Illustration by Abro
Illustration by Abro

Last week, the recently ousted PM of Pakistan warned that our ‘slavish’ relationship with the US would bury Nazariya-i-Pakistan (the Pakistan Ideology). He did not explain exactly how this can come to be, or how our relationship with the US is any different to our relationship with other major donor countries such as Saudi Arabia, UAE and China.

Imran Khan was simply firing another one of his impetuous populist salvos which mean absolutely nothing. Just as the Nazariya-i-Pakistan. If you ask him to define this nazariya or ideology, there is every likelihood he would do so as would a ninth-grader. It will, quite literally, be a textbook answer: “The Pakistan Ideology is Jinnah’s ‘Two-Nation Theory’ which was worked to highlight the differences between the Hindus and Muslims of India and then applied to create a separate Muslim-majority country in South Asia that would evolve to become an Islamic state navigated by Shariah laws.”

Those who take this definition seriously also have a tendency to go on a tangent and claim that Pakistan was one of the only two countries that were created on the basis of religion or religious nationalism. The other country, according to them, is Israel. Yet, till the 1980s, the idea that Pakistan was like Israel was not as prominent in our textbooks as it is now.

So, where (or when) did the term Nazariya-i-Pakistan first appear? No such term was ever used by the founders of the country or by the early nationalist intelligentsia. At least not during the country’s first 11 years. The country’s foremost historian I.H. Qureshi in his 1957 book The Pakistani Way of Life mentions the Two-Nation Theory, but nowhere does he mention anything called ‘The Pakistan Ideology’.

Have we really been able to define The Pakistan Ideology and was Pakistan created as a promised land for Muslims?

The term first appeared in 1959, when the country’s first military ruler Ayub Khan (1958-69) sent a questionnaire to a select group of intellectuals to define ‘Pakistan’s ideology.’ The resultant ‘ideology’ expanded the Two-Nation Theory to explain Pakistan as a unique nationalist experiment in which Islam (especially its anti-Brahmin political variant) would progressively interact with economic and social modernity.

Throughout Ayub’s dictatorship, the ideology remained very much a work-in-progress. In 1967, anti-Ayub Islamist ideologues such as Abul Ala Maududi came up with their own Nazariya-i-Pakistan. This one wanted Islam to eschew modernity (because it was a secular/Western or even Judeo-Christian construct). This nazariya looked to completely ‘Islamise’ every aspect of the country, its society, economics, politics, etc.

Then there was the ‘socialist’ variant, championed by intellectuals associated with Z.A. Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). They understood Islam as an inherently socialist creed, which was to interact with modern parliamentary democracy, and create an Islamic welfare state, Masawat-i-Muhammadi. The PPP’s Foundation Papers explains this as an Islamic version of European social democracy.

All three variants were merged after East Pakistan broke away in 1971. It was only from 1973 onwards that the state gradually seeded the idea of a Nazariya-i-Pakistan in textbooks. But by the late 1970s, ideas of Pakistan Ideology developed during the Ayub regime and then by the socialists, quietly dropped off. Those formulated by Islamist ideologues survived. They then thrived and became central to the Nazariya-i-Pakistan that was solidified during Gen Zia’s dictatorship (1977-88).

It was during this period as well that the notion that Pakistan and Israel were alike as religious-nationalist states and/or ideological states, gained prominence, even though Pakistan did not have any formal relations with Israel. According to historian Faisal Devji, the founders of Pakistan were interested in the development and evolution of Zionism as a modern non-theocratic political expression of Judaism aiming for a separate Jewish-majority state.

Devji writes in Muslim Zion, “Jinnah seems to have possessed more books on the problems of European Jewry than on any Muslim people or country.”

Ideological comparisons with Israel became popular in Pakistan’s nationalist discourse when in 1981, Zia, in a speech, stated, “Pakistan is, like Israel, an ideological state. Take out the Judaism from Israel and it will fall like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state, it would collapse.”

Zia at the time was introducing the so-called ‘Islamic laws’ that were being challenged, especially by women’s organisations, who saw them as being draconian, myopic, patriarchal and based on the interpretations of Islam by politicised and misogynic clerics.

In theory, a community of people form nationalism on the basis of shared historical experiences on a piece of land where they have lived for a very long period of time. But Jews were a scattered lot. Therefore, Zionism emerged to form a Jewish state on a ‘chosen land,’ but one that had had an Arab majority for centuries. Pakistan constituted lands that already had Muslim majorities: Sindh, Punjab, (East) Bengal, North-Western Frontier Province and Balochistan. Muslims had been living here for over 500 years. So how on earth was Pakistan like Israel?

It was not. Comparatively speaking, the Jews who converged towards the ‘chosen land’ were a lot more homogenous than the Muslim majority in Pakistan. Sectarian, sub-sectarian and ethnic cleavages in Pakistan were deeper and more problematic. They still are.

The state and governments have been overtly myopic about explaining Nazariya-i-Pakistan in textbooks because ditching this myopia will expose the unresolved cleavages. According to anthropologist Katherine Ewing, the idea of Islam in Pakistan is an empty container whose specific contents had to remain hidden for fear of widening splits.

The Pakistan Ideology is a book with a glossy cover but its pages are deliberately kept blank since details may divide rather than unite, wrote Dr N. Murtaza in Dawn, April 2, 2015. But this empty book should be seen as an opportunity by the state and the government to exhibit courage and gradually start filling the pages with contents of an ideology that is derived and built through a democratic consensus between establishmentarian and intellectual elites and, more so, by the polity. Otherwise, Nazariya-i-Pakistan will remain an empty vessel. And we all know what empty vessels do best: make the most noise.

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 3rd, 2022

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