Pakistan: A Fractured Nation

Classical Liberal emailed me last month:

"I'm reading Adventure Capitalist, by Jim Rogers, about his world trip from 1999 to 2001, and have come to the part were he drives through Pakistan. I wonder what you think of the following passage:

Pakistan is one of those countries that I believe will not survive as such, irrespective of its irreconcilable differences with India. The regional differences and shared animosities within Pakistan itself are so dramatic as to threaten its viability. This is a country rushed together by way of a mass migration of Muslims in the wake of Indian independence. (Muslims who came to Pakistan in 1947 are still considered different from those who were already there at the time. Their children and their grandchildren are still "inferior." Class distinctions parallel those now expressed in Germany, where former East Germans are discriminated against.) A nation hopelessly conceived by frenetic English bureaucrats, it is one whose center will not hold. The farmers of the Punjab have nothing in common with the tribesmen of Baluchistan. The inhabitants of the North-West Frontier are descendants of Caucasians who came down centuries ago. Many still have blue eyes. The various places meshed together after World War II have rarely had much in common. The country is unstable (and especially dangerous since it has nuclear weapons). In time it will be several countries.

In particular I'm curious to know, Isaac, what you think of Rogers' comments concerning Pakistan's disunity, and of the distinction made between those living in what is now Pakistan before and after the break up with India."

My lengthy answer follows.


I studied at a Pakistani school in Saudi Arabia. I remember once reading my social studies book in the late 80s and being surprised by something.

You see, I spent only my early years in Pakistan. The few memories I had were of my relatives who lived there. The Pakistani nation was still a mystery to me. So, it was quite eye-opening to read about the four different provinces of Pakistan -- Sindh, Balochistan, North West Frontier Province and Punjab. The people who lived in these provinces not only had dissimilar styles of clothing for men and women, as the pictures in the book showed, but they also spoke different languages. I found this to be very odd.

In Saudi Arabia, one can travel hundreds of kilometers from Jeddah to Makkah to Medina to Riyadh to Dhahran and still speak the same tongue. The language of the signs on these roads would be recognizable to the vast majority in Arabia. "How do people navigate in Pakistan?" I thought. Of course, the fact that most people in Pakistan are illiterate presents a whole new layer of complexity to the problem.

As I progressed in school -- from memorizing short books and fables to memorizing heavier books and stories -- the back story of Pakistan came into sharper focus.


For over two hundred years, from 1526 onward, the Mughal Empire ruled over the Asian subcontinent. Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal Emperor, controlled a region which included modern-day Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

The Mughals started their empire-building from the west side of the region, taking a similar route as Alexander the Great in 327 BC. Babur, the first Mughal emperor, had present Afghanistan as his base. Later his line extended the region under Mughal rule. After Babur, followed Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan (famous for the Taj Mahal) and Aurangzeb.

Of course, the Mughal Empire was inherently unstable since there wasn't any unifying characteristic of the varied populations. The Mughals were Muslims but most of their subjects were not. They enforced Islamic law to certain degrees. For example, the jizya tax was imposed on the population by Aurangzeb. Though, only non-Muslims had to pay this tax. It simultaneously raised revenue while putting an explicit penalty on those who dared to call themselves non-Muslim.

All empires fall and so did the Mughal Dynasty. The British took advantage of the fragile nature of the alliances in the subcontinent and, with shockingly little manpower, took over the whole region by the early 19th century. By 1857, the British exiled the last "emperor" of the Mughals.


The British couldn't maintain their rule over India. The epic battles of the Second World War further eroded their hold on the subcontinent. However, they didn't leave India in one piece. Muslims who as a minority were once lords of the region just couldn't bare being ruled over by the majority Hindus. Muslims wanted their own lands and they got their wish.

Muslims had a majority in the Western and Eastern parts of India. Thus, those pieces formed the whole nation of Pakistan on August 14, 1947. The name means 'the land of the pure'. It's the only modern nation on Earth formed solely on the basis of religion. It's birth started the grandest movement of peoples across boundaries. My grandparents were born in modern-day India. They left all their belongings there and migrated to West Pakistan. Such people are called Muhajirs in Pakistan. Local Pakistanis can be harsh on the Muhajirs; often referring to them as closet Indians. In other words, calling them traitors.

The region of Kashmir, north of West Pakistan, is still disputed. It's mostly Muslim but the ruler of the region had to choose; join India or Pakistan in 1947. He didn't make up his mind. Pakistani troops entered the area to gain control. Soon, India also sent in the army. It's now roughly divided: 50% India, 35% Pakistan, the rest no man's land.

Political power in Pakistan was concentrated in its Western wing. Of course, this resulted in economic discrimination. East Pakistan received less money per capita from the government when compared to its Western counterpart. Eastern Pakistanis resented this imbalance and soon the emotions of nationalism and independence arose in their hearts. The military, directed by the West Pakistanis, tried to crush this movement with naked brutality in the early 1970s but they failed.

In 1971, East Pakistan was no more. Bangladesh was its new name. British India had been broken into three countries in under 25 years.


Today in Pakistan, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) is home to extremists who protect and nourish Osama bin Laden's friends. The Taliban received their education in the madrassas of NWFP. There, one can walk down a street where on one side the sale of marijuana is taking place and on the other AK-47s are on display. This province of Pakistan was called Afghania under British rule. These tribal people have little in common with their provincial neighbors. Most of the Pakistani military is afraid of entering this region to enforce the rule of law, largely because they'll stand out like sore thumbs and as a result get whacked very quickly. Therefore, there is no rule of law in NWFP. The law is simply what the tribe leaders say it is.

The largest province in terms of area is Balochistan. Oddly, it also has the smallest population. The family which once had ruled Balochistan didn't want to lose power. They, and their allies for their own reasons, have been struggling for independence since the very creation of Pakistan. Skirmishes have been ongoing; over 100,000 people have lost their lives in the bloodshed.

Sindh, where most of the Muhajirs went, and Punjab are the two relatively cosmopolitan provinces of Pakistan. Most of the federal, political power is concentrated in these two provinces. Though, not the same political party holds sway in both provinces. Punjab, for long, has been the cultural center of the nation. It's agriculturally rich which is why it has attracted large populations for centuries. It's also economically rich; the last two great Mughal emperors were born in the city of Lahore in Punjab.

How do these provinces gel together? Mostly, they don't. Punjabis look at the NWFP and cringe. These Taliban protectors have little love for the rest of the country. NWFPers loath anyone who doesn't speak their language. Balochistan is like a ghost town. The education level there is frighteningly nonexistent.

After 60 years of existence, not once has the top politician completed his term and a new one peacefully sworn in. Deaths, assassinations, coups, and the surprise, convoluted ending of terms has been the political story of Pakistan.

There are two opposed strains at work among Pakistanis.

1) Local Nationalism. Balochistan and NWFP are different worlds when compared to Sindh and Punjab. These people have fought for increased local powers and sometimes all-out independent states. It seems that other than religion there is little else that binds them to the rest of Pakistan.

2) Superstate of the Ummah. Some Pakistanis think that the partition was a bad idea because Muslims should have re-continued their rule over the entire Indian subcontinent. Muslim ought to have only one state. Perhaps, it could start in Indonesia, continue through Bangladesh, Iran and go all the way to the Turkish border into Europe. Why bother with these infidel-imposed boundaries?

Of course, in reality, large numbers of Muslims are often killed by other large numbers of Muslims. In Pakistan, it has been a decades-long lethal process. Pakistan has already cracked once. It's likely in the future that the Ummah will be further disappointed.


siddharth sreenivas

still waiting for a response to my earlier comment.but id just like to let you know that im really sorry if ive offended you.i happened to come across your blog thru the dry bones not sure if you follow indian politics but an advanced state of rot has set in on a section of the polity.bigotry in all forms is it based on caste,region,language or religion.but the glue that still holds us is the idea or notion which is millenia old of an indian nation.i know u must be saying that there never was an indian nation before the advent of the brits but the dream was always there..the people are ethnically different in different parts of the country but our hearts still beat together for our nation.every indian is a nationalist first and then a liberal or a hardliner.i come from a muslim majority area and my muslim friends are every bit as patriotic as me or any hindu u might call me a 'closet muslim' or sumthing along those lines but what i speak is the truth..if the balkanization of our nation so varied in nature has not taken place then something like that happening to pakistan is minimal.,.rather ud be better served talked abt the need for balkanizing china...she is the root of all evil in this world..or atleast the ccp is..//tibet will be free one day!!//

Classical Liberal

I'm certainly no expert but it seems very unlikely to me that the Chinese are going to let Tibet go.

Great post, Isaac!


That was one of the clearest and most readable tellings of Pakistan's complicated history that I've seen. Awesome stuff Isaac. Any chance you could explain how the Balkans were balkanized? Cheers! :-)

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)