Pakistan: The Flip Side

“We came to exist as a nation out of the most unordinary circumstances; we are not ordinary.”

Growing up, I remember hearing a resonance of this every now and then. Pakistan, a country about which the dominant discourse always likes to make the worst predictions, has lived to see 76 years of being a free country. These years certainly do not come without the toughest challenges and unexpected turns. But nevertheless, it persisted. The persistence and resilience, in a people, hold only when generations carry forward the sentient cause and sub-merge the shared meaning in their collective thinking. Sense of cause and meaning is not wholly abstract; rather demands tangible or tangibles to build upon. In Pakistan’s case, the tangibles are few and many.

Pakistan might not have evolved as a nation in the most ideal ways, but the actual power potential that brings the country this far is often overlooked.

This power potential is not a bursting youth bulge, nor it is the four seasons that the country is blessed with. It is something more than that. But because history is written with white man’s blue blood, this perspective remains missing from the mainstream discourse. Fortunate for the under-represented and marginalized of the world, a flip side is also recorded in the lesser-read, moved-to-the-corner shelves of past and present. Turn the pages of that dusty cover and you land the tale of a country that found itself born on geographical crossroads and under the crushing responsibility to rid its coming generations of the colonial legacy.

But this was not the only legacy with which Pakistan appeared on the world atlas. Faith, identity derived from religion, and a philosophical rationale of why it must be an independent piece of land with its own set of values and principles, made a distinct set of legacies. So if the weight of colonization brings it down, the philosophical rationale lifts it up. The question arises, where does this rationale come from?

The Art (Pakistan) and the Artists (Founding Fathers)

Numerous research centers of Islamic philosophy and critical thought are associated worldwide with the name Iqbal. For the world, Dr. Allam Muhammad Iqbal is a philosopher of Islamic thought and jurisprudence. For Pakistan, Iqbal is the visionary to whom the existence of this nation-state is owed. Marxist-Leninist thought brewed the Socialist Russia; an experiment known for its grave loopholes and ultimate failure. Communist China, the brainchild of Mao’s political theorizing, found itself grappling with no other choice but to adapt and stray away from the vision of Mao Zedong.

Contrarily, Iqbal’s political thought derived from Islam inspired clarity in the leading front of the movement for Pakistan. But it does not just end there with the creation of Pakistan, his understanding of what constitutes an “Islamic league of nations” still guides the country’s response in conflicts where Muslims are being oppressed. It is through his theorizing of how Muslims of the world are tied to a knot that Pakistan never sought overly ambitious borderless unanimity and leadership of the Muslim world but remained true to the spirit of brotherhood. Iqbal’s interpretations of Ijtehad and the co-existence of science and God have given Pakistan the openness that is its marked power potential and saves it from falling into dogma and rigid ideologues. This Ijtihad is the reason why the country has fought back multiple times against the rigid ideologies that have come to inhabit but can never muster up enough popular support.

Where science and God co-exist, where people make innovations to ease lives but not defy religion, where guidance on important matters is sought from Shariah-oriented Justice System; might seem an anomaly to the secular champions of a liberal West. But to Iqbal, the vision was clear as day. His clarity takes a seat in the ideological and philosophical power potential of the nation-state called Pakistan.

Now if we recall the life of the first citizen of Pakistan, Allama Muhammad Asad, we get to know how the vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah about minorities turns out to be another significant factor in the vision of Pakistan. Muhammad Asad was originally a Jew who later converted to Islam. He was a philosopher who is credited for the first English translation of the Quran. He came to the Sub-Continent for work, became very close to Iqbal, and opted to stay in India; to become a leading name of the Pakistan movement later on. The first to hold a Pakistani passport, he set the tone of Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia.

The receptivity and acceptance for the followers of other faiths were repeatedly brought up by Jinnah as long as he lived. This principle that Pakistan has inherited from the Founding Father saves it from becoming India – a country that now actively seeks to become a Hindu nationalist state, with little or no regard for its population of other faiths. Needless to say, Stanley Wolpert praised Jinnah in the most appropriate words in his book, Jinnah of Pakistan:

“Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Mohammad Ali Jinnah did all three.”

Pakistan’s founding legacy is rich because many of the leading names of the Pakistan Movement are people who are larger than life. They lived mortal lives but their ideas have become immortalized. Allama Iqbal is the pivot and all the other names complete this circle by not just adhering to Iqbal’s philosophy but also amplifying the message through their own stand-alone marvelous contributions in their relative areas of expertise.

From protecting minorities inside to defending Muslims all across the world, the “liberator” image of Pakistan is an image not many are familiar with. Values and principles came from the founding fathers and how those were carried forward all along makes for another interesting flip story.

Call of Duty

An ideological nation-state on the world map is a uniqueness in itself but add to that, since its coming, Pakistan saw itself in active conflicts in almost every successive decade. But those were not wars for the sake of wars. Those were wars for the sake of sticking to its principled stance over liberating Muslims from unjust oppression by non-Muslims. From Palestine to Kashmir, from Chechnya to Bosnia and Afghanistan; it was fighting for principles. Though the country’s role in the Palestinian conflict may not be an active one but liberation of Palestine remains Pakistan’s staunch stance from day one. No international forum goes missing where Pakistan does not bring up its moral and diplomatic support for the right of self-determination of Palestinians. Even when most countries who originally supported the Palestinian cause have now normalized relations with Israel, Pakistan is one of the very few who continue to remember and remind the world that the Palestinian issue is far from over.

Almost similar is Pakistan’s commitment to Kashmir, except that here it engaged in three direct military confrontations to liberate Kashmiris. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, it was Pakistan who fought alongside the Afghans for a decade until the Soviet Union was beaten down. If Kashmir was to be liberated, Afghanistan was to be saved from giving in to a foreign invasion. In the case of the fall of the Soviet Union, it was not just the Afghan Muslims who were saved but also the Muslims of today’s Central Asian states. Free ideas and freedom have their pull, and the now-independent countries of Central Asia desired to be free just like Pakistan.

The geostrategic standpoint is certainly one of the many ways to explain Pakistan’s choices and decisions but it is very conveniently overlooked that the country did what it did because a greater cause was involved. Being a small country with limited resources, the fights were fights of passion and not might. Pakistan extended its unflinching support to Bosnian Muslims so that they could fight back the Yugoslavs and win their due freedom.

All through the 80s and 90s, Pakistan remained involved in extending moral and diplomatic support to Muslims demanding self-determination. The world’s Westernized political discourse calls it rouge behavior but for the free thinkers of the world, it was decolonization in which Pakistan was actively helping the suppressed Muslims, even far far away from its own land. For Pakistan, it was a series of rightful battles leading to the freedom of Muslims; most of whom now live in their own independent countries. This is how Pakistan won its freedom, and it kept on helping other Muslims to win theirs.

The call of duty does not end here. The country has maintained a major footprint in UN Peacekeeping Missions. From combat and policing to the protection of civilians and medical aid in the emergency areas of the African continent, Pakistan’s Peacekeeping forces are a distinct living example of service to humanity and philanthropy. To date, it has been a part of Forty-One Peacekeeping Missions.

The rationale of existing as an independent, sovereign nation-state also bears power potential from being on the crossroads, geographically. Some would call it the “curse of geography” but there is a flip side to it as well.

Geography Governs

Geostrategic choices and geostrategic implications weigh heavier in the country’s memory of 76 years. From inheriting some issues because of the arbitrary drawing of borders to the Cold War theatre to the ever-changing multi-polarity of the present, Pakistan has remained relevant for the world powers’ geostrategic decision-making. By virtue of its geography, it has the potential to influence decisions to its advantage. It is not without reason that the powerful countries of the world have long maintained bilateral relations with Pakistan.

As soon as the country realized that it cannot be a passive witness to all the strategies the big powers of the world were throwing its way, it dedicated resources to not just acquiring nuclear power but also building a world-class sophisticated missile system. The deterrence matters because it not only secures the sovereignty but also empowers Pakistan to not fall prey to any bigger geostrategic plans of the world’s mightiest countries. It has also enabled the country to fight the good fights for the liberation of Muslims. From being a country that did not even receive its due assets at the time of partition to being a country that achieved full spectrum deterrence in a short span of time, Pakistan came a long way.

Pakistan’s role in making the Cold War reach a decisive outcome becomes clear from the fact that when the great wall of Berlin fell in 1989, uniting communist East Germany with the non-communist West, the first stone that fell was given to Pakistan. It is preserved as a historical token at Khyber Rifles in KP province. The Cold War theatre was the peak of Pakistan’s geostrategy; so much so that Bruce Riedel, former senior adviser on South Asia to four Presidents of the US, remarked that a war can be won if Pakistan is on your side. Pakistan preserved itself and furthered the rationale behind its existence during the Cold War years. Even today, when the world’s geostrategic ambitions have diluted into geo-economics, Pakistan is the most-preferred country because of its warm waters.

Speaking from a maritime standpoint, a coastline of approximately 1050km is just the tip of the iceberg. Two major choke points, the Strait of Hormuz and Bab el Mandeb, are in its maritime sphere of influence. The capacity of sea transport all around the year makes it the gem many countries eye. The blue economy might be its untapped potential for now, but it is a major power potential nonetheless. China is perhaps the first country that has already started tapping into it through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Nestled between a bidirectional threat, both from the East and the West, Pakistan’s resilience and survivability is its power potential. Resilience is intergenerational and is owed to the great lineage. The people who inhabited what we now know as the Indus Civilization were receptive and welcoming. The reason why a major wave of migrants from Central Asia settled in the area is attributed to the genealogy of some major ethnic groups of the country. Genome studies also disregard the assumption that the ancestors of Pakistan’s major population were Indo-Aryan.

Where Does Pakistan Lack?

Ethnically diverse yet genealogically brave and tough, Pakistan’s power potential stands erect over a number of tangibles. In situations of crises, the potential materialized itself rather quickly. It would not be wrong to observe that oftentimes, the potential is not realized and materialized to the fullest. Even with a legacy of clarity of purpose, making the most of the power potential is still an unrealized dream. Here, we truly understand what good leadership can bring, and how the absence of the same can be a detriment.

The country’s actual potential lies in its philosophical idea and meaning, which was framed by its founding fathers with utmost clarity. But that clarity of purpose has not been carried forward as it should have been. It does not, however, mean that the country has lost it. A movement of reformation, in the hands of the right leaders, can bring back the clarity of purpose and existence.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of the South Asia Times.


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