From the CIAO Atlas Map of Asia 

Strategic Analysis

Strategic Analysis:
A Monthly Journal of the IDSA

March 2001 (Vol. XXIV No. 12)


Pakistan: The Role of Religion in Political Evolution
By B.M. Chengappa *



This article provides an insight into the demand of the Islamic fundamentalist parties for an Islamic state today. The fundamentalists opposed the creation of Pakistan because it contradicted orthodox Islamic thinking. However, after the formation of Pakistan these groups who experienced a sense of alienation sought desperately to establish an Islamic state.

Pakistan was created as a Muslim state and therefore religion has a distinct role in its political evolution. This role can be categorised into two phases, namely, the pre-partition and the post-partition periods. In the pre-partition phase Islam was used as an effective instrument of political mobilisation in order to achieve a Muslim state. However, once the political objective of nationhood was accomplished then there was a marked decline in the leadership's emphasis on the role of religion. As a result, a conflict of ideology arose because the leadership desired a secular state while the people yearned for a Muslim nation.

Pakistan was formed on the basis of the two nation theory which lost its relevance on August 11, 1947, when the Quaid-I-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah made a public statement that religion was a private affair of the individual and highlighted the equality of religions. The anti-Ahmadiya riots, the Objectives Resolution, the Basic Principles Committee Report and the 1962 Constitution only highlighted the role of religion in the political evolution of Pakistan.

Today the creation of Pakistan itself is seriously under question by a party which considers itself the "creator of Pakistan" and therefore the role of religion in the country's political evolution gains both relevance and topicality. The Indian Muslims, actually spearheaded the movement for nationhood, and helped to create Pakistan. Three decades later their progeny founded a political party named the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) in the mid 1980s to ensure that they were not politically marginalised by the Punjabi establishment in Pakistan.

The MQM leader Altaf Hussain, exiled in London, recently questioned the wisdom underlying the formation of the Muslim state by their fathers five decades ago. 1 The Indian Muslims had demanded a political partition from British India to form a separate nation state on the basis of religion and the two nation theory which resulted in Pakistan. The MQM leader has even addressed a questionnaire to the Pakistani intelligentsia to elicit their views on the ideology of Pakistan.

Altaf Hussain opines that the ideology of Pakistan has been abandoned long ago by its rulers. He categorically rejects the existing federal structure wherein an all-powerful Centre controlled by the overbearing civil and military establishment makes the federating units dance to their tune. Hussain therefore wants a new constitution in accordance with the 1940 Lahore Resolution wherein Pakistan was to comprise "constituting independent states". The MQM leader wants the smaller provinces of the country to be given their due rights. In this context, Hussain has demanded a new constitution in order to ensure that the interests of the smaller provinces are protected from the Centre. The MQM leader in an interview to the Pakistani news magazine The Herald said:

If the smaller provinces and the ethno-linguistic minorities feel threatened by the majority rule-as was the case before the partition of the subcontinent-one would find it difficult to justify the two nation theory. 2

The founding fathers of Pakistan proposed the political idea on the basis of the "two nation theory" as a homeland for South Asian Muslims. It suited them to do so initially in order to mobilise the Indian Muslim masses in the struggle towards nationhood. Yet the orthodox Muslim clergy opposed the idea of a separate state because they believed that religion was not the basis for nationhood and only common territory defines a nation. Whereas the Western-educated Muslim elite stated that their common religion of Islam was adequate to form a nation.

The fact that Pakistan became a reality despite resistance from fundamentalist elements proved to be problematic for the latter. These fundamentalist clerics represented religious parties and initially in the pre-partition period opposed the concept of Muslim nationalism on the grounds that it contradicted orthodox Islamic thinking. After the formation of Pakistan these fundamentalists suffered from a sense of marginalisation. In order to overcome this alienation they argued that since the state was achieved on the basis of Islam, the next political objective was for the state to transform itself into an Islamic one. 3 Thus Islam helped these religious parties which had no moorings in the new state to carve a niche for themselves and advertise their nationalist credentials.

The 'Father of Pakistan' Quaid-I-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his inaugural address to the Pakistan Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947 clearly stated that religion was a private affair of the individual and highlighted the equality of religions. To quote:

"In course of time all these angularities of the majority and the minority community will vanish". You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed"that has nothing to do with the business of the State" We should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State. Obviously the strength of the obscurantists, of those who would perpetuate Muslims as Muslims and Hindus as Hindus in the political sense as well was under-estimated because in less than two years' time, on March 1949 the Objectives Resolution was moved pledging the Constituent Assembly to the building up of an Islamic Constitution." 4

In tune with this it may be recalled that in October 1999, General Pervez Musharraf categorically stated that the Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk was his role model and his desire was for a similar political system in the country, 5 soon after he took over the reins of government from the deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Once again this only validates the thinking that the Muslim elite were keen on having a secular state for themselves and to that extent far removed from orthodox pretensions.

In Pakistan, Islam has always influenced various spheres of life: society, culture, economy, law and politics. For instance, the status of non-Muslims, adherence to a social code of conduct, interest free banking, forms of punishment, laws related to inheritance and divorce and the role of clergy illustrate this point. The paper therefore seeks to explain the role of religion in the context of the clash for power between the religio-political parties and the secular ones in the country.


The paper aims to examine the confusion in the conception of Pakistan which was first envisaged as a Muslim state and subsequently created as a democratic nation. The attempt to ride two horses pulling in opposite directions"namely a religious state and a democratic state"clearly underlined the contradiction in the constitution. This is because the concept of an Islamic state clashes with the idea of a democracy.

It attempts to explain the role of religion in the pre-partition and post-partition periods. While a sense of Muslim communalism and Muslim nationalism characterised the pre-partition period, the post-partition period started on a secular statement of the Quaid-I-Azam which amounted to be a contradiction of the two nation theory.

Subsequently, Pakistan witnessed sectarianism in the form of anti-Ahmadiya riots and the beginning of a demand for an Islamic state in the country which manifested in the Objectives Resolution, the Basic Principles Committee Report and the 1962 Constitution. Thereafter, with the secession of East Pakistan the religio-political parties sought to strengthen the ideological basis for Pakistan and incorporated Islamic injunctions into the 1973 constitution. Finally the Zia regime officially pronounced a state policy which sponsored Islam.

Muslim Communalism

Wilfred Cantwell Smith describes Muslim communalism which evolved into the ideology of Muslim nationalism.

"Communalism in India may be defined as that ideology which has emphasised as the social, political and economic unit the group of adherents of each religion, and has emphasised the distinction even the antagonism, between each group; the words "adherents" and "religion" being taken in the most nominal sense, Muslim communalists, for instance, have been highly conscious of the Muslims within India as a supposedly single, cohesive community, to which they devote their loyalty"paying little attention to whether the individuals included are religiously ardent, tepid, or cold; orthodox, liberal, or atheist; righteous or vicious; or whether they are landlord, prince or proletarian; also paying little attention to Muslims outside India." 6

The view that religion per se was not a consideration for the creation of Pakistan also needs elaboration. It is believed that a combination of political, social and economic issues in the 19th century led to the demand for a Muslim state to be carved out from British India. 7 The genesis of Muslim separatism can be traced to the need for social purity, the lack of job opportunities for Muslm youth, a comparatively weak entrepreneurial Muslim class, and the separate electorates for Muslims and Hindus.

The issue of social purity is based on religion and needs to be understood in the context of the decline of Muslim power heralded by the ascendancy of the British Crown in India. Shah Waliullah and other Muslim revivalists in the subcontinent attempted to preserve the distinct identity of the Muslim community through strict adherence to pure Islam. These individuals felt that the Indian Muslims had become socially and culturally "polluted" owing to their close association with Hindus. They felt that the only solution was to avoid contact with other communities in the country. Therefore this thinking gradually gained ground among the Indian Muslim community and then transformed into the need to distance themselves from the Hindus through the creation of a separate homeland and pursue their religion without extraneous influences.

The Muslims as a community had not availed English education in the country owing to their historical mind set of being erstwhile rulers of the land and notion that their knowledge of the Persian language was synonymous with the "French of the East". As a result, the Muslim youth were unable to get suitable jobs in the British Indian government unlike their Hindu counterparts.

The Muslim community since generations had been a part of the ruling nobility and their subordinates lacked an orientation for business and commercial activities. This led to a situation where their entrepreneurial classes would have to compete with the Hindu trader community which was financially stronger. The introduction of separate electorates and the reservation of legislative seats for Muslims and Hindus was another political consideration which denied the Muslims the necessary level of representation. The British Indian government had two categories of seats designated 'General' and 'Muslim' wherein the Muslims could vote only for members of their own community and the sheer numerical inferiority vis-à-vis the Hindus put them at a disadvantage.

Muslim Nationalism

Islam entered the subcontinent around 1,275 years ago with Arab traders settling down on the west coast at Calicut in 633 A..D. in the time of Umar. However, Muslim military presence was established only in 712 A.D. during the Umayyad period. The modern period begins from the 1857 War of Indian Independence against the British Indian regime. The two Islamic highpoints in India are the Wahabi movement in the 19th century and the Pakistan movement in the 20th century. Muslim religious leaders realised that Islam could not survive without political power and that Islam and Hinduism were antithetical so therefore only one of the religions could thrive at the expense of the other.

The ulama were hostile to the British regime, as they viewed them as a non-Muslim occupation power. However, the Muslim elite led by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898), who sought to reform his co-religionists, was a loyalist to the crown. After the 1857 uprising the British placated the Muslim nobility because they needed Muslim support to act as a counterpoise to the Indian National Congress which nurtured anti-British sentiments. The British regime therefore backed Sir Syed Ahmed Khan against the Congress who discouraged Muslims to involve themselves in Congress activity thus giving rise to Muslim politics and Muslim nationalism in modern India. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the father of the Pakistan movement considering he had speculated on the political destiny of the Indian Muslims as early as 1888. Sir Syed stated:

Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations"the Mohammedan and Hindu"could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly no. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other and thrust it down. To hope that both could remain equal is to desire the impossible and the inconceivable. 8

The British regime partitioned Bengal into a new province of Eastern Bengal in October 1905. The Hindu leadership interpreted this as a British move to neutralise the growing Indian nationalism. In turn they started a movement to annul this partition which culminated in the boycott of British goods. The Muslims realised the advantages of an Eastern Bengal because they were in a majority of almost six million people. The next development was the Muslim leadership's demand for separate representation for the Muslims at all levels of government.

The grand political finale was the formation of the All India Muslim League on December 30, 1906 at Dacca which was the capital of Eastern Bengal. The Muslim elite who feared Hindu domination in a democratic system based on majority rule established the League. To that extent the Muslim League remained wary of the Congress claim to represent all Indians. The League projected itself as a body to represent Muslim interests.

The League's objectives were (a) to promote among the Muslims a sense of loyalty to the British government (b) to ensure that their political rights and interests were not violated (c) to develop a better understanding between the Muslims and other communities. Constitutional recognition accorded to the principle of separate electorates in the Government of India Act of 1909 gave the League the status of an all-India party.

Eventually the partition of Bengal was annulled in 1911 and thereafter other political developments impacted on the Muslim politics in the subcontinent. In the post-annulment period the new Muslim leadership was influenced by pan-Islamic teachings of Jamal al-Din Afghani and some Indian Muslim scholars. Around this time the Muslim states in the Middle East and North Africa witnessed a political decline while the European powers gained against them. This chain of events also helped to generate a spirit of brotherhood among the Indian Muslims and their co-religionists in those countries. The new clutch of Muslim newspapers reflected this trend in the country.

At this stage in the Muslim League there appeared a group of liberal minded Muslims who were dissatisfied with the policy of "unconditional loyalism" and advocated a change which implied cooperation with the Congress to struggle together for constitutional reforms. These liberals were labelled the "progressives" and were led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah who was till then an active Congress member. The opponents of this policy were called the "Conservatives" headed by Sir Muhammad Shafi a loyalist Muslim from Punjab. The progressives prevailed and this resulted in the Congress-Muslim League Lucknow Pact of 1916. Congress leader GK Gokhale praised MA Jinnah who was hailed as the "ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity". The Lucknow Pact was to be the only agreement between the two parties in the constitutional history of India.

The First World War had its own impact on the Muslim League when its more outspoken leaders who favoured a pro-British policy on Turkey (which had joined the central powers) were incarcerated by the government. Thereafter in 1918 the ulama first made its appearance on the League platform which turned out to be short-lived. At the end of the war the League leadership feared the disintegration of Turkey and started to work for the Khilafat in order to avoid hostile post-war consequences for the Islamic Caliphate. The ulama organised themselves into a separate party the Jamat-al-Ulama-i-Hind and together with the Congress which was fighting for home rule they generated an anti-British sentiment.

This development helped foster Hindu-Muslim unity for two years. However, with the abolition of the Khilafat by the Turkish National Assembly in 1924 the All India Khilafat Committee continued to function ineffectually till 1930. Thereafter the Hindus and Muslims were at loggerheads once again. The Muslim League which was inactive from 1920 came to life. Its President MA Jinnah stated that the party's revival aimed at bringing about Hindu-Muslim amity. The Muslims became suspicious of the Hindu demand for the reversal of the system of separate electorates.

Thereafter, the Hindu-Muslim animosity heightened and found expression in riots and communal killings from the late 1920s to the early 1930s. The Hindus started a movement called sangathan (binding together) to train their co-religionists in martial arts for use in the communal riots. They also organised a programme of shudhi (purification) which was aimed to convert Muslims to Hinduism. As a response the Muslims organised tanzeems (organisations) and tabligh (missionaries) to counter the Hindu initiatives. These militant activities drew widespread involvement from large sections of both communities.

Initially Allama Dr Sir Mohammad Iqbal demanded a Muslim state in the 1930 annual session of the Muslim League at Allahabad. And so the idea of a separate Muslim state is attributed to the poet-philosopher because he raised the issue in his presidential address of the League. He envisioned a single self-governing Muslim state within or without the British Empire in the Northwest by amalgamating the Muslim majority provinces"the Punjab, Sind, NWFP and Baluchistan.

While the political proposition of Muslim statehood was not readily accepted in India, it fired the imagination of a small group of Muslim students at Cambridge. In 1933 Chowdhary Rahmat Ali, a Punjabi student at Cambridge University, printed a pamplet titled 'Now or Never' in which he claimed that the Hindus and the Muslims were two distinct nations with completely different social systems. Therefore, the creation of a separate independent Muslim state was necessary. He stated that PAKISTAN stood for P-Punjab, A-Afghanistan (North West Frontier Province), K-Kashmir and ISTAN-Sind and Baluchistan. While in Urdu PAK meant pure and ISTAN was land and collectively amounted to a 'Land of the Pure'.

In October 1938 the Sind chapter of the League at a conference urged the council of All India Muslim League to review the demand "for political self-determination of the two nations"Muslims and Hindu"; the issue of a future constitution to secure "legitimate status" for the Muslims to attain "full independence". After six months the working committee appointed a team to assess the various viewpoints on the subject. Finally a decision was taken at the Lahore session of the League on March 26, 1940 and the Lahore Resolution (later known as the Pakistan Resolution) acknowledged Muslim acceptance of the constitutional plan. To quote:

Resolved that it is the considered view of this session of the All India Muslim League that no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptance to the Muslims unless it is designed on the following principle viz., that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted, with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority, as in the northwestern and eastern zones of India, should be grouped to constitute independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign. 9

The Muslim League successfully organised the Muslims into a political party through their demand for Pakistan which revived memories of past glories and promised prospects of a great future. And the Quaid-I-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah created Pakistan with the termination of British rule in the Indian subcontinent. This was possible because there was a clamour for Islamic government, Islamic state and Islamic constitution among sections of the Indian Muslim community.

The Problem of Ideology

After Pakistan became a reality, the Muslim leadership who had their own values which were not in consonance with those of their brethren in the clergy, preferred to do away with the two nation theory. The Muslim elite cherished the concept of a secular state, but could not pursue their ideals since during the pre-partition phase they had sold the line about the formation of a religious state to the masses.

Now that the desired political goal was achieved and the state in terms of territory and polity had taken shape the people yearned for their religious homeland. In fact they actually rejected the notion of a secular state and are supposed to have given expression to such an intention on one occasion. As a result, the Muslim leadership had to unwillingly yield to the larger will of the people and promote the concept of Pakistan as a religious state. Therefore the role of religion in nation building was integral to establish nationalism in Pakistan. To that extent there was an element of controversy over the very ideological basis of Pakistan prior to its creation. The controversy was therefore not so much between Islam and Hinduism but that Muslims are a nation and deserve a homeland for themselves.

Some thinkers believe that the role of religion in the creation of Pakistan is linked to the abolition of the Turkish caliphate in 1924 and the establishment of a secular national state. This development was a symbolic setback for the Sunni Muslims and resulted in a religious vacuum for them. Thus Sunni theoreticians as an alternate to the defunct caliphate suggested the concept of an Islamic state in order to establish a linkage with Muslim history.

At this stage it would be necessary to make the distinction between an Islamic state and a Muslim state. Technically an Islamic state is based on the Shariat whereas a Muslim state refers to an independent Muslim majority rule. Today there are only Muslim states and arguably except for Iraq no Islamic states. The Islamic state existed only when the Prophet Mohammed was alive and till the time of the four righteous Caliphs. It would therefore not be incorrect to state that the concept of the Islamic state exists only in the Muslim psyche and not in reality.

Pakistan's conflict over ideology can be traced to the pre-independence period when several groups were involved in the struggle for independence. Those groups who did not succeed to political power continued their struggle, but with the focus shifting to the basis for a particular political and socio-economic order in the independent state. The lack of consensus over ideology of the state was frequently accompanied by problems of regime legitimacy.

Pakistan as a newly created nation had to formulate its own ideology which was derived from the collective thoughts of various Muslim intellectuals in British India since the 19th century which found expression during the pre-partition pronouncements and commitments of the Muslim League. Sovereignty of the state vests with Allah rather than with the people. Minorities are not members of the Islamic brotherhood (Millat) and so cannot be entrusted with the power to propound and execute state policy at the highest level.

The late Pakistani President Ayub Khan had observed:

"Till the advent of Pakistan, none of us was in fact a Pakistani, for the simple reason that there was no territorial entity bearing that name" So prior to 1947, our nationalism was based more on an idea than on any territorial definition. Till then, ideologically we were Muslims; territorially we happened to be Indians; and parochially we were a conglomeration of at least eleven smaller states, provincial loyalties. But when Pakistan suddenly emerged as a reality, we who had got together from every nook and corner of the vast subcontinental India were faced with the task of transforming all our traditional territorial and parochial loyalties into one great loyalty for the new state of Pakistan."

The religio-political forces highlighted the concept of the "Ideology of Pakistan" when radical movements threatened the social order towards the end of the 1960s. They said the ideology was derived from Islam and comprehensive which demanded loyalty from all Muslims. Therefore to borrow from other ideologies amounts to a lack of faith. In March 1970 General Yahya Khan in a legal framework order to prescribe the basis for the country's first general elections stated that the constitution which elected the members of the National Assembly should ensure that:

"Islamic ideology which is the basis for the creation of Pakistan shall be preserved"" 11

However, it was also mentioned that: "Adherence to fundamental principles of democracy shall be ensured by providing direct and free periodic elections to the Federal and Provincial legislatures on the basis of population and adult franchise." 12

The political leadership has invariably highlighted the Islamic character of Pakistan and simultaneously committed it to democracy in most pronouncements of an ideological nature. In the process neither an Islamic state in the real sense of the term nor a true democracy has taken shape in the country till now. Nevertheless, the military and civilian regimes have articulated both religious and democratic appeals to gain legitimacy. As a result, controversy characterises the nature and purpose of Pakistan which flows from the relationship between Islam and state.

The reputed political scientist David Easton commenting on ideology, writes:

"No system can endure, at least for very long, without the presence of some moderate belief in its legitimacy"Values"consisting of articulated ethical interpretations and principles that set forth the purposes, organisation and boundaries of political life, I shall describe by their usual name, ideologies." 13

The Ahmadiya Issue

Pakistan's first significant controversy involving both religion and politics"relates to the Ahmadiya (also known as Quadianis) sect"which first surfaced in the early 1950s and thereafter in the mid 1970s. The Ahmadiyas follow the teachings of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) of Quadian in Indian Punjab. They shifted from Indian Punjab following partition and set up their township and named it Rabwah located near Chiniot in Pakistani Punjab.

The problem arises because the orthodox Muslims believe that Mohammad was the last Prophet while the Ahmadiyas disagree on this score. For the Muslims the Prophet was the last representative through whom God sent his message which would govern human behaviour for all time to come. However, this Islamic tenet was challenged much to the displeasure of the orthodox Muslim clergy. At the turn of the 19th century Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad claimed to be a messiah or Mahdi who would follow whenever God so desired according to the teachings of the Holy Quran.

He based his entire thinking purely on a verse in the Quran and his personal belief that he received revelations from the Almighty. As a result he conferred upon himself the title of a 'prophet' and flagrantly violated the principle of the finality of prophethood. This gave him the opportunity to be the final authority on Islam. After Mirza Ghulam Ahmad died his successor was Mirza Mohammad Ahmad. While the ulama demanded that the Ahmadiyas be declared non-Muslims in 1953 the Pakistan government did not heed these demands. The Ahmadiya controversy which raged from 1948 to 1953 was the first sectarian conflict to take place in Pakistan.

The Ahmadiya problem proved to be a serious issue in the national integration of Pakistan in the early years. The genesis of the problem was before partition when the Ahrars a Deobandi sect, launched the first agitation against the Ahmadiyas during the 1920s. The Ahrars at that point in time were aligned with the Congress and opposed to the Muslim League in a counter-movement called 'Naa Pakistan'. These Ahrar leaders were extremely orthodox to the extent that they even called the Quaid-I-Azam a 'Kafir-I-Azam'.

They formed part of the anti-Pakistan movement in the initial phase of the struggle for a separate and independent Muslim state. Thereafter in 1931 the Ahrars splintered from the Congress and formed their own religious party the Majlis-I-Ahrar-I-Islam. The Ahrar leaders sent small groups of their followers to Quadian to oppose the Ahmadiya sect and proclaimed them a non-Islamic community. As a result, the erstwhile British Indian government apprehended the potential for a breakdown of law and order in the province and promptly banned the Majlis-I-Ahrar-I-Islam. Eventually with the reality of Pakistan taking shape they aligned themselves with the Muslim League.

The Ahrars as a sect began life in Pakistan with a tarnished political image considering they had initially opposed the movement for a separate religious state in pre-partition India. Given this background the Ahrars, who followed purist Islam, found it necessary to establish their bonafides in the new Muslim state. Thus they did not hesitate to whip up the latent hostility towards the Ahmadiya sect. The Ahrars adopted a militant policy towards the Ahmadiyas in order to gain acceptance to the national mainstream in Pakistan. Their initiative against the Ahmadiyas was readily welcomed by Maulana Maudoodi and the Jamaat-I-Islami (JI) who had a commonality with the Ahrars. The Jamaat-I-Islami also opposed British India's partition and the creation of Pakistan. The JI therefore was keen to offset this anti-national image in the minds of the people. Towards this objective they advocated the need for an Islamic state which believed in the sovereignty of Allah and conformity to the injunctions in the Holy Quran.

Thus the Ahrars and the JI joined hands in their struggle for Pakistan to be an Islamic state. These two purist Islamic groups began pressuring Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and his Muslim League government to ensure an Islamic government. The orthodox Muslim elements succeeded to the extent that the government passed the 'Objectives Resolution' in 1949 to strengthen the ideology of Islam in Pakistan. The passage of the 'Objectives Resolution' gave the impression that Pakistan would transform into an Islamic state and Muslims would be given a place of privilege. The 'Objectives Resolution' stated that:

The Muslims shall be enabled to order their lives
in accordance with the teachings and requirements
of Islam as set out in the Holy Quran and Sunnah. 14

After the Objectives Resolution was passed on March 7, 1949, the anti-Ahmadiya agitation turned increasingly violent in West Punjab townships. Subsequently in June 1952 the ulama instituted an anti-Ahmadiya committee. They demanded a social and commercial boycott of the Ahmadiya sect and labelled them non-Muslims. On their direction, shopkeepers had notices outside their premises stating 'Ahmadiyas are not entitled to purchase items'; also restaurants had separate utensils for Ahmadiyas.

The political dimension to the problem was the relationship between the then Chief Minister of Punjab Mian Mumataz Daultana and the Bengali Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin. The relationship was guided purely by considerations of political self-interest to ensure survival in office. On January 21, 1953 the orthodox Muslims gave an ultimatum to the Prime Minister to declare the Ahmadiyas a non-Muslim minority within a month. It also demanded the resignation of the Ahmadiya Foreign Minister Mohammad Zafrullah Khan. The government response was to round up the key leaders which triggered further communal disturbances in Punjab on February 27, 1953. On March 5, 1953, the government was left with no option but to declare martial law which resulted in the exit of the Chief Minister and the Prime Minister.

Pakistan was able to suppress the sectarian strife after the imposition of martial law which continued under President Ayub Khan initially and thereafter President Yahya Khan during the 1960s. These regimes concentrated on economic development through agriculture and industry and the orthodox Muslim element was not really allowed to voice their dissent. Thereafter Pakistan underwent a "second" partition with the secession of East Pakistan which raked up the issue of ideology among the religio-political parties.

The Objectives Resolution

The Objectives Resolution was a framework to provide guidelines to the constitution-makers in their task. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan commenting on the Resolutions said:

""before this House starts framing the future constitution of Pakistan, the members should have some idea as to what sort of constitution and what type of constitution they want to frame." 15

The Objectives Resolution was the first milestone in the constitutional history of Pakistan. It was the first attempt to define an Islamic state and therefore symbolised a triumph for the fundamentalist clerics in the country. The Constituent Assembly adopted the Objectives Resolution on March 12, 1949 and this gains importance because it indicated that the regime had in principle accepted the eventual aim of an Islamic state. The JI leader Abul Ala Maududi proved to be the foremost ideologue who had applied himself to the conceptual framework of an Islamic state.

Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan stated that achievement of independence enabled the people to live in accordance with their ideals. A secular state would only be contrary to their ideals and a negation of the demands that prompted the creation of Pakistan. Therefore those ideals pursued initially should now be the basis for the new state. The investment of the power in the people thereby obviated the risks of a theocracy from assuming power. Moreover Islam itself does not believe in a theocracy nor advocate it.

The Resolutions started with an invocation that "sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to the God Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the State of Pakistan" 16 It further proclaimed that the state shall guide according to Islamic principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice. It declared that the state shall exercise its authority through the chosen representatives of the people. The state was responsible to facilitate the Muslims to practice an Islamic mode of life as specified in the Quran and Sunnah. It also enjoined on the state to ensure adequate provision for the minorities to freely practice their religions. The Resolution stated that the individual would enjoy fundamental rights as "subject to law and morality."

The Resolutions were aimed to keep the traditionalist and the modernist Islamic elements happy about the concept of an Islamic state and. Western-style democracy respectively. In the process the traditionalists and the modernists interpreted the Resolutions in their own way. That essentially these interpretations tended to be contradictory in nature only highlighted its dichotomous nature. Liaquat Ali opined that "democracy in the Islamic sense as distinct from that in the western and Soviet sense was more democratic than both." 17 A few years later the anti-Ahmadiya riots only validated the view about the contradictory nature of the Resolutions.

Basic Principles Committee Report

While the Objectives Resolution was the first exercise towards constitution making the second step was clearly the Basic Principles Committee (BPC) report. The BPC was instituted on the day the Constituent Assembly adopted the Resolution"March 12, 1949. The Resolution aimed to identify the major guidelines for constitution making and the BPC report attempted to implement these into an institutional form. The two exercises had one commonality in that they both were ambiguous in nature.

The BPC report actually comprises three reports which were published at two year intervals. The first one, the Interim Report of 1950 and the second"a regular report of 1952 were not accepted by the Constituent Assembly. These reports were not accepted because of problems which pertained to political and religious issues. The religious aspect related to the procedure to avoid repugnancy of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah in the Federal Legislature. The Constituent Assembly finally accepted the third report on September 21, 1954.

The BPC report advocated a parliamentary system modelled on the lines of the Government of India Act 1935. However, it was important to accommodate the interests of the fundamentalist factions. Towards this objective it provided for a Board of Ulema comprising five members to advise whether any Bill submitted before the legislature was against the Islamic tenets. In the event the Board was unable to come to an unanimous decision the Head of State was to use his discretion to sign a Bill.

The ulama were however discontented with an advisory role for the Board and instead they sought a Supreme Court for themselves to deliberate over the Islamic nature of a Bill. In a sense they wanted their power to stretch beyond the recommendatory to that of enforceability. Whereas the modernists felt that the ulama had already been granted adequate importance and remained wary of a theocracy taking shape.

The significance of the BPC report lay in the fact that it was able to deflect the fundamentalists demand that the Shariat and not the parliament should be elevated to the status of a sovereign body. While the ulama's role was advisory it would prove tricky for the politician to overrule their views on specific issues. The BPC report therefore proposed to form a parliamentary democracy in conjunction with a medieval theocracy.

The BPC report recommended separate electorates and reservation of seats for the minorities. The Hindu members vehemently opposed the recommendations. Mr. Datta said the report should be scrapped and a fresh exercise should begin once again. Professor RK Chakravarthy said the report only betrayed Jinnah. 18

The Ayub Khan Regime

The second Constitution was promulgated on March 1, 1962 and enacted in exercise of the mandate given to Field Marshal Ayub Khan. The Constitution initially declared Pakistan a republic and the term 'Islamic' was dropped, but after protests in the first constitutional amendment in 1963 it re-named Pakistan as an Islamic Republic. Also the clause about all laws being brought in conformity with Islam and no new law which was in contradiction to Islam remained in the new Constitution. Pakistan was to have a presidential system of government since it corresponded to the Islamic tradition of a strong executive.

The 1962 Constitution emphasised the Islamic character and provided for an Advisory Council of Islamic Ideology which was to be composed of 5-12 members appointed for three years by the President. The Council was to make recommendations to the government about the means to enable and encourage the Muslims of Pakistan to order their lives in all respects in accordance with the principles and concepts of Islam; advise the government organs on issues regarding laws. However, its advice was not binding on the government. The Constitution also directed the government to set up a research institute for Islamic affairs with a view to reconstruct Muslim society on a truly Islamic basis.

Pakistan being an Islamic Republic in which Islam would dominate would be bound to impinge on the rights of the non-Muslims minorities. However, to balance these religious aspects of the Constitution, the fundamental rights, territorial and citizenship rights had a modern and secular character.

The other highlight of a clash between religion and politics during the regime pertains to the Fatima Jinnah case. In the January 1965 Presidential election campaign the Combined Opposition Parties (COP) fielded Miss Fatima Jinnah as a candidate against President Ayub Khan. The COP decision to support Ms Jinnah as a candidate was a political decision and followed up thereafter with a theological rationalisation. The controversy arose because orthodox Islam clearly states that a woman could not be voted a head of state. Yet the very same religio-political parties like the JI strongly supported the candidature of Miss Jinnah. Their contention was simply that while such a move was not in keeping with religion it would be a far greater sin according to the Shariah to perpetuate an oppressive dictatorship. To that extent, the 1965 elections proved to be a struggle between democracy and dictatorship rather than a clash between Islam and un-Islamic forces.

The Second Partition: Bangladesh 1971

The secession of East Pakistan from united Pakistan had a strong religious basis in the sense that it disproved the two nation theory based on religion. The religious currents underlying the secession therefore merit elaboration. 19 The Bengali Muslim demand for autonomy was perceived as anti-national purely because it amounted to an assertion of ethno-linguistic identity over the Islamic one. Considering the rationale for the creation of Pakistan was based on Muslim nationalism such a separatist trend proved to be detrimental to ideological foundations of the state. For the ulama therefore the demand for autonomy was viewed as an un Islamic act.

It is necessary to understand the background to the perceptions of the ulama and their mind set on the matter. The ulama in this case specifically refers to the Jamaat-I-Islami which felt that Bengali Muslim nationalism was supported by three distinct lobbies"the communists, the Hindus and the political adventurers. The communist influence was there because of the paucity of Islamic literature in the eastern province and was linked to the linguistic problem. The Pakistan government had not declared Bengali as a national language and the bulk of the Islamic literature was available only in Urdu and not Bengali. Given that the average Bengali had an antipathy towards Urdu the general level of literacy was not as high as the mother-tongue.

According to the JI line the Hindu influence on Bengali Muslim nationalism was possible because they dominated trade and industry in East Pakistan. The Hindu element only exploited the growing Bengali Muslim grievances, against their West Pakistani brethren, and thereby intended to endear themselves to the national mainstream. In the process they aimed to marginalise the Indian Muslim refugees in the country and further monopolise their control over the economy. Also the Hindu influence on the Bengali Muslim manifested at a cultural level; besides, it influenced their way of thinking due to a close association between the two communities over centuries. The unconscious assimilation was so subtle and gradual that it ceased to be an extraneous element in their lives.

The JI referred to the political adventurers which implies the opposition party namely the Awami League. The JI and the Awami League had their own problems which are linked to the inability of the JI to successfully form a strong political party in the province. This stems from the thinking that the Bengali Muslim identified the JI with their West Pakistani rulers. Also the JI ideology did not appeal to the East Pakistani people owing to their greater democratic and political consciousness.

The JI also intensified its campaign against the Awami League (AL) after the Pakistan Army action from March 1971 onwards. They stated that the AL's separatist struggle was part of an international conspiracy against Islam. To that extent the JI attempted to project the impression that Pakistan and Islam were under a threat"in order to rationalise the Pakistan Army atrocities in East Pakistan. Essentially the JI propaganda for West Pakistani consumption was that the Army action was only against those Bengali Muslims under Hindu influence and hence their actions were justifiable in the interest of Islam and the integrity of Pakistan.

The Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto Regime: 1974

The loss of Pakistan's eastern wing inspired the orthodox elements to renew their efforts and ensure that the ideological basis of Pakistan was secure. Moreover ZA Bhutto embarked on Islamic socialism which attracted vehement criticism from the orthodox groups. In order to placate these orthodox clerics or fundamentalists, Bhutto in the 1973 constitution declared Islam as the 'state religion' and clearly mentioned that 'only a Muslim was entitled to become the President of Pakistan'.

After the ulama succeeded in their objective to incorporate Islamic provisions in the constitution their next move was to resume the anti-Ahmadiya campaign. Maulana Maudoodi led the anti-Ahmadiya movement alongwith the Ahrar leader Agha Shorish Kashmiri and together they accused Bhutto of nurturing sympathy towards the Ahmadiyas. Further they sought constitutional and legal measures against the Ahmadiyas. In 1973 Sardar Qayuum Khan the President of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir adopted legislative action in the provincial assembly to declare the Ahmadiyas non-Muslims. The following year the OIC conference was held in Lahore and the representatives of Saudi, Libya and Jordan acted as a pressure group against the Ahmadiyas. Later at a meeting in Jeddah in April 1974 the Ahmadiyas were proclaimed a 'non-Muslim minority' and the Pakistani delegation there were in agreement.

In April 1974 the fundamentalists continued in their struggle against the Ahmadiyas and sought the resignation of Air Marshal Zafar Choudhary who was a nephew of the former foreign minister Choudhry Zafarullah. He was replaced by Air Marshal Zulfiquar Ali Khan who was a relative of former Chief of Army Staff General Tikka Khan. Apart from these high profile changes in the military hierarchy the government took stern action against other Ahmadiya officials.

Bhutto on his part was keen to solve the issue constitutionally but the opposition staged a walkout in the National Assembly. On June 13, 1974 he stated in the house that:

The issue is a religious one and its solution must not adversely affect the solidarity and sovereignty of the country. My government and the PPP are wedded to the Islamic tenets and the ideology of Pakistan. Soon after the budget session, the issue will be placed before the National Assembly. 20

For Pakistan, the Ahmadiya problem had both internal and external dimensions which left the government with no option but to bow to the wishes of the people. For Bhutto, it meant that he measured up to his popular image of Quaid-I-Awam and had completed a mission that his predecessors had left incomplete.

The Zia Regime: State Sponsored Islam

The Zia regime is associated with state sponsored Islam which only led to a resurgence of political Islam. He highlighted the need to establish an Islamic democracy or Islamic Jamhooriyat which was similar to the concept of Nizam-I-Mustafa or 'Order of the Prophet. 21 General Zia-ul Haq opined that foreign forms of government would be inimical to the Islamic ethos. To that extent, a poor country like Pakistan could ill afford the luxury of Western-style democracy in his view. The upshot of these Islamic initiatives was that the fundamentalist clergy or ulama gained importance and sectarian schisms accentuated in the country.

Zia used Islam as a tool to legitimise his unconstitutional military regime from July 1977 to August 1988. His sole intention of furthering the cause of Islam was linked to his political compulsions for survival in office.

Zia on assuming office after a coup d'etat in 1977 proclaimed that he would improve the country's polity, society and economy in accordance with the Quran and Sunnah.

During the transitional phase of martial law it suited him to implement some legal measures in order to improve the law and order situation. These steps were actually the barbaric penalties which Islamic law advocates and only proved useful for Zia to strengthen his grip on civil society so as to suppress dissent.

Zia made a mockery of Islam and said that God had appointed him the ruler of Pakistan. In an Islamic political system sovereignty belongs to the Almighty Allah and that people only exercise delegated authority. And Islam directs its followers to obey the Almighty through his representatives.

The issue of religion in politics had remained on the back-burner following Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto regime's declaration of the Ahmadiyas as a non-Muslim minority sect. The Zia government developed a close relationship with the fundamentalist Jamaat-I-Islami party which was at the forefront of the movement for an Islamic state.

In March 1984 the chief martial law administrator General Zia conceived a '11 point Islamic charter' which incorporates the primary requirements for an Islamic political order in the country. These include:

  1. General elections would be based on the Islamic Shariah and held in March 1985.
  2. Sovereignty was in the Almighty Allah's hands.
  3. The Head of State alongwith his elected representatives and administration would adhere to the Almighty's will as the Islamic principles.
  4. Islam provides the guidelines for the state structure because it incorporates faith, economy and politics.

The Ahmadiya Issue

The Ahmadiya problem was further aggravated in the Zia regime owing to the state patronage of Islam. He endorsed the Nizam-I-Mustafa or rule of the Prophet in the country. The military dictator's objective was purely to use religion to legitimise his regime which lacked electoral sanction. In the process the issue of religious tax payment for non-Muslims arose and by then the Ahmadiyas were technically classified as non-Muslims. To complicate the issue, fundamentalist elements were also adamant that the Ahmadiyas abstain from referring to their house of worship as mosques and their calls to prayer as azzan. The fundamentalists opined that only Muslims were entitled to do so and those not accepting the supremacy of the Prophet were outside the Islamic realm. Their anti-Ahmadiya agenda culminated with a four-point plan: 22

  1. immediate removal of Ahmadiyas from government appointments
  2. incarceration of Mizra Tahir Ahmed"the fourth Ahmadiya caliph
  3. implementation of the Islamic order
  4. identity cards and passports to specially include an indication of an Ahmadiya citizen.

The Zia regime agreed to these demands and accordingly promulgated an ordinance on April 26, 1984 prohibiting the Ahmadiya sect from calling themselves Muslims. The fundamentalists also demanded a social boycott of those people who continued their relationships with the Ahmadiyas.

While the fundamentalists were happy with the ordinance against the Ahmadiyas, the more liberal elements expressed their unhappiness on the matter. The National Democratic Party, the Pakistan National Party and the Muslim League (Pir Pagara) condemned the ordinance and exhorted the government to revoke the same. The liberal line was that the Ahmadiyas be treated as Pakistani citizens and on this basis the state should protect their rights. In their enlightened opinion the anti-Ahmadiya ordinance was violation of 'The Father of Pakistan' Quaid-I-Azam's statement about a secular state as enshrined in the 1940 Pakistan Resolution.

Despite the constitutional steps against the Ahmadiyas, the fundamentalists did not cease to harass them. In September 1984, the more militant fundamentalist factions organised themselves to disrupt Ahmadiya activities. In December 1984 they disturbed the annual Ahmadiya congregation and made fresh demands against them. These included: (a) Rabwah city"the Ahmadiya centre"should be made an open city (b) Rabwah to be re-named Saddique Akbar (c) The Jamaat-I-Islami to be declared a non-Muslim political party and its offices sealed. 23


The role of religion in the political evolution of Pakistan has to be divided into the pre-partition and the post-partition periods. The political evolution symbolised by Muslim communalism and Muslim nationalism in that order commenced in the pre-partition period which was based largely on religion. The role of religion in the political evolution has therefore been far greater in the pre-partition period and thereafter tapered off in the post-partition period because the movement for Muslim nationhood was driven by secular Muslims.

During the early 1940s the Muslim League was so preoccupied in its struggle for Pakistan that it did not focus on the type of nation state that would take shape. The League lacked a clear agenda after the accomplishment of its political objective. As a result, soon after the Muslim state was created a conflictual relationship arose between the traditionalists and the secularists on how Islamic the political structure should be.

The Ahmadiya controversy has proved to be the most potent cocktail of religion and politics in Pakistan. It was the beginning of sectarianism which now poses a serious problem to political stability and national security. The other important fallout of the Ahmadiyas issue was that it resulted in the imposition of military rule due to a breakdown of law and order for the first time in the country. The incident helped to convince the religio-political parties about their ability to dictate terms to an elected regime and also their clout to topple governments. Apparently military rule in the infant phases of nationhood had its own implications on the polity and has proved disastrous in the long term.

Pakistan has proved to be a 'schizophrenic' state owing to the dichotomous nature of its Constitution which incorporates both Islamic ideology and parliamentary democracy. The Objectives Resolution and the Basic Principles Committee (BPC) report were aimed to mollify the fundamentalist clerics who asserted their opinions through 'street power'. To that extent the Resolutions and the BPC report were the beginning of the quest for an Islamic state in the country. The first decade of independence therefore involved a national debate on how much Islam was necessary for the country. The BPC report was able to keep the fundamentalist clerics and the Islamic liberals happy about the incorporation of Islam and democracy. The report essentially ensured that the fundamentalists did not come to power.

It is debatable when the Pakistani political leadership buried the two nation theory. Whether it was Jinnah's controversial speech implying the state favours no religion and respects all, or the year that the government stopped any further immigration of Indian Muslims to Pakistan. However, the secession of East Pakistan in 1971 made it clear that religion alone was inadequate for Pakistan to prosper as a nation state.

The Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto regime attempted to remain as secular as possible, but was compelled to declare the Ahmadiyas a non-Muslim minority because of domestic and foreign pressures. Thereafter the Zia regime which was synonymous with state patronage to Islam only heightened the role of religion in politics and thereby fuelled sectarianism further.

The role of religion in political evolution also includes the Islamic concept of Jehad or holy war which has created controversy among nations of the secular world. The interpretation of the doctrine of Jehad differs between the traditionalists and liberals. The doctrine is supposed to mean a permanent state of war between the Islamic and non-Islamic world. However, this war does not amount to killing people but implies a sense of non-recognition of other nations or people. For India this has a special relevance with Pakistan which has embarked on the path of political Islam.


Note *: Senior Fellow Back.

Note 1: Idrees Bakhtiar, 'What is Altaf Hussain Up To? The Herald November 2000, pp. 42-5. Back

Note 2: Ibid, pp. 46. Back

Note 3: Kalim Bahadur, "Islam, Sharia, Ulama" in Verinder Grover and Ranjanna Arora (eds) Political System in Pakistan (vol.4): The Islamic State of Pakistan"The Role of Religion in Politics (New Delhi: Deep and Deep Publications, 1995) pp. 127-8. Back

Note 4: Sisir Gupta, "Constitution Making in Pakistan" in Verinder Grover and Ranjanna Arora (eds) Political System in Pakistan (vol. 2) Constitutional Development in Pakistan (New Delhi, Deep and Deep Publications, 1995) p. 119. Back

Note 5: Public Opinion Trends (Pakistan), vol XXVII n 279, October 27, 1999, pp. 40-70. Back

Note 6: Ishtiaq Ahmed, 'The Concept of an Islamic State: An Analysis of the Ideological Controversy in Pakistan' (Stockholm: University of Stockholm, Department of Political Science, 1985) p. 72. Back

Note 7: Chief Minister of Punjab Mumataz Daultana made a comprehensive statement on the case for Pakistan in 1965 which is cited in Sheila Mc Donough, "Pakistan: Islam in Politics" n. 3, p. 11. Back

Note 8: Keith Callard, Pakistan: A Political Study (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1957) p. 11. Back

Note 9: Callard, n. 8, p. 78. Back

Note 10: Sangat Singh Pakistan's Foreign Policy: An Appraisal, (Delhi: Asia Publishing House, 1970) p. 26. Back

Note 11: Iftikhar Ahmed, Pakistan General Elections 1970 (Lahore: South Asian Institute, Punjab University, 1976), p. 137. Back

Note 12: Ibid. Back

Note 13: Ahmed n. 6. Back

Note 14: MV Lakhi, "Constitution Development in Pakistan: The First Phase 1947-56" in Grover and Arora, n. 4, p. 126. Back

Note 15: Ibid, p. 125. Back

Note 16: Ibid. Back

Note 17: Ibid, p. 126. Back

Note 18: BP Barua, "Constitution Making in Pakistan: 1947-56" in Grover and Arora, n. 4. Back

Note 19: The argument developed here is based on the views expressed in Kalim Bahadur, "The Jama'at-I-Islami of Pakistan" (New Delhi: Chetna Publications, 1977) pp. 129-135. Back

Note 20: Surendranath Kaushik, "Anti-Ahmadiya Movement in Pakistan" in Bahadur, n. 3, p. 335. Back

Note 21: Surendranath Kaushik, "Islamisation and the Political System in Pakistan: The Coercive Model of General Ziaul Haq' in Bahadur, n. 3, pp. 656-7.. Back

Note 22: Kaushik, n. 21, pp. 339. Back

Note 23: Kaushik, n. 20, pp. 339. Back