This essay traces the creation of Pakistan’s Islamic identity and examines its influence on the country’s foreign and security policy, especially through the use of Islamist groups as key levers.
The first section of this essay analyzes how Pakistan is connected to global jihadism through its ideology. Pakistan’s national narrative and identity have been built around Islam. The country’s need to explain its foundational idea as “a laboratory of Islam” for South Asia’s Muslims has led it to incorporate religion into its foreign and domestic policies. The second section then considers implications for countries in the region, especially Afghanistan, India, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Finally, the essay concludes by discussing the challenges facing Pakistan and offers policy prescriptions for both Pakistan and other countries.
- Ideologically motivated policies are sometimes presented as pragmatically driven and based on national security considerations. But the consistency of Pakistan’s commitment to pan-Islamism and Islamic nationalism indicates that the country is unlikely to abandon jihadism without a fundamental reorientation of its core ideology.
- While many Pakistanis might be troubled by the violent ramifications of global jihad within the country, broad sympathy in Pakistani society for jihadis remains a reality. Most Pakistanis support sharia rule, an Islamic caliphate, and an Islamic state, even if they disagree on the definition of those concepts.
- The state is willing to crush jihadi groups that engage in violence against Pakistani citizens and security personnel but has no qualms about the mobilization of jihadis that target other countries, particularly India, Afghanistan, and even the United States. The problem with this policy has been that jihadi groups do not make the distinctions made by the government and often collaborate with each other on the ground.