From the 1980’s onwards, Pakistan and Afghanistan have been at the forefront of numerous socio-political events germane to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. The multifarious factors involved form a perplexing web of competing narratives that resist straightforward explanation. This essay will delve into the milieu, seeking alternative theories to construct a cogent thesis for the growth of fundamentalism. In doing so, it will examine the Islamisation policies of Pakistan’s Zia-ul-Haq administration and its congruence with United States interests at the time. Particular focus will be given to the Afghanistan – Pakistan dyad and how the recent return of international forces perpetuates the conditions that allow Islamic fundamentalism to prosper.
As a state whose principal raison d'être is for the protection of Muslims, Pakistan had historically struggled with defining what its Islamic mandate entailed. Arriving in power via a coup d’état, Zia-ul-Haq employed religion to attain popular legitimacy, orchestrating Islamic reform as a deceitful pretence for securing power (Kennedy 1990: 73). Correspondingly, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan solidified the role of Islamic politics, with Zia-ul-Haq exhibiting a distinct preference for radical groups as a counterweight to communist ideology (Fuller 1991: 11). The most visible sign of creeping religiosity appeared in 1982 with the declaration that “national dress” and Islamic studies were mandatory for government employees (Cohen 1988: 314). Underlying this conversion, the government funded the expansion of an increasingly radical madrasa based education system - with the intention to transform the electoral landscape and boost support for Islamic parties (Nasr 2000: 147). Through these initiatives, Zia-ul-Haq hoped to seed the growth of an Islamic state via the gradual development of a pious citizenry.