Towards the Watershed of 1971

During a visit to Dhaka in the late summer of 1968, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared Bengali demands for provincial autonomy to be in the best interests of the country. He assailed civil bureaucrats, the CSP in particular, for treating the people of the eastern wing as Kala Admees, literally black men. This derogatory attitude had misled the government into implicating Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the Agartala Conspiracy Case when they might have tried negotiating with him. Self-interested quarters in West Pakistan had started attacking the Awami League’s demands the moment they were announced by Mujib without examining their merits and demerits. Bhutto regretted that Mujib had refused his invitation to debate the six points set forth in public. Only two of the six points were totally unacceptable to the PPP leader, who was prepared to discuss the others in order to remove doubts and misgivings. He urged the government to find some political solution of the problem as such issues cannot be solved byforce.

Three years later, when the golden hues of eastern Bengal’s lush green landscape had been turned red with the steely might of oppression, the sharp-witted Bhutto stood knee deep in the bloodshed in East Pakistan alongside the leadership of a hated military junta. Upon returning to Karachi from Dhaka after the military crackdown on the night of March 25, 1971, the former foreign minister thanked the Almighty for saving Pakistan. He defended the military action publicly and accused Mujibur Rahman of conspiring with India to dismember the country. In private, he conveyed to Yahya Khan that even if limited military action had been found necessary to counter the threat of secession, a resolution of the crisis demanded a political solution that gave the people of the eastern wing their due share of both political and economic power. If the correct course is not followed, Bhutto wrote in a memo to Yahya Khan, then why should East Pakistanis want to stay a part of Pakistan–what stake would they have left in Pakistan with their due rights denied to them? Bhutto warned Yahya against projecting discredited Bengali politicians and strongly recommended providing economic relief to the rural populace of East Pakistan who had not yet been swept away by the Awami League’s propaganda. It was dangerous to create a situation in which the government was left facing a hostile public in both Wings during this national crisis, particularly when India is waiting to take advantage of the situation.

The military regime was disinclined to countenance civilian rule until the successful conclusion of the counterinsurgency operations in East Pakistan. Mindful of the risks involved in attacking the junta, Bhutto confined himself to calling for a transfer of power in the west, which he defined as democratization to deflect criticisms of his thirst for power. Similar steps were to be taken in the eastern wing whenever circumstances became conducive. Despite clear differences in their stances, Bhutto has come to be regarded as Yahya Khan’s accomplice in the making of the colossal human tragedy that culminated in the breakup of Pakistan in December 1971. Bhutto vehemently denied the charge. His differences with Mujibur Rahman were not in the nature of power struggle but a struggle of conflicting equities. For the Awami League leader, equity lay in an independent Bengal . . . for me in the retention of Pakistan. Mujib claimed that the six points were the property of the people of the eastern wing. For Bhutto, Pakistan was the property of the people and the Awami League’s demands a concealed formula for secession. it was in this that our points of view clashed.

The question of who ultimately was responsible for the 1971 debacle has spawned a rich harvest of commentary. At the political level, the debate on the causes of Pakistan’s disintegration has three sides to it in much the same way as one about India’s partition. The Pakistani Army might be seen as replacing the British at the base of the triangle, with Bhutto and Mujib substituting the Muslim League and the Congress as its two sides. As in 1947, the primary hurdle in the way of a mutually acceptable arrangement was how power was to be shared between the main political contenders within a federal state. The similarities between 1947 and 1971 should not be allowed to obfuscate the key difference between them. Unlike the British, who were transferring power before leaving the subcontinent, the Pakistani Army wanted to secure its own interests before passing the mantle to the victorious political parties. Despite the army’s self-interest in the outcome of the negotiations with the Awami League, a powerful current of popular opinion in Pakistan and Bangladesh has held that Bhutto in his greed for power bamboozled a mentally and physically unfit Yahya into dismembering the country. On this view, a conniving and unprincipled politician tricked the army into committing national suicide. Although there may be some merit in this view, the events of 1971 also had a fourth dimension in the form of India’s role, which had a direct bearing on the Pakistani Army’s calculations. To make sense of the single most important watershed in the subcontinent’s post independence history, therefore, requires retracing the evolution of the Awami League’s demands for provincial autonomy within the context of the formation and consolidation of Pakistan military bureaucratic state structure.

The Politics of Denial

Starting its independent career without the semblance of a centre, Pakistan showed its determination to parry external and internal threats to its survival by developing an elaborate hydra-like state structure during the first two and a half decades of its existence. Steeped in the classical tradition of colonial bureaucratic authoritarianism, the state sought to penetrate society, extract resources from the economy and manipulate the polity rather than devolve responsibilities or serve as a two-way channel of communication between the rulers and ruled. The early demise of representative political, processes shored up the centralizing logic of bureaucratic authoritarianism, replacing the democratic requirements of consensus with the dictatorial methods of coercion. The primacy of the central state in all spheres of a society characterized by regional heterogeneities and economic disparities generated rancour among the constituent units, breeding a web of political intrigue and instability that affected the functioning of state authority at the local and provincial levels.

Unable reconcile the imperatives of state building with those of nation building, successive ruling combinations tried to gain legitimacy by playing up the Indian threat and paying lip service to a vaguely defined Islamic ideology. With a narrowly construed security paradigm defining the centre’s conception of national interest, the perspective of the provinces was sidelined, if not altogether ignored. Rumblings of protest in the provinces were put down with an iron fist or given short shrift by invoking the common bond of religion. Islam in the service of a military authoritarian state proved to be divisive. Far from unifying a people fractured along regional and class lines, the state’s use of religion encouraged self-styled ideologues of Islam to nurture hopes of one day storming the citadels of the Muslim state. The great populist poet Habib Jalib poured scorn on the state’s appropriation of Islam to promote national unity. “ISLAM IS NOT IN DANGER” he cried out in a memorable poem. It was the idle rich, the exploiters of the peasantry and labour, the thieves, tricksters, and traitors in league with Western capitalists who were endangered.

Proponents of such populist ideas were hounded and winnowed out. With the press in chains and civil society the target of novel forms of social and political engineering, the odds were stacked against the advocates of democracy. After derailing the political process in 1958, the military-bureaucratic establishment tried securing its bases of support. This meant bypassing political parties and using state power to bring segments of dominant socioeconomic groups under the regime’s sway through differential patronage and selective mobilization. During the heyday of modernization theory in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Pakistan under military rule was hailed in some quarters in the West as a model of social harmony and political stability in the developing world. The expectations were sorely belied by the realities on the ground. The methods employed to construct and consolidate the state exacerbated provincial grievances, with dire consequences for Pakistan’s political stability and tenuous federal equation. State-sponsored processes of political inclusion and exclusion, the economics of functional inequality, and neglect of regional disparities made it increasingly difficult to administer two geographically separate parts, triggering the ignominious downfall of two military regimes and sowing the seeds of disintegration of the country.

The breakup of Pakistan was the result of the autocratic policies of its state managers rather than the inherent difficulties involved in welding together linguistically and culturally diverse constituent units. Islam proved to be dubious cement not because it was unimportant to people in the different regions. Pakistan’s regional cultures have absorbed Islam without losing affinity to local languages and customs. With some justification, non-Punjabi provinces came to perceive the use of Islam as a wily attempt by the Punjabi-led military-bureaucratic combine to deprive them of a fair share of political and economic power. Non-Punjabi antipathy towards a Punjab-dominated centre often found expression in assertions of regional distinctiveness. But politics more than cultural differences stoked regional resentments. Clarion calls for provincial autonomy were effectively demands for better job opportunities, basic social services, and a larger cut of state finances.

Here the fault lines in the Pakistani state structure played a decisive role. The demands of the military establishment on the state’s meagre resources left little for development in the provinces. Seeing India as a near and present danger, the military-bureaucratic establishment used Pakistan’s geo-strategic location to attract American military and economic assistance in return for supporting Washington’s Cold War agenda. Once a partnership had been struck with the United States, a security-conscious state fostered a political economy characterized by high defence and low development expenditure. The primary goal of the state’s development initiatives were to enhance revenue rather than social welfare— a process that saw the no- elected institutions edging out the elected institutions in the struggle for dominance in the new state. These non elected institutions carried a legacy of uneven recruitment patterns from the colonial era, compounding the difficulties in integrating diverse linguistic and socioeconomic groups.

An overarching reason for the Pakistani state’s faltering steps in the quest for social support and legitimacy was that the federal centre came to represent the interests of the dominant non-elected institutions more effectively than those of the regional socioeconomic groups to which at different stages it was loosely tied. Apart from extending patronage to its functionaries and locating them in key sectors of the economy, the state defined the field of political privilege. In the absence of democratic politics, the dominance of a predominantly Punjabi civil bureaucracy and army heightened the grievances of non-Punjabi provinces and the linguistic groups within them. The entrenched institutional supremacy of a Punjabi army and federal bureaucracy, not Punjab’s dominance over other provinces per se, had emerged as the principal impediment to restoring democratic processes in Pakistan. In the face of chronic tensions between the centre and the regions, the religious glue of Islam alone could not bind a diverse and disparate people into a nation.

The proposed homeland for India’s Muslims was envisaged in the Lahore Resolution of 1940 as a federation of sovereign and autonomous units. The hint of confederalism quickly fell by the wayside in the heady aftermath of 1947. The first requirement of the new government in Karachi was to establish its writ over two geographically distinct constituent units. In the absence of a preexisting central apparatus and effective political party machinery in the provinces, pragmatism was the better option. The Government of India Act of 1935 was adapted as the provisional constitution and later made the bedrock of the 1956 and the 1962 constitutions. Aimed at perpetuating, not terminating colonial rule, the Act of 1935 retained certain unitary features of the British Indian state to counterbalance the concessions of federalism. Unlike most federal systems of government, the constituent units were made subject to a single constitution. The federal centre arrogated superior powers in legislative, financial and political matters. Soon after independence, the provinces were deprived of the financial autonomy granted to them under the act and made dependent on central handouts which, given the severe shortage of funds, were wholly inadequate for their development needs.

The future course of democracy was imperilled in a country whose federal configuration to begin with consisted of fifteen different entities—five provinces and ten princely states—of vastly uneven size and political importance. Troubled by the political implications of an overall Bengali majority in the federation, officialdom in West Pakistan gave enthusiastic support to the merger of the western wing under the one unit scheme. Unlike the western wing, with its heterogeneities, East Bengal was in relative terms linguistically and culturally homogenous. It was also politically more volatile than parts of West Pakistan. Bengalis felt passionately about their autonomy and were prone to leftist ideologies and sporadic bouts of violence. They resented the use of their hard-earned foreign exchange to beef up a military establishment wedded to the curious strategic doctrine of defending the eastern wing from West Pakistan. Seeing an Indian hand in Bengali demands for provincial autonomy, the federal government declared them seditious and, in turn, used this to justify its centralizing and homogenizing designs. But neither the threat of India nor the allure of Islam could save the centre from the wrath of constituent units reduced to being hapless appendages in a state that was federal in form and unitary in substance.

If East Bengal was a thorn in the side of the federal establishment, the fourteen units composing the western wing presented a political and constitutional conundrum. Most of the princely states claimed some semblance of sovereignty and had to be cajoled and coerced into acceding to Pakistan before being summarily bundled into the one-unit scheme of October 1955. Those that resisted, Kalat, for instance—were clobbered with an iron hand. As the largest of the tribal states in Baluchistan, Kalat enjoyed the allegiance of tribal chiefs who, though monitored by the British resident in Quetta, had retained autonomy over their local affairs during the colonial period. The Pakistani centre’s encroachments on Baluchistan threatened to alter a jealously guarded status quo. Sporadic eruptions of armed insurgency became a recurrent feature of politics in Baluchistan. This was not too difficult given the impoverishment of the people and the absence of the most rudimentary forms of infrastructure for the economic development of the province. During the 1960, Sher Mohammad Marri spearheaded the resistance under the umbrella of the Baluch Liberation Front. The battles fought by the Pakistani Army in the rugged terrain of Baluchistan shaped its institutional psyche in decisive ways. Baluch nationalists were labelled miscreants working hand in glove with either Afghanistan or the country’s premier enemy. This perception did not remain confined to the military. Tarring regional demands with the Indian brush became such an entrenched part of the official discourse of nationalism in Pakistan that the managers of the centralized state regarded legitimate demands for provincial autonomy with deep suspicion.

Consequently, even in the relatively quiescent parts of West Pakistan, there was no love lost for an unresponsive centre that continued swallowing up larger and larger chunks of provincial revenues without contributing much for the development of local infrastructure and social welfare. The massive demographic changes accompanying partition strained the limited administrative capacities of Punjab and Sindh to breaking point. While the exodus of non-Muslims disrupted the economic and educational networks in these provinces, accommodating the bulk of the 7.2 million Muslim refugees from India within a short span of time was impossible without the sustained help of the central government. Preoccupied with matters of defence and its own political survival, Karachi’s assistance to these provinces fell well short of expectations. In the absence e of funds and efficient administrative solutions, the rehabilitation of refugees was quickly transformed into an explosive political issue. Several provincial politicians used it to chip away at the centre’s uncertain authority.

Accounting for 10% of Pakistan’s population by 1951, the refugees permanently altered the political landscape of Punjab and Sindh. Despite taking in a much larger percentage of Muslims fleeing parts of East Punjab ravaged by violence, Punjab had a relatively easier time absorbing the mainly Punjabi-speaking migrants into its social fabric. By contrast, the influx of mainly Urdu-speaking migrants into Sindh created a clutch of political and cultural problems for the provincial administration. More than half a million refugees came to Sindh during the initial years of independence. Almost two-thirds of them opted for urban centres like Karachi and Hyderabad while the remainder settled in the rural areas of this overwhelmingly agricultural province. In principle, the incoming migrants were expected to replace the non-Muslims in both the urban and rural areas. However, the problem of resettlement was far more complicated and the ensuing tensions between local Sindhis and the newcomers much fiercer than in Punjab. For one thing, the outflow of Hindus to India was slower in Sindh than in Punjab. For another, some of the more powerful Sindhi Muslim landlords are said to have grabbed nearly two-thirds of the agricultural land vacated by the Hindus before migrants from UP, Hyderabad Deccan, or East Punjab could make their presence felt. The situation was particularly fraught in Karachi, a thriving cosmopolitan city of 400,000 in 1947, but one in which construction activity had not kept pace with the growth in population due to World War II. The preferred destination for a majority of uprooted Urdu-speakers from North India’s urban areas, Karachi had thinly spread municipal facilities, whether for health, communications, water supply, electric power, or housing, that were incapable of bearing the burden of its new population.

The sheer pace of the sociocultural and political transformation of Sindh can be seen by the jump in the number of Urdu speakers from a mere 1% of the population in 1947 to 12% by the time of the 1951 census. With just a sprinkle of Urdu speakers at the time of partition, Karachi by the late 1950s had become a migrant city with more than half its population claiming Urdu as their mother tongue. This would not have been possible if the provincial government had succeeded in getting its way. Within a year or so of partition, relations between the centre and the Sindh government had nose-dived over the forcible separation of Karachi from the province. Justified on the grounds of national interest, the loss of Karachi rankled the Sindhis all the more because they were not compensated for the loss of the province’s primary revenue earner. Under the circumstances, the centre’s advocacy of Urdu-speaking migrants’ right to space, gainful employment, and adequate political representation was perceived as a deep-seated conspiracy to displace Sindhis from a position of dominance in their own province. The centre’s preference for authoritarian methods over democratic ones even during the first decade after independence only confirmed the worst fears of the Sindhis. Calling themselves muhajirs, or refugees after the early community of Islam that migrated from Mecca to Medina, the Urdu speakers believed that their sacrifices of life and property for Pakistan entitled them to a privileged position in the new state. Lacking a provincial base of their own, the class, occupational, and emotional profile of many Urdu speakers made them particularly susceptible to the appeal to religion by self-styled “Islamist” parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami and the JUP, which had made Karachi the focus of their oppositional politics. Paradoxically enough, their religious pretensions and claims of cultural superiority over other linguistic groups suited a West Pakistani establishment, harping on the Islamic identity of Pakistan and Urdu as the cultural motif of its national unity, much more than political parties with provincial bases of support.

The concordat between the centre and the better-educated Urdu speaking muhajirs, many of whom held top positions in the federal bureaucracy, had large implications for Pakistani politics. Even before the first military takeover of 1958, the migrants’ success in creating a social and political niche for themselves, especially in Karachi, was intensely resented not only by Sindhis but also by Punjabis, Pathans, Gujaratis and Baluchis who had come to the city looking for employment and a better quality of life. Antipathy towards the Urdu-speaking migrants was not a facet of the Sindhi sociopolitical scene alone. It extended to other provinces where the educated classes felt slighted by the cultural pretensions of the Urdu speakers. This was true even of those members of the urban Punjabi middle and upper classes who accepted Urdu as their lingua franca in the interest of national cohesion. Urdu was much less prevalent in the NWFP and Baluchistan. The Pathan provincial elite gradually took to it for pragmatic reasons without abandoning their own mother tongue, Pashto. In Baluchistan, Urdu was resisted as an alien imposition by a rapacious and indifferent government.

The suspension of democratic government in October 1958 gave a fillip to these sentiments and, in turn, provoked the centre into draconian measures in the name of national unity. Disgruntled politicians with regional bases of support were either locked out of Ayub’s bureaucratically controlled political system or locked up in jail on various grounds. Pakistan under military rule flouted the elementary norms of federalism, accentuating strains in centre-province relations. As the non-elected institutions were the main beneficiaries of administrative centralization and democratic denial, their overwhelmingly Punjabi character caused bitterness among non-Punjabis. Unable to allocate financial resources equitably to the provinces and unwilling to grant them their share of power, the federal union of Pakistan was built on a fragile branch that was liable to break under the weight of its own contradictions.

To prevent this eventuality, steps had been taken as early as 1949 to placate the non-Punjabi provinces by instituting a quota system for recruitment to the federal government services. This failed to provide adequate, far less equitable representation to the provinces or the linguistic minorities within them. Instead of correcting centrifugal trends, a centralization drive by an administrative bureaucracy dominated by Punjabis and Urdu speakers fanned provincialism. Bengalis led the non-Punjabi charge in demanding better representation in the civil, diplomatic, and armed services. The federal centre was accused of pursuing policies of internal colonization by posting Punjabi and Urdu-speaking civil servants to the non-Punjabi provinces to pilfer their meagre share of resources. Instead of consulting with the provinces or making a prior reference to the legislature, the federal centre soon after independence had temporarily withheld the share out of income tax. In an audacious move, the centre arbitrarily took away the right of the provinces to collect sales tax, the single most elastic source of their revenue. Justified in the name of national interest, the centre’s monopolization of the entire gamut of fiscal and financial arrangements to pay for a debilitating defence burden extinguished such hopes as existed of generating a measure of federal bonhomie.

The nub of Bengali hostility towards the West Pakistani establishment was the pernicious logic of functional inequality. Once militarization and industrialization became the twin pillars of Pakistani officialdom’s development rhetoric, an astonishing range of special concessions were offered to West Pakistani-based business families at the expense of the agricultural sector in East Pakistan. Raw jute grown in the eastern wing was the leading foreign exchange earner during Pakistan’s first decade of independence. In the fall of 1949, Pakistan exercised its financial sovereignty by refusing to follow the example of Britain and India and devaluing its currency. As the centre’s economic wizards had correctly calculated, this boosted export earnings by nearly 40%. The non devaluation decision brought down jute and wheat prices while those of other essential commodities increased. By imposing heavy export duties to the detriment of agriculture, the central augmented its foreign exchange reserves. The additional foreign exchange was used to finance the defence procurement effort and the industrialization of West Pakistan. Bengali grumbles about being used as milk cow for the security and development of the western wing were dismissed or conveniently misread as evidence of secessionist and pro-Indian tendencies.

So long as even the most compromised form of a federal parliamentary system was in place, it was impossible to leave the provinces completely in the financial lurch. Soon after the controversial erosion of provincial fiscal rights, the central government entered into negotiations with the provinces to arrive at a more mutually acceptable allocation of financial resources. An official of the Australian treasury, Jeremy Raisman, had been asked by the Pakistan government to examine the existing financial arrangements between the centre and the provinces. In January 1952, the Raisman Report increased the provincial proportion of federal finances. It gave East Bengal just under two-thirds of the export duty on raw jute but turned down Punjabi and Sindhi requests for a cut in the export duties in view of the federal government’s precarious financial position. Raisman also rejected provincial demands that the sales tax should be distributed among them and not shared between them and the centre. Although a positive development in an otherwise grim federal landscape, the Raisman Award did not go far enough in alleviating centre-region frictions over the all-important issue of financial autonomy.

If the centre’s tight fistedness could be justified in the light of the strategic and economic consequences of partition, its overbearing attitude towards the cultural sensitivities of the provinces was inexcusable. There were powerful undercurrents of cultural alienation in provincial demands for autonomy. Bengali outrage at the centre’s Urdu-only language policy was just the tip of the iceberg, concealing a deep-seated resentment at the marginalization of their culture in the emerging narratives of the Pakistani nation. The wounded pride of the Bengalis had met with a rude shock on February 21, 1952, when the centre’s crackdown on the student-led language movement in Dhaka led to the killing of four students and injured several more. Commemorated as Martyrs’ Day by Bengali ever since, the incident is thought to have marked the beginning of the politics of dissent that culminated in Bangladeshi nationalism and independence. Bengali linguistic nationalism, however, was one among several factors that led eventually to the breakup of Pakistan.

Bengalis were not alone in feeling aggrieved by the centre’s imposition of Urdu as the official language. A section of Punjabis belonging mostly to the lower and less well-off middle classes, bemoaned the loss of their linguistic tradition in the rush to embrace Urdu. They felt alienated by the state’s artificial attempts to imitate the mores of the Mughal court. Their opposition was not to Urdu but to its patronage by the federal centre at the expense of Punjabi, a language with a rich and vibrant oral and written literary history spanning a thousand years. Confusing cultural assertion with parochialism, the central government harassed Punjabi intellectuals working to promote their regional language, declaring the more recalcitrant among them as “anti state.” The suspension of parliamentary government in 1958 dealt a hammer blow to regional linguistic aspirations not only in Punjab but also in non-Punjab provinces. Fancying himself as the great unifier, General Aruba suppressed regional literary associations, dubbing some of them as extensions of the banned Communist Party.

State coercion could at best curb the growth of mass-based language movements, not dilute the enthusiasm of the more ardent protagonists of linguistic regionalism. Bengalis defied the government’s crude attempts to prevent them from celebrating the birthday of the revered Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. The ban on his works in the state-controlled media heightened Tagore’s appeal as a symbol of Bengali resistance against an intrusive and dictatorial centre. Bengali writers and poets used Tagore, along with socialist and communist themes, to highlight the exploitation of East Pakistan and attack the state’s Islamic ideology. In West Pakistan too, regional languages like Punjabi, Pashto and Sindhi continued to expand their readership by increasing their literary production independently of the state. Advertising the risks of forcibly regimenting cultural traditions, Urdu came to be seen as an alien implant at the service of a neo-imperialist agenda.

The centre’s myopic handling of provincial sensibilities on language was matched by ham-handed attempts at marshalling Islam in the cause of nation building. With the religious ideologues agitating for the introduction of sharia, senior bureaucrats set about feverishly establishing the religious credentials of the state. The result was a strange convergence of interest between an authoritarian centre, besieged by a crescendos of demands for provincial autonomy, and a spectrum of Islamic ideologues looking for ways to squeeze through the woodwork to the apex of state power. Although it is impossible to exaggerate the extent of the symbiosis between these two distinct forces, the state’s emphasis on its religious identity lent greater legitimacy to the would-be-ideologues of Islam than the ground realities merited. But there was a world of difference between using religious preachers to advance the state’s homogenizing logic and a commitment to turning Pakistan into a conservative, hidebound Islamic state on a narrowly construed reading of Islam.

Ever since the Objectives Resolution of 1949–ostensibly a victory for modernist interpretations of Islam—the so called religious parties had chastised the state overlords for not living up to the ideals of Islam. Mawdudi, the leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami, lent ideological starch to this argument. In his opinion, it was the duty of a state created in the name of Islam to mold the hearts and minds of its citizens according to the tenets of their religion. There was no scope for citizens to influence or contest the state’s understanding of Islam. Mawdudi defended this on the grounds that because sovereignty in an Islamic state was vested in Allah, such perfect justice and equity will prevail that dissent would amount to apostasy. The Jamaat ideologue had pretensions about pressing his credentials as an Islamic scholar with infallible authority to interpret the divine will. Consistent with his view of the state in Islam as a spiritual democracy, Iqbal had proposed reposing the authority in an elected Parliament. In Mawdudi’s authoritarian conception of an Islamic state, there was no possibility of Parliament debating, far less defining God’s will. Muslims not confirming to his idea of Islam were implicitly excluded from Mawdudi’s definition of a believer. In another significant departure from the poetic visionary of Pakistan, who had held that the idea of the state was not dominant in Islam, Mawdudi considered the acquisition of state power vital to attain the ideal Islamic way of life. He proposed a jihad to seize state power and declared the lesser jihad (against the enemies of Islam) to be more important than the greater jihad (with one’s inner self). Jihad was justified against internal Muslim others quite as much as against non-Muslims, sharpening the edges of the fault lines in the battle for the soul of Pakistan. There was no place in this scheme of things for any mutually negotiated coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Islamic state was the ideological embodiment of Muslim belief in one God and the Prophet Muhammad. Consequently, non-Muslims had to be debarred from holding key positions of responsibility. The same logic led Mawdudi to propose that Indian Muslims, a rump of a once significant community, had no choice but to live according to the dictates of the Hindu-majority community.

Mawdudi’s idea of indoctrination and his strident anti-Indian rhetoric coupled with an insistence on Islam held out attractions for a military dominated state. However, there was no question of the decision makers in the military and civil bureaucracy letting the clerics rule the Islamic roost. During Ayub Khan’s era of enlightened Islam, Mawdudism became a word of execration and also fear. The religious lobby’s potential to kick up a popular storm to the detriment of an authoritarian regime fully dawned on the general within years of his usurpation of state power. Moon sighting for the Muslim festival of Eid was a source of contention among the believers, with the clerics using it as an opportunity to enhance their public reach. When the Ayub regime tried rationalization of the process in 1967 by setting up a committee that proceeded to announce a day for Eid, the ulema led by Mawdudi protested this unwarranted intervention by the state in a sphere they regarded as their exclusive preserve. Five of them were quickly put behind bars, including Mawdudi, and the press prohibited from reporting on the matter. Throughout the Ayub era, Mawdudi bore the brunt of the state’s coercive apparatus and was dragged through the courts in lengthy and financially withering legal battles. Ayub vented his fury against the Jamaat leader, calling him a traitor and true enemy of Islam. In any other country, the dictator opined, Mawdudi would have been lynched like a dog, but in Pakistan we have rule of law of which traitors take full advantage and protection.

A gaggle of senior civil bureaucrats close to Ayub’s way of thinking set about conjuring up the idioms of an Islamic ideology designed to expedite national integration rather than any visible kind of religiosity. What ensued was a scrappy tug-of-war between self-styled ideologues at the helm of state power and the bearded legions with their prayer rosaries, whether in the mosques, seminaries, or on the streets, over the authority to interpret the message of Islam. Among the main casualties of the struggle was the centre-province equation, with dire consequences for the federation. The state’s recourse to religion was designed to counter claims based on cultural diversity and difference. Intended to facilitate unity among Pakistan’s diverse regions, cynical uses of Islam served to undermine any sort of consensus on national identity. For a largely destitute populace seeking to eke out a decent living, matters to do with Islam’s ritualistic, doctrinal and spiritual aspects were not the primary issue. Singling our Islam as the only thread in the intricate regional weave of Pakistan’s national identity was a crudely conceived policy of homogenization through which the military-bureaucratic state succeeded in making an issue out of a non issue. A citizenry more in tune with the eclectic and varied social makeup of the country was quite comfortable wearing multiple affinities of region, religion, and nation. Policies of national indoctrination in the name of Islam generated derision, dismay and dissension, most noticeably in the eastern wing.

The votaries of the Pakistani state’s centralizing and homogenizing project arrogantly dismissed dissenting reactions as products of ignorance, insularity, and worse still, secessionist inclinations. General Ayub had a visceral dislike for the advocates of provincial rights, who he thought were disrupting the economic progress of the country. The Pakistan Council for National Integration was established with the explicit objective of promoting better understanding among the people of the two wings in order to fashion a common national outlook. Reading rooms were opened in key cities, and lectures, seminars and symposia were held on the theme o& national unity and integration. Some of these did help lift the veil of ignorance between the two halves of the country. But without qualitative changes on the political and economic front, integrative rhetoric without a concrete action was wholly ineffective in bridging the gulf separating the Bengali from the people of West Pakistan.

Ayub had banked on the leavening effects of his economic development policies to justify keeping tight curbs on political activity. This was excessively optimistic, as he soon found out. Under his regime’s externally stimulated development policies, East Pakistan received a bigger share of state resources than in the 1950s. But with 55% of the population, a share of 35% of the total development expenditure was neither fair nor equitable. The centralized nature of the state-directed development effort, in any case, ensured that the economy of the eastern wing continued to lag well behind that of the western wing. The regime’s growth oriented strategies increased regional income disparities without any improvement in Bengali representation among army officers, which remained at a lowly 5%. The higher income levels in West Pakistan were ascribed by officialdom to the effects of the “Green Revolution” and the leap in agricultural production that had ensued after the introduction of new technologies. In fact, inter regional discrepancies in growth and development were a direct result of the policy to use East Pakistan’s export surplus to finance West Pakistan’s deficits. The federal government’s hollow propaganda incensed Bengali popular opinion further, galvanizing support for the Awami League but, at the same time, threatening to subsume its campaign for provincial autonomy with cries for full independence.

By courtesy of: The Struggle for Pakistan by Ayesha Jalal, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2014


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