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Pakistan, Pan-Islamism, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation

Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalization, Burwood Campus, Deakin University, Geelong, VIC 3125, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Religions 2023, 14(3), 289;
Submission received: 30 November 2022 / Revised: 13 February 2023 / Accepted: 16 February 2023 / Published: 21 February 2023


Pan-Islamism had resonated strongly with Muslim political leaders of the Indian sub-continent, including those inspired by Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī, credited with coining the term. These political leaders included prominent members of the All-India Muslim League, who were at the forefront of the Indian Muslims’ struggle for a separate homeland that led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947. It is therefore no surprise that Islam and pan-Islamism became key features of the new state of Pakistan; however, domestic and geopolitical realities demanded a different approach to addressing the country’s key national interests, i.e., security through economic development. This article analyzes Pakistan’s policy on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to understand how far Islamabad has advanced its national interests through the OIC. Based on the interviews of elites and key opinionmakers in Islamabad, this paper argues that pan-Islamist ideals in Pakistan’s foreign policy were confronted by reality soon after Pakistan’s creation. The geopolitical realities of India have kept security concerns paramount and all-consuming. Consequently, pan-Islamism has been pragmatically used by Pakistan, especially within the OIC, for not just ideological reasons but also for material and diplomatic gains.

1. Introduction

The roots of pan-Islamism in contemporary South Asia precede the 1947 creation of Pakistan. The All-India Muslim League, established in 1906, had long led the freedom struggle of Muslims in the Indian sub-continent for a separate homeland. The party had a strong pan-Islamist agenda and was at the forefront of the Indian Muslims’ Khilafat Movement to halt the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War (Krishna 1968). After the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate, Indian Muslim delegations attended several conferences on reviving the Caliphate (Khan 2003). The desire for a united Muslim world, or brotherhood (Ummah), had a significant hold on the imagination of Muslims in the region. With the 1947 establishment of Pakistan, leaders of the All-India Muslim League became the policymakers of the new nation-state, and the ideals of pan-Islamism quickly found a place in the vision that informed foreign policy. With the partition defined in religious terms, i.e., Pakistan created for the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent, its aftermath further reinforced the significance of Islamic identity in Pakistan’s foreign relations, as Pakistan inherited existing disputes, such as over Jammu and Kashmir, with India.
Born with a distinct Islamic identity and security dilemma vis à vis mighty India, Pakistan’s policymakers were faced with the predicament of having to establish foreign relations to achieve the state’s key national interests of security through economic development. In its foundational years, Pakistan demonstrated its pan-Islamist agenda by hosting several international forums in Karachi, but received a lukewarm response from key Muslim-majority states, including Egypt, where President Gamal Abdel Nasser viewed pan-Islamism as contradictory to his Arab nationalism (Rizvi 1983). As a parallel policy and by placing pan-Islamism on the backburner, Pakistani leaders realized the importance of alliances with strong states, especially the UK and USA, for security and economic development. Despite this pro-Western foreign policy, Pakistan has maintained a special position for the Ummah and pan-Islamism in its foreign policy (Rizvi 1993). To understand the importance of pan-Islamism in Pakistan’s foreign policy, this paper analyzes the country’s policy on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in connection to its own national interests and identity as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Founded in 1969, the OIC is one of the largest international organizations, with 57 member states, including 53 Muslim-majority countries. This study examines the evolution of pan-Islamism in Pakistan’s foreign policy by answering the following question: What is Pakistan’s policy towards the OIC, and to what extent has it succeeded in advancing its national interests through the organization? It is important to answer this question to understand the ebbs and flows of pan-Islamism in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Although the OIC is just one component of Pakistan’s foreign policy, understanding its policy towards the organization is crucial to understand the overall nature of how Pakistan plays the identity card in terms of its relations with the Muslim world.
International relations theories are largely centered around the idea that identity is either unquantifiable, thereby leading to its dismissal, or focused “on performance and the associated apprehension at any hint of a Cartesian entity” (Tamaki 2010, pp. 15–16). Theories of international politics, such as Realism, Liberalism and Marxism, see religion as irrelevant to the modern international system (Pippa and Ronald 2004). Realists are primarily interested in showing how state behavior is affected by the state’s interests. They view international politics as a self-help system where each state is responsible for its own survival and is free to define its national interests (Korab-Karpowicz 2010). In this context, while classical realists focus on the human lust for power as the central point, neorealists are interested in showing how the anarchic structure of international politics affects state behavior. However, they are not concerned with how a state shapes and understands its interest and tends to sideline identity in international politics (Tamaki 2010, p. 16). For Pakistan, however, a pre-defined religious identity served its inception and had become a guiding force in its foreign policy orientation, at least in its early years.
Constructivism focuses on the importance of state identity and its role in shaping interests and, in turn, informing action. In Wendt’s words, “interests are dependent on identities” (Wendt 1994, p. 385). The “intersubjective basis of identities”, according to Wendt, “can be cooperative or conflictual”—depending on the “identities and interests that states bring to their interactions” (Wendt 1992). It is through the lens of identity that states constitute their conception of “self” and “other” (Wendt 1992, p. 397). As Benedict Anderson (1991) famously argued, nations are imagined communities, and this involves defining their identity in reference to “others”. This has implications for domestic and foreign policy making (Anderson 1991; Pande 2011). Constructivism does not downplay the importance of material structures; rather, it claims that ideational factors, such as identity, are just as important as material (Reus-Smit 2005). The constructivists’ claim that identity plays a significant role in influencing states’ foreign policies is also supported by empirical evidence. Using a constructivist framework, for instance, Shibley Telhami and Michael Barnett, in their edited volume Identity and Foreign Policy in the Middle East, illustrate the process by which identities influence foreign policy decision-making (Telhami and Barnett 2002). Likewise, Yucel Bozdaglioglu (2003) highlights the role of Turkish identity (understood as Kemalism or Western liberalism) as a key factor in explaining Turkey’s Western-oriented foreign policy in the post-World War II era. Despite its value and wider recognition in international relations, constructivism has been criticized for being too state-centric: “constructivism, particularly the standard strand, fall into the same kind of trap it accuses neorealism of falling into, that is, while neorealists naturalize and reify the structure of international anarchy, constructivists reify the state itself” (Behravesh 2011). As we argue in this paper, constructivism has some obvious relevance to post-independence Pakistan, but appears to lose its explanatory powers as Pakistan grows to show a more explicit awareness of its geopolitical environment, security, and economic considerations in its foreign policy choices.
Islam and foreign policy have been the focus of recent studies on Muslim states. In a recent study, Mandaville and Hamid (2018) produced a careful account of the impact of Islam on the foreign policies of the Muslim states of Iran and Saudi Arabia. They found that “the ways that states use Islam in their conduct abroad are often shaped by domestic considerations” (Mandaville and Hamid 2018, p. 1). Similarly, the influence of ideas on Pakistan’s foreign relations has also been the subject of several studies. Pande examines the role of Islam in Pakistan’s foreign policy and argues the country’s foreign relations are significantly influenced by the India factor, as Islamabad seeks to gain parity with India (Pande 2011). Rizvi (1993) focuses on Islam and Pakistan’s foreign policy by examining diplomatic, economic and security dimensions. This study, however, does not focus on pan-Islamism in connection to Pakistan’s national interests. Prominent studies on Pakistan’s foreign policy have overlooked the OIC (Rizvi 1993; Sattar 2017). Scholars have investigated the correlation between Islamic identity and Pakistan’s foreign policy, i.e., the role of Islam and pan-Islamism in general and the OIC in particular (Jha 1970; Sheikh 2003; Chopra 1993), but there has been no comprehensive assessment of Pakistan’s pan-Islamist inclination as a complex amalgamation of ideological, security, and economic dimensions of its foreign policy. Papers by Pakistani scholars have mainly focused on the issues Pakistan has promoted through the OIC, such as Jammu and Kashmir and the Ummah’s unity (Hanif 2014; Khan 2003), as well as how its activism within the OIC is linked to its pan-Islamic foreign policy (Pirzada 1987). Closest to our research is the work of Sheikh (2003), in which he presents three case studies—of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Pakistan—with reference to pan-Islamic foreign policies. Sheikh, however, overlooks the triad of Pakistan’s national interests of identity, security, and economic considerations to comprehensively investigate its role within the OIC. This study aims to do just that.
A case study of Pakistan’s approach to the OIC is quite relevant to understanding the role of Islamic identity in Pakistan’s foreign policy and affairs. While Pakistan is a founding member of another, albeit smaller, organization of Muslim countries, i.e., the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), the OIC deserves special attention as it focuses on the Ummah’s solidarity. The ECO has a more limited scope than the OIC and mainly focuses on enhancing economic relations among its 10 members and, therefore, political issues such as Jammu and Kashmir have not been discussed at this forum. Hence, in this study, we focus on the OIC as its mandate allows member states to engage in political cooperation. As both civil and military institutions in the country shape Pakistan’s foreign relations, the findings of this research are based on interviews with past and current high-level civil and military employees. To understand the place and use of pan-Islamism and the OIC in Pakistan’s foreign policy, the lead author of this study carried out fieldwork in Islamabad from June to July 2017. All participants were carefully chosen because of their relevance to the key themes of this research, i.e., Pakistan’s foreign policy and the OIC. In total, 18 interviews were conducted. Participants specialized in a variety of fields: there were two former ambassadors; three retired generals, including one three-star and two two-star generals; six think-tank researchers from prominent think tanks, including the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI), Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), and Institute of Policy Studies (IPS); five academics; and two journalists. Face-to-face interviews were conducted based on a semi-structured questionnaire. As per the ethical considerations, a consent form was provided to the participants in case they wanted to remain anonymous or not to be recorded. Only those interviewees who had given prior permission to be named in the outcomes of this research are attributed in this paper. In other cases, participants are referred to by non-identifiable descriptions.
This paper argues that pan-Islamist ideas in Pakistan’s foreign policy were confronted by reality soon after Pakistan’s creation. The geopolitical realities of India have kept security concerns paramount and all-consuming. This has led to Pakistan’s alliances with Western countries, most notably the United States. Despite proclamations by Pakistan’s founding fathers, pan-Islamism could not hold its central position in foreign policy as it experienced ups and down since 1947. As far as the first wave of pan-Islamism in Pakistan’s foreign policy is concerned, it started in 1947 through Pakistan’s attempts to claim the Ummah’s leadership. It, however, could not find any takers from within the Ummah. Despite being a founding member of the OIC, pan-Islamism was not a strong feature of the country’s foreign policy until the 1970s. Since then, Pakistan has been an active member of the OIC and rallying behind the forum to gain diplomatic support for its claims against India, for example, on the Kashmir issue and economic development. Thus, its pan-Islamist rhetoric, most evident within the OIC, demonstrates a pragmatic use of its Islamic identity to fulfill its national interest, i.e., security through economic development.
This paper begins with a brief outline of the role of Islamic identity and pan-Islamism in Pakistan, followed by an examination of Pakistan’s role within the OIC. This section demonstrates Pakistan’s activism within the OIC in pursuit of a prominent role within the Ummah to leverage its position on Kashmir and its national economic development. The section is divided into three sub-sections. The first analyzes a shift in Pakistan’s rhetoric on pan-Islamism and the Ummah’s leadership. The second focuses on Pakistan’s attempt to solicit security and political support through the OIC, and the final sub-section examines the economic benefits of Pakistan’s involvement in the OIC.

2. Identity in Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

Created for the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent in 1947, Pakistan is, by design, a Muslim-majority country in which religion (Islam) shapes its domestic and foreign policy choices. At its foundation, Pakistan became the largest Muslim state based on the Two-Nation Theory, which was the impetus for dividing the people of the Indian sub-continent along religious lines (Zaman 2018, p. 1). Pre-partition discourse promoted Muslim-versus-Hindu divisions, and India became a key feature of Pakistan’s national identity after independence (Bishku 1992). As Connolly (2002) argues, identity demands differences, for example in the form of “us” versus “them”. Here, the Two-Nation Theory continues to serve that purpose by enforcing the perception of a Muslim Pakistan versus Hindu India.
Nation building was a key challenge for the new state of Pakistan. The founding fathers saw a common religious identity as a bond that could keep its population together despite ethnic divisions (Pande 2011). Based on the 1949 blueprint for Pakistan, the “Objectives Resolution”, which was prepared during the era of Pakistan’s first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, and hinted at the Islamic alignment of the state, the country was declared an Islamic Republic in 1956 (Zaidi 2003, p. 203; Hoodbhoy 2016, p. 36). According to Rizvi (1983, p. 48), “the major elements of an ideology serve as a screen through which policy-makers observe the international system and its dynamics”, and this was the situation when Pakistan’s policymakers first discussed foreign policy. With a varying degree of prominence, the proclaimed national (Islamic) identity has been reflected in the state’s foreign policy guidelines since the 1950s. According to Pande (2011, p. 26), “to fortify the ideology of the state, the national identity within and without, there was a constant emphasis on the universal nature of Islam, hence the pan-Islamist orientation of Pakistan’s foreign policy”. This inclination is reflected in Article 40 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which states that “The State shall endeavour to preserve and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic unity” (GOP 2012, p. 20). Thus, Khan (2015) claims that the principle of preference for good relations with Muslim countries has remained constant in Pakistan’s foreign policy.
Since Pakistan’s inception, Islam and Islamic identity have been significant elements of its constitution and foreign policy. As Bishku (1992, p. 30) argues, “Pakistan’s Islamic character has in the past and will continue in the future to be a factor in that country’s domestic and foreign policy”. Similarly, Rizvi (1993, p. 70) claims, “Pakistan projects its Islamic identity in foreign policy and pays special attention to promoting unity amongst, and forging ties with, Muslim states”. Although the constitution stipulates that Pakistan should have good relations with Muslim countries, Pakistan has maintained good relations with other states. Pakistan has been in the Western bloc led by the United States for nearly seven decades, although is now slowly shifting towards Russia and China. This shows that there has been a disjuncture between the foreign policy rhetoric of good relations with Muslim states and reality. It is, however, important to look at the degree to which Pakistan has shifted its religious rhetoric and its application/promotion in terms of its foreign relations. A former Pakistani diplomat, Fauzia Nasreen, said in an interview, “Islam, of course, plays a very important role in Pakistan’s foreign policy”, and it was on this ideological basis that Pakistan had supported the freedom struggles of Muslims in Asia and Africa (Nasreen 2017). A former two-star general, Shahid Ahmed Hashmat, elaborated on the Islamic character of the nation, stating that Islam plays a significant role for a variety of reasons—emotional, psychological, social, and historical—in shaping Pakistan’s foreign policy (Hashmat 2017). The influence of Islamic identity is also visible when we look at some specific cases, such as Pakistan’s refusal to normalize relations with Israel, as some of Pakistan’s close Muslim partners (Bahrain and the UAE) have done (Ahmed and Abbas 2021).
Often, the literature on Pakistan’s foreign policy has ignored the pragmatic use of Islamic identity in the country’s relations with other Muslim countries. Several participants believed that the role of Islamic identity has been diminishing in Pakistan’s foreign policy. For Islamabad, foreign relations are created to address Pakistan’s security dilemma with India. On this, Rashad Bukhari said that the country’s foreign policy is based more on its security concerns than economic considerations (Bukhari 2017). An overwhelming majority of participants believed that Pakistan is a security state with security-centric or India-centric foreign policy, in which the role of the army is more prominent than that of the civilian leadership. On this, former Pakistani ambassador Arif Kamal based his argument on a reflection from Patras Bokhari, Pakistan’s first permanent representative to the United Nations during 1951–1954 (Kamal 2017). Another participant said, “Pakistan does not have a foreign policy, it only has foreign relations and that its foreign policy orbits around India” (Rafique 2017). These views are not entirely incorrect; be it the relationship with the United States through involvement in the Afghan–Soviet War or the War on Terror, Pakistan’s security policy is viewed as a critical factor in the country’s foreign relations (Heeg 2016). These examples only show one side of Pakistan’s foreign policy, because, as we argue in this paper, Pakistan has given equal preference to its economic and security objectives in foreign affairs and prioritized Islamic identity when required. Drawing on neorealist and constructivist conceptual approaches, this paper focuses on material and non-material factors, including geopolitics and Islamic identity.
As was explored through the collected data, Pakistan has used its Islamic identity pragmatically. On this matter, an expert on Pakistan’s foreign policy, Shaheen Akhtar, contended that Islamabad is aware that it cannot benefit much from using Islam in its foreign affairs (Akhtar 2017). She further said that, for example, although all Muslim countries support Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir dispute, many of them have good relations with India. Some participants also thought that the use of Islamic identity alone could not help Pakistan achieve its national interests and there is a need for a clearer foreign policy direction (Akhtar 2017). On this, an experienced think tank researcher, Najam Rafique, suggested that the Pakistan Foreign Office builds foreign relations without a foreign policy: “It appears to be a trend from the start, and it shows a lack of continuity or a sense of a clear direction in the country’s foreign policy choices” (Rafique 2017).
Various views were gathered during the fieldwork for this research on the role of Islamic identity in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Over the years, Islamabad has selectively used the rhetoric on Islamic identity as and when needed, for example, in relation to Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey, to gain their diplomatic and material support. A former defense minister of Pakistan suggested this, saying, “The role of Islam was very strong in the beginning but now it is decreasing. We are becoming more pragmatic” (Anonymous 2017). Irfan Shahzad elaborated on this by adding that Pakistan’s relations with Saudi Arabia are not purely guided by Islamic affinity, but by the country’s economic needs (Shahzad 2017). Similarly, another participant argued, “I do not think Islam plays a role anywhere. I think we have realized this too, that we cannot continue telling people that we were created in the name of Islam” (Yamin 2017). Overall, the participants were of the view that the role of Islam in Pakistan’s foreign policy has decreased since the country’s independence because of its pursuit of the national interests of security and economic development through all possible means, including international cooperation. The website of Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs states, “The foreign policy of Pakistan is primarily directed to the pursuit of national goals of seeking peace and stability through international cooperation” (MOFA 2018). As will be argued below, Pakistan has adopted a similarly pragmatic approach within the OIC to meet the state’s key national interests through cooperation in cultural, security, and economic matters.

3. Pakistan and the OIC

Islam and Muslims are central to the philosophy behind Pakistan’s creation. At the time, leaders of the newly formed state, such as Muhammad Ali Jinnah, already had pan-Islamist inclinations and many members of the All-India Muslim League were inspired by Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī, who is credited for first coining the term “pan-Islamism” (Pirzada 1987). For Muslim political leaders, having a common position on political issues was perceived as a crucial part of the Ummah; therefore, the All-India Muslim League repeatedly passed resolutions on the Palestine issue after 1933 (Rizvi 1993). Forging close relations with Muslim countries was a key feature of Jinnah’s foreign policy, demonstrated when he sent his special envoy, Malik Feroz Khan Noon, in October 1947 to Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt to enhance trade ties (Chopra 1993). The desire to create a united Muslim front, with itself at the center, was reflected in Pakistan’s earliest initiatives. In February 1949, Pakistan hosted the World Muslim Congress in Karachi to revive the Motamar Al Alam Al Islami, which was founded in Mecca in 1926 by King Abdulaziz ibn Abdul Rahman al Saud. This organization was, however, inactive until Pakistan took the initiative by hosting representatives of 19 majority Muslim states in 1949 (Chopra 1993). In the same year, the first prime minister of Pakistan visited Cairo, Baghdad, and Tehran to lobby for a united Ummah (Jha 1970). In November–December 1949, Pakistan also organized the International Islamic Economic Conference in Karachi, at which the foreign minister of Pakistan presented the idea of setting up a permanent Muslim organization (Pirzada 1987, p. 22). In 1951, Pakistan hosted another session of the World Muslim Congress and, in 1952, hosted the Congress of Ulema-i-Islam (Rizvi 1983, p. 49). That same year, the Muslim People’s Organization also held its event in Karachi,1 which housed the headquarters of three organizations sharing the key objective of pan-Islamism (Chopra 1993, pp. 13–14). For roughly five years after its creation, Pakistan lobbied, albeit unsuccessfully, for an intergovernmental organization for the Muslim world.
Throughout the 1950s, Pakistan continued to promote pan-Islamism through events such as the World Muslim Congress, but was disappointed by a cold response from many key Muslim countries. In addition to Egypt’s President Nasser’s opposition to pan-Islamism, there were other constraints on Pakistan’s pan-Islamist advocacy. There were differences between Pakistan and other’s Muslim states’ histories and geopolitical realities; for example, Pakistan’s history of struggle for a Muslim homeland was different from ethnically motivated movements that had led to the creation of states in the Middle East (Rizvi 1983). Many Muslim countries were distracted by their own domestic and regional problems (Chopra 1993), and eventually, Pakistan had to place pan-Islamism on the backburner. The burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in 1969, however, gave the call for a unified Muslim response a sudden urgency. This event brought together Muslim states from around the world. Pakistan was among 25 states that participated in the First Islamic Summit held in Rabat in 1969. The geopolitical changes in the Middle East signaled the tipping of the scale from pan-Arabism to pan-Islamism, culminating in the creation of the Organization of Islamic Conference that same year.2 As Pakistan had earlier been promoting the idea of a Muslim organization, it was not surprising that Pakistan became a founding member of the OIC. However, in contrast to Pirzada’s suggestion that Pakistan continues to strive for the collective interests of the Ummah purely based on its Islamic identity and “diplomacy derived from the Pakistan movement” (Pirzada 1987, p. 14), we argue that there are also economic and security motives behind Pakistan’s pan-Islamist rhetoric.
After humiliating defeats in the 1971 war against India and the breakup of East Pakistan, Islamabad was left with not just the trauma, but also an increased security threat from India. Then, president of Pakistan Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was disappointed by Pakistan’s Western allies, which had offered no support to Pakistan in the war, and he withdrew Pakistan from the Commonwealth and the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO). Bhutto’s vision was to double down on pan-Islamism through close relations with Muslim countries. In the pursuit of that agenda, he visited Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey in January 1972 (Rizvi 1993, p. 74). Bhutto’s pan-Islamic foreign policy aimed to reduce economic dependence on the United States by gaining financial support from rich Muslim countries (Delvoie 1995). He was successful in strengthening relations with key Muslim states, such as Libya and Saudi Arabia, by also organizing the second OIC summit in 1974, in Lahore at which Colonel Gadhafi called Pakistan “the citadel of Islam in Asia” (Bhutto 2010, p. 111). According to Rizvi (1983, p. 54), this event was important “to boost Pakistan’s morale and underline the importance the Muslim world attached to this country”.
At the same summit, Bhutto (2010, p. 110) used the opportunity to promote Pakistan’s Islamic identity: “We, the people of Pakistan, shall give our blood for the cause of Islam … Whenever the occasion arises the Islamic world will never find us wanting in any future conflict”. To this effect, the use of Islam in foreign policy not only satisfied the ideological dimensions of Pakistan’s Islamic identity, but also was “conducive” to the state’s political, economic, and security objectives (Rizvi 1993, p. 73). Bhutto was successful in promoting the idea of making Pakistan a strong military power within the Muslim world, gaining material support for Pakistan’s nuclear weapon development program by labeling it “the Islamic bomb” (Khan 2012). It is also important to emphasize that while Bhutto was promoting the idea of a nuclear weapon state, a popular public sentiment supported him after the loss of East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in 1971. This new wave of pan-Islamism under Bhutto paved the way for Pakistan’s prominent role in the OIC. For example, Pakistan was the OIC chair after it held the 1974 summit, until the following summit in Saudi Arabia in 1981. In addition, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada of Pakistan was the OIC Secretary-General during 1984–1988.
As we argue, pan-Islamism in Pakistan’s foreign policy cannot be viewed in isolation from its key national interests of security through economic development. The analysis here is divided into sub-sections on pan-Islamism and Ummah leadership, security, and economic development to examine how and to what extent Pakistan has been able to accomplish these objectives through the OIC. The analysis also focuses on the transformation in Pakistan’s approach towards and role within the OIC.

3.1. Pan-Islamism and Ummah’s Leadership

Although Pakistan’s initial attempts to create a pan-Islamist organization received a discouraging response from key Muslim states, Pakistan has tried to situate itself prominently within the OIC, evident in the active role it has taken within the organization. This activism is reflected in Islamabad’s early, regular proposals to strengthen the OIC and its hosting of not just meetings but key OIC bodies. Pakistan hosted the Second Islamic Conference of Foreign Ministers in Karachi in 1970, and used that opportunity to present its ideas for an Islamic Bank and an International Islamic News Agency (Pirzada 1987, p. 29). The International Islamic News Agency was founded in 1972 to strengthen coordination of the official news agencies of the member states and disseminate information and events in the Muslim world and those related to Muslim minorities; the initiative was renamed the Union of OIC News Agencies and has headquarters in Jeddah. In 1979, Pakistan submitted a study to the OIC supporting cooperation in the areas of trade and technology. This submission led to the creation of the Islamic Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in 1976, with its headquarters in Karachi, to enhance commercial and industrial cooperation among OIC members. In 1981, COMSTECH was established by the OIC in Islamabad, to promote cooperation in science and technology. It was also because of a proposal by Pakistan that the OIC sought observer status in the UN in 1976 (Khan 2003). Islamabad also played a key role in establishing the International Islamic Fiqh Academy—established in 1983 and based in Jeddah—an institution for the advanced study of Islam.
Pakistan’s realization that its intention of leading the Ummah had received no support from major Muslim countries is visible in some of its policy changes. Many participants in the present study thought that the founding leaders of Pakistan were naïve when they claimed the Ummah’s leadership because they were the largest Muslim state in the world at the time. A careful re-adjustment of Pakistan’s approach to foreign policy seems to be based on an assessment of on-the-ground realities. Among those realities is the fact that no Arab country has been willing to accept Pakistan as leader of the Ummah, a role which was already claimed by Saudi Arabia (Rafique 2017; Anonymous 2017). Saudi Arabia has always had a claim on leadership of the Ummah by being home to the two holiest sites for Muslims: Mecca and Madinah.
As was suggested by the responses of many research participants, Pakistan’s position on the Ummah’s leadership was transformed by key domestic and external factors. On this issue, a former Pakistani diplomat said that there was a time when Pakistan was trying to lead the Ummah, but its position changed after 1971 because of its dismemberment, which further disturbed its parity with India (Nasreen 2017). Although its own breakup changed its position with reference to the OIC, there are other factors too. Among these are the realities that Pakistan has a weak economy and Saudi Arabia—Pakistan’s key donor—has taken center stage at the OIC, being the organization’s dominant funder. This aspect has been much more visible since the 1980s, with the Kingdom using the organization for its political ambitions, especially against Iran (Akbarzadeh and Ahmed 2018). What is clear, based on participant responses, is that Pakistan will not be the one demanding structural reforms within the OIC leading to, for example, a decline in Saudi dominance of the organization. After being a recipient of Saudi aid for decades, Pakistan no longer entertains the idea of leading the Muslim world.
Some respondents questioned the effectiveness of the OIC as an international organization. While one called the OIC a “talk-fest” (Kamal 2017), another labelled it a “dead organization” (Rafique 2017). Other participants were of the view that the OIC has not played a significant role in defense or security at any level, and this is a reason for Pakistan’s lack of interest in the forum (Hashmat 2017). In contrast to the views of these participants, Pakistan has been able to use the OIC to gain more prominence on the world stage. This is quite satisfactory to a state such as Pakistan, which is economically weaker than many OIC members, such as Indonesia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. Until 1997, Pakistan had headed at least one of the three principal organs of the OIC for fourteen years (Khan 2003, p. 60). In addition, Pakistan has tried to use the OIC to raise its global profile, for example, President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan represented the Muslim world at the 35th session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1980 (Khan 2003). The OIC’s significance for Pakistan is, however, not just limited to raising its own global status.
Without posing a threat to Saudi leadership ambitions, Pakistan continues to claim its role as a uniting power in the Muslim world. Pakistan has claimed a role for itself as a mediator within the Muslim world (GOP 2012, p. 20). Islamabad played a key role in Egypt’s re-admission to the OIC in 1984, after its membership was suspended in 1979 following its Camp David Accords with Israel (Khan 2003, p. 70). In the 1980s, Pakistan acted as the chair of the Ummah Peace Committee and was engaged in shuttle diplomacy during the Iran–Iraq War. In the 1990s, Islamabad was also active in ending a dispute between Iraq and Kuwait through its four-point peace proposal (Khan 2003, p. 70), although a former Pakistani diplomat claimed that Pakistan is not trying to claim leadership through mediation (Nasreen 2017). While discussing Pakistan’s role within the OIC, some participants highlighted that as there is symbolism in the OIC, there is also symbolism in Pakistan’s approach to it. With regard to the first aspect, it is important to mention that scholars have often criticized the OIC for its lack of action: “The OIC agendas are often too broad and arbitrary, while its resolutions, often more symbolic than substantial, lack authority” (Liu and Fan 2018, p. 14). Similarly, while Pakistan shows that it is willing to mediate to bring Muslim countries closer, often no action is taken; for example, in the case of the ongoing rift between its neighbor, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. It is thought that closer Saudi Arabia and Iran relations would serve Pakistan’s geopolitical interests and play a crucial role in tackling sectarianism at home, as the two countries have been responsible for fueling sectarian divisions by funding Islamic seminaries (Riedel 2016). Hence, Pakistan’s talk of acting as a mediator between Iran and Saudi Arabia is often just symbolic to suit its domestic sectarian dynamics. Due to close economic, cultural, and defense relations with Saudi Arabia, Pakistan has leaned toward the Kingdom at the expense of its relations with Iran (Ahmed and Akbarzadeh 2020).
Pan-Islamism has different uses for different Muslim states. Saudi Arabia, for example, seeks to maintain its soft power through pan-Islamism by also maintaining its leadership of the OIC (Liu and Fan 2018; Akbarzadeh and Ahmed 2018). For Pakistan, pan-Islamism has been about seeking security through military alliances and economic development. It also now serves domestic and strategic purposes for Pakistan. One research participant expanded on this, saying, “Policies in Pakistan, for example, relations with Muslim states, are a reflection of public sentiment at home” (Akhtar 2017). Other studies have also reported a correlation of public sentiment with foreign policy (Milam and Nelson 2013). Even in the early years of Pakistan’s history (i.e., during the 1950s and 1960s), there was significant dissatisfaction among the population over Pakistan’s military alliance with the United States. Pakistan has often tried to balance domestic pressures by attempting to maintain a delicate balance between its Western alliances and ties with the Ummah. Even though the notion of the Ummah is a mirage, Pakistan’s rhetoric of the Ummah’s unity and the promotion of its Islamic identity serve the dual purpose of showing its solidarity with the Ummah and supporting domestic public sentiment. As the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, it is important for Pakistan to show that it has a balanced foreign policy that equally values relations with the West and the Ummah.
This study found that most opinion makers in Islamabad are very skeptical about the relevance of the Ummah as a real geopolitical block. One participant, discouraged by the lack of unity among Muslim states, claimed, “The Ummah died with the death of the Prophet Muhammad” (Rafique 2017). Dissatisfaction with the actualization of the Ummah was a persistent thread in the interview data. An academic from the National Defense University said, “Culturally we are more connected with the Muslim world, but in our heart, we know that we will not get much out of that” (Akhtar 2017). Thus, in contrast to the viewpoint of Chopra (1993), that Pakistan has desired the Ummah’s unity since its creation, we argue that this goal seems to have changed to something more achievable for Pakistan’s national interests of security through economic development. Now, let us examine how Pakistan has been able to achieve security and political support through its approach to pan-Islamism and the OIC.

3.2. Seeking Security and Political Support

Before the creation of Pakistan, the leaders of the All-India Muslim League expressed concerns on issues of peace and security in the Muslim world. After 1947, the Palestinian issue was central to Pakistan’s pan-Islamist agenda because of its own territorial disputes with India, especially concerning the Muslim majority in Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan has raised the Palestinian issue at international forums, including as a member of Sub-Committee-II of the UN General Assembly, and opposed the partition of Palestine (Pirzada 1987). Since then, its position on this issue has not changed; Islamabad does not recognize Israel and is home to one of the biggest Palestinian diplomatic missions in the world.3
While the ideological aspect of foreign policy has demanded close alliances with the Ummah, the geopolitical and other realities have been key barriers in Pakistan’s approach to prioritizing relations with Muslim states. As rightly identified by Rizvi, “the ideological approach causes problems when other factors, impinging foreign policy (e.g., geopolitics, human and material resource constraints, and power politics) conflict with the dictates of ideology” (1983, p. 48). Born with the inherent security dilemma of a major enemy next door, Pakistan forged security alliances with Western countries. Then, President Muhammad Ayub Khan (1961, p. 267) said, Pakistan needed “friends, powerful friends, who are interested in our security, who are interested in our freedom, and who are interested in our progress”. This was purely based on the understanding of domestic needs (i.e., security and economic development) and geopolitical realities vis à vis India. Joining Western-dominated alliances caused initial hiccups in Pakistan’s relations with Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Afghanistan, who opposed Pakistan’s closeness with the West (Rizvi 1983; Khan 2003). It was, however, a time when realism had found a place in policymaking circles in Pakistan, with the realization that rich and militarily strong Western countries had a lot more to offer to Pakistan than any Muslim state to enable it to stand up to its archrival India.
As discussed earlier, Pakistan’s breakup was a key turning point in its foreign policy vis à vis pan-Islamism. Pakistan’s economic and security needs brought pragmatism to its pan-Islamist agenda; for example, since its breakup in 1971, Islamabad has been actively using the OIC and its pan-Islamist discourse for geopolitical gains. Within the OIC, Pakistan has been able to resolve some of its immediate concerns, including its relations with Bangladesh. The OIC established a committee in 1972 for Bangladesh–Pakistan rapprochement, but for Pakistan, it served the key purpose of gaining support from Muslim states for its position on Bangladesh. In addition, OIC members, including Iran, Turkey, Libya, Bahrain, Nigeria, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, only recognized Bangladesh after Islamabad did in 1974 (Rizvi 1993). Since the late 1970s, Afghanistan has been a prominent security challenge to Pakistan. Protracted conflict in Afghanistan has not just brought millions of refugees to Pakistan, but continues to pose a significant security threat. Since the end of the Cold War, Pakistan has often discussed Afghanistan in OIC forums, and its own proposal led to the creation of the OIC Permanent Mission on Afghanistan in Islamabad in 1994 (Khan 2003).
Considering its own dispute with India over the Kashmir region, Pakistan has been urging OIC members to have greater cooperation in security matters to address key challenges facing the Ummah, such as in Afghanistan, Palestine, and Kashmir (Hanif 2014). As mentioned earlier, Pakistan’s desire for a united Muslim inter-governmental organization was also motivated by its own geopolitical circumstances, namely, its conflict with India. Compared with the defense capabilities of India in 1947, Pakistan received little from the British Empire; for example, it only had four aircraft and two infantry battalions in East Pakistan (Khan 2006, p. 234). The financial and military strength of its neighboring enemy required Pakistan to find more resources to strengthen its defense capabilities. Based on Pakistan’s security deficit vis à vis India, Sayeed (1964, p. 746) argues that “almost every action of Pakistan can be interpreted as being motivated by the fear of India”.
India is at the heart of Pakistan’s security policy, which also guides its foreign policy. Regarding the OIC, this means that (1) Pakistan does not want India to obtain membership in the OIC; and (2) the Kashmir issue has been included in nearly every resolution passed by the OIC. New Delhi has long desired to become an OIC member because India is home to the third-largest Muslim population; however, Pakistan has not allowed that to happen. The Kashmir issue was not discussed at the First Islamic Summit in 1969 because of the importance of Palestine, which dominated the summit. For this meeting, Pakistan had agreed, albeit reluctantly, to India’s participation, but later opposed it when New Delhi sent a non-Muslim diplomat, Gurbachen Singh, to the meeting; India was consequently expelled (Orakzai 2010). A lot has changed since then; many rich OIC members, especially from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), now have strong economic ties with India. This was particularly an outcome of India’s policy shift in the 1970s, which led to close bilateral relationships with numerous Muslim countries (Orakzai 2010, p. 92). The GCC states desire a balance in their relations with India and Pakistan. This was demonstrated recently, when India was invited as a “Guest of Honor” to the 46th Council of Foreign Ministers’ meeting held in Abu Dhabi in March 2019. Islamabad lobbied hard to reverse this OIC decision, but in vain, and it ultimately boycotted the meeting (Mohan 2019). This was the first time that Pakistan had boycotted any OIC meeting.
By virtue of some Muslim states’ close relationship with India, their solidarity with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue has also faced a steady decline. However, any support given to Pakistan is significant to Islamabad. In an interview, Pakistan’s foreign ambassador, Nasreen, said, “OIC’s support on the Kashmir issue is important to Pakistan” (Nasreen 2017). In December 2018, the OIC issued a strong condemnation of the Indian atrocities in Indian-occupied Kashmir, which was rightly described in one article as “Pakistan scores a rare diplomatic victory on Kashmir” (Shahid 2018). This kind of diplomatic support is important for Pakistan, but it has limitations too. While all OIC members back Pakistan’s position on the Kashmir dispute through OIC resolutions, many of them refrain from doing the same at the UN level. Moreover, within the OIC, Kashmir is not the only issue, with the Palestinian issue being ongoing and the most prominent one on the OIC agenda. In fact, this issue is also prominent within the Arab League, for example, Saudi’s King Salman announced at the first EU–Arab League, held in Egypt in 2019, that Palestine was the “first concern” of the Arab world (Wasmi 2019). Despite its numerous resolutions on the Kashmir issue from the very beginning, the OIC’s approach has mostly been symbolic with no meaningful actions. In fact, the OIC Contact Group on Jammu and Kashmir was only established in 1994 (Khan 2003). In 1997, Pakistan’s hosted the first Special Summit of the OIC in Islamabad, at which a statement was issued on Pakistan’s disputes with India, especially the Jammu and Kashmir disputes (MOFA 2011). In the context of Kashmir losing salience at the United Nations level—reflected through the lack of discussion on the dispute and reduced funding towards the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (Ahmed et al. 2021)—Pakistan is left with the OIC as the key international organization to raise its voice on the dispute. Regularly, Islamabad approaches the UN and other international organizations, such as the OIC, to protest Indian brutalities in Jammu and Kashmir; however, the OIC is often the only forum that supports Pakistan’s position. This was, for example, the case in 2018, when the Secretary-General of the OIC strongly condemned the human rights violations in Jammu and Kashmir (Shahid 2018). In the view of a former Pakistani diplomat, it is important to Pakistan if there is to be some form of pressure on India: “I think the OIC is a right forum, instead of individual countries talking on the [Kashmir] issue, which will not be very effective. Pakistan’s policy is to get a united position to exert as much pressure as it can [on India]” (Nasreen 2017).
A shift in the ideological dimension of Pakistan’s foreign policy, based on its earliest experience with Muslim states, has been visible. Initially, Pakistan’s pan-Islamic foreign policy aimed to obtain the support of major Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, for a united ideological front against India. In contrast to the views of Pande (2011), that Pakistan still considers GCC countries as ideological allies against India, views recorded in this research suggest otherwise. It has been a while since Pakistani policymakers realized it would not be pragmatic to expect a united Ummah against India. Although it was disappointing to see that many Muslim states had not supported its proposals on pan-Islamism, it was also shocking for Pakistani policymakers to witness some Muslim states’ closeness to India; for example, in the 1950s, Nasser of Egypt and Soekarno of Indonesia formed close ties with New Delhi (Rizvi 1983). Over time, Islamabad has realized that it would be unwise to expect other Muslim states to not have good relations with India—a country that has much to offer in terms of trade cooperation. A recent example is that of the United Arab Emirates, which awarded its highest award ‘the Order of Zayed medal’ to Indian Prime Minister Modi at a time of high India–Pakistan tensions following India’s abrogation of Kashmir’s special status of Jammu and Kashmir (The Sydney Morning Herald 2019). When asked to comment on the UAE’s decision, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said, “International relations are above religious sentiments. The UAE and India have a history of relations in connection with investment” (Ahmed 2019). Pakistan also decided to focus not just on a united Muslim organization to establish close relations with Muslim states; this has led to bilateralism as another pillar in Pakistan’s foreign policy on Muslim states. Since the 1980s, Pakistan has established very close relationships with many Muslim states, especially GCC members.
The security threat of India drives Pakistan’s foreign policy, and hostility towards India remains pronounced in the political class and top brass following three major wars (in 1948, 1965, and 1971) and one small-scale war at the Kargil in 1999. This tension has been exacerbated by India’s decision to remove the autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019. Army generals ruled Pakistan for over 30 years; thus, the army has become a key player in both domestic and foreign affairs. As N. Ahmed (2010, p. 328) argues, “Pakistan’s military leaders believe that the demands of national security necessitate their involvement in foreign policy making”. The security-dominated relations with global powers, especially the United States, has also strengthened the military’s role in foreign policy. The military sees India as a key threat; therefore, foreign policy very much reflects this. As Grare (2013, p. 989) argues, “Most analysts see the Pakistan army as the authoritative decision-maker in matters of foreign policy and defense”. A former Pakistani diplomat further elaborated on this, saying:
The Prime Minister’s Secretariat, Prime Minister’s cabinet or the Foreign Ministry does not determine Pakistan’s national interests. [National interests] are security-centric and nothing that is security-centric relates to foreign policy or political leadership. It goes back to the military and intelligence agencies. They decide the direction of foreign policy towards India and relations with Afghanistan [in particular].
When discussing what Pakistan gains from the OIC, many research participants focused on the fact that the Kashmir dispute has not been resolved; therefore, the organization is useless. A former two-star general from Pakistan argued that “Pakistan is very clear based on realism that the OIC lacks the ability and credibility to influence any decision at the international level” (Hashmat 2017). Another participant said, “The OIC has not played any role in major political crises and it has not moved much beyond meetings” (Akhtar 2017). As mentioned earlier, the overwhelming majority of views gathered in this study labelled the OIC a useless forum. Participants ignored the usefulness of the OIC, such as providing financial benefits, seeing it only as supporting the ideological or psychological needs of Pakistan. Based on the views gathered during the fieldwork, it can be said that the OIC retains its place in Pakistan’s foreign policy largely because it is an Islamic Republic and a founding member of the OIC. For Pakistan, the forum does serve the purpose of strengthening its relations with key allies in the Muslim world. This is visible both at a bilateral level, at which Pakistan has fostered close security cooperation with rich Muslim states, especially Saudi Arabia, and through the OIC, which helps Islamabad to strengthen relations with the Ummah in some ways. With the GCC states in particular, Pakistan has close defense cooperation. In the 1960s, Pakistan sent its soldiers to Saudi Arabia to develop the Saudi army and the air force, which paved the way for improved bilateral cooperation. At the time of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Pakistan sent 5000 soldiers to Saudi Arabia to deter any Iraqi threat (Rizvi 1993, p. 84). For the Saudi-led war in Yemen, Riyadh reacted to the Saudi request by deploying additional troops to support the 1000 already in the Kingdom (Syed 2018).

3.3. Economic Development

Compared with India, at the time of its creation, Pakistan had far fewer weapons and economic resources. The security deficit demanded greater defense funding, but Pakistan’s mainly agrarian economy was not sufficient to meet the state’s needs, especially for the purchase of modern defense systems and weapons. A single answer to key challenges facing Pakistan has been economic development (Jha 1970), and this national interest is prominent in its foreign policy. Security and economic development have always been the twin objectives of Pakistan’s policymakers, who have strived for economic development to contribute to developing defense capabilities. This has particularly been reflected in Pakistan’s security alliances with the United States. By 1963, Pakistan had received USD 1 billion in military aid through SEATO and USD 1.5 billion in economic aid from the United States (Jha 1970, p. 128). Pakistan also looked to its former colonial power, the United Kingdom, but due to the effects of the Second World War, London was not in a position to provide substantial military or economic aid to Pakistan (Moskalenko 1974). Seeking technical and material support for building its defense capabilities was seen as a “pragmatic” approach by Pakistan’s policymakers in its early years (Delvoie 1995, p. 131), but over the years, this has led to challenges. Pakistan’s economy is externally dependent; therefore, as former diplomat of Pakistan Ashraf Jahangir Qazi contends, “Pakistan is less than sovereign country. This excludes the possibility of an independent foreign policy whatever postures are adopted” (Qazi 2017). While reality has demanded strong alliances with major international powers, especially the United States, Pakistan’s domestic realities have usually pressurized the policy elites to refrain from West-dominated alliances.
Since the 1970s, Pakistan has forged close relations with oil-rich Muslim states. This cooperation has since expanded from purely economic transactions to cooperation in political and security matters. Initially, cooperation between oil-rich countries and Pakistan was expanded through Pakistan becoming a rich source of skilled and unskilled workforce for countries such as the Gulf states, Iraq and Libya (Rizvi 1993). During Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s era, Pakistan was successful in diversifying its external sources of funding by approaching non-Western sources, mainly Muslim countries, for aid. During 1972–1976, Pakistan received millions of dollars in loans from Iran, Libya, Qatar, and the UAE, and financial assistance worth USD 130 million from Saudi Arabia and USD 92 million from the UAE (Rizvi 1993, p. 79). Over time, the interdependence between Pakistan and the Gulf states grew steadily, with more than 3.6 million Pakistani expatriates in the Gulf annually sending USD 12 billion in remittances back home (Hashim and Chughtai 2017). In the wake of the ongoing economic crisis, Pakistan also received loans of USD 4 billion from Saudi Arabia and the UAE (Dilawar and Qayum 2019).
Just like many other international organizations, OIC members have a financial obligation to the organization. Pakistan’s contribution to the OIC is assessed at USD 384,000 per annum since 2003 (Khan 2003, p. 70). By 2018, it was among the 20% (approximately 11 or 12) of 57 members that paid their membership dues regularly (Liu and Fan 2018), indicating both the poor economic status of many members but also the level of many members’ commitment to the OIC. Pakistan has been among the very few members, excluding the oil-rich members, that voluntarily provide funds to the OIC. This is based on careful calculations of costs and benefits, as Pakistan has a lot more to gain, both politically and economically, through activism in the OIC.
Pakistan has economically benefitted directly and indirectly from the OIC. The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) is a key organization of the OIC, and aims to provide not just aid to its member states, but enhance economic cooperation. In 2018, IDB’s capital was 2 billion dinars (approximately USD 533 million) and since its establishment in 1992, it has financed over 1200 projects, including railway rebuilding in Pakistan (Liu and Fan 2018, p. 10). In 1994, the IDB partially financed the Ghazi Barotha Power Project, contributing USD 200,000 (S. S. Khan 2003, p. 74). Initially, Pakistan’s pan-Islamism was not linked to the economic benefits of cooperation with Muslim countries, but this changed after 1971. Since then, the state’s pan-Islamism has been strongly linked to its economic development through close relations with rich Muslim states. There was no direct financial assistance from the Middle East before 1972; however, Pakistan has become a key recipient of aid from Gulf countries since the 1970s (Rizvi 1983). While Pakistan’s economic cooperation with Muslim states cannot be fully attributed to its pan-Islamist foreign policy or its role within the OIC, its activism within the OIC has played some role in diversifying its funding sources beyond a mere dependence on the West. Since the 1970s, and in particular, after organizing the second Islamic Summit in 1974, Pakistan has forged close relations with Muslim states (Chopra 1993), leading to expanded trade with several Muslim states that have also become home to Pakistani labor and, in return, become sources of foreign remittances to Pakistan.

4. Conclusions

The roots of pan-Islamism in the Indian sub-continent precede the 1947 creation of Pakistan. After becoming the biggest Muslim state in the world at the time of its inception, Pakistan made several attempts to create a united Muslim political front, aiming to lead that initiative based on its population size. After the lukewarm response of other Muslim states to pan-Islamism and Pakistan’s leadership of the Ummah, the Pakistani leadership re-evaluated its options and adopted a much more pragmatic foreign policy to address its urgent security concerns in relation to India. The security alliances with the United Kingdom, and in later years with the United States, reflected this pragmatic turn and the prioritization of Pakistan’s immediate national security. There have been different waves of pan-Islamism in Pakistan’s foreign policy; the first wave was not successful because Pakistan was also trying to lead the Ummah at that point and failed to relate pan-Islamism to its national interests, i.e., security and economic development.
From the mid-1950s until the disintegration of Pakistan in 1971, pan-Islamism was on the backburner in Pakistan’s foreign policy, but was given new life by Prime Minister Bhutto, who wanted to diversify the country’s financial sources beyond the West. The succession of Bangladesh or the disintegration of Pakistan in 1971 was a major trigger of this second wave of pan-Islamism in Islamabad. Pakistan’s reference to pan-Islamism re-emerged, but this time it was less about an ideological doctrine and more a calculated move to expand Pakistan’s financial and economic options and take advantage of opportunities in Saudi Arabia and other Arab Sheikhdoms. This new approach is visible in Pakistan’s support for Saudi Arabia’s claims to leadership of the Ummah and the OIC. This paper argues that by selectively promoting pan-Islamism, and through activism within the OIC, Pakistan has combined its ideological concerns with more urgent security and economic interests. While the promotion of Islamic identity remains a part of its foreign policy, the complete dependence on religious identity has proved inadequate for the fulfillment of Pakistan’s national interests, warranting a change in policy direction. Hence, Pakistan’s OIC policy has been successful in terms of its national interests.
Although constructivism offers a useful approach to understanding the ideational factors of Pakistan’s pan-Islamist foreign policy, it has some limitations in terms of explaining pragmatism in the use of the Islamic identity to achieve its national interests. While other approaches such as neoliberalism can explain external factors, e.g., the insecurities involving India, alone they are insufficient to understand the place and nature of pan-Islamism in Pakistan’s foreign policy. Due to its economic and geopolitical challenges, pragmatism has become a dominant feature of Pakistan’s foreign relations. This has also been demonstrated in the way the country has approached pan-Islamism and its relations with the Ummah. The ability of constructivism to explain Pakistan’s foreign policy is being eroded. We argue that pan-Islamism in Pakistan’s foreign policy has experienced a visible transformation in the last seven decades because of the economic and geopolitical realities the country faces. Through a case study of Pakistan, we demonstrate that state identity will face limitations in setting foreign policy when met with tangible security challenges. In the case of Pakistan, this has been in the form of a security dilemma vis à vis India. Thus, although foreign policymakers may have intended to formulate foreign policy based on Pakistan’s Islamic character, for example by pushing the pan-Islamist agenda, security considerations have pushed policy towards pragmatism, meaning that policies have been based more on threat calculations, and less on aspirational ideas of Muslim unity. This complexity has also been demonstrated through Pakistan’s role within the OIC and a clear change of heart in relation to pan-Islamism.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, Z.S.A. and S.A.; methodology, Z.S.A. and S.A.; formal analysis, Z.S.A. and S.A.; investigation, Z.S.A.; data curation, Z.S.A.; writing—original draft preparation, Z.S.A. and S.A.; writing—review and editing, Z.S.A. and S.A.; project administration, Z.S.A.; funding acquisition, Z.S.A. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research was funded by Deakin University, Australia, grant number [RM30640].

Institutional Review Board Statement

The study was conducted in accordance with the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research, Australia, and approved by the Deakin University Human Research Ethics Committee (protocol code 2016-336 and date of approval 12 June 2017).

Informed Consent Statement

Informed consent was obtained from all subjects involved in the study.

Data Availability Statement

The data is contained within the article. The data is not publicly available due to ethical reasons.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


The three organizations were: the International Islamic Economic Conference, the Motamer-e-Alam-e-Islami, and the Muslim People’s Organization.
In 2011, the organization’s name was changed to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
In 2013, Pakistan provided USD 1 million for the construction of the Palestinian embassy in Islamabad: See “Pakistan to build Palestine embassy in Islamabad”. The Express Tribune, October 7, 2013. Available online: (accessed on 10 September 2022).


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Ahmed, Z.S.; Akbarzadeh, S. Pakistan, Pan-Islamism, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Religions 2023, 14, 289.

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Ahmed ZS, Akbarzadeh S. Pakistan, Pan-Islamism, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Religions. 2023; 14(3):289.

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Ahmed, Zahid Shahab, and Shahram Akbarzadeh. 2023. "Pakistan, Pan-Islamism, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation" Religions 14, no. 3: 289.

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