Understanding extremism in Pakistan

Published: October 29, 2013
The writer holds a PhD degree in International Relations and is a visiting faculty member at different universities of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

The writer holds a PhD degree in International Relations and is a visiting faculty member at different universities of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

In recent decades, Muslim societies have been awash with extremism and terrorism in the name of religion. While the process and nature of radicalisation in most Muslim countries has had glaring similarities, in Pakistan, extremism has its peculiar character and genesis. Fundamentalism among Muslims has been described in numerous ways but at the scholarly level, it has mainly been explained by two terms, i.e., political Islam and Islamic revivalism. Political Islam means that religion has a sociopolitical dimension, which necessitates the implementation of the scriptures in the political-economic, administrative-judicial and socio-cultural spheres of a Muslim state. In fact, the creation of a true Muslim state is one of the prime objectives of political Islam. Islamic revivalism generally means that the supporters of the movement want to revisit history and to reestablish the glorious state and societal structures, which once positively distinguished Muslim civilisations from others.

In essence, the nature and genesis of extremism in Pakistan seems to be connected with the wider movements and phenomena of both, political Islam and Islamic revivalism. However, deeper analysis of the extremist trends in Pakistan brings to the fore the significant finding that it is neither of the two. The seemingly political and revivalist nature of extremism in Pakistan is due to the very reason that the ruling elite have through their handpicked clerical groups been trying to present the country, not only as a symbol but also a physical manifestation of political Islam and Islamic revivalism.

The aim has been to rally the public behind them by manipulating the sentimental attachment of Pakistanis with Islam. Concomitantly, due to overemphasis on establishing an Islamic state in the public arena, it becomes the central theme of the national discourse and narrative. Gradually, the theme started reflecting in the private arena and soon became a popular demand. Therefore, in order to assuage public sentiments, and to accommodate religious clerical groups and to create legitimacy for them, the ruling elite started reflecting the fulfilment of the demand and the course of it in national documents like the Objectives Resolution and different constitutions. Had there been no such strong emphasis on religion from the ruling elite-dominated state in Pakistan, the public and the religious groups would not have become vociferous in demanding the establishment of a theocratic state. On the other hand, religious groups and parties would not have gained so much nuisance value and public importance. This can be gauged from two very important examples. In the initial years of Pakistan, there never was a strong demand from the public to establish a theocratic state, therefore, neither in the stillborn 1956 Constitution nor in the 1962 Constitution, were there any elaborate or special provisions for establishing an Islamic state and society in Pakistan. However, in the 1973 Constitution, a special section of Islamic provisions was incorporated. Notably, these so-called Islamic provisions are not included in the operational part of the 1973 Constitution but are only mentioned in the ‘Directive Principles of Policy’ part, which in other words means that they are not binding provisions of the Constitution. This shows that the ruling elite even then was not ready to establish a theocratic state but only wanted to give an impression that they were quite sincere with the idea of putting in place a true Islamic dispensation. Therefore, propaganda was launched both, by the state and the religious-clerical groups, to term the 1973 Constitution the ‘great leap forward’ towards making Pakistan a true Islamic state and society. Both the ruling elite and the religious groups wanted to take credit for Islamising the state while consciously knowing that the 1973 Constitution never had any provisions to establish a theocratic or so-called Islamic state.

Without comprehending the nature of extremism in Pakistan and its dynamics, the formulation of a viable counter-extremist and counterterrorism policy is not possible.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 30th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Oct 30, 2013 - 12:23AM

    Today you will be shouted down by Ansar Abbasi who will ask you as to whether you believe Qadianis are non muslims and if you believe the Satanic Verses should be banned.


  • Ejaaz
    Oct 30, 2013 - 12:35AM

    you leave out a few critical facts of our history. Please keep in mind the 1949 Objective Resolution that was incorporated into our constitution from then on. The 1953 Anti Ahmeddiya movement, its acceptance by the state in 1954 which eventually led to the Ahemddiya being declared Kafirs. it’s result could be seen recently when Pervaiz Hoodbhoy was asked on TV if he considered Ahemeddiyas Muslim, and one could see the waffling the poor good man had to do because he wants to stay alive, and to maintain some self respect. And then was the 1970 action against the half-Hindus Bengalis of East Pakistan.


  • faizaan
    Oct 30, 2013 - 12:59AM

    It is a simple question..if people do not want an Islamic state-why was Pakistan seperated out of India, in the first place?


  • ModiFied
    Oct 30, 2013 - 7:13AM

    Pakistan and extremism are inseparable. It may sound hard to palate, but two are going to coexist. Remove one and another will cease to exist. My statement may sound paradoxical to many, but this is a fact like existence of days and nights.


  • SM
    Oct 30, 2013 - 12:38PM

    So you are saying, it is not a joint US. Israel and Indian ‘conspiracy’?


  • Oct 30, 2013 - 3:31PM

    Extremists too don’t understands extremism.


  • Abid P. Khan
    Oct 30, 2013 - 4:20PM

    “So you are saying, it is not a joint US. Israel and Indian ‘conspiracy’? “

    What a darn disappointment! Recommend

  • Oct 30, 2013 - 5:29PM

    More than anything else the very creation of Pakistan was based on religion from the famous lahore resolution.In fact the Military of Pakistan owe allegiance to Islam and not to the constituion of Pakistan.Recommend

  • FaiselH
    Oct 30, 2013 - 6:53PM

    Pakistan’s extremism is the direct result of “Zia’s Islam”.
    This version was manufactured in the Pentagon, and was spread under the watchful guidance of CIA/ISI, to create the cannon fodder required for the “”Afghan Jihad””against the Soviet Occupation/Expansion.
    Venom spewing ‘Mullahs’ were created,sponsored and nurtured with the direct help of our “Saudi Brethren”.
    And then onwards, for a few dollars/riyals more, the ‘right’ quarters benefited, at the expence of the Nation.
    And now these cowards call these mercenaries, “Stake Holders”.Recommend

  • Photolane
    Oct 30, 2013 - 9:28PM

    I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Raza in his arguments and facts. It’s the ruling elite that cultivated Islamic phenomenon to get away from their responsibilities.


  • Alann
    Oct 30, 2013 - 9:45PM

    @captainjohann samuhanand: “More than anything else the very creation of Pakistan was based on religion from the famous lahore resolution.In fact the Military of Pakistan owe allegiance to Islam and not to the constituion of Pakistan.”

    In actual terms, creation of Pakistan was not even based on religion. Religion was just a tool used to divide the country due to lust for power by certain historic figures. Nehru and Jinnah both wanted to be the first PM of Independent India. Since Congress favoured Gandhi over Jinnah, Jinnah decided to start a campaign using the same old twisted ways of the British – “divide and rule”.
    Pakistan was not created for the Muslims to feel safe from the outnumbered Hindus. In fact, even during last 2 years of British existence in India, Muslim supporters of Indian National Congress were WAY more than those supporting Muslim League (as evidenced from how many places the Congress clearly won, despite being Muslim dominant areas). Way too many Muslims decided to stay back in the new India than those who migrated to the new state of Pakistan & most of those who did migrate were all of elite class – the feudals, the landlords, the Nawabs, etc. As soon as Pakistan was created, Jinnah asked Lord Mountbatten to make him the Governor-General of the new state of Pakistan – such was the greed for power. Jinnah soon died in just over an year after creation of Pakistan, but not before he succeeded in dividing a great country into two on the lines of religion. Lord Mountbatten even stated several years later that if he knew Jinnah was so ill, he would have stalled, hoping Jinnah’s death would avert partition.
    And how is all this related to this topic? It is relevant in the sense today’s extremism in Pakistan can be directly linked to the dirty politics played during the years nearing independence. “Direct Action Day” by Jinnah, dividing Hindus & Muslims by formulating a “Two Nation theory” and other such events bore the seeds of extremism in this so-called Land of the Pure right from its birth. The foundation of Pakistan itself was based on lies, and ever since, over past 67 years, every leader of Pakistan, be it a civilian or a military ruler, have made sure to make use of this “Two Nation theory” to rule over these ignorant masses. India is projected as land of the Hindus who are hellbent on annexing Pakistan back unto itself. Pakistan is suffocating today, because of the dirty politics of its own treacherous leaders over last 7 decades.


  • Oct 30, 2013 - 11:42PM

    Pakistan and Islamic extremism are interchangeable. And from the look of it, this will never change. In fact Islamic extremism will eat into the innards of Pakistani nation if it has not already done that. In the not too distant future, you will have Generals (very unlike the Kayanis and Musharaffs) who will have their first allegiance to Islam and not Pakistan take over the GHQ. Its just a matter of time. It will be interesting to watch how “My God is better than Yours” will play out in the streets of Pakistan.


  • rahul
    Oct 31, 2013 - 10:21PM

    “which once positively distinguished Muslim civilisations from others”…….positively, when?


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