The nomination process of applicants to the national and provincial assemblies has left behind two bedevilling gnashes in Pakistan’s body politic: the ideology debate and the liberal-fundamentalist divide. Janus-like, these are the two faces of the same phenomenon that has reared its head over the last couple of decades – ever since militant Islam began to impose itself in the region and in Pakistan. There is an unfortunate resort to adjectives such as ‘fascists’ from either side in this debate. The division may not be as wide as it is projected in this self-inflictive discourse; the damage, however, is far deeper.

What each side brings into question is clichés like ‘Jinnah’s Pakistan’ or ‘Taliban’s Pakistan’. We have lived with the ideals of Jinnah for the last 66 years, and the Taliban are restricted to the fringes of the tribal territories that straddle both Pakistan and Afghanistan, not in any position to lay claim to popular moorings for an idea that at best is deviational. Yet, in our ill-thought formulations, laced with perennial mediocrity, we only grant both characterisations equality and hence a greater haemorrhagic relevance. Trying to prove the saviour for the greater good of the nation, each bedevils this already limping nation with further ideational debilitation.

On the one hand, we claim the nation is involved in an existential struggle against an obscurantist and misplaced mythology that threatens to impose itself on us. On the other hand, we – in such a debate – become the prime exponents of exactly the same strains of extreme disposition and sad reflections of an intolerant culture regardless of which side of the divide we purport to hold the fort for.

Pakistan’s ideology is patently centrist. Its founding fathers used both religion and economic deprivation to justify the struggle for a separate homeland. Mass movements will look for popular appeal which will come through slogans that are simple to internalise. ‘Pakistan ka matlab kia’ was one such slogan – though there is no reason to be apologetic about it. Around 97 percent of Pakistan’s population is Muslim and there is absolutely no shame in being one and declaring so.

But soon after the vision of a separate nation was realised came the stage for tempering the emotional zeal of the Pakistan Movement years with the reality of constituting and running a nation-state. That is when the various colours of Quaid’s fundamental vision for the new state began to be enunciated in his different addresses. Jinnah’s speech of August 11, 1947 – in which he emphasised the plural nature of our social structures and hence the minorities’ right to parallel status as equal citizens – is as relevant as that of August 13, 1947, in which he asked the members of the Constituent Assembly to frame laws in accordance with the dictates of Islam and declared Islam as the dominant character of the new state. After all, Muslims in the new state constituted the majority, and the separation from India was based around this underlying religious distinction. Both aspects, thus – religion and social plurality – found equal eminence. That is centrism.

From then on, pragmatism has prevailed, as it should in a multi-rooted ethnic and religious society. If those who declared the Quaid ‘Kafir-e-Azam’ during the struggle years were subsumed post-independence in the Islamic character of the new nation via The Objectives Resolution, subsequent formulations have been equally sensitive to the religious sentiment.

As I have noted on previous occasions, the formulation of the 1973 Constitution under a very liberal Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is perhaps the most prominent assertion of the Islamic character of our state and society. He had a job at hand; to formulate a consensus constitution with disparate partners – from committed Islamists such as Mufti Mehmood to nationalists from the smaller provinces. He got them to agree by including titbits that would appease all. That is only how you can attain consensus, and yet keep the majority thrust progressive.

But read the first few articles of the undiluted 1973 Constitution and the preamble before that, and partake of how Islam is meant to govern all else below it. He even gave this mix of progressive Islam a new name – Islamic Socialism and converted it into a slogan for his politics. He banned alcohol and declared Friday as the weekly holiday. He even relented, under pressure from the religious lobby, to relegate the Ahmadiyya community into a minority and formalised it as a part of the constitution.

Little appreciated is the fact that by including some seemingly-dominating Islamist provisions in the constitution, and ameliorating sensitivities to a great extent of groups pining for such a nature of the state, Bhutto kept Pakistan from pursuing a specifically theocratic path. By keeping religion in, he in actuality was able to keep it out. Else, post 1979, as Iran became a theocratic entity, was it too impossible to expect a domino effect in Pakistan?

Bhutto, in essence, satisfied an established centrist rhythm of the new state and its society by making the constitution a wholesomely representative document. Centrism again prevailed, as the socio-political sentiment spread only narrowly across it but never too far. The ideology that the Taliban proffer is an aberration because of its distance from the centre. Those with liberal and progressive ideals are in danger of becoming equally irrelevant if they too locate themselves as far away from the centre.

Pakistan’s ideology is a continuum. It began with the idealism of Iqbal and found substance in the spirit and struggle of our founding fathers who manifested those ideals in a separate homeland. Together, these are reflected in the Preamble to the constitution and in the Objectives Resolution. Thereon, the laws and formulations of how Pakistan is to run as a state and a society are reflected in the remaining articles of the constitution. These are not contradictory, but rather subsume the variations in our formulation as a people. Pakistan’s ideology is centrist and inclusive – each incomplete without the other.

There are, however, fixed principles – like the Bill of Rights in the American constitution and the fundamental rights of a citizen enshrined in our constitution – that remain entrenched and around which the remaining laws evolve. The foundations are fixed while the values to these keep evolving. Ideology thus remains a partly-fixed and a partly-dynamic concept. It is the present, and it is around us.

Any effort to impose an exclusive order, liberal or fundamentalist, is as misplaced as can be in a nation that was founded on inclusion and dominantly centrist sentiments. To our present travails this founding principle alone holds the key to survival.