Studies textbook.

Liberals, leftists and ethnic nationalists have continued to oppose these views and moves. They describe them as being tools of the ‘Punjabi ruling elite’ and their religious allies, as a way to keep certain ethnicities (and now sects) on a tight leash.

But the truth is, with the help of the private Urdu media and the growing economic, judicial and political influence of the urban middle-classes, the ‘Pakistan Ideology’ as it has stood ever since Zia’s time is what that defines most young Pakistanis today.

Even if, ironically, it is more likely to make them say they are Muslims first and Pakistanis later.

References and Resources:

Afnan Khan, The Threat of Pakistan’s Revisionist Text (The Guardian, 18 May, 2009).

Stephen Alter, Amritsar to Lahore: a journey across the India-Pakistan border (Penn Sylvania Press, 2002). p.22

Maneesha Tikar, Across the Wagah (Bibliophile South Asia, 2004). p.210

Neelam Hussain, Samiya Mumtaz, Samina Choonara, Politics of Language (Simorgh Publication, 2005). p.162

T Rahman, Government Policies & The Politics of Teaching Urdu in Pakistan (Annual Urdu Studies, 2002).

Amy Bik May Tsui, James W. Tollefson, Language Policy, Culture and Identity in Asian Contexts (Routledge, 2007). pp.244, 245

Thomas Oberlies, Pali: A Grammar of the Language of theTheravāda Tipiṭaka, (Walter de Gruyter, 2001).

Ayesha Jalal, Self and sovereignty: Individual & Community in South Asia Islam Since 1870 (Routledge, 2002). pp.174, 175, 176

Manas Chatterji, B. M. Jain, Conflict & Peace in Asia, (Emerald Group Publishing, 2008). p.251

Irfan Ahmad, The Transformation of Jamat-e-Islami (Princeton University Press, 2009). p.6

The 1956 Constitution declared Pakistan to be an ‘Islamic Republic’ and consequently, the country began to be called the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan.’

Abul Ala Maududu, The Islamic Law & Constitution (Islamic Books, 1986).

Selig S. Harrison, Paul H. Kreisberg, Dennis Kux, India & Pakistan: The First Fifty Years (Cambridge University Press, 1999). p.47

GS Bhargava, Pakistan in Crises (Vikas Publications, 1971). p.75

John L. Esposito, Islam & Politics (Syracuse University Press 1998). pp.120-121

Husain Haqani, Pakistan: Between the Mosque & Military (Carneige, 2010). p.43

Martin E. Marty, R. Scot, Fundamentalisms Observed (University of Chicago Press, 1998). p.473

Ishtiaq Ahmed, State, Nation & Ethnicity in Contemporary South Asia (Continuum International Publication, 1998). p.284

Martin E. Marty, R. Scot, Fundamentalisms Observed (University of Chicago Press, 1998). p.474

Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Culture and Identity (Oxford University Press, 2005).

Saadia Toor, The State of Pakistan (Pluto Press, 2005). pp: 112-115

KK Aziz, The Murder of History (Renaissance Publishing House, 1998). p.111

A Zubair, The Silent and the Lost (Pacific Breeze Publishers, 2010). p.321

Strategic Digest Vol: 3 (Institute of Defence Studies & Analyses, 1973). p.16

Aitzaz Ahsan, The Indus Saga (Roli, 2005).

Dr. Mubarek Ali, Interviews & Comments (Fiction House, 2004). p.66

Zaid Haider, The Ideological Struggle For Pakistan, (Hoover Institution Press, 2010). p.16

Walid Phares, The War of Ideas (Macmillan, 2007).

Rubina Saigol, Radicalization of State & Society in Pakistan (Heinrich Boll Stiftung). p.10

Mubashir Hassan, The Miraj of Power: An Inquiry into the Bhutto Years - 1971-77 (Oxford University Press, 2000). pp.299-300

Vali Reza Nasr, Islamic Leviathan (Oxford University Press, 2001) p.80

Khaled Ahmed, Pakistan Behind The Ideological Mask (Vanguard, 2001).

The Political Economy of Pakistan: 1947-85 (Taylor & Frances, 1988) p.180

Akbar Ahmed, Jinnah, Pakistan & Islamic Entity (Routledge, 2012).

Ravi Kalia, Pakistan: From Rehtoric of Democracy to Rise of Militancy (Routledge 2012). p.5


On writing

On writing

There is no ceremony or ritual that marks any person as a writer except the simple yet unimaginably significant act of starting to write.


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