An extensive survey by the British Council Pakistan  released on the 3rd of April this year points at an emerging middle-class with a growing number of young people in it.

Though the survey attempted to examine and assess the politics and sociology of youth from across the classes in urban and rural Pakistan, its main focus seems to be on how the country’s middle-class youth is shaping up for the coming election.

Dr Durr-e-Nayab, Chief of Research at the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, uses a multi-dimensional index to define class, based on data that is drawn from the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey that was conducted in 2010-11.

According to her definition[1] middle class Pakistanis are likely to live in a house where at least one person has a college education and where the head of the household is in non-manual work; have incomes at least double the poverty line; and own reasonably spacious houses and a range of consumer goods.

Dr Nayab’s research shows that the strict middle class now makes up 24per cent of Pakistan’s population, from 19 per cent in 2007-2008, with nearly 40 per cent of urban dwellers falling into the middle class bracket.

The most important thing is that this makes the middle class a powerful economic, social and political force, especially in towns and cities.

The British Council survey investigates the economic, social, cultural and, of course, the political reasons why a young middle-class Pakistani would (or not) vote in the forthcoming general election scheduled for May 11.

However, even a few days after the findings of the survey were released; two of these findings have already begun to stand out, promising to generate the most debate.

5,271 Pakistanis between the ages of 18 and 29 were interviewed by the surveyors across Pakistan[2]  (including FATA, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan).

64 per cent of the interviewed males and 75 per cent of the women described themselves to be as being conservative/religious.

When asked what they thought was the best political system for Pakistan, 38 per cent said ‘Islamic Shariah,’ 32 per cent preferred a military dictatorship and 22per cent thought democracy was the best system for the country.

Even though the two findings (Shariah rule and military dictatorship) are being treated separately by some alarmed analysts, in all probability these findings are quite related, if not being one and the same.

On the strong assumption that the majority of the youth interviewed for the survey belonged to what the report defined as the middle-class, one should not be so surprised by the mentioned findings.



From middle to right

From the early 20th century onwards, political-economists have described the middle-classes to be a largely conservative entity.

But according to political philosophers like Marx and Engels, the bourgeoisie (middle and lower middle-classes) had played (in Europe) ‘a most revolutionary role’ (until about the early 19th century)[3] when it started to successfully wrest away political and economic power from the old centres of power dominated by monarchs, the Catholic clergy and the landed elites.

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries the European and American middle-classes had not only grown in size, they had driven and then rode on the crest of age defining historical epochs like the Renaissance, the ‘Age of Reason’, French and American Revolutions, trade linked to European colonialism and the Industrial Revolution, to become the new ruling classes in the West.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the political philosopher whose writings on democracy greatly influenced the anti-monarchical drift of the French Revolution (1789) that was politically and intellectually constructed by the French middle-classes.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), the political philosopher whose writings on democracy greatly influenced the anti-monarchical drift of the French Revolution (1789) that was politically and intellectually constructed by the French middle-classes.

From then on, a concentrated effort was afoot to consolidate their new-found economic and political gains. This mostly translated into the middle-classes now gradually reversing their old revolutionary character by grounding themselves in any political system that (they believed) best secured their economic and other class interests.

Democracy remains to be this preferred system because not only is it based on the thoughts and efforts of intellectuals and political activists that largely belonged to the middle-classes of Europe and America, it successfully absorbs both the right and left sides of the conventional ideological divides without disturbing the economic and social dynamics from which the middle-classes mostly derive their influence and power.

But what happens when, due to a grave economic or political crises, democracy begins to lose its footing, or uncannily allows in forces that do begin to threaten the middle-classes’ economic and political interests?

The 20th century is packed with incidents reflecting how the middle-classes changed their democratic trajectory and became willing political and economic allies of anti-democratic and reactionary forces that were generated by widespread economic and political crises.

When the First World War (1914-1918) ravaged the economies of various European countries and these countries spun further down the spiral after the global economic crises set off by the 1929 Wall Street Crash in the United States, a number of European countries saw the sudden rise of fascist outfits.

Though the fascists appeared in almost all European countries, they gained the most ground in Spain, Italy, Germany and France.

On one important level at least, 20th century European fascism eventually became to be recognised as a reactive expression of the middle-class fear of losing its economic and political ground to another extreme that rose due to the economic and political crises of the period: Communism.

When large sections of the Italian, Spanish, French and German middle-classes sided with the main fascist parties[4] in their respective countries, they were doing so in the belief that their economic interests and influence will be protected by the iron gloved fascists against the rising spectre of communism and from the anarchic ravages of collapsing democracies.

The rise of fascism and Hitler in Germany was celebrated and supported by large sections of the German middle and upper classes.
The rise of fascism and Hitler in Germany was celebrated and supported by large sections of the German middle and upper classes.

When the fascist regimes in Italy, Germany and France fell after the Second World War, Critical Theorists (Critical Theory) – a strain of intellectual discipline and movement associated with ‘Neo-Marxism’ – were one of the first to point out the treacherous nature of the middle-classes’ towards democracy. [5]

It is from this point onwards that the idea of the middle-classes inherently being a conservative grouping of people gained an even stronger foothold, in spite of the fact that in the West democracies have frequently allowed the democratic entry of leftists who were once believed to be antagonistic towards middle-class interests.

Nevertheless, over the decades democracy softened much of the left’s original radical orientation, encouraging it to look for a democratic middle-ground between unhinged capitalism and an all-encompassing form of socialism and communism.

It is, however, also correct to suggest that even in established democracies, most of the movements based on reactionary views on democracy, liberalism and socialism still emerge from within the middle-classes.

But these views and movements have not always come from the rightist sides of the middle-class. Because between the late 1950s and mid-1970s (in the West), the bulk of anti-democracy activity in Europe and the United States was the prerogative of urban middle-class youth labelling themselves as Marxists, Maoists, radical socialists and anarchists.

According to a number of sociologists and political scientists, this happened mainly due to a burden of guilt that the 1960s generation of young Europeans carried.[6] Guilt associated with the fact that most of the parents of these urban, middle-class young Europeans had either openly supported the violent rise of fascism (in the 1930s and ‘40s), or had remained silent during fascism’s bloodletting against ideological opponents and minority groups.

Andreas Badder and Ulrike Meinhof of Germany’s militant Marxist outfit, the Red Army Faction (RAF). Badder (a university student) and Meinhof (a journalist) in 1970, the group was mostly made-up of radical middle-class college students. RAF was involved in a number of bombings (of property owned by German multinationals and government), political assassinations and for having links with left-wing Palestinian organizations. Badder and Meinhof were arrested and jailed in 1976 where they (allegedly) committed suicide.
Andreas Badder and Ulrike Meinhof of Germany’s militant Marxist outfit, the Red Army Faction (RAF). Badder (a university student) and Meinhof (a journalist) in 1970, the group was mostly made-up of radical middle-class college students. RAF was involved in a number of bombings (of property owned by German multinationals and government), political assassinations and for having links with left-wing Palestinian organizations. Badder and Meinhof were arrested and jailed in 1976 where they (allegedly) committed suicide.

But whereas leftist extremism among sections of middle-class youth burned too fast to last any longer than a decade or so, the inherent conservatism in this class wielded a much greater influence - especially in the wake of the erosion of the economics and politics of the Welfare State that was enacted in Europe and the United States from the 1940s onwards but had begun to exhaust itself by the mid 1970s.[7]

It was eventually in the 1980s that the historic middle-class conservatism began to once again assert itself politically and socially and on the economic front.

This tendency was kept in check and in balance by the Keynesian ‘mixed-economics’ of the democratic Welfare states and governments. But when mixed-economics struggled to face the challenges triggered by the 1970s global oil crisis and unavailability of jobs for the ever growing number of college and university graduates that Europe and the United States began to produce, the failing policies were voted out, making room for the electoral entry of radical middle-class conservatism.

UK’s Margaret Thatcher and US’ Ronald Regan were the main political architects of the reassertion of Western middle-class conservatism in the 1980s in which a staunch capitalist structure was built on the ashes of the Welfare State. Social moralism too was used as an electoral appeal and tool to achieve this in what were/are largely secular states.
UK’s Margaret Thatcher and US’ Ronald Regan were the main political architects of the reassertion of Western middle-class conservatism in the 1980s in which a staunch capitalist structure was built on the ashes of the Welfare State. Social moralism too was used as an electoral appeal and tool to achieve this in what were/are largely secular states.

Western middle-classes’ conservatism had come to the front once again, but this time, as disillusionment with the Welfare State and the weakening of economy again threatened middle-class economic and political interests, this class did not retard its consequential trajectory by backing anti-democratic tendencies in the society.

Instead, it cleverly used democracy in such a manner that the democratic system itself became a reflection of bourgeois conservatism, making it tough for any worthwhile alternative from the liberal-left to come in with the power of the vote.

Of and on it has come in, but it has always faced a barrage of conservative middle-class movements that accuse it of reversing the gains made by the political and economic expressions of bourgeois conservatism from the 1980s onwards.

For example, the UK’s Labour Party had to drastically alter its socialist orientation to defeat the Conservative Party (in 1997), whereas even moderate liberals like the US Democratic Party’s Bill Clinton and (recently) President Obama, faced demonising tactics from the increasingly conservative media.

A man at an anti-Obama rally in California. A series of rallies took place during Obama’s first term against some of his Welfare policies that were termed ‘socialist’ by his detractors.
A man at an anti-Obama rally in California. A series of rallies took place during Obama’s first term against some of his Welfare policies that were termed ‘socialist’ by his detractors.

Even in India, the moderate left-liberal Congress Party government has continued to face movement after movement driven mainly by the middle-classes.

In all cases charges are of corruption and failed economic policies. Though these may stand true, but the unspoken reality is more about growing middle-class segments now ready to react through the media and street protest against even the slightest hint of fear in them of a party or political entity trying to reverse the economic and political gains the middle-classes the world over have achieved ever since the 1980s.

A man scribbles his comments on a writing board placed at an Anna Hazare rally in India. Hazare, a veteran Indian politician, became the darling of urban middle-class India and was also courted by right-wing parties throughout his campaign against the ‘corrupt Congress government.’
A man scribbles his comments on a writing board placed at an Anna Hazare rally in India. Hazare, a veteran Indian politician, became the darling of urban middle-class India and was also courted by right-wing parties throughout his campaign against the ‘corrupt Congress government.’


 In the box

In its concluding notes, the British Council survey suggests that Pakistan today has a ‘conservative generation.’

True, but one can also add that compared to the ideological orientation of the generations of young middle-class Pakistanis of decades between the 1950s and 1980s, this may as well be the most conservative generation that has graced Pakistan (thus far).

The report touches upon a number of recent economic reasons that have triggered this conservative mindset; nevertheless, one can understand it a lot better if it is studied in its historical context.

Though agreeing that before the 19th and 20th centuries the middle-classes in Europe were a revolutionary class (before they turned conservative), many Pakistani sociologists and historians believe that, since Pakistan appeared on the map in the mid-1950s, its middle-classes never went through a revolutionary period.[8]

The roots of what today constitutes middle-class activism in Pakistan lie in the involvement of Muslim middle-class intelligentsia and students during the so-called ‘Pakistan Movement’ that led the call for the formation of a separate Muslim homeland in South Asia.

However, though the Pakistan Movement did have elements that were using overt religious expressions and slogans, [9]  they were too few in numbers compared to those who (quite honestly), had very little idea about exactly what it was that they were actually agitating for.

For example, there is no secret any more about the fact that the founder of the country, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, was hoping for some sort of a reconciliation between the Muslims and the Hindus of India to emerge only a year (or maybe less) before the final creation of Pakistan in 1947.

In his party, the All India Muslim League’s historic resolution in 1940, there is no mention of creating a separate Muslim state.[10]

But even when Jinnah’s League did give the final call for a separate Muslim country, the party had to campaign hard in a number of areas where there was a Muslim majority.

The League’s leadership was mainly made up of educated Muslim elite groups and its main support came from urban middle class Muslims of North India.

All of these had a direct as well as indirect link with 19th century Muslim scholar and Islamic rationalist, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s ‘Aligarh Movement’.

It had been set into motion to build an ‘enlightened’ and modern Muslim middle-class in South Asia that would lead an intellectual and political movement to guarantee the Muslim minority of India a distinct and separate political and cultural identity.

The separate identity aspect became an important plank of the League’s narrative but it did not necessarily appeal to all the Muslims of India.

For example, in what is today Pakistan’s Punjab province, the initial reception to the League was at best lukewarm, whereas in the Khyber Paktunkhwa (former NWFP), Pushtun nationalism was a strong component and rejected the idea of a separate Muslim country.

The narrative was also rejected by the Islamic fundamentalists who, apart from finding the League leadership to be too secular, did not agree that the Muslims were a nation.

They criticised the idea of Muslim nationalism to be a concoction of the European concept of nationalism that was alien to Islam.

This is why some sections of the League resorted to using ‘Islamic slogans’ (such as ‘Pakistan ka matlab kya, laillaha illalah’, ‘Islam khatrey mein’ [Islam in danger’) to get the attention of the Muslims of those areas that were not responding to the League very well.

It is important to mention that the League’s activists came from varied ideological backgrounds. The majority were Urdu-speaking middle-class folks from North India whose political ideas had been shaped by modernistic and nationalistic ‘Aligarh School of Thought.’

A group of Muslim student activists gather around Jinnah.
A group of Muslim student activists gather around Jinnah.

But also in the League were communists and socialists[11] who understood the Pakistan Movement as a platform to initiate an ‘anti-imperialist class struggle’ in the region.

The fringe that was using Islamic slogans during the movement was not ‘Islamic’. This was a desperate act to counter both the Pushtun nationalists as well as the fundamentalists.

In just two years after the creation of Pakistan, (and one year after the unfortunate death of its founder), the ruling League suddenly found itself struggling to define Pakistani nationalism.

Pakistan had come about on the pretext of the Muslims of South Asia having a separate political and cultural identity (as compared to those of the region’s Hindus).

But the founders were at once faced with the reality that the new country was not only made up of distinct ethnic groups (Sindhi, Punjabi, Pushtun, Baloch, Bengali and Mohajir [Urdu-speakers]), but also various Muslim sects and sub-sects.

Each one of these sects and sub-sects had their own interpretation of the faith, the holy book and Islamic laws. They also had a history of battling against one another (through highly polemical commentaries).

In his first major speech after the creation of Pakistan[12], Jinnah tried to give some shape to what Pakistan as a Muslim country was supposed to mean.

Maybe his intention was that the speech would be taken as a reference for future rulers of Pakistan to build its constitution and identity on, but that didn’t happen.

The speech alludes about of a democratic and progressive Muslim country where the Muslims of India would be able to practice their faith without any hegemonic interference from the region’s Hindu majority and British Colonialists.

But Jinnah clarified that the practising bit would be the individual’s personal and private prerogative and that the state would have nothing to do with religion[13].

Jinnah leaves a meeting with leaders of Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian minorities on a happy note, January, 1948.
Jinnah leaves a meeting with leaders of Pakistan’s Hindu and Christian minorities on a happy note, January, 1948.

Pressed by daunting economic problems, rising ethnic tensions (especially in the Bengali-dominated East Pakistan), and the increasing cases of in-fighting in the League, in 1949 (one year after the death of Jinnah), its leadership bypassed the outline sketched by the speech and retorted to the desperate act of evoking Islamic sloganeering that was first used by a fringe group in the League during the Pakistan Movement.


 The landslide

So why is it important to understand the phenomenon of the current trend of conservatism found in Pakistan’s young middle-class youth in a historical context?

First of all, the phenomenon is not a sudden occurrence. It has been an ongoing process that actually precedes the disparaging ‘Islamization’ project set into motion by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s.

Secondly, the thoughts and opinions put into print (in the British Council report) of the 38 per cent young Pakistanis who want Shariah, remarkably sound like echoes of the language used by a variety of constitutionalists, ideologues, politicians, ulema and military dictators who over the last 65 years unleashed laws, policies and ideological projects that have contributed the most in eventually turning Pakistan into a country riddled with religious and sectarian strife, terrorism and bigotry.

Let’s briefly look at some of them:

  • The 1949 Objectives Resolution is passed by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. It was one of the first attempts to define Pakistani nationalism[14] that had never been identified by the architects of Pakistan beyond the narrative that it was supposed to be a Muslim country separate from ‘Hindu India.’
According to the Resolution, Pakistan was to be a federal, democratic and an ‘Islamic entity.’ However, the ruling League government did not put the Resolution up for democratic scrutiny and it was largely rejected by Sindhi, Pushtun and Bengali nationalists as well as by the country’s Christian and Hindu minorities who alleged that it went against the idea of Pakistan envisioned by Jinnah.

Though the Resolution remained nothing more than a piece of inanimate rhetoric, it did allow some opening for the fundamentalists to seep into the scene. They had dismissed the creation of Pakistan as a non-Islamic abomination, but now saw in the Resolution the hope to use politics and constitutionalism to steer the country towards their own idea of Pakistan.

Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan reading out the Objectives Resolution, May 12, 1949.
Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan reading out the Objectives Resolution, May 12, 1949.
  • In 1953 anti-Ahamadi Riots erupted in Lahore. Though orthodox Sunni scholars and clergy had for long been involved in a polemical battle with the Ahmadiyya sect[15] (ever since its inception in the 19th century), and accused it of rejecting the finality of the Prophet’s mission, the 1953 riots were one of the first incidents in which violence was used against the Ahmadiyya community.
Ironically, it wasn’t the fundamentalist ulemas’ rhetoric and literature that instigated the violence. At least not initially. The onus lay with the veteran and secular Chief Minister of Punjab, Mumtaz Daultana[16], who quietly encouraged fundamentalist parties like Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and Majlis-e-Ahrar to take to the streets[17].

Daultana is said to have done this to humiliate and dislodge Prime Minister Khwaja Nizamuddin who had earlier rejected the JI and Ahrar’s demand to declare the Ahamadiyaa as ‘kafir’ (infidel).

An aspirant to the PM’s post, Dultana used the anger of the fundamentalists towards Nizamuddin to turn Lahore into a battlefield in which Nizamuddin’s credibility was to become the main causality.

The riots were crushed by the military and Martial Law was imposed in Lahore.

The nation was shocked. Only six years before the riots, Muslims of the region had been in bloody street battles with the Hindus and the Sikhs, but now here they were rioting against a community of Pakistanis that had played an active role in the Pakistan Movement.

Daultana’s gamble did not pay off and he was dismissed. JI’s chief and Islamic scholar, Abul Ala Mauddudi, was arrested and sentenced to death for instigating bloodshed and religious hatred. His sentence was then withdrawn.

Justice Muhammad Munir who led the commission that investigated the riots, interviewed dozens of ulema from different sects and sub-sects, but only to conclude that each and every ulema had his own interpretation of a ‘true Muslim’.[18]

Justice Muhammad Minir.
Justice Muhammad Minir.

The fundamentalists were taken to task, but they had understood how effectively they could become the foot soldiers of political forces and possibly manipulate the situation to finally enter the corridors of state power.

  • In 1956, even nine years after the creation of Pakistan, its politicians had failed to draft a proper constitution and thus define exactly what Pakistani nationhood actually meant.
The anti-Ahamadiyya riots and the growing disenchantment with the Pakistani state among its non-Punjabi and non-Mohajir ethnicities made it necessary for the politicians to finally get down to drafting a constitution.

Another reason for this was that the politicians were fast losing ground to the military and the powerful bureaucracy of the country.

A new assembly was formed (through indirect elections) in 1955 with the specific purpose of drafting Pakistan’s first proper constitution.

Jinnah had described Pakistan to be a Muslim majority country where the state and faith would be separate. The 1949 Objectives Resolution claimed it was to be an Islamic country, albeit democratic and progressive.

The 1956 Constitution was mainly authored by veteran Muslim League leader, Chaudhry Muhammad Ali. It described Pakistan to be a democratic ‘Islamic Republic’ where all laws would be constructed in the light of the Qu’ran and Sunnah.

To the religious minorities this was yet another attempt to adulterate Jinnah’s vision of the country, while the Sindhi, Pushtun, Baloch and Bangali nationalists accused it of enshrining the political, economic and cultural hegemony of the Punjabi and Mohajir ruling elite.

Actually, there were two drafts of the constitution. One was being worked in by Choudhry Muhammad Ali and another by the Law Minister, I I. Chundhrigarh.

Though it is true that Choudhry’s draft was only slightly ‘Islamic’, Chundhrigarh’s draft was almost entirely secular.[19]

When the Islamic parties, led by Maududi, rejected Choudhry’s draft and the debate in the Assembly reached a deadlock, Chundrigarh’s draft was given the go-ahead by the military and the bureaucracy.

Seeing this, the religious parties changed tact and suddenly gave their blessing to Choudhry’s constitution by endorsing it as being ‘Islamic.’

Parliamentarians take a smoke break after passing the 1956 Constitution.
Parliamentarians take a smoke break after passing the 1956 Constitution.
  • When Filed Martial Ayub Khan imposed the country’s first Martial Law in 1959, his regime reverted Pakistan’s name back to Republic of Pakistan and struck out Islamic Republic of Pakistan that was enshrined in the 1956 Constitution.
In 1960 he got himself elected as President and in 1962 sanctioned the authoring of a brand new constitution.

Apart from striking out the word Islamic from the name of the country, Ayub’s constitution was squarely based on his philosophy that ‘when religion and politics mix, both become detrimental to one another and neither remains pure.’[20]

Ayub Khan: His dictatorship presided over perhaps the most secular periods in Pakistan history.
Ayub Khan: His dictatorship presided over perhaps the most secular periods in Pakistan history.

Where on the one end, Khan’s aggressive pro-US and state-backed capitalist policies were drawing sharp reactions from the leftists, his overtly secular manoeuvres left the religionists gunning for his head.

It was during one such reaction in 1962 that the Jamat-i-Islami (JI) for the first time used the word, ‘Pakistan Ideology’. [21]

This term that today has become an integral mainstay in the country’s political, constitutional, judicial and nationalistic narrative and discourses, did not exist during the Pakistan Movement and nor was it present at the time of the country’s creation.

It was used by JI in a sentence aimed at Ayub’s policies that were attacked by JI as ‘being against the Pakistan Ideology.’

Though the contents of the expression and term were not defined, one assumed they had something to do with Islam.

What was ironic is the fact that the term was coined by a party that was originally against the creation of Pakistan!

Islamic scholar, Abul Ala Maududi: First to use the term ‘Pakistan Ideology’ in 1962.
Islamic scholar, Abul Ala Maududi: First to use the term ‘Pakistan Ideology’ in 1962.

The term was adopted by middle-class Mohajirs whose power within the ruling elite had begun to diminish. To them the Pakistan Ideology was about ‘the sacrifices (the Mohajirs) had given to create Pakistan’ and then migrated from their former homes in North India to an uncertain future in Pakistan. A Pakistan that was made to meet their dreams and aspirations.

Of course, nobody (not least the state of Pakistan) could figure out exactly what these aspirations of dreams were, other than of creating a country where the Muslims would be in a majority.

The term Pakistan Ideology reared its head again in the late 1960s when the Ayub dictatorship was rapidly eroding in the face of a concentrated protest movement led by leftist student and political groups such as the National Students Federation (NSF), Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and National Awami Party (NAP).

During the commotion, a widespread and passionate debate erupted on the pages of newspapers, magazines and pamphlets between the JI and the PPP.

JI attacked the leftists of being atheists and anti-Islam and thus working against the Pakistan Ideology.

The leftists, in this respect led by progressive poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and journalist, Safdar Mir, responded by first mocking the JI for calling Jinnah an infidel (in the 1940s), and then asked the party scholars to define what they meant by Pakistan Ideology.

JI suggested that Pakistan Ideology was about turning Pakistan’s society and laws according to the dictates of the Shariah so that the country’s ‘Islamic culture’ could be safeguarded from intrigues of anti-Islam forces (mainly leftists and secularists).

Faiz responded by authoring a long essay (in 1969)[22] explaining how Pakistan’s culture was a combination of various ethnic and religious cultures of which Islam was one. ‘We do not have a monopoly on Islam,’ he concluded.

The whole concept of Pakistan Ideology seemed to have evaporated into thin air (that’s where it came from in the first place) when the religious parties were resoundingly defeated in the first ever direct elections in the country (1970).

The secular and left parties won the most seats in all four provinces in West Pakistan (PPP, NAP) and in East Pakistan (Awami League).

  • One wonders had Pakistan not gone to war with India in 1971 (and lost), and consequently the country would not have broken (Bangladesh), how different would have been its political and ideological trajectory?
The separation of East Pakistan after the 1971 war sent the ‘two nation theory’ upon which Jinnah had driven the Pakistan Movement hurling into oblivion.

The Bengali Muslims had united with other Muslims of South Asia to campaign for and then achieve a separate Muslim country. But 24 years later the same Bengalis separated from the rest of Pakistan on the bases of Bengali nationalism.

When the PPP’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto took over as President from the disgraced military dictator, Yahya Khan in January 1972, there were secular progressive parties at the helm at the centre and in the provinces.

Bhutto’s PPP had won the 1970 election in West Pakistan on a radical socialist manifesto, but his regime could not completely ignore the religious parties, in spite of the fact that they had been heavily defeated in the elections.

One of the main reasons for this was that the religious right in Pakistan had reacted to the 1971 defeat by weaving a narrative that quickly appealed to the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie segments of the country.

According to JI the war was lost because the Pakistan armed forces were too ‘westernised’ and morally corrupt and that Pakistan broke because its rulers did not turn it into a ‘true Islamic Republic.’

Bhutto who in the beginning seemed to be struggling to heal a country suffering from the humiliation and the economic and political impact of an expensive war, took JI’s narrative and turned it to his own advantage.

In 1973 he called a conference of both secular and religious scholars and intellectuals in Islamabad and asked them to thrash out an ideology on which Pakistan could be rebuilt.

A blueprint emerged that was a fusion of Faiz’s ideas of what Pakistani culture was and that of the religionists.

It weaved together a new ideological narrative that (in a nutshell) went something like this: ‘Pakistan was really West Pakistan because it was situated in an area along the river Indus that since the 9th century always had a Muslim majority.  This area had regimes that largely remained independent from the monarchical thrones in Delhi. Though the area has diverse ethnic groups and cultures, their views about Islam were quite similar[23].

The government then decided to infuse this narrative into school text books, but this practice was bound to take a life of its own.

Pakistani historian and ideologue, I H. Qureshi, spearheaded the campaign, but the more rewriting of history books he attempted, the more convoluted the narrative became.

I H. Qureshi.
I H. Qureshi.

On the other end the JI successfully tapped into the disgruntled disposition of young middle-class Pakistanis, especially in the Punjab and Karachi, who were not happy with the way the regime had responded to the humiliation of the 1971 war.

From the early 1970s onwards membership to the JI’s student-wing, the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT) grew rapidly and it was through the IJT that the JI successfully fought its battle of narratives against the ruling secular parties at the centre and in the provinces.

JI’s narrative was straightforward, but found willing ears among middle-class youth in the Punjab and Karachi. It suggested that Pakistan broke because the rulers failed to make it what it was supposed to be: An Islamic State.

Furthermore, Pakistan was being punished by God because after gifting the Muslims of South Asia a country with the promise to become a bastion of Islam, Pakistani Muslims were dabbling in atheistic concepts like secularism and socialism and Western cultural influences.

It is interesting to note that though the religious parties hardly had any worthwhile number of members in the National Assembly, they, with the help of their youth wings and Urdu media, were able get Bhutto to reinstate the word Islamic in the official name of the country in the 1973 Constitution.

Rhetoric about forming laws that would not contradict the spirit of the Qu’ran and Sunnah too made its way back in.

  • After the 1973 global oil crises, Bhutto decided to closely court oil-rich Arab countries. He also opened the way for middle and working class Pakistanis to travel to these countries for work.
In the Arab countries, the largely Barelvi Pakistani Muslims came into contact with the strain of faith practiced by the Arabs and encouraged by their monarchs.

Some call it ‘Wahabism,’ some explain it as being ‘Salafi’ and some describe it as ‘Ahle Hadith.’

All these definitions have separate historical trajectories, but all three do come and settle on a common ground that does not allow any Islamic sect, sub-sect or strain that has anything whatsoever to do with Sufism, shrines or rituals smacking (to them) of heresy and shirk.

When most Pakistanis came into contact with their Arab employers, they were initially disoriented by what they saw as a somewhat dry and non-spiritual strain of Islam and became even more perturbed when their beliefs were ridiculed and they were asked to mend them.

But money trumped faith. Never before had the Pakistani working and middle-class folks (who managed to travel to countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE), made the kind of money they began to make in those strange, spiritually dry but rich lands of the limousine-driving Bedouins.

However, more than these Pakistanis being persuaded to give up their old version of the faith and take up what their Arab paymasters insisted was ‘true Islam,’ it was the money that they made and the sudden rise in their social status back home, is what convinced them to shed their old beliefs.

After all, the old beliefs now reminded them of days that may have been more fun and open-ended, but these were also days when they struggled to own their own TV set, freezer, air-conditioning unit and refrigerator.

  • The 1974 anti-Ahmadiyya riots were mainly about the religious parties reasserting their demands that were rejected in 1954.
This time around they knew that they had far more support among    middle-class Pakistanis who simply understood these riots as an expression of protest against Bhutto’s ‘socialist policies’.

So this time JI’s agitation against the Ahmadiyya included active    support from religious parties and groups representing the more religious sections of Barelvi, Deobandi and even Shia populations.

Even though the ‘Khatam-e-Nabuwat’ (the Finality of Prophethood movement), by these groups managed to force the Bhutto regime to declare the Ahamdiyya as a non-Muslim minority, it is the result of this movement that would eventually go on to spring open a Pandora’s Box from which a series of demons would begin to emerge that today are playing havoc with the lives and existence of even those sects and sub-sects (Shia and Barelvis) that had originally supported the movement and applauded the Ahmadiyya’s excommunication.

Anti-Ahmadiyya graffiti on a wall in Lahore in 1974.
Anti-Ahmadiyya graffiti on a wall in Lahore in 1974.

What’s more, after the 1974 constitutional amendment that declared the Ahmadiyya as non-Muslim, instead of hoping to appease the rightists, Bhutto uncannily gave them exactly the kind of stature and space they had been searching for ever since 1947.

In Jully 1977 the Bhutto regime was toppled in a reactionary military coup, a move applauded by most religious parties.

Shortly before the coup their was a violent movement against Bhutto mainly undertaken by the urban middle-classes who responded enthusiastically to the opposition’s call for enforcing the Shariah.

A 1978 edition of the PPP’s party paper, Musawat, carrying old quotes of Maududi against Jinnah and democracy.
A 1978 edition of the PPP’s party paper, Musawat, carrying old quotes of Maududi against Jinnah and democracy.

So a narrative that was constructed in 1973 to rationalize the separation of East Pakistan, and then evolved into becoming a hotchpotch of reactive ideologies of both the left and the right had now been carried into the mainstream on the backs of Punjab’s and Karachi’s middle-classes as a suggestion that the imposition of the Shariah was always the main purpose of the founders of Pakistan, and that Shariah alone could keep Pakistan from further disintegration.

Jinnah rolled in his grave.



Zia had shrewdly noted how even some of the most secular Pakistanis had largely remained silent when Bhutto declared the Ahmadiyya community as non-Muslim and began to use Islamic symbolism in his post-1974 populist narrative.

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

Ziaul Haq announces the dissolution of Assemblies and imposition of ‘Islamic laws’ on PTV.
Ziaul Haq announces the dissolution of Assemblies and imposition of ‘Islamic laws’ on PTV.

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

But he did not only make it as part of school text books and the constitution, he also began to actually express it through 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, rules and clauses that until today give both a religious as well constitutional cover to what are indeed acts of religious violence and bigotry.

No civilian government has dared touch these laws in fear of being declared ‘anti-Islam’ and ‘anti-Pakistan Ideology’.

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 famous cartoon (by Zahoor) satirizing the Islamization of Jinnah’s image.
A famous cartoon (by Zahoor) satirizing the Islamization of Jinnah’s image.

Of course, Sindhi, Baloch and some sections of Pushtun nationalists have continued to oppose these views and moves as being tools of the Punjabi-elite and military dominated establishment and their religious and bourgeois allies with which they keep certain ethnicities (and now sects) on a tight leash, but the truth is, with the help of the private Urdu media and the economics of the growing economic, judicial and political influence of the urban middle-classes, the Pakistan Ideology 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.


 Who made who?

When we look at the salient features of what has been propagated (through various state initiatives, history text books and the media) as ‘Pakistan ideology’ over the decades, the following assertions stand out:

• The idea of a separate Muslim state (Pakistan) emerged to counter a possible post-colonial domination of the Hindu culture and politics in the region. • Pakistan also came into existence to blunt historical conspiracies by the Hindus to absorb Islam and Muslims into their own belief system. • The Muslims of Pakistan are a nation in the modern sense of the word. The basis of their nationhood is neither racial, linguistic nor ethnic; rather they are a nation because they belong to the same faith, Islam. •  Pakistanis may share a common history with the peoples of other faiths of the region (especially Hindu), but their faith is more importantly rooted in the history of Islam beyond the sub-continent. •  Since Pakistan came into being to assert the fact that Muslims and Hindus are two different nations, Pakistan should be a state where the Muslims should have an opportunity to live according to their faith and creed based on principles and laws of Islam. • As a Muslim ideological state it is also the duty of the Pakistani state to defend the interests of other Muslim states and countries. • Pakistan’s ideological and geographic borders are such that various anti-Islam forces are constantly conspiring against the Pakistani state from within and outside Pakistan. •  Pakistan needs a thorough security apparatus to fend off such forces. •   Such forces constitute countries driven by Hindus, Christians, Jewish/Zionist, secular and Communist doctrines (from the outside), as well as groups and individuals propagating distinct ethnic nationalisms (from within). • Though Pakistan does not recognise sectarian divisions between Islamic sects, it remains to be a Sunni majority country where Islamic laws based on historical legislative narratives of Sunni Islam have every right to take precedence. • It is the duty of the Pakistani state to promote Islamic laws and practices in the society so the society can be prepared to collectively embrace without hesitation the emergence of an Islamic state run on the principals of the Shariah. • Pakistan does not discriminate against non-Sunni Islamic sects and minority religions, but Sunni Islam (constructed on the modernist Islamic thoughts of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Muhammad Iqbal as well as on the Islamic scholarship emerging from friendly Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia), will rightfully dominate in the social, cultural, religious and political policies of the state.

The critique of the ideology is based on a more rational and deconstructive study of it; a study initiated by leftists and Sindhi, Baloch and Pushtun nationalists (in the late 1960s) and (in the last 30 years or so), by the liberals.

• Pakistan even as a separate Muslim majority state is not a homogenous phenomenon. It is teeming with a varied number of ethnicities, religions and Islamic sects and sub-sects. •  A unified version of Islam and nationalism constructed by the state and then imposed upon the varied ethnicities, religions and Islamic sects was an insensitive, undemocratic attack on their respective cultural heritages. •  In the absence of a viable democratic system and process, Pakistan will continue plummeting as a nation state, and consequently its ideology will become more and more myopic, suspicious and tyrannical – especially when it entirely becomes the domain of the establishment. • The establishment will then incorporate the conservative Islamic forces as allies to justify its undemocratic political domination and to legitimise its Islamic credentials. • The only thing that can help Pakistan avoid such a scenario (and a possible state failure), is the granting of democratic rights, participation and autonomy to its various ethnicities. • Pakistan should be a secular Muslim majority state where all Muslim sects and non-Muslim minorities are free to practice their faiths according to their own cultural norms, within their homes and places of worship, whereas the state should be discouraged to propagate any single or preferred form of Islam or ethnic culture. The public sphere too should be free from any religious interference or presence of any one particular denomination of the faith.


1 Next Generation Goes To The Polls, British Council Pakistan, pp.6,7 2 The interviews were conducted by AC Neilson 3 Dror Wahrman, Imagining The Middle Class (Cambridge University Press) p.152 4 Ronald M. Glassman, The Middle Class & Democracy in Socio-Historical Perspective, (BRILL, 1995) p.210 5 Dale L. Johnson, Class & Social Development: A New Theory of the Middle-Class (Sage Publications, 1982). p.113 6 Michael Burliegh, Blood and Rage (Harper Collins, 2009) pp.189, 190 7 Evelyne Huber, John D. Stephens, Development & The Crises of the Welfare State (University of Chicago Press, 2010) p.206 8 Zaid Haider, The Ideological Struggle for Pakistan (Hoover Institute Press, 2010), p.41 9 Alyssa Ayres, Speaking Like A State: Language & Nationalism in Pakistan (Cambrige University Press, 2004) p.194 10 Aysha Jalal, The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge University Press, 1994) 11 Sunanda Sanyal, Soumya Basu. The Sickle & The Crescent: Communists, Muslim League & India’s Partition (Frontpage Publishers, 2011) 12 Text of Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech 13 Ibid 14 Stephen P. Cohen, The Idea of Pakistan, (Brookings Institute Press, 204) p.57 15 The Ahmadiyya were considered to be a Muslim sect in Pakistan till 1974 16 Mathew J. Nelson, In the Shadow of the Sharia (Columbia University Press, 2011) p.112 17 Hassan Abbas, Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism, (M.E Sharpe, 2004) p.21 18 Report on the 1953 Disturbances in the Punjab (PDF) 19 Hassan Abbas, Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism, (M.E Sharpe, 2004) p.31 20 Ayub Khan, Altaf Gohar, Friends, Not Masters, (Oxford University Press, 1967) 21 Ayesha Jalal, Conjuring Pakistan: History as Official Imagining (Middle Eastern Studies, 1995) 22 Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Culture & Identity (Oxford University Press, 2005) 23 Aitzaz Ahsan, The Indus Saga (Oxford University Press, 1995)

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.



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