Birth of a nation

August 14, 2022

A witness to the birth of Pakistan takes a walk down the memory lane

Birth of a nation


akistan has been in the throes of a crisis since its very inception. The region now called Pakistan was already in turmoil when a partition plan was announced by the British viceroy on June 3, 1947. Large scale slaughter of people, rape, arson and mass migration followed.

The plan represented a monumental failure on the part of the political leaders to arrive at a negotiated solution to address the demands of massive populations of religious minorities, especially in the Punjab. While a large segment of Muslim population was scattered in various regions of the British Indian subcontinent, there were contiguous regions of Muslim majority in the east and the west.

I find it unfortunate that the children in Pakistan are no longer taught geography and history at the schools. These used to be compulsory subjects till the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971. These have since been replaced with Pakistan studies. The curriculum appears to be a huge cover-up for the failures of both the political leadership and the civil-military establishment to follow the Quaid’s advice about the country’s democratic polity.

As a witness to the birth of Pakistan and the preceding (1946) elections, held under the British on the basis of separate electorate for Muslims and non-Muslims, I feel inclined to walk down memory lane.

Lucknow, the then capital of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh (UP), was the hub of All India Muslim League’s campaign for the establishment of Pakistan. Lahore, meanwhile, was the hub for political activities of the Sikh community and the All India Congress.

Nobody believed Lucknow could be a part of Pakistan. Still, huge processions were taken out in support of the demand and communally provocative slogans raised. Seenay pe goli khaen ge; Pakistan banaen ge was a popular refrain.

Attempts were made by some ‘nationalist’ Muslim leaders to divide the Muslim vote in non-Muslim majority regions through candidates nominated by organisations like the Shia Conference and a Sunni body. The most ridiculous initiative on the political scene was the formation of the Oudh Restoration Mission to install a grandson of Wajid Ali Shah as nawab. It was all in vain as Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, the Muslim League candidate, won with a big majority. (It may be noted that the franchise was limited to those who either paid land revenue or income tax or had the required educational qualification.)

Birth of a nation

Despite Quaid-i-Azam’s directive that those elected on the All India Muslim League ticket should stay in the respective provinces, those elected to Muslim seats from the UP, especially Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, were among the first to migrate to Pakistan. Having thus abandoned his electorate, Chaudhry sahib did not return to Lucknow despite being asked to do so by his party leader. Instead, he was said to have asked the Quaid to himself follow that course. Khaliquzzaman was eventually made head of the ruling party and sent to East Bengal as its governor. Later, he lent support to the military coup by Gen Muhammad Ayub Khan and become the head of his Convention Muslim League. The party was formed by holding a convention organised by the Muslim League turncoats including Manzar-i-Alam, also from Lucknow.

While the emergence of Pakistan proved a boon for the elite Muslim gentry, civil and military bureaucracy and the opportunistic property grabbers, the common citizens including those migrating from India continued to live in misery. Once the government decided that the migrants from certain regions of India could lay claim to the properties left behind by the migrating Hindus and Sikhs, an opportunity was created for hundreds of families to make riches overnight and join the (mostly fake) gentry in the Land of the Pure.

The Quaid had advised the Muslims to work hard to give up the weaknesses of shirking work. Apparently, the advice was ignored. The bureaucratic elite also discarded his advice to faithfully serve under the elected governments. To this day, his vision for the Pakistani polity has not been followed in letter or spirit. In fact, it has been grossly violated and replaced with an outdated system that is patently discriminatory and sectarian and yet forms the grundnorm in the basic structure of the state. The inherent contradiction between a parliamentary democratic system of governance and shariah based legislation apparently does not bother too many people.

This situation is an outcome of the ploy used by the country’s first prime minister to delay the constitution-making and to appease the clerics through the adoption of the Objectives Resolution. Later, under a dictator’s diktat, it became a substantive (enforceable) provision of the Constitution.

With the death of the Quaid and the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, Muslim League, the default ruling party, fell into the hands of dominant civil services led by the likes of Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, AT Naqvi and NM Khan. None of them belonged to East Bengal.

East Bengal, which became East Pakistan, was home to 56 percent of the country’s population. It was completely ignored for housing any of the federal institutions or services. Lahore was initially considered for federal capital but the Punjab Muslim League and the provincial government refused to provide land for the purpose. However, both the Army and the Air Force headquarters were located in the Punjab. It was realised that the federal capital should be close by. So a new capital was built using billions of rupees denied to the toiling millions.

Birth of a nation

It is only through a collective endeavour by all segments of the society, including the land owners, the business community, the industrialists and the civil society that the country can be steered out of the current crisis.

Till then, Karachi was taken over as the seat of the federal government as well as the constituent assembly. Administratively, it remained under a chief commissioner. The offices of the accountant general and the auditor general were also located here. So was the Naval Headquarter.

At independence, the eastern wing was a federating province, the East Bengal. In its very first elections, the ruling Muslim League was routed by a united front. In the western wing, the then NWFP (now KP) was dominated by nationalists under the banner of Congress and its allies. Its government was dismissed. The Sindh government under Ayub Khuhro met the same fate. Unionist feudals in the Punjab, meanwhile, had switched their loyalties to the Muslim League. Balochistan was yet to become a province. It had a Quetta principality and the independent confederate Kalat with a Miri (tribal chief’s habitat) at Quetta. Till the advent of Pakistan, the Quaid had been contesting on behalf of the Khan for the independence of Kalat. Now, Kalat was annexed through an Army operation.

Given the situation, the establishment took to installing and removing Muslim League parliamentary party leaders. The army chief was inducted in one of the cabinets as defence minister. The Constituent Assembly finally adopted a constitution in 1956 following the forced merger of the provinces in the western wing under the One Unit scheme. East Bengal was made to concede Parity – an equal number of seats despite its majority population – for the first ever general elections. After postponement on the pretext of time required for polling arrangements, the elections were scheduled to be held in 1958. However, Gen Ayub had a different agenda.

He mocked adult franchise and parliamentary democracy, abrogated the Constitution, overthrew the civilian led government and imposed a martial law. Some years later, he and his legal luminaries produced a constitution that imposed a presidential system, abandoning direct elections and provided for the election of the so-called Basic Democrats, who in turn elected different tiers of local bodies, provincial assemblies, National Assembly and the president, who appointed governors for both wings. The Ayub years caused deep and widespread alienation, primarily in the majority province but also in the less populated and resource-rich regions of the so-called West Pakistan.

The seeds of Pakistan’s dismemberment were sown, watered and adequately fertilised by the elite and the establishment. They used the foreign exchange earnings the East Pakistan produced but did not invest in its development. This caused anger right down to the grassroots. It was in full view in the 1970 general elections, when the Awami League did not even need any allies. The party won all but a couple of seats on its well laboured Six Points programme.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who had won the largest number of National Assembly seats in the Punjab and a majority in Sindh, asked for an undeserved share in political power. He also made an incorrect claim about having a majority in West Pakistan, where One Unit had given way to four provinces now including Balochistan.

Even more tragic and regrettable was his support for Gen Yahya when he used the army to try to crush the victorious Awami League. The army faced armed resistance and a struggle led by the Awami League that was eventually supported internationally.

Like other nations who had to wage armed struggle for their freedom, Bangladesh suffered violence, destruction and atrocities. Today it is a sovereign nation with better development and happiness indices than any other country in the subcontinent.

Post-secession, Bhutto was installed as president and chief martial law administrator. His provincial governors had the title of deputy martial law administrators. The ‘authority’ was widely misused against political opponents as well as journalists, their employers and trade unions. The political opposition acted wisely and cooperated in the passage of a consensus Constitution. Bhutto, however, had other ideas. Soon he used his party’s majority in the National Assembly to amend the Constitution, enabling his government to grave serious charges, including treason, against political opponents.

Little did he realise how vulnerable this made him. His handpicked army chief not only overthrew his government but also arranged his trial and execution.

Our dismembered country is still described by many as the ta’beer of Allama Iqbal’s dream; and its attainment as Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s great labour of love. It is once again passing through difficult times. Steering it out of the current crises is only possible through a collective endeavour by all segments of the society, including the land owners, the business community, the industrialists and the civil society. They will also need the support of the establishment and all political outfits.

The challenge for them all is to act and behave in ways they have never done before. If the landowners voluntarily hand over agricultural lands to actual tillers; if businesses and industries make their workers partners in their undertakings; if the military resources are made available for productive work and political activists for national service, there is no reason we cannot achieve unprecedented results.

The writer is a former resident editor of The News and a human rights defender

Birth of a nation