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Pakistan’s Islamic Identity and Realpolitik

Since, last two decades the relationship between Islam and political power has come up as a new field of political attention and analysis. Especially, after the 9/11 attack, ‘Arab spring’ and the rise of ISIS, questions related to Islam’s role in politics have been frequented in media and academia. The pressing concern in contemporary world is with understanding whether Islamic fundamentals are used as dictates by Islamic nations or is it merely used as a tool to execute ‘realpolitik’. Pakistan presents an ideal case for this analysis.

Pakistan achieved independence in 1947 and declared Islam as its ‘raison d’etre’, its territorial space as a safe haven for the Muslims of South-Asia. Although, the founder of Pakistan M.A. Jinnah wanted to create a secular space with in Pakistan for all the communities, but still with time and working of parties like ‘Jamaat-e-Islami’ (JI) Islam became a source of gaining political legitimacy in Pakistani politics. This became more apparent during the military regime of General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia seized power through a military coup in 1977, to gain legitimacy he turned to Islam, and resorted that to put Pakistan on the track of development true Islam has to be implemented in Politics. He fostered his dictatorial rule under the garb of Islamisation.  General Zia’s Islamisation policies strengthened his regime’s ties with the orthodox Ulema and other Islamic power brokers such as JI, which in turn provided the regime with much needed legitimacy and disenfranchising his political rivals. Zia’s reign demonstrated how Islam can be called upon to guide the use of political power and justify pragmatic politics.

However, it has not only the conservative ones who think of using Islam as a political tool but the liberal ones too have utilized it to further their own political agenda. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s notion of ‘Islamic socialism’ as the basis of the Pakistan People’s Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s is a prime example of this, by claiming to bring alive the real socialist spirit of Islam, he not only questioned the policies of Ayub Khan’s regime, but also laid claim to his leadership in the post-Ayub era.

Just like the domestic arena, Islamic Identity of Pakistan has also been portrayed in its foreign policy decision making since its inception. This can be seen clearly in the case of Kashmir conflict, linking the issue with the interests of Kashmiri Muslims and their proclaimed oppression under the Indian government. Although, it can be seen as a political stunt to help keep the power in hand for every political party. Keeping the military-mullah nexus of Pakistan in good books is imperative for every political party who wishes to stay in power and for that an anti-India narrative has to be pushed forward, of which Kashmir issue is the elemental root. The fallacy of acting as an Islamic country which is striving for the rights of Muslims stand exposed in the case of exploitation if ‘Sunni’ Uighur Muslims of China. Since, the alliance with the ‘all-weather’ friend China is crucial for Pakistan to counter its security dilemma of India, realpolitik is preferred over Islamic Identity. Considering these facts over the historical evolution of Pakistan and its contemporary political stances, it can be factually concluded that Pakistan uses its religious identity as a tool to achieve its political objectives and has only been paying a lip service to cause of Islamic brotherhood.

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