Since gaining independence from the British in 1947 and establishing itself as a separate sovereign state, Pakistan lived on for twenty-four years as a country with two geographical wings separated by over 1400 miles of land. For twenty-four years the only widely acknowledged problem with this dynamic was the geographical disparity between the two wings until other differences such as those of language, culture, history, economic fairness and ethnicity started to surfacing. Naturally the dominance and authority of one half of the population (in this case West Pakistan) in the establishment over the other highlighted these differences leading to rebellion and eventually the Fall of Dhaka.
Fast forward forty-five years to 2016, and we see that Pakistan still faces hostilities from various domestic fronts. On March 27th, a suicide bombing that targeted the Christian minority celebrating Easter at a public park in Lahore killed over 75 people, raising concerns regarding the well being of religious minorities in a country that was founded on the premise that a certain religious community was distinct from the rest. Less than three days later an angry mob of religious fundamentalists gathered in front of the parliament building in the capital city of Islamabad and demanded that the constitution be amended in order to accommodate the Sharia law. Such demands and protests surfaced after the Supreme Court had declared a historical verdict sentencing Mumtaz Qadri, a religious fanatic, to death for assassinating a former governor for suggesting that the country's notorious blasphemy laws be scrutiniezed by the legislative bodies.
These developments, while they highlight issues such as the religiosity of the state, run parallel to other chronic issues that are rooted in the ethnic diversity of the nation. For instance the Balochistan Liberation Front, a militant group that has been waging guerilla warfare against the state for decades, demands greater autonomy, increased share in the province’s natural resources, and in some instances even a separate nation-state for the Baluch people. The Balochistan conflict is reminiscent of the war of 1971 that had led to the Fall of Dhaka since it questions the nature of the thread that ties Pakistan together as a nation-state.
This existential crisis is not simply contained to the domestic affairs of the country, but is also reflected through the country’s foreign policy which is devised primarily by the country's Military institutions. Pakistan's foreign policy which for the most part is India-centric is also reflects the state's questionable doctrine under which it has aided religious extremist groups such as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the Jamaat-u-da'wa in carrying out militant activities in Afghanistan, Kashmir and India. The state’s pursuit of such controversial motives has driven people to try and understand how the state of Pakistan perceives itself in the South Asian context.
Since its conception in 1947, the Pakistani state has propagated the idea that Pakistan is an ideological state that has its ideology rooted in the Two-nation theory, first presented by modernist Muslim intellectuals who were riding the political wave of the independence movement. The theory claimed that the Muslims of India were not simply a religious minority within the Hindu-majority country, but rather a completely separate nation, with an entirely distinct culture, language and social norms. The
state has produced history books for public schools’ academic curriculums that serve as an indoctrination tool for implanting this ideology in the minds of its citizens. The primary objective here was to define Pakistan as the manifestation of the two-nation theory in the form of a Muslim nation- state. One major obstacle however was the diverse ethnic, religious and lingual composition of its demographics. The idea that Sindhis are culturally and linguistically distinct from, say, Punjabis or that a Sindhi Muslim would have trouble relating to a Punjabi Muslim by virtue of their disparate cultural backgrounds threatened the legitimacy of the claim that the citizens of the new state were a single nation on account of their shared religious identity. Therefore one major implication of the state’s attempt to define what it meant to be Pakistani and then to impose this new interpretation on its people through school text books and nationalist slogans such as “Pakistan ka matlab kya? La ila ha illallah” (translation: What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no God but Allah) is the undermining of identities other than one’s religious identity. For instance, in 1954 Prime minister Muhammad Ali Bogra introduced the one-unit scheme which called for the dissolution of all provinces within both the eastern as well as the western wing of the country leaving behind only two divisions of East Pakistan and West Pakistan, subtly trying to push the people’s ethnic and regional identities under the rug while at the same time highlighting the disparity between two wings of the country. The people were robbed of every opportunity to claim their regional and ethnic identities at the national front. In addition they were also being demanded to replace their regional vernaculars with Urdu since it had been decided that it was the national language of the young state and the only language other than English that was to be taught in the public school curriculum despite the fact that less than 10% of the whole population spoke Urdu as their mother tongue. One consequence of imposing a single identity as a definitive characteristic of a demographic that is comprised of various different ethnic, religious as well as lingual identities seems to be the formation of a hierarchy between these identities resulting in tension between various groups in society. Such tension had been building between the Bengalis of East Pakistan and the establishment of West Pakistan and resulted in the war of 1971 and the Fall of Dhaka
Since Pakistan’s existential problems are rooted in a single interpretation of the Two-nation theory, it is vital to analyze and understand the claims of the two-nation theory and to try and answer whether or not it is a falsified claim. Since the two-nation theory essentially holds that the Muslims of India are a separate nation, a fair starting point would be to examine the roots of communalism in India to clearly see the distinctions between the cultural and religious life of the two communities in order to see to what extent the two communities were disparate. While the first part of this article deals with this sociological analysis, the second part examines the Pakistan movement in order to understand to what extent the movement was motivated by nationalist and religious fervor.
Peter Van Der Veer in his book, “ Religious Nationalism” claims that “nation building is directly dependent on religious antagonism, between Hindus and Muslims, between Sikhs and Hindus, between Buddhists and Hindus” arguing that “these identities are not ‘primordial attachments’ inculcated by unchanging traditions, but specific products of changing forms of religious organization and communication.” Veer argues that an orientalist view of Indian society, via the agent of colonialism, enforced a perception of the Indian people that saw the Hindus as an ancient ‘indigenous’ people of
India and Hinduism as their primordial religion that has existed in its definitive form since centuries, whereas Muslims are seen as foreign infiltrators from the Middle Eastern Islamic civilization. One implication of this perception is that it enforces the dogma that Muslims are alien to the Indian subcontinent and ignores the fact that religious identities are amorphous and are undergoing a constant process of change.
Despite the fact that Muslim invaders from the middle eastern Islamic civilization frequently raided Indian lands in the medieval period, not all Muslims in India are descendants of foreign immigrants. Just like Hinduism and Christianity, Islam has historically relied heavily upon missionary activity for its expansion. In India Sufi saints served as the agents of conversion. An examination of ritual practices at Sufi Dargahs reveals that these rituals lie at the point of contact of the boundaries of these communal identities. While differences in ritual practices substantiate the growth of communalism, ritual practices and the beliefs adhered to by the followers of Sufi traditions highlight commonalities between the religious traditions of the two communities. These commonalities are rooted in shared beliefs regarding sainthood and spiritual healing. Since the rituals observed at Sufi shrines across the subcontinent deviate from orthodox Islamic customs and norms as well as the ritual norms observed by the adherents of Sufism in Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt or Turkey, it can be argued that the Sufi traditions of South Asia are evidence of an indigenous form of Islam that resembles the many tenants of Hinduism. Furthermore the fact that the number of Hindus that attend ceremonial gatherings such as the Urs is increasing annually also reflects the idea that these Sufi Dargahs are shared religious spaces that are ambiguously Islamic. The porous nature of the boundaries between religious communities within these shared religious spaces illustrates how the boundaries of religious identities are not as well-defined as claimed by an orientalist view of South Asian society.
Veer argues that the development of communalism in India owes its roots to colonial intervention and to state introduced policies in the pre-colonial era that underscored highlighted the differences of interests between different communities. Veer explains that state-introduced policies in the pre- colonial era inevitably always favored one community over the rest, usually the community that shares a salient identity with the ruler. This often resulted in growing antagonism between the various communities which would lead to solidification of the boundaries of their identities. For instance the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s pro-Islamic policies such as the imposition of Jizya on non-muslims and the demolition of Hindu temples onset antagonism between the muslims and other religious communities. The result of this was the polarization of society into two major distinct groups, the Muslims and the non-Muslims. As a consequence of growing antagonism unity between people of a single supra-local identity increased as they started perceiving similarities between themselves and those they share the supra-local identity with while perceiving underscored differences between themselves and ‘the other’ (in this case the Muslims). Veer asserts even though the two groups became more and more polarized as a result of such state-introduced policies, the defining boundaries of the identities of these communities remain amorphous and are subject to constant change.
In 1871, however, the British colonialists conducted a census across the subcontinent that would help them better understand the demographic composition of Indian society. The census helped the British divide the Indian population into distinct groups on the basis of caste, religion, language etc. The British
treated these identities as concrete realities that defined Indian society. Therefore policies introduced later by the British relied heavily upon this census since they took into account these divisions in the Indian population reflected by the census. Local leaders and politicians realized that in order to be able to practice any influence in the political arena they would have to accept these divisions as new realities and would be required to shape their political agendas around them. As a result politics in India became a matter of communal divide and the path of political discourse was from this point onward to be dictated by communal rivalries. The British divided electorates on the basis of these communal divides, therefore politicians would now have to appease to a certain community in order to gain political leverage. One implication of this was that politicians now had to define the boundaries of a certain community that they wanted to appease to while also strengthening these boundaries. As a result Hindu nationalist leaders took on the task to define what it meant to be a Hindu and Muslim elites started calling attention to actual as well as imagined problems that were primarily the concern of Muslims and their socioeconomic wellbeing.
As communalism developed and strengthened in India, nationalist ideologies started feeding on resentful as well as jingoistic sentiments that were rooted in communal divide. One such ideology was the aforementioned Two-nation theory that stirred a massive political movement that led to the partition of India into two separate nation-states. The Pakistan movement was led by the All India Muslim League a political party that claimed representation for all Muslims across India. Since a nationalist account of the movement is falsified by the above analysis of the rise of communalism in India it would be helpful to analyze other interests that may have motivated the movement and try to discern to what extent the movement was driven by nationalist beliefs.
Hamza Alvi, in a lecture that he delivered in Karachi in 2002, asserts that religious ideology was never a true aspect of the Pakistan movement, rather the movement was motivated by the economic interests of a small fraction of the Muslim population of India that depended upon commissioned jobs in the public sector for their livelihood; he calls this group the salariat. Alvi explains that “given the communal structure of Indian society, Muslim and Hindu members of the salariat and professionals were pitted against each other because their lives and careers were embedded in rival institutionalized communities.” After the British introduced a new Anglo-vernacular language policy in the 19th century, the economic prosperity of those who relied upon salaried jobs for their financial income was threatened since they were now required to learn English instead of Arabic or Persian for use in public offices and schools. The salariat Muslims reacted to this dynamic by organizing themselves in the form of a political force in order to rally for the economic advancement and civil rights of the Muslims since in this new political climate that was characterized by communal divide the Muslims would now have to collectively compete against other communities such as the Hindus.
The Aligarh movement was an early manifestation of this political organization and it urged the Muslim middle class to attain an English education that would help them secure jobs in the future. Hence this political organization of Muslims was primarily secular in its objectives and had no religious ideology that dictated its agenda. However, Alvi claims that they were not concerned with the well being and prosperity of the lower class Muslims who resided in Muslim majority provinces such as Punjab in the west and Bengal in the East. Alvi’s claim is substantiated by statistical evidence that shows that in
provinces such as Uttar Pradesh, Muslims were in minority making up a total of 12% of the whole population of the province. Nonetheless in 1857 the Muslim minority of the province held 64% of posts in subordinate judicial and executive services. The threat posed to the economic prosperity of these salariat Muslims can be visualized when we see that this number had dropped down to 45% by 1886.
In 1906, the Muslim bourgeoisie of northern India gathered in Dhaka to form the All India Muslim league, a political party which was to serve as the vehicle with which the Muslims could participate in quota politics, securing their economic interests. Alvi claims that at this point the League had no religious ideologies that characterized its policies and agenda. He quotes Raza Ali a member of the Aligarh establishment as having said that “the need of the Indian educated Muslim middles class was not that of a hypothetical return to original Islam and the creation of an ‘Islamic state’ to be ruled over by Mullahs. Their most urgent need was the provision of an education that would help them in grappling with the affairs of this world; education that would help their coming generations to earn their livelihood.” This helps illustrate the original ideology of the Muslim league as a secular one.
Nonetheless, this political instrument only catered to the needs of the educated salariat and was apathetic towards the concerns of Muslims coming from a lower class. For instance, in 1916 the League and the Indian National Congress signed the Lucknow Pact, which opened new ways for cooperative struggle against British colonial rule in the political arena. The Pact ensured separate electorates for Muslims and also determined the representation of Muslims from each province in the legislative assemblies. Surprisingly, Muslim majority provinces such as Bengal and Punjab with populations of 52% and 55% respectively were given shares of 40% and 50% seats.
Religious ideology, however, did not start dictating the course of the League’s politics until much later in the 1920s when communal divide and competition between the two communities had heightened to an extent that they both posed an existential threat to the economic wellbeing of each other’s bourgeoisie elite. It was then that religious nationalism was employed by the Muslim League to mobilize the masses in order to secure their own economic interests. British colonialist intervention therefore fueled the growth of communalism strengthening the divide between the various religious communities of India and increasing a sense of competition between them. Religious nationalist ideologies fostered in such an environment, eventually led to the partition of India and the inception of Pakistan.