by Dr. Moorthy Muthuswamy
(November 01, New Delhi, Sri Lanka Guardian) In 1947, unknowingly, a socio-religious experiment was launched: The British-ruled India was partitioned into Pakistan and India for the Muslim minorities and the majority Hindus respectively.
Back then, these two highly illiterate South Asian nations had predominantly agriculture-based economies, with Pakistan inheriting a better-developed irrigation system compared to India.[i] Leaving aside their majority religions, at birth, they shared culture, language, ethnicity and culinary habits. Yet, their evolution couldn’t be any more different – while India has emerged to become a secular nation with a thriving and multi-faceted economy, constitutionally Islamic Pakistan has descended into an economic basket case and a fountainhead of terror.
This analysis offers the possibility of identifying the roots of Pakistan’s gradual evolution since its birth, including the policy decisions taken by the government and the factors influencing them. Such an analysis could form the basis of a more robust policy response to mitigate the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Pakistan. There is yet another reason: it’s due to the realization that Pakistan stands today as a microcosm of the challenges faced by Muslim communities around the globe.
The Pakistani state had the opportunity, like India, to focus on development and wealth creation. But it chose not to. India’s emergence is due to the investments it made in building quality higher educational institutions in the fields of engineering, technology and management in the 1950s and 60s.[ii]
During the same period, while neglecting modern education,[iii] Pakistan was busy sponsoring a myriad of homegrown jihadist groups as a means of extending its sphere of influence abroad. It is suspected of aiding some Taliban groups in order to advance its agenda in Afghanistan.[iv] It is also said to sponsor radical groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba, implicated in the 2008 Mumbai attacks by the Indian government.[v]
A narrative of the Muslim minorities in South Asia consists of early hints that are as fascinating as they are telling of Pakistan’s descend into radicalism.
When the British colonizers set up a Sanskrit college in Kolkata in 1829, Hindu leaders opposed it, demanding English medium schools instead. However, when the British announced a program in 1835 to introduce English in schools, Muslim clerics opposed the move by claiming that education imparted in English was at variance with the tenets of Islam.[vi] Hindus clearly understood that acquiring new knowledge required learning English, whereas, Muslim clerics had viewed modern education offered in the English language as abhorrent. These respective outlooks continue to shape these two communities in South Asia even after the birth of Pakistan and India. Back then, the Muslims can hardly be considered a disadvantaged community, having been the ruling class for several centuries, before the advent of the British rule in 1757.[vii]
Before the partition, the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah outlined a rationale behind a homeland for the Muslims: “So far as I have understood Islam, it does not advocate a democracy which would allow the majority of non-Muslims to decide the fate of the Muslims. We cannot accept a system of government in which the non-Muslims merely by numerical majority would rule and dominate us.”[viii]
A prominent feature of Islam called jihad was invoked in order to carve-out the Muslim majority state of Pakistan. In general, jihad could either mean inner spiritual struggle or an offensive version – a religious war waged to conquer unbelievers and their land.[ix]
Toward establishing the goal of Pakistan, Mr. Jinnah conceived “Direction Action Day” in 1946, which eventually led to uncontrolled rioting and manslaughter.[x] Pamphlets circulated (and read out in mosques) by the Muslim League Party led by Jinnah called for an offensive jihad: “We are starting a jihad in Your [God’s] Name in this very month of Ramzan… enable us to establish the Kingdom of Islam in India and make proper sacrifices for this jihad – by the grace of God may we build up in India the greatest Islamic kingdom in the world."[xi]
Immediately after the birth of Pakistan, another prominent feature of Islam called sharia was invoked to play an overarching role to help govern the new nation. This is in contrast to India where there was separation of church and state due to the consensus belief that no theocratic feature of the majority Hindu religion should likewise play a similar role.
Mr. Jinnah, a westernized and non-practicing Muslim, started his reign with the following promise to the people, including the minorities: “We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.”[xii] Yet, he too found himself unable to resist sharia, often called an Islamic law. Mr. Jinnah remarked in 1948: “Why this feeling of nervousness that the future constitution of Pakistan is going to be in conflict with Sharia Laws? Islamic principles today are as applicable to life as they were 1,300 years ago… Islam is not only a set of rituals, traditions and spiritual doctrines. Islam is also a code for every Muslim, which regulates his life and conduct, even in politics and economics, and the like.”[xiii] Sharia is an Islamic legal system based upon the teachings of the Muslim holy book, the Koran and the Hadith, sayings and actions of Islam’s founder Muhammad – and it reflects the customs and traditions of Arab tribes of a bygone era.[xiv]
In the subsequent decades religious conservatives successfully pushed to enact increasingly ideological policy measures without encountering much resistance from the civic society. This put Pakistan on an inexorable path to extremism. For instance, in 1949, the Constitutional Assembly of Pakistan passed the “Objectives Resolution” making it clear that Muslims would have higher status than non-Muslims.[xv] With the adaptation of its constitution in 1956, Pakistan called itself an “Islamic Republic.”[xvi]
In 1962, the Pakistani government established Council of Islamic Ideology to ensure that the laws enacted were in conformance with sharia.[xvii] In 1971, as part of putting down an insurrection by disgruntled Muslims in East Pakistan (now called Bangladesh), the West Pakistan-dominated army was issued both verbal and written orders by the military high command to selectively kill the Hindu minorities in East Pakistan in collaboration with jihadist groups.[xviii] This was carried out as part of a pogrom to “cleanse” the region of the “infidel” influence. As a result, millions of Bengalis including possibly a million Hindu minorities were exterminated.[xix]
In 1974, the government, pressured by orthodox Sunni Muslims, passed a bill declaring the more tolerant and inclusive Ahmadiyya Muslim community a non-Muslim minority. Interestingly, unlike the orthodox Sunnis or the Shias, the Ahmadiyyas do not subscribe to the idea of a violent jihad waged on unbelievers.[xx]
A defining metric of where the new nation chose to expend its creative energies and resources is elucidated through the following data. Since its birth in 1947, a total of 106 doctorates in engineering and technology have been awarded in Pakistan, compared to a grand total of 232 doctorates in the field of Islamic studies (out of 2287 total doctorates awarded in social sciences).[xxi] Further breakdown reveals that the majority of the 106 doctorates were awarded since 2005.[xxii] While there has been a major spurt in the number of doctorates awarded since 2000, the focus in PhD production has shifted away from social sciences. For instance, between the years 2005 and 2009 the number of doctorates awarded in engineering and technology shot up from 9 to about 40.[xxiii] However, during the same period, the social sciences saw only a 50 percent increase in the number of doctorates granted.[xxiv]
The above data analysis leads to the following conclusion: until the year 2000 – fifty three years into its birth – Pakistan produced between five to twenty times more doctorates in the single subject of Islamic studies for every doctorate produced in the entire fields of engineering and technology. Evidently, with Islam playing a prominent role in the affairs of the state through sharia and jihad, even mainstream universities took to emphasizing religious scholarship.
By portraying sharia as a “divine” law, the masses are made to depend on regressive Muslim clerics for its interpretation, thereby by giving the clerics unmatched control and authority over Muslim communities. Sharia can be seen to create conditions for the flourishing of jihad in Pakistan, by restricting and over-regulating young Muslims’ lives, and importantly, hampering their ability to create wealth. Offensive jihad then became an all-too-convenient outlet for their pent up energies and desire for adventure.
Whole new independent channels were created to systematically indoctrinate impressionable young minds to develop a passion for jihad (in the context of a religious war) in Pakistan. The social studies curriculum guidelines for grades 6 and 7 instruct textbook writers and teachers to “develop aspiration for jihad.” The government-approved Islamic studies textbook for eighth grade tells students they must be prepared “to sacrifice every precious thing, including life, for jihad.”[xxv] The government even went on to declare that jihad was essential for every Muslim.[xxvi]
Indoctrination extended to the armed forces; “faith, piety and jihad in the path of Allah,” became the motto of the Pakistani army.[xxvii] A required reading of Pakistan’s military officers is an authoritative military manual on jihad called The Quranic Concept of War.[xxviii] It outlines an offensive jihad claimed to be rooted in the religion: “The Quranic military strategy thus enjoins us to prepare ourselves for war to the utmost in order to strike terror into the heart of the enemy, known or hidden... Terror struck into the hearts of the enemy is not only a means; it is the end in itself... Terror is not a means of imposing decision upon the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose upon him.” A map distributed to the Pakistani military singles out northern India for a transformation into a Muslim-dominated region and its eventual merger with Pakistan by the year 2020.[xxix] Toward achieving this nefarious design, over 800 jihadist cells have been setup within India, presumably with the help of the military-dominated Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence.[xxx]
Sharia is popular with the Pakistani public. A poll conducted by World Public Opinion during the period 2006-2007 even in the relatively cosmopolitan urban areas of Pakistan found seventy nine percent of the respondents agree with seeking to “require Islamic countries to impose a strict application of sharia.”[xxxi] Evidently, the perception of Islam as an all-encompassing “guide to life,” shaped by sharia and preached through Muslim religious institutions was the likely culprit behind Pakistan’s less than whole-hearted embrace of modern education. Indeed, this very outlook too may have discouraged Pakistan from setting up a modern and equitable tax revenue stream. With the affluent and elite hardly paying any taxes, the cash starved Pakistani treasury has to rely on foreign assistance.[xxxii]
An intriguing question is why sharia and violent jihad have dictated the evolution of Muslim-majority Pakistan. A plausible explanation could be because sharia[xxxiii] and jihad[xxxiv] are among the prominent or standout features of Islam’s foundational texts – the Koran, the Hadith and Sira (Muhammad’s biography). And in particular because violent jihad waged on unbelievers has been shown to statistically dominate the non-violent inner struggle jihad in the texts.[xxxv] If these are indeed true, not just in Muslim-majority Pakistan, even if all manner of opportunities for development are available, there should exist compelling evidence of sharia and jihad stunting development and fostering extremism in minority Muslim communities. A window into this perspective comes from the developed western nation of Britain where Muslims of Pakistani origin form the dominant ethnic component in a sizeable Muslim minority population.
The first generation of Muslims from Pakistan and Hindus from India immigrated to Britain during the post war era to find employment in textile mills and in other blue-collar professions. Yet almost fifty to sixty years later, Hindus there have income and education levels comparable to those of the native majority whites. Muslims of Pakistani origin have exactly the opposite record; they tend to be poorer, less educated, and tend to have high crime rates.[xxxvi] In fact, the Muslim population (of which Muslims of Pakistani origin constitute about thirty five percent) in British prisons is about twenty times that of the Hindus. But the Muslim population in Britain is only three times that of the Hindus – and the British Muslims are three times more likely to be unemployed.[xxxvii]
A survey of young British Muslims between the ages of 16 and 24 found that forty percent of them would prefer to be governed by sharia laws, while the figure among Muslims of age 55 and over, in contrast, was only 17 per cent.[xxxviii] This discrepancy can be readily inferred as due to the increased exposure to jihad and sharia the younger generation was subjected to, thanks to the well-resourced local mosques funded in the 1980s (and onwards) by the oil-rich Middle Eastern Sheikdoms.
One in eight young British Muslims showed admiration for jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda that, "are prepared to fight the West."[xxxix] Three of the four jihadists associated with the 7/7 London bombings were from ethnic Pakistani Muslim communities.[xl] And one in four British Muslims, while not condoning the London bombings, sympathized with the feelings and motives of the perpetrators.[xli]
Religions are defined by ideas and practices. In retrospect, that certain attributes of a religion influence people, communities and even nations should surprise no one.
However, it is indeed worrying that certain prominent features of Islam overwhelm modernism and development opportunities under varying conditions – and lead to radicalization of communities, and eventually in many cases, formation of armed groups with a political agenda.
Yet the conventional wisdom is that Muslim radicalism needs to be tackled politically, augmented by security and economic measures, while doing little to directly address the underlying religious dynamics. Among the proponents of this view is the prominent counter-insurgency expert David Kilcullen. In discussing the insurgencies in Pakistan and elsewhere, Dr. Kilcullen asserts: “Islam is invoked by all sides as a rallying cry, not solely by the insurgents. And in fact the conflict is entirely political: it concerns power in human social structures, not theological disputation.”[xlii]
The fact that Islam should be a rallying cry for all sides in itself is an indication that certain religion-based regressive mindset has taken root across the spectrum – and as a consequence, the conflict is not entirely political, free of religious influence.
Admittedly, Dr. Kilcullen’s insightful observations came from field studies; but they are best described as anecdotal evidence. Besides, in his piece he failed to note that sharia has long repressed Pakistan from developing itself, and the focus on violent jihad didn’t help Pakistan’s relations with non-Muslim nations or its very own non-Muslim citizens. Evidently, in the long run, all of this has led to a nation that has failed to provide a future for its citizens and has immersed itself into conflicts in the name of religion. Behind Pakistan’s evolution lie political decisions that are – as discussed in the previous paragraphs – driven by certain prominent features of Islam. Hence, religion plays a central role in the politics of this conflict, contrary to the assertion of Dr. Kilcullen.
Dr. Kilcullen gives the example of successful counter-terrorism strategies implemented in Iraq as a justification of his delinking of politics from religion. For many decades under Saddam Hussein’s secular rule, there was a “separation” of mosque and state. Not wanting to be challenged or dictated by clerics, Mr. Hussein kept a tight leash on Islamic institutions, by curtailing political sermons and community mobilizations led by the mosque. This ensured that sharia was relegated to the backburner.[xliii] However, Mr. Hussein’s deposal in 2003 due to the American military intervention created a power vacuum that was readily filled by the mosque. Still, decades of Mr. Hussein’s secular rule left the Iraqis unprepared for the sharia-based edicts of the clerics.[xliv] The resulting erosion of the newfound clerical support base, and the radicals supported by them, arguably, were among the primary reasons for the success of the America-led “surge” in 2007. In other words, unlike Pakistan, due to its unique history, delinking of politics from religion was an exception in Iraq, rather than the rule – a nuance missing from Dr. Kilcullen’s narrative.
This political-centric view probably led to proposing what may be called “development first” (long-term) strategy toward addressing the jihadist threat. This strategy presumes that by helping to build modern institutions of governance and education (in order to create wealth and opportunities), improve infrastructure and create employment in nations such as Pakistan, an increasingly influential and assertive civic society can be created that would in turn roll back the radicalization of the society. This is the basis of the Kerry-Lugar legislation – a $7.5 billion, 5-year American non-military developmental package for Pakistan.[xlv]
However, the plan associated with the legislation lacks specific religion-centric measures to soften the influence of sharia and jihad on Pakistan. As the previous paragraphs make it clear, the plan in the present form ends up dealing with the symptoms of Pakistan’s shortcomings while overlooking the root causes. This approach is not only destined for failure but is bound to backfire.
Right from its birth, Pakistan chose to ignore opportunities for development, and went on to embark on a sharia-jihad buildup. One wonders, with the fervor for sharia and jihad still remaining high in Pakistan, what has changed? Indeed, the nation’s religiosity appears to have only increased in the subsequent decades. Hence, increasing the standard of living of Pakistanis under the present circumstances is to facilitate furthering the present trend, as paraphrased in the summary of an expansive survey carried out recently: “better economic conditions may be associated with greater support for Islamist militancy.”[xlvi]
Under the present levels of religiosity in Pakistan, externally funded efforts to improve its education system could mean producing more capable new generation of jihadists. For instance, the extremist outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba has recruited more educated youths, some of whom even hold advanced degrees, in the recent years.[xlvii] The other concern is the diversion of funds to wage jihad on Pakistan’s neighbors and to the programs aimed at developing new generation of nuclear weapons.[xlviii]
In conclusion, a study of Pakistan and its Diaspora in Britain, and Pakistan’s contrasting evolution with India suggests the need for paradigm shift in addressing the threat of radical Islam (long-term) – that of a strategy shift from “development first” to “undercutting the influence of sharia and jihad first."
(Dr. Moorthy Muthuswamy is a U.S.-based nuclear physicist and author of the recent book Defeating Political Islam: The New Cold War. His email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
[xxi]http://www.hec.gov.pk/hecdata/Pages/default.aspx; Specific data on the number of doctorates awarded in the field of Islamic studies was acquired by contacting Higher Education Commission, Pakistan.
[xxvi]Pervez Hoodbhoy, “The Saudi-isation of Pakistan,” Newsline.com, January 2009,
[xlvi]Jacob N. Shapiro and C. Christine Fair, "Why Support Islamist Militancy? Evidence from Pakistan," International Security, Vol. 34, No. 3 (Winter 2009/2010).