Where has the Pakistani state traditionally derived its legitimacy from?

The Pakistani state was born in 1947, under the leadership of M. A. Jinnah, claiming to be “a homeland to protect Muslims… from the bigotry and intolerance of India’s Hindu majority”. (Cohen, 2002) Though many scholars today are of the opinion that Jinnah was a predominantly secular man, he was able to successfully harness the concept of an Islamic brotherhood to unite the otherwise socioeconomically-divided Indian Muslim population of the subcontinent.  Some have gone as far as to say that “without intense religious fervor and zeal for an Islmaic state on the part of Muslim masses, Jinnah could not have achieved Pakistan”. (Sayeed, 1969) Writers such as Hamza Alavi have given evidence to support the claim that Jinnah’s vision, throughout the Pakistan Movement, and even after the creation of the state, was a secular one. In one of earliest speeches, he declared that citizens, regardless of religious identity, would not be excluded or treated differently in any business of the state. With Jinnah’s death, Pakistan lost its only world-class politician, and all those after him began to use Islam, which was once a source of freedom for Pakistanis, as a political tool to serve their own ends.

This can be seen to be the case throughout Pakistan’s history. In response to the 1952 Bengali language movement, the ruling elite sought to isolate Bengali nationalists by raising religious slogans, declaring that “we are all Muslims and Pakistanis and therefore we cannot be Bengalis or Sindhis or Balochis” (Alavi, 2002). Later, Yahya Khan tried to defame Bhutto by declaring his a bad Muslim, pointing out his drinking of alcohol. Z. A. Bhutto used Islamic gestures such as shutting down casinos to quell the religious faction that accused him of being a communist, and therefore anti-Islam. General Zia, lacking all legitimacy, used Islam and the ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan to hold on to power, and prolong his dictatorial rule of the government. Since then, we see that every government has used Islam to grant themselves some authority. Nawaz Sharif wanted to be declared ‘amir-ul-momineen’, Leader of the Muslims, and Musharraf played with a double-edged sword, calling for ‘Enlightened Moderation’, while doing nothing concrete to stop the destructive violence of religious parties. Whenever there has been a need for coercive power, the leaders of government have pulled out the Islam card.

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