Pakistan Part I

 Many scholars ask why Pakistan did not become the democracy that India did, despite their similar roots. I address this in the following essay:



“The wide gap between the professed democratic values and the operational realities of authoritarianism and non-viable civilian institutions can be described as an important feature of Pakistan’s political experience”[1]. The failure of democracy and subsequent military dominance in Pakistan can be traced to the early years of the country’s independence. The country’s leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah died a year into his term as 1st Governor General of Pakistan, but his death was only one in a multitude of factors that pushed Pakistan away from democracy and towards militarization. In analyzing these factors, scholars have compared the political outcomes of the once-joined India and Pakistan: why did India become a democratic nation after partition and Pakistan not? The countries were previously conjoined and affected by the same British colonial rule, yet the result of independence ended with the two countries in entirely different political dimensions. In understanding the pre- and post-partition India and Pakistan, an explanation arises from the historical narrative and gives an indication as to why martial law has governed Pakistan and the failure of democracy in the nation.

After more than 100 years under British colonial rule, Pakistan and India emerged in 1947. Yet for the two countries to materialize, Muslim nationalism was mobilized for the partition. Political figure Muhammad Ali Jinnah and his supporters in the Muslim League advocated for the partition and creation of Pakistan, amassing followers like the Muslim landowning families in the Punjab and Sindh,[2] and other Muslims who feared a Hindu majority government. These fears of Hindu oppression stemmed from the aftermath of the 1857 mutiny against the British, where the Muslim and Hindu communities began to isolate and divide. As the British checked anti-colonial sentiments, the colonial power invented political categories of “Hindu” and “Muslim” and attached resources or lack thereof to each. This separation and isolation of Muslims was visible in the Indian National Congress winning 1937 elections and in the 1940 Lahore Resolution where Lord Linlithgow referred to the separation of India into three dominions among the Muslims, Hindus, and princely states[3]. Jinnah also reflects the product of this separation in his annual address to the Muslim League in 1940, stating, “It is extremely difficult to appreciate why our Hindu friends fail to understand the real nature of Islam and Hinduism. They are not religions in the strict sense of the word, but are, in fact, different and distinct social orders”[4].


The Muslim League: Leadership & Political Support

So the built-in and increasing separation between Muslims and Hindus, and the resulting Muslim nationalism that influenced partition created two very different political foundations for each country. After the bloody two months of partition, Pakistan surfaced from the partition a nation rooted in Muslim nationalism but without any political or administrative structure[5]. Muslim nationalism was enough to designate national unity but not enough to create it, and the new Muslim League’s political base was very limited due to its recent formation and organization. The Muslim League only truly began to aggregate followers after the Indian National Congress was jailed during the Quit India Movement[6] and had secured stratified supporters with limited mobilization capabilities. The Muslim League relied on the leadership of Jinnah, primordial tactics, and political gain as a way of creating its supporter base–the “colonial backwaters”[7] of West and East Pakistan becoming a rich opportunity for those who feared Hindu rule and landowning elites with limited voice in the Indian Congress.

In contrast Gandhi and Nehru gained grassroots support by appealing to all classes and strata throughout India with historic political party backing, which allowed for the ‘active participation of citizens in politics and civic life’, a key element in democracy formation[8]. The East Pakistani Bengalis had no real way to get involved in Pakistani politics due to the thousand-mile gap between its western counterpart and the lack of representation, and Jinnah had no “grassroots” support from the lower classes and minorities of West Pakistan. The League’s great reliance on Jinnah’s leadership also proved to be erroneous, as some scholars would say the leader’s sudden death took a drastic toll on the country’s path to democracy. The League’s failure in securing a political foothold in all social classes after partition, an unhealthy reliance on Jinnah, and the lack of East Pakistani representation eventually inflicted blows on the foundation of the Pakistani democratic movement. These factors, including the foundation of colonial recruitment of Pakistanis during WWI and WWII and the Pakistani-Indian Kashmir war in 1949, created a power vacuum for military dominance in the country.


The Growth of the Military Budget

The 1949 war in Kashmir had an interesting impact on the Pakistani government’s future expenditures and structure. In the partition, Pakistan did not inherit the structural administration and wealth promised to them[9] and essentially had to build its administration and treasury from scratch. Democracy is dependent upon administrative institutions[10], and though Jinnah was able to create these institutions, 70% of government funds from 1947-50 went to the national defense budget. The birth of the Pakistani “garrison state” came about from excessive governmental expenditure on the military, and created an economy and a government focused on creating a formidable military and not on constitutional establishment.

It should be noted that the new government’s lentor in creating the constitution allowed for the Pakistani people to inherently lean in favour of an institution with already established principles. The fickle nature of politics juxtaposed the rapidly advancing military, which was promoting the country’s international growth (American investment in the 50s) and provided a stable option for governance.

In comparison, the new Indian people and government had a deep distrust for the ex-British Indian army[11] and were hesitant to spend on defence. The mistrust the Indian people had of the army was out of their wish to rid India of the “British officer element”[12] and many officers did not want to serve under Nehru, who criticized the army publically. The expenditure on defence reflects this and without money fueling the army, Indian politicians and people focused on constitution building and by 1950 the Indian constitution was written and implemented. The belief in political process may also be correlated to the larger, more established Indian National Congress which had great public support throughout the country. The democratic process was in a ways easier for the new Indian government, as politicians had public support, an already built administrative structure, and mistrust of the army.



India and Pakistan were once the same country but each country’s political composition and structure before and after partition affected their democratic fate. The resulting militarization of Pakistan has roots deep into before the partition. The militarization was a direct result of a democratic evolution that was too slow in an environment of increased military spending. The political concept of the military being faster or more efficient than government politicians and this is visible throughout Pakistan’s history of military coups.

[1] Rizvi, Hasan Askari. Democracy in Pakistan. Pg 117.

[2] BBC. British Modern History: Partition 1947.

[3] BBC. British Modern History: Partition 1947.

[4] Jinnah Address to Annual Session of the Muslim League, 1940 PDF.

[5] Rizvi, Hasan. Democracy in Pakistan. Pg. 117.

[6] Rizvi, Hasan. Pg. 119.

[7] Gyanesh Kudaisya, Tan Tai Yong. The Aftermath of Partition in South Asia. Pg 199.

[8] Stanford Journal. What is Democracy?

[9] Sengupta, Anwesha. Breaking Up: Dividing Assets Between Indian & Pakistan in times of Partition. Pg. 530.

[10] Stanford Journal. What is Democracy?

[11] Marston, Daniel. The Indian Army and the End of the Raj. Pg. 266.

[12] Marston, Daniel. Pg. 266.


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