Are Pakistan and Israel Similar Ideological States?

The Israeli onslaught on Gaza enters its third week; more and more evidence of atrocities is being made public, producing widespread expressions of outrage around the world. There have been numerous protests around the world against the war crimes being committed by Israel whereas political leadership of the world, Muslim in particular, remains in slumber. The deaths hike the total Palestinian toll to 583 since the Israeli military launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 in a bid to stamp out rocket fire from Gaza.


During this period I have been engaged in several debates on different perspectives surrounding the Palestine – Israel conflict. One of these perspectives has been ‘drawing parallels on the similarity between Pakistan and Israel’. After engaging in debates with many, I thought it would be better to put down my arguments in writing.

Pakistan is like Israel in that both countries were formed on the basis of religion as a result of partition of the countries that already existed and caused large population displacements – it is a very common argument put forward when comparing Pakistan with Israel. Also this remark of ex-ruler of Pakistan, Zia-ul-Haq is commonly referred to support this argument:

“Pakistan is like Israel, an ideological state. Take out the Judaism from Israel and it will fall like a house of cards. Take Islam out of Pakistan and make it a secular state; it would collapse.”

–       The Economist, December 1981

The above statements might have a slight degree of validity but are sweeping factual statements without giving regard to factors and facts underlying beneath these statements. If we dig in to unearth those facts, striking contrasts between two states are unveiled.

To start with, the demand of Pakistan as a separate homeland was limited to the geographical location of South Asia. The ‘Two Nation Theory’ which is commonly argued as basis for the creation of Pakistan never claimed that Muslims all around the globe were a one nation. Rather the theory is based on the premise that Indian Muslims were a separate nation on the basis of language, traditions, culture, etc. The theory being theological in nature and making a case for of religion as basis of Pakistan’s creation is a flawed argument and is a separate debate. However, the emphasis is that demand for Pakistan was a separate state for Muslims already living here.

Now if we compare this to Israel, there is stark contrast. The basic premise of the Zionist movement, founded by Theodor Herzl, highlights the difference clearly. Zionism is the founding ideology of the land of Israel. Zionism’s basic premise is that Jews irrespective of their geographic location, ethnic identity or socioeconomic background constitute a nation and thus deserve a national homeland – territory defined as the Land of Israel. Therefore Israel was a demand for all Jews everywhere in the world.

The Lahore resolution passed in 1940 called for sovereign states in the Muslim majority areas of India – areas that were going to become Pakistan was already populated by Muslims. In comparison as per the basic premise of Zionism, their homeland is to be situated in the Biblical land of Israel.  Whether that land is populated by someone else is a non-issue — a land without people for a people without land.

If we look at the historical geography of the current territory of Pakistan, (West Pakistan before separation of East Pakistan), it has always been a distinct, unique territory with regions being always bound together by mighty ‘Indus River’. As Aitzaz Ahsan explains in his book ‘The Indus Saga’:

“Indus (Pakistan) has a rich and glorious cultural heritage of its own. This is a distinct heritage, of a distinct and separate nation. There is, thus no fear of any other country devouring or destroying the state. During the last 6000 years Indus has, indeed, remained independent of and separate from India for almost five and a half thousand years. Only the three ‘Universal States’, those of the Mauryans, the Mughals, and the British, welded these two regions together in single empires. And aggregate period of these ‘Universal States’ was not more than five hundred years.

For the remainder, from prehistory to the nineteenth century, Indus has been Pakistan. 1947 was only a reassertion of that reality. It was the reuniting of the various units, the Frontier, the Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, and Kashmir once again in a primordial federation. The mohajirs, who reverted to the Indus in 1947 and thereafter, were the sons and daughters returning to the mother. As such, ‘Pakistan’ preceded even the advent of Islam in the subcontinent. It was not merely ‘a chasm that one people created for themselves in the ten short years from 1937 to 1947’, as some Indians may like to believe.”


Source: ‘Indus Saga’ by Aitezaz Ahsan

Source: 'Indus Saga' by Aitezaz Ahsan

Source: ‘Indus Saga’ by Aitezaz Ahsan

In contrast, as explained above, Herzl called for an establishment of a home/state for the Jewish people in Palestine, to be called Israel. In World War I, the Ottoman Empire sided with Germany. As a result, it was embroiled in a conflict with Great Britain. Under the secret Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916, it was envisioned that most of Palestine, when freed from Ottoman control, would become an international zone not under direct French or British colonial control. Shortly thereafter, British foreign minister Arthur Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration of 1917:

“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

The British captured Jerusalem a month later, and were formally awarded a mandate which was approved by the League of Nations in 1922. The 1922 census of Palestine recorded the population of Palestine as 757,000, of which 78% were Muslims, 11% were Jews, 10% were Christians and 1% were Druze. After the World War II and the Holocaust of Jews, the British Government terminated the mandate and United Nations voted to partition the territory. So clearly here a state was developed for people who were not inhabitants of the region.

In case of creation of state of Pakistan, there was political consultation. The partition was accepted by political stakeholders who represented the people of this very region. The provinces or regions that were to form Pakistan were those presented in the Lahore Resolution of 1940. The elections of 1946 were a de-facto referendum on it.

On the other hand, there was nothing similar in case of Palestine and Israel. No one consulted inhabitants of Palestine before deciding that their town, village or city was going to become Israel.

Another angle few argue about is the migrations and displacements of mass scale of people. The displacements in case of Pakistan and India were in both directions, People migrated from Pakistan to India and vice-versa. However, probably a greater population of Muslims as compared to those in Pakistan decided to remain in India. The migration and effects of partition were bloody which could have been avoided. Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs; all suffered and lost in the disaster.

Displacement in Palestine was and is one directional i.e. Jews in and Palestinians out. Nearly all the population of the Israel is migrated whereas in comparison the migrant population in Pakistan was roughly around five to six percent.

Although, Jinnah announced, in August 1947, that Pakistan would be a secular state, it became a hard core religious state only after 1970s. Through 1974 constitution the nature of identity of Muslim was changed from an ethnic one to religious one. The roots of this religiosity, however, date back to the Objectives Resolution of 1949.

Ben Gurion, first prime minister of Israel, declared Israel a secular liberal democracy in 1948 and Israel has stuck to it to-date. Israel has not defined its Jewish identity on religious grounds rather ethnic and cultural grounds.

Last but not the least, any Jew born anywhere in the World, is eligible to become an Israeli citizen. As explained above, Israel by its very nature and design is a homeland for the Jewry of the world. Pakistan, however, is a homeland for people of Pakistan. It was not envisioned to make a homeland for all of the Muslims of the world. Anyone can become a citizen of Pakistan if one desires.

Pakistan is bigger and far more diverse state with plethora of complex problems as compared to Israel. Pakistan consists of diverse ethnicities and cultures and populations of various religions and sects. Israel’s identity is one i.e. Jewish. Therefore, Pakistan and Israel being similar is factually incorrect sweeping statement.


This article was published on Pak Tea House.


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