Islamic Nationalism And The Creation Of Pakistan – OpEd


Although secularism, pluralism and multiculturalism are the accepted social axioms of the modern worldview, but a demand for separate nationhood on the basis of one’s ethno-linguistic identity is accepted in the Western discourse; and it cannot simply be dismissed on the premise that since pluralism and multiculturalism are the accepted principles therefore the creation of a nation-state on the basis of ethno-linguistic identity becomes redundant. The agreed-upon principles of pluralism and multiculturalism become operative after the creation of a nation-state and not before it.

Similarly, even though secularism is an accepted principle in the Western discourse, but an ethno-religious group cannot be denied its right to claim separate nationhood on the basis of religious identity; in this case also the principle of inclusive-secularism becomes operative after the creation of a state and not prior to it.

The Muslims of Pakistan also share a lot of cultural similarities with Hindus as well, because we share a similar regional culture; however different ethno-linguistic groups comprising Pakistan, like the Punjabis, Pashtuns, Sindhis and Baloch, have more in common with each other than the Hindus of India, because all of them belong to the same religious civilization.

Notwithstanding, before joining the Muslim League, Jinnah was one of the leading proponents of Hindu-Muslim unity. He attended the meetings of the inner circle of the Indian National Congress, and reached a well-considered conclusion that the outwardly liberal and secular Congress is nothing more than a thinly-veiled Hindu nationalist party.

Even today, 68 years after the independence, Muslims constitute 15% of India’s 1.2 billion population; that’s more than 180 million Muslims in India. However, we do find a few showpiece Muslims in the ceremonial positions; but excluding Bollywood, where they have been overwhelmingly represented, I would like to know that what is the representation of Muslims in India’s state institutions, their proportion in higher bureaucracy, judiciary, police and army, and their presence and participation in India’s civic and political life?

Fact of the matter is that just like the Indian National Congress, the Republic of India is also nothing more than a thinly-veiled Hindu nationalist state. The Indian Muslims have lagged so far behind and they have been disenfranchised to such an extent that they need some kind of an “affirmative action,” like the one that had been carried out in the U.S. during the ‘60s to improve the miserable lot of the Afro-Americans.

Regardless of reductive theories, whether one nation, two nations or several nations, which are only the subjective interpretations of the objective reality by the biased individuals. The proof of pudding is in the eating. If the Indian and Pakistani liberals claim that the Muslims would have fared better in a United India then they must prove their assertion by tangible actions rather than simplistic theories.

There are currently about 180 million Muslims in India’s 1.2 billion population that constitutes about 15% of the total Indian population, as I have already mentioned. The day we see that these 15% Muslims are duly represented in all the institutions of the state and India’s federal, provincial and local governance structure, that day we will accept the Indo-Pakistani liberals’ contention that the founding fathers of Pakistan were wrong and the Indian pundits were right.

Regarding the much-touted grievances of the minority ethno-linguistic groups against the supposed Punjabi dominance in Pakistan, the Baloch are the only ethnic group that has lagged behind in Pakistan. The Sindhis have the second largest political party in Pakistan in the form of People’s Party and two of our prime ministers, Benazir and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, were Sindhis.

The Pashtuns also have a significant presence in our bureaucracy, judiciary, army and all other institutions of the state; and some of our heads of state and army chiefs were also Pashtuns. We must give credit where it is due: Islam could be anything but it is a very inclusive religion, which makes absolutely no distinction whatsoever between its adherents on the basis of race, language and other such parochial affiliations.

The prefix “Pak,” which is the root of the word Pakistan, literally means “clean” in Urdu language. Choosing the name Pakistan for their newly founded country sheds light on the psyche of our founding fathers. As we know that Hindu religion is a caste-based religion which deems people belonging to other religions, and even the low-caste Hindus, as “Maleech,” or “unclean.”

The Muslims of India suffered this discrimination at the hands of the numerical majority during the British Raj; that’s why they chose the name Pakistan: the land of the “clean” or “pure,” for their newfound sanctuary. Thus, Pakistan and the oft-quoted epithet: “the land of the pure,” isn’t as much about some conceited sense of superiority as it was about a historical injustice and a reaction to the discrimination and persecution suffered by the disenfranchised Muslims of India at the hands of the Hindu nationalists.

Regardless, I would implore the readers to allow me the liberty to scribble a tongue-in-cheek rant here: that Jinnah, Sir Syed and Iqbal were imperialist collaborators who fell prey to the divide-and-rule policy of the British Raj; there were only two progressive Muslim leaders who joined forces with Gandhi’s socialist and anti-imperialist Congress against the tyranny of the Raj: one was Sheikh Abdullah of Kashmir and the other was Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan) of Pashtunistan.

After the partition of British India, Sheikh Abdullah worked hand in glove with Pundit Nehru to make Muslim-majority Kashmir a part of secular and liberal Indian utopia; the Muslims of Kashmir trusted the charismatic messiah with their lives and the latter met their expectations by conniving with the Congress’ pundits. Today Kashmir is thriving and prospering under the suzerainty of India and the dynamic leadership of Sheikh Abdullah’s descendants: Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah, the true representatives of Kashmiri Muslims.

Had it been up to the “visionary and tactful” Bacha Khan, he too would have made sure to make Pashtunistan a colony of India; however, a plebiscite was held on the eve of the independence in the North West Frontier Province and unfortunately the naïve Pashtuns of the doomed province overwhelmingly voted to become a part of Islamist and reactionary Pakistan.

Let me clarify here that I am not against Bacha Khan or the Khudai Khidmatgar movement, as such, it was a good thing that he politically mobilized the Pashtuns for a cause; but I have doubts about his political acumen; from his bearing he appeared like a simpleton who was given to whims and personal attachments. But the people that he was dealing with, like Gandhi, Nehru and Patel, were shrewd politicians.

The astute Congress’ leadership wheedled and coaxed Bacha Khan and Sheikh Abdullah to form a political alliance with the thinly-veiled Hindu nationalist Congress against the interests of Pashtun and Kashmiri Muslims, whom the aforementioned leaders represented. And the way I see it, it had less to do with any political convergence of ideas; rather it was more about their personal bonding with the tactful Congress leadership.

Jinnah was a brash and forthright leader and the Pashtuns, as we all know, are given to Pashtunwali (honor), courtesy and other such trappings of symbolic respect; and Gandhi and Nehru, by their sycophantic behavior, touched a raw never there. In the end, Sheikh Abdullah legitimized India’s occupation of Kashmir by becoming its first chief minister, though he later had to spend eleven years in jail, but when Pakistan, and more importantly the Kashmiri Muslims, needed his leadership and guidance, he backstabbed them only because of his personal friendship with Pundit Nehru.

Notwithstanding, the Pashtuns are no longer represented by a single political entity, a fact which has become obvious from the 2013 general elections in which Bacha Khan’s Awami National Party (ANP) had been wiped out of its former strongholds. Now there are at least three distinct categories of Pashtuns: 1) the Pashtun nationalists who follow Bacha Khan’s legacy and have their strongholds in Charsadda and Mardan districts; 2) the religiously-inclined Islamist Pashtuns who vote for the Islamist political parties, like Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI-F in the southern districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa; 3) and finally, the emerging new phenomena, i.e. the Pak-nationalist Pashtuns, most of whom have joined Imran Khan’s PTI in recent years, though some of them have also joined the Muslim League.

Additionally, it should be remembered here that the general elections of 2013 were contested on a single issue: that is, Pakistan’s partnership in the American-led war on terror, which has displaced millions of Pashtun tribesmen. The Pashtun nationalist ANP was wiped out because in keeping with its supposedly “liberal” ideology, it stood for military operations against the militants in the tribal areas; and the people of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province gave a sweeping mandate to the newcomer in the Pakistani political landscape: Imran Khan and his PTI, because the latter preferred to deal with the tribal militants through negotiations and political settlements.

Though, Imran Khan and Nawaz Sharif both have failed to keep their election pledge of using peaceful means for dealing with the menace of religious extremism and militancy, but the public sentiment was, and still is, firmly against military operations in the tribal areas.

Leadership is a two-way street: a judicious leader is supposed to guide the masses, but at the same time he is also supposed to represent the disenfranchised masses; the detached and insular leadership that lives in a fantasy-world of outlandish theories and fails to understand the mindsets and inclinations of the masses tends to lose its mass appeal sooner or later.

Moreover, it’s a misperception to assume that the Pakistani security establishment used the Pashtuns as cannon fodder to advance their strategic objectives in the region. Their support to the Islamic jihadists, back in the ‘80s and ‘90s during the Cold War against the erstwhile Soviet Union, had been quite indiscriminate. There are as many Punjabi extremists and jihadists in Southern Punjab as there are Pashtun jihadists in the rural and tribal regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province.

The only difference between these two variants of militancy is that the writ of the state in Punjab is comparatively strong while in the tribal areas of KP it is weak, that’s why the militancy in KP has transmuted into a full-fledged Pashtun insurgency. Furthermore, the difference of ethnicity and language between the predominantly Punjabi establishment and the Pashtun insurgents has further exacerbated the problem, and the militants do find a level of support among the rural and tribal masses of the Pashtun-majority areas.

Although the leadership of the Pashtun nationalist political parties loves to play the victim card but the fact of the matter is that religious extremism and terrorism have equally affected all the ethnicities in Pakistan, in fact this phenomena is not limited to Pakistan, rather it has engulfed the whole of Islamic World from North Africa and Middle East to Southeast Asia and even the Muslim minorities in China and Philippines where Pakistan’s security establishment does not has any influence.

However, without absolving the role of Pakistan’s security establishment in deliberately nurturing militancy in the Af-Pak region and in order to comprehensively identify the real cause of Islamic radicalism, it would be pertinent to mention that in its July 2013 report the European Parliament had identified the Wahhabi-Salafi roots of global terrorism. It was a laudable report but it conveniently absolved the Western powers of their culpability and chose to overlook the role played by the Western powers in nurturing Islamic radicalism and jihadism since the Cold War against the erstwhile Soviet Union.

The pivotal role played by the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology in radicalizing Muslims all over the world is an established fact as mentioned in the European Parliament’s report; this Wahhabi-Salafi ideology is generously sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf-based Arab petro-monarchies since the 1973 oil embargo when the price of oil quadrupled and the contribution of the Arab sheikhs towards the “spiritual well-being” of Muslims all over the world magnified proportionally.

However, the Arab despots are in turn propped up by the Western powers since the Cold War; thus syllogistically speaking, the root cause of Islamic radicalism has been the neocolonial powers’ manipulation of the socio-political life of the Arabs specifically, and the Muslims generally, in order to appropriate their energy resources in the context of an energy-starved, industrialized world.

Coming back to the topic, although the historians generally give credit to Jinnah, as an individual, for single-handedly realizing the dream of Pakistan, but the way I see it, Pakistan Movement was the consequence of Aligarh Movement. This fact elucidates that how much difference a single educational institution can make in the history of nations. Aligarh bred whole generations of educated Muslims who were acutely aware of the decadent state of Muslims in British India, and most of them later joined Muslim League to make Pakistan a reality.

Regarding the allegation that the Muslim League leaders were imperialist collaborators, until Lord Wavell the British viceroys used to take a reasonably neutral approach towards the communal issues in British India, but on the eve of independence, Gandhi and Nehru specifically implored the Attlee administration to appoint Lord Mountbatten as viceroy.

Moreover, the independence of India and Pakistan was originally scheduled for June 1948, but once again the Congress’ leadership entreated the British Empire to bring it forward to August 1947. It was not a coincidence that on both critically important occasions, Her Majesty’s government obliged Congress’ leadership because they wanted to keep India within the folds of the British Commonwealth after the independence.

Had they not brought forward the date of independence by almost an year, the nascent Indian and Pakistani armed forces and border guards could have had an opportunity to avert the carnage that took place during the division of Punjab.

Furthermore, it was Lord Mountbatten who served as India’s first governor general and he helped Nehru’s government consolidate the Indian dominion by forcefully integrating 500+ princely states. He also made a similar offer to Jinnah to serve as Pakistan’s governor general, and when the latter refused, Mountbatten threatened Jinnah in so many words: “It will cost you and the dominion of Pakistan more than just tables and chairs.”

No wonder then, it was the collusion between the Congress’ leadership, Radcliffe and Mountbatten that eventually culminated in the Indian troops’ successful invasion of the princely state of the Muslim-majority Kashmir, using the Gurdaspur-Pathankot corridor that was provided to India by the Radcliffe boundary commission.

Additionally, in the British Indian context the divide-and-rule policy originally meant that the imperialists used this strategy to sow the seeds of dissension and communal hatred to prolong their tyrannical rule in India, which is a valid assessment; however, some Indian historians later came up with the fancy notion that the colonial powers lent their support to the idea of the creation of Pakistan in order to use the latter as a bulwark against the communist influence in the region; this latter conspiracy theory is farthest from truth.

Firstly, the British imperialists took great pride in creating a unified and cohesive British Indian army and it’s a historical fact that the latter organization was vehemently opposed to the division of the British Indian armed forces; it simply defies common sense that if the colonial power was apprehensive of the expanding influence of Soviet Union in the region, in that case it would have preferred to leave behind a unified and strong India army, rather than two divided armies at loggerheads with each other.

Secondly, although Pakistan joined the SEATO and CENTO alliances in the ‘50s and it also fought America’s Jihad in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union during the ‘80s, but we must keep in mind that there were actually two power-centers of communism during the Cold War, i.e. the Soviet Bolshevism and the Chinese Maoism.

If the intention of the colonial powers was to use Pakistan as a bulwark against the communist influence in the region then how come Pakistan established such cordial relations with China during the ‘60s that Ayub Khan and his foreign minister, Bhutto, played a pivotal role in arranging Nixon’s visit to China in 1972?

Fact of the matter is that both India and Pakistan had good relations with the Western powers during the Cold War; however, India had friendly relations with Soviet Union and adversarial relations with China, while Pakistan had adversarial relations with Soviet Union and friendly ties with China. The relations of India and Pakistan with the communist powers were based more on their national interests than on ideological lines.

The relatively modern Indian historians who came up with this fancy conspiracy theory have actually retrospectively applied this theory to the chain of events: that is, they conceived the theory after Pakistan joined the anti-communist alliances and after it played the role of America’s client state during the Afghan Jihad. At the time of independence movement, neither the Hindus nor the Muslims knew anything about the aftermath of their respective freedom struggles.

Notwithstanding, apart from the divide-and-rule strategy on the part of the British imperialists, we also need to take a look at the attitudes and mindsets of the native British Indian leaders that why did they lauded certain rallying calls and denounced the rest?

In my opinion, this preferential treatment had to do with the individual ambitions of the Indian leaders and the interests of their respective communities as defined by the leaders in the heterogeneous societies like British India: a leader whose ambitions were limited only to his own ethnic group would have rallied his followers around their shared ethno-linguistic identity; but the leaders who had bigger ambitions would have looked for the common factors that unite the diverse ethnic groups, that’s where the role of religion becomes politically important especially in the traditional societies.

It suited the personal ambitions of the Muslim League leadership to rally their supporters around the cause of Islamic identity, and it benefited the self-interest of the Congress leadership to unite all Indians under the banner of a more inclusive and secular Indian national identity.

However, empty rhetoric is never a substitute for tangible actions; the Indian National Congress right from its inception was a thinly-veiled Hindu nationalist party that only had a pretense of inclusive secularism; that’s why some of the most vocal proponents of Hindu-Muslim unity, like Jinnah and Iqbal, later became its most fierce critics; especially when “Mahatma” Gandhi and his protégé Pundit Nehru assumed the leadership of Congress in 1921.

Moreover, while I concede that the colonial divide-and-rule policy was partly responsible for sowing the seeds of dissension among the British India’s religious communities, but generally most outcomes cannot be understood by adopting a simplistic and linear approach that tries to explain complex socio-political phenomena by emphasizing a single cause and downplaying the importance of other equally significant, albeit underestimated, plurality of causes.

The way I see it, Islamic nationalism in British India had as much to do with the divide-and-rule strategy on the part of the British colonizers as it was a reaction to the exclusionary Hindu majoritarianism. As I have said earlier that different rallying calls are adopted as political manifestoes by the leaders sometimes due to their genuine belief in the value of such calls and sometimes such calls are meant only to rally support for the personal ambitions of the leaders.

Furthermore, every political rallying call has its express wordings but it also has certain subtle undertones. It is quite possible that some liberal Congress leaders might have genuinely believed in the value of secular democracy but on the popular level of the traditional South Asian masses, the Hindus of British India coalesced around Congress not because of its ostensible secularism but due to its undertones of Hindu Raj; a fact which has become quite obvious now after the election of the overt Hindu nationalist, Narendra Modi, to the premiership 67 years after the independence of India.

More to the point, global politics has transformed drastically after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. We now live in the “war on terror” era in which the former allies have become adversaries and the former foes are now cordial friends.

Despite the ostensibly socialist and non-aligned credentials of the first and second generation Indian leadership, the third generation neoliberal Indian leadership has become the “natural ally” of the Western powers against the economic might of “Rising China” on the world stage. No wonder then, we are witnessing a lot of bonhomie these days between the Indian and the Western leaderships and the signings of numerous arms deals, nuclear energy pacts and mutual defense treaties.

Nauman Sadiq

Nauman Sadiq is an Islamabad-based attorney, columnist and geopolitical analyst focused on the politics of Af-Pak and MENA regions, neocolonialism and Petroimperialism.

3 thoughts on “Islamic Nationalism And The Creation Of Pakistan – OpEd

  • September 26, 2016 at 10:19 am

    Flawed ideological discourse trying to justify a flawed narrative. Just the reason for Pakistan to be where it is. Need to grow out of the conspiracy theories being advocated by the author. This is what is fed to the third generation of Pakistanis to justify the flawed two nation theory.

  • September 29, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    The narrative is flawed in more ways grammitcally then ideologically
    Alot of threads not stitched properly and or serve the thought
    But written for pashtuns is to be comemorated
    I follow you on fb and check your op eds… interesting theories you have, almost grounded in legit….

  • November 18, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    While it is obvious that a tremendous effort has been put into the above narrative, I take this opportunity to clear the meanings of terms, according to what I have been reading about the ideology and creation of Pakistan. First the term ‘culture’ has been much abused by our newspapers, scholars and authors of various books on Pakistan. There is a stark difference between the words or more aptly put, the terms culture and civility. Eating our meals with a fork and knife, or wearing pants and shirts, or listening to ghazals and other traditional folk songs, comes under the heading of being civilized or uncivilized. Culture has more to do with how a certain group of people think and believe. To be more explicit, we can say that it is in the culture of Hindus to worship cows, whereas Muslims slaughter and eat the cows. Yet how we eat our food, will fall under the heading of being ‘civilized.’ We often listen to guides of tourism telling us that our culture belongs to Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. Now if Mohenjo Daro or Harappa had gone to the Hindus during partition, would we still claim that it is our culture. Culture has to do, like I mentioned before, with the beliefs of a certain group.
    Secondly, the two-nation theory, which was given air and projected by the learned visionary Allama Dr. Iqbal, has always been misunderstood by our historians for some reason. Two nations was certainly not East and West Pakistan, which former premier of India Mrs. Indhra Gandhi once said after the downfall of Dacca. From what I have understood, what the Allama said was, Muslims all over the world are one nation, while Non-Muslims were another nation.


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