Most school text books that are called Pakistan Studies’ usually begin with the words, ‘Pakistan is an ideological state’. It was introduced as a compulsory subject (almost in a panic) by the Bhutto regime soon after the country lost a war in 1971 and consequently its eastern wing (East Pakistan).

Over the decades these books 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.


Only a new breed of intellectuals can save Pakistan from its existential dilemma


It is 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 swallow it whole.

These books propagate a world-view from the lens of what is commonly known as the ‘Pakistan Ideology’ (Nazariya-i-Pakistan). 

This term is also at the centre of many political and ideological discourses that take place in the country. And yet it was missing from the vocabulary of the founders of Pakistan in 1947.

In an essay, ‘Conjuring Pakistan’, eminent historian and scholar, Ayesha Jalal, writes that the term ‘Pakistan Ideology’ was first used by the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) in early 1960s. 

The party leadership, headed by renowned Islamic scholar and Political Islamist, Abu Ala Maududi, had most likely used it to explain JI’s stance on the 1962 Constitution that was drafted by the Ayub Khan regime and which, the JI thought, was too secular and (thus) ‘against the dictates of the Pakistan ideology’.

Further inquiry into the matter suggests that JI did not seem to have defined the ideology itself. It simply used the term more as a rhetorical expression of dissent against the Ayub government’s ‘secularism’.  

Another respected historian, Dr Mubarak Ali, however, suggests that the term ‘Pakistan Ideology’ was first coined in 1969 during the short Yahya Khan dictatorship.   

In his book, Pakistan in Search of Identity, Dr. Ali claims that as the tensions between the state and Bengali nationalists in the former East Pakistan grew, and after Ayub resigned due to an intense protest movement against him by the leftist student groups and workers unions, it was during the regime of his successor, General Yahya Khan, that the term ‘Pakistan Ideology’ first came into play.

At the height of the Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971, 11 prominent Pakistani historians were invited by the state-owned Radio Pakistan and asked to define the situation in East Pakistan in the historical context of the Pakistan Ideology i.e. to define the Pakistaniat of the citizens of Pakistan of all ethnicities and creed by highlighting their history of a shared struggle against British colonialists and Hindu nationalism, and how the ‘enemies of Pakistan’ were conspiring to break up the country by creating animosity between its various ethnicities.

Of course, the clumsiness of the past governments and the state in the handling of sensitive ethnic issues were not touched upon, but the most interesting thing about the initial project to launch a Pakistan Ideology is that the term was an almost entirely secular concoction at the time of its birth!

Dr. Ali gives two reasons why this was so: firstly, the popular Zeitgeist of the period was leaning heavily on leftist ideologies and the state of Pakistan too wanted to explain itself as being a progressive and enlightened entity.  

Secondly, the need to conjure something called Pakistan Ideology was almost entirely aimed to appease the rebelling Bengalis in East Pakistan who had suspected that religion was being used by the state as a tool to undermine Bengali culture.

So at the time of its birth, and keeping in mind the eleven lectures delivered in 1971 by some of the country’s leading national historians, the Pakistan Ideology meant explaining the creation of Pakistan as an intellectual and political emergence from the minds and efforts of progressive and enlightened Muslims who created a Muslim country that was to eschew the religious communalism that the Muslims of India had faced, and evolve a separate state and society based on a progressive and democratic understanding of Islam, and many of its egalitarian and universal aspects.

Personally speaking, I think this was a rather promising beginning of an idea of collective Pakistani nationhood that could have further evolved in an even more progressive manner during the populist democratic era that followed Yahya’s fall in December 1971.

But unfortunately the tragedy of East Pakistan breaking away to become a separate country (Bangladesh), and Pakistan’s subsequent defeat in its 1971 war against India, rendered the early notions of Pakistan Ideology obsolete and even detrimental.

 Z.A. Bhutto took over as Pakistan’s new head of state and then government in December 1971. Though his party, the PPP, had won the majority of the seats in the former West Pakistan during the 1970 election from a populist socialist platform, he not only had to run his regime’s progressive programme but also preside over the creation of a more aggressive notion of Pakistaniat that would work as a deterrent against any further ethnic fissures and break-ups.

Thus (ironically), it was under the parliamentarian and left-leaning Bhutto regime that the concept of Pakistan Ideology began to be moulded into a more conservative and reactive idea.

In 1973 the government invited a host of intellectuals and scholars to thrash out a more detailed understanding of the term that now began to see Pakistan as a Muslim state that was created so it could evolve into becoming a democratic Islamic entity with a constitution enshrined by laws culled from the teachings of the faith.

The ideology became more airtight, and warned about ethnic separatists who were being used by the ‘enemies of Islam’ to further dismember Pakistan.  

Although despite the ideological dichotomies of the Bhutto regime, the state and society in general remained largely progressive. But he had uncannily laid down the pad for the members of the political and intellectual right to launch themselves into the mainstream and eventually monopolise the construction of the narrative behind Pakistan Ideology.

This trend peaked during the reactionary Gen Zia dictatorship in the 1980s. Pakistan Ideology now explained the creation of Pakistan as a natural outcome of the waves of Muslim invaders who began to arrive in the region from 8th century onwards. A conscious attempt was also made to divorce Pakistan’s heritage from its South Asian moorings and place it in the deserts of Arabia.

In other words, Pakistan was not made by the Muslims of India as such, but by those whose ancestors had come to India from elsewhere.

Two and a half decades after this version of the Pakistan Ideology flourished, it too has begun to look and sound obsolete, especially in the wake of unprecedented sectarian and sub-sectarian violence and the rise of religious extremism and militancy.

Just like it did in 1971, Pakistan once again is facing a serious existentialist dilemma. Its diverse sects and sub-sects are at each other’s throats and the state is at war with exactly the same ‘mujahids’ that the country’s ideology had eulogised in the 1980s.

So one can ask, where is Pakistan’s new breed of scholars and intellectuals who can remould and redefine the Pakistan Ideology according to the nature of the existentialist threat that Pakistan faces today?

Just as the progressive lot’s idea of Pakistan Ideology fell apart after the break-up of Pakistan in 1971, the conservative version of this ideology that was largely furnished in the 1980s is looking archaic in the wake of what Pakistan is currently going through. 

In fact, at this point in time this version of the Pakistan Ideology may actually be justifying certain actions of the extremists! It needs a drastic overhaul.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 10th, 2014

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