Sources of Extremism and Sectarianism: A Review of the Constitution of Pakistan

Sources of Extremism and Sectarianism: A Review of the Constitution of Pakistan

POLITICS, RELIGION Comments Off on Sources of Extremism and Sectarianism: A Review of the Constitution of Pakistan


SECTARIANISM and extremism have caused Pakistan a cumulative economic loss of 33% GDP per capita. Resolving these issues requires a thorough assessment of its root causes – namely the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.

Prime Minister Zulqikar Ali Bhutto and President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq made various amendments to the Constitution, that Islamists would argue have served the Islamic Ummah greatly, and liberals would argue have done immense damage to Pakistan, both at foreign and domestic levels. This article agrees with the latter, and looks at the root causes of Pakistan’s issues with extremism and sectarianism, which is intertwined with the hindrance in her progress. It argues that Bhutto and Zia’s amendments to the Constitution have alienated minorities, damaged the social cohesion of the nation and indirectly provided extremists constitutional legality for their actions. Part II outlines Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan. Part III outlines Bhutto’s amendment to the Constitution, and the social impacts of this amendment. This follows Part IV, which examines Zia’s amendments, and outlines the consequences of the change. Finally, Part V concludes that the amendments must be repealed for Pakistan to be a modern and respected first world state with a strong social fabric that respects the individual and gives deference to the rule of law.



The Founding Father of Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, had a vision of Pakistan being a nation where Muslims and non-Muslims had equal rights. In Jinnah’s Cabinet, the Minister of Law and Justice, Jogendra Mandal, was a Hindu. Jinnah’s Foreign Minister, Sir Zafarullah Khan, was an Ahmadi Muslim. He also appointed many Shias.

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These appointments were symbolisms for the secular Pakistan he aspired to create. He famously declared that,

“…you are free to go to your temples. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the State”.

Further, the white strip on the flag of Pakistan represents the religious minorities. Jinnah’s vision has been abandoned for a nation that some argue has become an ideological theocracy, which has more in common with extremists than Jinnah.



The 1970 election was a significant event in the Islamization of Pakistan. The Awami League of East Pakistan had won 160 seats; Bhutto’s People’s Party had won 81. Despite the Awami League winning the majority, Bhutto refused to accept their mandate, which led to a civil war and the creation of Bangladesh.

Bhutto thus took over a country that had been dismembered. Not only did he face external pressure, but also significant internal pressure from Islamist political parties. They accused him of being ‘Westernized, secular and un-Islamic’. To disprove their allegations, he compromised with the parties and formed a constitution that was more Islamic than before.

The Bhutto-drafted Constitution went further than the 1956 and 1962 constitutions by “designating Islam as the state religion of Pakistan”; barred non-Muslims ineligible for the position of prime minister (non-Muslims were already barred from being President); the oath of office was amended to affirm belief in the finality of Prophet Muhammad, which was widely seen as barring Ahmadis; and stated government appointees must “strive to preserve the Islamic ideology”. Bhutto also restricted freedom of speech by making it subject to the consideration of the ‘glory of Islam’. Bhutto’s intention was to give the constitution an Islamic gloss, and therefore ‘placate the Ulama’.

In 1974, Bhutto again bowed down to pressure from the Ulama by declaring Ahmadis as non-Muslims. Ahmadis were made scapegoats by Bhutto in his quest for appearing more ‘Islamic’. By doing so, he declared that he had provided the ‘final solution’ to the ’90-year-old problem’, a ‘problem’ conservative prime ministers before him could not solve. The liberal, Westernized and secular Bhutto who enjoyed widespread support of Ahmadis in the 1970 election was the man to ‘legislate Ahmadis out of the fold of Islam’. This decision became fodder for extremist organizations. More significantly, it taught these organizations how to subvert and manipulate the government for their ulterior objectives.


Khatam-e-Nabuwat (KEN), a terrorist organization, has its ideological roots in Bhutto’s amendment. Every year, KEN holds a rally celebrating Bhutto’s 1974 amendment. KEN openly calls for violence against Ahmadi Muslims, and an Ahmadi Muslim was shot three times at one of their rallies. The sole reason for their establishment is to incite hatred against Ahmadis, and they openly state that Ahmadis are Wajibul Qatl, i.e. they are liable for death under Islamic law. The Government of Pakistan has acquiesced to KEN’s statements that the streets need to be ‘cleansed of Ahmadi Muslims’. This rhetoric has been devastatingly successful. On 28 May 2010, 98 Ahmadis were massacred in their mosque. Since 1974, hundreds of Ahmadis have been killed due to their faith. This article does not suggest that domestic terrorism is caused solely by the aforementioned and undermentioned constitutional amendments. It is one factor in many.





Given the autocratic nature of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, he had to enforce a strategy to gain the support of the masses. Zia was a shrewd political observer. He was quick to gauge the rise of the PNA, a coalition of political parties that promised to enforce a system of Nizam-i-Mustafa, i.e. Shariah law. Consequently, Zia flagged the idea of an ‘Islamic system’ in his first speech.

Zia had ‘been a devout follower of Maududi’s literature’, who was the founder of the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI). JI is a far-right religio-political party in Pakistan, whose objective is to make Pakistan’s judicial system adhere to a strict form of Sharia. Having Zia in the driver’s seat “was a moment of great pleasure and success for the JI”. Zia gave JI members key positions in the Federal Cabinet. Once in those positions, the JI were zealous advocates for their objectives.

In 1978, Zia separated the electorate systems for Muslims and non-Muslims. The fundamental issue was that the State defined one’s belief. For example, in order for Ahmadis to have an eligible vote, they had to vote after registering on ‘non-Muslim’ electoral rolls. This goes against their core ideological beliefs. Zia was not satisfied by denying Ahmadis the right to vote – in 1984, he made it illegal for Ahmadis to ‘indirectly or directly pos[e] as Muslim[s]’, promulgating the anti-Ahmadi Ordinance XX. This Ordinance changed the whole social and political milieu for Ahmadis. The term ‘indirectly posing’ resulted in Ahmadis not being allowed to say Salam, which is the Islamic greeting, and were even restricted from wearing certain rings. The punishment for breaching Ordinance XX was up to 3 years imprisonment. The practical implication of the Ordinance has been that Ahmadis have become ‘virtual outcasts in modern Pakistan’, with no representation at any level.

The ‘Anti-Blasphemy Laws’ were introduced in 1986. Section 295-C was amended to make punishment for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad either ‘death’ or ‘imprisonment for life’. The legal test for ‘blasphemy’ was ‘remarkably broad’ : it included terms such as ‘visible representation’, ‘imputation’, ‘innuendo’, ‘insinuation’, and ‘indirectly’. The consequence of this broad language is that virtually any citizen can be charged: if a citizen’s house catches fire and the Quran burns, they may be charged; or if a citizen is mentally ill and claims to be a prophet, he is blasphemous. The accused can face capital punishment. The practical implication is that the codes provide “legal cover for terrorists to commit atrocities in the name of protecting Islam’s integrity based on their warped view of the faith”. These implications are detailed below.


The aforementioned amendments have given oxygen to the ideology of terrorist groups such as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). One of the core objectives of the TTP is establishing Shariah in Pakistan. Their ideology neatly aligns with Zia’s amendments. Further, the TTP has “made attacking blasphemy its raison d’être”. There is a clear link between the amendments in Pakistan’s Constitution and Pakistan’s most notorious terrorist organization – both have the same objectives, and the same penalty for being ‘blasphemous’.

The TTP has become the body that has been indirectly empowered by Pakistan’s Constitution to enforce the blasphemy laws. Federal Cabinet Minister Shahbaz Bhatti was assassinated by the TTP in 2011 because he was a ‘known blasphemer’. Ihsanullah Ishan, the TTP spokesman, stated that the “assassination of Bhatti is a message to all of those who are against Pakistan’s blasphemy laws”. Simply put, the TTP will enforce Section 295-C itself, regardless of any judicial proceedings.

The TTP was also linked to the massacre of 132 children at a Pakistan army run school in Peshawar. This was in opposition to the parents of the children, who supported US drone strikes. The TTP’s objective was to “silence those who threaten, however indirectly, Pakistan’s status as an Islamic state”. Again, the aforementioned amendments that made Pakistan an ‘Islamic state’ resulted in the TTP taking it upon itself to defend those provisions.

In 2011, Punjab’s governor Salmaan Taseer was assassinated by his government designated bodyguard – Mumtaz Qadri. Qadri believed he had the right to take the law into his hands because Taseer was a critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, and had supported the undermentioned Christian woman. One would reasonably believe that Qadri’s actions would be condemned by the majority of Pakistanis. In fact, the opposite was true – more than 500 Islamic scholars urged Muslims to boycott Taseer’s funeral; Qadri was showered with rose petals on his way to court; and upon his execution, approximately 100,000 Pakistanis attended his funeral. His grave has become a pilgrimage site. The Qadri example demonstrates that one can execute the governor of Pakistan’s most powerful province, justify their actions under the banner of protecting the honour of the Prophet, and become a national hero upon their execution.


Disturbingly, the blasphemy laws are often used to ‘settle personal scores or business rivalries’ against minorities. Asia Bibi was a Christian woman who was charged under the anti-blasphemy laws. Upon her landlord’s instructions, Bibi brought some water to the farm. The Muslim farmers refused to drink it because it was ‘unclean’, given she was a Christian. A dispute arose between the Muslim and Christian farmers. A few days later, a Muslim mob attacked Bibi’s village, and she was taken to the police station for her safety. She was subsequently charged with blaspheming the Prophet. On 7 November 2010, she was sentenced to death.

Zia’s amendments are the root causes of sectarianism in Pakistan. Historically, the relationship between Pakistan’s dominant Sunni community and largest minority – Shia community – was ‘mostly amicable’. Bhutto sowed the ‘seed’ for sectarianism in Pakistan. Zia’s regime took it further by shaping Pakistan into a Sunni Islamist state. For example, he imposed the zakat (wealth tax) ordinance, which contradicted Shia practice. Facing pressure from the Government, Pakistan’s Shia community mobilized for the first time, marched into Islamabad and forced Zia to repeal the ordinance. The Sunni groups used this demonstration to unite the masses against this Shia show of ‘force’. They also used the refusal to pay an Islamic tax to brand Shias ‘heretics and apostates’.

The net effect has been that both Sunni and Shia communities now have extremist wings – the Sunnis’ Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, and the Shias’ Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan, which were formed ‘largely in response to the Islamization policies of Zia”. In the past 5 years, an estimated 2,000 Pakistanis have been killed in sectarian violence, with thousands more before then. For every individual killed due to their religion, this is bound to create generations of extremists. For example, US General Mike Flynn argued that US drone strikes that kill innocent people create more terrorists due to tribal relations – if someone is not against the US, and their brother is killed by the US, this will inevitably make their whole tribe ardent enemies of the US. The same principle can be applied to the Sunni-Shia divide of Pakistan. For every Shia man/woman killed by a Sunni, that man/woman’s family would become enemies of the Sunnis, and vice versa. Essentially, Zia has created an inter-generational problem of sectarian violence.


Jinnah stated in 1947 that the “problem of religious differences has been the greatest hindrance in the progress of India.” Ironically, in 2016 this problem has become the greatest hindrance in the progress of Pakistan. Pakistan cannot progress whilst the objectives of its constitutional amendments are parallel to the objectives of extremist organizations. The Constitution as it stands institutionally marginalizes minorities, and gives fodder to extremists to cause instability in Pakistan. From poor farmers to governors and cabinet ministers, it is evident that these laws have been used as a backdrop for extremists to promote their agenda. To be a safer, freer and more prosperous country, Zia and Bhutto’s legacies must be compared to the Founding Father’s vision of Pakistan, and the amendments they made must be repealed.


By: Ansar Rehman Rana

Student of Bachelor of Laws & Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Adelaide. The author would like to thank Dr Hasan bin-Hamza for his feedback. The author also thanks his parents, Dr Munawar Rana and Dr Shaheena Rana, for their endless support. The Article is dedicated to the memories of Rana Karamatullah (d. 1991), the author’s paternal grandfather who was one of the first Ahmadi Muslims to be charged under Zia’s Ordinance XX. He served six months’ imprisonment and was fined PKR 1,000 for the crime of saying Salam, the Islamic greeting, to a fellow Muslim.


1. Articles/Books/Reports

Amjad Mahmood Khan, ‘How Anti-Blasphemy Laws Engender Terrorism’ (2015) 56 Harvard International Law Journal 1.

Amjad Mahmood Khan, ‘Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan: An Analysis Under International Law and International Relations’ (2003) 16 Harvard Human Rights Journal 217

Ann Elizabeth Mayer, ‘Islam and the State’ (1991) 12:1015 Cardozo Law Review 1015.

Asad Ahmad, ‘Adjudicating Muslims: Law, Religion and the State in Colonial India and Post-Colonial Pakistan’ (2006) PhD Discretion, University of Chicago 29-30

Bilal Hayee, ‘Blasphemy Laws and Pakistan’s Human Rights Obligations’ (2012) 14 University of Notre Dam Australia Law Review 25.

Craig Baxter, Bangladesh: from a nation to a state (Westview Press, 1998).

Daniel P. Collins, ‘Islamization of Pakistani Law: A Historical Perspective’ (1987) 24 Stanford Journal of International Law 511.

Fazlur Rahman, Islam and the New Constitution of Pakistan (Brill Archive, 1974)

G. W. Chaudhry, The Last Days of United Pakistan (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1974)

Hasan Askari Rizvi, The Military and Politics in Pakistan (Progressive Publishers, 1974)

Huma Yusuf, ‘Sectarian violence: Pakistan’s greatest security threat?’ (2012) Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre 2.

Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan: Between Mosque and Military (The Brookings Institution Press, 2005)

Javaid Rehman, ‘Minority Rights and the Constitutional Dilemmas of Pakistan’ (2001) 19/4 Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights 417.

Javaid Rehman and Eleni Polymenopoulou, ‘Recent Devleopments in Pakistan’ (2010) 16 Asian Yearbook of International Law 129.

Louis A. Delvoie, ‘The Islamization of Pakistan’s foreign policy’ (1995) 51 International Journal 126.

Lucy Carroll, ‘Orphaned Grandchildren in Islamic Law of Succession: Reform and Islamization and Pakistan’ (1998) 15 Islamic Law and Society

Martin Lau, ‘Pakistan – Zaheer-ud-din v. The State’ (1994) School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 565.

M. Nadeem Ahmad Siddiq, ‘Enforced Apostasy: Zaheeruddin v. State and the Official Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan’ (1995) 14 Law and Inequality: A Journal of Theory and Practice 275.

Moeen H. Cheema, ‘Beyond Beliefs: Deconstructing the Dominant

Narratives of the Islamization of Pakistan’s Law’ (2010) 60 The American Journal of Comparative Law 875.

Owen Bennett-Jones, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm (Yale University Press, 2nd ed, 2003) 160.

Pakistan Times, 6 July, 1977.

Pearl Goldman, ‘Religious Convictions: The Law of Blasphemy in Ireland’ (2011) 32 Adelaide Law Review 265.

Qasim Rashid, ‘Pakistan’s Failed Commitment: How Pakistan’s Institutionalized Persecution of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ (2011) 11:1 Richmond Journal of Global Law & Business 1.

Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Speeches as Governor General of Pakistan 1947-1948 (Feroons Ltd, 1962).

Syed Ali Raza and Syed Tehseen Jawaid, ‘Terrorism and tourism: A conjuction and ramification in Pakistan’ (2013) University of Karachi

Syed Masoom Abidi, ‘Social Change and Politics of Religion in Pakistan’ (1988) Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Hawaii

Syed Mujawar Hussain Shah, Bhutto, Zia and Islam (Shaheed Bhutto Publications, 2014)


2. Legislation

Pakistan Penal Code 1947.

The Constitution Of The Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973.

3. Internet

Al Islam, 2010. Anti-Ahmadiyya conferences on the increase in Pakistan. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

Ayesha Siddiqa, 2014. Pakistan’s march to theocracy. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

BBC, 2011. Pakistan Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti shot dead. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

BBC, 2011. Punjab Governor Salman Taseer assassinated in Islamabad. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

Bill Roggio, 2011. Punjabi Taliban, al Qaeda assassinate Pakistan’s Christian minorities minister [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

Christine Fair, 2014. Who’s Killing Pakistan’s Shia and Why?. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

CNN, 2010. Death toll rises to 98 after Lahore attacks. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

David J. Karl, 2012. Pakistan: The White Stripe Withers. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

David Montero, 2007. Shiite-Sunni conflict rises in Pakistan. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

Dawn, 2013. Timeline: Accused under the Blasphemy Law. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

Farahnaz Ispahani, 2016. From Egypt to Indonesia, all Islamic nations must learn from Pakistan’s mistakes. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

Hassan Abbas, 2010. Shiism and Sectarian Conflict in Pakistan: Identity Politics, Iranian Influence, and Tit-for-Tat Violence. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

Jane Perlez, 2010. Pakistani Sentenced to Death May Get a Pardon. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016]

Michael Georgy, 2011. Governor’s murder deepens fears of Pakistani Christians. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

Niloufer Siddiqui, 2015. Sectarian Violence and Intolerance in Pakistan. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

Rana Tanveer, 2011. Ahmadi shot, injured on ‘Khatam-e-Nabuwat Day’. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

R. Upadhyay, 2011. Barelvis and Deobandhis: “Birds of the Same Feather”. [ONLINE] Available at:  [Viewed 5 June 2016].

Sally Kohn, 2015. Drone strikes are creating hatred towards America that will last for generations. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

Simon Ross Valentine, ‘The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan: Ideology and Beliefs” (2009) Pakistan Security Research Unit 1, 3.

Sophia Saifi and Greg Botelho, 2014. In Pakistan school attack, Taliban terrorists kill 145, mostly children. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

The Economist, 2016. Bad moon rising. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

The Persecution of Ahmadis, 2012. Persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan: some statistics and information [Year-wise]. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

US Department of State, Report on International Religious Freedom 2010; See also, Rob Crilly and Aoun Sahi, 2010. Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan ‘for blasphemy’. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

World Watch Monitor, 2015. Asia Bibi’s last chance for freedom. [ONLINE] Available at: [Viewed 5 June 2016].

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