There is widespread belief among many in Pakistan that the modern nation state must be secular and therefore incompatible with religion. This belief is based on a simplistic understanding of the concepts of religion and of secularism, especially in relation to Muslim countries and Islam. Far more important than secularism as the defining characteristic of the modern state is the place of law in the political processes. What characterises the modern state is not the absence of religion in the country's institutional arrangements and political discourses, but rather the application of law in the state processes. These issues assumes great importance presently in Pakistan both because of the constitutionalism of the Lawyers Movement and the rise of different forms of Islamist politics. Historically, the transition from a pre-modern to a modern state occurred when the decisive shift was made from the idea of the ruler maintaining his state " when he simply meant upholding his own position " to the idea that there is a separate legal and constitutional order which the ruler has the duty to maintain. One effect of this transformation was that the power of the state, not that of the ruler, came to be envisaged as the basis of government. And this in turn enabled the state to be conceptualised in directly modern terms as the sole source of law (whether inspired or circumscribed by religion) and legitimate power within its own territory. The law is the condition most responsible for making the struggle of modern politics so different from those occurring in pre-modern times. Thus it is only in the modern state that we find struggles within and about various legal categories that constitute demands for particular types of education, of social welfare, defence policy, and so on, and as sole appropriate object of its citizens' allegiances.  This is not to suggest that law was absent or only marginal in the pre-modern state. Here law was used by the ruler to enforce justice (or not to) and to secure allegiance to himself. The point is that in a modern state, laws are enacted not simply to command obedience and to maintain justice, but to enable or disable its population. In this sense the law is neither a transcendent principle of justice nor an overarching framework of society. It is more than merely an instrument, for the idea of the law as a means is an ancient one. In the modern state, law is an element in political strategies " especially strategies for destroying old options and creating new ones. The following is an outdated argument which still seems to carry a lot of purchase among politicians and intellectuals in Pakistan with their emphasis on secularism rather than law as the defining characteristic of the modern state and modern politics: Their professed need to separate politics from religion. Because they argue, the former essentially belongs to the domain of faith and passion and a bygone ('feudal') era, rational argument and interest guided action can have no place in it. This is an entirely misplace argument. For it overlooks the fact that in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world, when religion becomes an integral part of modern politics, it is not indifferent to debates about how the economy should be run, which scientific projects should be publicly funded, or what the broader aims of the national education should be. In other words, religion consists of particular ideas, sentiments, practices, institutions, traditions " as well as followers who instantiate, maintain, or wish to alter them. That Islamists aspire to state power is understandable. For no movement that aspires to more than mere belief or inconsequential talk in public can remain indifferent to state power in a secular world. Islamist are not anti-modernity. They wish to construct modernity that is an alternative to the existing hegemonic modernity of the West. In fact it is more accurate to talk about the 'modernities' of the West, because modernity here has several modalities with differing relations to organised religion. In fact the Islamists wish to add their own modernity, informed by Shari'a Law, to the existing ones. The writer a professor at the Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge, UK E-mail: