Breaking-away from Pan-Islamism; too early or too late?

Spearhead Analysis – 18.07.2014

By Halima Islam
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

OIC Conference Lahore 1974Pakistan bears a tumultuous history of intertwining between the Islamists-that have now festered vastly- and pro-western leanings, both of which have proven to have stifled Pakistan’s growth in the political sphere. Tracing back to the roots of the rise of Islamism in a country which is strategically pivotal to regional and international powers, it is vital to examine where such entities stemmed from and whether their historic and current ideologies then shaped the policies Pakistan rendered, with a) the Islamic world b) next door arch-rival India and c) the West. It is also of utmost interest to know whether Pakistan can now afford to harbor such groups and still carry out an Islamic (ist?) leaning ideology which carves out the country’s policies. Such inclinations have and are still causing collateral damage in a country, whose various factions are ridden with war against the radicalized Taliban. The question then arises to whether Pakistan has become immune and therefore continuously vulnerable to such elements? If so, what happens next? Should there be a shift in its foreign policy against the regional actors bound together on the notion of Pan-Islamism?

Such an analysis calls for revisiting history and gathering information on where the eruption of religiosity and its subsequent fervor of religious nationalism occurred- not only amongst the masses, but political organizations as well- to the extent that the idea of Pakistan finds its roots from the notion of Islamic/Muslim nationalism. Both, which have been defined differently by many.

Going back far as the objectives resolution during the pre-coining of the name of Pakistan is where its constitutional history began. Commenced during the Pakistan resolution year of 1940, it took 9 years to draft what the “idea of Pakistan” would contain. It suggested that Pakistan would be a democratic, federal and an Islamic entity. When scrutinizing this, there is no mention of whether Pakistan was then to adhere to these political terms secularly, but in line with Islam, as the stance of democracy underlines the term secular in its very nature. Also the leaders convening the constitution could not reach a consensus as there was little understanding to which Islam would be widely acknowledged.

Due to this gap of uncertainty, it did not take long for Pakistan to step into the realms of authoritarian regimes which swept the country in periodic waves, paving way for the original objectives resolution to be manipulated by the governments that followed. The era before Ayub saw a league of power struggles between leaders, all who were a mixture of bureaucrats and politicians from the Muslim league. As religion was assimilated into the constitution vaguely, many of these leaders decided to align religion with the principles of the objective’s resolution. As this move perpetuated state prescribed religiosity (imparted today as well), it paved way for radicalized and moderate Islamist-parties to work against the government and try and influence the masses. Therefore, the rise of Islamism and populous religiosity started going hand in hand and a prominent scholarly figure namely Mawdudi took a vocal platform against the state through a politically motivated Islamist party; The Jam’at-al-Islamia. Initially banned during the economically prosperous -Ayub era -who rejuvenated the constitution by dismissing the one set in 1956 and renamed Pakistan as the “republic of Pakistan” eliminating the “Islamic” adjective from it completely- the party was able to rally the religious middle class masses to put pressure on the government. As a result, Ayub had to revoke his decision and add the ‘Islamic’ element to the given name of Pakistan.

It was during Ayub’s era that the ideology of Pakistan had to be re-manufactured under a central bureaucracy and the fact that Ayub being a general of the army himself glorified the institution to be essential to the state. The ideology given erected Muslims as a monolithic community-cementing Islamic nationalism once more. However, this took on a new role this time with the ever-threatening neighbor next door. Many are of the opinion that the reason for the installation of Islamic nationalism was a result of forming a policy against the hindu majority India next door. It was to counter their nationalistic fervor, solidifying the legitimization of the creation of Pakistan in the first place.

Moving into Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s time, with the cold war penetrating into various regions of the world, he took a stance on unifying the Islamic world under the banner of an organization such as the OIC (organization of the Islamic conference) which was to replace the abolished caliphate. This organization started laying the grounds for Pakistan to be falling into the trap of Pan-Islamism, the brunt of which it still bears today. Even though the organization was to cater to the troubles of the Islamic world, a power struggle surfaced as each regional leader contested for the chiefdom of this newly established idea of an Islamic bloc operating against the west. This notion was not to last for Pakistan as trouble on its own turf started, again, enabling the phenomenon that this era of Pan-Islamism was a mistake for Pakistan to begin with. With the removal of Bhutto and Zia’s take over; Islamism lay overtly open at home and was supported by the army’s rule. As Afghanistan’s soil was used to pit one super power-that of the USA- against the increasingly weakening one, USSR, Zia took the opportunity to breed Islamists in aid with America who until today pose the largest threats to the country.

Adopting an Islamic foreign policy has proven to be challenging than beneficial in Pakistan’s history and current state of affairs. In this post-9/11ism era, Pakistan seems to be standing in line with the ideology of Pan-Islamism-however vague it may still be- rather naively. With the militancy embedded richly within Pakistan and operating on large scale violence, one should question the reason why the government has done little to break away from factions that are realistically funding these groups. The historic developments reveal that Pakistan during the late 80s and well into the late 90’s supported-and still supports- the Wahabbist regime of Saudi Arabia, who has not shied away in spreading-and consequently funding- of what it deems as the puritanical form of Islam. Many militant groups that support this form of Islam have radicalized the creed and taken up arms. Not only has Pakistan succumbed to the pressure but many political Islamist organizations in the Middle East have fallen prey to this similar phenomenon.

The threat to Pakistan’s increased paranoia over the years has always been India next door. As Pakistan was built upon a vague ideology of Islamic principles, the element of Islamism will always remain nurtured unless a break from the Pan-Islamic dogma is sought. The idea of Pan Islamism and Pakistan’s identity initially may have been to desperately break away from the remnants of the colonial sub-continent, as the British control remained in India for sometime after partition. As mentioned earlier, it was the only way in which Pakistan legitimized its existence. Looking towards the regional bloc of Muslim countries then became central to Pakistan’s foreign policy. However, political opportunists operating internationally with an agenda of self-interest, therefore infiltrated into Pakistan’s politics and having weak governance for at least 11 years post independence, made Pakistan all the more susceptible to the rise in violence at home. With the installation of the current regime for the third time, it seems ideal that Pakistan now took upon its own stance without the intervention of Pan-Islamist ideologies as the past and consequently the present, shows it has done more damage than good. However, the prime minister maintains cordial and friendly ties with the government of Saudi Arabia as they found a soft corner for him whilst being ousted during the coup of 1998. As this current government has been widely Islamist leaning in the past-the stance on politically disengaging with Pan-Islamism still seems bleak, especially when Pakistan relies on Islamist regimes for economic resources and in turn reaps the benefits thereof.

Pakistan is not only threatened by the inbred elements of extremism on its own soil but due to the fact that these groups have, what one would say, an Islamic (ist) foreign policy of their own through which they attract the outside militant crowd. Looking at the cause and effect theory instilled from Zia’s time, these militant factions have grown in strength and Pakistan has become the terrain in which these Islamists train, not only from groups within the Islamist groups in Pakistan, but outside as well. With new rising fiascos such as the ISIS, who have in their agenda to include Pakistan into their map of a caliphate, Pakistan can therefore be open to another form of threat; towards which the government has turned a blind eye.

Pakistan moreover needs to formulate survival techniques against the long-aged threats of the militants. Changing its foreign policies is imperative at this moment, especially with the military operation-which has commenced late-in place. Habitually, Pakistan remains enlightened by the past historical events with India and is quick to blame former regimes as well. Little light has been shed on what the next step for Pakistan should be and whether this government is capable enough to counter the militancy that is widespread, consequentially arisen from history itself. Breaking away from Pan-Islamism- highly differing from personalized Islamic sentiments within the masses-seems ideal but realistically, will not be put into practice until the full recognition of the large scale damage it has caused.