Revisiting 1906-1971

As West Pakistan nears the end of its 44th year of separation from the East, suffice to comment that lessons, if any, were ignored by the elastic conscience and political opportunism of leaders. The people absolved themselves by viewing it a fait accompli by unrepresentative ruling elites. In military terms there was no debriefing and therefore lessons not learnt are being repeated. Losing more than half the population never result in introspection. Despite this political culture and insensitivity, what remains of Pakistan holds together due to geographical contiguity that did not exist in case of East Pakistan. Pakistan’s corrupt political and socio-economic systems continue to overrule the aspirations of the people whose majority is either too lethargic or disconnected from nationhood to exercise the power of ballot. The realization and national urge for a closure and way forward thereof is missing. The style of politics adopted by politicians of the west has worsened by time. The fact that Pakistan has survived owes much to its small cadre of hardy people, geopolitics and armed forces.

Here is the debate. If from 1906 till 1947, the east and west were part of the same struggle in which the east provided the platform, intellectual inputs and direction, why did they part ways after the battle was won? In West Pakistan, this question became a taboo for far too long, while the separatist (if we call Awami Leaguers so) in Bangladesh that comprised only 24% of the electorate chose a violet route.

For the West, the question, that this tragedy set aside the idea of a united Pakistan, rots in the trash of inventive history.

As the sole self-proclaimed custodians of ‘Ideology of Pakistan’, created by a dictator, West Pakistanis cannot eclipse historical facts. After the partition of Bengal and Muslim majority self-rule, the idea of separation came predominantly from the Muslims of East Bengal.

Muhammadan Education Conference of the Aligarh modernity school changed to All India Muslim League at Dacca in 1906. The first convener was Nawab Sir Khawaja Salimullah of Dacca who mentored two stalwarts; A. K. Fazlul Haq who wrote the first Creed of the League and Choudhury Khaliquzzaman.

The thesis of separation mostly advocated by Bengali leaders with the obvious experience of history was ignored till Allama Iqbal as President of Punjab Muslim League reflected the concept in his famous Allahabad address. Though he met the Bengali leaders many times, his address referred only to India’s North West Muslim provinces and ignored East Bengal. The reason was that the league was seeking autonomy within the Indian Union and Punjabi/UP leaders resigned Bengali leaders to fight their own struggle. The fact that Pakistan’s inventive history credits Allama Iqbal more than the founders of this idea is an historical distortion. These frustrations are reflected in the many twists and turns Bengali leaders they took thereafter, and recorded in many dissenting notes and speeches of A. K. Fazlul Haq, the Sher-e-Bangla. Knowing that North West that comprised NWFP and Punjab was dominated by Unionists and Congress sympathizers (Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan), Bengalis continued to provide the impetus for a Muslim identity. At that point of time, old Balochistan and the State of Khairpur in Sindh were out of contention. Punjab centrism with a shadow of the UP lobby caused irreparable damage to the federation of Pakistan; yet these are the unfortunate lines on which the West Pakistani narrative was built.

A. K. Fazlul Haq, the Chief Minister of Bengal and Choudhury Khaliquzzaman with reluctant support from Sikandar Hayat Khan of Punjab (a Unionist whose buck stopped short of separation) managed to push through the Lahore Resolution on 24 March 1940. The final interpretation of the Resolution was left to a committee that ignored the question of States within a Union. Obviously, it was to keep Sikandar quiet. After the impromptu Cabinet Mission Plan that Congress rejected, the League pushed for a single Pakistan with two wings.

This partition of India was pursued in haste to the chagrin of Bengali leaders, leaving many questions of autonomy under federalism unaddressed. The result was that within the first few years of independence, intransience on part of the west accounted for wiping away support of the League in East Pakistan. As early as 1954, the East was vying for greater autonomy within the federation. Once the 1956 constitution ignored the questions of federation, the separatist movement was a question of time.

By August 1947, differences between leaders of East Bengal and those from UP and Punjab widened. There was serious dissent in East Pakistani leaders over adoption of Urdu as the national language, Objective Resolution and non-federal constitution of 1956. Bengali leaders were particularly sensitive about relegation of religious minorities that comprised more than 15% population of East Pakistan. These were mostly Dalit who under the leadership of Jogendra Nath Mandal (Pakistan’s first law minister) had thrown their lot with Pakistan. Though after partition, Muslim League managed to form the first government; by 1954 it was edged to insignificance by United Front, Communist Party and the Awami League. The United Front ruled the province till imposition of Martial Law in 1958.

Because leaders in West Pakistan looked at Hindus within the construct of India, Bengali leaders and prime ministers were viewed with suspicion. Due to this divergent stance East Pakistani leaders were perceived less patriotic. The conspiracy theory of the west that Hindu presence diluted the Ideology of Pakistan in the East was accepted without logic and reason. It also downgraded the famous speech of Quaid-e-Azam Muhaammad Ali Jinnah on 11 August 1947 on political inclusivism. While these fissures widened and League’s support in East Pakistan waned, the Governor-General of Pakistan dismissed A. K. Fazlul Haq from public office on charges of inciting secession. Later, Ayub Khan banned him from politics. Ever since, this suppression of the east and the progressive left has marred genuine political reforms in Pakistan. No lessons have ever been learnt.

While the West dominated the events after 1947, there was no effort or narrative to counter the political humiliation and alienation caused to leaders of the East. It was only a matter of time that the inevitable happened. Free and fair elections under a military dictator in 1970 exposed the hidden cracks. No single party emerged as a symbol of federation. Awami League (a breakaway faction of Muslim League) in the East led by Shiekh Mujeeb ur Rehman and Pakistan People’s Party led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in the West emerged as two irreconcilable belligerents. Imprisoned Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman was flexible and insisted autonomy but not division. Bhutto’s politics were exclusive and inflexible. Exploiting the ignorance on part of the military regime and lack of communications amongst Pakistani politicians, India inserted its narrative into the void. Armed forces fell into the trap and became the fall guy.

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