Pakistan: Insight into Islamisation

Bidanda M. Chengappa, Senior Fellow, IDSA


Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif 's second attempt to impose Islamic rule in Pakistan is paradoxical considering that both the leaders and the people of that country have nurtured political aspirations of the democratic rather than the theocratic type. The fact that Islamic fundamentalist parties have not had much electoral success over the years only proves the point. While there has been a constant refrain since independence for a theocratic state, it is only the religious leaders and fundamentalist parties who have persisted in promoting this line and not the people of Pakistan.

The politically loaded move has raked up a controversy among the intelligentsia and even some ruling party members have expressed negative sentiments about Islamic rule. Surprisingly, even the fundamentalist Jamaat-i-Islami party leader, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, did not favour the move towards religious rule which makes the issue all the more puzzling. Opposition towards theocracy emanates principally from human rights groups, women's organisations and political parties.This trend is also reflected in the writings of political commentators in the national English Press who have unambiguously argued against Islamic rule.

This paper seeks to discuss the present circumstances and compulsions prompting the Sharif regime's requirement to implement Islamic governance in the country—particularly, the timing of the decision forms a crucial aspect which merits attention. A distinction between the concepts of Islamisation and Islamic fundamentalism is also imperative for a clearer understanding of the issue. It would then outline the experience of various rulers in Pakistan who have experimented with Islamic rule and their outcomes. Finally, the article will also examine the implications of the political development with particular reference to India.

Prime Minister Sharif in an earlier tenure during May 1991 had abortively attempted to Islamise the Constitution with a view to woo President Zia's fundamentalist constituency.1 However, the move was not succesful as the " primary reason for the non-introduction of the Constitutional Amendment has been the reported disaffection within the ruling Muslim League over the enforcement of the Shariat Bill."2

The three major Islamic fundamentalist parties in Pakistan are the Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam and Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan. Only these parties subscribe to the demand for a theocratic state and have promoted their ideology that Islam can provide the best form of governance by ensuring a social system characterised by justice and emancipation from economic exploitation. Yet the fundamentalist parties have never really been able to mobilise adequate votes to assume power in Pakistan which is an index of their electoral support or popularity.3

The inability of the fundamentalist parties to win elections has a deeper socio-historical rationale which reflects in the present day political struggle between the fundamental or "purist" and "popular" Islamic traditions. Riaz Hassan analyses the nature and form of the political struggle between the followers of "popular Islam" and "purist Islam" for religious and political hegemony in Pakistan.4 He argues that Sufism was the primary cause for the Islamisation in the subcontinent and played a dominant role in spreading "popular Islam". Gradually ,the hereditary descendants of these saints (pirs) led Sufi cult associations and these bodies by virtue of their spiritual and social influence acquired a mass following. In turn, the state granted these pirs large properties (jagirs) and their influence extended to the economic and political spheres of society. This led to a convergence of interests between the landlords (zamindars) and pirs in the rural areas which were further strengthened through inter-marriages among them. The resultant pir-zamindar alliance emerged as a dominant political force in the Pakistani state and society.

According to Hassan, the ulema or scholars of Islamic jurisprudence who form part of the urban elite propagate "purist" traditions are against "popular" ones. They are keen on breaking the nexus between the state and "popular" Islam. While the stranglehold of the pir-zamindar alliance remains strong in rural areas, a changing trend characterises the urban side where increasing literacy and industrialisation has enabled the ulema to gain some respectability among the middle and working classes. To that extent, the success of the purist Islamic tradition will triumph only if it has the ability to win the minds and hearts of the rural people.

Today, in the urban areas there is a resurgence of Islam at a personal level and not so much on the political level as the people in Pakistan are disillusioned with both their political and religious leaders. A trend of born again Muslims is happening with the Western-educated elite also taking to religion for personal solace. These people are now acknowledging their religious sentiments openly unlike earlier times. Moreover the Western world's "Islamophobia" which has generated hostility against the Muslim world has only succeeded in renewing the Islamic revival among the Muslims. Importantly, the fallout of this Western phobia about Islam has resulted in forging a degree of unity among the Muslims. According to Zahid Hussain, "The slogan of Islamisation has failed to attract public support largely because the Islamic identity of the country has never been disputed. While religion plays an important role in the lives of Pakistanis, very few would like to see the country transformed into a theocratic state."5

Professor Kalim Bahadur states: " Islamic fundamentalism is not a clearly defined category of religio-political thought in modern Islam. It is more or less a general tendency among some religio-political parties and groups in modern Muslim societies. It is held by social scientists as a general response of Muslim societies to westernisation and secularisation trends... Islamic fundamentalism in all its forms is opposed to modernistic interpretation of Islamic teachings which are attempted by modernists and liberal minded Muslims. Islamic fundamentalism, therefore, could be defined as a religio-political movement which essentially means going back to the original sources and roots of Islam. It advocates adherence to the original beliefs of religion in their literalist interpretations as fundamental and basic principles thus transcending all social, economic, political and cultural transformations which span a period of 14 centuries."6

Islamisation can broadly be identified as a holistic process of religious socialisation in accordance with Islamic norms, precepts, value postulates and rituals. It underlines a process of religious orientation , indoctrination and enforcement of Islamic beliefs, traditions and thought processes. Due to the pervasive nature of Islam, Islamisation as a process assumes wider scope and perspective encompassing the philosophical, socio-economic and political strands of an individual follower of Islam or a Muslim community.

Professor Surendranath Kaushik, who defines Islamisation in a theoretical framework, refers to the philosophical, socio-economic and political dimensions. The philosophical dimension consolidates the moral-ethical aspects of the individual Muslims or the community as a whole. The psychological make-up or attitudinal orientation of the believer and the community is shaped in accordance with the teachings of the Quran and the Sunnah. Establishment of Ukhwat (a common community of believers) is the ultimate objective of Islam. The socio-economic dimension as stated in the Quran and the Sunnah have prescribed measures for evolving a just and egalitarian socio-economic order, free of corruption and exploitation. Islam advocates collective human enterprise for the upliftment of the poor and downtrodden. In political terms, Islamic scriptures and traditions have distinct connotations of state, government, political parties, elections and judicial system. Islam attempts to mould and regulate the political order in accordance with Quranic directives. This dimension recognises the nature of an Islamic state and strives to impart to citizens an understanding of Islamic ideology.7

Over the years, Islamisation has become synonymous with fundamentalism and when these groups of religious fanatics indulge in organised violence, it is referred to as Islamic militancy. Various international and domestic factors have contributed to the growth of Islamic militancy worldwide and the emergence of Islamists as major contenders for political power in many Muslim countries. The advent of an American dominated unipolar world following the demise of Communism, a jaundiced Western view of Islam, the Gulf War, the perpetuation of corrupt and autocratic regimes bolstered by Western powers and several other interlinked factors have boosted the militant Islamic movements.

However, Prime Minister Sharif would like to believe that Islamic rule has the potential to solve the various problems plaguing his regime.8 In the sense that religious rule would appease the clergy which was enraged with the US military actions and in turn enable him to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) without domestic political opposition. Eventually this would help to energise the economy with Washington lifting sanctions against Islamabad in the post-Chagai phase.

The problem with the 15th Amendment to implement Islamic rule is that it would serve to render the Constitution and Parliament irrelevant so as to concentrate all power in the hands of the Prime Minister.9 It empowers the federal government to issue directives and make laws for implementation of the Islamic process. The amendment gives the government sweeping powers to act against any individual and also threatens citizens' freedom of expression and independence of the judiciary. In the process, the democratic structure existing to ensure a government for the people, by the people and of the people would be replaced with a government exclusively of Sharif, by Sharif and for Sharif.


What made Sharif propose Islamic rule in Pakistan ? The general belief is that the Prime Minister has opted for " Shariatisation" in order to concentrate political power in his hands rather than for any genuine religious reasons. While there is no clear-cut answer to this question, one can only infer the plausible rationale behind the move in the context of the domestic political situation prevailing at that time prompting the need for theocratic rule. Linkages between such a significant decision affecting public policy and the various developments prior to August 28, 1998, when the first announcement on Islamisation was made, become inevitable. These would include political, military, economic and social developments within and outside the country which are likely to have a bearing on national interest. Also, the timing of the move becomes critical in the entire political drama . In the light of this, the reasons for Islamisation could be:

-- To enable Sharif to undermine political opponents' programmes against his regime.

-- To be able to safeguard his own hold on political power.

-- To further improve relations with other Islamic states and seek economic aid from them.

-- To appease fundamentalist elements in the polity .

-- To stem sectarian violence which has been destroying the social fabric of the country.

-- To cope with the political fallout of the nuclear issue in the country.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had built alliances with various lingual, ethnic and regional parties like the Awami National Party (ANP), Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) and Balochistan National Party on coming to power in February 1997. These alliances were bonded together on the common objective of opposition to the Pakistan People's Party (PPP), ousted from power following the electoral verdict. However, by the beginning of the year, the situation got from bad to worse and Sharif was confronted with a deteriorating political situation in his country. In addition to the Opposition parties traditionally poised against the regime, the alliance partners also broke their ties with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML(N)). The Prime Minister failed to carry either the Opposition parties or the alliance partners along with him over the various policies pertaining to political , development, economic or ethnic issues.

The political problem has its roots in the distinction between an ethnic state and a civic state. An ethnic state is one where nationalism is determined exclusively on the basis of ethnicity whereas a civic state comprises several ethnic groups. The Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis and Pathans are the major ethnic streams in Pakistan. Yet the Punjabis dominate the political and commercial activities in the country much to the resentment of the other three communities. This has resulted in the demand for greater provincial autonomy from Balochistan, Sindh and North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) over the years. Yet Islamabad pursued Punjab-centric policies rather than a response to the regional aspirations of the people. Perhaps, the politico-bureaucratic leadership has an underlying fear that greater provincial autonomy could eventually lead to secessionist tendencies within the polity and, therefore, prefer a dominance-dependence model of governance.

The PML(N)) and MQM which started out together as alliance partners gradually developed differences with each other. At that time the two political parties after much discussion had signed an 18-point agreement in order to prevent the PPP from coming to power. To begin with, the appointment of Lt General Moinuddin Haider who was a serving general officer as the Governor of Sindh proved to be the first irritant between them. Yet the MQM chose to gloss over the matter in the hope of achieving the other objectives listed in their 18-point agenda. The MQM was keen on the government concurring to four major points of the agreement namely: the end of no-go areas under the control of the party's Haqiqi splinter group, the release of workers booked under falsified cases, compensation to victims' families and quick dispensation of justice to party workers charged with serious crimes. However , this did not happen and compelled the MQM ministers to submit their resignations on August 27, 1998.

Similarly, the PML(N) and the ANP of Begum Nasim Wali Khan which had earlier joined togther in an alliance on the basis of a pre-poll agreement could not go along with each other beyond a point. The problem arose because the PML(N) did not consider ideological bonding necessary with its alliance partners. The ANP leadership felt that the PML(N) had reneged on its agreement to rename the province despite a pre-poll understanding on the matter. For the Pushtuns of NWFP, Pakhtunkhwa symbolises their ethnic aspirations. Like the province of Punjab which derives its name from the "land of the five rivers," the Pushtuns too want their province to be linked to their ethnic identity. Given that the ANP's agenda revolves largely around the renaming issue, their objective was a failure.As a result, the inevitable happened and in February 1998, the ANP splilt with the PML(N) over the renaming issue thereby further weakening Sharif's power base.

An important issue on the domestic political scene pertains to the proposed construction of the Kalabagh dam which has set off quite a controversy ever since it was conceived decades ago. This is only another manifestation of the Punjab-centric policies pursued by the regime, and the other three provinces, namely Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP, were strongly opposed to the decision. According to political leaders from these provinces, the dam only benefited Punjab and would be environmentally deterimental to their areas. Similarly, another such issue has to do with the re-naming of Pakhtunkhwa, a committment on which the government chose to renege. This development had its own political fallout and thereby created fissures in the political alliance. In this context, Islamisation could serve to cement the developing cracks in the political alliance and ensure the regime's hold on political power.

Another crucial factor is the growing "Talibanisation" of Pakistan which also plays a role in influencing the initiative towards Islamisation. The proliferation of madrassas in the country has resulted in expanding the fundamentalist constituency there. While this segement of the population has over the years proved ineffective as a vehicle to mobilise ballot power, it possesses "street" power against political regimes. Almost every leader, political or military, understands this reality and tends to keep this fundamentalist constituency on the right side only to avoid any trouble from them. However, H.K. Dua opines that Sharif's Islamisation could be attributed to the " fear that Islamic militancy will undermine his power base."10

The other problem plaguing Pakistan is the sectarian violence which has reached unmanageable proportions, particularly in the Sindh province. According to Sharif, the imposition of Islamic rule would help to serve as a bulwark against this sectarian violence tearing apart the social fabric of the country. The Prime Minister said that he, "can no longer sit idle following rampant incidents of terrorism, lawlessness, injustice, corruption and land mismanagement" and declared that the time has come to take action.11

Broadly this was the political background prior to the US missile strikes on Afghanistan which finally proved to be the flashpoint and perhaps forced Sharif to the take the Islamisation route. This is because the political situation deteriorated at a much quicker pace after the missile strikes. To begin with, the Prime Minister's statements about the US action on Afghanistan in August were misleading and only earned him the resentment of his countrymen with the ulema being the most vocal protagonists. He first denied any prior knowledge of the US military action and thereafter altered his version after the Chief of Army Staff publicly stated that he had personally informed the PM of the development. Soon after, the Director General of the Intelligence Bureau and the Chief Secretary of NWFP were sacked for their public statements that the missiles had landed on Pakistani soil.

The fallout of the entire episode was that Sharif's government was almost on the verge of collapse. His credibility had hit rock bottom and the Opposition parties were baying for his blood. And the US missile strikes on Afghanistan only helped to aggravate the political situation for Sharif which probably pushed him towards Islamisation. It was at this juncture that Sharif, on August 28, 1998, chose to announce his plans for Islamisation without, however, spelling out his rationale or intentions for doing so. This was the day after the MQM proclaimed their intentions to break with the PML (N) led coalition. And this underlines the importance of the timing in relation to the Prime Minister's decision to opt for religious rule.

For Pakistan, in the post-Chagai period, plagued with an economic crisis, the Islamic card could come in handy to strengthen its religious linkages with the oil-rich West Asian states. Probably this initiative would provide Pakistan the appropriate credentials to approach these countries for financial support to help overcome its economic setback more recently accelerated by the US sanctions following the nuclear tests. That the Prime Minister, prior to his announcement, undertook visits to these states in order to obtain financial support from them only lends an external dimension to the Islamic initiative.

The Sharif regime has to deal with a politically explosive situation in Pakistan today owing to a multiplicity of reasons which were eventually triggered by the nuclear tests. These tests had a positive impact on public opinion and were perceived as a factor in enhancing national security capability. However, after the nuclear euphoria ran its course and bank accounts were frozen, the realities hit home. The dilemma over signing the CTBT arose. The fact that popular opinion was largely conditioned by the prevailing anti-American sentiment generated in the country made it politically unwise for the government to take a pro-CTBT posture and become a signatory to the treaty. This was because signing the treaty was associated with amounting to compromise on national security objectives. Moreover, such negative sentiments gained strength after the US decided to impose sanctions on Pakistan.

For Islamabad, however, the compulsions of signing the CTBT are directly related to Washington lifting sanctions which in turn will help to ease the economic crisis. Sharif, under such circumstances, finds himself in a no-win situation either way. In the event of choosing not to sign the CTBT, the economic situation is likely to further slide, and signing the treaty, which is perceived as compromising national interests, will only provoke the Opposition parties to dislodge the regime from power.

Prime Minister Sharif in keeping with political traditions has not hesitated to exploit the use of religion to establish his political legitimacy among the people in Pakistan. Historically, Pakistan's political or military rulers with some notable exceptions have never hesitated to mix religion with politics to further their narrow political objectives. The late President Mohammad Ayub Khan and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto were the only notable exceptions who avoided mixing religion with politics. These two leaders never really felt the need to take recourse to religion as a prop to their regimes. To quote Lawrence Ziring, "The Islamic State has been described by its critics as a cover for outright dictatorial government."12 He further opines that the Islamic State differed from the Islamic Republic in that it demanded more conformity and seemed unsympathetic to members of the minority communities. It appeared to permanently separate rather than integrate the hetrogeneous people of Pakistan. Moreover, the leadership had yet to emerge with the neccessary wisdom to blend fundamentalist beliefs with liberal thought.

According to Eqbal Ahmed, a Pakistani writer in the Dawn newspaper, whenever Pakistan's rulers find themselves in political deep waters, they turn to Islam for succour, almost always to disastrous effect. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with his proposals to turn his country into a theocratic state is no different. He further states, "Throughout Muslim history, the infusion of religion into politics has been a mark of weakness and decline... Aurangzeb inherited a strong state and left behind a tottering one. This enormous failure was attributable largely to his theocratic disposition."13

Constitutional Crises and Religion

The Basic Principles Committee was instituted when the Constituent Assembly passed the Objectives Resolution in March 1949 in order to formulate guidelines for a federal Constitution on the basic provisions of a future Constitution. This report was to be submitted to the Assembly and a Board of Islamic Teaching (Ta'limat-i-Islami) was set up to advise the committee on the Islamic aspects of the Constitution. However, the proposed report was not prepared or given to the Assembly but a member of the board summed up their views in a pamphlet entitled: "The Basic Principles of the Quranic State" which noted that "the head of state should be a trustee of the interests of the Millat, the symbol and manifestation of its power and authority and its executive organ in all walks of state." It added that the people should, "elect the wisest and most God-fearing person from amongst themselves as their head ...He should be male,of sound mind, not blind, dumb or totally deaf and have completed forty lunar years of age. He should be a man of erudition and learning in terms of the Shariat and a person of poise and composure and able to control his humours." He should lead the Friday prayers and Id prayers in the capital, and arrange for teaching of Islam both at home and abroad.14

Pakistan faced the first conflict of interests between religion and politics in 1953 with a demand to declare the Ahmediyas a non-Muslim community. The agitation connoted a complex convergence of constitutional and religious politics, besides straining federal and provincial relations.The Ahrar community initiated the demand against the Ahmediyas and the movement was taken up by the ulema with fervour. The reasoning was that since the Ahmediyas deny the finality of the Holy Prophet, they are not Muslims and should, therefore, be constitutionally declared a minority. However, there was a difference of opinion between the then Prime Minister Nazimuddin and the Chief Minister of Punjab, Mian Mumtaz Daultana, over the issue. While Daultana felt that the demand should be resolved by the basic principles committee, Nazimuddin, who agreed that the Ahmediyas were heretics, would not favour their constitutional excommunication. The Prime Minister attempted to divide the ulema over the question but the latter threatened the government that they would escalate their agitation if their demands were not met.

Eventually, the Prime Minister ordered an Army to crackdown on the agitators and the leaders masterminding the movement were taken into prison and by October 30, 1954, emergency was declared in the country. As a result, several of the ulema in the Muslim League opted out of political activity and the religious parties faced defeat at the hustings. Major General Iskander Mirza, the new Minister of Interior, expressed his personal views that religion and politics should remain dichotomous.This signalled that democracy had triumphed over theocracy by the end of that year.

Thereafter, with the demise of Liaquat Ali Khan in October 1951, the committee suspended its meetings and did not reconvene until May 1952. Finally, its report was ready by the year end and heralded the begining of a constitutional crisis in Pakistan marked by agitation in erstwhile East Pakistan. According to one view, the report was described, " most undemocratic, un-Islamic and most reactionary." Similarly the East Pakistani intelligentsia were also extremely unhappy with the report.Thereafter, Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra presented the report to the Constitutent Assembly on October 1953.15

A significant feature of the amended Constitution was its Islamic element which even the ulema and the Jamaat-i-Islami felt met their fundamentalist aspirations. Fundamentalist leaders exhorted the citizens of Pakistan to celebrate the Islamic Constitution Day on October 22, and demanded its enforcement immediately. The Islamic provisions in the Constitution emphasised the need for citizens to live individually and collectively in accordance with the Holy Quran and Sunnah.

Towards the end of Ayub Khan's Presidency, around 1967-68, people in Pakistan grew sceptical whether the idea of Islamic solidarity could continue to hold the two geographically,culturally, linguistically and ethnically disparate terrorities of the nation together, largely because Islam could not rationalise the increasing socio-economic segmentation characterising West Pakistan. Also Ayub Khan's regime made an impact on the rural masses through economic programmes which enhanced their welfare. He realised that no political system would have a strong foundation without social transformation of the rural population. He was responsible for socio-economic change through industrialisation, improved agricultural practices and limited land reforms mainly in non-urban areas. As a result, these far-reaching changes made an impact on the masses around the country who were no longer responsive to political appeals of Islamic unity. President Ayub Khan abrogated the Constitution on October 7, 1958, which took nearly nine years to frame and was valid for only two and a half years.

Altaf Gauhar, who was Ayub Khan's Information Secretary, refers to the linkage between religion and politics in his book on Ayub Khan, and states, "The President in Pakistan should have 'wide powers, much more than even the American President.' The type of executive he was recommending appeared to him to be the same as existed in the days of the early caliphs. 'So here you can see (the) essence of Islamic Constitution emerging'! Ayub could not understand the clamour for an Islamic Constitution: 'Everyone seems to have a different concept.' Ayub thought it should be enough to express and practise the spirit of Islam in the language of educated men, which is the language of science, history, economics and world affairs, and above all the language of nationalism. Islam should, of course, be declared as the state religion, and in the preamble to the Constitution all Muslims must be enjoined 'to work the Constitution in the spirit of Islam in the light of modern requirements'."16

Towards the late 1950s, a martial law ordinance declared that the nation be re-named the Republic of Pakistan from the earlier "Islamic Republic of Pakistan." The President announced the new Constitution in a broadcast on March 1, 1962, and introduced a Presidential form of government for the first time in the country to replace the Parliamentary model. The Constitution of 1962, like its 1956 predecessor, recognised the implications of the ideological foundations of Pakistan. On the occasion of promulgating the new Constitution, Ayub said: "Being an ideological state, our first objective must be to adhere unflinchingly to our ideology—the ideology of Islam. It is for this that we demanded Pakistan ...In this world of growing scepticism, penetrating enquiry and exacting reason, we shall be proving that Islam is timeless; that it is dynamic and and can move with the times; that it is a practical code of life here and an effective passport for life hereafter."17 While the new Constitution did not differ drastically from the previous one, it was a shade more liberal in comparison.

President Yahya Khan who was at the helm of affairs from March 1969 to December 1971, inherited a country in the throes of a civil disobedience movement begining in mid-1967 which continued till early 1969. He abrogated the 1962 Constitution and dissolved the National Assembly to become the second military dictator of the country. However, his constitutional experiment proved expensive and hurt the East Bengali sentiment which eventually contributed to the secession of the province from undivided Pakistan. Pakistan in this period perhaps witnessed the most far-reaching development with political, economic, military and social dimensions affecting its future : the separation of a province from its body politic. It clearly debunked the theory of a state based on religion and is linked to the political problems of ideology and Constitution that plagues the Muslim state.

Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's only attempt to mix religion and politics was in yielding to the Jamaat-i-Islami's pressure on the federal government to include Islamic contents in the Constitution. Significantly, in 1974, the Jamaat, with their fundamentalist approach to Islamisation, successfully spearheaded the anti-Ahmediya agitation which culminated in declaring the Ahmediya community non-Muslims. Another political milestone in the Bhutto period, on April 10, 1973, was the promulgation of the first ever democratic Constitution based on consensus of all political parties. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, the Constitution declared Islam as the state religion of the country. At the same time, the Constitution also refers to "the preservation of democracy", creating an "egalitarian society through a new order," and securing the full participation of women in national life.

On April 17, 1977, Bhutto proclaimed in a Press conference about imposing some religious measures including the enforcement of the Shariat Law within six months, the prohibition of alchohol, the banning of all forms of gambling, the closure of bars and night clubs, the preparation of legislation within two months to eradicate corruption, the reconstitution of the Council of Islamic Ideology and declaring that Fridays would replace Sundays as weekly holidays. When a journalist queried Bhutto at the Press conference about the plurality of political parties in Western democracies creating dissensions which were unfavourable to an Islamic polity, he responsed saying: "Then make me the Amir (ruler) and abolish the parliamentary system."18

President Zia-ul Haq was critical of the 1973 Constitution and wished to make major changes therein, aimed to promote an Islamic polity in Pakistan. He experimented with a nominated Assembly, a partyless Assembly and a fake referendum. For instance, Zia nominated members to the National Assembly and labelled it Majlis-i-Shura to give it a religious legitimacy and then held a partyless election in 1985 only to ensure the demise of democracy in the country. The military dictator felt that the Parliamentary form of government did not suit Pakistan's psyche. Though Zia assumed the Presidency, he never gave up his military leadership purely because he felt more secure as the Chief of Army Staff rather than the constitutional head of the country.

General K.M. Arif writes: "The Zia administration adopted an evolutionary approach to the Islamisation of laws. For reasons of expediency, changes were first made in the penal laws which were easy to codify according to the tenets of Islam. Their introduction aroused concern in the Western world, where Islam was depicted as a religion excelling in harsh penal laws.Within the country, the reaction was mixed. The Western-educated elite and a part of the intelligentsia opposed the measures. A majority of the lower and lower-middle classes favoured the establishment of an Islamic polity."19 He adds that Zia faced a moral dilemma about martial law because it was repugnant to Islamic rule. To preach religion on the one hand, and, on the other, clamp martial law made a mockery of Islam.20

While Zia used the Jamaat-i-Islami to achieve his political ends for coming to power, the fundamentalist party remained uneasy about their association with him. They were able to foresee the ephemeral nature of political power and that in the post-Zia period their linkages with the military regime would only prove disadvantageous to them. In future their writ would not run and a bleak future was in store for them.

The October 1993 elections underlined the poor performance of the Jamaat-i-Islami (a purist Islamic party) which only indicates that the electorate no longer emphasised the role of religion in politics. After President Zia-ul Haq had Islamised the polity for a decade, the people clamoured for change. The fact that the fundamentalist parties were not electorally successful and Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was the winner only highlights that people favoured a liberal democratic government rather than religio-political parties.

The Abortive Army Coup and Religious Fundamentalism

Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's regime witnessed a dramatic development of Islamisation in the Army. In October 1995, a religiously motivated group of 30 senior Army officers were involved in smuggling small arms into the country. A few civilians were also involved alongwith a religious leader named Mufti Sayeed. While their motives were not clear, news reports state that these Army officers were unhappy with the Kashmir policy pursued and preferred to adopt a more agressive approach of entirely liberating the Indian held Kashmir. The group had developed strong ties with fundamentalist parties like the Harkat-ul- Ansar and Hizbul Mujhahideen.21

The entire episode remains a mystery and came to light only because Senator Tariq Chaudhary of the PML (J) revealed developments of the coup bid at a Press conference on October 1.22 The authorities refused to elaborate on the matter. It was later reported that the arrests were made a week before the disclosure to the Press. Probably as a fledgling democracy, the Prime Minister was rather nervous about publicising the issue and an official confirmation of the incident was made only a few days later.

The Army officers claimed they were attempting to clandestinely transport these arms to the fundamentalist groups fighting against Indian troops in Kashmir. Whether these military officers wanted to destabilise the Army hierarchy and thereafter the political leadership remains nebulous. The fact that the Inter-Services Public Relations of the Defence Ministry remained reticent about the proposed coup conveys this impession.

On the contrary, a religious leader, Amir Qazi Hussain Ahmed, felt that the Benazir regime was keen on purging the Pakistan Army of religious elements.23 He opined that such an act would be in tune with her forthcoming visit to the US and substantiate her pronouncements to Washington seeking help for Pakistan as a frontline state against fundamentalism and Communism. This, he noted, was similar to the US pressures on Egypt and Algeria to purge their militaries of fundamentalist elements.

Prior to this incident, the Pakistan Army had to contend with a similar group of religiously motivated officers who had sought to influence events in the country or abroad. In May 1993, then Chief of Army Staff Abdul Waheed had dismissed Lt General Javed Nasir who was serving as Director General ISID (Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate) for providing covert military support to Muslim rebels overseas.24 The fact that Islamic fundamentalism has permeated even the military establishment, an important institution of the Pakistani polity, indicates the enormity of the problem.

Pakistan witnessed a strong streak of Islamic fundamentalism again during May 1994 in the Malakand division of NWFP with the ulema spearheading the movement for Islamisation. The demand was to replace the Provincially Administered Tribal Administration (PATA) with the Shariat Law. Under these PATA regulations, the authorities have the power to arbitrarily arrest any individual, and proved to be an unfair legal system. In February 1994, the Pakistan Supreme Court condemned the PATA regulations, and this prompted the ulema to make their demands for implementing the religious law. The upshot was large scale violence and a dozen persons killed in the agitation.25

Clearly the contest between Islam and democracy implies that the search for a political ideology after half a century of independence persists in Pakistan. Such a problem arises as Pakistan was conceived as a democratic state in the initial years but its leaders later mixed religion with politics only to promote and sustain their regimes. Also, the perceptions of the people play a role regarding the type of ideology that suits their state. While the Western-educated intelligentsia felt that a modern democratic state with an Islamic element made sense, to the more orthodox middle class strata with strong religious beliefs, an Islamic state seemed more appropriate. To that extent, a dichotomy characterises the perceptions of the people which is reflected in the constitutional crisis occurring every decade.


In the ultimate analysis, the impact of Islamisation on Indo-Pakistan relations is the core issue. In other words, how would theocratic rule transform Islamabad's foreign policy towards New Delhi? For greater clarity in understanding the problem, it could be divided into short and long-term implications.

The short-term implications would include the following aspects :

If Islam is followed, then the state cannot be a democracy in the accepted sense of the term. To that extent, would it really be feasible for a classical Islamic state to have cordial ties with non-Muslim neighbours? In the India-Pakistan context, Islamabad continues to sponsor militant Islamic groups on the ideological grounds of jehad to destabilise and subsequently liberate the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. For instance, a major player in the proxy war is the fundamentalist party the Lashkar-e- Toiba which has "openly" supported Sharif's Islamisation Bill. The boost, therefore, that this fundamentalist party will get if Islamisation is imposed in Pakistan would in turn reflect in heightening the level of proxy war against India. It is in this context that Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah has appealed to the people of the state to be ready to face the fundamentalist threat from Pakistan.26

It was during Zia's period that Islamisation had peaked and given rise to militant fundamentalism directed against India. This shows a linkage between Islamic fundamentalism and promotion of proxy war against India. In this perspective, therefore, Pakistan's increasing levels of Islamisation would only reflect in heightening its degree of hostility towards India. In effect, this means that Islamabad should in all probability step up its manpower and material support for the low intensity conflict operations in Jammu & Kashmir.

The long-term threat of Islamisation is a macro-level problem with far more wide ranging implications for Indian security arising from the possiblity of the breaking up of Pakistan. Historically, theocratic rule has proved detrimental to the cohesiveness and unity of the state as an enitity. Today, Pakistan has around 80 Islamic sects and Zia only helped to sow the seeds of sectarian violence in the country. The resurgence of political Islam will only serve to further reinforce the process already set in motion rather than help to contain these undesirable trends. In addition to the existing political situation in the country, there is a strong demand for provincial autonomy as the regions of Sindh, Balochistan and NWFP are against the Prime Minister's Punjab centric policies. Earlier, similar demands for provincial autonomy during the late 1960s resulted in the secession of East Pakistan, leading to the creation of Bangladesh. Likewise, in the long-term, a breakdown in the political, economic and social spheres could result in the disintegration of Pakistan.27 And this would prove to be the ultimate nightmare for Indian security planners who will be faced with the whole gamut of problems ranging from larger volumes of trans-border smuggling of drugs, narcotics, light weapons and ingress of homeless persons which are among other economic and social problems resulting from the breakdown of a state.



1. An analysis about Sharif's first abortive attempt towards Islamisation is available in Abbas Rashid, "Pakistan : The Politics of Fundamentalism" in Kumar Roopsinghe and Khawar Mumtaz eds., Internal Conflicts in South Asia (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1996) p. 71.

2. Refer Aabha Dixit, "The Islamisation of Pakistan: An Explosive Myth," Strategic Analysis, July 1991, p. 425; Veena Kukreja writes about the divisive potential of the Shariat Bill which would fuel communal tensions in "Politics in Pakistan: Nawaz Sharif at the Helm," Strategic Analysis, September 1991, p. 667.

3. For a comprehensive picture of election trends in Pakistan, see Sumita Kumar, "The Election Scene," Strategic Analysis, October 1993, p. 945 to 971.

4. Riaz Hassan examines the genesis of religion in politics in "Religion, Society and the State in Pakistan : Pirs and Politics", Asian Survey, vol. XXVII, no. 5, May 1987, pp. 552-565

5. Refer Zahid Hussain, "Among the Believers," Newsline, vol. 9 no. 8, February 1998 , p. 44.

6. Refer Kalim Bahadur, Democracy in Pakistan : Crises and Conflicts (New Delhi: Har Anand Publications, 1998), p. 59.

7. Refer Surendra Nath Kaushik, Politics of Islamisation in Pakistan: A Study of the Zia Regime, (New Delhi: South Asian Publishers, 1993), p. 11-13.

8. Refer Zahid Hussain, "Pakistan in a Holy Mess," India Today, September 14, 1998, p. 15-20 co-authored with Manoj Joshi.

9. A text of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution is published in the Asian Age, August 30, 1998, p. 4.

10. Refer H.K. Dua, "Crisis Next Door," Hindustan Times, November 20, 1998.

11. Refer S.P. Udaya Kumar, "The Talibanisation of Pakistan," Frontline, vol. 5, no. 19, September 12-25.

12. Lawrence Ziring, "From Islamic Republic to Islamic State in Pakistan," Asian Survey, vol. XXIV, no. 9, September 1984, p. 945.

13. Refer Eqbal Ahmed, "The Lie of The Land" reproduced in the Asian Age, September 10, 1998 by arrangement with the Dawn newspaper published in Pakistan.

14. Refer Afzal Iqbal, Islamisation of Pakistan, (Naveen Shahdara, Delhi: Vishal Printers, 1984) p. 59.

15. Ibid., p. 61.

16. Refer Altaf Gauhar, Pakistan's First Military Ruler, (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1996) p. 80.

17. Refer n. 14, p. 81.

18. Refer General K.M. Arif, Working with Zia: Pakistan's Power Politics 1977-78 (Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1995) p. 69.

19. Ibid., p. 250.

20. Ibid., p. 252.

21. Refer Public Opinion Trends (POT), Pakistan Series, vol. XXIII, no. 240, October 17, 1995, p. 2085.

22. Refer POT Pakistan Series, vol. XXIII, no. 239, October 16, 1995, p. 2084.

23. Refer n. 21, p. 2088.

24. Ibid., p. 2086.

25. Refer n. 5, p. 309-314.

26. Refer n. 11, p. 57-58.

27. According to Jasjit Singh, Director IDSA, "Any collapse of Pakistan will present unprecedented challenges to India, Iran, China, and countries of Central Asia." n. 8, p. 20; for a similar view on the emerging situation in Pakistan, see n. 10.