Pakistan’s Tipping Point

LAHORE – Pakistan’s moment of political truth is fast approaching. On May 11, some 40-50 million voters will elect a new national assembly. The outcome, preceded by a spike in extremist violence, is likely to reverberate far and wide.

Pakistan’s homegrown terrorist groups know that the country is at a tipping point, and are attacking candidates and voters who favor a secular state. Hundreds of people have already been killed, and more will undoubtedly die before Election Day, targeted because, if these groups prevail, they would push what is sometimes called the “idea of Pakistan” to its logical – and extreme – conclusion.

Some 70 years ago, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, launched the movement to create an independent state for the Muslims of British India. The British colonial administration finally acquiesced, creating a country out of Muslim-majority areas. The population of what is now Pakistan was about two-thirds Muslim; the remainder were mostly Hindus and Sikhs.

That composition changed dramatically with the partition of the new states of India and Pakistan in 1947, when 14 million people moved across the newly drawn border. Eight million Muslim refugees fled India and entered Pakistan, and six million Hindus and Sikhs moved in the opposite direction. By the time this “ethnic cleansing” was over, Pakistan’s population was 95% Muslim.