Excerpt: Reimagining Pakistan by Husain Haqqani | books | excerpts | Hindustan Times
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Excerpt: Reimagining Pakistan by Husain Haqqani

Husain Haqqani’s new book states that successive Pakistani leaders and most of the country’s intelligentsia preferred to build the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ on the twin pillars of Islam and antagonism towards India. An excerpt from a chapter on Islamist Rage examines what is at the heart of the nation’s current problems

books Updated: Mar 30, 2018 18:17 IST
Hindustan Times
Graves in Chenab Nagar, Pakistan of Ahmadiyyas killed in attacks on the community’s mosques in May 2010.
Graves in Chenab Nagar, Pakistan of Ahmadiyyas killed in attacks on the community’s mosques in May 2010.(Getty Images)


Reimagining Pakistan, Husain Haqqani, Rs 699, 336pp, Harper Collins.

The transformation of East Pakistan into Bangladesh should have been an opportunity to revise the two-nation theory and the ‘ideology of Pakistan’. The Bengalis had proved that ethnicity and demands for a rightful share of the country’s resources was a stronger factor in determining their nationalism than Islam. West Pakistani soldiers, on the other hand, had demonstrated how a shared faith did not prevent them from committing atrocities against fellow citizens whom they considered lesser Muslims or lesser Pakistanis. But instead of lessening reliance of religion as a factor in politics, the loss of East Pakistan only moved Pakistan towards a closer embrace of ideological nation building.

With East Pakistan gone, Pakistan lost the moderating influence of secular Bengali politicians. Punjab that had been the heartland of religious politics now constituted the majority in a new Pakistan. Pakistan was now geographically compact, with a dominant ethnic group (the Punjabis) and a military that sought to avenge its humiliation in Bangladesh. Ethnic Baloch and Pashtun politicians were the last remaining secularists but they could not hope to have any national influence. Bhutto, the consummate politician, decided that he would implement his plan for a socialist economy with a stronger dose of religious fervour. He believed that this was what the people wanted and he was the man to give it to them...

Bhutto portrayed himself, in the words of political scientist Anwar Syed, as ‘a Socialist Servant of Islam’. To rebut the argument of his Islamist opponents that socialism was ‘antithetical to God and religion’, Bhutto ‘advertised his personal dedication to Islam’ and ‘insisted that he was a good Muslim’. He said, ‘he was proud of being a Muslim; indeed, he was first a Muslim and then a Pakistani’.

Bhutto liked to narrate how, as foreign minister during the 1965 war, he ‘had resisted India and chased its foreign minister out of the Security Council’, which could only be possible because he was ‘a servant of Islam’. He also insisted that Islam ‘is the basis of Pakistan’ and if a political party did ‘not make Islam the main pillar of its ideology, then that party would not be a Pakistani party. It would be an alien party.’

By 1974, Bhutto had gradually phased out the more secular left-wing members of his PPP from power. Socialist intellectuals with middle-class backgrounds made way for traditional landowners who had now joined the party. The PPP’s then secretary general, Mubashir Hasan, wrote later that he observed ‘Bhutto’s tilt towards an obscurantist interpretation of Islam’. The first major manifestation of that inclination in constitutional and legal terms occurred when Islamist groups rioted against the Ahmadi sect. The riots began after a clash in May between Islamist and Ahmadi students at the railway station of Rabwah, the town where the Ahmadi sect has its headquarters.

Islamist demands against the Ahmadis were no different this time around than they had been almost two decades earlier. But in 1953, Prime Minister Nazimuddin had been willing to call in the army to stop the rioters and Justice Munir had written his report pointing out the problem with the state accepting demands to define which sect was or was not Islamic. Now, Bhutto was unwilling to follow in Nazimuddin’s footsteps and there was no one of Munir’s stature to remind the government that it should not allow clerics to dictate legislation.

Indira Gandhi(R) with Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (C) and his daughter Benazir Bhutto. (HT Photo)

Even though the Ahmadis had, as a community, backed Bhutto in the 1970 election, Bhutto decided to join the religious parties he had defeated at the polls in amending Pakistan’s constitution (framed only a year earlier) to define ‘Muslim’ in a way that specifically excluded Ahmadis from the fold of Islam. The Islamists got their biggest legislative victory since the Objectives Resolution and that too after losing a general election.

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Pakistan went to polls for a second time in 1977, with consequences almost as monumental as the last time. Nine opposition parties, including a unified Muslim League and three religious parties, came together in the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) to challenge Bhutto’s PPP. The alliance’s rallies drew large crowds, especially in large cities upset with Bhutto’s authoritarian streak. Although at least one liberal and one major left-wing party were part of the PNA, its campaign was driven by the Islamists. Bhutto countered that by emphasizing religious issues himself.

The PPP manifesto promised to ‘ensure that Friday is observed as the weekly holiday instead of Sunday, make the teaching of the Holy Quran an integral part of eminence as a centre of community life, establish a federal Ulema academy and other institutions’ and a variety of other concessions to Islamic sentiment. ‘The closing weeks of the spring campaign found each side asserting its past service to Islam and its promise to bring about an Islamic system of government more quickly or more effectively,’ observed Leonard Binder. A Pakistani newspaper, ‘in a rare case of dissent from this trend’ wrote in an editorial, ‘For God’s sake leave Islam alone’...

The religiously charged election resulted in a PPP victory, which was immediately contested by the PNA with violent street protests. Most independent observers pointed out that the PPP had padded its victory, not stolen the election. The PNA allegations of election rigging were exaggerated as was the extent of the PPP’s electoral victory. But as Marvin Weinbaum noted, ‘whatever the extent or origins of the election irregularities, in just a matter of days the legitimacy of the entire electoral exercise had been irretrievably lost’.

The dispute over election results might have been resolved through a political settlement but instead, the PNA’s protests ended up demanding Bhutto’s resignation and the full enforcement of Nizam-e-Mustafa (The system of the Prophet). Bhutto was accused of being the antithesis of an Islamic leader and protestors demanded a more pious leadership for a more Islamic Pakistan.

A month into the protests, Bhutto announced that ‘Sharia law would be enforced in six months’ and declared ‘immediate total prohibition on the use of alcohol, complete ban on gambling in all forms and [on] night clubs’. His expectation that this would subside the passion of the protestors was not fulfilled. Eventually, the army stepped in and Gen. Zia-ul-Haq seized power in yet another military coup. Although he initially promised free and fair elections within ninety days, Zia went on to rule for eleven years, declaring ‘Islamization’ as his principal objective. His dictatorship marked the pinnacle of Pakistan’s embrace of Islam as the national ideology.

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Zia had started Islamizing the army even before he toppled Bhutto and secured absolute power. One of his lieutenants, Lt Gen. Jahan Dad Khan, wrote that Zia was ‘a devout Muslim’ for whom ‘it was a matter of faith’ to ‘propagate Islam wherever he could’. He changed the Pakistan Army’s motto to Iman (Faith), Taqwa (abstinence), Jihad Fi Sabeelillah (war in the way of God). According to Khan, Zia ‘urged all ranks of the army during his visits to troops as well as in written instructions, to offer their prayers, preferably led by the commanders themselves at various levels. Religious education was included in the training programme and mosques and prayer halls were organized in all army units.’

If Liaquat, Ayub, Yahya and Bhutto were non-practising Muslims using Islamic symbolism to bind the nation together, Zia was more overtly observant and visibly zealous in making Pakistan an Islamic state. Like all dictators invoking religion in statecraft, power was his goal and there was much hypocrisy in his religiosity. But he wrote laws and created institutions to empower Pakistan’s clerics in a way that had not been done before. Zia’s US-backed decision to launch jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan also bred religious militancy, which Pakistan is dealing with to this day.

The most prominent legislation under Zia was perhaps the Hudood Ordinance in 1979, which introduced punishments such as stoning, flogging and amputation for crimes such as adultery (zina), theft and consuming alcohol. Although stoning and amputation were not actually carried out, there were several public floggings in Zia’s initial years. But keeping draconian laws on the books, even when punishments they specified were not fully carried out, had its own downside. The laws became an instrument of blackmail in a corrupt law enforcement system, adding to the burden of an already underfunded judiciary, which now had to deal with a plethora of cases relating to alleged un-Islamic behaviour.

Rajiv Gandhi(L) and Zia Ul Haq. (Virendra Prabhakar/HT Photo)

The adultery or Zina laws became contentious because they gave a man’s testimony double the weight of a woman’s evidence. This weakened the position of women when they filed charges of rape. Several rape victims ended up being imprisoned for adultery under the law, raising the number of women prisoners nine years after the implementation of the Hudood Ordinance to around 6,000. The numbers dropped somewhat after Zia’s exit from power. But the stories of individuals wrongfully accused of adultery after being raped continue to fracture the positive image Pakistanis seek for their country abroad.

Other examples of Zia’s Islamization include the blasphemy laws, creation of shariat courts with powers to strike down and challenge laws that were deemed not Islamic, ordinances forbidding Ahmadis from engaging in any practice that might make them seem Muslims, and introduction of Zakat and Ushr religious taxes. Zia also ordered heads of government departments to organize prayers for their staff every day, creating an excuse for government officials to take time off from work ostensibly for prayer.

‘The ideology of Pakistan is Islam and only Islam,’ Zia once thundered, declaring secularism to be a threat to the country. ‘There should be no misunderstanding on this score. We should in all sincerity accept Islam as Pakistan’s basic ideology,’ he said, adding that if that was not done Pakistan would ‘be exposed to secular ideologies’.

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Zia’s definition of Pakistan’s Islamic ideology precluded efforts to reconcile Islam with modern ideas, opposed anything remotely secular and unleashed the debates about ‘who is a Muslim’ and ‘what does it mean to enforce Islam in the twentieth century’ that Justice Munir and others had warned about in Pakistan’s first decade.

The ideology of Pakistan now had a more unambiguously theocratic orientation. It was also more specifically tied to defining Pakistan as a nation distinct from India. ‘We are going back to Islam not by choice but by the force of circumstances,’ Zia declared, arguing that the raison d’être of Pakistan stemmed from ‘our cultural and moral awareness’ about Islam being ‘our only salvation’.

For Zia, explanations of Pakistan’s genesis in terms of protecting the subcontinent’s Muslim minority against Hindu domination and enforcement of Islamic laws were interconnected. If Islam was not central to the idea of Pakistan ‘we might as well have stayed with India’, he said. Islam was ‘the fundamental factor’ in the creation of Pakistan. ‘It comes before wheat and rice and everything else. I can grow more wheat; I can import wheat but I cannot import the correct moral values,’ Zia explained.

Under Zia, Pakistan’s judiciary and administration were infused with individuals with a decidedly Islamist outlook. The military, and especially the much enlarged Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, also assimilated the harder-line definition of Pakistan’s ideology. Unilateral amendments to the Constitution made it impossible for politicians and political parties to describe themselves as ‘secular’ and still participate in the political process. Universities and the media were largely purged of individuals advocating a non-religious world view.

The scope of national debate was narrowed to a choice between various interpretations of Islam instead of being open to the more fundamental question of whether Islam should have such a central role in state policy or not.

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Although Zia was killed in a plane crash in 1988, Pakistan has not recovered from his Islamization. Since then, several civilian governments have been elected and, in between, another military dictatorship, this time led by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, ruled for almost nine years from 1999 to 2008. All of them, with some exceptions, have publicly acknowledged the need for rolling back Islamic militancy and rationalizing Islamic laws such as those relating to blasphemy. But no one has been able to systematically reopen debate on how Pakistan might make policy decisions based on economic and social necessities rather than on the basis of religious affectation.

Meanwhile, demands for further Islamization have not subsided. In 1989, the shariat court and the Supreme Court requested the Qisas and Diyat (Retribution and Compensation) Ordinance, which provided for those convicted of murder or assault to pay ‘blood money’ to the victim’s family instead of going to prison. This amounted to putting the choice of prosecuting a murderer’s fate in the hands of the victim’s heirs, making it easier for the rich to buy freedom after a violent crime. It also led to a massive increase in ‘honour killings’—where a male family member kills a woman or her lover for bringing ‘dishonour’ to the family.

In case of ‘honour killings’, perpetrators could now act with impunity as they would face no legal consequences. After all, they perpetrate the crime and are also in a position to forgive themselves as the family of the victim. Over the last several years, a thousand or so honour killings are now reported in Pakistan each year. A well-known case is that of Samia Sarwar, whose family hired an assassin to kill her and later forgave the assassin and decided not to pursue any charges under Islamic law.

Author Husain Haqqani (Courtesy HarperCollins)

Even after such legislation, Pakistan is still not Islamic enough for some. During the early 1990s, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government ‘ordered TV actresses to wear veils over their heads’, made the death penalty mandatory for individuals convicted of blasphemy or ‘defiling’ Prophet Muhammad’s name and debated ‘whether banks should be allowed to charge interest in violation of religious doctrine’. A Washington Post report told of how the directors of a television play ‘wrestled with a scene in which a woman’s head had to be covered with a scarf while her hair was being shampooed’. The government also refused during the 1992 Olympics ‘to allow women’s swimming events to be shown on television because the swimsuits were considered too immodest for Islamic sensibilities’.

More recently, in 2016, the official Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) announced that it was deliberating a ‘“model” women’s protection bill, which allows a husband to “lightly” beat his wife “if needed” and prohibits mixing of the genders in schools, hospitals and offices’. The CII claimed that its proposed bill would give women ‘all the rights given to them under Sharia’, while prohibiting interaction between men and women (except those specifically permitted to meet by Islamic law) ‘at recreational spots and offices’. The law also sought to ban ‘dance, music, and sculptures created in the name of art’...

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Manufactured Outrage

According to British sociologist, Anthony D. Smith, nationalism often involves ‘Rediscovering in the depths of the communal past a pristine state of true collective individuality’, and nationalists strive to identify ‘the spirit and values of’ some ‘distant Golden Age’. The challenge of Pakistani nationalism has always been to determine the country’s relationship with history. If Pakistan represents the revival of the ‘Golden Age’ of Islam, it must come to terms with the fact that none of the major Islamic empires — from the Umayyads and Abbasids to the Ottomans and Safavids — were centred in today’s Pakistan; If Pakistan represents the resurgence of Muslim sultans who ruled the subcontinent, they too ruled from Delhi, not Karachi or Islamabad.

08 December 1970 - Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, then the leader of the East Pakistan Powerful League casting his vote in Dhaka during the country’s first ever general election. The independence of Bangladesh was declared on 26 March 1971. (HT Photo)

Pakistan could always acknowledge the history of the territory that it incorporates as the history of Pakistan’s various peoples. This would involve recognizing the history of the Sindhis and the Baloch, of the Pashtuns and the Punjabis, as well as the various tribes and communities that inhabit today’s Pakistan. The country would then be seen as a federation of diverse communities that became part of Pakistan at the end of British rule as a result of complex politics during the Indian independence struggle. But Pakistan’s leaders have always dreaded that this might lead to assertion of ethnic nationalism and irredentism, a concern accentuated by the separation of Bangladesh. For them, it is imperative that the creation of Pakistan be attributed, not to the political dynamic that started with the introduction of representative institutions under the Raj, but to an inherent incompatibility between the subcontinent’s Muslims and non-Muslims.

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The Pakistani version of history denies that a vast majority of Muslims in the subcontinent, including the parts that are now Pakistan, are members of local communities that converted to Islam at some point in time. Thus, Pakistanis view themselves as, simultaneously, the descendants of Arabs and Persians, as well as being related to the Turks and the Mongols. This creates such incongruities as a Punjabi belonging to the Jat tribe (that includes Hindus and Sikhs) lecturing Baloch or Sindhi students about his (and Pakistan’s) heritage being linked to the Muslims who ruled Cordoba and Granada in Spain. It is almost as if the creation of Pakistan has magically bridged differences of DNA, broken off ties to India and Hindus and linked people from the land of the Indus to wherever Muslims might have achieved greatness at any point of time in the last fifteen centuries.

Accepting that Pakistan is a newly conceived nation state that would create history as it goes forward, rather than historic appropriation or distorting the past, was a realistic alternative that was never given a chance. Pakistan could acknowledge its Indian heritage as well as the Muslim-ness of a majority of its population. It could recognize its diversity and admit that its lands have been ruled by different people at different times. It could even concede that some of its people, notably Punjabis, were later converts to Islam than others and some did not have a track record of self-rule while others did. Instead, successive Pakistani leaders and most of the country’s intelligentsia preferred to build the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ on the twin pillars of Islam and antagonism towards India.

In recent years, the rise of ‘Hindutva’ in India has helped Pakistan’s ideologues advance their case but even before that the fear of ‘the other’ served as an important element in composing Pakistan’s nationalism. Envisioning India as a ‘permanent enemy’ has led to militarism and militancy—a subject we will examine in detail in a subsequent chapter. But the adoption of Islam as the basis of nationhood, instead of as a system of beliefs designed for individual and collective spirituality or piety, has also contributed to social anarchy, political conflict and sectarian strife.

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Defining Pakistan’s nationalism through Islam exposed the country to the paradox of setting a national boundary upon a universalist faith. There were, as some scholars have pointed out, a ‘range of civilizational levels as well as the range of Islamic pasts’ for Pakistanis to choose from, making the unifying faith a source of great contention. As a consequence, Pakistan’s Islamists, and often the state apparatus, have sought to manipulate religious sentiment to bolster nationalist feeling without intending to establish the Islamic state they constantly talk about.

Islamic ideology not only sets Pakistan apart from India, notwithstanding many commonalities of history, culture and social mores; it also musters a diverse nation’s energies in pushing back on policy pressures from major international powers. In some ways, it is a weapon amid weakness even if it is a gun held to one’s own head. Constant indignation at real or perceived indignities against Islam are a useful device for Pakistan’s politicians and Islamists. They distract from substantive economic and social issues. Quite often, religious rage is generated through falsehoods and rumours, which are systematically deployed as vehicles of policy.

The periodic outbreaks of protest over insults to Prophet Muhammad and Islam are hardly spontaneous. In each case, the protesters do not react to something they see or become aware of in the ordinary course of life. Most of the objects of complaint—a remark made in private, a book published in the West or a movie that has not been released in Pakistan—are not widely accessible and yet the public is whipped into a fury. The Islamists first introduce the objectionable material to their audience and then instigate outrage by characterizing it as part of a supposed worldwide conspiracy to denigrate Islam.

The emergence of social media and the swiftness of international communications have made it easier to choreograph global campaigns and, in Muslim-majority countries, Islamists tend to be among those who are most effectively organized to take advantage of technology for political ends. But Pakistan has been a centre of campaigns to protect Islam and the Prophet’s honour, each starting with frenzy and fizzling out without attaining its stated objective.

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Restoring Balance

Nations, like individuals, can sometimes be swayed by emotion in defining their self-interest. In Pakistan’s case, constructing national identity by means of a national ideology has severely constricted policy options. In its initial years, Pakistan’s leaders were able to juggle between ideological demands and the practical needs of running a modern nation. Now, however, Pakistan has gone too far down the ideological rabbit hole to be able to embrace pragmatic policies in any number of fields including economics, education and relations with the rest of the world. Pakistan’s leaders cite public opinion and religious sentiment as the justification for tolerating intolerance and bigotry while they do little to shape public opinion differently. In fact, Pakistan’s steady drift towards religious extremism is a result of state policies and the tendency of individuals and institutions to gain advantage by arousing emotion. On many occasions, when Pakistani leaders have made rational choices for worldly reasons, they have avoided explaining their reasoning to the general populace. Instead, religious reasons have been evoked constantly to keep Islamic passions alive even while making decisions such as joining Western alliances.

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It is important to note that on at least three occasions in Pakistan’s history, the determination of its leaders to push back prevailed against the demands of religious activists and clerics. On all three occasions, political and military leaders as well as judges of superior courts came together to prevent illiberal interpretations of religion from becoming the law of the land.

The first of these was the refusal in 1953 of Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin to remove his foreign minister for being an Ahmadi and to declare the Ahmadi community a non-Muslim minority. Although the government was forced to impose martial law in Lahore to quell riots, it successfully made its case to the public that giving in to religious rioters would only lead to further sectarian divisions. The Pakistani military helped the civilian government in putting down the riots while the judiciary helped in the form of the Munir Commission report, which showed the obscurantism and contradictions of the clerics’ views.

Twenty-one years later, in 1974, the political leadership sought political advantage by appeasing clerics making anti-Ahmadi demands. Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared it an ‘achievement’ that he secured support of all major political parties in amending the constitution to declare Ahmadis non-Muslim under law. A few years later, military ruler Zia legislated restrictions on Ahmadi professions of faith, making it a punishable offence for an Ahmadi to act in a manner that made him or her seem to be a Muslim. The judiciary upheld Zia’s laws on grounds that by acting like a Muslim or using nomenclature used by Muslims, an Ahmadi offended Muslims and, therefore, deserved the punishment prescribed by Zia. Had Bhutto, Zia and the judges acted like Pakistan’s leaders did in 1953, Pakistan could have avoided being saddled with a constitutional amendment and laws that are deemed by the rest of the world as violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s decision in 1997 to restore Sunday as the weekly holiday instead of Friday was the second occasion on which the clerics’ opinion was rejected without much reaction. Pakistan had adopted Friday as the weekly holiday in 1977, in the last days of the elder Bhutto’s rule, and had persisted with it for almost two decades. Exporters and traders argued that they lost at least three days a week in their business because while Friday was off in Pakistan, businesses were shut on Saturday and Sunday in countries that were Pakistan’s major trading partners.

Sharif, a businessman himself, accepted the business community’s argument, legislated the change of weekly holiday and reminded the clerics that there was no specific command in the Quran or Hadith mandating a Friday shutdown. The judiciary rejected pleas calling for reinstatement of the weekly holiday on Friday, settling the matter, which has not been brought up seriously by anyone ever since.

More recently, in 2016, the third instance of the Pakistani state’s defiance of clerical pressure manifested in the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the police bodyguard who had killed Salmaan Taseer, governor of Punjab. Taseer was accused by Sunni clerics of supporting blasphemers when he supported amendments to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws and Qadri killed him ‘to avenge the Prophet’s honour’. Although Qadri admitted the crime, clerics described him as a man of faith acting in defence of Islam and demanded that he not be executed. Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s verdict against Qadri. Prime Minister Sharif enrolled the support of the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, to carry out the sentence in an effort to convince an otherwise sceptical world that Pakistan was turning away from Islamist extremism.

The ornate tomb of Mumtaz Qadri, who was hanged in February 2016 for murdering Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, who criticized Pakistan's blasphemy law and defended a Christian woman. The ornate shrine is on the outskirts of Islamabad. (AFP)

Predictions that the decision to execute Qadri would plunge Pakistan into religious disturbances were proved wrong. Pakistan’s elite supported the execution so that other bodyguards would not, in future, threaten their protectees. Although some fanatics declared Qadri a saint and built a huge mausoleum over his grave, the general public accepted the view that individuals could not be allowed to act as judge, jury and executioner over blasphemy allegations.

These three instances show the potential for rational decision making if Pakistan’s politicians and the permanent state machinery resolve to ignore or marginalize Islamists. Turning away from the ideological model of state requires willingness to at least question Pakistan’s self-characterization as a ‘citadel of Islam’, and a global centre for Islamic revival. Beginning with Jinnah’s 11 August 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly, there is sufficient ground to argue that Pakistan could as easily be envisaged as a modern territorial state as it has been visualized as an Islamic, ideological one.

Read more: Time for Pakistan to stop protecting terrorists, says former ambassador to US Husain Haqqani

A reimagined Pakistan would not necessarily embrace Jacobin secularism wherein the state attempts to restrict or limit the practice of religion. It would simply recognize that the individual can be pious, the society can be religious but the state should be non-confessional if it is to be different from what Pakistan has become. The constant refrain of Islamizing a Muslim-majority country, coupled with the belief that this nation must always be in conflict with its largest neighbour because of religious differences, is in many ways at the heart of most of Pakistan’s current problems.