Pakistan’s Dream to be Ottoman Empire East of Middle East a Strategic Miscalculation
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Issue Courtesy: CLAWS | Date : 19 Nov , 2018

Pakistan’s desire to become the leader of the Islamic World has its roots in the history of the Ottoman Empire that survived for seven centuries. Post-Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, a perception got created in the minds of Pakistani leadership that Jihad is a powerful tool of waging war against the adversary in the name of Islam. Pakistan imbibed the strategy of Jihad from the Ottoman Empire where it ruled Eastern Europe and the Middle East for more than 700 years by adopting Islamic warrior code to increase territory through Jihad. Ottoman Empire encouraged loyalty from the citizens through religion, as a result, fanatical fighters became the bedrock for the expansion of the empire from the Arabian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea. Pakistan created Taliban, who was the creation of madrassas of Pakistan that produced religious fanatics. On one side these radicalized Islamic fighters captured large swaths of territory in Afghanistan and on the other side it started attracting impressionable youths from the entire Muslim world to come to Afghanistan and serve as soldiers of God.  Taliban also demanded loyalty through religion and impressed upon believers and non-believers to give their children to madrassas to serve Islam. The idea of asking parents to give male children to the cause of Islam goes back to Devshirme system adopted by Ottoman Empire in Balkans, where parents had to surrender twenty percent of their male children to the state. To the horror of their parents, and Western commentators, these children were converted to Islam and served as slaves[i] and fanatical fighters. Due to flawed perception and inability of Pakistani leadership to realise, that use of religious fanatics in the 21st Century is a strategic miscalculation and could lead to disastrous consequences. As a result, Pakistan today is facing an existential internal security threat from the flawed ambition of replicating Ottoman Empire in the East of Middle East.

Aisha Ahmad, a Prof at the University Of Toronto said, “Pakistan’s fundamental identity according to many Pakistanis and in particular Zia ul-Haq is that Islamic identity is what holds the country together”.[ii] After the success of Jihadi Strategy in Afghanistan, President Zia-ul Haq dreamed of expanding Pakistan’s sphere of influence first to Afghanistan and then to the rest of Asia.[iii] He dreamt of the rise of Pakistan as an Ottoman Empire, but this desire has proved fatal for Pakistan as a democratic nation. Pakistan today is on a crossroad unable to decide whether it should be a democratic nation or an Islamic State governed by Nezam-e-Mustafa and Sharia. Undoubtedly Zia went farthest in defining Pakistan as an Islamic state and he nurtured the jihadist ideologues that now threaten to destabilize much of the Islamic world[iv] and ironically same ideology has become an existential threat to Pakistan. It was under the tutelage of Zia that religious radicals became pillars of the regime, shaping policy and forming alliances with the military and intelligence services that endure even today.[v]The use of non-state actors as a tool of state policy to become champion of the cause of the Muslim world has driven Pakistan to a stage where the nation is on the edge of political and economic collapse.

Pakistan as a nation is facing unprecedented crisis born out of rising radicalization that could lead to a collapse of economy and institutions of governance. The current political crisis born out of acquittal of Asia Bibi by Supreme Court has united Islamic hardliners and radicals across the nation and it may turn out to be a turning point in the history of Pakistan. Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) that came into existence in 2015 to defend the blasphemy law has challenged the political and judicial institutions of Pakistan on the issue of acquittal of Asia Bibi. Her acquittal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan has led to widespread protests across Pakistan and if the Government fails to protect Asia Bibi it will mark the complete surrender of the state to the radicals and TLP. The credibility of Pakistan as a state will be severely hit and such an environment will push Pakistan further into political and economic crisis. If Pakistan fails to uphold rule of law, an economic bailout by allies and global financial institutes will be questionable. The state has literally succumbed to the pressure of radicals and they have forced the government to review the case. Judges of the Supreme Court are under threat, the advocate fighting the case on behalf of Asia Bibi has already left the country under threat to his life from the radicals. The government has agreed not to allow Asia Bibi to leave the country. This is indicative of the fact that Imran Khan Government is on the knees in front of the radicals.

 Failure of Pakistani political leadership to deliver a transparent government has pushed the nation deeper into radicalization and an environment of despair and hopelessness prevail.  With the uncertain and insecure ground conditions, investment through foreign direct investment (FDI) has dropped to almost negligible and revival of industries is unlikely to take place under such anarchical environment. The hope of bailout by allies and IMF is diminishing with the spread of radicalization. Pakistan was confident that China will extend helping hand at this critical juncture, however, the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to China yielded no tangible result except some token assistance and principle acceptance of financial aid. Chinese leadership was non-committal for an immediate economic bailout and conveyed to the Pakistani leadership that more talks are needed to finalise the details.[vi]The reasons for such a standby Chinese leadership is their skepticism about control of Jihadi radicals that are likely to pose a serious threat to Chinese investment in Pakistan and in particular to China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The Zia-Ul-Haq strategy of building the Islamic Republic on the principles of the Ottoman Empire has fired back and as a consequence, Pakistan is politically and economically fast becoming a failed state.  The issue is not about the spread of terror groups or radicalization of the population but the larger question is subversion and control of institutions of governance by radicals and meek surrender by law enforcing agencies and legislature in front Jihadi terror groups. The irony is that Pakistan thought that the Jihadi fanatics used by Ottoman Empire to expand the territory from Eastern Europe to the Middle East in the 14th Century are still relevant, but least realizing that they are self-destructive.  The indicators from the ground are that it is too difficult for Pakistan to restore law and order by dealing with radicals and Jihadi groups firmly. Army, police, and government institutions have been infiltrated by radicals and killing of Governor of Punjab, attack on naval Base in Karachi and threat to Supreme Court judges is a sign of control of Pakistani state and society by radicals is an indicator of the future turn of events in Pakistan. According to the Global Terror Threat Indicant (GTTI), while the Afghan Taliban and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) pose the maximum threat to international security, Pakistan is placed on top of the list of countries with the highest number of terrorist bases and safe havens.[vii]

The emerging situation in Pakistan will be explosive and most affected with such a scenario, will be India. The manifestation of economic and political collapse could lead to humanitarian disaster, increased infiltration of displaced population and threat from Jihadi terrorists. Thus, it is high time India should start putting a comprehensive strategy to deal with the emerging situation in Pakistan.


[i] Ottoman Empire (1301-1922), Accessed from  on Nov 11, 2018.

[ii] Hamida Ghafour, Zia ul-Haq’s legacy in Pakistan ‘enduring and toxic’, The Star, Aug. 26, 2013

[iii] Pakistan’s Islamization – before and after dictator Zia-ul Haq, Accessed from on Nov 13, 2018.

[iv] Ghafour, N 2.

[v] Ghafour, N 2.

[vi] Lee Jeong-ho, China promises more economic aid for Pakistan, but won’t yet commit to specific pledges, South China Morning Post, November 03, 2018.

[vii] Global Terror Threat Indicant, Pakistan Poses 3 Times The Terror Risk To Humanity Than Syria: Report, October 27, 2018.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Brig Narender Kumar (Retd.)

Senior Fellow, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi.

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