All need to know about the country Pakistan
The call for establishing an independent Islamic state on the Indian subcontinent can be traced to a 1930 speech by Sir Muhammad Iqbal, a poet-philosopher and, at the time, president of the All India Muslim League (after Pakistan’s independence, shortened to Muslim League). It was his argument that the four northwestern provinces and regions of British India—i.e., Sind (Sindh), Balochistan, Punjab, and North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa)—should one day be joined to become a free and independent Muslim state.
The limited character of this proposal can be judged from its geographic rather than demographic dimensions. Iqbal’s Pakistan included only those Muslims residing in the Muslim-majority areas in the northwestern quadrant of the subcontinent. It ignored the millions of other Muslims living throughout the subcontinent, and it certainly did not take into account the Muslim majority of Bengal in the east. Moreover, Iqbal’s vision did not reflect the interests of others outside the Muslim League seeking liberation from colonial rule, and it did not conform to ideas reflected in Islamic expressions that spoke of a single Muslim community (ummah) or people (qawm), explaining in no small way why many other Muslim leaders—e.g., Abul Kalam Azad, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and, later, Khizar Hayat Khan Tiwana—were less than enthused with his proposal.
Also missing at the time was a name to describe such a South Asian country where Muslims would be masters of their own destiny. That task fell to Choudhary Rahmat Ali, a young Muslim student studying at Cambridge in England, who best captured the poet-politician’s yearnings in the single word Pakistan. In a 1933 pamphlet, Now or Never, Rahmat Ali and three Cambridge colleagues coined the name as an acronym for Punjab, Afghani (North-West Frontier Province), Kashmir, and Indus-Sind, combined with the -stan suffix from Baluchistan (Balochistan). It was later pointed out that, when translated from Urdu, Pakistan could also mean “Land of the Pure.”
The Muslim League and Mohammed Ali Jinnah
Long before the British invaded and seized control of the subcontinent, Muslim armies had conquered the settled populations in the rolling flat land that stretched from the foothills of the Hindu Kush to the city of Delhi and the Indo-Gangetic Plain and eastward to Bengal. The last and most successful of the Muslim conquerors was the Mughal dynasty (1526–1857), which eventually spread its authority over virtually the entire subcontinent. British superiority coincided with Mughal decline, and, following a period of European successes and Mughal failures on the battlefield, the British brought an end to Mughal power. The last Mughal emperor was exiled following the failed Indian Mutiny of 1857–58.
Less than three decades after that revolt, the Indian National Congress was formed to give political representation to British India’s indigenous people. Although membership in the Congress was open to all, Hindu participants overwhelmed the Muslim members. The All India Muslim League, organized in 1906, aimed to give Muslims a voice so as to counter what was then perceived as the growing influence of the Hindus under British rule. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, earlier a prominent Muslim member of the Congress, assumed leadership of the league following his break with Congress leader Mohandas K. Gandhi. A firm believer in the Anglo-Saxon rule of law and a close associate of Iqbal, Jinnah questioned the security of the Muslim minority in an India dominated by essentially Hindu authority. Declaring Islam was endangered by a revived Hindu assertiveness, Jinnah and the league posited a “two-nation theory” that argued Indian Muslims were entitled to—and therefore required—a separate, self-governing state in a reconstituted subcontine.
The British intention to grant self-government to India along the lines of British parliamentary democracy is evident in the Government of India Act of 1935. Up to that time, the question of Hindus and Muslims sharing in the governance of India was generally acceptable, although it was also acknowledged that Hindus more so than Muslims had accommodated themselves to British customs and the colonial manner of administration. Moreover, following the failed Indian Mutiny, Hindus were more eager to adopt British behaviours and ideas, whereas Indian Muslims bore the brunt of British wrath.
The Mughal Empire was formally dissolved in 1858, and its last ruler was banished from the subcontinent. Believing they had been singled out for punishment, India’s Muslim population was reluctant to adopt British ways or take advantage of English educational opportunities. As a consequence of these different positions, Hindus advanced under British rule at the expense of their Muslim counterparts, and when Britain opened the civil service to the native population, the Hindus virtually monopolized the postings. Although influential Muslims such as Sayyid Ahmad Khan recognized the growing power imbalance and encouraged Muslims to seek European education and entry into the colonial civil service, they also realized that catching up to the more progressive and advantaged Hindus was an impossible task.
It was this juxtaposition of an emerging feeling of Hindu superiority and a sustained sense among Muslims of inferiority that the All India Muslim League addressed in its claim to represent the Muslims of India. Unlike other Muslim movements of the period, the Muslim League articulated the sentiments of the attentive and at the same time more moderate elements among India’s Muslim population.
The Muslim League, with Jinnah as its spokesman, was also the preferred organization from the standpoint of British authority. Unlike Gandhi’s practices of civil disobedience, the lawyer Jinnah (who was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn, London) was more inclined to promote the rule of law in seeking separation from imperial rule. Jinnah, therefore, was more open to a negotiated settlement, and, indeed, his first instinct was to preserve the unity of India, albeit with adequate safeguards for the Muslim community. For Jinnah, the Lahore (later Pakistan) Resolution of 1940, which called for an independent Muslim state or states in India, did not at first imply the breakup of the Indian union.
World War II (1939–45) proved to be the catalyst for an unanticipated change in political power. Under pressure from a variety of popular national movements—notably those organized by the Congress and led by Gandhi—the war-weakened British were forced to consider abandoning India. In response to the Congress campaign that Britain quit India, London sent a mission headed by Sir Richard Stafford Cripps (the Cripps Mission) to New Delhi in early 1942 with the promise that Congress’s cooperation in the war effort would be rewarded with greater self-rule and possibly even independence when the war ended. Gandhi and the other Congress leaders, however, could not be appeased, and their insistence that Britain allow for a transfer of power while the war raged produced an impasse and the failure of the mission.
During that period, the Jinnah-led Muslim League was substantially less aggressive in seeking immediate British withdrawal. The differences between the two groups were not lost on Britain, and the eventual defeat of Germany and Japan set the scene for the drama that resulted in the partition of British India and the independence of Pakistan. The new postwar Labour Party government of Clement Attlee, succeeding the Conservative Winston Churchill government, was determined to terminate its authority in India. A cabinet mission led by William Pethick-Lawrence was sent in 1946 to discuss and possibly arrange the mechanisms for the transfer of power to indigenous hands.
Throughout the deliberations, the British had to contend with two prominent players: Gandhi and the Congress and Jinnah and the Muslim League. Jinnah labored to find a suitable formula that addressed the mutual and different needs of the subcontinent’s two major communities. When Pethick-Lawrence’s mission proved unequal to the task of reconciling the parties, the last chance for a compromise solution was lost. Each of the major actors blamed the other for the breakdown in negotiations, with Jinnah insisting on the realization of the “two-nation theory.” The goal now was nothing less than the creation of a sovereign, independent Pakistan.
Birth of the new state
Like India, Pakistan achieved independence as a dominion within the Commonwealth in August 1947. However, the leaders of the Muslim League rejected Lord Mountbatten, the last British viceroy of India, to be Pakistan’s first governor-general, or head of state—in contrast to the Congress, which made him India’s chief executive. Wary of Britain’s machinations and desirous of rewarding Jinnah—their “Great Leader” (Quaid-e Azam), a title he was given before independence—Pakistanis made him their governor-general; his lieutenant in the party, Liaquat Ali Khan, was named prime minister.
Pakistan’s first government, however, had a difficult task before it. Unlike Muhammad Iqbal’s earlier vision for Pakistan, the country had been formed from the two regions where Muslims were the majority—the northwestern portion he had espoused and the territories and the eastern region of Bengal province (which itself had also been divided between India and Pakistan). Pakistan’s two wings, therefore, were separated by some 1,000 miles (1,600 km) of sovereign Indian territory with no simple routes of communication between them. Further complicating the work of the new Pakistani government was the realization that the wealth and resources of British India had been granted to India. Pakistan had little but raw enthusiasm to sustain it, especially during those months immediately following partition. In fact, Pakistan’s survival seemed to hang in the balance. Of all the well-organized provinces of British India, only the comparatively less developed areas of Sind, Balochistan, and the North-West Frontier Province came to Pakistan intact. The otherwise more developed provinces of Punjab and Bengal were divided, and, in the case of Bengal, Pakistan received little more than the densely populated rural hinterland.
Adding to the dilemma of the new and untested Pakistan government was the crisis in Kashmir, which provoked a war between the two neighbouring states in the period immediately following their independence. Both Pakistan and India intended to make Kashmir a component of their respective unions, and the former princely state quickly became disputed territory—with India and Pakistan controlling portions of it—and a flash point for future conflicts. Economically, the situation in Pakistan was desperate; materials from the Indian factories were cut off from Pakistan, disrupting the new country’s meagre industry, commerce, and agriculture. Moreover, the character of the partition and its aftermath had caused the flight of millions of refugees on both sides of the divide, accompanied by terrible massacres. The exodus of such a vast number of desperate people in each direction required an urgent response, which neither country was prepared to manage, least of all Pakistan.
As a consequence of the unresolved war in Kashmir and the communal bloodletting in the streets of both countries, India and Pakistan each came to see the other as its mortal enemy. The Pakistanis had anticipated a division of India’s material, financial, and military assets. In fact, there would be none. New Delhi displayed no intention of dividing the assets of British India with its major adversary, thereby establishing a balance between the two countries. Moreover, India’s superior geopolitical position and, most importantly, its control of the vital rivers that flowed into Pakistan meant that the Muslim country’s water supplies were at the mercy of its larger, hostile neighbour. Pakistan’s condition was so precarious following independence that many observers believed the country could hardly survive six months and that India’s goal of a unified subcontinent remained a distinct possibility.
The early republic
Mohammed Ali Jinnah died in September 1948, only 13 months after Pakistan’s independence. Nevertheless, it was Jinnah’s dynamic personality that sustained the country during those difficult months. Assuming responsibility as the nation’s chief and virtually only decision maker, Jinnah held more than the ceremonial position of his British counterpart in India. But there too lay a special problem. Jinnah’s formidable presence, even though weakened by illness, loomed large over the polity, and the other members of government were totally subordinate to his wishes. Thus, although Pakistan commenced its independent existence as a democratic entity with a parliamentary system, the representative aspects of the political system were muted by the role of the Quaid-e Azam. In effect, Jinnah—not India’s Mountbatten—perpetuated the viceregal tradition that had been central to Britain’s colonial rule. Unlike India, where Gandhi opted to remain outside government and where India’s prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the parliament administered to the country, in Pakistan the parliament and members of the governing cabinet were cast in a subordinate role.
When Jinnah died, a power vacuum was created that his successors in the Muslim League had great difficulty filling. Khwaja Nazimuddin, the chief minister of East Bengal, was called on to take up the office of governor-general. Known for his mild manner, it was assumed Nazimuddin would not interfere with the parliamentary process and would permit the prime minister to govern the country. Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, however, lacked the necessary constituency in the regions that formed Pakistan. Nor did he possess Jinnah’s strength of personality. Liaquat therefore was hard put to cope with entrenched and vested interests, particularly in regions where local leaders dominated. Jinnah had worked hard to mollify competing and ambitious provincial leaders, and Liaquat, himself a refugee (muhajir) from India, simply did not have the stature to pick up where Jinnah had left off.
Liaquat Ali Khan
Liaquat was eager to give the country a new constitution, but such an undertaking was delayed by controversy, particularly over the distribution of provincial powers and over representation. Although what had been East Bengal (and became East Pakistan) contained the majority of Pakistan’s population, the Punjab nevertheless judged itself the more significant of the Pakistani provinces. The Punjabis had argued that East Bengal was populated by a significant number of Hindus whose loyalty to the Muslim country was questionable. Any attempt therefore to provide East Bengal with representation commensurate to its population would be challenged by the Punjab. Although Jinnah had voiced the view that Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and all religious denominations were equal citizens in the new Pakistani state, Liaquat could not neutralize this controversy, nor could he resolve the issue of provincial representation. Forced to sell his vision to the people of Pakistan directly, Liaquat engaged in a number of public speaking engagements, and it was at such a meeting, in Rawalpindi in October 1951, that he was killed by an assassin’s bullet.
Political decline and bureaucratic ascendancy
Nazimuddin assumed the premiership on Liaquat’s death, and Ghulam Muhammad took his place as the governor-general. Ghulam Muhammad, a Punjabi, had been Jinnah’s choice to serve as Pakistan’s first finance minister and was an old and successful civil servant. The juxtaposition of these two very different personalities—Nazimuddin, known for his piety and reserved nature, and Ghulam Muhammad, a staunch advocate of strong, efficient administration—was hardly fortuitous. Nazimuddin’s assumption of the office of prime minister meant the country would have a weak head of government, and, with Ghulam Muhammad as governor-general, a strong head of state. Pakistan’s viceregal tradition was again in play.
In 1953 riots erupted in the Punjab, supposedly over a demand by militant Muslim groups that the Aḥmadiyyah sect be declared non-Muslim and that all members of the sect holding public office be dismissed. (Special attention was directed at Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan, an Aḥmadiyyah and Pakistan’s first foreign minister.) Nazimuddin was held responsible for the disorder, especially for his inability to quell it, and Ghulam Muhammad took the opportunity to dismiss the prime minister and his government. Although another Bengali, Muhammad Ali Bogra, replaced Nazimuddin, there was no ignoring the fact that the viceregal tradition was continuing to dominate Pakistani political life and that Ghulam Muhammad, a bureaucrat and never truly a politician, with others like him, controlled Pakistan’s destiny.
Muhammad Zafrulla Khan
Meanwhile, in East Bengal (East Pakistan), considerable opposition had developed against the Muslim League, which had managed the province since independence. This tension was capped in 1952 by a series of riots that sprang from a Muslim League attempt to make Urdu the only national language of Pakistan, although Bengali—the predominant language of the eastern sector—was spoken by a larger proportion of Pakistan’s population. The language riots galvanized the Bengalis, and they rallied behind their more indigenous parties to thwart what they argued was an effort by the West Pakistanis, notably the Punjabis, to transform East Bengal into a distant “colony.”
With a Punjabi bureaucratic elite in firm control of the central government, in March 1954 the last in a series of provincial elections was held in East Bengal. The contest was between the Muslim League government and a “United Front” of parties led by the Krishak Sramik party of Fazlul Haq (Fazl ul-Haq) and the Awami League of Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy, Mujibur Rahman, and Maulana Bhashani. When the ballots were counted, the Muslim League had not only lost the election, it had been virtually eliminated as a viable political force in the province. Fazlul Haq was given the opportunity to form the new provincial government in East Bengal, but, before he could convene his cabinet, riots erupted in the factories south of the East Bengali capital of Dhaka (Dacca). This instability provided the central government with the opportunity to establish “governor’s rule” in the province and overturn the United Front’s electoral victory. Iskander Mirza, a civil servant, former defense secretary, and minister in the central government was sent to rule over the province until such time as stability could be assured.
Iskander Mirza had no intention of implementing the results of the election, nor did he wish to install a new Muslim League government in East Bengal. But the Muslim League’s defeat and de facto elimination in the province necessitated realigning the Constituent Assembly—still grappling with the drafting of a national constitution—at the centre. Before this could be done, however, the Constituent Assembly moved to curtail Ghulam Muhammad’s viceregal powers. The governor-general’s response to this parliamentary effort to undermine his authority was to dissolve that body and reorganize the central government. The country’s high court cited the extraordinary powers of the chief executive and ruled not to reverse his action. The court, however, insisted that another constituent assembly should be organized and that constitution-making should not be interrupted. Ghulam Muhammad assembled a “cabinet of talents” that included major personalities such as Iskander Mirza, Gen. Mohammad Ayub Khan (the army chief of staff), and H.S. Suhrawardy (the last chief minister of undivided Bengal, and the only Bengali with national credentials).
In 1955 the bureaucrats who now took control of what remained of the Muslim League combined the four provinces of West Pakistan into one administrative unit and argued for parity in any future national parliament between West Pakistan and East Bengal (now officially renamed East Pakistan). Ghulam Muhammad, by then seriously ill, was forced to relinquish his office, and Iskander Mirza succeeded to the post of governor-general. In the meantime a new Constituent Assembly was seated; and in 1956 that body, under new leadership but still subject to the power of the bureaucracy—and now to the military as well—completed Pakistan’s long-awaited constitution, using the parity formula that supposedly gave equal power to both wings of the country.
The constitution of 1956 embodied objectives regarding religion and politics that had been set out in the Basic Principles Report published in 1950, one of which was to declare the country an Islamic republic. The national parliament was to comprise one house of 300 members, equally representing East and West Pakistan. Ten additional seats were reserved for women, again with half coming from each region. The prime minister and cabinet were to govern according to the will of the parliament, with the president exercising only reserve powers. Pakistan’s first president was its last governor-general, Iskander Mirza, but at no time did he consider bowing to the wishes of the parliament.
Along with a close associate, Dr. Khan Sahib, a former premier of the North-West Frontier Province, Mirza formed the Republican Party and made Khan Sahib the chief minister of the new province of West Pakistan. The Republican Party was assembled to represent the landed interests in West Pakistan, the basic source of all political power. Never an organized body, the Republican Party lacked an ideology or a platform and merely served the feudal interests in West Pakistan.
Mirza made an alliance between the Republican Party and the East Pakistan Awami League and called on H.S. Suhrawardy to assume the office of prime minister. But the quixotic character of the alliance between the two parties, as well as the distance between the major personalities, produced only a short-lived association. Suhrawardy suffered the same fate as his predecessors and was ousted from office by Mirza without a vote of confidence. Unable to sustain alliances or govern in accordance with the constitution, the central government mirrored the chaos in the provinces. This was especially true in East Pakistan, where even in the absence of the Muslim League the different provincial parties—now further complicated by the formation of the National Awami Party, in 1957—struggled against forces that could not be reconciled. Pakistan was close to becoming unmanageable. The situation had become so grave that Khan Sahib circulated his idea that it was time to cease the political charade and give all power to a dictator.
In light of such dissent and with secession being voiced in different regions of the country (notably in East Pakistan and the North-West Frontier Province), on October 7, 1958, Mirza proclaimed the 1956 constitution abrogated, closed the national and provincial assemblies, and banned all political party activity. He declared that the country was under martial law and that Gen. Mohammad Ayub Khan had been made chief martial-law administrator. Mirza claimed that it was his intention to lift martial law as soon as possible and that a new constitution would be drafted; and on October 27 he swore in a new cabinet, naming Ayub Khan prime minister, while three lieutenant generals were given ministerial posts. The eight civilian members in the cabinet included businessmen and lawyers, one being a young newcomer, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a powerful landlord from Sind province. However, Ayub Khan viewed his being named prime minister as the president’s attempt to end his military career and ultimately to force him into oblivion. Clearly, the country could not afford two paramount rulers at the same time. Therefore, if one had to go, Ayub Khan decided that it should be Mirza. On the evening of October 27, Ayub Khan’s senior generals presented Mirza with an ultimatum of facing permanent exile or prosecution by a military tribunal. Mirza immediately left for London, never again returning to Pakistan. Soon thereafter, Ayub Khan, who now assumed the rank of field marshal, proclaimed his assumption of the presidency.
Mohammad Ayub Khan
Martial law lasted 44 months. During that time, a number of army officers took over vital civil service posts. Many politicians were excluded from public life under an Electoral Bodies (Disqualification) Order; a similar purge took place among civil servants. Yet, Ayub Khan argued that Pakistan was not yet ready for a full-blown experiment in parliamentary democracy and that the country required a period of tutelage and honest government before a new constitutional system could be established. He therefore initiated a plan for “basic democracies,” consisting of rural and urban councils directly elected by the people that would be concerned with local governance and would assist in programs of grassroots development. Elections took place in January 1960, and the Basic Democrats, as they became known, were at once asked to endorse and thus legitimate Ayub Khan’s presidency. Of the 80,000 Basic Democrats, 75,283 affirmed their support. Basic democracies was a tiered system inextricably linked to the bureaucracy, and the Basic Democrats occupied the lowest rung of a ladder that was connected to the country’s administrative subdistricts (tehsils, or tahsils), districts, and divisions.
It was soon clear that the real power in the system resided in the bureaucrats who had dominated decision making since colonial times. Nevertheless, the basic democracies system was linked to a public-works program that was sponsored by the United States. The combined effort was meant to confer responsibility for the village and municipal development to the local population. Self-reliance was the watchword of the overall program, and Ayub Khan and his advisers, as well as important donor countries, believed the arrangement would provide material benefits and possibly even expose people to self-governing experiences.
Ayub Khan also established a constitutional commission to advise on a form of government more appropriate to the country’s political culture, and his regime introduced a number of reforms. Not the least of these was the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance of 1961, which restricted polygamy and provided more rights and protection for women. He also authorized the development of family-planning programs that were aimed at tackling the dilemma of Pakistan’s growing population. Such actions angered the more conservative and religiously disposed members of society, who also swelled the ranks of the opposition.
By MENSAH BENJAMIN