This extraordinary article is both revealing and farsighted. Unlike the generally unfavorable press the creation of Pakistan was subjected to by the American and Western Media in 1947 through clever work of pro-Congress and pro-India publicists, this article went beyond the little cherished myths that were repeated again and again. The article also is revealing in how much the left was involved in public life in those early days of Pakistan. This is a must read for every Pakistani and student of Pakistan’s History. -YLH
By Andrew Roth (writing in the US Weekly The Nation Datelined December 13, 1947)
ITS creator and governor general, M. A. Jinnah, has described Pakistan as “the biggest Moslem state… and the fifth biggest sovereign state in the world.” Though the second point might be disputed, Pakistan is unquestionably worthy of attention, for it is situated just where the Anglo-American and Soviet orbits touch in the strategic Central Asian theater.
Seldom has a new state been created under such contradictory pressures or with such a load of full-grown problems. Control of the government is vested in a few top officials, supported by a powerful bureaucracy, but Britain has a say in matters of defense, finance, and foreign policy. Already the government is shot through with corruption and nepotism. Social life is dominated by Mohammedan concepts, including the subjection of women. The structure of the state, however, has not yet had time to harden, and internal strains may reshape it in another image.
Although Mr. Jinnah exaggerates when he describes his dominion as “blessed with enormous resources and potentialities,” Pakistan is undoubtedly “workable” economically. With an: area of 230,000 square miles, one-fourth larger than 1933 Germany, it has a population of 70,000,000, about the same number as 1933 Germany. It produces an agricultural surplus and can export part of its wheat and rice and a good deal of its valuable jute crop. It also has some oil and chromite and considerable potential water power. Industrially it is the most backward part of the whole under-industrialized subcontinent. There are scattered woolen, cement, sugar, and cotton mills, but cloth and most other manufactured goods must be imported; some 85 per cent of the raw jute of all India is grown in Pakistan, but the jute mills are in Calcutta. Pakistan has no known coal or iron and only one modern port, Karachi. The people are largely illiterate; only 4 per cent can read as against 12 per cent in India. Among the well-educated, here as in India, are too many lawyers and too few engineers.
Close and friendly relations with the Indian dominion seem essential to the development of Pakistan’s potentialities. The Congress Party, indeed, finally agreed to partition, after years of deadlock, partly in the belief that Pakistan could not exist as a separate state. “Let them have their Pakistan,” it was argued, “if they’ll take it without the eastern Punjab and without Calcutta and western Bengal. They won’t have any coal, capital, or industries, and we can throttle them economically. After a few years they’ll come crawling back!” This attitude, although not shared by the entire Congress high command, has certainly pervaded the partition operations. In the division of assets the Moslems have had to make a separate fight for virtually every typewriter and ream of paper. Difficulties have even been raised over the handling of mail.
Pakistan’s economic troubles have been immeasurably increased by the bloody communal conflicts and the resulting influx of refugees. Almost every Moslem League leader from Mr. Jinnah down believes that this refugee inundation was part of a plot to swamp the Pakistan government before it could get established. “I’m sure that Nehru isn’t a party to this plot,” one declared, “but I’m just as sure that it is the backing of Patel [India’s Home Minister] and Baldev Singh [the Defense Minister and a Sikh].”
With enormous problems, Pakistan has only a very ordinary set of leaders to cope with them. The brilliant Mr. Jinnah, of course, must be excepted, but he is over seventy and has been in poor health since a severe pneumonia attack two years ago. His voice can barely be heard ten feet away, and he chose to become governor general rather than premier partly because it was an easier post. He has repeatedly told subordinates, “I have done my part of the job; I’ve given you Pakistan. It is up to you to build it.”
Premier Liaqat Ali Khan is a competent administrator with the conservative social views of a typical feudal landlord and a strong belief in a political and economic alliance with Great Britain. He had to chose a man of technical ability for his Finance Minister but the other members of his Cabinet are all mediocrities. So farfetched was the appointment of the Calcutta hide merchant, Faziur Rahman, as Minister of the Interior and Education that an old friend, seeing him in a front seat at the Independence Day celebrations, cried out, “You’re in the wrong row; that’s for the Cabinet!” Top officials are in the main from the landlord class, with a sprinkling of lawyers and merchants. The sole modern-minded industrialist in the dominion, Hassan Ispahani, is being sent out of the way as ambassador to the United States. Provincial officials are of the same kind: the Punjab Premier is the Khan of Mamdot, the province’s largest landholder.
Considerable opposition to this leadership is manifesting itself, although it is still unorganized. After 1944, when the Moslem League became a mass movement, clerks, small shopkeepers, mechanics, and poor peasants thronged to its meetings, and it was they who finally obtained partition. Many of them were recruited through religious appeals; others through the promise of better living conditions. The economic discontent formerly directed against the commercially dominant Hindus and Sikhs–it still provides much of the fuel for the Moslem arson gangs–is gradually being turned against the wealthy Moslem League leaders. The story is told that when Mumtaz Daultana, the brains of the West Punjab ministry, went to his huge Multan estate in August, his Moslem tenants, all staunch League members, congratulated him on the achievement of Pakistan, and landlord and tenants feasted together. But a pall was thrown over the festivities when a peasant asked, “When will the land be given to us?” This question is being asked repeatedly, for agrarian reforms have been promised by the League.
Similar resentment against the rich is voiced in the towns. A Moslem clerk who is the local secretary of the League in his ward is made conscious of social differences when he goes from his filthy, overcrowded tenement home to the palatial residence of the provincial leader. At a recent meeting in Lahore a fervent young Leaguer exclaimed, “The rich are finished! Let us shoot them!”
Some of this radicalism is spontaneous; some of it is the work of the progressives in the League, who are influential throughout Pakistan but especially in the Punjab. These agitators are usually well-educated, modernminded young people with a war-gained knowledge of foreign countries, a strongly nationalist point of view, and a liberal approach to social problems, including the position of women. One of the most prominent is Mian Iftikharud-Din, known as “Ifti,” a wealthy, radical Moslem who was formerly president of the Congress Party in the Punjab and twice jailed by the British. Now publisher of the Pakistan Times and a member of the Constituent Assembly, he is looked up to by young, progressive Moslems but kept at a distance by League leaders. The tactics of the young progressives have reached a stratum of Moslems never before interested, and at Lahore and Peshawar there have been mass demonstrations of Moslem women clad in the ghostly looking white burqas, a cover-all garment with a net eye-slit which enables orthodox Moslem women to appear in public without being seen. The League leaders welcomed such mass support in fighting for Pakistan–although many had prejudices against women in politics–but now they are embarrassed by the claims of the awakened and demanding millions.
During the Lahore riots some of the inflamed young Moslems asked the League progressives for guidance. “We tried to slow them down,” a leftist Moslem leader said, “but we couldn’t oppose them openly. The Communists attacked us for this, saying we could not be considered progressive if we did not openly fight Moslem communalism, but we know that would have meant isolating ourselves from our people.”
A major conflict is now looming over the question of how closely Pakistan should be tied to Britain. Nationalist-minded Pakistanis, among whom are most of the young people and the new League rank and file, are dismayed by the number of Britons in the administration. Three of the five provincial governors, five of the nine departmental secretaries, and all the high officers of the armed forces are British. Informed nationalists think it necessary to keep certain Britons for their technical skills but do not want this to be carried too far. Army officers do not object to serving under British generals temporarily, but are concerned that the army should continue to be equipped solely with British materiel and indignant that promotions have been left in British hands. Some nationalists charge that when Premier Liaqat Ali Khan was in London a year ago he committed Pakistan to remaining within the British economic sphere.
In the Punjab even the League right-wingers are anti-British, because the British governor there kept the League out of office for over a year and because the boundary award is considered unfair. In consequence a substantial number of Britons have been dismissed, but many of these have turned up with the central government at Karachi. The railway specialist, A. G. Hall, for example, was put out by the Punjab government but is now director general of railways for all Pakistan. To protests about the great number of Britons in the Pakistan service, the Premier is reported to have replied: “Before the transfer of power Lord Mountbatten had both the League and the Congress members of the interim government promise to keep on all British officials who wanted to stay and against whom we could not make a specific case.” It is interesting to note that of those who have stayed, the great majority have chosen to serve in Pakistan. While this may be due in part to the fact that opportunities are greater in the less-advanced state, there is certainly a feeling among the British that although India will probably declare its independence, Pakistan may be kept within the empire. The likelihood is enhanced by the character of the League leaders, almost none of whom are known for militant nationalism.
Since Pakistan’s establishment, League officers have been cautious about declaring where they stand with respect to the conflict between Russia and the West. Pakistan is nearer to the Soviet border than to either Britain or the United States, and substantial segments of public opinion show an interest in the U. S. S. R. Even orthodox Moslems are watching developments in the Soviet Moslem areas, such as Bokhara, which are close to Pakistan culturally as well as geographically. Not all the League progressives are pro-Communist, but many seem to feel that some sort of socialism, usually referred to as “Islamic socialism,” is necessary to make Pakistan a strong modern state. There would certainly be overwhelming opposition to allowing Britain and the United States to use Pakistan’s military strength or strategic position to further their own designs.
The future of the Moslem League is already a subject of dispute. Old League officers, fearing that the impoverished Moslems will follow the progressives if the government does not soon grant their demands, are tending to abandon the organization which brought them to power and to rely increasingly on the bureaucracy which they inherited from the British and on their new powers of bribery through job distribution. Moslem religious leaders are attacking young, modern-minded progressives as “anti-Islamic,” and telling the women to forget about politics and go back into purdah. But it is not easy to turn back the clock. “We have learned that even women have power, and they can’t make us forget it,” said a Lahore housewife to me.