In 712 the great Moslem soldier Mohammad Bin Qasim conquered the area now known as Pakistan: from that time on much of the area was under the control of various Islamic caliphates. While at times these emperors were able to hold sway over the Ganges Valley and many of the states of modern-day India, Islam never really took root there. Cities like Lahore and Karachi were seen as the easternmost outposts of Islam: the courts of India's Mughal rulers were largely controlled by foreigners trying to maintain order over a restive and hostile population. The various flavors of Hinduism remained dominant in these regions, while the majority of people living in the Indus Valley (the area of modern Pakistan) became Moslem.
Almost immediately after the British pulled out of the Indian subcontinent, tensions arose between the south and the north. By the time the smoke cleared 500,000 people were dead, with 10 million Hindu refugees "repatriated" to India and 7.5 million Moslems forced out of India into the newly-declared nation of Pakistan. This was only the beginning of conflict between the two nations, a conflict which persists to this day and which now includes nuclear weapons on both sides. Fundamentalism has become increasingly popular both in Pakistan and India, with devout Hindus launching deadly anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat and several of Pakistan's northwest provinces coming under the control of parties which have implemented the Sharia.
Pakistani culture has, unavoidably, been influenced to a greater or lesser degree by its larger neighbor to the south. A number of Muslim extremist organisations, many following the Deobandi School which produced Afghanistan's Taliban, seek to rid Islam in Pakistan of the "corrupting" influences of Hinduism. Following the Deobandi-Wahhabi traditions, these revivalist movements have many friends in high places in the Pakistani government. General Zia-ul-Haq, military ruler of Pakistan from 1975-88, was a devout Deobandi. He preferred Wahhabi-Deobandis for the Government services and the armed forces. He also assisted their madrassahs (religious schools).
In a country with a 55% illiteracy rate, the Madrassahs fulfill an important function. For many of their students they provide the only education available, offering training in subjects like English and computer science as well as religious jurisprudence and Arabic. Some of them provide free education, food and lodging to thousands of students, thanks largely to financial help from Islamic charities and from Wahhabi organizations in oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Others also provide military training, and a healthy dose of anti-Western and pro-Jihad propaganda. The Madrassahs of Pakistan's northwestern Peshawar province provided much of the training for the anti-Soviet guerillas who later became the Taliban.
Some of these groups have gone beyond "anti-Western," launching attacks on those they deem "heretics." Danny Pearl was one of the first non-Shi'ite victims of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group linked to numerous attacks on Pakistani Christians, Shi'ites and others whose practices vary from the rigid Deobandi/Wahhabi party line. The Sikhs, followers of a religion combining elements of Hinduism and Islam, have been particularly targets of these militant groups. Pakistan and India have come to blows on numerous occasions over who should rule the disputed provinces of Jammu and Kashmir. The Pakistani government claims the Sikhs are a sect of Islam (albeit one considered heretical by the Deobandis): the Indian government considers their religion a branch of Hinduism. The Sikhs want nothing to do with either group and have sought independence from both countries… an option which neither has been willing to consider.
When Peshawar elected a slate of fundamentalist Islamic officials, nobody was surprised, but few were rejoicing. This isolated province, one of Pakistan's poorest, has always been a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. The American presence in Afghanistan has only served to further radicalize the region. The provincial assembly recently passed laws declaring Sharia superior to secular law, encouraging men to grow beards and bringing educational and financial systems in line with the teachings of the Q'uran. Male doctors have been forbidden from examining female patients; and civil servants have been ordered to pray five times daily.
There is considerable concern that what has begun here could spread throughout Pakistan. Pakistani President Musharraf has taken steps to ensure against his overthrow by Islamic radicals: he has recently pushed through legislation which increases his powers and gives him the ability to dissolve parliament should it fall into the hands of radical clerics. Still, there is little doubt that Islamic fundamentalism is growing increasingly popular throughout Pakistan … particularly among the military officials who put Musharraf in power and who have kept him there. Any revolution might well find friends in high places… and might make this already volatile region even more dangerous.