Each country has its own left-right political spectrum and Pakistan is no different. In Pakistan, the left-right political dichotomy generally has three axes. These three axes determine where you stand on Pakistan’s political spectrum. They are as follows:

  • Federalism vs Unitarism
  • Secularism vs Religious communalism
  • Individualism vs Collectivism

Since the inception of Pakistan in 1947, or even before its creation, there were many questions and ideas put forward by the founding fathers of Pakistan, all of whom came from different backgrounds and had different visions for the country. Those different ideas still resonate in Pakistani politics to this day. One thing they all agree upon is that Pakistan was founded as a Muslim and democratic state. Muslim in a sense that Pakistan was created as a ‘homeland for the Indian Muslims’ and by democratic means every citizen could vote regardless of religion and ethnicity, and minority rights would be protected.

Federalism vs Unitarism

During the early days of constitutional development, it was the main question on which the first Constituent Assembly of Pakistan was divided. There were some founding fathers like the first Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan, Khwaja Nazimuddin, Agha Khan III, Chaudhary Rehmet Ali, Sir Muhammad Zafarullah Khan, Chaudhary Khaliq uz Zaman, Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar, etc. who were in favour of a strong federation. They wanted a strong and a highly centralised unitary government where provinces would have less powers compare to the centre. Then there was another camp among the founding fathers like Molvi A.K Fazl e Haq, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy, Jogendra Nath Mandal, G.M Syed, etc. who wanted to make Pakistan a confederation or a loose federation of its constituent provinces, where provinces would have a much powerful role than the centre.

A consensus was reached and the constitutions of 1956, 1962 and 1973 created a system of “dual soverignty” under which the provinces were given some sovereign rights but they surrendered many powers to the federal government. It was kind of a compromise and this system still exist in Pakistan to this day.

Today, those in Pakistan who vision a more multicultural, multiethnic, multiracial, and multireligious country, usually supports more provincial rights. Then there are some ethnic & regional aspirations that some people hold for their regions and communities believe that they are marginalized groups hence if they are given more autonomy, they would be better off. Most of the voices for more provincial rights usually comes from the smaller provinces (Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan). Those who talk about more ‘provincial rights’, decentralizing the country and giving more autonomy to the “oppressed communities” would be regarded as “Left-wing” in Pakistan. While those who support the notion of “one nation, one language, one culture, etc.” and believes that the central government should have more powers over the provinces, are usually regarded as “Right-wing”.

Federalism (weak centre, strong provinces) → Left-wing

Unitarism (strong centre, weak provinces) → Right-wing

Secularism vs Religious communalism

Just like the previous one, this was also extensively debated in Pakistan’s first constituent assembly and further in many following parliaments. As I said that almost all the founding fathers agreed on one thing which was that Pakistan was created as a Muslim and democratic state. A ‘Muslim homeland’ with equal rights for the minorities. But everyone had a different interpretation for this. Some religious leaders wanted religion (Islam) to have a more say in the state’s legislation. They wanted a more pious and religious society based on morals (Islamic morals). Others wanted a more secular state where role of the Ulema (clerics) would be limited.

Both sides always cite Jinnah’s numerous speeches to prove their points.

“There is no other solution. Now what shall we do? Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.

I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shia’s, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or 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. As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some states in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one state. The people of England in course of time had to face the realities of the situation and had to discharge the responsibilities and burdens placed upon them by the government of their country and they went through that fire step by step. Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the nation.

Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the state.” – [ Jinnah, August 11, 1947 – chairing the constituent assembly]

    • “….Religion should not be allowed to come into Politics…. Religion is merely a matter between man and God”. [ Jinnah, Address to the Central Legislative Assembly, 7 February 1935 ]
    • “….in the name of Humanity, I care more for them [the Untouchables] than for Mussalmans. ” [ Jinnah, Speaking about the Shudras or Untouchables, during his address at the All India Muslim League session at Delhi, 1934 ]
    • “….I am not fighting for Muslims, believe me, when I demand Pakistan.” [ Jinnah, Press Conference, 14 November 1946 ]
    • ”But make no mistake : Pakistan is NOT a theocracy or anything like it.” [ Jinnah, Message to the people of Australia, 19 February 1948 ]
    • “The constitution of Pakistan has yet to be framed by the Pakistan Constituent Assembly. I do not know what the ultimate shape of this constitution is going to be, but I am sure that it will be of a democratic type, embodying the essential principle of Islam. Today, they are as applicable in actual life as they were 1,300 years ago. Islam and its idealism have taught us democracy. It has taught equality of man, justice and fairplay to everybody. We are the inheritors of these glorious traditions and are fully alive to our responsibilities and obligations as framers of the future constitution of Pakistan. In any case Pakistan is not going to be a theocratic State to be ruled by priests with a divine mission. We have many non-Muslims—Hindus, Christians, and Parsis — but they are all Pakistanis. They will enjoy the same rights and privileges as any other citizens and will play their rightful part in the affairs of Pakistan.” – [ Broadcast talk to the people of the United States on Pakistan recorded February, 1948 ]

Most cited speech of Jinnah by the Secularists

Many Islamists also used numerous Jinnah’s speeches which they believe is the proof that Jinnah wanted to make a theocracy.

    • “I have one underlying principle in mind: the principle of Muslim democracy. It is my belief that our salvation lies in following the golden rules of conduct set for us by our great lawgiver, the Prophet of Islam.” – [ Address to Sibi Darbar in 1948 ]
    • “I cannot understand the logic of those who have been deliberately and mischievously propagating that the Constitution of Pakistan will not be based on Islamic Sharia. Islamic principles today are as much applicable to life as they were 1300 years ago.” – [ Address to Karachi Bar Association on 25 January 1948 ]
    • “Pakistan not only means freedom and independence but Muslim ideology which has to be preserved which has come to us a precious gift and treasure and which we hope, others will share with us.” – [ Address to Frontier Muslim Students Federation on 18 June 1945 ]
    • “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, and it is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality, and this misconception of one Indian nation has troubles and will lead India to destruction if we fail to revise our notions in time. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, litteratures. They neither intermarry nor interdine together and, indeed, they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspect on life and of life are different. It is quite clear that Hindus and Mussalmans (Muslims) derive their inspiration from different sources of history. They have different epics, different heroes, and different episodes. Very often the hero of one is a foe of the other and, likewise, their victories and defeats overlap. To yoke together two such nations under a single state, one as a numerical minority and the other as a majority, must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric that may be so built for the government of such a state.” – [ Presidential Address to All India Muslim League’s Session on 22 March 1940 ]
    • “I have full faith in my people that they will rise to every occasion worthy of our’ past Islamic history, glory and traditions.” – [ Message to the Nation on the occasion of the first Anniversary of Pakistan on 14 August 1948 ]
    • “The Quran is the general code for the Muslims, a religious, social, civil, commercial, military, judicial, criminal and penal code. It regulates every thing, from the ceremonies of religion to those of daily life, from the salvation of the soul to the health of the body, from the rights of all to those of each individual from morality to crime; from punishment here to that in the life to come, and the Holy Prophet Mohammad has enjoined on Muslims that every Musalman should possess a copy of the Quran and be his own priest. Therefore, Islam is not merely confined to the spiritual tenets and doctrines or ritual and ceremonies. It is a complete code regulating the whole Muslim society, every department of life, collective and individual.” – [ Eid-ul-Fitar message in September 1945 ]
    • “When we say This flag (Muslim League’s flag) is the flag of Islam they think we are introducing religion into politics – a fact of which we are proud. Islam gives us a complete code. It is not only religion but it contains laws, philosophy and politics. In fact, it contains everything that matters to a man from morning to night. When we talk of Islam we take it as all embracing word. We do not mean any ill. The foundation of our Islamic code is that we stand for liberty, equality and fraternity.” – [ Address to the Gaya Muslim League Conference in January 1938 ]

Many pro-Secularists also points to the fact that Jinnah was a non-practicing Ismaili Shia Muslim, educated in Europe, married a Parsi (Zoroastrian) woman, and make claims that he to used drink alcohol and eat pork. They use these points to argue that Jinnah never wanted a theocratic utopia that these Islamists dream about. In the Pakistani politics, if you support secularism, reducing the role of ulema (clerics) in the state, and raise voices for the religious minority rights, then you would be called a “Left-winger” while if you do the opposite like demanding more religious influence, not only just in society but even on the state, hate non-Muslim minorities, or just become a fan-boy of Zia then you would be considered a “Right-winger”.

Maulana Maududi was the biggest supporter of a more religiously pious and Islamic Pakistan

Some people not just only wants more religious influence on the state rather they believe that Pakistan will have a very especial role in the world during the end times. Their absurd beliefs of Pakistani exceptionalism regarding the apocalyptic times meant that they need to prepare for the end times. Most of their sources for this bizzare claims comes from their absurd interpretation of the religious texts (especially Hadiths). So, in order to prepare for the end times, they think that Pakistan must undergo a religious transformation. Most of these claims are held by some ultraconservative far-right nutjobs like Zaid Hamid and Orya Maqbool Jan.

Secularism (no official state religion, reducing the role ulema) → Left-wing

Religious communalism (making Islam the state religion, more religious influence) → Right-wing

Individualism vs Collectivism

This one is a bit complicated as the support or claims for both “individualism” and “collecivism” can overlap among both the Right-wing & the Left-wing in Pakistan. On the social issues, many people in Pakistan who support individual rights of every citizen such as freedom of (or from) religion, abortion rights, LGBT rights, freedom of speech (opposition to blasphemy laws), etc. usually tends to be Left-wingers while those who think collective rights of your nation, religion and culture should be prioritzed at the stake of individual liberty, tend to Right-wingers. For example, many Right-wingers in Pakistan fiercely oppose any kind of LGBT rights in the country and their opposition to it comes from religion and traditions. They believe that, in this case, your individualism doesn’t matter. Promoting Homosexuality goes against the social morals of the society, for which each and every member of the society is responsible to protect it at all cost while Left-wingers believe that its a right of every individual to do whatever they want in their lives, that doesn’t infringe upon other people’s rights. I think this goes for every other society and country. This Right-Left dichotomy on social matters is the same all across the world.

However, on the economic scale, there are many Left-wingers who support a more collective approach for the economy. They believe in the “collective ownership of the means of production”. They want more government regulation on the means of production and believe that a market cannot be left alone to function. They are called ‘Socialists’, like any other country. While on the Right side of the political spectrum, people believe in “free market capitalism”. They don’t want more government regulations on the market and strongly believe in the “private ownership”. They are usually called neo-Liberals.

Now, as I said, there can be overlap in this regard. You can find some people who are socially conservative and religious but believe in more government regulations on the ‘means of production’. They sometimes use religious teachings that it is the responsibility of the state to help the poor and the society cannot be left alone to the ‘evil capitalism’. Then there might be some people who are socially progressive & secular on the religious matters but want a more free & open market economy. But mostly, the economic left in Pakistan pretty much secular and progressive while the economic right in Pakistan is quiet conservative.

“Smash Zia!” — Pakistani poster from 1978 published by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Europe. The poster shows two fists smashing into the face of Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan’s military dictator. Zia was a Right-wing military dictator of Pakistan (1977–1988).

Then on the minority issues, there is another phenomenon. The Left generally supports the collective rights of the minority groups (religious, ethnic, cultural, regional, sexual, etc.) while the Right generally promotes individualism in this regard. For example, if you talk about the ethnic minority rights like Pashtun & Baloch rights, or religious minority rights such as Hindu, Shia, Ahmadi and Christian rights, then it is more likely that the Left talks about their rights and issues as a collective group but the Right opposes them for different reasons, but most likely that everyone is a Pakistani and their rights & responsibilities should be respected as individual citizens of the country rather than their group identities.

Collectivsim (economic) → Left wing

Individualism (economic) → Right wing

Collectivism (social & cultural) → Right wing

Individualism (social & cultural) → Left wing

The lines between the Left and Right in Pakistan can get blurred many times. Some people might support a more secular system but might be in favour of a highly centralised Federal government with a free market capitalism while some would be religious with favouring more provincial autonomy and a socialist system.