The ideology of Pakistan is one of the most intellectually misunderstood and politically misused concepts in Pakistan. Some people equate it with the Two-Nation Theory, which was the basis of the creation of Pakistan, while others bracket it with Islamic Ideology. Both are not true.
This essay attempts to dispel the above myth by explaining the historical context of Pakistan’s Ideology with particular reference to its sources such as Islamic moorings, founding fathers’ vision, and people’s preferences as embodied in the constitution. It then highlights the main features of Pakistan’s ideology which is the bedrock of the statecraft as well as the way of life of the citizens of Pakistan
The ideology of Pakistan is one of the most controversial topics of discussion, either for its definitional ambiguities or its deliberately wrong interpretation. Some people, following the Marxist tradition, view it pejoratively as distorted consciousness, reflecting an exploitative material reality, that can be overcome through unmasking; or, more recently, as a fictitious narrative necessary to maintaining the social order.
On the other hand, some people politically misuse it and equate it with the Two-Nation Theory, which was the basis of the creation of Pakistan, while others bracket it with Islamic Ideology. They fail to understand that all these three concepts, namely the Two-Nation Theory, Pakistan Ideology, and Islamic Ideology, are interrelated but distinct in their application, as explained in the article later.
In this article, I am using ideology in its non-Marxist sense to mean any kind of action-oriented theory or a set of ideas, beliefs, values, and opinions, exhibiting a recurring pattern, that not only provides plans of action for public policy-making but also a theoretical framework to explain and justify those plans. I tend to agree with Michael Hunt, who defines ideology as, “an interrelated set of convictions or assumptions that reduces the complexities of a particular slice of reality to easily comprehensible terms and suggests appropriate ways of dealing with that reality.”
It is, thus, a neutral term, meaning any idea which unites a nation, providing its citizens with a worldview and a vision along with a set of rules for leading their lives. In that sense, Pakistan like every country has an ideology, a set of ideas about its reason to be, its dreams, and the way it likes its society, polity, and economy to work.
One cannot properly comprehend the need for Pakistan ideology without understanding the reason for the creation of Pakistan as an independent state on August 14, 1947, as a result of the dissolution of the British Indian Empire. The main reason for the emergence of Pakistan was the failure of the dominant Muslim elite of British India to extract sufficient constitutional guarantees from their counterparts, namely the dominant Hindu elite, for a substantial share in political decision-making once the British left India.
They feared, rightly or wrongly, depending on which side of the political fence you are on, that in the absence of these safeguards, the Muslim minority would gradually lose its cultural identity and would become a politically and economically marginalized underclass, another subservient caste, second-class citizens in a predominantly Hindu India. These perceptions had been reinforced by the stepmotherly treatment Muslim masses got during the brief Congress rule in the provincial governments, which it formed after the 1937 elections as a foretaste of things to come.
To succeed, every movement of this magnitude needs some sort of emotional underpinning to arouse the passions of the general public and ensure their maximum participation. Religion, race, and language have been common battle cries throughout history in this respect. However, the use of Islam as a battle cry for the Pakistan Movement had more to do with objective realities than a deliberate choice of the leaders of the movement.
That’s why the Pakistan Movement, though couched in religious terminology, was a movement by the downtrodden Muslim community of India to safeguard their socioeconomic interests and fulfil their dreams of improving the quality of life in a country where they could live according to their cherished dreams.
To press for their demands, they used the term Two-Nation Theory, which provided them with a moral narrative and political justification for the geographical division of India based on the claims of the Muslims of India as being a separate nation, not a community, and hence entitled to have a separate state.
Interestingly, it was their last option, not the first choice, as is evident from the acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan by the Muslim League when a last-ditch effort was made by the British to leave a united India as their legacy
Need for Pakistan Ideology?
After the creation of Pakistan, this battle cry lost its relevance as there were no longer two nations in Pakistan as everyone, whether a Hindu, Christian, or Muslim, was a Pakistani. This was very eloquently explained by the founder of Pakistan in his famous August 11th speech in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. There was, thus, a need for a new political narrative for two reasons.
Firstly, continuing with the Two Nations Theory is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s existence, creating problems at conceptual and practical levels. If the purpose of the Two Nations Theory was to achieve a separate homeland for the Indian Muslims, insistence on continuing with this Theory as the cornerstone of the new country’s ideology meant that the creation of Pakistan had failed to achieve its objective. Secondly, it would leave an open-ended option for any minority within Pakistan to demand separation, citing cultural, religious, or ethnic persecution as justification.
Consequently, a need was felt for a new political narrative to serve as a gelling bond for the millions of people living in a state geographically divided into two wings, both of which were separated by 1000 miles of a hostile country. At the same time, it should be an ideal that could unite a nation, providing its citizens with a worldview and a vision along with a set of rules for leading their lives. Accordingly, the First National Educational Conference held in November 1947 recommended the propagation of Pakistan ideology, which over time has evolved and is the national narrative of the country. However, the religious lobby, which had remained almost sidelined during the freedom struggle, became very active in getting political space and used the very neutral term Pakistan Ideology for this purpose by equating it with the Two Nations Theory.
Sources of Pakistan Ideology
Every ideology is deeply embedded in the history of its country and springs from its dominant religious beliefs, cultural aspirations, and societal values. Accordingly, we can identify the following four mainsprings of Pakistan’s Ideology.
A. Islamic Moorings
Islam, which was used as a battle cry for the creation of Pakistan, is the bedrock of Pakistan’s Ideology. As Islam prescribes a complete code of life for Muslims, including their personal lives, guidance for social relations, economic ethics, and political conduct, Pakistan’s ideology draws heavily from this source. It also provides them with a world view and norms of behaviour toward other countries.
However, Pakistan’s ideology, though heavily borrowing from this eternal concept, is relevant only to the extent of Pakistan's internal conduct and external relations. We should not equate it with Islamic ideology, which has universal relevance in terms of time and space. Pakistan is a nation-state, a country with definite geographical boundaries that contains a nation within those territorial limits.
In contrast, Islam is a religion that is above these human constructs and brings into its fold a universal following. Islamic Ideology is immutable; Pakistan’s ideology is subject to change and capable of reinterpretation in the light of objective realities.
B. Founding Fathers’ Vision
The vision given by the founding fathers during the freedom struggle and after its successful completion is the second source of Pakistan’s Ideology. They certainly wanted the country to be guided by Islamic principles but never wanted it to be a theocracy run by some mullahs asserting their right to rule under divine authority. In this connection, the views expressed by the founder of Pakistan in his interview with Reuters in 1946 serve as the guiding principles of Pakistan’s Ideology;
“The new state would be a modern democratic state with sovereignty resting in the people and the members of the new nation having equal rights of citizenship regardless of their religion, caste, or creed.”
Similarly, Khan Liaquat Ali Khan, the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, clearly stated:
“The investment of power in the people eliminated any danger of the establishment of a theocracy. Many persons who use the word theocracy in the same breath as the polity of Pakistan are either labouring under a grave misapprehension or indulging in mischievous propaganda.”
C. Constitutional Obligations
The Constitution of Pakistan is the third source of Pakistan’s Ideology. Its Principles of policy, such as the Islamic way of life, democratic form of government, full participation of women, protection of family, protection of minorities, promotion of social justice and economic wellbeing of the people, strengthening of bonds with the Muslim world, and promoting international peace, are the basic pillars of Pakistan Ideology.
D. Global Commitments
The last source of Pakistan’s Ideology stems from its being a responsible member of the international community in general and being one of the founding members of the United Nations in particular. It is a signatory to a large number of global and regional conventions and treaties that have been ratified by the Parliament and implanted through proper legislation.
Features of Pakistan Ideology
Based on the above sources we can discern the following elements as the prominent features of Pakistan’s Ideology
1. Islamic Identity
Pakistan is a Muslim state on account of its overwhelmingly Muslim population; as such, Islam will remain the fundamental source of her statecraft, social relations, business dealings, and foreign affairs. Islam will occupy the central place of polity, economy, and society like Christianity is the bedrock of European countries despite all their pretensions to be secular states. Good governance is enshrined in the holy Quran and exemplified by the pious caliphs as the guiding principle of the state but in no way it will be a theocracy
2. Own our roots.
No doubt Pakistan came into existence in the name of Islam, and we are proud of our Islamic identity, as stated above. However, Pakistan’s Ideology is more than its Islamic identity; we are also proud of our historical roots. There is consensus that besides being a Muslim-majority state with a multi-ethnic composition, Pakistan is the inheritor of thousands of years old Mehargarh, Mohenjo-Daro, and other civilizations belonging to the greater Indus Valley Civilization.
3. Unity in Diversity
One of the most prominent features of Pakistan’s Ideology is its firm belief in unity in diversity. Every modern nation-state is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious entity with different markers for its identification. Pakistan is home to over 15 major ethnic groups that differ in physical features, customs, dress, food, music, etc. It is a melting pot of South Asian, Central Asian, Western Asian, Middle Eastern, and European influences brought about by foreign invasions and trade relations. Consequently, everyone in Pakistan understands that the state cannot force cultural homogeneity through the barrel of a gun or state edicts. The evolution of a particular national culture takes time, to which each federating unit contributes. We let a hundred flowers of different varieties and hues bloom rather than having a garden full of roses only. We give respect to every major language spoken, with Urdu serving as the lingua franca
4. Respect for Fundamental Human Rights
Being a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948, as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations, the state respects the dignity of a common man by giving him a voice, empowering him, and providing him social justice. The principles of Pakistan’s Constitution incorporate all the clauses of this Declaration. In this connection, the role of women is of utmost importance, as emphasized by the founder of the country.
“No nation can rise to the height of glory unless their women are side by side with them…It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut up within the four walls of the house as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.”
5. Quality of Life
Throughout history, the overriding objective of every state has been to improve the quality of life of its citizens by meeting their basic needs at an affordable cost. Pakistan tries to ensure constant improvement in the quality of life of its citizens through sustainable and inclusive growth, whose gains are distributed equitably among all the regions of the country and all the sections of society
6. National Cohesion
Pakistan Ideology gives a vision of a just and prosperous Pakistan to all the various nationalities, communities, sections, and regions to create stakes for everyone to feel satisfied in a united, federal Pakistan.
“Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal, and you will find that in the course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense because that is the personal faith of the individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.”
It strives to mainstream marginalized sections and disgruntled elements of society by ensuring good governance at different levels of interaction and taking affirmative action on a selective basis where needed
7. Peaceful Coexistence
Peaceful coexistence is the cornerstone of Pakistan’s Ideology as far as the conduct of its foreign policy is concerned. While reserving its right to defend its territorial integrity and national sovereignty, Pakistan is a peace-loving nation-state, that acts responsibly in global and regional affairs. In this connection, we follow the advice of the Quid-e-Azam in letter and spirit
“Our foreign policy is one of friendliness and goodwill towards all the nations of the world. We do not cherish aggressive designs against any country or nation. We believe in the principles of honesty and fair play in national and international dealings and are prepared to make our utmost contribution to the promotion of peace and prosperity among the nations of the world. Pakistan will never be found lacking in extending its material and moral support to the oppressed and suppressed peoples of the world, and in upholding the principles of the United Nations Charter.”
8. Democratic Governance
Pakistan owes its creation to a democratic struggle, and as such, liberal democracy as envisioned by its founding fathers is one of the most important pillars of Pakistan’s Ideology. It strengthens the democratic dividends by promoting true political culture (of tolerance and accommodation), strengthening its democratic structures (of parliaments, and election commissions), and letting the various democratic processes (of holding elections at federal, provincial, and local levels) continue uninterruptedly
It has become fashionable among a section of our intellectual elite to make fun of Pakistan’s Ideology without realising that every country has an ideology that defines the parameters for its statecraft. There is nothing wrong with using the word Pakistan Ideology, nor does there need to be an apologist in believing in it which provides a set of world views for the citizens of Pakistan-Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the light of its special historical context, geographical location, and contemporary socio-political compulsions, internal and external.
From the book “Pakistan Affairs: 25 Essays”, published by Amazon and available at
Pakistan Affairs: 25 Essays
Pakistan Affairs: 25 Essays" is a comprehensive exploration of around two dozen key political, social, and economic…
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