Pakistan: A Muslim Secular Country?

This briefing is provided by a friend of RZIM.

Key Facts

  • The name ‘Pakistan’ means ‘Land of the Pure’
  • It was created by the advocacy of the Muslim League under Muhammad Jinnah who argued, during the Independence Movement of the 1930s in British India, that India’s large Muslim minority would not have fair representation under a Hindu – dominated government.
  • Jinnah became the first Prime Minister of the newly created state at Independence in August 1947.
    • In his speech on the day of Independence he said ‘…you are free to go to your Temples, your mosques, your gudwaras and your churches….’
    • He was announcing that the new state, created to be a Muslim homeland on the subcontinent, was to be a ‘secular state.’
    • Many (if not most) of the senior judiciary and politicians were educated at the same school; the famous ‘Dar -ul-ulum’ at Deoband, which has a very orthodox, literalist interpretation of Islam.
    • It’s teachers are still asked for advice by their former students meaning that the school has a huge informal influence on the political and cultural direction of the country.
  • To date, Pakistan and India have fought at least four wars and have had numerous skirmishes.
  • Pakistan became a Nuclear Power in 1998, shortly after India.
  • Under the Premiership of Zia ul Huq in the 1970s, Pakistan was re-constituted as a more specifically Muslim state, with elements of shari’a brought into the constitution and the country re-named as ‘The Islamic Republic of Pakistan’.
  • Pakistan’s intelligence service (ISI) has a very close relationship wit the Taliban and other terror groups, through which it seeks to extend its influence into Afghanistan and into Indian-controlled Kashmir.
    • It is believed (though unproven) that the Pakistani intelligence and military gave assistance and training to the Lashkar e-Taiba group who carried out the terror attacks in Mumbai in November 2008.
  • The Army is a major economic power in the country: second only to the government itself.
    • The military has therefore intervened a number of times over the years when they felt that any government was persuing bad policies which damaged the economy in order to protect their investments.
  • Kashmir has been a consistent source of tension between India and Pakistan since Independence in 1947.
    • Kashmir is more than 80% Muslim but was under the control of a Hindu prince.
    • Kashmiris were given a vote as to whether they join India or Pakistan at Independence.
    • Kashmiris voted overwhelmingly to join Pakistan, but the Hindu Prince called in the Indian army to occupy the state and they have been there ever since.
    • Pakistan has trained and supported terrorists in the region ever since.
  • The current (newly elected) Prime Minister is Imran Khan – former cricketer.


  • The population is 197 million
  • There was a 22.2% increase in the population between 2010 – 2019
  • 43% of the population are aged 19 or younger.
  • The principal export is cotton fabrics ($2.3 billion annually)
  • The largest industry for employment is Agriculture with 41% of working age population.
  • Principle country of export is the US (16% of all exports; more than double the 2nd largest export destination – the UK)
  • 26% of Pakistan’s imports are from China (largest importer)
  • Government Health spending is 2.8% of GDP (the US spends 17% of its GDP on health, almost double that of the UK - 9.6%)
  • There are 14 cars to every 1,000 people.
  • 15% population have internet access
  • Average household size is 6.7 people.
  • Officially, 96.4% population is Muslim, 1.9% Hindu and 1.6% Christian
  • The Pakistani diaspora is very large: principle destinations are 1. Saudi Arabia (1.3 million per/annum), 2. India (1.1 million per annum) 3. UK (0.6 million per annum) and 4. USA (0.4 million per annum)

As highlighted above in the ‘Key Facts’, there has been a constitutional dichotomy at the heart of the Pakistani state from the moment of its inauguration. It has been a consistent weakness in Pakistan’s fundamental identity and has been a source of internal strife ever since Pakistan was created with a constant struggle between moderates, (who veer towards the ‘secular’ nature of the country) and the hardliners, (who highlight the fact that country was created for Muslims and therefore requires a Muslim identity). (Lieven, 2011)

Understandable grievances about the Indian occupation of Kashmir (see ‘Key Facts’), coupled with the increasing radicalisation of the Muslim identity of the country has fuelled Pakistan’s religio-political orientation towards salafi-jihadism. Through the intelligence service the state continues to fund and train a number of terrorist groups committed either to the creation of an ‘Islamic homeland’ (to incorporate Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indian Kashmir), or broader global Islamic advancement, such as Al-Qa’ida. Proof of this relationship can be found in the fact that Usama Bin Laden (leader of Al-Qa’ida), was eventually found and killed by US special forces living in the Pakistani military town of Abbottabad, less than a mile from the main officer barracks (Huqqani, 2015).

Apart from this orientation towards the funding of radical Islamic agendas, the country is riven with ethnic and tribal territorial disputes with a number of states, particularly Baluchistan and the Northwest Frontier Province (who’s regional capital Quetta, is the main crossing-point for fighters going to Afghanistan and was the town in which the Taliban was founded), agitating for independence. Indeed, it is said that ‘Pakistan’ itself only exists along a narrow strip from the coast up to the capital (Islamabad) along the centre of the country. The rest of the country is essentially distinct from, and antagonistic towards, central Pakistani control.

The 2018 elections which brought in the government of Imran Khan and his Tehrik-e-Insaf (TeI) party was, according to analysts, the ‘dirtiest, most micromanaged’ in the country’s history (Juanidi, 2018). The military played a significant role in the pre-election intimidation of both the voters and the press. Furthermore, there were significant delays to some of the results and widescale mismanagement of the voting process in a number of areas, including the key city of Karachi (Dehlvi, 2018).

A year after the election there is no suggestion that the TeI is able to extend its hold, but, more worryingly, there appears to be a shift towards the Barelvi-inspired Tehrik e-Labbaik (TeL) party, whose principle political platform is the defence of the country’s draconian (and much abused) Blasphemy Law. It seems probable therefore that if Khan and the TeI are to stay in power, or extend their power, they will need to move towards a more hardline stance. In which case, the plight of Pakistan’s religious minorities (Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sufi Muslims and Ahmadiyyas) is likely to get worse rather than better in the short to medium term. Moreover, it is likely to mean that the country will remain a safe haven for jihadis to train and strike from. It is also therefore likely that tensions between Pakistan and its traditional enemy India (with its Hindu Nationalist government) will remain high, although Narendra Modi (the Indian PM) has been making peaceful overtures over the past couple of years.

Pakistan is therefore a country which has significant structural, constitutional, ethnic and political problems for which there are no easy, or quick solutions. However, there are signs of growing discontentment with the status quo both in relation to the political elites and the endemic corruption. Furthermore, there appears to be a growing number of Muslims who are discontented with Islam as projected by the Taliban and other hardline groups. It is therefore, a place which could, in the not too distant future, see an ‘Arab Spring’ type revolt. However, as has been seen in the Levant and North Africa, this is not neccessarily a good thing for Christians and other minorities.
Yet, as we celebrate the opening of the Brandenburg Gate (symbolically abolishing the Iron Curtain across Berlin) this month, it is worthwhile remembering that the impetus behind the peaceful fall of the Berlin Wall had its origins in the prayer meetings inaugurated in Leipzig by Pastor Christian Fuhrer in 1982: a pastor who sensed that God was about to change the status quo and so organised prayer meetings at his church of St. Nicholas’ every Monday evening. It was those meetings which eventually turned into the peaceful protests which brought down the East German government seven years after the prayer meetings began.

An encouragement to pray for Pakistan (if it were needed).


Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, ‘Pakistan Elections: How the country’s judiciary and military gagged the media and influenced public opinion’, , 27 July 2018.

Husain Haqqani, ‘What Pakistan knew about the Bin Laden raid’ 13 May 2015.

Ikram Juanidi, ‘HRCP pessimistic about free and fair elections’, , 17 July 2018.

Anatol Lieven, Pakistan: A Hard Country. London: Allen Lane, 2011.


Hi! I’m going to Pakistan for the first time in Feb to visit Christian friends. Two of them run an NGO that advocates for minorities. The problems there are very real. Thanks for sharing this!