1947-71: Was Pakistan a ‘false’ state?

by Afsan Chowdhury | Published: 01:30, Mar 26,2020 | Updated: 12:33, Mar 26,2020


THE analytical problem troubling the history of both Pakistan at birth and Bangladesh in being is that it takes colonial interpretations and narratives of state making as granted. ‘Pakistan’ came into being as an official construct on August 14, 1947 which is accorded status as a legitimate ‘post-colonial’ or colonially extended state. This is because colonial history and its institutions of collaboration are held to be legitimate and natural outcomes of history. Without legitimising colonialism, the states after 1947 cannot be either.


Was Pakistan a real/full state before 1971?

A GOVERNANCE construct which was named ‘Pakistan’ did emerge on that said date identified as a British dominion state. But the nature of the state is not considered. It did not just have fatal structural flaws but ingrained elements that ended its short life. The old construct died and a new one emerged on December 16, 1971. August 14, 1947 was historically the birth date of a ‘false’ state and the real one exists now. The old Pakistan was never a fully-blown state and it is much more stable after its 1971 birth when it did become a proper state with all its troubles but not an artificial construct like in 1947.

It is only 24 years from 1947 to 1971 while it is 50 years from 1971 to 2020. This evidence says that the old ‘Pakistan’ was a ‘shadow/fictional/transient state’ which collapsed after battling to keep going on military life support. It lacked the basic preconditions which go into making a functional/real state as the 1971 conflict exposed. Its two-staged life split by 1971 shows that the post-1971 state is more compact and functional.

However, the analytical discordance is not high in Pakistan although technically it has lost ‘half’ of Pakistan. In collective psychology, there is not much trauma which is only natural. The ‘fall of Dhaka’ as it is put there is often discussed in the media but it is seen as largely a conspiracy of pro-Indian elements. India, Sheikh Mujib and even Bhutto and Yahya Khan are clustered together as villains but it is not an overwhelming agony for anyone. As long as India hostility is kept high, the rest matters little as it is the core of its identity and being just as it is with India.

As nothing was shared between the two Pakistans, the sense of loss or guilt are both low. Almost nothing existed which could serve as a state-building glue; cultural markers like language and religion are never enough; both genocide and its denial of the same has been possible. It is a regretful phase of history for Pakistanis which after 50 years has become a ‘no big deal’ issue for most as expected given that it is the surrender to India that hurts, not losing East Pakistan.


Bangladesh as a subsumed state 1947-1971

IT WAS not possible for the two Pakistans — East and West — to form a state as they did not share the same history and, hence, had no common identity. However, the colonial politics of the All Indian Muslim League and the all Indian Congress produced this situation but that is another issue. But the by-product of the same, Pakistan produced large-scale violence and trauma.

The matter of 1971 is different for Bangladesh from Pakistan. Here, Pakistan in absentia casts a very long shadow over every aspect of life. People of all kinds perceive 1971 as the most violent, painful and ultimately successful phase of history. It determines the sense of identity of the people generated by the war response. The memory is different for Pakistan and Bangladesh. As its process of historical birth determines its identity, the psychological battle to internalise and understand ‘Pakistan’ is critical.

Most scholars refer to two key moments in Pakistan’s history. One, the birth of Pakistan as a marker in 1947 as the inauguration of a new state. Two, the language movement’s violence phase of 1952 which gelled the burgeoning ethno-linguistic ‘identity’ of its people, taking them into a phase of new consciousness.

However, they can be misleading as both take the birth of Pakistan and its security management tools as given as a state is concerned without interrogating its nature. If the idea of Pakistan as a state is itself not fully invalid, can such surmises work? How is the history and identity of a people who fought in the war of 1971 against Pakistan be narrated is not asked as this resistance grew against not a real but a false state.

The problem arises not only in analysing 1947–1971 but also the history before 1947, going back to the phase when social resistance to colonialism in Bengal began to develop into political consciousness and ultimately became a state-making identity. In this process, there were many stages and phases and at some point of time, the major zones of such activism all over India that coincided through political systems in action but they did not belong to the same history or struggle.


The Lahore Resolution: enigma and fatal errors

EVEN the key event of the Lahore/Pakistan Resolution, 1940, later also became the most contested part of the Pakistan movement. So, to assume that the movement that led to the event of 1947 was a monolithic one can happen only under a singular mode of interpretation, covering one colonial India ignoring the other streams of history which led to Bangladesh. It is similar to a hegemonic model popular in narratives, justifying one history for all.

In colonial India, the Muslims lived in two clustered zones where they were the majority — one in which Punjab dominated and the other in which did Bengal which had a larger population with a very different history. It is these two states which formed the basis of the ‘Muslim majority zones’ concept as mentioned in the Lahore Resolution. But apart from demographic similarity, nothing else was within the clusters.

Kahalid bin Sayeed in his book Pakistan: The Formative Phase describes in great details the various politicking and negotiations that went on to frame the resolution. It was entirely dominated by politicians from what is now Pakistan. They gave the opportunity to Fazlul Haq, chief minister of Bengal government which was led by him which he had rejoined. But essentially, it was a (west) Pakistani show and Huq was largely a reader of a resolution, not a participant.

Jinnah greatly disliked Huq for his pro-Bengal position and the feelings were mutual. (He disliked Bhashani, too, for his rustic ways and his emotional reaction to the sufferings of Assam Muslims. (see Quaid Azam as I Knew Him by MAH Ispahani)

Huq left the Muslim League and formed his Krishak Praja Party in 1936 just before the elections of 1937. He tried to prevent the Muslim League from coming to power after the election by trying to form a coalition with the Bengal Congress. It failed as Jawaharlal Nehru was not keen to form local/provincial/state level coalitions.

Nehru wanted a national coalition that is a Delhi-based national platform. As an all Indian centrist, he wanted to control politics from the centre and not among what he thought were national ‘mofussils’ like Bengal. This attitude played a major role in the prevention of the United Bengal move in 1947 in which both the Bengal Congress and the Bengal Muslim League were involved.

The historical road that led to the Lahore Resolution was largely what is now Pakistan-centred zones. Even the term Pakistan coined by Chowdhury Rahmat Ali did not include Bengal and Bangistan and Osmanistan (Hyderabad) to Pakistan were later additions to his initial idea. The Punjab group had a history of their own led by largely feudal lords in contest with the counter elites of the post-Mughal India under colonialism. There is no historical connect between the two zones. Bengal politics was largely a product of peasant resistance.


Jinnah’s convenient position shifts

IT IS only natural, therefore, that the Pakistan Resolution should speak of two Pakistans. Jinnah’s later switch to ‘state’ from two ‘states’ was absurd, to use a mild term. It has been interpreted much, though they shed no light. Between 1940 and 1946, an independent ‘East Pakistan’ was discussed many times publicly. The East Pakistan Renaissance Society made up of Muslim League workers were members of that who held public meetings. Abul Hashim published a proposal on the topic and he was the general secretary of the Bengal Muslims League.

So, the independent state of Bengal, eastern zone, as per the Lahore Resolution was no secret. If it was against the Lahore Resolution, it is very strange that Jinnah never said a word when all this was being discussed. He suddenly expressed his opinion at the Delhi Muslim League meeting in 1946, pushing for a single state. He had the resolution adjusted to make a single centrist state which ultimately failed in 1971. It had no historical basis or support or tradition.

Jinnah and Nehru were centrists and both looked upon Bengal as a political vassal of Delhi motivated by the north Indian domination of the same. Jinnah negated every attempt to form unity between the Bengal Congress and the Muslim League and axed the opportunity to form an independent state of Bengal in 1947. Of course, there was no shared history in Bengal either, but the attitude of both politicians is obvious which was north Indian supremacy which both saw as a historical legacy.

Once Jinnah had got his Pakistan, he did not know much about what state management tried to cobble together a centrist state without taking into account ground realities. He had no notion of a resisting people. By early 1948, he already had turned to interpreting Pakistan as a centrist state of ‘Musalmans’. This was in contrast with his earlier comment in August 1947 that everyone would be Pakistani first.

But this centrist push was the worst error possible given the reality of ‘Pakistan’. It was a failure as history moved towards 1971 which became a bigger reality. Jinnah’s speech in Dhaka is most illustrative of what the ‘Pakistan’ idea was. He threatened coercion to produce a single Pakistan based on centrism calling East Pakistani demands as ‘provincialism’. Even if he wanted that state to remain, it could do so only as a totally confederational state at best. They were plainly two de facto states stuck as one which was unravelled completely in 1971.

There is no phase in history between 1947 and 1971 which shows any political unity between the two Pakistans. It is, therefore, only natural that socio-economic differences would be extreme. The idea of the ‘two-economy’ was, therefore, natural because it was ‘two states’ held together by one flag, not common objectives or history.


1971: from a single false to two real states

PAKISTAN existed around India as the primary threat to Pakistan which needed defending making the core objective of the state. It was a siege mentality-based state, essentially a military state almost from birth. It strengthened the state model, a Mughal model developed by invaders of India.

Meanwhile to Bangladeshis of 1947–71, it was not India which was the main problem but Pakistan. The contradiction between the two ‘Pakistans’ was at its most fundamental. At some point of time a conflict was, therefore, inevitable. The electoral results of 1970, became a threat to the ruling class of Pakistan because Bangladeshis had no interest in ‘Kashmir issues’ or a defence-based state governance framework. But this kept Pakistan together so that power could never be handed over. The clash was determined by the ‘false’ construction of the Pakistan state itself.

Historical forces ensured the birth of both Pakistan and Bangladesh on the same date. March 26, 1971. Pakistan was not halved in 1971 but became a more rational inheritor of its own history. It finally became Pakistan after 1971; but in 1947, it was not a realised state, as history shows.


Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.

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