Modern Asian Studies

Forum: Secularism and the State in Pakistan

Communists in a Muslim Land: Cultural Debates in Pakistan's Early Years*


a1 Department of Anthropology, University of Texas, Austin, 1 University Station, C3200, Austin, TX 78712, USA Email:


This paper will introduce intellectual debates from Pakistan's early years to show how the country's future culture was being discussed, deliberated and reshaped in these circles at the moment of its own inception as an independent state. By focussing on the communist perspective on Pakistan's independence, it will seek to illuminate some of those historical moments in Pakistan's history that have not received much attention either from historians or from the public. Within this context, the paper will present contesting voices that are critical of one another—particularly regarding the place of Islam in the new state—in order to rethink Pakistan's early history as a period that could have led to a range of possible future historical trajectories.

(Online publication March 09 2011)


* Funding for this research was provided by the University of Texas, Austin, by a Fulbright Fellowship, and by a fellowship at the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World, Leiden. I thank the staff and archivist at the International Institute of Social History (IISH), Amsterdam, The National Archives, Washington DC, and the Public Records Office, London. Earlier versions of this paper were presented at Cambridge University and at the University of Virginia. I thank the organizers and participants of those events for their encouragement and comments. My sincerest thanks to Aun Ali, Asif Aslam, Abdul Haque Chang, Azfar Moin, Mubbashir Rizvi, and Ruken Sengul for their criticism and suggestions on earlier versions of this paper. Finally I reserve my utmost gratitude for David Gilmartin and Humeira Iqtidar for their support and invaluable critical input in the writing of this paper.