Pakistan was carved out of the Indian sub-continent on 14 August 1947 solely on the basis of religion, to be the homeland of Muslims of undivided India. When the ‘exclusive homeland’ was created, 40% of the 95 million Indian Muslims chose to remain in India as Indian citizens. Jinnah, in his famous constituent Assembly speech he said “You are free to go to your temples, to your mosques or any other place 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”. This lofty idea was buried along with Jinnah in 1948. Even as an Islamic republic, religious identity proved inadequate to keep the country together and East Pakistan, comprising 55% of Pakistan’s population and about 19% of its area, seceded in 1971 to form Bangladesh. Post that apocalyptic event which overturned the Pakistani perception of being a democratic homeland for all South Asian Muslims it has remained in a quandary about its identity.
Pakistan’s Changing Identity
Parliamentary Democracy to a Presidential Dictatorship. It took 10 years and lot of political turmoil for Pakistan to get its first constitution in 1956. Within two years, the country witnessed its first coup and General Ayub Khan appointed himself the President in 1958. The 1956 constitution was replaced by a new one in 1962 which was further replaced by another constitution in 1973. General Zia and Musharaf, in their turn as dictators, violated and amended the constitution at will. Imran Ali Noonari & Majid Noonari, in an article titled ‘Impact of Dictators on the Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan’, explains how military dictators completely changed the nature of Pakistan’s constitution and converted the country’s Parliamentary democracy into a Presidential form of government.
Theocratic Dictatorship. Zia ul Haq, through Islamic laws and ‘Hudood Ordinance‘, brought about Islamization of Pakistani society and transformed the liberal state into a theocracy. Pervez Musharaf, the next military dictator, enhanced powers of the President and legalized all his actions through the 17th Amendment. In 2010, Pakistan/’s parliament succeeded in undoing some of the damages done to its constitution by its military dictators by passing the 18th amendment which curtailed presidential powers and assigned a greater role for parliament and the Prime Minister.
An Evolving Stratocracy. Despite having a constitutionally elected government, even today, it is the army that controls government policies in Pakistan. In September 2020, former Prime minister, Nawab Sharif, publicly lamented “For most of Pakistan’s history, there has been either a military dictator at the helm of affairs or, when there was an elected government, a parallel government was being run by the military” and emphatically added “We want elected leaders to run the affairs of the country, to manage the economy and to decide on the foreign policy”. Over the years, Pak army has evolved a fine system to rule the country through ‘elected’ proxy civilian government. This “Hybrid Martial law’ cleverly deflects blame for inept governance, rampant corruption and more on to the civilian ‘elected’ government, while insulating the army from any allegations of interference. A formal coup has been rendered unnecessary in Pakistan. It is also well known that Pak army runs a multibillion dollar private sector business empire. Global powers jostling for stakes in the region find it convenient to deal with the actual power center in Pakistan, the Pak army, rather than grapple with the country’s powerless, chaotic polity.
An Economically Colonised State. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with an expected outlay of over $60 billion has opened a new chapter in the relationship between the countries. However, as Arif Rafiq, a foreign policy scholar and a fellow at Middle East institute in Washington, writes that “Six years after its launch, CPEC is nowhere close to a functional economic corridor. It may never become one”. He further states that “Pakistan will not prosper solely by transporting the goods of other countries. That economic model may have worked at one point for city-states like Dubai and Singapore, but it won’t for a country of more than 220 million people that sees a million young people enter its labour force annually”.  The picture gets grimmer with the growing repayment liability of the country’s huge Chinese loans with no escape in sight from loan default. What will happen when the long chain of loan default sets in? Will China assume ownership of the real estate through which the CPEC runs or will it settle for a 99 year lease? Will CPEC get converted into CEC? Will it be a trailer of the 21st century Economic Colonization model? Will China force Pakistan’s hands for greater stability in the region to further China’s own economic and geostrategic cause? Will it result in greater internal turmoil in Pakistan? Whichever way, the events to follow will have huge implications for the region. Pakistan has reached a corner where all its major foreign policy and other decisions will now be vetted by the Chinese Communist Party rather than by the Pak army. Pakistan really has no independent choice to make and may be considered as an appendage of China.
Culturally, there are indications that Pakistan is uncomfortable with its South Asian-Indian cultural moorings and has lately developed a craving for cultural identification with Turkey,(its earlier identification was with the Arabs). As Murtaza Haider says, “[g]iven that most Muslims in South Asia are converts from Hinduism, it is interesting to note that there are hardly any references in their names pointing to their immediate religious past. Most have somehow leapfrogged to remote geographies to serve as their ideological and spiritual geocodes”. Because of this intrinsic ambiguity its yearning for leadership and a place of pride amongst the Islamic nations is dismissed by Islamic brethren with disdain despite its ‘lone Islamic nuclear power’ claim. In its global outlook, Pakistan has shifted from being ‘West leaning’—to an important US ally—to a Chinese ‘junior partner’. Crumbling on every front, Pakistan has embraced China. Chinese alliance, unlike Pakistan’s previous alliances, comes with its own set of unique conditions; there may be no option for a divorce. With divorce option out of the way, will the ‘China Marriage’ finally end Pakistan’s search for an identity? Only time will tell.
 Shahzeb Jillani, BBC News, “The Search for Jinnah’s Vision of Pakistan”, 11 September 2013, bbc.com/news/world-asia-24034873
 Researchgate, December 2013, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/337049938
 “Pak army a state above the state, says Nawaz Sharif as opposition unites against military leaders”, Hindustan Times, September 20,2020, hindustantimes.com/world-news/pak-oppn-parties-unite-to-decry-military-s-state-above-state/story-6a0jTfeYC6cSpnhQ8lhFLN.html
 Arif Rafiq, “Pakistan’s Geoeconomic Delusions”, Foreign Policy, April 5, 2021, foreignpolicy.com/2021/04/05/pakistans-geoeconomics-delusions/
 Murtaza Haider, “The Identity Crisis of the Urban Middle Class”, Dawn, Sep 28, 2011. The identity crisis of the urban middle classes – Pakistan – DAWN.COM