Giving hope to persecuted Christians since 1995
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This is Part 2 of a 2-part series. Click here to read Part 1.

By John Cosenza

IV: Pakistan’s Double-Edged Sword

            Economic exhaustion from the Second World War and increasing hostilities throughout present-day India forced Great Britain to end its rule over the Indian subcontinent in 1947. The Indian Independence Act of 1947 birthed two new nations on the world stage; the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Republic of India. Since independence, Pakistan has been beset with frequent regime changes, both democratic and militaristic. Yet, one consistent factor among regime changes since the 1980s has been a steady increase in the persecution of Pakistan’s minority communities. While many factors have contributed to the rise of religious persecution, the Islamization of Pakistan’s economy and its constitution further demonstrates a strong correlation between religious restrictions and profound negative consequences on a nation’s overall economy.

Pakistan’s gradual retreat from English common law and shift toward authoritarianism was conceived fairly early in the country’s history. Indeed, only six years after achieving independence, Pakistan experienced its first “governor-general’s coup” when Ghulam Mohammed dismissed Prime Minister Khwaja Nasiruddin and usurped political power.[1] Shortly after, “martial law was imposed in Lahore to quell the anti-Qadiani movement.”[2] Pakistan’s first military dictator, Ayub Khan, assumed complete control of the state three years later in October 1958 and “reigned over the golden period of Pakistan’s economic history.” Khan worked closely with economic advisors from Harvard and founded the Planning Commission on Economic Management and Reforms. Khan’s campaign was quite successful and produced substantial results; during this time the GDP jumped from 3 to 6 percent, the manufacturing sector expanded by 9 percent, and agricultural production grew at a rate of 4 percent with the introduction of Green Revolution technology.[3] Furthermore, Pakistan’s manufactured exports outpaced the exports of Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia combined. Unfortunately, the ‘golden sixties’ was short-lived.

Political regime changes with different economic visions either halted or reversed any economic advancements and ultimately led to the Islamization of Pakistan’s society and economy. In July 1977, General Zia ul-Haq overthrew the socialist Bhutto regime and soon “used religion to provide legitimacy to his takeover and subsequent rule, asserting that Islam should be a unifying force for overcoming ethnic, linguistic, and other propensities prevailing in the country.” According to Ishrat Husain, the long-term economics of Islamization were colossal.[4] The dissemination of Kalashnikovs (high-powered assault rifles also known as the AK-47), drug culture, ethnic and sectarian violence, the smuggling of goods, and emergence of jihadist political parties can all be traced to ul-Haq’s regime.[5] Furthermore, it can be argued the Islamization of Pakistan’s economy during this time is closely connected “to the internal socio-economic conditions of the semi-feudal Pakistani society” today.[6]

Ziaul Haque attempts to underline the reasons, motives, and results of Pakistan’s Islamization of its economy in Islam and Economics in Pakistan: Critical Perspectives.[7] Haque ultimately determines the Islamization of Pakistan’s economy has directly resulted in “social polarization, religious intolerance and the rapid corrosion of social morality.” Interestingly, Haque asserts the Islamization of Pakistan’s economy is actually a contradiction, as it presupposes that something which is not Islamic must be Islamized. Haque references the Islamic view of banking as a primary example. Secular societies, especially those embraced in western countries, generally leverage banking and finance industries to stimulate economies and promote capital gains to the benefit of their citizens. In Pakistan however, many Islamic economists abide by the “Quranic concept of riba,” and interpret banking as “usury and interest.”[8]

According to Haque, Pakistani economists view the practice of banking through the religious lens of seventh century Arabia, which constitutes a dogmatic approach to economic problems including poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment, and economic inequality, rather than a scientific one.[9] In turn, this practice has inevitably widened “the social polarization between the rich elites and the poor masses by aggravating the problem of distribution of wealth. This misconceived scheme has also resulted in hypocrisy, graft, dishonesty, corruption, sectarianism, religious divisions and intolerance.”[10] This naïve interpretation of Islam has arrested “all social change, social mobility and universal education.”[11]

The Islamization of Pakistan’s constitution has also produced negative economic consequences, most notably among religious minority communities. During General Zia ul-Haq’s regime, several amendments were added to Pakistan’s constitution that established Islam as the state religion and required all provisions of the law to be consistent with Islam.[12] Some amendments specifically targeted and disenfranchised religious minorities socially and economically. Ordinance XX, for example, was implemented in 1984 and declared the entire Ahmadi religious community to be “non-Muslim” and forbid the Ahmadi community to propagate their faith.[13] The consequences of Ordinance XX are still felt to this day. According to the U.S. State Department’s Pakistan 2018 International Religious Freedom Report, Ahmadi community leaders reported that “members of their communities continued to experience discrimination in public schools and tertiary education, and in private and civil service employment.”[14] Moreover, in September 2018, the newly elected government “withdrew its invitation to economist and Ahmadi Muslim Atif Mian to join the Economic Advisory Council after significant public criticism, including from religious leaders.”[15] Atif Mian, an intellectual that can provide innovative strategies for Pakistan’s economy, is excluded from contributing to the success of Pakistan due to his faith. The Islamization of Pakistan’s constitution has excluded entire communities from receiving a basic education and contributing to Pakistan’s workforce. Sunni Muslims are known to exclude Ahmadis from their privately-owned shops and businesses.[16] The mistrust and lack of engagement between Pakistan’s majority Sunni Muslims and its religious minorities is precisely what prevents economic growth and social prosperity.

In 1995, Ziaul Haque predicted that “the gulf between the ruling elite and large masses will be widened further and, ultimately, lead to violent social irruptions, and collapse of democratic institutions”[17] if Pakistan did not separate religion from its economy. Two decades later, Pakistan continues to suppress religious freedom and its economy continues to experience much lower rates of domestic and foreign investments.[18] One can argue Pakistan’s incessant political instability is the largest contributor to its economic failures. However, there is strong evidence to suggest the Islamization of Pakistan’s economy and constitution has also contributed to negative consequences ranging from economic collapse to the rise of jihadist militants.

  1. Conclusion

            This secondary analysis has attempted to demonstrate the need for religious freedom during a time in which most of the world’s population lives under some form of religious scrutiny. A historical analysis on the emergence of religious freedom in northwestern Europe shows that government officials understood the economic benefits associated with religious freedom over 300 years ago. Contemporary quantitative studies provide hard evidence suggesting economic prosperity is more likely to be achieved when governments allow religious freedom. Lastly, a brief analysis on Pakistan’s history reveals what is likely to happen when governments shift away from religious tolerance and shift towards religious authoritarianism. This is a significant lesson that should be remembered if there is any hope in confronting today’s shocking rise in religious persecution.

John Cosenza is a Market Research Analyst at Zitter Health Insights as well as a part time Research Consultant at the Mitchell Firm, a Washington D.C. based lobbying and consultancy firm. John graduated from Marist College with a dual degree in History & Political Science and graduated from Norwich University with a Master’s Degree in Diplomacy & International Business. John is an experienced professional with a unique combination of primary and secondary research skills as well as writing skills. He has experience working in the private and non-profit sector conducting secondary, qualitative, and quantitative research for multiple organizations including the world’s largest marketing and advertising agency, an international marketing consultancy firm, and a Washington, D.C. based Non-Government Organization (NGO). In addition to his research, John has co-authored multiple articles with Mr. John T. Pinna of the Mitchell firm focusing on international human rights issues and international religious persecution. John continues to work with political, think tank, and NGO leaders in the Washington D.C. metro area to advocate for international religious freedom. He can be reached at [email protected] or

[1] Husain, Ishrat (2009). “The Role of Politics in Pakistan’s Economy.” Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 63, No. 1 (2009).

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] Ibid, 3.

[4] Ibid, 6.

[5] Ibid, 7.

[6] Haque, Ziaul; Anwar, Muhammad (1995). “Islam and Economics in Pakistan: Critical Perspectives.” The Pakistan Development Review, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Winter 1995).

[7] Haque, Ziaul; Anwar, Muhammad (1995). “Islam and Economics in Pakistan: Critical Perspectives.” The Pakistan Development Review, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Winter 1995).

[8] Ibid, 840.

[9] Ibid, 840.

[10] Ibid, 840.

[11] Ibid, 839.

[12] United States State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (2019). Pakistan 2018 International Religious Freedom Report, Government Printing Office, 2019.

[13] Ibid, 2.

[14] Ibid, 3.

[15] Ibid, 3.

[16] Saeed, Sadia (2007). “Pakistani Nationalism and the State Marginalization of the Ahmadiyya Community in Pakistan. Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 2007 ASEN Conference Special, Vol. 7, No.3, 2007.

[17] Haque, Ziaul; Anwar, Muhammad (1995). “Islam and Economics in Pakistan: Critical Perspectives.” The Pakistan Development Review, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Winter 1995).

[18] Iqbal, Zahid; Lodhi, Sumaira (2015). “Extremist and Religious Violence: An Economic Overview of Pakistan.” International Journal of Research in Applied, Natural and Social Sciences (IMPACT), Vol. 2, No. 12 (December 2014).

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates