BHARAT RAKSHAK MONITOR - Volume 6(1) Jul-Aug 2003


Know Your Pakistan

Dr. Shivshankar Sastry

A survey of schoolchildren after the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States showed that many schoolchildren were unable to point to Pakistan on a map. People who meet wealthy Pakistanis abroad obtain the impression of a fairy tale land of pious people, peace and greenery. Yet, we know that Pakistan is a nation of 145 million underfed and predominantly uneducated people, to where practically every act of Islamic terrorism can be traced. What is the real Pakistan like?

The following discussion contains many references and comparisons to India. This is only because both nations were one, as little as 56 years ago. Yet, the differences between the two, today, are stark and startling. Colonial India was partitioned in 1947 into a pluralist, democratic India and an avowedly Islamic Pakistan. Pakistan was formed on the insistence of a political group that Muslims of the Indian subcontinent could not live in harmony with non-Muslims and that, therefore, Muslims needed a separate country. Harold Gould, in a recent article in Counterpunch, has elegantly summed up the actual reasons for the demand for a separate Pakistan(1).

Most people are already familiar with the massacres associated with Partition, and the wars that were fought as a result of Pakistani invasions into India in 1947, 1965 and 1999, and the 1971 War of Liberation of Bangladesh. The 1971 war is significant because it represented the fragmentation of a seemingly united East and West Pakistan into two states - the earliest indicator of how a country "fraying at the edges" can actually break up into two parts. The fact that both Bangladesh and Pakistan were predominantly Muslim suggested that the concept of a "United Islamic Pakistan" united by Islam was wrong. That erroneous assumption formed the basis of the "Two Nation Theory", a theory that all Muslims would want to unite and stay separate from all non-Muslims

Just like India, Pakistan at independence needed a lot of work to be done. The nation had to be developed, and that required the setting up of industries, along with schools colleges and universities to provide manpower for those industries and teachers for the universities. Being a new nation, it also had to set up a set of rules to live by, a constitution and laws that would allow a government to be elected to rule the country, strong non-governmental institutions and disciplined armed forces to serve as "coercive power" against internal or external threats, but always subservient to government. The nation was also faced with poor sanitation, disease, illiteracy, and later a population explosion.

We look in detail at all of these factors to determine what Pakistan's track record has been.


Pakistani industry has not gone very far in 56 years. After all these decades, not a single car or motorcycle has appeared in the world with a "Made in Pakistan" tag. Technology in Pakistan has not gone beyond the manufacture of bicycles, footballs, and cricket bats. Pakistani defense production has been greatly trumpeted, but Pakistani experts themselves note that its defense industry is an "import the parts and assemble" industry (2) for most items more complex than small arms.


Education in Pakistan is widely recognized to have failed badly in the last 56 years. Literacy in Pakistan, at about 35% (only one out of three Pakistanis is literate) is lower than in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. Furthermore, the Government education curriculum involves actively teaching Pakistani children to hate Indians and Hindus as revealed by a detailed academic work from Pakistan (3). Many children in Pakistan end up getting educated in the 70,000, or more, Madrassas (Islamic schools) in Pakistan. Children learn the Koran by rote in unfamiliar Arabic in these Islamic schools and a large number of them teach an intolerant version of Sunni Islam rather than a curriculum of science and math. Taliban supremo Mullah Omar and terrorist leaders like Maulana Masood Azhar are some of the notable alumni from these madrassas.

Government and Constitution

The constitution of a country is a generally sacrosanct document that once adopted should not be meddled with or changed without wide national consensus. Pakistan has had three different constitutions in less than 50 years. And even the latest one has been interfered with by General Musharraf with his infamous "LFO" (Legal Framework Order) that makes it possible for him to dismiss governments in the way a Turkish Sultan could order someone's head chopped off. Governments are typically designed to have checks and balances to prevent any single group from grabbing more power for themselves. In Pakistan however, the Army has ruled even when a civilian government has apparently been in power.

The Pakistan Army

The Pakistani army is the one organization that works like a close-knit family. The Army has ruled the country for over three decades. Loyal army officers are given coveted civilian jobs on retirement and Army people get all sorts of benefits while in service. Throughout its existence, the Pakistani army has taken more than half the money available for the government(4). The Army and its personnel are disproportionately rich, and observers frequently remark on the rich manicured lawns and the plush carpeted, teak paneled homes and offices of the Army compared with the dusty, fly-infested and decrepit state of almost everything else in Pakistan. The Army also controls a large number of businesses and organizations in Pakistan, including a nationwide transport company, the water, and the power departments. (5,6,7)

The Pakistani army is disproportionately powerful considering the state of the Pakistani economy. This is easily explained by the generous aid given by the US in the 1980s, and by its the gargantuan share of the national budget. The military record of this army is pathetic, having failed to achieve every military objective set before it in hostilities with India. In recent years the Pakistan Army has subcontracted its fighting to irregular Islamic guerrilla forces who have been responsible for terrorism in Kashmir, Chechnya, the Philippines and the US. (8,9)

Pakistani Society

Pakistani society is heavily polarized. There is a small and extremely wealthy elite. Many of the elite are feudal lords living a royal lifestyle. Alongside these are the wealthy retired Army Officers and businessmen. It has been estimated that the most influential families in Pakistan number anywhere from 25 to 45. The total number of the extremely wealthy people is estimated to be around 100,000 people out of a population of 145 million. But these elite people forming less than 0.07% of the population have an inordinate amount of power and influence in Pakistan. They form the politicians, the CEOs, the diplomats and the well-spoken, well-dressed Pakistani spokesmen we see on TV. Their children study in the best schools and often complete their higher education abroad, frequently in elite foreign institutions. Pakistan is unique in having a negligible middle class. That the middle class is almost non existent can be inferred from several statistics. Pakistan has only 300,000 to 400,000 cars and 3.5 million TV sets (10) for a population of 145 million. Readership of English papers is about 300,000 and Urdu readership is 3 million.

The vast majority of Pakistanis can be described as poor and illiterate Muslims. The need to describe them as Muslims is important because the Muslim identity is important to the Pakistani. That identity has been reinforced by constant government instigated indoctrination that their religion is under threat from India, and of late, from the "west". That Muslim identity and devoutness also make the average, poor uneducated Pakistani believe that his life is pre-ordained by Allah to be the way it is, and that he will be rewarded for his piety in an afterlife with an assured place in a well-stocked heaven. The average citizen's life may be lived in poverty in someone's service because that is what God has willed for him and attempting to change that would be against the will of God. For this reason, the average Pakistani is unlikely to revolt against his lot in life, or even to try to fight to make it better. He will do what his feudal master, local lord, or religious leader tells him to do, so long as it does not go against his Islamic conscience.

The docility of the average Pakistani in day-to-day life is probably beneficial to the stability of feudal Pakistani society, but does not augur well for development. This also makes the average Pakistani male citizen a prime candidate for motivation into leading a life as an Islamic warrior. Such a life is tempting because it meets all his human and psychological requirements. He is well fed during the indoctrination and training period, and any subsequent violence he takes part in would ensure for him a respected place in his society as an Islamic warrior, or ensure a place in heaven if he were to die in action.

Human Conditions in Pakistan

Pakistan offers among the lowest standards of living anywhere in the world to most of its population. The chances of acquiring a useful technical education to meet 21st century demands are remote. Islamic traditions superimposed on traditional tribal beliefs make simple developmental necessities like family planning (to curb birth rates) and women's education nearly impossible throughout Pakistan (11). Uneducated women in a family ensure that essential knowledge about health and living are not transmitted to most young children who necessarily grow up under maternal care. Pakistan's population is increasing and will have doubled to nearly 300 million in 20 to 25 years. It will take far longer than that to build schools for that increased population at current investment levels ensuring that Pakistan will inevitably and unavoidably have a much bigger uneducated and unemployed and poor population by 2025.

Religion in Pakistan

Ninety seven percent of Pakistanis are Muslims. There has been a systematic decimation and decline in numbers of non-Muslim religious minorities since independence. About 15% to 18% of Pakistanis were non-Muslims in 1947, but that has now dwindled to an insignificant minority (12). In Pakistan one has to be a Muslim to enjoy full rights as a Pakistani citizen, limited and joyless as those rights may be. There is systematic and state sponsored discrimination against Hindus, Christians, Sikhs and the Ahmedi community. The latter are Muslims but are not considered Muslim under Pakistan's narrow definition of what a Muslim should be. In addition, sectarian strife is regular and rampant, but complete elimination (by emigration, conversion or genocide) of all unrecognized religious minorities from Pakistan will not automatically lead to absence of internal strife based on inter-religious differences. There are numerous reports of Hindu and Sikh religious shrines being barred from repair or renewal, leading to their being virtually in ruins.

The Borders of Pakistan

The "borders" of Pakistan are only virtual. It appears that the founders of Pakistan had a vision for Pakistan that included multiple pockets within India. Two pockets did become Pakistan - East and West Pakistan, but in 1971 East Pakistan seceded to become Bangladesh. No well defined boundary can be said to define modern-day Pakistan except for the Western border with Iran, the southern coast, and small parts of the boundary with India. Pakistan disputes it border with India and Pakistani writ does not hold in vast areas of Northwestern Pakistan, in a tribal belt used as a refuge by the Taliban and Al Qaeda. These "fuzzy areas" of Pakistan, some of which are not fully under Pakistani control, or disputed by Pakistan are "ripe" for foreign interference and it is likely that the borders of Pakistan can be redrawn by any power with adequate coercive force as the last bastion of Pakistan - the Pakistani army, fails.

The Current State of Pakistan

Very few of the 'nation building activities' of Pakistan have been achieved. Illiteracy is rampant and birth rates are higher than in any of the neighbouring countries, producing more young people that the state can educate or employ. The Pakistan army has consistently cornered all the wealth and power for itself and has used Islamic fundamentalism as an ally and tool in national unity as well as foreign policy. The foreign policy failures have now put great pressure on the wealth and power of the Pakistani army, which appears to be responding by embracing Islamism rather than conciliation with rivals and opening up to new ideas.

Pakistan has all the hallmarks of a failed state(13). Such a state is open to foreign intervention, and such intervention is visible and evident from the nature of the US's involvement. The Pakistani army brass is open to any foreign involvement other than from India. But the Islamic parties and many of the people in Pakistan do not accept the presence of the US with as much candor as their army. These are schisms waiting to be exploited. Pakistan is perhaps fortunate that the nation state of India is not yet as adept and conscious of international hegemonic games and how India can interfere to bring law and order to the fraying edges of Pakistan. But that may be changing as the lawlessness of Pakistan spills into India as terrorism, forcing India to become conscious of its role and responsibility in the region.

Further Reading:


2) Pakistan's defense industry: Shifting gears, RUSI Journal London Oct 2001, Ayesha Siddiqa-Agha.










12) PH Reddy, "Religious minorities dwindling in Pakistan", Times of India, Bangalore, 8 April 2003.

13) Nation and State of Pakistan 2002, Stephen Cohen,


Copyright Bharat Rakshak 2003