The Strangely Parallel Careers of Israel and Pakistan


Oct 8, 2009
The Strangely Parallel Careers of Israel and Pakistan :: Middle East Quarterly
Pakistan is like Israel, an ideological state. Take out the Judaism from Israel and it will fall like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state; it would collapse.
-- Zia ul-Haq, Pakistan's ruler, December 1981
Pakistan and Israel share the unique heritage of having been created in the aftermath of World War II as religiously defined states. In each case, the new state emerged as the result of a twentieth-century ideological movement, came into existence accompanied by violence, and attracted a large immigrant population. Both met with initial rejection from religious elements who more recently, on second thought, aspired to gain political power. Despite these and many other similarities, the two states have hardly ever been compared.2 We do so here in the hopes of understanding each one better by seeing it in the context of the other.


To begin with, however, it helps to note some of the outstanding differences between Israel and Pakistan, starting with their historical backgrounds. With the single and marginal exception of the medieval Khazar kingdom, Jews were never sovereign after a.d. 70. In contrast, Muslims in India had a grand tradition of rule that began in the eleventh century and lasted until 1858 when India came under direct British rule. While Jews learned how to adapt to rule by others, Muslims always expected to be in charge. "The Muslims were, or had been, the ruling race. How could the former master now allow themselves to be ruled by ... slaves?"3 Statehood in the 1940s thus had very dissimilar meaning for the two: to the Zionists, it appeared as the only solution to two millennia of discrimination, destruction, and death; for the Muslim League, it offered a return to exclusive political power. This difference lives on, for while Israel actively seeks to be the homeland for its diaspora, Pakistan is even unwilling to absorb its own people stranded in Bangladesh following the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971.

The states that came into existence make an unlikely pair. They differ greatly in political structure, with one a modern pluralistic society and the other wavering between military autocracy, feudalism, and democracy. They differ in standard of living, with Israel now counted among the advanced economies and Pakistan still mired with a per-capita income of about $415 a year. In international outlook, the former is a close ally of the United States, the latter holds to a policy of non-alignment even after the demise of the cold war. Israel has a population of 5 million, Pakistan one of 130 million. The Arabs who left Mandatory Palestine remain a first-order political issue while the Hindus who left Pakistan have long since integrated into Indian society. And, of course, one is predominantly Jewish, the other Muslim.


These differences notwithstanding, the Zionist and Pakistan movements shared much in common, including their timetables, the irreligiosity of their leaders, the novel nature of their nationalist ideas, and the challenge of a minority population gaining political power.

Origins. The "love of Zion" goes back to early Judaism but modern political Zionism began with the publication in 1896 of Theodor Herzl's Jewish State4; it acquired political reality with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and only at the Biltmore Conference of May 1942 did Jewish nationalists formally declare their intention to establish of a Jewish state in Palestine. Pakistan has a similarly recent history. Although nationalist scholars and politicians tend to romanticize the notion of Pakistan, with some even tracing its origins to the founding of Islam itself,5 the term Pakistan was coined only in 1933 by a Cambridge student, Choudhary Rahmat Ali. "Pakistan is both a Persian and Urdu word," he wrote.

It is composed of letters taken from all our homelands- "Indian" and "Asian." That is, Punjab, Afghania (North West Frontier Province), Kashmir, Iran, Sindh (including Kutch and Kathiawar), Tukharistan, Afghanistan and Balochistan. It means the land of the Paks -- the spiritually pure and clean. It symbolizes the religious beliefs and ethnical stocks of our people; and it stands for all the territorial constituents of our original Fatherland.6
In March 1942, almost simultaneous with the Biltmore meeting, the Muslim League (the organization pushing for an independent Pakistan) met at Lahore and adopted the "Pakistan resolution," endorsing the position of Mohammed Ali Jinnah (1876?-1948) the founding father of Pakistan and a successful Westernized lawyer, that Hindus and Muslims could "never evolve a common nationality" and any move that disregarded this would inevitably lead to the destruction of any fabric of statehood.

Irreligiosity. Ironically, the leaders of both these religiously defined national movements were personally irreligious, and some even outspoken atheists. "Even Jews who opposed formal religion saw themselves or at least were seen by others as having a common Jewish culture, with its own literature, language, and modes of social relations."8 Zionism was not a religious doctrine; pioneers of the Jewish state like David Ben-Gurion were motivated by non-religious socialist ideals, not by messianic dogma. Jewish manual labor, not prayer, was their chosen means. Jinnah was anything but a religious person. Rather, he was known for his aristocratic tastes and lifestyle. Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Rajmohan aptly sums up Jinnah's complex personality:

He seemed on the way to leading India; he founded Pakistan instead. For much of his life he championed Hindu-Muslim unity; later he demanded, obtained, and, for a year, ran a separate Muslim homeland. Neither Sunni nor mainstream Shiite, his family belonged to the small Khoja or Ismaili community led by the Aga Khan; yet Mohammed Ali Jinnah was in the end the leader of India's Muslims. Anglicized and aloof in manner, incapable of oratory in an Indian tongue, keeping his distance from mosques, opposed to the mixing of religion and politics, he yet became inseparable, in that final phase, from the cry of Islam in danger.9
A nation? Zionist and Pakistani thinkers both had to cope with the same question: Did their religious community qualify as a nation? How could Jews, dispersed for over two millennia, constitute a single people analogous to the Portuguese or the Chinese? Why should Indians who converted to Islam make up a nation distinct from their non-Muslim neighbors? In short, how could Jews from Berlin and Baghdad or Muslims from Madras and Multan have enough in common to make up a single people?

In reply, Zionists held that history has treated the Jews as a separate and distinct entity and nation. Any realistic solution to the prolonged "Jewish problem" lies not in looking for new rulers but for Jews to become rulers themselves. Similarly, Jinnah held that Muslims are "a nation by any definition."10The Muslim League argued that there were historical as well as cultural differences between Hindus and Muslims that neither the passage of time nor interaction could satisfactorily bridge.

Neither was willing to live as a protected or tolerated minority in a post-British dispensation. Just as the Zionists rejected the idea of a federal Palestine, the League turned down suggestions of autonomous Muslim units within a unified India. Zionist arguments for a state shared much with Jinnah's justification of the Muslim minority retaining its separate identity through the realization of a state.

In both cases, a substantial body of opinion argued against religiously based nationalism. Binationalists like Martin Buber argued, vainly one might add, that instead of exclusive Jewish or Arab nations, Palestine could become a multinational state. In their view such a state "represents a higher, more modern and more hopeful idea than the universal sovereign independent state."11 Likewise, Muslim members of the Indian National Congress belonged to an organization vehemently opposed to the idea of religious faith's defining a person's nation.

Redefining the population. Palestine consisted of Arab and non-Arab populations, British India of Hindu and non-Hindu populations; any other classifications ignored the prevailing demographic reality. But such divisions had little appeal to Zionists or the Muslim League, who needed a demarcation that would strengthen their respective constituencies. Both daringly and successfully reversed the formula: Palestine was thus composed of Jews and non-Jews, India of Muslims and non-Muslims. Thus did the Balfour Declaration promise to maintain civil and religious rights for the "non-Jewish communities in Palestine," as though they were a minority, and not some 90 percent of the population. Although the League projected itself as the sole spokesman of the Indian Muslims, in the first general elections in 1937, it won only 108 of the 485 seats reserved for Muslims and was rejected by the Muslim majority areas which later became Pakistan.

Cool to democracy. Zionists and Indian Muslims both suffered from being a minority; both had to deal with a British administration inclined to handle cultural problems with elections. And both responded with vehement opposition to the principle of determining the post-British political arrangement through democratic means. The Zionists' rejection of self-determination in Palestine, plus their effort to link the fate of Palestine to that of diaspora Jews, followed mainly from the minority Jewish position in Palestine; a one-man-one-vote policy would have placed them under perpetual Arab control and domination. Muslims were always very aware of their minority status in India and similarly shied away from democracy. For Jinnah, "democracy can only mean Hindu Raj all over India. This is a position to which Muslims will never submit."12 Muslims also feared that "Western representative institutions would place them under permanent Hindu Raj."13

Parity. Instead of democracy, Zionists and Indian Muslims preferred a different formula, that of parity. Demographic considerations delayed the Zionist demands for parity but the arrival of the fourth and fifth wave of diaspora Jews making aliya enhanced the position of the Yishuv (Zionist community) to the point that in 1936 Jews constituted over 28 percent of the Palestinian population. This improved demographic situation enabled the Zionist leadership to seek parity in British consideration with the non-Jewish population.

Likewise, the Muslim League demanded that Muslims be treated differently from non-Muslim Indians, then projected itself as their exclusive representative.14 It thereby challenged the rights of other political parties (the Congress Party in particular) to represent Muslim interests or even to include Muslims among their delegations and representatives. Jinnah's "claim for parity developed steadily from simple political parity between League and Congress to communal parity between Muslims and Hindus and culminated finally in the demand for ideological parity between Muslims and non-Muslims."15


Once they came into existence as states, both Pakistan and Israel experienced similar sorts of problems as nations in the making, involving boundaries, migration, language, identity, and the legal order.

Geography. Both states had awkward borders at their start. Israel's territory resulted from the happenstance of war and led to such anomalies as a divided capital city and a country with a waist only nine miles wide; only in 1967 did Israel end these irregularities. Pakistan had an even more bizarre geography, for it consisted of west and east wings separated by a thousand-mile Indian territory. Those two halves "were remote from each other in everything from language and high cultural tradition to diet, costume, calendar, standard time and social customs."16 The cession of the east wing in 1971, though very painful, did provide geographic contiguity and national focus to Pakistan.

In-migration. Between 1948-51, more than 600,000 immigrants arrived in Israel, doubling the Jewish population and drastically altering Israel's cultural map, as most of the new immigrants came from Arab countries. Pakistan's formation was accompanied by the influx and outflow of huge numbers of refugees, estimated at fifteen million, the vast majority of whom arrived with little property (those with possessions tended to stay behind in India). Absorbing this refugee population proved a monumental task for both Israel and Pakistan (and India too). Besides having to provide for housing, employment, education, and distribution of wealth and opportunities, and having to allow for social and cultural adjustments, each new state had to provide a sense of belonging and national identity. The challenge was heightened in Israel's case by the immigrants' worldwide origins and in Pakistan's by the ethnic diversity of its native population as well as the Mohajirs (immigrants from India).

Language. In both countries, few spoke the language that served as official tongue. Hebrew, revived from millennia past as a vernacular, had to be learned by nearly everyone. In many families, parents continued with their diverse mother tongues while Hebrew became the language of the children. Had demographic considerations predominated in Pakistan, Bengali would have been the national language, spoken as it was by more than half of Pakistan's original population. Instead, Urdu -- spoken primarily in the Gangetic belt that lay outside its borders17 and not the principal language of any province that composed Pakistan -- became the country's official language.18

Establishing a national identity. Internal disagreements among both Israelis and Pakistanis are acute. The religious-secular debates are at times extremely intense and eventually could damage the state. Tensions between the Ashkenazi (i.e., Europeans) and the Sephardi (Middle Easterners) has a lesser role but played a crucial role in the defeat of the Labor alignment in 1977. Pakistan was anything but a homogeneous entity at the time of its formation; other than being Muslims, the citizens had very little in common -- and even as Muslims, the Sunnis, Shi`is, Ahmadis, and Isma`ilis differed ferociously among themselves. Establishing a Pakistan identity among a divided population was the primary task of the new state, one not fully achieved, for the country remains riven by these divisions, especially the Sunni-Shi`i one.

Who is a Jew, a Muslim? Who is an Israeli or a Pakistani? What is a Jewish or Islamic state? Both states have struggled to define their core identity. Internal divisions prevent a consensus on the question of who is a Jew or Muslim. As a nation committed to "the ingathering of the exiles," one would expect a general agreement on the Jewish identity. On the contrary, "who is a Jew?" has become among the most controversial and contentious issues in Israel and the passage of time only intensifies the tension. For example, the massive immigration from the former Soviet Union led to major disagreements when, on halachic grounds, the religious establishment questioned the Jewish credentials of many immigrants. Because of their questionable Judaism, those who fought and died in defense of the country have at times been refused burial in Jewish cemeteries. Likewise, conversions to Judaism under Conservative or Reform auspices are not accepted in Israel.

In Pakistan, a fundamentalist Jamaat-i Islami group put this issue on the national agenda in 1953 by demanding that Ahmadis19 be declared non-Muslims. When the government rejected this demand, the Jamaat engaged in anti-Ahmadi violence. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, Mohammed Munir, headed an commission of inquiry that drew an interesting observation: the ulema (religious authorities) could not agree on the question of who is a Muslim.20 The fundamentalists lost this battle but not the war; to retain their support, Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1973 conceded to include an amendment to the newly promulgated constitution that declared the Ahmadis non-Muslims. Take the case of Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, a political and legal luminary who consciously opted to live in Pakistan and make it his home: he served the new Islamic Republic as its first foreign minister, skillfully articulated Islamic positions in international fora, took Pakistan into the SEATO alliance, and became the first Pakistani judge at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. Yet the 1973 constitution of Pakistan declared Sir Zafrulla a non-Muslim and he died in 1985 a kafir (infidel) in his own country.

Constitutions. In Israel, domestic differences impeded a written constitution; for the same reason, Pakistan had too many of them. Conflict over the role and position of halacha (religious law) in the Jewish State significantly inhibited Israel from enacting a constitution. What began as a compromise British model of not having a written constitution gradually became a Pandora's box. With the growing influence of religious parties, writing a constitution has become more distant than ever. In its five decades, Pakistan has had seven constitutional arrangements -- those of 1935, 1956, 1958, 1962, 1969, 1973, and 1985.


Secular movements. The parallel religious response to the new states holds particular interest. Supporters of the Zionist and Pakistani enterprises came primarily from the secular middle-class and neither intended to create a theocratic polity. Reflecting on the Declaration of Independence, David Ben-Gurion later remarked that it

said something that I know conflicts with the Halacha, universal and equal suffrage without distinctions of sex, religion, race or nationality; and this was adopted even though according to the Halacha women do not have equal rights.... We must undoubtedly respect any Jew who is faithful to the Halacha, but the Halacha does not obligate every Jew.21
At a press conference on July 4, 1947, just a month before partition, Jinnah remarked that it was "absurd" to think that Pakistan would be a religious state.22 On the eve of partition, he categorically told members of the Constituent Assembly,

You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan.... You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the State.... Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims --not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.23
According to first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, "Pakistan came into being as a result of the urge felt by the Muslims of the sub-continent to secure a territory, however limited, where Islamic ideology and the way of life could be practiced and demonstrated to the world."[24] The recognition of the centrality of Islam in the new state was not aimed at making its Shari`a the guiding principal. In the words of Paul Brass,

The League leaders were oriented towards achieving secular political power in a modern constitutional-bureaucratic state structure, in which the shari'a would be respected but would not prevent legislatures from acting in a sovereign manner and in which secular political leaders would be dominant in a representative regime. In both their goals and their political skills, the Muslim League leaders were more oriented towards and ultimately more successful in the secular political arena in which the political choices had to be made.25
Early opposition. In both cases, religious leaders responded negatively to nationalist demands for a religiously-based state. Orthodox Jewry found Zionism unattractive because it contradicted their view that the Jewish state must be formed by the Messiah and not by some nonobservant Zionist mortals. Even today, a substantial body of the Orthodox rejects the state, some going so far as to consort with its enemies. This applies even to government functionaries: a former chief rabbi remains seated and studies a religious text while the audience at an official function sings the national anthem; a deputy mayor of Jerusalem dismisses the Israeli flag as a rag.

The idea of a separate Islamic political entity runs counter to the universal brotherhood preached by Islam; if Islam is the authentic nationality of the Muslims everywhere, then political divisions within the Islamic world can only be temporary. If were Pakistan somehow attained, it would confine the sway and glory of Islam to mere corners of the country, Muslims remaining in India would be weakened, and Pakistan would not be a truly Islamic state.26 Thus, the principal "opposition to the Pakistan demand and to the Muslim League among Muslims came from that segment of the Muslim elite most concerned with the protection of Islam and Muslim culture, from the ulama."27 In addition, their opposition had much to do with self-interest; the ulema did not see in the Muslim League and in the Pakistan idea an appropriate leadership position for themselves as the true protectors of Islam and Shari`a.28 They also opposed Pakistan on the grounds that Pakistan was an unrealistic goal.

As a result, influential elements of the ulema, especially the Jamiyyat-i-Ulama-i-Hind, sided with the Congress Party and against the Muslim League.29 Kifayatullah (1872-1952), mufti of Delhi and founder of Jamiyyat-i-Ulama-i-Hind, also raised doubts in his fatwas about Jinnah's Islamic credentials.30 He pointed out that Jinnah was expert "of English law, not of Islamic law of British politics, not Islamic policies." He lacked even an elementary acquaintance with Islamic jurisprudence. Other of the ulema of the Barelvi school pointed out that as a Shi`i, Jinnah should not lead the faithful. Even those who sought a theocratic state in the sub-continent, like Maulana Abul A`la Maududi (1903-79), had reservations over Jinnah's non-Islamic orientation and approach. Jinnah, whom Indian Muslims had hailed as Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader), Maududi once dubbed Kafir-i-Azam (Great Unbeliever) because he felt Jinnah "was not a practising Muslim."31

The religious reconsider. Oddly, some of those initially indifferent or even hostile to a state based on religion latterly became among its most fervent advocates and then ambitious to seize control of it. The non-Zionist Orthodox Jews "soon realized that, in a western style democracy, a determined minority has the power to prevent the government from passing laws that ostensibly threaten their sacred principles."32 Before long, they became key players in the Zionist Knesset and at times indispensable coalition partners. Once Pakistan was created as a "homeland" for the subcontinent's Muslim minorities, religious elements would inevitably try to take control of it.33Besides making Pakistan an Islamic Republic the ulema played a crucial role in the legitimization of military rule. An otherwise powerful dictator like Ayub Khan had to make concessions to the ulema and declare Pakistan an Islamic republic. Democracy has been good to the growing ambitions of the religious, with elections enhancing their strength and influence as rival secular parties are compelled to court and solicit the support of the religious leaders and establishment. Religious activists in both countries want such personal and community functions as marriage, divorce, adoption, conversion, burials, and food and travel regulations to come under religious control.

Religion's increased role. The year 1977 was a major landmark in the approach to religion in both countries, as unprecedented political changes compelled rulers to be more accommodating to the religious conservatives. The ninth Knesset elections of that year abruptly ended the Labor Party's perpetual domination of Israeli politics and when Menachem Begin became prime minister, he was joined, after a gap of over two decades, by the Agudat Israel, a non-Zionist party.34 Begin conceded various demands made by the religious establishment that previous Israeli governments had hitherto denied. For example, he gave the National Religious Party control of the coveted education ministry, with its ample financial resources and extensive education network. Pakistan also underwent serious change in 1977 with the imposition of martial law and the overthrow of Zulfiqar Bhutto by General Zia ul-Haq, who ruled until 1988. In need of ways to legitimize his rule, Zia ul-Haq looked to Islam. Projecting himself as a pious Muslim seeking to promote the cause of Islam, he introduced a series of legislative acts toward this end.

Today, both countries face severe fundamentalist pressures. Religious parties made significant gains in the 1996 elections, to the point that Binyamin Netanyahu, a secular, modern, and American-educated leader, had to court the religious establishment to ensure his election as prime minister. The Oxford-educated Benazir Bhutto's alienated the religious establishment in Pakistan partly contributed to her downfall as prime minister on two occasions.

The historical circumstances of their creation mean that secularism is not an option for Israel or Pakistan; that would question their very raison d'être. Israel and Pakistan both fall somewhere between theocracy and secularism. Both engage in intrusive scrutiny of individual and collective behaviors; yet greater religious influence would accentuate internal discord and divisions.


Israelis spend little time publicly discussing Pakistan but are favorably disposed toward the country. The first known Zionist contacts with the Indian sub-continent were with Muslim League rather than Congress leaders: Chaim Weizman met Shaukat Ali in London in January 1931. Israel sees Pakistan as an important Islamic state, a key player in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and a country with nuclear capability. In the public sphere however, relations are not so good, as symbolized by Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's abortive attempt to visit the Palestinian autonomous areas in Gaza in August 1994 without "any contacts or coordination" with Israel; this drew sharp rebuttal from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the visit did not take place.

As this incident suggests, Pakistani leaders long placed themselves at the forefront of the "anti-Zionist" struggle and saw their commitment to the Palestinian cause as a way to display their Islamic credentials. In 1947, Pakistan led Islamic opposition to the partition plan, and the passage of time only intensified this zeal. No other Arab or Muslim figure could have presented a more vociferous defense in support of the Palestinians than did Sir Zafrulla Khan, the first foreign minister of Pakistan, at the United Nations debate to partition Palestine.35 He deemed any comparison between the partition of the Indian subcontinent and similar demands in Palestine false, even preposterous, because unlike the Jews in Palestine, the Muslim minority was part of the sub-continental population.36 Conspiracy theories are often used in Pakistani public life to discredit political opponents as Zionist agents and spies; during the 1997 election campaign, some have charged that "Jewish money and power" is trying to influence and control Pakistan's domestic and foreign policies. That the father-in-law of former cricket star and founding leader of Imran Khan, founder of the new political party Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf, is a British Jewish billionaire adds flavor to the debate. Reacting to reports that Pakistan's ambassador to the United Nations had attended a reception hosted by his Israeli counterpart Gad Ya'acobi, one Urdu daily warned: "Any Muslim or patriotic Pakistani will consider making contact, developing relations, or attending the receptions of Israeli leaders as a conspiracy against the country and the community until the independence of Jerusalem is secured and a sovereign Palestine is established."37


As states that came into existence to protect and promote the interests of religious minorities, Israel and Pakistan have more in common than is generally recognized. Their histories overlapped in many ways. As nations in the making, they had to create identities, impose languages, and contend with strange boundaries. While both have consciously avoided theocracy, in both places an initially reluctant orthodox segment has successfully gained disproportionate power. Although Israel and Pakistan came into existence to serve as a homeland for all Jews and all Indian Muslims, both confront the fact that more Jews and Indian Muslims live outside the new countries than in them, suggesting that these national enterprises are far from complete.


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Is Pakistan like Israel or North Korea?

Pakistan has a love-hate relationship with Israel. While we abhor Tel Aviv, secretly powerful Pakistanis happily claim similarities between the two states starting with the fact that both Israel and Pakistan were created on the basis of a religious identity. For those who compare a sense of similarity probably makes them feel important and elevated. After all, Islamabad would like to feel as important as America's best buddy. Some might argue that such comparison itself is a sign of neo-colonial mentality of Pakistani rulers.

But really, there are some queer similarities between the two states. The comparison, however, is more in the strain of a 'slip of tongue' because the similarities between the two countries are of a different nature. For instance, both have evolved into national-religious security states mired in a deep sense of insecurity which they cannot get rid of primarily due to the national narrative being frozen in history. Furthermore, the security establishments and governments of Israel and Pakistan are fixated on a military solution to the problem which has undermined alternatives to conflict resolution and influenced the personality of the state and its society as well. In short, due to problems of birth and history, both countries have evolved as highly insecure states where the politically liberal elements seem to be on the back foot. In fact, there is little chance of the liberal elements to regain strength in both Israel and Pakistan. The religious-national discourse in both places has now taken a life of its own and so it almost eliminates the possibility of the development of a more normal worldview. Smaller ethnic groups then get ostracised and brutalised due to absence of their share in formulating the discourse. The national narrative or discourse, it must be pointed out, is not about a set of slogans or some political manifesto, but it is a nation's DNA. What a nation stands for, what are its values and who has ownership of the state are determined by the design of the narrative.

Another similarity pertains to the options which possession of nuclear weapons provides state functionaries in negotiating with its own population as well as the world outside. Besides security, nuclear weapons were developed to give the respective states greater leverage in terms of their security. A concern both countries share is what if the US abandons them. In that case, nuclear weapons provide a major psychological relief and a political opportunity.

Of course, the similarity ends here. One of the major disparities between the two countries is the health of state institutions. Tel Aviv could boost of sustaining its civilian institutions and allowing parallel institutions to grow. The Israeli state has huge problems but it seems to provide relative better services to those considered its citizens.

It could be possible, as some might suggest, that given the collapse of institutions or the emergence of military as the sole institution, Pakistan resembles North Korea rather than Israel. No one is suggesting that their situations are not different but it is about the personality of the state — a cowboy and a child at the same time. The ruling establishment in Pyongyang holds its weapons, including the nuclear arsenal, close to its heart and refuses to accept alternative means of national development. In fact, one of the other possible similarities between the two states is that their leadership considers nuclear weapons vital for negotiating resources from the international community. Since the world is afraid of North Korea and Pakistan doing anything untoward or collapsing, or imagines that some unsavory elements might take over its military capacity, resources continue to roll in. Most interestingly, the leadership banks on its ability to blackmail the international community. One has sat through television programs listening to official spokespersons pontificating about how the world can just not ignore to not help Pakistan. Helping the country, incidentally always means, giving money in return for not threatening the world.

The saddest part of being North Korea like is that at the end of the day the state dedicates itself to keeping the war machine well-oiled. At best, the ruling elite tends to keep one or two institutions alive at the cost of overall institutional decay. Therefore, whats happening to the Baloch or the Ahmadis might not just be an accident, but a consequence of what our national narrative expects us to be.

Perhaps its time to see where we are going?


Tihar Jail
Oct 2, 2009
Is Pakistan like Israel?

By Khaled Ahmed

Ayesha Siddiqa in her June 6 column in The Express Tribune made a very interesting comparison between Pakistan and Israel: both were supposedly formed on the basis of religion, both are national security states with illegal nukes and are internationally isolated. The comparison is favourable to neither. There are minor differences, however.

Pakistan has a constitution which says it is a religious state. Israel doesn't have a constitution, so its legal status is undecided. But were the two demanded in the name of religion? It is not certain.

The only document that lays out the nature of the Israeli state is proclamation of Madinat Yisrael of 1948. (State in Hebrew is madina!) This is the proclamation about the foundation of the state. It speaks of Israel as a homeland of all Jews. It says the values of the state of Israel will be based on the teachings of the Hebrew Prophets.

The Proclamation of Independence, read over the radio by Prime Minister Ben Gurion in 1948, is controversial in Israel. But the truth is that secular Israelis would not sign it if it contained the name of God. Prime Minister Ben Gurion, whose secularism and left-leaning thinking prevented the rightwing "observing" Jews from coming to power till 1977, did not allow the word 'God' in the Proclamation.

"Non-observing" Jews founded Israel while the orthodox Jews opposed it. A constitution would have clearly defined the ideology of Israel, but no agreement exists so far on such a constitution.

In the case of Pakistan, partially "observing" but non-clerical Muslims founded the state. A majority of the clerical parties rejected Pakistan just as most orthodox Jews were to reject the Herzl-Gurion enterprise called Israel.

Like Ben Gurion, Jinnah did not want a religious state. When he spoke about the nature of the state on 11 Aug 1948 three days before its actual coming into being, he described it as a secular state. After his death in 1948, his successors thought of defining the state in Islamic terms.

In the case of Israel, this did not happen. The Labour "socialists" dominated Israel till 1977. Ben Gurion hated Menachim Begin, the founder of right-wing Likud. If he had had his way, Israel would not have continued to occupy the lands it conquered in 1967.

One can say that Israel is still secular because of its 40 per cent Ashkenazi European-Jewish population. Judaism has a sharia abandoned by the European Jews in the 17th century. When it came, Islam did not follow the Pauline-Christian rejection of the Sharia. The Mishnaic-Talmudic "parallel" authority is comparable to the authority of Hadith.

Pakistan wrote up its Objectives Resolution in 1949 after Jinnah's death. It mentioned God in it, which later became Allah. It allowed the non-Muslim minorities to practise their religion "freely", but when the resolution appeared inside the constitution in 1985, "freely" disappeared from the text without due notification. (It has been reinstated by the 18th amendment in 2010.)

Like Pakistan, Israel also treats its minorities badly. Mullahs in Pakistan and rabbis in Israel wield power, because of ideology in the case of Pakistan, and proportional representation in the case of Israel. Unlike Pakistan, Israel invited "all Jews of the world" to Israel.

Quite brainlessly, it was proclaimed that Pakistan was made up of letters indicating the regions contained in it. It contained Kashmir but not East Bengal. The first it never got and the second it lost in 1971.

Israel too was named all wrong. The name of the Jewish state under the prophet-king David was Judea. Israel in the Bible was in fact a renegade state destroyed for its evil in 722 BC. In rabbinic translation, the name Israel means wrestling with God. In Arabic too if you write "sara'" with "suad" instead of "seen", it means wrestling.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 13th, 2010.

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