In recent times, it has become fashionable among Pakistan’s political leaders to declare themselves “nazriati” (ideological). They think it describes them as disciplined thinkers who stick to party manifestos and are not scatter-brained—which by all reasonable accounts they intellectually are. But “ideological” as a term died at the end of the 20th century with the end of the Soviet Union. The Russian revolution, based on communism, claimed itself to be “ideological,” which Marx took from the French Revolution.
But the French Revolution was in part an attack on organized religion, and the new revolutionary ideology was to lay down moral guidelines previously supplied by the churches. It has often been suggested that the invention and rise of ideology was a collective psychic response to the waning of traditional religion in the West. But our leaders are not thinking of that kind of ideology.
Are our leaders harking back to the creation of Pakistan, which was proclaimed by the Muslim League as an “ideological state” after 1947, as opposed to “democratic” India? Maybe the founders were inspired by the Soviet Union, but one can’t imagine Pakistan following atheism as one of the characteristics of the state. Or simply, if communism was the “ideology” of the Soviet Union, then Islam was the ideology of Pakistan. Alas, the West was quick to equate the ideological state under communism as “totalitarian,” a monolith of power that suffers little formal opposition.
Pakistan created its Council of Islamic Ideology but has consistently ignored its recommendations as too oppressive to women and minorities and too out of touch with the times. Some ideology it simply avoids by not cutting hands and stoning women to death. Yet its Penal Code protects “nazaria-e-Pakistan” (ideology of Pakistan) by punishing any violation of it. As an ideological state, Iran doesn’t have a formal opposition just like the Soviet Union and runs the risk of being called totalitarian. It is impossible to decipher what the mutually wrangling politicians of Pakistan mean when they call themselves ideological.