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Can Pakistan ever become a Secular State?

I am borrowing from an answer I wrote on a similar topic on Quora.

It all depends on who you ask.

What would these generals in the Pakistani army have to say?

What would the maulanas (Islamic clergy) teaching in Madrassas (Islamic schools) across Pakistan have to say about Pakistan's secularism?

Would they want Pakistan to levitate to the dignified elevation of a secular state?


Would the young, educated generation in Pakistan want Pakistan to be a democratic, secular state?


Does generation X in Pakistan possess the power to make that happen?

Not in a million years.

Pakistan is a state run and administered by the military, and ideologically tutored by the Islamic fundamentalists, regardless of what Jinnah wanted it to be.

So, what did Jinnah want when creating Pakistan?

A throne to sit on, a land to rule…

And if that package could catapult him into the stature of a messiah for "his people" from the oblivion of being forgotten as one of the many Muslim leaders during the freedom struggle - well, that would be an irresistible bonus.

And he managed to extract all three from the spoils of Partition and the vulnerable and nascent Indian state.

Jinnah realized that India was truly going to embrace democracy, and the only path to political leadership in such a country was to win the votes of the electorate. With the overwhelming popularity of Nehru among the masses, Jinnah was quick to realize that the road to Prime Ministership was not for him - in an independent India. He therefore, played on the insecurities of his Muslim followers by formally introducing the 2 Nation theory. The 2 Nation theory was marketed on the unique selling proposition that Muslims would not be able to co-exist with Hindus in an independent India, and that it was highly likely that in an independent India, Muslims would be made slaves of the infidels (Hindus).

But didn’t Gandhi Offer Jinnah the Prime Ministership of India?

There are educated Pakistanis who point out the fact that Gandhi had offered Jinnah the Premiership of an independent India. Jinnah refused that offer and chose to create Pakistan because, in their opinion, the welfare of subcontinental Muslims was Jinnah’s only priority.

There are flaws with that argument. First, Gandhi never had the real power to persuade the Indian National Congress to hand the Prime Ministership of a country the size of India to Jinnah, just to appease the latter. The Indian National Congress would elect the leader who had the most mass appeal in India, and Jinnah certainly did not feature in the list of the most respected candidates for Prime Ministership. Secondly, Jinnah was more of a pragmatist that an idealist. If he could snatch a chunk of the subcontinent and call it his own, he did not need a "handout" from Gandhi.

Injecting Doubt and Fear to Forge Pakistan’s National Identity…

The 2 Nation theory underscored the hypothesis of Hindu domination of Islam. According to that hypothesis, Hindus in an independent India, would initiate the process of enslaving Muslims simply to avenge the 1,000 years domination of Hindus by the Muslim invaders. Striking fear into the hearts of the doubting Muslims, to incite mass hatred for Hindus was the skill that Jinnah demonstrated more articulately than any other leader of the Muslim League party. Pakistan’s founding father injected this fear, loathing and hatred for India in general and Hindus in particular, so deep into the Pakistani psyche that it unwittingly became the pillar of Pakistan’s core national identity, even more so than Islam. Pakistan came to represent everything that India was not. This was the lasting legacy that Jinnah bequeathed to the nation he founded, a legacy steeped in an absolute antithesis and complete rejection of the parent nation.

However, a national identity founded on negation of a nation, a culture, an ideology or a philosophy… cannot sustain a country through the ups and downs of it’s formative years, and in the long run cannot propel it to true greatness in the comity of nations. That is where Jinnah fell short of the Nehrus, the Gandhis, the Sardar Patels, the Maulana Azads and the Ambedkars of India. India was fortunate to have been blessed with a constellation of founding fathers and visionaries who came together during the struggle for independence and thereafter, to crystallize a sustainable vision for India in the form of a constitution that guaranteed the birth of a secular, democratic republic. However, Jinnah’s singular lack of a coherent and sustainable vision for Pakistan ensured that the country would be doomed to an eternal existence of constantly searching for an identity to define itself.

Without a vision from the founding father, if the new nation fails to identify or align itself with any lofty principle or ideology that could be molded into a sustainable road-map for the future, as has been the case, then a perennial hatred for India will continue to be the only glue that binds and holds the Pakistani nation together.

On a side note…

From the time the Pakistani military started tightening its grip over the civilian rulers, it became apparent to them and to the nation’s ruling class that if the animosity (with India) can be kept alive by associating it with a tangible goal or objective, then Pakistan can continue to survive as a nation. The unfinished business of “wresting Kashmir from India and annexing it into Pakistan” became that tangible goal or dream which could serve (and indeed has served) - as a poor but strong substitute for a non-existent national vision. The Pakistani population can easily buy into that goal if it is effectively blended and packaged with the bizarre philosophy of Ghazwa-e-Hind and sold by political leaders as well as the military junta (to their benefit, perpetuating their grip on power) with ample marination and garnishing of an anti-Hindu jihadi flavor added to the whole plot by the Maulanas and the Islamic fundamentalists.

This thought gave rise to the slogan “Kashmir banega Pakistan” meaning Kashmir will become Pakistan.

Which is why the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A by India’s BJP government is so unbearable to the Pakistani nation. It is almost as if a rug has been pulled from under their feet by Indian Prime Minister Modi. Ideologically, the “concept of Pakistan” now faces an existential crisis far more serious than the loss of East Pakistan in 1971. The current existential threat becomes a reality if Kashmir gets assimilated into the Indian federal structure and Kashmiris develop a taste for the benefits that the 6th largest economy (in terms of GDP) has to offer to them. Given a choice between an increased quality of life under an emerging economic power as compared to a life spent in a perennial state of jihad with India, no points for guessing which one would Kashmiris go for. That is the ultimate game plan of Indian Prime Minister Modi, and the very thought of it scares the living daylights out of the Pakistani leadership both political and military. That explains the current state of paranoia and mass hysteria being witnessed across the political and military spectrum in Pakistan. But, that requires a separate discussion.

(Courtesy: Illingworth Cartoons, Daily Mail UK)

The above cartoon demonstrates how even the British media regarded Jinnah as the chief trouble maker who disrupted what would otherwise have been a remarkably smooth transition of power from the British to the largest colony in the British Empire.

So, Jinnah ended up with his own little kingdom to rule, and a place in Pakistan’s history books. He was crowned with the title of “Quaid-e-Azam” or the Great Leader.

Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin (Akbar Ahmed)

And he accomplished all of this without having contested a single election, and without having served the prison time that Gandhi, Nehru and many lesser known freedom fighters had to endure under the British. However, it is the subcontinent that had to pay the price for Jinnah’s lust for power through a carnage of unprecedented proportions. The blood of 2 million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs had to be shed, along with the displacement of 14 million men, women and children from their ancestral homes, just so Jinnah could carve out his political empire.

Having founded a nation on the theory of Hindu-Muslim bigotry, and the bloodbath triggered by that theory, it would be extremely naive to believe that the Quaid-e-Azam (as Pakistan calls him), would have truly wanted a secular state. You can’t play the religious card and then stamp “secularism” all over it. Jinnah was smart enough to know that, and politically astute not to admit it. The state that Jinnah ended up creating was one where "people were free to follow any religion, as long as it was Islam".

(Cartoon by Muhammad Zahoor)

Even the TIME magazine was able to see through Jinnah’s geo-political manipulations and accurately capture his desire on it’s cover with the quote - “MOHAMED ALI JINNAH His Moslem tiger wants to eat the Hindu cow”.

(TIME Magazine, April 22, 1946 edition)

Except for the experiment in Turkey, secularism and Islam haven’t been seen going hand-in-hand in any corner of the globe. Not yet. Pakistan isn’t going to change this trend either.

Non-Islamic minorities do exist in Pakistan, but their existence is one that leaves a lot to be desired, as compared to the rights and privileges enjoyed by the Sunni majority of Pakistan. But, that deserves a separate answer.


Edit 1:

Did ANYONE ever fight the British for an Independent Pakistan?


I seem to be receiving more than my fair share of criticism from, I am guessing readers of Pakistani origin in the comments section. I thank all for at least reading the post to the end.

Interestingly, in all of those comments I find a common underlying thread wherein Pakistanis seem to imagine that the creation of a separate Homeland for Muslims was in some way a birthright for the Subcontinental Muslims, and Jinnah simply followed a preordained destiny.

As a Westerner I fail to understand this - “What gives anyone the right to demand something they NEVER fought for?”

When in the history of the Indian Independence movement, did individuals fight for an Independent Pakistan? Please share with me any evidence you may have that shows that men died fighting the British for an “Independent Pakistan”.

I couldn’t find any. Did Jinnah, the British educated, cigar smoking intellectual ever face prison time and torture at the hands of the British?

Everyone that died in the Independence Movement against the British, everyone that got incarcerated and tortured by the British, did so because they were fighting for an “Independent India”. Ironically that would include innumerable ancestors of those who today call themselves Pakistanis.


Edit 2:

Jinnah did not want Partition?

Some readers have commented, and you get to hear this lame logic very often... that Jinnah was a secularist at heart with his British education and love for a West-inspired liberal lifestyle. As such, he did not really want a partition of India.

That reminds me of the occasional guest who comes to your party bragging about being on a no-sugar diet. But, the same guest ends up devouring one-third of your cake, just because it was so "tempting" and “irresistible”.

How does that anomaly happen? Any psychologist will tell you that the subject in question had an underlying, undying, insatiable hunger for that very thing which he bragged of having quit.

A secular Jinnah still could not resist the temptation of cutting and carving the new found Indian nation into an up-for-grabs real estate bargain.

(A Cartoon in the British media, lampooning Jinnah’s thirst for accumulating subcontinental real estate for his Muslim homeland)


Edit 3:

Who invented the 2 Nation Theory?

Some readers have been pointing out that Jinnah did not invent the 2 Nation Theory.

In my writing, I never claimed Jinnah started the 2 Nation Theory. My assertion is that Jinnah marketed the idea and executed it with cunning and shrewdness like no other individual in the Muslim League could.

Which is exactly why Sir Muhammad Iqbal, also known as Allama Iqbal requested Jinnah to return from London and take up an active role in the politics of the Muslim League. Allama Iqbal instinctively knew that Jinnah would bring the idea of a separate Muslim Homeland to fruition.

So, who was Allama Iqbal and why was he so interested in the 2 Nation Theory?

Allama Iqbal was the proponent of the 2 Nation Theory who articulated it in greater detail than any of his predecessors!

Note: Some believe Sir Syed Ahmad Khan started it all.

Wait, but isn’t Allama Iqbal the poet who wrote the song that has attained iconic status in present day independent India - “Saare jahan se achcha, Hindustan hamara” meaning our Hindustan is supreme in this world?

What an irony?!

He laid the foundations of slicing the same Hindustan into two!

So, looks like good old Hindustan got back stabbed by many Muslim Leaguers, not just one. Many of them pretended to be Hindustan's friends at first. Reminds of the fate of Julius Caesar.


Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military (Husain Haqqani)

Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence (Jaswant Singh)

The Great Partition (Yasmin Khan)

Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity: The Search for Saladin (Akbar Ahmed)

Midnight's Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India's Partition (Nisit Hajari)

Pakistan: A hard Country (Anatol Lieven)

The Idea of Pakistan (Stephen Philip Cohen)

The Myth of Independence (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto)

Road to Pakistan: The Life and Times of Mohammad Ali Jinnah (B. R. Nanda)

Making Sense of Pakistan (Farzana Shaikh)

We Are Not In Pakistan (Shauna Singh Baldwin)

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