Road to Bangladesh-1 An unusual Pakistani analysis

By Hamid Hussain

DECEMBER is the anniversary month of the independence of Bangladesh and break up of Pakistan. The memories of that critical period of the history of the two countries are very painful for everyone who was affected in one way or the other. There has been very little attempt to dispassionately and critically analyze various aspects of that period. Most of the writings have been limited to accusations and counter-accusations and mud slinging. Some have picked up on one person and blamed him for the whole disaster. Others have tried to defend their favourite and passed the buck to someone else. Most of the discussion has been limited to the last act of the play, which was played in 1971, ignoring the whole historical context. At the end stage of a crisis when the powerful currents of history are in full swing, as one commentator has correctly pointed that an individual cannot alter the movement of historical forces, which are far stronger than any individual actor.
Several ethnic sub-groups in Pakistan, in addition to the clash on material issues have jealousies, deep-rooted prejudices and stereotypes about each other. The ruling elite of Pakistan views the political consciousness of ethnic groups as subversive. They have tried to use ‘the twin instruments of Islam and the state to overcome this subversive force’. This creates a vicious cycle, where every attempt to centralize control over periphery results is hardening of the attitude of the one’s at the receiving end. The threat to state’s territorial integrity tends to arise out of local reaction to the centre’s heavy handed imposition of uniformity on diverse communities in the first instance, and the violent repression of subsequent local dissent.This is the essential component of the whole affair.

Bengalis had genuine grievances against the Western wing, but their success came, when it did, not because their assumptions were more accurate than those permeating the Pakistani elite-culture but because their strategic alliance with Delhi and Moscow gave them an advantage Islamabad was unable to match.

Historical Background: The prejudice against Bengali Muslims has a long history and was quite prevalent long before Pakistan emerged as an independent state. Muslim intellectuals, elites and politicians, which belonged to northern India, had the picture of a Muslim as tall, handsome and martial in character. As Bengali Muslims didn�t fit into this prejudiced and racist picture, therefore they were ignored at best and when even allowed to come closer, were considered inferior. Bengalis were shunned despite their political advancement and strong resentment against oppression and tyranny. A large portion of Bengali Muslims was converts from Hindu low castes. The ‘noble borns’ of Bengal claimed foreign ancestry (Syed, Afghan, Mughal). The majority of Bengali Muslim population which had customs common with Hindu peasantry and had a proud sense of their language was not considered as ‘proper Muslims’ by some Bengali ‘nobles’ and almost all of West Pakistan.
This perception later influenced the official decision to ‘Islamize’ and ‘purify’ East Bengali culture in Pakistan after 1947. The British theory of ‘Martial Races’ was generally well received by the natives in this background.

In later part of nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century, several important Muslim leaders advocated division of India on the basis of separate Muslim identity. The prejudice against Bengali Muslims was so prevalent and widespread, that no body cared about them and did not consider them as part of Indian Muslim community. In fifty years, about 15 such schemes were proposed but not even a single one mentioned Bengal or Bengali Muslims. Sir Muhammad Iqbal who proposed the idea of Pakistan in his famous Allahabad address in 1930 did not include Bengali Muslims in his scheme. Chaudry Rehmat Ali who coined the word ‘Pakistan’ for his new country did not bother to fit the majority population of future Pakistan in his name. The Bengali leader, Fazlul Haq who presented the Pakistan Resolution in 1940 was forced to resign from Muslim League in September 1941. The Muslim League leadership never trusted Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy, who was the elected Chief Minister of Bengal. He was not given a seat at Working Committee of All India Muslim League. Upper class elite dominated Bengal Muslim League. It got political support from Khawaja Nazimuddin, financial support from Mirza Abul Hassan Ispahani and media support from Maulana Akram Khan.
In 1947, when the new state of Pakistan emerged, there was a very unique and difficult dilemma facing the new nation. More than a 1000 miles of hostile territory of India separated the two wings. East Pakistan contained more than half of the population but only one-sixth of the land. In Eastern wing, population was more homogenous ethnically and linguistically while Western wing had five clearly diverse groups (Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluch, Pushtuns and newly immigrated Muslims from India called Muhajirs). In eastern wing, the non-Muslim population was 23% while in western wing only 3 %. Peasant proprietors dominated agriculture sector in Bengal compared to large feudal estates in West Pakistan. Bengalis were the most politically conscious group of Pakistan. In addition, there was a long tradition of strong leftist presence in Bengal. Literacy rate was 30% in East compared to 20% in West Pakistan. In 1950, East Bengal Provincial legislature passed a landmark bill called East Bengal State Land Acquisition and Tenancy Act of 1950. This law abolished the permanent settlement, which ended the Zamindari system that supported the landed elite. The land holding was limited to 100 Bighas (about 33 acres) which affected both Hindu and Muslim landlords. In my view this little known single piece of legislation was a crucial factor which would impact the future course of relationship between the two wings. This law rang the alarm bells in West Pakistani ruling elite, which was dominated by the landed aristocracy.

The demand for Pakistan had a millennial appeal, which, for a while, covered up the deep divisions within the Muslim community. After the emergence of Pakistan, there were demands for clarity as to what it stood for, and fissiparous tendencies began to set in. This is the historical context of the events up to independence in 1947, which is very important in understanding of the events, which plagued the country later.

Second Class Citizens of the New Nation:

‘Your music is so sweet. I wish to God, you Bengalis were half as sweet yourself’. Said Field Marshal Ayub Khan to his Bengali friend.

[This article ‘Demons of December, Road from East Pakistan to Bangladesh’ by Hamid Hussain of the Pakistan Defence Journal,a magazine devoted to military affairs and closely connected to Pakistan military establishment, gives an unusual Pakistani view on Bangladesh independence . It will not obviously satisfy everyone in its account of historical background, but its final conclusion is welcome. SAN-Feature Service serializes the article in installments ]

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