Collateral Damage Magazine had the privilege to talk to Dr. Tanvir Ahmed Tahir, the executive director of All Pakistan Newspaper Society and the author of the seminal book Political Dynamics of Sindh, about the ideological, political and economic roots of the creation of Pakistan. Dr. Tahir traces the birth of the Two-Nation Theory, which was the basis of the demand for Pakistan. Using his encyclopedic knowledge of the country and its history, he shows that the movement for Pakistan under the banner of religion was dictated by the Muslim elites of India who only sought to protect their own power and interests, rather than being interested in an anti-imperialist movement against the British.
After the creation of Pakistan, the country saw different ethnic groups proclaim their respective rights over the exercise of power. Dr. Tanvir analyses this contestation for us.
December 2011 also marked the 40 years of Pakistan Army’s military action in Bangladesh (East Pakistan at that time), and Dr. Tanvir places the war in its proper context.
Instead of directly replying to the questions, Dr. Tanvir preferred to write about some of the main themes which were invoked by the editor. His answers are published over here as they were received.
The Two- Nation Theory.
After the First World War, a notion began to take root among the Muslims of India: they were a distinct entity as compared to other sections of the populace. This socio-political division existed during the rule of Muslim kings in the Indian subcontinent but was blurred during the early decades of British colonialism.
Western education had disseminated modern ideas, among Muslims and Hindus alike, with far reaching impact on the body politic. For instance, the principle of democracy, in its Indian context, meant the rule of the majority community over the minority. Despite their status as a minority, Muslims had held political power in India for centuries and began to fear losing this power to the Hindu majority once the British government showed its intention of introducing the principle of representation at different levels of government. They did not share any enthusiasm for self- government and democracy, since in practice it implied perpetual rule by Hindus who constituted a majority of three to one. Consequently, the over-riding concern of Muslims of minority provinces was preservation of their community interests. This concern was first reflected when Mohammedan Associations were formed in different parts of the country, as well as in keeping away from the Hindu-dominated Congress.
The Muslim elite of areas where Muslims were in the minority, particularly in Awadh, Agra and Bihar, held dominant positions in government services. With the introduction of Western education and colonial administration, they saw themselves losing their pre-eminence. Their share in the highest ranks of government service declined from 64% in 1857 to 41.4% in 1913 and 24.5% of the judicial positions, while they constituted 14.1% of the population. The proposed reforms of 1909 compelled Muslims of minority provinces to safeguard their interests along religious lines.
On the other hand, Muslims of majority provinces were not faced with these fears. Their political necessities required support of Hindu minority, thanks to the weight-age formula of 1916. They refrained from joining parties formed on religious basis and had avoided to subscribe to the Two Nation theory till the provincial governments were formed in 1936.
The plan to introduce a system of limited representation in India became the focal point. On 20 July, 1906 John Morley, Secretary of State for India, in his budget speech in the House of Commons, hinted that a system of election was being introduced in India. The speech caused considerable concern among Muslims but was taken as a great success by the Indian National Congress.
A delegation of thirty five Muslim leaders, led by Aga Khan III, met Viceroy Minto on 1 October, 1906 at Simla. The delegation, including Sayed Allahdad Shah, a prominent landlord of Khairpur, representing the Muslims of Sindh, suggested ways of safeguarding Muslim interests in the municipal bodies, district boards and the Imperial Legislative Council through separate electorates. Viceroy was sympathetic to the Muslim demand but made no commitment.
The Simla Deputation was an epoch making event. The acceptance of the demand for separate electorate was recognition of Muslims as a separate entity. It not only encouraged the establishment of political parties on religious lines but also paved the way for creation of Pakistan. After the Simla Deputation, the efforts of various Muslim leaders to form an all India political organization were geared up. On 30 December, 1906 a public meeting of Muslim leaders was held in Dhaka under the chairmanship of Nawab Wiqarul Mulk. The All India Muslim League was created and a provisional committee consisting of 57 Muslim leaders, only 13 from majority provinces, was also elected.
The first Muslim League conference was held in Karachi on 29 December, 1907 with Sir Adamjee Pirbhoy, a Muslim industrialist, as its president. According to Lal Bahadur, who went on to become India’s second prime minister, the program was a clear manifestation of its pro-British landlord substance. The structure of the League was finally approved in its Aligarh session of 18 March 1908. The constitution provided a membership of 500 only, divided in different provinces.
Until 1912, the Muslim League remained a loyalist body. In 1916 the League and the Congress concluded an agreement known as the Lucknow pact calling for joint action by the two parties for further constitutional development and the establishment of self-government by direct election. The pact provided separate representation system for 10 years. This was an achievement of the Muslim League as the Congress had reduced itself to a Hindu party and had accepted the Muslim League as representative of Muslims of India. The salient feature of the pact was that Hindus and Muslims were to have weight-age in provinces where they were in minority. By foregoing a quarter of the seats of Bengali Muslims and one tenth of the Punjabi Muslims, the leadership of the Muslim League, based in the hands of minority provinces, aspired to one third of the seats at the centre. Moreover, Muslims of the United Province got 30% seats by the weight-age formula, even though they made up only 14% of the population. This expressly shows that the League represented Muslim interests of the minority provinces to the detriment of those of the Muslim majority areas. Unsurprisingly, the pact was opposed by Sir Muhammad Shafi, a Punjabi politician, who broke away from the Muslim League because it reduced the majority of Punjabi Muslims from 54.8% to 50% and of Bengali Muslims from 52.6% to 40%.The compromise made at Lucknow reduced Muslim majority to parity in Bengal and Punjab, and left the Muslims of these majority provinces to form coalitions with non-Muslims groups and parties.
It has been noted that the Simla Deputation and the Muslim League Provisional Committee were predominantly from minority areas. The core of their leadership from 1906 to 1947 also came from the Muslim minority areas. There were two reasons for the disproportionate power and influence exercised by Muslims of the minority provinces. The first was the legitimacy, conferred by their historical pedigree, as descendents of the Moghal administration which was governing India at the time of the British conquest. The second is related to their physical proximity to the central government, a position which gave them an advantage over provincial based leaders.
From the above, it is evident that Muslims of the minority provinces commanded the majority of the policy formation bodies of the Muslim League and its leadership. Therefore, they used all their strength in securing a favorable weight-age for political representation. In the Round Table Conference 1931 a long and bitter conflict regarding the number of seats that minorities should be given in various legislatures took place. Muslim representatives asked for one third representation in the Central Legislature of British India. Though the Conference could not solve the issue, Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald announced the Communal Award on 16 August 1932, maintaining separate electorate.
The posture of the All India Muslim League as the spokesman of Muslim minority provinces was reflected in the 1937 elections. The Muslim League won a substantial number of Muslim seats and emerged as the representative party of Muslim elite in the United Province. Out of 65 Muslim seats, the Muslim League had won 27, the Independent Muslims, 27, and the Congress only 1. In Bombay, it performed fairly well and won 20 of the 30 Muslim seats. But the election results in majority provinces indicated failure. In Punjab it captured only 1 of the 86 Muslim seats; in NWFP and Sindh it could not win any seat. However, in Bengal, 39 of the 119 seats reserved for Muslims went to Muslim League.
After the elections, the Muslim League concentrated its energies on rallying Muslims around the party. The Congress, having failed to maintain its posture of representing all people, launched a mass contact campaign among the Muslim community. The Muslim League leadership responded to this challenge vigorously and used all means to arouse Muslims against the Congress, projecting it as an anti-Muslim organization. This created a polarization and the political parties or groups formed on provincial basis were left with no alternative but to join one of All India political organizations, certainly keeping in view the local political necessities. In the Lucknow session of the Muslim League in October 1937, Fazal-e-Haq, Sikandar Hyat Khan and Muhammad Saadullah – three Muslim premiers of Bengal, Punjab and Assam respectively- declared that they were advising their Muslim members to join the Muslim League. Sindhi leaders also followed the suit.
But why did they choose Muslim League? The answer to this question resides in the fact that the Muslim elite from majority provinces belonged to the aristocratic and titled class. They had to align themselves with a party which was by no means anti-British and which could curtail the formidable and growing power of the Congress. Furthermore, the Congress was a declared anti-feudal party, whereas the Muslim leadership of the majority provinces represented landed interests.
The concept of Two Nation Theory was buried by Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah in his often quoted speech of August 11, 1947. However, the power centre kept the notion alive to maintain its dominance over the centre-out elite of other ethnic communities, as well as to legitimize the composition of the power centre. With the cessation of East Pakistan, the composition of the power centre also changed, which necessitated a shift in the ideological of zone work. Thus the “Two-Nation Theory” now only remains in the text books.
After the end of the colonial era there was no single community large enough to form the basis of a homogeneous state. This situation forced the ruling power centre to distort the socio-political processes in the country. However, with the emergence of Bangladesh, the situation changed and the Punjabi elite formed the core of the state which dominated other smaller communities and aroused apprehensions of continuous subjugation among the elite of smaller ethnic communities.
The multi-ethnic character of the new state was the major challenge to the state-power in its efforts of national integration. Its attempts to fabricate a ‘nation’ out of the existing ethnic plurality were strongly resented by the dominated ethnic groups. But the Muslim League, which created the state, failed to maintain equilibrium in the policies for socio-economic development, modernization and state-building. It strove to impose its Punjab and Mohajir-dominated rule over other groups in a parliamentary form of government. The contradiction between minority rule and the parliamentary form of government gave rise to many complexities. The Mohajirs, though ethnically and linguistically a minority, accounting for nearly 3 percent of the country’s population, dominated the power-structure in alliance with the Punjabi elite, which represented about a quarter of the Pakistani population. This dominance of Mohajirs remained until the assassination of the first Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, after which the Punjabi elite replaced them with the help of the army and forced the Mohajirs to accept a position of junior partner in the ruling group.
This resulted in the eruption of ethnic conflict between Mohajirs and the Punjabis on the one hand, and Bengalis, Sindhis, Pukhtuns and Balochis on the other.
The ruling elite neglected the fact that arbitrary power and rule by minority ethnic communities casts doubt on its legitimacy in the eyes of neglected communities who were denied the benefits accruing from the post-independence setup. In their endeavor to bring a ‘national’ political integration they created a single political centre and cultural unification through constitutional and coercive means. They pursued cultural integration policies framed by drawing many of their symbols from the heritage of the dominant ethnic community, which further reinforced the sense of grievance and exploitation among the dominated ethnic communities. This evoked an immediate crisis of legitimacy which turned quickly into centrifugal tendencies.
To counter the ethno-national movements of the centre-out communities, the ruling elite created an authoritarian centre in order to create a unitary society on the basis of religion and language. The ethnic elite of neglected communities, contrary to the state elite’s vision of a unitary state, stressed the existence of different nationalities. The Sindhis, as well as other indigenous people of Pakistan, had considered freedom from the British and the Hindu hegemony as a blessing and hoped to transform this freedom into socio-economic development on the basis of their sovereignty and independence; hence the repeated emphasis of this idea by Bengalis, Sindhis and Pukhtuns in the 1940 Lahore Resolution, also known as the Pakistan Resolution. They, after partition, as political entity, avoided the stress on the role of religion in the body politic of the country as they were aware that this would negate their distinct national and ethnic identity. But the refugees, whether Urdu speaking or Punjabi speaking, advocated forcefully that the different people who comprised Pakistan with different languages, history, culture, and political-economic background could live together only on the basis of religion as it provided the foundation for Pakistan and the unity of the people of Pakistan.
Their emphasis on religion was their political requirement, for in case religious basis was not accorded primary importance, their existence and migration to Pakistan would have become illegitimate. The negation of religious basis would have given rise to the questions of national status of the migrants. The Punjabi elite also stressed religion as the basis of the state since otherwise; there would have been no justification for the dominance of the power-centre by a minority. Islam had played a unifying and an ethno-formative role during the struggle for Pakistan, but after independence it could not remain the basis of unity among the Muslims of Pakistan as the reference group disappeared with the partition of the sub-continent.
The ruling elite, representing the minority population, blocked all attempts to arrive at a constitutional framework based on democratic and federal principles. They were engaged in a quest for an arrangement to reduce the voting majority of Bengali ethnic community. In these efforts, the Punjabi elite brought in its sword in the political affairs because the ruling elite’s position in the ruling party and the Constituent Assembly was weaker compared to Bengalis, Sindhis and Pukhtuns combined. It opened up an era where the army and civil bureaucracy virtually took over the state. By the induction of army into politics, the ruling political elite found a powerful ally to counter the claims of Bengali majority. But this also changed the balance of power in favor of the Punjabis vis-à-vis the Mohajirs. The composition of power-centre also changed as the induction of the army brought Pukhtun elite as the third partner.
The policies of the ruling elite, more than anything else, resulted in the break-up of Pakistan in less than two and a half decades after its creation.
The ideological and political context.
In its efforts of state building the ruling elite made frantic attempts to establish a strong centre, which it needed to maintain its dominance on the power centre against other ethnic communities that were aspiring for their due share. The leadership of the new state perceived the notion of ‘nation-state’ as a highly centralized government which would amalgamate the diverse ethnic communities in a composite nation. With this conceptual make-up, suited to their interests, the early leaders of the state tried to concentrate enormous powers within the centre at the cost of the provinces and the democratic system, though in the pre-partition period they had been fighting along the lines of provincial autonomy. The Muslim League had withdrawn its earlier approval of the 1946 Cabinet Mission plan because the Congress interpreted its provisions to fit their wishes of a strong centre. The phrase of “autonomous and sovereign constituent units” was inserted in the Lahore Resolution to satisfy the elite of Muslim majority provinces. But on assuming power faced with the task of establishing a new state, the same elite frequently condemned the autonomy demands as the curse of provincialism.
The policies centralization had far reaching impact on the attitude of the dominated ethnic elites of East Pakistan, Sindh, Balochistan and North West Frontier Province (Now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa). They found that they were not only deprived of their due place in the centre but were also not masters of their own provinces due to invariably diminishing provincial autonomy. The demand for full provincial autonomy was therefore raised in the early months of Pakistan by all the constituent units, but it was termed as an Indian sponsored conspiracy. The persons raising these issues were dubbed as ‘Indian agents.’
Political context of the military action in East Pakistan
After the 1970 elections, the Awami League, a Bengal-based party, was in a position to frame a constitution without in need of any support. It was well understood that an Awami League government would upturn the apple cart of the existing power structure and would threaten the interests of the army, bureaucracy, the capitalists and the big landlords of West Pakistan.
The mounting pressure in East Pakistan on maximum regional autonomy based on Six Points[i] placed the military junta in a difficult situation. Yahya Khan, in order to assess the possibilities of a negotiated settlement, visited Dhaka and held talks with Sheikh Mujib and his associates. In the parleys, Mujib refused to compromise and demanded convening of the constituent assembly. This plain refusal forced the military junta to exert pressure on the Awami League. Yahya Khan, on his return from Dhaka, visited Bhutto at Larkana and discussed the strategy to face the political situation arising out of Mujib’s tough posture.
Bhutto’s position demanded for provincial autonomy must be negotiated and the quantum should be determined through dialogue between the concerned parties prior to any assembly session. He observed that there were three parties in the country: Army, PPP and the Awami League; and unless there was a constitutional settlement between the three parties, the assembly session could not be convened. This hard stand of Bhutto suited the military junta and vested interests in West Pakistan. The democratic way or even the procedure prescribed by the Legal Framework Order (LFO) was very clear. The assembly session should have been convened, which would then have framed a constitution by virtue of a simple majority and place it before the President for authentication. It was for the President to see if the constitution conforms to the principles laid down by the LFO.
But the junta and the PPP blamed the rigid attitude of Mujib. After Yahya-Bhutto talks in Larkana, Bhutto visited Dhaka on 27 January, 1971 and held negotiations with the Awami League leadership to find an agreed formula for the political deadlock. But the Awami League leadership was not prepared to concede an inch of ground on the six points and the People’s Party chairman was not prepared to accept all the six points.
The army, with the collaboration of PPP, adopted a new strategy to secure a compromise. On the one hand, it conceded the demand of the Awami League to convene the assembly session on 3 March ,1971 and on the other, arranged to make it unworkable. In a press conference on 15 February of the same year, Bhutto declared that his party would not attend the session of the National Assembly unless he was assured by the Awami league that the PPP’s demands would be given due consideration. Addressing a public meeting at Lahore he demanded a postponement of the session and threatened to launch a “movement” if the session was held despite his boycott. He advised the minor parties of West Pakistan, who had decided to attend the session, to refrain from doing so, otherwise “the people of Pakistan would take revenge from the people who had chosen to attend the assembly session. If the people failed to take the revenge, the PPP itself would take action against them.” He also advised his party members not to dare to violate his decision, “if any member of his party attended the session, the party workers would liquidate him.”
Bhutto’s boycott decision was supported only by the Qayyum League and the Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, while the other minor parties of West Pakistan indicated their willingness to attend. There was dissent even in the PPP rank, with members of National Assembly from Talpur and Jatoi groups in Sindh in favor of the session.
Yahya Khan and Bhutto held consultations, and on the demand of Bhutto, Yahya announced on March 1 the postponement of the assembly session amid Bhutto’s threats to boycott the scheduled session.
The Sindh United Front and the Mohajir leadership in Sindh demanded that Sheikh Mujib be called upon to form an interim government.
The decision to postpone the Assembly session provoked a serious political agitation in East Pakistan. Sheikh Mujib called a civil disobedience movement, starting with a province-wide strike on 2 March, which brought about a complete closure of government and private business activity in East Pakistan. The two factions of the National Awami Party in East Pakistan led by Maulana Bhashani and Professor Muzaffar Ahmed extended support to Awami League and demanded complete independence of East Pakistan from its Western wing. From 2 March, the central government’s writ did not run in East Pakistan and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman became the de-facto ruler of East Pakistan. With the entry of NAP factions calling for One Point i.e. independence, instead of six points, the political movement slipped from the leadership of the Awami League into those sections which had come to the conclusion that the central government of Pakistan would not allow the majority of East Pakistan to form government, hence the only way to govern in East Pakistan was to secede from West Pakistan.
On 7 March, Sheikh Mujib put forward a seven point demand, calling immediate withdrawal of martial law, transfer of power to the majority party, dispatch of military to their barracks, a stop to military’s inflow from West Pakistan, a end to firing upon civilians and non-interference by military in the civil government of East Pakistan.
From the 2 March onwards there was complete lawlessness, with arson, looting and shooting in East Pakistan. Sheikh Mujib had set up a parallel government and issued directives to government officials, non-governmental organizations and the public. The strength of the protest forced Yahya Khan to announce 25 March, 1971 as a fresh date for the Assembly session. Yahya Khan rushed to Dhaka for the second round of the negotiations and was later joined by Bhutto and other West Pakistani leaders. But no compromise could be reached. The Awami League refused to attend the National Assembly session and insisted that a session of the assembly members from East Pakistan be held separately, and that West Pakistani members should meet separately and draw their own constitutions. Later these two should form a constitution for a confederation. The negotiations broke down and General Yahya Khan and the rest of West Pakistani leaders left Dhaka on 25 March. During the negotiations the army build-up in East Pakistan was completed. On the night of 25 March, Mujib and Kamal Hussain were arrested and flown out to West Pakistan. The army action was launched to crush the separatist movement and was resisted by the East Pakistani people.
The military action marked the culmination of an all-out civil war between the Pakistan army, the pro-army civilians – mainly Biharis -, Punjabis and activists of right-wing parties on one hand, and the supporters of the Awami League, National Awami Party and other nationalist organizations on the other. The central ruling elite, while undertaking the military action, were aware of its possible outcome. Bhutto in his interview taken by Selig Harison, two days before the action started, observed: “A separation of East Pakistan might not be an undivided disaster after all, because we are a very unwieldy country now and the only way to keep together would be to have a type of loose constitutional arrangement that would provide a dangerous precedent for West Pakistan, where the Baluch would demand the same thing. We might be better off with a smaller but more meaningful and more compact Pakistan.”
The ruling elite could keep the country intact by conceding power to the majority party but it apprehended that the maximum autonomy demand, if enacted in the constitution, would also benefit the smaller provinces of West Pakistan and the dominance of Punjab would shatter and Punjab would become a dominated province in the new structure. This position was not acceptable to the civil-military bureaucratic oligarchy of Punjab, as well as to the big businesses of Punjab and Karachi.
In East Pakistan the military offensive led to the creation of a new nation-state: Bangladesh. Perhaps this is the only instance in which the majority of a population broke away to form a new state.
[i] These Six Points were the following:
- The constitution should provide for a Federation of Pakistan in its true sense on the Lahore Resolution and the parliamentary form of government with supremacy of a Legislature directly elected on the basis of universal adult franchise.
- The federal government should deal with only two subjects: Defense and Foreign Affairs, and all other residuary subjects shall be vested in the federating states.
- Two separate, but freely convertible currencies for two wings should be introduced; or if this is not feasible, there should be one currency for the whole country, but effective constitutional provisions should be introduced to stop the flight of capital from East to West Pakistan. Furthermore, a separate Banking Reserve should be established and separate fiscal and monetary policy be adopted for East Pakistan.
- The power of taxation and revenue collection shall be vested in the federating units and the federal centre will have no such power. The federation will be entitled to a share in the state taxes to meet its expenditures.
- There should be two separate accounts for the foreign exchange earnings of the two wings; the foreign exchange requirements of the federal government should be met by the two wings equally or in a ratio to be fixed; indigenous products should move free of duty between the two wings, and the constitution should empower the units to establish trade links with foreign countries.
- East Pakistan should have a separate militia or paramilitary force.