Pakistan; Myths and Consequences

This was an old article i wrote for the Indian magazine Pragati in 2013. That magazine has since disappeared, but some good Samaritan found this on the intertubes and I thought I would post it here for posterity. Some elements of my thinking have changed since then, and others have shifted in intensity, but i am posting this article as originally written;

Salman Rushdie famously said that Pakistan was “insufficiently imagined”. To say that a state is insufficiently imagined is to run into thorny questions regarding the appropriate quantum of imagination needed by any state; there is no single answer and at their edges (internal or external), all states and all imaginings are contested.  But while the mythology used to justify any state is elastic and details vary in every case, it is not infinitely elastic and all options are not equally workable. I will argue that Pakistan in particular was insufficiently imagined prior to birth; that once it came into being, the mythology favored by its establishment proved to be self-destructive;  and that it must be corrected (surreptitiously if need be, openly if possible) in order to permit the emergence of workable solutions to myriad common post-colonial problems.

In state sponsored textbooks it is claimed that Pakistan was established because two separate nations lived in India — one of the Muslims and the other of the Hindus (or Muslims and non-Muslims, to be more accurate) and the Muslims needed a separate state to develop individually and collectively. That the two “nations” lived mixed up with each other in a vast subcontinent and were highly heterogeneous were considered minor details. What was important was the fact that the Muslim elite of North India (primarily Turk and Afghan in origin) entered India as conquerors from ‘Islamic’ lands. And even though they then settled in India and intermarried with locals and evolved a new Indo-Muslim identity, they remained a separate nation from the locals. More surprisingly, those locals who converted to the faith of the conquerors also became a separate nation, even as they continued to live in their ancestral lands alongside their unconverted neighbours.  Accompanying this was the belief that the last millennium of Indian history was a period of Muslim rule followed by a period of British rule. Little mention was made of the fact that the relatively unified rule of the Delhi Sultanate and the Moghul empire (both of which can be fairly characterised as “Muslim rule”, Hindu generals, satraps and ministers notwithstanding) collapsed in the 18th century to be replaced in large sections of India by the Maratha empire, and then by the Sikh Kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Continue reading Pakistan; Myths and Consequences

Browncast: Omar Ali on Pakistan, Myths and Realities

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify, and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

In this podcast we reverse positions and guest blogger Maneesh Taneja interviewed me (Omar Ali) instead of the other way round. We talk about the usual stuff, the ideology of Pakistan,  partition, why the army rules Pakistan, how the India-Pakistan thing is likely to evolve, and suchlike. Just a casual conversation.


  1. I said at around the 40 minute mark that the Indian army at partition was around 50% Muslim. That is not correct (thanks to @genionomist for pointing this out on twitter). It was about 33% Muslim, 33% Sikh and 33% Hindu.
  2. I said Pakistan officially teaches pride in the Indus valley civilization and then jumps to Mohammed Bin Qasim. I forgot to mention that we DO own the Gandhara civilization, but we present it as Buddhist, almost never as Hindu or generically “Indian”. In that sense, it is used to buttress the assertion that Pakistan was never really too “Indian”. And I did not get into this, but left-liberal types who reject or question the Two Nation theory then insist on a very sharp and black and white British 19th Century type vision of evil Aryans invading “our real people”, the heroic Dravidians. Win some, lose some 😉

I promised in the podcast that I would also post links to some articles and books I believe may be relevant. So here goes:

  1. Pakistan, Myths and Consequences. My article in “Pragati” about the ideology of Pakistan and its consequences for Pakistan can be found here. 
  2. Podcast with Venkat Dhulipala can be found here. 
  3. A link to Venkat Dhulipala’s book “creating a new Medina“, which I think is an excellent introduction to how Pakistan was imagined by many (not all) of its creators.
  4. Abdul Majeed Abid on the Objectives resolution, adopted by the Pakistani constituent assembly as the basis for a future constitution of Pakistan, can be found here. 
  5. Martial Race Theory, myths and consequences. This article by Major Amin sheds light on the genesis of the Pakistan army and its self image.
  6. Our fellow blogger “the emissary” views on India’s Islam. 
  7. Dr Hamid Hussain’s summary of the Kashmir problem is here.

Partition story, part 1

My father, Nadir Ali, writes short stories and poetry in Punjabi. He is in his mid-eighties now and has been writing his autobiography in Punjabi and my sister translated a segment that deals with his memories of partition. He was a little over 11 years old at that time. My grandfather was a lawyer in Gujrat city. There are more stories from that time that I hope we can translate at some point. For example, my grandfather rescued some Hindu/Sikh women who had been kidnapped by the rioters and my father was the go-between who was young enough to go into the women’s quarters during those negotiations; I hope to get that story written down someday.
Anyway, my grandfather never really reconciled with partition. He wrote to his Hindu friend Hari Singh regularly until 1965 and I  remember hearing that he once lamented in a letter to his friend (they both wrote in Urdu) “what a tragedy and a travesty that you, who are more Muslim than me, are in India, and I, who am more Hindu than you, am in Pakistan”. He would also use Indian time (30 minutes ahead of Pakistan standard time) as his own “standard time” for decades after partition.

Memories of Partition. Nadir Ali Continue reading Partition story, part 1

Brownpundits Browncast episode 100: Creating a New Medina, Venkat Dhulipala

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up with the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

Due to the costs of both recording software and storage space, I would appreciate if you could also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. It also compensates Razib for his editing.  If we get more patrons we have reached out to have someone professional edit…but really we don’t have the funds now.

If you can’t give (in these times many cannot!), I would appreciate more positive reviews!

Coming up with an idea of PakistanIn this episode we talk to eminent historian Venkat Dhulipala. Venkat is the author of “Creating a New Medina, state power, Islam and the Quest for Pakistan in Late Colonial India” and we talk about the book and the ideology of Pakistan as well as his current interests and projects. We also manage a shoutout to Keerthik Sashidhran, who everyone should read.

This remains a controversial topic and I hope people add value in the comments.


Indian Religious Landscape Survey

This is a very simple poll. I posted a couple of these questions on Twitter (@omarali50) and want to do the same here. The idea is to test a hypothesis (not about what will happen to the Indian religious landscape, but what do readers of this blog THINK will happen to it, and why) which will be part of a later blog post I plan. For now, please take this very simple 3 question survey by scrolling down within the survey below.. and comment on the post as you see fit.. We may learn something, or at least have some interesting discussions..

Create your own user feedback survey

Review: The Spy Chronicles

This is a review of “The Spy Chronicles” (not by me, but by our regular contributor Dr Hamid Hussain), a recent book co-authored by two former chiefs of ISI (the Pakistani intelligence agency) and RAW (the Indian intelligence agency). The book has generated some controversy (a lot of it far-fetched and irrational) and the Pakistani author (Retired General Asad Durrani) has been called to GHQ to provide an explanation and has been barred from leaving the country until an enquiry (conducted by a 3 star general) has been conducted.

The review is by Dr Hamid Hussain.

The full title is: Spy Chronicles: RAW, ISI and the Illusion of Peace. A. S. Dulat, Assad Durrani and Aditya Sinha (Delhi: Harper Collins), 2018.

This book is neither a memoir nor an organized attempt to explain a theory. It is essentially a transcript of conversations. It covers India Pakistan relations, Kashmir, Afghanistan and other general regional and international topics. Two informed individuals from rival countries engaged in a candid conversation and some of their views are not fully in line with the official stance of their respective countries.
In view of unresolved issues between India and Pakistan, there have been several international attempts to bring high former officials of both countries together for dialogue. One effort was to bring former intelligence officials of both countries together. This effort called ‘Intel Dialogue’ was organized by the University of Ottawa. Dulat and Durrani met each other during these ‘Track II’ efforts and developed a kind of friendship. Continue reading Review: The Spy Chronicles

Kargil War

This topic comes up every once in a while on twitter, so I am reposting an old post with a few new links and videos added at the end.. The main point is simple: Musharraf and a few of his cronies (Javed Hasan, General Aziz, General Mahmood), without having thought it through, conducted a foolish operation in Kargil that cost hundreds of lives on both sides and set back (perhaps destroyed forever) the chances of peace between India and Pakistan (set in motion by Vajpayee’s historic bus journey to Lahore). The operation was not only a strategic disaster, it was a tactical disaster..

First, some links with details about the operations: Continue reading Kargil War

For “Strategic Reasons”, Did Britain Want Pakistan in 1947?

I got these via an email from an author who apparently wishes to remain anonymous. Since any post about partition gets a lively debate going, I though I would put these up (again, I did not write these points, I am just the messenger 🙂 ):

Continue reading For “Strategic Reasons”, Did Britain Want Pakistan in 1947?

1947-48 Kashmir War

Extracts from Major Amin’s history of the 1947-48 war.

THE 1947-48 Kashmir War

Major Agha Humayun Amin

The war of lost opportunities 
History is made by those who seize fleeting opportunities in the critical time span in any particular situation and relentlessly execute their plans without second thoughts, subduing inner fears, overcoming procrastination and vacillation, and above all by those who are propelled by the burning desire to defeat the enemy rather than any half hearted judiciousness and timidity. Ninety years of loyalism and too much of constitutionalism had however made the Muslims of 1947 slow in taking the initiative and too much obsessed with consequences of every situation.This attitude was excellent as long as the British were the rulers, but not for a crisis situation, in which geography, time and space, alignment of communications and weather temporarily favoured Pakistan, in case initiative and boldness was exercised and simple but audacious plans were executed in the shortest possible time!

Today, it is fashionable to blame the Indians, Mountbatten, Gracey etc as far as the 1947-48 War is concerned. A dispassionate study of the events of 1947-48 clearly proves that victory was closer in 1947 than ever again as far as the Pakistan Army was concerned. Opportunities were lost because very few people who mattered at any level apart from Mr Jinnah, Brigadier Akbar Khan and some  others were really interested in doing anything!
Continue reading 1947-48 Kashmir War

The Civilizational Unity of India

This article (excepts at end of this post) is a good summary of the (relatively reasonable) Hindutvadi arguments for regarding India as one civilizational and cultural whole (at least in historical time). i.e. you don’t have to share the author’s Hindutvadi beliefs to accept a lot of his arguments for the civilizational and cultural unity of India.
Of course, nation states may come and go and even civilizational boundaries can and do change; Tunisia and Libya used to be pretty Roman and now they are pretty Arab. stuff happens. One would not be likely to lose much money betting on Xinjiang being very Chinese for centuries to come. Han migration alone will take care of that. But still, there is a civilizational and cultural unity of India and that is not such a bad basis for a nation-state… It is certainly better than many other UN member nations have these days (hint hint..)

By the way, you will notice that even “soft Hindutvadis” with relatively rational arguments continue to have serious difficulty with the Indo-European invasion/migration into India. Come on dude, man up, stop getting scared of being steamrolled by superior propaganda apparatuses, own ALL your ancestors 🙂

By the way, he could have said more about Indian contributions to Arab, Persian and Central Asian civilizations (while acknowledging vice versa).
These ideas of our unity have permeated all our diverse darshanas. We have talked aboutBhakti and Vedanta and the epics of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. But this idea of unity was not limited to particular schools. They were equally present in the tantric schools that exerted a tremendous influence on popular worship. Thus we have the legend of Shakti, whose body was carried by Shiva and cut up by Vishnu, landing in 51 places throughout the landmass of India that are now the site of the Shakti Peetham temples. The body of Shakti, or so the story goes, fell all the way from Neelayadakshi Kovil in Tamil Nadu to Vaishno Devi in Jammu, from Pavagadh in Gujarat to the Kamakshi temple in Assam and 47 other places.
Why would the story conceive of these pieces of Shakti sanctifying and falling precisely all over the landmass of India, rather than all of them falling in Tamil Nadu or Assam or Himachal (or alternately, Yunan (Greece) or China, or some supposed `Aryan homeland’ in Central Asia) unless someone had a conception of the unity of the land and civilization of Bharatavarsha? Whether these stories are actual or symbolic, represent real events or myths, it is clear from them that the idea of India existed in the minds of those that told these stories and those that listened. Together, all these stories wove and bound us together, along with migration, marriages and exchange of ideas into a culture unique in the story of mankind. A nation that was uniquely bound together in myriads of ways, yet not cast into a mono-conceptual homogeneity of language, worship, belief or practice by the diktat of a centralized church, intolerant of diversity.
And this unity as nation has been with us far before the idea of America existed. Far before the Franks had moved into northern France and the Visigoths into Spain, before the Christian Church was established and Islam was born. They have been there before Great Britain existed, before the Saxons had moved into Britannia. They have been there while empires have fallen, from when Rome was a tiny village to when it ruled an empire that rose and collapsed.
Thus the Arabs and Persians already had a conception of Hind far before the Mughal Empire was established. If we suggest that their conception of Hind was derived only from their contact with Sindh in western India, why would the British, when they landed in Bengal, form the EastIndia Company, unless the conception of the land of India (a term derived from the original Hind) was shared by the natives and the British? They used this name much before they had managed to politically hold sway over much of India, and before they educated us that no India existed before their arrival. Why would the Portuguese celebrate the discovery of a sea-route to India when Vasco de Gama had landed in Calicut in the south, if India was a creation of the British Empire?
The answer is obvious. Because the conception of India, a civilization based in the Indian sub-continent, predates the rise and fall of these empires. True, that large parts of India were under unified political rule only during certain periods of time (though these several hundreds of years are still enormous by the scale of existence of most other countries throughout the globe) such as under the Mauryas or the Mughals. But those facts serve to hide rather than reveal the truth till we understand the history of the rest of the world and realize the historic social, political and religious unity of this land. We are not merely a country; we are a civilizational country, among very few other countries on the planet.

…o there we have it. India is one of the few nations of the world with a continuity of civilization and an ancient conception of nationhood. In its religious, civilizational, cultural and linguistic continuity, it truly stands alone. This continuity was fostered by its unique geography and its resilient religious traditions. Unlike any other country on the planet, it retained these traditions despite both Islamic and Christian conquest, when most countries lost theirs and were completely converted when losing to even one of these crusading systems. The Persians fell, the civilizations of Mesopotamia and Babylon were lost, the Celtic religion largely vanished, and the mighty Aztecs were vanquished, destroyed and completely Christianized. Yet Bharata stands. It stands in our stories, our languages, our pluralism and our unity. And as long as we remember these stories, keep our languages and worship the sacred land of our ancestors, Bharata will stand. It is only if we forget these truths that Bharata will cease to be. That is precisely why the British tried to hard to make us forget them.

You are excluding Islamic contributions and Indian Muslims from your definition

This essay is about finding the historic roots of the Indian civilization and defining who we are as people and as a nation. We have had many migrants and invaders. While Islam has contributed to the Indian civilization, our roots are much older than when Prophet Mohammad first appeared in Arabia in the 6th century AD, so our civilization cannot be defined by Islam. Alexander the Greek came to our shores, so did the Kushans and Mongols and Persians and Turks. All of them added their contributions to our civilization as we did to theirs. The Mughal Empire helped in our political re-unification. But none of them define who we are.

We had the great Chinese civilization towards the north and the Persian civilization towards our west. Each of them influenced us as we influenced them. But because the Chinese came under Buddhist influence from India does not mean that they cease to be the Chinese civilization, an entity with a distinct cultural flavor and history from India.

Similarly, the Persians and the Turks came in many waves and contributed to Indian culture, even as we did to theirs. This does not mean that our civilization suddenly became Persian or Turkish. Some of these people settled in India, some of them brought a new religion called Islam and converted some of the existing people. All those who ultimately accept India as their homeland are accepted as Indians, for we have been a welcoming land. It would be a strange case indeed if conversion to Islam led people to deny the roots of their civilization. Do the Persians cease to be Persians, now that they are Muslims?

Islam does not define nationhood. If it did, the entire region from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan would be one country. Iran and Iraq would be one large Islamic country, rather than separate entities based on Persian and Babylonian civilizational roots. Indonesia and Malaysia would be one country.

Thus the civilizational roots of India belong to all Indians, Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Indonesian Muslims don’t trace their civilizational roots from Arabia, but from the Indonesian culture developed over the centuries. As Saeed Naqvi writes, the Ramayana ballet is performed in Indonesia by “150 namaz-saying Muslims under the shadow of Yog Jakarta’s magnificent temples for the past 27 years without a break” — Indonesians can apparently celebrate their civilizational roots without conflict of their being Muslims. There is no reason that Muslim Indians feel any differently unless led by the creation of fear or sustained demagoguery to believe otherwise.

Brown Pundits