Challenges to the future of Pakistan

                   Islam was exploited during the British Raj to drive a wedge between the masses of India on communal basis to serve the interest of the Muslim elite and middle class. That is why the religious leadership continues to insist that ‘Ideology of Pakistan’ was to implement Islamic laws and Shari’a.

At the same time majority of the people want a modern democratic state. Although Pakistan will turn 70 2017, it is still not sure of its identity. The good thing is that the debate about its identity continues though both the people and its leaders are confused as to whether Pakistan is an ‘Islamic state’, or it should be a ‘democratic state’. But democracy has to be secular if it is democratic in the true sense. There is a third equally strong strand which tries to synthesize the irreconcilable two: Islamic state with Islamic laws and a modern democratic state with the laws and values of the twenty-first century polity. This predicament is being faced by most of the Muslim-majority countries whose societies are being pulled in two different directions. It is not the clash of civilizations, contrary to what was suggested by US writer Samuel Huntington it is clash within the Muslim societies, who being at the different stages of economic development are finding it hard to withstand the strong wind of globalization. There are multiple streams of thought and aspirations in Muslim societies that are at variance with each other.

Emphasis on religion was used to justify the creation of the huge war machinery which needs an aggressive and adventurous foreign and national security policy of Pakistan. The natural corollary of this policy was giving more space and a free hand to religious extremists in the country’s politics and promotion of Jihad as a tool for the extension of the national security policy crafted by the armed forces. The same so-called ‘assets’ of the security establishment are now the biggest liability of Pakistan threatening its future. The people of Pakistan have been suffering nerve-racking uncertainty for decades because of these perilous policies. With each turn of event in the country they have been asking the same question again and again: What will happen now? Will the country survive? Will it further drift into chaos and civil war? Will democracy survive? So on and so forth. It seems that all faces are now just question marks dancing around in public debate and in private gatherings.

Many writers and scholars have attempted to deal with these questions and forecast the probable future of Pakistan – the country that is described as the ‘world’s most dangerous.’ Let us first briefly review what these pundits are forecasting.


Stephen P. Cohen, , has highlighted ‘Warning Signs.’ which he says need immediate and urgent issues the attention, although none alone are sufficient to ensure normalization of Pakistan. I have listed these warning signs but change the sequence on the basis of my understanding of the situation in Pakistan and prioritizing them to provide a logical flow.

The six warning signs are:

  1. Further appeasement of Islamists;
  2. Fresh crisis with India;
  3. Unwillingness to deal quickly with economic issues; [Dependence on] The begging bowl;
  4. Absence of governance at the top;
  5. Unwillingness/inability to rebuild state institutions.

I would add two more warnings:

  1. The fear of US-China scrambles to secure the Gulf waters and their conflicting interests in the coastal belt of Balochistan.
  2. Widening economic inequality between the haves and have not’s.

Cohen – and many other writers – concur that Pakistani society is becoming increasingly polarized between the Islamists ‘who receive considerable state patronage’ and the liberal democrats who are on the defensive. The rise of Islamists’ militant movement to become the vanguard of Islamic Jihad in the world has plunged the country in a near civil war situation. This has destablized the country.

However, faced with the immediate threat to the country from within and fearing the present geo-strategic scenario, there has been some realization in a section of the ruling classes that tension with India has to be eased. Majority of the big business has also been pushing for normalisation of relations with India, as they see huge business potential between the two countries. But the direct and indirect beneficiaries of the war economy it seems sabotage all such attempts. The existing tension between the two countries is very suitable for the intelligence agencies who thrive on destabilising each other by supporting their respective terrorist groups.

In response to the Pakistan is flawed nation security policy which relies heavily on the non-state actors terrorist activities in Afghanistan and India, these two states have started using the same tactics against Pakistan. The way things are it seems that Pakistan will to sit with these two neighbours and eventually signed an agreement that they would not terrorist groups against each other.

An over-whelming majority of Pakistanis are against religious extremism. The government, the military the people will back any action taken against ruthless religious extremists. But the worrying point is that there is little debate in Pakistan on why religious extremism is violent. Some of the questions that should be debated and explored by social scientists are:


  1. Is religious extremism a new phenomenon or it was embedded in the Pakistan movement in the undivided India?
  2. Is religious extremism spreading and strengthening in Pakistan?
  3. Or, does it appear to be expanding because religious extremists are using terrorist tactics to achieve their ideological goals?
  4. What external and internal factors have sharpened the contradiction between the religious extremists and modernists?
  5. And is religious extremism and modernity contradiction specific to the Muslim societies, or are other major religions also inflicted with this malaise? These questions need to be debated.


Religion and politics have to be separated to check the sectarian strife and stop the state patronage to the Islamists. The Jihadi organizations have to be wounded up with a programme for the rehabilitation of their foot soldiers. Mosques and Madaris have to be closely monitored to stop them from spreading hatred against other sects and other countries. Madaris have to be converted to technical schools and other institutions imparting modern education on humanistic lines. Such reforms mean moving away from the religious nationalism narrative to build a secular society. Pakistan is not early twentieth century Turkey where a Kemal Attaturk could rise to abolish the ‘Caliphate’ which was a symbol of temporal and divine world. But it can take a break from its stated religious national and move towards secularization of the society based on reason and scientific life stance – the process which has been started by Bangladesh.


The do’s and don’ts list is long but what has been suggested above is most urgent. Otherwise Pakistan would not be able to pull itself out of the quagmire in which it is sinking inch by inch day by day.


The writer can be reached at is author of ‘What’s wrong with Pakistan?’

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