Mirza Nur-ud-din Baig Mohammad Khan Salim

  • Fourth Mughal Emperor known by his imperial name, Jahangir
  • 31 August 1569 – 28 October 1627,
  • Ruled from 1605 until his death in 1627.

Much romance has gathered around his name (Jahangir means ‘conqueror of the world’, and the tale of his relationship with the Mughal courtesan, Anarkali, has been widely adapted into the literature, art and cinema of India.

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Full Name: Mirza Nur-ud-din Baig Mohammad Khan Salim Jahangir

Reign: 3 November 1605 – 28 October 1627

Coronation: 24 November 1605

Predecessor: Akbar

Successor: Shahryar Mirza Shah Jahan

Born: Salim; 31 August 1569 at Fatehpur Sikri, Mughal Empire

Died: 28 October 1627 (aged 58) at Rajauri, Rajouri district, Kashmir, Mughal Empire, now Jammu and Kashmir, India
Burial Tomb: Lahore
Consort

  • Saliha Banu Begum
  • Nur Jahan

Wives

  • Manbhawati Bai
  • Jagat Gosaini
  • Sahib-i-Jamal Begum
  • Malika Jahan Begum
  • Nur-un-Nissa Begum
  • Khas Mahal Begum
  • Karamsi Bai
  • Other wives.
  • Issue
  • Khusrau Mirza
  • Parviz Mirza
  • Shah Jahan Shahryar Mirza
  • Jahandar Mirza
  • Sultan-un-Nissa Begum
  • Daulat-un-Nissa Begum
  • Bahar Banu Begum
  • Begum Sultan Begum
  • Iffat Banu Begum
  • House: Timurid
  • Father: Akbar
  • Mother: Mariam-uz-Zamani
    Religion: Sunni Islam

Jahangir was the eldest surviving son of Mughal Emperor Akbar. Impatient for power, he revolted in1599 while Akbar was engaged in the Deccan. He was defeated, but ultimately succeeded his father as Emperor in 1605 because of the
immense support and effort of his step-mothers:

  • Empress Ruqaiya Sultan Begum
  • Salima Sultan Begum
  • Hamida Banu Begum, his grandmother.

These women wielded considerable influence over Akbar and favoured Jahangir as his successor. The first year of Jahangir’s reign saw a rebellion organised by his eldest son Khusrau. The rebellion was soon put down; Khusrau was brought before his father in chains. After subduing and executing nearly 2000 members of the rebellion, Jahangir blinded his renegade son.

Jahangir built on his father’s foundations of administration and his reign was characterised by political stability, a strong economy and cultural achievements. The imperial frontiers continued to move forward—in Bengal, Mewar, Ahmadnagar
and the Deccan. Later during his rule, Jahangir was battling his rebellious son Khurram in Hindustan. The rebellion of Khurram absorbed Jahangir’s attention, so in the spring of 1623 he negotiated a diplomatic end to the conflict. Much of
India was politically pacified; Jahangir’s dealings with the Hindu rulers of Rajputana were particularly successful, and he settled the conflicts inherited from his father. The Hindu rulers all accepted Mughal supremacy and in return were given high ranks in the Mughal aristocracy.

Jahangir was fascinated with art, science and architecture. From a young age he showed a leaning towards painting and had an atelier of his own. His interest in portraiture led to much development in this art form. The art of Mughal
painting reached great heights under Jahangir’s reign. His interest in painting also served his scientific interests in nature. The painter Ustad Mansur became one of the best artists to document the animals and plants which Jahangir either encountered on his military exhibitions or received as donations from emissaries of other countries. Jahangir maintained a huge aviary and a large zoo, kept a record of every specimen and organised experiments.

Jahangir patronised the European and Persian arts. He promoted Persian culture throughout his empire. This was especially so during the period when he came under the influence of his Persian Empress, Nur Jahan and her relatives, who from 1611 had dominated Mughal politics. Amongst the most highly regarded Mughal architecture dating from Jahangir’s reign is the famous Shalimar Gardens in Kashmir. The world’s first seamless celestial globe was built by Mughal scientists under the patronage of Jahangir.

Jahangir was not without his vices. He set the precedent for sons rebelling against their emperor fathers and was much criticized for his addiction to alcohol, opium, and women. He was thought to allow his wife Nur Jahan too much power, and her continuous plotting at court is considered to have destabilized the empire in the final years of his rule. The situation developed into open crisis when Jahangir’s son, Khurram, fearing he would be excluded from the throne, rebelled in 1622. Jahangir’s forces chased Khurram and his troops from Fatehpur Sikri to the Deccan, to Bengal and back to the Deccan, until Khurram surrendered unconditionally in 1626. The rebellion and court intrigues that followed took a heavy toll on Jahangir’s health.
He died in 1627 and was succeeded by Khurram, who took the imperial throne of Hindustan as the Emperor Shah Jahan.

Early life

An aesthete, Jahangir decided to start his reign with a grand display of “justice”, as he saw it. To this end, he enacted Twelve Decrees that are remarkable for their liberalism and foresight. During his reign, there was a significant increase in the size of the Mughal Empire, half a dozen rebellions were crushed, prisoners of war were
released and the work of his father, Akbar, continued to flourish. Much like his father, Jahangir was dedicated to the expansion of Mughal held territory through conquest. During this regime he would target the peoples of Assam near the
eastern frontier and bring a series of territories controlled by independent rajas in the Himalayan foothills from Kashmir to Bengal. Jahangir would challenge the hegemonic claim over what became later Afghanistan by the Safavid rulers with an eye on Kabul, Peshawar and Kandahar, which were important centres of the central Asian trade system that northern India operated within.] In 1622, Jahangir sent his son Prince Khurram against the combined forces of Ahmednagar, Bijapur and Golconda. After his victory Khurram turned against his father and make a bid for power. As with the insurrection of his eldest son [Khusrau Mirza, Jahangir was able to defeat the challenge from within his family and retain power.

Jahangir promised to protect Islam and granted general amnesty to his opponents. He was also notable for his patronage of the arts, especially of painting. During his reign the distinctive style of Mughal painting expanded and blossomed. Jahangir supported a flourishing culture of court painters.

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Jahangir holding a portrait of his father Akbar

Furthermore, Jahangir preserved the Mughal tradition of a highly centralized form of government. Jahangir made the precepts of Sunni Islam the cornerstone of his state policies. A faithful Muslim, as evidenced by his memoirs, he expressed his gratitude to Allah for his many victories. Jahangir, as a devout Muslim, did not let his personal beliefs dictate his state policies. Sovereignty, according to Jahangir, was a “gift of God” not necessarily given to enforce God’s law but rather to “ensure the contentment of the world.” In civil cases, Islamic law applied to Muslims, Hindu law applied to Hindus, while criminal law was the same for both Muslims and Hindus. In matters like marriage and inheritance, both communities had their own laws that Jahangir respected. Thus Jahangir was able to deliver justice to people in accordance of their beliefs and also keep his hold on empire by unified criminal law.
In the Mughal state, therefore, defiance of imperial authority, whether coming from a prince or anyone else aspiring to political power, or a Muslim or a Hindu, was crushed in the name of law and order.

Foreign relations

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Shah Abbas I receiving Khan Alam, ambassador from Jahangir in 1617

In 1623, the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, sent his Tahwildar, Khan Alam, to Safavid Persia, accompanied by 800 Sepoys, scribes and scholars along with ten Howdahs well decorated in gold and silver, in order to negotiate peace with Abbas
I of Persia after a brief conflict in the region around Kandahar. Khan Alam soon returned with valuable gifts and groups of Mir Shikar(Hunt Masters) from both Safavid Persia and even the Khanates of Central Asia.
In 1626, Jahangir began to contemplate an alliance between the Ottomans, Mughals and Uzbeks against the Safavids, who had defeated the Mughals at Kandahar. He even wrote a letter to the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV. Jahangir’s ambition did not
materialise, however, due to his death in 1627.

Marriage

Salim was made a Mansabdar of ten thousand (Das-Hazari), the highest military rank of the empire, after the emperor. He independently commanded a regiment in the Kabul campaign of 1581, when he was barely twelve. His Mansab was raised
to Twelve Thousand, in 1585, at the time of his betrothal to his cousin Rajkumari Manbhawati Bai, daughter of Bhagwant Das of Amer. Bhagwant Das, was the son of Raja Bihari Mal and the brother of Akbar’s Hindu wife and Salim’s mother
Mariam-uz-Zamani.

The marriage with Manbhawati Bai took place on February 13, 1585. Jahangir named her Shah Begum, and gave birth to Khusrau Mirza. Thereafter, Salim married, in quick succession, a number of accomplished girls from the aristocratic Mughal and Rajput families. One of his early favourite wives was a Rajput Princess, Jagat Gosain Begum. Jahangir named her Taj Bibi Bilqis Makani and she gave birth to Prince Khurram, the future Shah Jahan, Jahangir’s successor to the throne.
On July 7, 1586 he married a daughter of Raja Rai Singh, Maharaja of Bikaner. In July 1586, he married Malika Shikar Begum, daughter of Sultan Abu Said Khan Jagatai, Sultan of Kashghar. In 1586, he married Sahib-i-Jamal Begum, daughter of Khwaja Hassan, of Herat, a cousin of Zain Khan Koka. In 1587, he married Malika Jahan Begum, daughter of Bhim Singh, Maharaja of Jaisalmer. He also married a daughter of Raja Darya Malbhas. In October 1590, he married Zohra Begum, daughter of Mirza Sanjar Hazara. In 1591, he married Karamnasi Begum, daughter of Raja Kesho Das Rathore, of Mertia. On January 11, 1592, he married Kanwal Rani, daughter of Ali Sher Khan, by his wife, Gul Khatun. In October 1592, he married a daughter of Husain Chak, of Kashmir. In January/March 1593, he married Nur un-nisa Begum, daughter of Ibrahim Husain Mirza, by his wife, Gulrukh Begum, daughter of Kamran Mirza. In September 1593, he married a daughter of Ali Khan Faruqi, Raja of Khandesh. He also married a daughter of Abdullah Khan Baluch. On June 28, 1596, he married Khas Mahal Begum, daughter of Zain Khan Koka, sometime Subadar of Kabul and Lahore. In 1608, he married Saliha Banu Begum, daughter of Qasim Khan, a senior member of the Imperial Household. On June 17, 1608, he married Koka Kumari Begum, eldest daughter of Jagat Singh, Yuvraj of Amber.
Jahangir married the extremely beautiful and intelligent Mehr-un-Nisaa (better known by her subsequent title of Nur Jahan) on May 25, 1611. She was the widow of Sher Afgan. Mehr-un-Nisaa became his indisputable chief consort and favourite wife immediately after their marriage. She was witty, intelligent and beautiful, which was what attracted Jahangir to her. Before being awarded the title of Nur Jahan(‘Light of the World’), she was called Nur Mahal(‘Light of the Palace’). Her abilities are said to range from fashion designing to hunting. There is also a myth that she had once killed four tigers with six bullets.

Nur Jahan

Mehr-Un-Nisa, or Nur Jahan, occupies an important place in the history of Jahangir. She was the widow of a rebel officer, Sher Afgan, whose actual name was Ali Quli Beg Ist’ajlu. He had earned the title “Sher Afgan” (Tiger tosser) from Emperor Akbar after throwing off a tiger that had leaped to attack Akbar on the top of an elephant in a royal hunt at Bengal and then stabbing the fallen tiger to death. Akbar was greatly affected by the bravery of the young Turkish bodyguard accompanying him and awarded him the captaincy of the Imperial Guard at Bengal. He was killed in rebellion, after learning of Jahangir’s orders to have him slain to possess his beautiful wife, as Jahangir yearned for her much earlier than her wedding. The governor of Bengal was instructed secretly by Jahangir in his quest and was also the emperor’s foster brother and Sheikh Salim’s grandson and was consequently slain by the guards of the Governor. The widowed Mehr-un-Nisa was brought to Agra along with her nine-year-old daughter and placed in—or refused to be placed in—the Royal harem in 1607. Jahangir married her in 1611 and gave her the title of Nur Jahan or “Light of the World“. It was rumoured that Jahangir had a hand in the death of her first husband, albeit there is no recorded evidence to prove that he was guilty of that crime; in fact most travellers’ reports say that he met her after her husband’s death.

The loss of Kandahar was due to Prince Khurram’s refusal to obey her orders. When the Persians besieged Kandahar, Nur Jahan was at the helm of affairs. She ordered Prince Khurram to march for Kandahar, but the latter refused to do so. There is no doubt that the refusal of the prince was due to her behaviour towards him, as she was favouring her son-in-law, Shahryar, at the expense of Khurram. Khurram suspected that in his absence, Shahryar might be given promotion and that he might die on the battlefield. This fear forced Khurram to rebel against his father rather than fight against the Persians, and thereby Kandahar was lost.

Under Jahangir, the empire continued to be a war state attuned to conquest and expansion. Jahangir’s most irksome foe was the Rana of Mewar, Amar Singh, who finally capitulated in 1613 to Khurram’s forces. In the northeast, the Mughals clashed with the Ahoms of Assam, whose guerilla tactics gave the Mughals a hard time. In Northern India, Jahangir’s forces under Khurram defeated their other principal adversary, the Raja of Kangra, in 1615; in the Deccan, his victories further consolidated the empire. But in 1620, Jahangir fell sick, and so ensued the familiar quest for power. Nur Jahan married her daughter to Shahryar, Jahangir’s youngest son from his other queen, in the hope of having a living male heir to the throne when Jahangir died.

Conquests
In the year 1594, Jahangir was dispatched by his father, the Mughal Emperor Akbar, alongside Abul Hasan Asaf Khan, also known as Mirza Jaafar Beg son of Mirza Ghias Beg Isfahani and brother of Nur Jehan, and Abu’l-Fazl ibn Mubarak, to defeat the renegade Vir Singh Deo of Bundela and capture the city of Orchha, which was considered the centre of the revolt. Jahangir arrived with a force of 12,000 after many ferocious encounters and finally subdued the Bundela and ordered Vir Singh Deo to surrender. After tremendous casualties and the start of negotiations between the two, Vir Singh Deo handed over 5000 Bundela infantry and 1000 cavalry, but he feared Mughal retaliation and remained a fugitive until his death. The victorious Jahangir, only 16 years of age, ordered the completion of the Jahangir Mahal a famous Mughal citadel in Orchha to commemorate and honour his victory.

Jahangir then gathered his forces under the command of Ali Kuli Khan and fought Lakshmi Narayan of Koch Bihar. Lakshmi Narayan then accepted the Mughals as his suzerains he was given the title Nazir and later established a garrison at Atharokotha.

In 1613, the Portuguese seized the Mughal ship Rahimi, which had set out from Surat on its way with a large cargo of 100,000 rupees and Pilgrims, who were on their way to Mecca and Medina in order to attend the annual Hajj. The Rahimi was owned by Mariam-uz-Zamani, Jahangir’s mother. She was referred to as Queen mother of Hindustan during his reign. Rahimi was the largest Indian ship sailing in the Red Sea and was known to the Europeans as the “great pilgrimage ship”.
When the Portuguese officially refused to return the ship and the passengers, the outcry at the Mughal court was unusually severe. The outrage was compounded by the fact that the owner and the patron of the ship was none other than the revered mother of the current emperor. Jahangir himself was outraged and ordered the seizure of the Portuguese town Daman. He ordered the apprehension of all Portuguese within the Mughal Empire; he further confiscated churches that belonged to the Jesuits. This episode is considered to be an example of the struggle for wealth that would later ensue and lead to colonization of the Indian sub-continent.

Jahangir was responsible for ending a century long struggle with the state of Mewar. The campaign against the Rajputs was pushed so extensively that they were made to submit with great loss of life and property.
Jahangir posted Islam Khan I to subdue Musa Khan, an Afghan rebel in Bengal, in 1608. Jahangir also thought of capturing Kangra Fort, which Akbar had failed to do in 1615. Consequently, a siege was laid and the fort was taken in 1620, which ”
resulted in the submission of the Raja of Chamba who was the greatest of all the rajas in the region.” The district of Kistwar, in the state of Kashmir, was also conquered.

Death

Jahangir was trying to restore his health by visiting Kashmir and Kabul. He went from Kabul to Kashmir but decided to return to Lahore on account of a severe cold.
Jahangir died on the way back from Kashmir near Sarai Saadabad in 1627. To preserve his body, the entrails were removed and buried in the Baghsar Fort, Kashmir. The body was then transferred to Lahore to be buried in Shahdara Bagh, a suburb of Lahore, Punjab. He was succeeded by his third son, Prince Khurram, who took the title of Shah Jahan. Jahangir’s elegant mausoleum is located in the Shahdara locale of Lahore and is a popular tourist attraction.

Religion

Sir Thomas Roe was England’s first ambassador to the Mughal court. Relations with England turned tense in 1617 when Roe warned the Jahangir that if the young and charismatic Prince Shah Jahan, newly instated as the Subedar of Gujarat, had
turned the English out of the province, “then he must expect we would do our justice upon the seas”. Shah Jahan chose to seal an official Firman allowing the English to trade in Gujarat in the year 1618.

 

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Portrait of Mughal Emperor Jahangir’s invocation of a Dua prayer

Many contemporary chroniclers were not sure quite how to describe Jahangir’s personal belief structure. Roe labelled him an atheist, and although most others shied away from that term, they did not feel as though they could call him an orthodox Sunni. Roe believed Jahangir’s religion to be of his own making, “for he envies [the Prophet] Mohammed, and wisely sees no reason why he should not bee as great a prophet as he and therefore professed himself so… he hath found many disciples that flatter or follow him.” At this time, one of those disciples happened to be the current English ambassador, though his initiation into Jahangir’s inner circle was devoid of religious significance for Roe, as he did not understand the
full extent of what he was doing: Jahangir hung “a picture of him self set in gold hanging at a wire gold chain” round Roe’s neck. Roe thought it “an especial favour, for that all the great men that wear the Kings image (which none may do but to whom it is given) receive no other than a medal of gold as big as six pence.”
Had Roe intentionally converted, it would have caused quite a scandal in London. But since there was no intent, there was no resultant problem. Such disciples were an elite group of imperial servants, with one of them being promoted to Chief Justice. However, it is not clear that any of those who became disciples renounced their previous religion, so it is probable to see this as a way in which the emperor strengthened the bond between himself and his nobles. Despite Roe’s somewhat casual use of the term ‘atheist’, he could not quite put his finger on Jahangir’s real beliefs. Roe lamented that the emperor was either “the most impossible man in the world to be converted, or the most easy; for he loves to hear, and hath so little religion yet, that he can well abide to have any derided.”

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A well-decorated manuscript of the Quran, made during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir

This should not imply that the multi-confessional state appealed to all, or that all Muslims were happy with the situation in India. In a book written on statecraft for Jahangir, the author advised him to direct “all his energies to understanding the counsel of the sages and to comprehending the intimations of the ‘ulama.”
At the start of his regime many staunch Sunnis were hopeful, because he seemed less tolerant to other faiths than his father had been. At the time of his accession and the elimination of Abu’l Fazl, his father’s chief minister and architect of his eclectic religious stance, a powerful group of orthodox noblemen had gained increased power in the Mughal court. Jahangir did not always benevolently regard some Hindu customs and rituals. On visiting a Hindu temple, he found a statue of a man with a pig’s head (more than likely actually a boar’s head, a representation of Varaha), one of the idols in the Hindu religion, so he “ordered them to break that hideous form and throw it in the tank.” If the Tuzuk is reliable on this subject (and there is no reason to suspect that it is not), then this was an isolated case. J.F. Richards argues that “Jahangir seems to have been persistently hostile to popularly venerated religious figures”, which is debatable. A Muslim saint, Hazrat Mujadid Alif Sani Imam e Rabbani Sheikh Ahmed Sirhindi Al-Farooqi, who had gained large number of followers through his spiritual preaching, was imprisoned in Gwalior Fort.

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A manuscript depicting the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and the SafavidShah Abbas I, and the qualities of Mughal-Safavid relations.

Most notorious was the execution of the Sikh Guru Arjan Dev Ji, whom Jahangir had got killed in prison. His lands were confiscated and his sons imprisoned as Jahangir suspected him of helping Khusrau’s rebellion. It is unclear whether Jahangir even understood what a Sikh was, referring to Guru Arjan as a Hindu, who had “captured many of the simple-hearted of the Hindus and even of the ignorant and foolish followers of Islam, by his ways and manners… for three or four generations (of spiritual successors) they had kept this shop warm.” The trigger for Guru Arjan’s execution was his support for Jahangir’s rebel son Khusrau Mirza, yet it is clear from Jahangir’s own memoirs that he disliked Guru Arjan before then: “many times it occurred to me to put a stop to this vain affair or bring him into the assembly of the people of Islam.”Muqarrab Khan sent to Jahangir “a European curtain (tapestry) the like of which in beauty no other work of the Frank [European] painters has ever been seen.” One of his audience halls was “adorned with European screens.” Christian themes attracted Jahangir, and even merited a mention in the Tuzuk. One of his slaves gave him a piece of ivory into which had been carved four scenes.

In the last scene “there is a tree, below which the figure of the revered (hazrat) Jesus is shown. One person has placed his head at Jesus’ feet, and an old man is conversing with Jesus and four others are standing by.” Though Jahangir believed it to be the work of the slave who presented it to him, Sayyid Ahmad and Henry Beveridge suggest that it was of European origin and possibly showed the Transfiguration. Wherever it came from, and whatever it represented, it was clear that a European style had come to influence Mughal art, otherwise the slave would not have claimed it as his own design, nor would he have been believed by Jahangir.

Art

Jahangir was fascinated with art and architecture. Jahangir himself is far from modest in his autobiography when he states his prowess at being able to determine the artist of any portrait by simply looking at a painting. He also preserved paintings of Emperor Akbar’s period. An excellent example of this is the painting of Musician Naubat Khan, son in law of legendary Tansen. It was the work of Ustad Mansur. As he said:
…my liking for painting and my practice in judging it have arrived at such point when any work is brought before me, either of deceased artists or of those of the present day, without the names being told me, I say on the spur of the moment that is the work of such and such a man. And if there be a picture containing many portraits and each face is the work of a different master, I can discover which face is the work of each of them. If any other person has put in the eye and eyebrow of a face, I can perceive whose work the original face is and who has painted the eye and eyebrow.

 

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Jahangir’s Jade hookah, National Museum, New Delhi

 

Jahangir took his connoisseurship of art very seriously. Paintings created under his reign were closely catalogued, dated and even signed, providing scholars with fairly accurate ideas as to when and in what context many of the pieces were created, in addition to their aesthetic qualities.
The Jesuits had brought with them various books, engravings, and paintings and, when they saw the delight Akbar held for them, sent for more and more of the same to be given to the Mughals, as they felt they were on the “verge of conversion”, a notion which proved to be very false. Instead, both Akbar and Jahangir studied this artwork very closely and replicated and adapted it, adopting much of the early iconographic features and later the pictorial realism for which Renaissance art was known. Jahangir was notable for his pride in the ability of his court painters. A classic example of this is described in Sir Thomas Roe’s diaries, in which the Emperor had his painters copy a European miniature several times creating a total of five miniatures. Jahangir then challenged Roe to pick out the original from the copies, a feat Sir Thomas Roe could not do, to the delight of Jahangir.

Jahangir was also revolutionary in his adaptation of European styles. A collection at the British Museum in London contains seventy-four drawings of Indian portraits dating from the time of Jahangir, including a portrait of the emperor himself.
These portraits are a unique example of art during Jahangir’s reign because before and for sometime after, faces were not drawn full, head-on and including the shoulders as well as the head as these drawings are.

 

Featured image: Jahangir with falcon on horseback

Through courtesy of Wikipedia.org

 

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The Promise of Democracy

The Triumph of Populism 1971-1973
Like Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, before him, 24 years later, Bhutto, the Quaid-e-Awam, was building a new country.

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Wearing a Mao cap, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is seen in this undated file photo on the top sitting at a dhaba, a roadside eatery, giving seemingly complete access to the common man. It was forays like this that earned him the title of the Quaid-i-Awam – the leader of the people which, in many ways, he actually was. 

With the surrender of Pakistani troops on December 16, 1971, in Dhaka, Bangladesh came into being, and with that, the end of the Pakistan that Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had originally created. It also resulted in the end of 13 years of military rule in what remained of the country. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was in New York at the time, flew in to Rawalpindi on December 20, and, with the assistance of a group of the military’s general officers who had been dismayed by Gen Yahya Khan and his core group over the defeat, forcing Yahya out, became the president of Pakistan as well as its only civilian Chief Martial Law Administrator.

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Maulana Kausar Niazi (extreme right) leading the prayers at a ceremony to mark the authentication of the Constitution on April 12, 1973. On the left is President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto standing beside Fazal Elahi Chaudhry, who at the time was the Speaker of the National Assembly and later became President of Pakistan on August 14, 1973, when Bhutto took oath of the office of the prime minister. | Photo: National Assembly Archives 

Within a matter of days, Bhutto began to put into effect his mandate of the people, based on his electoral manifesto which had won him a majority in the elections in West Pakistan a year earlier. While economic and social reform was a key plank of the Bhutto promise, what needed pressing attention, among numerous things, was the return of the 93,000, mostly military, prisoners of war (POWs) in India.
In 1971, Pakistan had lost not just East Pakistan, but half its navy, one-third of its army, and a quarter of its air force. India occupied 5,000 square miles of West Pakistani territory. The military stood humiliated after the surrender, and this was the first of only two opportunities (the other was in 2008) when elected leaders could have established long-lasting democratic rule in Pakistan.
Bhutto even initiated a judicial commission, under chief justice Hamoodur Rahman, “to prepare a full and complete account of the circumstances surrounding the atrocities and 1971 war”, including the “circumstances in which the Commander of the Eastern Military Command surrendered the Eastern contingent forces under his command who laid down their arms”.
Bhutto outdid himself when he met Indira Gandhi at Simla in July 1972 and got the better of her through his persuasive negotiating skills, and secured the release of Pakistani POWs (who came home in 1974), with India returning Pakistan’s territory, and both countries accepting the ceasefire line in Kashmir as the Line of Control. Bhutto returned a hero, yet again, to Pakistan, not just for the people, but also for sections of the military.
On a parallel track, Bhutto’s leftist economic team was implementing promises that had been made during the election campaign of 1970. With roti, kapra aur makaan the key slogans of Bhutto’s electoral commitment of his notion of Islamic Socialism and social justice, the manifesto of his Pakistan People’s Party had promised the nationalisation of all basic industries and financial institutions.
It had stated that “those means of production that are the generators of industrial advance or on which depend other industries must not be allowed to be vested in private hands; secondly, that all enterprises that constitute the infrastructure of the national economy must be in public ownership; thirdly, that institutions dealing with the medium of exchange, that is banking and insurance, must be nationalised”.

Economic Agenda

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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto addressing a gathering in this undated file photo in Karachi. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives 

The economic policies of the Bhutto government rested on the premise that the control of the leading enterprises was to be in the hands of the state. It ought to be pointed out that while this policy of nationalisation has been much maligned by critics of Bhutto, his policies were a reflection of the times and of the age in which they were implemented.
Since Bhutto’s rise to electoral success was based on his populist critique of Ayub Khan’s economic policies of functional inequality resulting in the infamous ‘22 families’, issues of redistribution, nationalisation and social-sector development were fundamental to his economic programme. Literally within days of taking over power, in January 1972, Bhutto had nationalised 30 major firms in 10 key industries in the large-scale manufacturing sector, essentially in the capital and intermediate goods industry.
In March 1972, his government had nationalised insurance companies, and banks were to follow in 1974, as were other industrial concerns in 1976. In addition to nationalisation, extensive labour reforms were also initiated by the Bhutto government, giving labour far greater rights than they had had in the past.
With the need to break the industrial-financial nexus a pillar of Bhutto’s populist social agenda, in a country which at that time was predominantly rural and agricultural, the ownership of land determined economic, social and political power. Bhutto had promised to break the hold of the feudals (notwithstanding the fact that he himself owned much land) and undertook extensive land reforms in March 1972.
In a speech, he said his land reforms would “effectively break up the iniquitous concentrations of landed wealth, reduce income disparities, increase production, reduce unemployment, streamline the administration of land revenue and agricultural taxation, and truly lay down the foundations of a relationship of honour and mutual benefit between the landowner and tenant”.
The PPP manifesto laid the premise for this action by stating that “the breakup of the large estates to destroy the feudal landowners is a national necessity that will have to be carried through by practical measures”. The government had decided that the land resumed from landowners would not receive any compensation unlike the Ayub Khan reforms of 1959, and this land was to be distributed free to landless tenants. The ceilings for owning land were also cut from 500 acres of irrigated land to 150 acres in 1972.
Although a lot of propaganda was churned out about the success of the 1972 reforms, the resumed land was far less than was the case in 1959, and only one per cent of the landless tenants and small owners benefited from these measures. Nevertheless, like labour reforms, tenancy reforms for agricultural workers and for landless labour did give those cultivating land far greater usufruct and legal rights to the land than they previously had.
Along with these structural interventions in the economy which changed ownership patterns and property rights, an ambitious social-sector programme, consisting, among other things, of the nationalisation of schools and initiating a people’s health scheme providing free healthcare to all, was also initiated.
However, while economic and social reform was a key plank of the Bhutto promise and his energies were also consumed by the process of getting the POWs released, giving Pakistan its first democratic constitution was also high on his agenda.

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A meeting of the main opposition United Democratic Front at the Intercontinental Hotel in Rawalpindi ahead of the passage of the Constitution in 1973. Seen from left to right are: Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani, Sardar Sherbaz Mazari, Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, Syed Shah Mardan Shah Pir Pagaro, Maulana Mufti Mehmood, Professor Ghafoor Ahmed, Chaudhry Zahoor Elahi, Ahmed Raza Kasuri and Khan Abdul Wali Khan. | Photo: Sherbaz Mazari Archives 

Although 125 of the 135 members of the National Assembly voted for Pakistan’s Constitution on April 10, 1973, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is given, and deservedly so, credit for making a large, discordant group of nationalists and Islamists to agree to the draft.
To get leaders like Wali Khan, who was the parliamentary leader of the opposition, Mir Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo, the sardars of Balochistan, Mufti Mahmud, and Mian Tufail, who had replaced Maulana Maudoodi as the Jamaat-e-Islami Amir, to build a consensus on a document that would determine Pakistan’s democratic trajectory was a major feat.

The Constitution came into effect on August 14, 1973, setting out a parliamentary form of government, with Bhutto as Pakistan’s first democratically elected prime minister. Since Bhutto ruled the Punjab and Sindh, he had made concessions to the nationalists in order to make them agree to his terms. Ayesha Jalal quotes Bhutto as saying that while Wali Khan “vehemently opposed” the Constitution, he skilfully manoeuvred the Khan and “smashed him into becoming a Pakistani”.

A key clause in the 1973 Constitution required members of the armed forces to take an oath promising not to take part in political activities and making it illegal for the military to intervene in politics. Clearly, the military did not read or care for the Constitution either in 1977 or in 1999.

Nationalists and Military

While the PPP had its governments in the Punjab and Sindh, the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Balochistan were ruled by coalition governments formed by the National Awami Party (NAP) and the Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) which gave a voice to Baloch and Pashtun nationalisms of the 1970s variety.
In February 1973, weapons were found in the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad that were supposedly meant for armed insurrection by the nationalists in Balochistan. On February 14, Sardar Attaullah Khan Mengal’s government in Balochistan was dismissed, and the next day, the NAP-JUI government in the NWFP resigned, while Bhutto’s governor in Balochistan, Sardar Akbar Khan Bugti, resigned in October 1973 as a political crisis emerged and grew stronger by the day.
Many of the sardars and their tribesmen had started a militant movement for a Greater Balochistan, joined in by many Cambridge-educated scions of elite households, largely from the Punjab. Bhutto called in the military, with General Tikka Khan, dubbed by many as the ‘butcher of East Pakistan’, to curb the armed uprising and for Tikka Khan to add another accolade to his titles, that of the ‘butcher of Balochistan’.
So soon after having lost political and public support, once again, a constitutional crisis slowly brought in the military into a position of increasing prestige and prominence. The lessons of just a few years ago, of giving nationalists their rights and accepting electoral outcomes, were once again being brushed aside by the same democratically-elected leader, and, indeed, by the military.

Early Signs of Authoritarianism

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A rare photograph of the Bhutto Family in its prime. Seen from left to right are Begum Nusrat Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto, Murtaza Bhutto (looking leftwards), Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Shahnawaz Bhutto. | Photo: Dawn / White Star Archives 

As his rule progressed, we see clear signs of hubris and authoritarianism emerging in the political practices of Bhutto, but there were early signs which may have suggested what was to come, with Shuja Nawaz and many other authors seeing the rise of an eventual “civilian dictatorship”. One example of this was the decision to set up the Federal Security Force (FSF), a paramilitary organisation, so as not to rely on the military, as early as September 1972. The FSF, whose head later became a state witness in the infamous Bhutto trial, was once seen as ‘Bhutto’s private military arm’.
Furthermore, it is ironic that while Bhutto was a social democrat, giving numerous rights and powers to the downtrodden, to the labourers and to the peasants and landless workers, he also used the power of the state to undermine the force of the street, particularly in Karachi. In the summer of 1972, organised trade unions in Karachi took to the streets and initiated industrial action in the form of strikes, but were met by a brutal police force resulting in the death of a number of workers. Organised labour, which had supported Bhutto’s rise, was dealt a harsh blow about the reality of incumbent politics.

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Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was as comfortable, if not more, in the company of foreign dignitaries as he was with the masses at home. He is seen here in Washington DC with United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (left) during a visit in February 1975. Seen in the middle is Begum Nusrat Bhutto. 

Like Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, before him, 24 years later, Bhutto, the Quaid-e-Awam, was building a new country. Both had dismissed provincial governments and showed signs of an incipient authoritarianism and desire for centralisation and control. We do not know what Jinnah would have done had he lived, but Bhutto’s democratic and socialist credentials were soon to come undone.
Arrogance and clear signs of intolerance of dissent were emerging in the Pakistan of 1972-73. Many of the promises made in the late 1960s and the early 1970s by Bhutto were to be played out between 1974 and 1977, setting a stage for Bhutto’s regional and global aspirations and ambitions.
However, perhaps it was the same ambition and confidence that had led him to an electoral victory in 1970 which was to become a cause for his eventual downfall in 1977, and then death in 1979. He had also made far too many enemies along the way, and many of them were just waiting for their opportunity to settle scores. Between 1974 and 1977, Bhutto was to give them many such opportunities.

The promise of democracy by S. Akbar Zaidi. The writer is a political economist based in Karachi. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, and teaches at Columbia University in New York and at the IBA in Karachi.

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Elections and Massacre

The Breakup of Pakistan 1969-1971

 

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The haunting tell-tale image on the top is symbolic of the plight of those who had survived the trauma of the 1971 war, which had led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. She was captured through the lens of acclaimed Indian photographer Raghu Rai who had accompanied the Indian forces to Dhaka during the war. Raghu Rai has gifted his photographs to Dawn for this Special Report.

In her book, The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics, Ayesha Jalal writes about Gen Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, who imposed martial law after replacing Gen Ayub Khan in March 1969 as president of Pakistan when the latter was forced out by street protests, that Yahya was a “boisterous fellow and determined drunkard [and] had a penchant for cavorting with abandon”. Perhaps many would still remember Yahya for what Jalal calls his “nocturnal activities”, since they “were the talk of the nation”, and ‘General Rani’ became part of what she calls “elite gossip”.

However, it is more probable that today Yahya Khan is remembered for two extraordinary developments that took place under his watch: the elections of 1970, and the subsequent massacre in East Pakistan, leading to the separation of the latter and the creation of Bangladesh. He played a key role in both events. Of course, Yahya, even if indeed he was perpetually inebriated, was not the lone player in what happened in 1970-71. Two other actors, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, played critical roles as well.

It was the numerous contradictions which emerged from the Decade of Development’s capitalist logic under an authoritarian military state which gave rise to the regional, social, economic and political discontent of the late 1960s, forcing Ayub Khan’s resignation in Pakistan’s first popular uprising.

In West Pakistan, while it was Baloch and Pakhtun nationalists who were demanding the end of the One Unit, it was Bhutto who led students, the working classes and sections of the newly emerging middle classes against Ayub. While some scholars have read too much into the Bhutto agitation, stating that Pakistan was on the verge of a socialist revolution, his not being Punjabi and having already publicly parted ways with Ayub after Tashkent in 1966, saw Bhutto emerge as the dominant voice in West Pakistan opposing military authoritarianism of which he was once a part.

In East Pakistan, even though Maulana Bhashani spoke for the peasants of the province, it was Sheikh Mujib, who, after raising his Six-Point Programme in 1966 for democracy and greater provincial autonomy, and who was implicated (but later released) in the Agartala Conspiracy Case in 1968, was fast emerging as the main voice of East Pakistani/Bengali nationalism when Ayub was forced out.

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Sheikh Mujibur Rahman making his way through a sea of supporters in Lahore while he was still a Pakistani. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives 

 

 It is important to state that while some Bengali voices were challenging the unity of Pakistan, Mujib, at this political juncture, was still in favour of a united, democratic, federal Pakistan, despite the growing realisation in the eastern wing that East Pakistan had by now become a mere colony of West Pakistan.

Under these circumstances, led by charismatic and populist leaders who had sat through 11 years of military rule, Yahya Khan announced elections for October 1970, doing away with the One Unit, giving the majority province on the basis of its population 162 seats in a parliament of 300.

Yahya had imposed martial law when he took over from Ayub, and the military and bureaucracy were busy influencing political parties and elements that were eager to test their popularity. Historians examining Yahya’s decision have argued that it was based on reports by military intelligence which stated that no single party would win a majority in parliament, and, with a hung parliament, real power would still reside with the military-bureaucracy oligarchy.

Due to monsoon rains in East Bengal, the government postponed the elections by two months. The polls were announced for Dec 7. However, a devastating cyclone in November 1970 in East Pakistan, which claimed the lives of close to 200,000 people, sealed the fate of the elections and, in retrospect it seems, of Pakistan. East Pakistanis were appalled at the response of the predominantly Punjabi-Muhajir military-bureaucratic administration in dealing with this crisis, and East Pakistani politicians, with just a few weeks to go for Pakistan’s first elections, were eager to point out how irrelevant Pakistani Bengalis had become to the ruling West Pakistan clique.

Academics studying the process of democratisation in Pakistan have argued that one of the many reasons why elections were never held in Pakistan was the fear of the Punjabi-Muhajir elites, and of their military-bureaucratic alliance, that with East Pakistan’s majority population universal franchise would always result in a majority of seats from East Pakistan.

The 1970 election results went further in confirming these fears. Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League won 160 of the 162 seats in East Pakistan, giving it a majority in united Pakistan’s parliament. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party won 81 seats out of 138 in West Pakistan, becoming the majority party in West Pakistan, mainly from Sindh and Punjab. The critical outcome from the 1970 elections was that neither of the two largest parties won a single seat in the other wing. Electorally, Pakistan stood divided.

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A grim Yahya Khan at a function during his dictatorship that lasted from March 25, 1969, to December 20, 1971. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives 

While the military’s Operation Searchlight in East Pakistan started in March 1971, the short period following the elections until the brutal military operations, clearly showed how the egos of a handful of West Pakistani politicians played out and were matched with the incompetence and unwillingness of the military leadership in understanding and addressing political issues.

United Pakistan just might have been saved in these few weeks had the Punjabi-Muhajir military-bureaucratic leadership allowed the results of the 1970 elections to be honoured. But this would have gone against their very own genius and their core material interests. Moreover, there was one particular popular democrat who refused to acknowledge the democratic mandate which did not entirely suit him.

Soon after the election results, there was talk of having two prime ministers for Pakistan, with Bhutto apparently having agreed. Yahya, on the other hand, on a visit to Dhaka, called Mujib the “future prime minister of Pakistan”. On his return to West Pakistan from Dhaka, Yahya flew to Larkana to meet Bhutto, who advised Yahya not to give control of the National Assembly, and, hence, of Pakistan, to Mujib. Bhutto flew to Dhaka to meet Mujib, but talks had clearly failed between the two.

Shuja Nawaz in his Crossed Swords writes that there were many senior generals who were willing to “back Bhutto”. Clearly, the electoral winner in West Pakistan and the generals were not willing to honour the election results and a major political and constitutional crisis was at hand.

Bhutto famously remarked that “a majority alone does not count” (ironically, words which would haunt his daughter in 1988), and further made one of his many famous statements, threatening to break the legs of any West Pakistani elected representative who proceeded to Dhaka — “tangain tore doon ga” — to participate in the National Assembly session called by Yahya on March 3, 1971. It was Bhutto, again, who later uttered words that led to one journalist coining the famed headline: ‘udhar tum, idhar hum’.

After repeated failed attempts to call the National Assembly meeting and with talks completely having broken down, Operation Searchlight was launched by the military on March 25, 1971, under Gen Tikka Khan, with both Yahya and Bhutto still in Dhaka.

There has been a great deal written by Pakistani military men and historians, as well as by Indian and Bangladeshi academics and scholars, on what happened in East Pakistan between March 25 and Dec 16, 1971. While versions may vary, as do number counts — of casualties, massacres and rapes — there is broad consensus, especially among Pakistani authors, that the scale and nature of atrocities conducted by the military was on a horrific scale.

A Pakistani journalist who worked for the Morning News in Karachi, Anthony Mascarenhas, wrote for the London Sunday Times on June 13, 1971, an article simply entitled ‘Genocide’, which revealed to the world the atrocities committed in East Pakistan.

Yet, while George Harrison of the Beatles organised a concert for Bangladesh, the US and other world powers, turned a blind eye to what was happening in East Pakistan. As the massacre took place in East Pakistan, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon did “nothing, intentionally”, as documented in Gary Bass’ book, The Blood Telegram, based partly on a telegram sent by Archer Blood, the then US consul general in Dhaka, who warned of what was happening.

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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at one of the several United Nations Security Council meetings ahead of the fall of Dhaka. | The Directorate of Electronic Media and Publications [DEMP], Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad & Karachi. 

 The Americans at the time were courting Mao’s China and Pakistan mattered to them, for it was the conduit for what later became known as ‘ping-pong’ diplomacy. China, too, kept out of Pakistan’s “internal affairs”.

Military action in East Pakistan continued from March to early December, with a Bangladesh government-in-exile based in Kolkata (Calcutta at the time). A pretty large number of non-Bengalis, mainly Biharis, were also killed by those who were part of the Mukti Bahini fighting their war of independence, and hundreds of thousands of East Pakistanis fled across the border into India.

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Millions of refugees fled East Bengal with bare belongings in search of safety. | Photo: Raghu Rai.

Eventually, India launched a military attack on East Pakistan in November, with (West) Pakistan attacking Indian territory on Dec 3. Despite the fact that West Pakistanis were told as late as Dec 14 and 15 that they were winning the war, on Dec 16, 1971, Gen A.A.K. ‘Tiger’ Niazi, GOC, East Pakistan, surrendered to the Indian troops led by Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora in Dhaka. East Pakistan had now formally become Bangladesh. Not just had there been yet another partition in the Indian subcontinent, but Jinnah’s ‘two-nation theory’ had also come undone.

Shuja Nawaz writes that it was a corrupt military’s “wishful thinking”, a military which had become used to the “culture of entitlement”, “clouded by blissful ignorance and liberal doses of alcohol” which led to Pakistan’s debacle, but it is evident that there were at least three clear stages of events leading up to the eventuality of Dec 16, 1971.

By not acknowledging the wishes of the electorate, Bhutto and his backers in the military created a crisis which the military then dealt with in the only way it knew how. Elite interests in West Pakistan were unwilling to give democracy and the people their mandate. While West Pakistani politicians are responsible for the constitutional failure, it was only the military leadership which was responsible for the massacres that took place in East Pakistan.

Sadly though, not many West Pakistani intellectuals or political leaders protested and opposed military action in East Pakistan. Their silence makes them complicit in the killings. India helped East Pakistan become Bangladesh in the last few months of 1971, but was not responsible for the conditions between 1947 and 1970 which led to the breakup of Pakistan. External forces can only build on local fissures and take advantage of conditions created domestically, and India did just that.

Since 1971, one has heard of the great saneha of East Pakistan, yet perhaps lessons are still left unlearned. While the separation of East Pakistan brought about democracy in the truncated Pakistan which survived, events in 1972 and 1973, once again, and despite a democratic dispensation, brought to the fold issues of greater centralisation against so-called regionalism and provincialism, with little accountability and retribution of those who were responsible for the breakup of Pakistan.

Elections and massacre by S. Akbar Zaidi. The writer is a political economist based in Karachi. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, and teaches at Columbia University in New York and at the IBA in Karachi.

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HBL has been an indelible part of the nation’s fabric since independence, enabling the dreams of millions of Pakistanis. At HBL, we salute the dreamers and dedicate the nation’s 70th anniversary to you. Jahan Khwab, Wahan HBL

 

Bahadur Shah II

THE LAST MUGHAL

At 4 P.M. on a hazy, humid winter’s afternoon in Rangoon in November 1862, soon after the end of the monsoon, a shrouded corpse was escorted by a small group of British soldiers to an anonymous grave at the back of a walled prison enclosure. This enclosure lay overlooking the muddy brown waters of the Rangoon River, a little downhill from the great gilt spire of the Shwe Dagon pagoda. Around the enclosure lay the newly constructed cantonment area of the port–an anchorage and pilgrimage town that had been seized, burned and occupied by the British only ten years earlier.

The bier of the State Prisoner–as the deceased was referred to–was accompanied by two of his sons and an elderly, bearded mullah. No women were allowed to attend, and a small crowd from the bazaar who had somehow heard about the prisoner’s death were kept away by armed guards. Nevertheless, one or two managed to break through the cordon to touch the shroud before it was lowered into the grave.

The ceremony was brief. The British authorities had made sure not that only the grave was already dug, but that quantities of lime were on hand to guarantee the rapid decay of both bier and body. When the shortened funeral prayers had been recited– no lamentations or panegyrics were allowed–the earth was thrown in over the lime, and the turf carefully replaced so that within a month or so no mark would remain to indicate the place of burial. A week later the British Commissioner, Captain H.N. Davies, wrote to London to report what had passed, adding:

In captivity clockwise: Former Empress Zinat Mahal; Jawan Bakht (son of Zinat Mahal) and son, Mirza Shah Abbas. Zinat Mahal in 1872 in captivity in Rangoon. 

Have since visited the remaining State Prisoners–the very scum of the reduced Asiatic harem; found all correct. None of the family appear much affected by the death of the bed-ridden old man. His death was evidently due to pure decrepitude and paralysis in the region of the throat. He expired at 5 o’ clock on the morning of the funeral. The death of the ex-King may be said to have had no effect on the Mahomedan part of the population of Rangoon, except perhaps for a few fanatics who watch and pray for the final triumph of Islam. A bamboo fence surrounds the grave for some considerable distance, and by the time the fence is worn out, the grass will again have properly covered the spot, and no vestige will remain to distinguish where the last of the Great Mughals rests.

The State Prisoner Davies referred to was more properly known as Bahadur Shah II, known from his pen-name as Zafar, meaning “Victory”. Zafar was the last Mughal Emperor, and the descendant of the great world-conquerors Genghis Khan and Timur. His more immediate ancestor Zahir-ud-Din Babur (1483-1530), a young Turkish poet-prince from Ferghana in Central Asia had first descended the Khyber Pass into India in 1526 with only a small army of hand-picked followers. But with him he brought some of the first cannon seen in Hindustan*, and he used them to carve out a principality that his grandson Akbar (1542-1605) expanded to include most of northern India.

  • Hindustan refers to the region of northern India encompassing the modern Indian states of Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and some parts of Madhya Pradesh and Bihar, where Hindustani is spoken. While the term “India” is relatively rarely used in nineteenth-century Urdu sources, thee is a strong consciousness of the existence of Hindustan as a unit, with Delhi as its political centre. This was the area that was most seriously convulsed in 1857.

The Mughal House of Timur ruled most of South Asia for more than two hundred years and became arguably the greatest dynasty in Indian history. For many, the Mughals symbolise Islamic civilization at its most refined and aesthetically pleasing—think of the great white dome of the Taj Mahal that Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jehan, raised in Agra in memory of his favourite Queen, or the fabulously intricate miniatures of the Padshahnama and the other great Mughal manuscripts.

The Mughals also define Islam at its most tolerant and pluralistic. Their Empire was built in coalition with India’s Hindu majority, particularly the Rajput clans of Rajasthan, who formed a large part of their army. Indeed, the Mughals succeeded almost as much through tact and conciliation as realpolitik was to make Mughal rule acceptable to the Empire’s overwhelmingly non-Muslim population.

This was particularly so of the Emperor Akbar. He issued an edict of sulh-i-kul, or universal toleration, forbade the forcible conversion of prisoners to Islam and married a succession of Hindu wives. He also ended the jizya tax levied only on non-Muslims, and ordered the translation of the Sanskrit classics into Persian.

At the same time that most of Catholic Europe was given over to the Inquisition, and in Rome, Giordano Bruno was being burnt for heresy at the stake in the Campo dei Fiori, in India the Mughal Emperor Akbar was holding multi-faith symposia in his palace and declaring that “no man should be interfered with on account of religion, and anyone is to be allowed to go over to a religion that pleases him.” He promoted Hindus at all levels of the administration, entrusted his army to his former enemy, Raja Man Singh of Jaipur, and filled his court with artists and intellectuals, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.

 By the mid-seventeenth century, from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi, Akbar’s grandson Shah Jehan (1592-1666) ruled an empire that covered most of India, all of Pakistan and great chunks of Afghanistan. Its army appeared near-invincible; its palaces unparalleled; the domes of its many shrines quite literally glittered with gold.

But what was built by the tact and conciliation of the first five of the Great Mughals was destroyed by the harsh and repressive rule of the sixth. Shah Jehan’s son Aurangzeb was a ruler as bigoted as the best of his predecessors had been tolerant. The Islamic ‘ulama’ were given a free hand to impose the harshest strictures of sharia law. The playing of music was banned, as was wine-drinking, hashish smoking and prostitution. Hindu temples across the country were destroyed. Aurangzeb re-imposed the jizya tax on Hindus, and executed Guru Teg Bahadur, the ninth of the great teachers of the Sikhs. The religious wounds Aurangzeb opened, literally tore the country in two. On his death in 1707, the Empire fragmented.

By the time Zafar was born in 1775, sixty-eight years after the burial of Aurangzeb, the days of the Mughal Imperium were long gone; but the British were still a relatively modest and mainly coastal power in India, looking inwards from three enclaves on the Indian shore. In his lifetime, however, Zafar lived to see his own dynasty finally reduced to humiliating insignificance, while the British transformed themselves from relatively vulnerable traders into an aggressively expansionist military force.

Zafar came late to the throne, succeeding his father only in his mid-sixties, when it was already impossible to reverse the political decline of the Mughals. But despite this, he succeeded in creating around him in Delhi, a court of great brilliance. Personally, he was one of the most talented, tolerant and likable of his dynasty: a skilled calligrapher, a  profound writer on Sufism, a discriminating patron of painters of miniatures, an inspired creator of gardens and an amateur architect. Most importantly he was a very serious mystical poet, who wrote not only in Urdu and Persian but Braj Bhasha and Punjabi, and partly through his patronage,  there took place arguably the greatest literary renaissance in modern Indian history. Himself a ghazal writer of great charm and accomplishment, Zafar provided a showcase for the talents of India’s greatest lyric poet, Ghalib, and his rival Zauq–the Mughal Poet Laureate, and the Salieri to Ghalib’s Mozart.

While the British progressively took over more and more of the Mughal Emperor’s power, removing his name from the coins, seizing complete control even of the city of Delhi itself, and finally laying plans to remove the Mughals altogether from the Red Fort, the court busied itself in the obsessive pursuit of the most  cleverly turned ghazal, the most perfect Urdu couplet. As the political sky darkened, the court was lost in a last idyll of pleasure gardens, courtesans and mushairas, or poetic symposia, Sufi devotions and visits to pirs, as literary and religious ambition replaced the political variety.

The most closely focused record of the Red Fort at this period is the court diary kept by a news writer for the British Resident, now in the National Archives of India, which contains a detailed day-by-day picture of Zafar’s life. The Last Emperor appears as a benign old man with impeccable manners–even when treated with extreme rudeness by the British. Daily he has olive oil rubbed into his feet to soothe his aches; occasionally he rouses himself to visit a garden, go on a hunting expedition or host a mushaira. Evenings were spent “enjoying the moonlight,” listening to singers or eating fresh mangoes. All the while the aged Emperor tries to contain the infidelities of his young concubines, one of whom becomes pregnant by the most distinguished of the court musicians.

Then, on a May morning in 1857, three hundred mutinous sepoys* and cavalry men from Meerut rode into Delhi, massacred every Christian man, woman and child they could find in the city, and declared Zafar to be their leader and emperor. Zafar was no friend of the British, who had shorn him of his patrimony an subjected him to almost daily humiliation. Yet Zafar was not a natural insurgent either.

*A sepoy is an Indian infantry private, in this case in the employ o he British East India Company. The word derives from sipahi, the Persian for soldier.

It was with severe misgivings and little choice that he found himself made the nominal leader of an Uprising that  he strongly suspected from the start was doomed: a chaotic and officer less army of unpaid peasant soldiers set against the forces of the world’s greatest military  power, albeit one that had just lost the great majority of the Indian recruits to its Bengal army.

The great Mughal capital, caught in the middle of a remarkable cultural flowering, was turned overnight into a battleground. No foreign army was in a position to intervene to support the rebels, and they had limited ammunition, no money and few supplies. The chaos and anarchy that erupted in the countryside proved far more effective at blockading Delhi than the efforts at besieging the city attempted by the British from their perch on the Ridge. The price of food escalated and supplies rapidly dwindled. Soon both the people of Delhi and the sepoys were on the edge of starvation.

The siege of Delhi was the Raj’s Stalingrad: a fight to the death between two powers, neither of whom would retreat. There were unimaginable casualties, and on both sides th combatants were driven to the limits of physical and mental endurance. Finally, on 14 September 1857, the British and their hastily assembled army of Sikh and Pathan levees assaulted and took the city, sacking and looting the Mughal capital and massacring great swathes of the population. In one muhalla* alone, Kucha Chelan, some 1400 citizens of Delhi were cut down. “The orders went out to shoot every soul,” recorded Edward Vibart, a nineteen-year old British officer.

It was literally murder . . . I have seen many bloody and awful sights lately but such a one as I witnessed yesterday I pray I never see again. The women were all spared but their screams on seeing their husbands and sons butchered, we’re most painful . . .Heaven knows I feel no pity, but when some old grey bearded man is brought and shot before your very eyes, hard must be that man’s heart I think who can look on with indifference . . .

A *muhalla is a distinct quarter or neighborhood of a Mughal city–i.e., a group of residential lanes usually entered through a single gate which would be locked at night.

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Captain William Hodson

Those city dwellers who survived the killing were driven out into the countryside to fend for themselves. Delhi was left an empty ruin.
Though the royal family had surrendered peacefully, most of the Emperor’s sixteen sons were captured, tried and hung, while three were shot in cold blood, having first freely given up their arms, then told to strip naked:

“In 24 hours I disposed of the principal members of the house of Timur the Tartar,”

Captain William Hodson wrote to his sister the following day.

“I am not cruel, but I confess I did enjoy the opportunity of ridding the earth of these wretches.”

Zafar himself was put on show to visitors. Displayed “like beast in a cage,” according to one British officer. Among his visitors was the Times correspondent, William Howard Russell, who was told that the prisoner was the mastermind of the most serious armed act of resistance to Western colonialism. He was a “dim, wandering eyed, dreamy old man with a feeble hanging nether lip and toothless gums,” wrote Russell.

Was he, indeed, one who had conceived that vast plan of restoring a great empire, who had fomented the most gigantic mutiny in the history of the world? Not a word came from his lips; in silence he sat day and night with his eyes cast on the ground, and as though utterly oblivious of the conditions in which he was placed . . .his eyes had the dull, filmy look of very old age . . .Some heard him quoting verses of his own companions, writing poetry on a wall with a burned stick.

Russell was suitably sceptical of the charges being levelled against Zafar: “He was called ungrateful for rising against his benefactors,” he wrote.

He was no doubt a weak and cruel old man; but to talk of ingratitude on the part of one who saw that all the dominions of his ancestors had been gradually taken from him until he was left with an empty title, and more empty exchequer, and a palace full of penniless princesses, is perfectly preposterous . . .

Nevertheless, the following month Zafar was put on trial in the ruins of his old palace, and sentenced to transportation. He left his beloved Delhi on a bullock cart. Separated from everything he loved, broken-hearted, the last of the Great Mughals died in exile in Rangoon on Friday, 7 November 1862, aged eighty-seven.

With Zafar’s departure, there was complete collapse of the fragile court culture he had faithfully nourished and exemplified. As Ghalib noted: “All things lasted only so long as the king reigned.” By the time of Zafar’s death, much of his palace, the Red Fort, had already been torn down along with great areas of the Mughal Delhi he loved and beautified. Meanwhile the great majority of its leading inhabitants and courtiers–poets and princes, mullahs and merchants, Sufis and scholars– had been hunted down and hanged, or else dispersed and exiled, many to the Raj’s new, specially constructed gulag in the Andaman Islands. Those who were spared were left in humiliating and conspicuous poverty. As Ghalib, one of the few survivors from the old court, lamented,

“The male descendants of the deposed King–such as survived the sword–draw allowances of five rupees a month. Th female descendants if old are bawds, and if young, are prostitutes.”
The city has become a desert . . . By God, Delhi is no more a city, but a camp, a cantonment. No Fort, no city, no bazaars, no watercourses . . . Four things kept Delhi alive– the Fort, the daily crowds at the Jama Masjid, the weekly walk to the Yamuna Bridge, and the yearly fair of the flower- men. None of these survives, so how could Delhi survive? Yes, there was once a city of that name in the realm of India. . .

We smashed the wine cup and the flask;
What is it now to us
If all the rain that falls from heaven
Should turn to rose- red wine?

By courtesy:

 

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A Life Well Spent On All Counts

The Testament of Mr. Jinnah 1876-1948 

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Cigar in hand, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah looking on quizzically as he was being photographed at the Cecil Hotel, Simla, in 1944. | Photo: National Archives Islamabad

After seven decades, how many of the problems Jinnah defined at Pakistan’s birth have yet been resolved?

On August 11, 1947, when Mohammad Ali Jinnah addressed the first democratically elected Constituent Assembly of his newly independent nation, he told Pakistan’s political leaders that

the first duty of government” was to maintain “law and order … so that the life, property, and religious beliefs of its subjects are fully protected by the state.”

Their “second duty,” he continued, was to prevent and punish

“bribery and corruption. That really is a poison. We must put that down … as soon as possible.” Another “curse,” he added, “was black-marketing … a colossal crime against society, in our distressed condition, when we constantly face shortage of food.”
“If we want to make this great state of Pakistan happy and prosperous we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor … If you will work … together in a spirit that every one of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this state with equal rights, privileges and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make. You are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed – that has nothing to do with the business of the state … We are all citizens and equal citizens of one state.”

Mohammad Ali Jinnah devoted the last two decades of his life to the relentless struggle to realize his brilliant and beautiful dream of an independent state of Pakistan, born just 70 years ago out of the Muslim majority regions of partitioned British India.

Sent to London by his father to study business management, young Jinnah’s fascination with politics was ignited by the Congress Party’s president Dadabhai Naoroji, a Parsi whose campaign in the British parliament, demanding liberty, equality and justice for all Indians, lured Jinnah to work hard for him, helping Congress’s ‘Grand Old Man’ win his seat by only three votes, after which he was called ‘Mr. Narrow-Majority’.

Jinnah joined the Congress as Dadabhai’s secretary, and enrolled in the City of London’s Lincoln’s Inn, deciding to study law instead of business. His portrait still hangs in that Inn’s hall, its only Asian-born barrister to become governor general of a Commonwealth nation. After he returned to India, Jinnah also joined the Muslim League, brilliantly drafting the Lucknow Pact in l9l6, which was adopted by both the Congress and the Muslim League, as their post-World War I demand for Dominion status in Britain’s Commonwealth.

He launched his singularly successful career as a barrister in Bombay, rather than in his smaller birthplace, Karachi, which was destined to become Pakistan’s first capital. Before the end of the War, Jinnah ‘s negotiating skills and wise moderation earned him the sobriquet, ‘Best Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’. Throughout World War I, both Jinnah and Gandhi had supported the British cause, as did the Indian princes. Brave Muslims of Punjab were recruited to help hold the Maginot Line in France, and to fight and die in Mesopotamia. Congress and the League had hoped that such loyal service would be rewarded with freedom at the end of the War, or at least the promise of Dominion status. Instead, India was forced to accept martial ‘law’ regulations, extended indefinitely, and a brutal massacre of unarmed Sikh peasants in Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh, leaving 400 innocents dead and over 1,200 wounded.

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Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Miss Fatima Jinnah enjoying a boat ride, possibly in Dhaka, in the early 1940s. Standing on the left [wearing sherwani] is Khawaja Nazimuddin, who was at the time the Premier of Bengal. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad (PID)
Jinnah immediately resigned from the prestigious ‘Muslim seat’ from Bombay he’d been elected to on the Governor General’s Council, arguing that the

fundamental principles of justice have been uprooted and the constitutional rights of the people have been violated at a time when there is no real danger to the state, by an over-fretful and incompetent bureaucracy which is neither responsible to the people nor in touch with real public opinion”.

Gandhi launched his first nationwide Satyagraha in response to Britain’s post-War ‘black acts’ and the Punjab murders. Jinnah, on his part, tried unsuccessfully to caution him against inciting Congress’s masses, who cheered the Mahatma’s revolutionary calls to boycott everything British, including all imported cotton goods from Britain’s midlands, and every British school as well as all commercial and legal institutions.

Jinnah cautioned Gandhi that his movement would lead to greater violence and disaster, but Gandhi insisted that non-violence (Ahimsa) was sacred to him, and Jinnah was booed out of Congress’s largest meeting for calling their Great Soul – Mahatma Gandhi – “Mister” Gandhi. Jinnah felt obliged to resign from Congress, and returned to London to live, and practise law, in Hampstead with his sister, Fatima, and teen-aged daughter Dina. But soon Liaquat Ali Khan and other League stalwarts convinced him to return to India to revitalise the Muslim League, over which he would preside for the rest of his life.

“We must stand on our own inherent strength … It is no use blaming others,” Jinnah told the League in Karachi. “It is no use expecting our enemies to behave differently.”

To young Muslims who complained to him about the behaviour of inept League leaders, Jinnah replied, as he might admonish today’s youth: “It is your organisation … no use keeping out and finding faults with it. Come in, and … put it right.”

Faced with Congress’s revolutionary movement, from which most Muslim leaders were alienated, the British tried to win back mass support by holding provincial elections in 1937, devolving regional powers to popularly elected cabinets. Nehru campaigned most vigorously nationwide and led Congress to victory in seven of the 11 British Provinces. Jinnah’s Muslim League, however, faced with a number of competing Muslim regional parties, failed to capture even a single Province with a Muslim majority.

Young Nehru’s heady victory increased his arrogance and contempt for Jinnah, to whom he replied when Jinnah suggested joint cabinets for India’s large multi-ethnic provinces. “Line up!” Jawaharlal shouted. “There are only two parties” left in India, “Congress and the British”. Jinnah insisted, however, that there was a “Third Party; the Muslims!”

“Unless the parties learn to respect and fear each other,” Jinnah told the League, “there is no solid ground for any settlement. We have to organise our people, to build up the Muslim masses for a better world and for their immediate uplift, social and economic, and we have to formulate plans of a constructive and ameliorative character, to give immediate relief from the poverty and wretchedness from which they are suffering.”
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Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah with Khawaja Nazimuddin during the former’s visit to Dhaka in April, 1948. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad (PID)

Jinnah never again attempted to convince Nehru to agree to Congress-League cabinets, no longer wishing to link the League to Congress’s lumbering bullock-cart of a Party, insisting that the Congress

has now killed every hope of Hindu-Muslim settlement in the right royal fashion of Fascism … We Muslims want no gifts … no concessions. We Muslims of India have made up our mind to secure full rights, but we shall have them as rights … The Congress is nothing but a Hindu body.”

In Lucknow, in December 1937, wearing his black astrakhan Jinnah cap and long dark sherwani, instead of a British barrister’s suit, Quaid-i-Azam (Great Leader) Jinnah presided over his League, assembled in the Raja of Mahmudabad’s garden.

Your foremost duty is to formulate a constructive programme of work for the people’s welfare … Equip yourselves as trained and disciplined soldiers. Create the feeling … of comradeship amongst yourselves. Work loyally, honestly and for the cause of your people and your country. No individual or people can achieve anything without industry, suffering and sacrifice. There are forces which may bully you, tyrannize over you … But it is by going through this crucible of the fire of persecution which may be levelled against you … that a nation will emerge, worthy of its past glory and history, and will live to make the future history greater and more glorious. Eighty millions of Musalmans in India have nothing to fear. They have their destiny in their hands, and as a well-knit, solid, organised, united force can face any danger to its united front and wishes.”

Throughout 1938 and 1939 Jinnah devoted himself to building the strength of the League, advancing it from a few thousand members at Lucknow to half-a-million by March, l940, when the League held its greatest meeting, demanding the creation of Pakistan, in the beautiful imperial Mughal Gardens of Punjab’s mighty capital.

“The Musalmans are a nation,”

Jinnah announced.

“The problem of India is not of an inter-communal character, but manifestly of an international one, and it must be treated as such.” To “secure the peace and happiness of the people of this subcontinent,” Jinnah added, the British must divide India into “autonomous national states.” 

Pakistan was not mentioned in his speech, however, and every member of the press asked him the next day if he meant one or two new states, since Bengal’s Muslim leader, Fazlul Huq, had chaired the resolutions’ committee that proposed partition the day before Jinnah spoke.

Jinnah knew by then that his lungs were fatally afflicted with cigarette smoke, coughing up blood. He couldn’t wait for Congress and the British to agree to the birth of what later became Bangladesh. So he insisted that his League meant one Pakistan, though divided by a thousand miles of North India.

When the last British Viceroy, ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten, urged Jinnah to accept him as joint governor general of Pakistan as well as of independent India, the job Nehru offered Mountbatten, Jinnah refused, never charmed by the Royal Mountbattens, as was Nehru, insisting on serving himself as Pakistan’s governor general.

After seven decades, how many of the problems Jinnah defined at Pakistan’s birth have as yet been resolved? And of late senseless terrorist murders have been added to Pakistan’s list of dreadful crimes against its innocent, impoverished people, helpless women and children, as well as devout Muslims bent in their prayers even inside the most beautiful mosques of Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and elsewhere.

Jinnah worked tirelessly for Pakistan to become a great nation basking in the sunshine and joy of freedom, enriched by citizens of every faith – Parsis and Hindus, Christians and Jews, as well as Muslims of every sect – all working together, harmoniously helping each other to build this Land of the Pure into one of the world’s strongest, wisest, richest countries. That was what the Great Leader dreamed his nation could and would become long before Pakistan’s birth.

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Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah smiling as he was welcomed at the Supreme Court of Pakistan in Karachi in 1947. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad (PID)

 It would never be easy, he knew, yet Jinnah tried his best to remind his followers of what they needed to do, shortly before Pakistan’s birth, when he had little more than one year left to breathe, losing more blood every day from his diseased lungs.

Often asked by disciples, “What are we fighting for? What are we aiming at?”, Jinnah replied:

It is not theocracy – not for a theocratic state. Religion is there, and religion is dear to us. All the worldly goods are nothing to us when we talk of religion, but there are other things which are very vital – our social life, our economic life …We Muslims have got everything … brains, intelligence, capacity and courage – virtues that nations must possess … But two things are lacking, and I want you to concentrate your attention on these.
One thing is that foreign domination from without and Hindu domination here, particularly in our economic life, has caused a certain degeneration of these virtues in us. We have lost the fullness of our noble character. And what is character? The highest sense of honour and the highest sense of integrity, conviction, incorruptibility, readiness at any time to efface oneself for the collective good of the nation.”

His legacy of wisdom was worthy of the Quaid-i-Azam, who lived a life honouring justice and fair play. Every Pakistani must remember that Jinnah’s fearless integrity would never sanction any terrorist murder, nor the violent abuse of any man, woman or child in his noble Land of the Pure.

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Feature Image: Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah autographs his portrait at a reception held in Karachi in December 1947. | Photo: The Press Information Department, Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad (PID) 

A life well spent on all counts by Stanley Wolpert. The writer is a historian and a well-known biographer, among others, of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Al Jinnah.

Courtesy of 

 

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THE MEDIA GROUP

 

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PUBLISHING PARTNER

HBL has been an indelible part of the nation’s fabric since independence, enabling the dreams of millions of Pakistanis. At HBL, we salute the dreamers and dedicate the nation’s 70th anniversary to you. Jahan Khwab, Wahan HBL

 

Lessons we have learnt in the last 70 years

Commemorative events like independence anniversaries are more than just occasions to revel and rejoice with symbolic displays of national pride and rhetorical fanfare. They are a time for mature reflection and informed discussion on what is happening around us, locally, regionally and globally, with a view to understanding how the past informs everyday life and practices. So, although skeptics may carp and complain about the tedium of officially orchestrated remembrances, staged ceremonials are potential catalysts for critical assessments of the present, seen and experienced through the revealing lens of the near and distant past.

Feature image: Revellers celebrate Independence Day at the mazar of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 2014 | Mohammad Ali, White Star

A renewed sense of self-confidence in the foundational ideals of a nation can pave the way for more concerted collective efforts to achieve a better and more fulfilling future.

On August 14, 2017, Pakistanis will mark the 70th anniversary of freedom amid widespread political disillusionment, high security concerns and intense economic anxieties. There are continuous uncertainties about the impact of an ongoing war in neighbouring Afghanistan that has taken a deadly toll on the social and moral fabric of Pakistan for almost four decades. The sense of insecurity gripping their nuclear-armed country will be especially poignant for those Pakistanis who can recall the fateful summer of 1947 when the departing colonial masters stood aloof as their erstwhile subjects celebrated their newly-won sovereignty with an orgy of horrific bloodletting.

As I cited in my 2013 book, The Pity of Partition: Manto’s Life, Times, and Work across the India-Pakistan Divide: “Why have human beings become so thirsty for human blood these days?” Saadat Hasan Manto had asked in his essay Qatal-o-Khoon ki Lakirain (Lines of Murder and Blood). The pity of Partition was not that instead of one country there were now two, independent India and independent Pakistan, Manto bemoaned, but the fact that “human beings in both countries were slaves, slaves of bigotry … slaves of religious passions, slaves of animal instincts and barbarity”.

Muslims were pitted against Hindus and Sikhs in a struggle for national survival then. In our own times, the killing of Muslim by Muslim has turned Pakistan into a virtual graveyard of Islam, leading some international commentators to smugly suggest that becoming the “epicentre of terror” is the inevitable fate of a country born in bloodshed and created in the name of religion. Inevitability overlooks the role of human agency and responsibility as well as the politically contingent nature of historical processes.

There was nothing inevitable about Pakistan’s descent into the murderous sectarian hatred that has engulfed it since the 1980s as a direct result of the support lent by the military regime of General Ziaul Haq to the American-led war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. It is imperative to counter the presentist nature of most contemporary analyses of Pakistan with historical interpretations that are attentive to key shifts at the domestic, regional and international levels. Fed on officially constructed ‘truths’ about history, Pakistanis have been hard-pressed to grasp the reasons for their current predicament, much less counter misperceptions about their country at the global level. Instead of critical thinking marked by cautious optimism that might be expected of a people who have weathered many storms in their short but eventful history, including the traumatic dismemberment of the country in 1971, Pakistanis across different sections of society are confused and pessimistic.

This has much to do with growing economic disparities and the sense of alienation in regions that have been denied their share of resources and political power during prolonged periods of depoliticization under military and quasi-military rule. But the chronic state of national depression in Pakistan stems from a deeper psychological malaise.

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Ayub Khan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Fatima Jinnah in Dhaka Cantonment on March 20, 1948 | White Star

There have been recurrent doubts about the country’s capacity to survive and considerable angst about the artificial nature of a state carved out of the predominantly Muslim extremities of the Subcontinent. In the brutally blunt metaphor of Britain’s last viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, “administratively it was the difference between putting up a permanent building, a nissen hut or a tent. As far as Pakistan is concerned we are putting up a tent. We can do no more”. Mountbatten had fully expected this fragile tent to collapse. Pakistan has belied this wicked prophecy of the last viceroy. But instead of the tent being replaced with a permanent building, Pakistan has transformed itself metaphorically into a sprawling military barrack.

The rise of the military to a position of dominance within Pakistan’s state structure took place within the very first decade of independence. A combination of domestic, regional and international factors tilted the balance firmly in favour of the non-elected rather than elected institutions of the state. Occurring within the context of the British-American rivalry, as much as the Cold War divide between the Soviet bloc and the West, military dominance had been established as early as 1951, well before the first military coup of 1958. Looking to raise a viable defence against India, senior civil and military officials like Iskander Mirza and General Ayub Khan reached out to the centres of the capitalist world system, especially the United States, which after the outbreak of the Korean War were looking for allies to contain the threat of communism.

An alliance with Pakistan would give the Americans military bases in the Indian Ocean, a crucial strategic move at a juncture when British prestige in West Asia was at an all-time low. But Washington was unwilling to pay the price demanded by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan — a territorial guarantee and assistance in pressing India to give way on Kashmir. The Americans had a better chance of swaying military and civil officials who, in an effort to gain some leverage, intimated to their American interlocutors that the prime minister was toying with the idea of declaring Pakistan’s neutrality in the Cold War unless Western powers helped resolve the Kashmir issue. On October 16, 1951, Liaquat was shot dead while addressing a public rally. The murder of Pakistan’s first prime minister heralded the imminent derailment of the political process and the onset of a brutal political culture of assassinations, sustained by the state’s direct or indirect complicity. His assassination cleared the way for Pakistan to join an American-backed security arrangement in the Middle East.

Without consulting either the central cabinet or parliament, Ayub, the commander-in-chief, told politicians – as cited in my book, The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics – to “make up their mind to go whole-heartedly with the West”; the Pakistan army would “take no nonsense”, nor allow them or “the public to ruin the country”. In the event of attempts to destabilize the government, Ayub warned, he would “immediately declare martial law and take charge of the situation” and the “army will do what I tell it to do”.

After Liaquat’s eviction from the national scene, a select combination of senior bureaucrats and military officials took steps to manipulate the administrative machinery, instituting a culture of state patronage that was detrimental to centre-province relations. These moves laid the foundations of what was to become a thriving political economy of defence. After formally aligning itself with the United States in 1954, Pakistan joined two American-sponsored security pacts — the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization in 1954 and the Baghdad Pact in 1955.

The alliance was unpopular in Pakistan, raising the spectre of American military assistance being put at risk by impending general elections. So, the ruling coterie of senior civil and military officials, working within the constraints of constructing and consolidating a state in an adverse regional and international environment, set about trying to control the political process and, failing that, suspending it altogether.

Pakistan’s inability to match India’s success in establishing a parliamentary democracy and avoiding military rule is generally attributed to an inept and corrupt political leadership. But the failure to create a functioning parliamentary system was not due to a ‘power vacuum’ created by a fractious and corrupt provincial leadership at the helm of political parties, with no real bases of popular support.

The very fact of a military takeover suggests that, despite the dominance of the civil bureaucracy and the army, the internal structures of the state were still fluid enough to be threatened by political forces, however disparate and divided. A clear distinction between phases of dominance and actual intervention by the military explains why weaknesses of political parties offer such an inadequate explanation for the army high command’s decision, in 1958, to directly wield state authority.

The military and its allies in the civil bureaucracy felt compelled to abort the incipient political processes before Pakistan could slip into an era of mass mobilization. It proved to be a momentous decision whose legacy is alive and well to this day.

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General Ziaul Haq administers the oath of office of Federal Shariat Court chairman to Justice Salahuddin Ahmed on May 20, 1980 | White Star

The supremacy of non-elected over elected institutions not only survived the tentative experiment in parliamentary democracy during the first decade after independence, and the military dispensation after 1958, but also persisted following the separation of East Pakistan in 1971. A judiciary forced into subservience by an all-powerful executive gave constitutional legitimacy to the emerging structural imbalance within the state in the first decade.

The result was a centralized state structure, federal in form and unitary in substance, whose military authoritarian character went against the grain of politics in its constituent regions. These structural asymmetries have been singularly responsible for the failings and distortions of the Pakistani political system — a lack of democratic institutions, inadequate mechanisms for public accountability, a compromised media, inequitable distribution of resources and a chronic tussle between the centre and the provinces.

The dominance of the military has continued through various phases of Pakistan’s political history and is likely to persist into the future so long as extra-constitutional methods continue to be seen by some quarters as an effective means to disrupt the political process. There is a world of difference between holding elected officials accountable and discrediting the democratic political process altogether over acts of omission and commission by politicians.

Accountability requires legal norms and procedures as well as public vigilance and is undermined the instance it is used selectively for political ends. Since the country has been ruled by the military for extended periods of time, expectations of democracy in Pakistan often verge on the unrealistic. Democracy is not a magic wand waved at election time. Democracy is a process. Democracy is conflict and requires institutions to mediate workable resolutions. The difference between a successful democracy and a struggling democracy is the existence of robust elected institutions in the former and infirm or non-existent ones in the latter.

Pakistan’s survival has come at the cost of weakening democratic processes that are intrinsic to maintaining a fragile federal equation. Instead of learning from the tragic experience of dismemberment in 1971, the postcolonial Pakistani state has retained much of its centralized character, notwithstanding recent moves towards greater autonomy for the provinces. There are, however, some key elements of change that could signal a move away from cycles of military authoritarianism punctuated by short-lived elected governments. The Cold War is over, even if its legacies have endured in Pakistan. In the post-Cold War era, Pakistan is facing a more complex interface between domestic, regional and international factors, presenting opportunities and challenges alike. It took Pakistan 23 years to hold its first general election based on universal adult franchise and it was only in 2013 that the jinx of failed constitutional transfer of power from one civilian government to another was finally broken.

In the past, the judiciary typically toed the line laid down by the military and the civilian bureaucracy and state-controlled media were invariably cowed into submission. For the first time in Pakistan’s 70-year history, the third non-elective institution of the state and the fourth estate are showing some signs of wanting to side with popular political forces.

One of the more significant shifts in Pakistan’s international profile since the height of the Cold War, and one with vast consequences for domestic politics, is the relative decline of American influence. As America strengthens its economic and strategic partnership with India, Pakistan has acted swiftly to improve relations with Russia while further cementing ties with China.

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General Pervez Musharraf | White Star

The role of the United States as Pakistan’s patron par excellence has given way to belief in a potentially dramatic turnaround with the help of China blowing the tantalizing bugle of its ‘One Belt, One Road’ policy. Pakistanis would do well to avoid the temptation of seeing China as their new benefactor. Unlike Pakistan’s past dependence on the United States, the relationship with China must be a partnership for the mutual benefit of both countries.

The extent to which the boons of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) are distributed equally among the constituent units or, conversely, become another means for private accumulation of wealth at public expense will in large part determine this country’s future. An open and informed public debate on new policy directions can go a long way towards smoothening out anxieties in the smaller constituent units about the implications of Pakistan’s CPEC policy. While it is still too early to predict the likely outcome of the CPEC initiative, it provides Pakistan with a real incentive to recast itself internally, regionally and globally.

At a time of dynamic change and an uncharted course for the future, there is an urgent need for the citizens of Pakistan to take the lead in making their voices heard in the highest offices of the state. The need for citizen engagement cannot be overemphasised. Pakistanis might consider taking a lead from their American counterparts who, in the aftermath of the divisive 2016 elections, have shown that democracy is more than just the rite of voting, by actively lobbying their representatives to ensure that their interests are safeguarded in pieces of legislation emanating from Washington. Where politics divide, other concerns can unite.

Pakistani citizens could try and come together in defence of their consumer rights. A civic consumerism that is attentive to quality controls, rising prices of daily necessities and environmental degradation in the name of development can lend substance to the social and economic rights of citizenship and generate popular momentum for putting an end to a kleptocratic political culture.

Admittedly, civil society in Pakistan is still relatively unorganized even though new Internet-based technologies are facilitating novel forms of information dissemination and articulation of social protest. The political party system remains weakly established and, with the constitution repeatedly trampled under the praetorian jackboot, the rule of law continues to be flouted by the very elements expected to uphold it.

Another vital element of detrimental change has been the gathering strength of religious extremism that can be traced back to the military regime of General Ziaul Haq between 1977 and 1988. His rule ushered in qualitative changes in the political and ideological profile of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. The confluence of international factors that came into play two years after his military takeover gave his regime greater longevity than the decade long reign of Pakistan’s first Cold War coup-maker Ayub Khan.

Until the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 brought a reversal of fortunes, Zia faced international ostracism and domestic opprobrium for hanging Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and ignoring calls for clemency. American-backed international support for the Pakistan-based Afghan resistance movement gave a new lease of life to the sagging political fortunes of his regime but never came close to giving it popular legitimacy. While resistance to him assumed multiple forms, both at home and among diasporic communities abroad, urban and middle-class women led street protests against Zia’s so-called Islamisation policies. As enraged women organised the Women’s Action Forum and took on the baton-wielding arms of the state, they were beaten and hurled into jail.

Opposition to Zia’s dictatorship also assumed the form of artistic and intellectual expression more readily than of either symbolic or violent political protests. Ahmad Faraz wrote one of the most celebrated poems of resistance against military dictatorship in Pakistan during this era, called Mahasara (Siege), in which he vowed to wield his pen against deceit and oppression, regardless of the risks. Subjected to public floggings for exercising their fundamental right of expression and thrown out of their jobs, journalists, civil rights activists, labour leaders and intellectuals met in underground coffee houses and the privacy of homes to vent their anger at Zia, his Punjabi-Sunni prejudices and his hypocritical ‘Islamisation’ policies.

Creative writers and visual and dramatic artists used political allegories to register their disdain at the whole gamut of his regime’s self-projections — whether it was the premium placed on an Arabised form of piety or attempts to reverse the few gains women had made during the preceding decades. With women’s rights under attack, there was poetic irony in the fact of Benazir Bhutto leading the opposition charge against Zia’s military rule.

Basking in the glory of his newfound importance to the United States, Zia could afford to alienate Pakistan’s leading political parties as well as forego the support of a relatively small but resilient intelligentsia and dynamic community of artists and musicians. Flush with American largesse that was matched dollar for dollar by Saudi Arabia, he presided over Pakistan’s transformation into a front-line state for an American orchestrated ‘jihad’ against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

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Zulfikar Ali Bhutto is welcomed at Gilgit Airport on August 23, 1972 | White Star

Deployed for strategic rather than religious purposes, the uses of a jihadist ideology by the military regime created the space for a transnational congregation of radicalized individuals espousing different variants of Islam but united in their opposition to godless communists. Once this same configuration of forces turned against their erstwhile backers with unbounded hate and violence, Pakistan was left reaping the whirlwind of Zia’s dabbling in the geopolitics of global jihadism.

The ethical meaning of jihadj as striving for a noble endeavour has been completely lost sight of in the temporal maelstroms of Pakistan’s politics. Departing from Islamic tradition, today’s would-be jihadis have no qualms about jihad being declared and waged by non-state actors. The eagerness to become a martyr (shaheed) is seen by contemporary militant organisations as a sufficient condition to sanctify armed warfare against perceived injustices perpetrated by enemies of Islam. But in exemplifying a widespread desire among militants to become shaheeds and not just ghazis, warriors of the faith, this raises a troubling question about the erosion of an ethics of humanity amidst the brutalization of war.

What Pakistan has needed the most ever since its inception is an educational system that can keep pace with the expanding frontiers of knowledge in the rest of the world and inculcate genuine critical thinking. This had been one of the primary objectives of Sayyid Ahmad Khan and his bevy of acolytes at Aligarh – the intellectual forerunners of All-India Muslim League’s movement for Pakistan – who in the late 19th century exhorted their co-religionists to take to new forms of education as a means for both individual self-improvement and collective advancement.

It is one of the crueler paradoxes of Pakistani history that the breadth and openness of thinking so valued by Sayyid Ahmad Khan and his Aligarh associates stands in striking contrast to the narrow and hidebound world view of those who today claim to have inherited their intellectual mantle. Instead of a wide-ranging outlook capable of adopting and adapting to new ideas, the knowledge gap has assumed staggering proportions, notably in the humanities and the social sciences. The teaching of history has been severely impaired by its replacement with self-serving national dogmas to the extent that critical thinking has become the scarcest of all commodities in Pakistan. This is not to imply that Pakistanis are uncritical as a people.

In fact, it may be that they are a little too critical about everything and, therefore, incapable of the kind of well-considered and measured creative activity that can channel national energies into constructive debate and productive enterprise. It is the deficit in analytically coherent critical thought, more than anything else, which has allowed successive managers of the post-independence Pakistani state to frame the narratives of the nation into implausible moulds without being unduly concerned about facing a coherent intellectual challenge, far less a sustained political one.

In this disconcerting scenario, the burgeoning of a popular culture in the face of decades of state-sponsored Islamisation and terrorism is a remarkable feat for Pakistan. It draws upon rich and vibrant poetic, musical and artistic traditions that are well manifested in the country’s diverse regional and sub-regional settings.

Decades of authoritarianism and state-sponsored nationalism have only strengthened the appeal of regional counter-narratives in artistic productions. Creative engagements with the regional and transnational realms of cultural and intellectual production, facilitated by new technologies, are producing rich and innovative forms of artistic expression. These are being showcased in the literary festivals that have mushroomed across Pakistan in recent years.

Equally impressive are the extensively telecast Coke Studio sessions where talented Pakistani musicians are sponsored by an American multinational to render scintillating new fusions of some of Pakistan’s greatest folk and popular songs. There is a rich tradition of musical and artistic creativity in Pakistan that has actively engaged with transnational trends, resulting in innovative blending and fresh departures.

The transnational reach of the creative arts has paralleled the globalization of Pakistani music. Building on the works of those who pioneered the modernist phase in Pakistani painting in the earlier decades, a younger generation of painters is making creative uses of new ideas and technologies to engage with a dynamic transnational artistic scene.

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Nawaz Sharif speaks at Gurdwara Panja Sahib in Hasan Abdal on June 18, 2009 | White Star

New directions in contemporary art, literature and music underline the ongoing tensions between an officially constructed ideology of nationalism and relatively autonomous social and cultural processes in the construction of a “national culture”. Unable to compete with the financial resources of India’s performing arts and film industry, there are many gifted Pakistanis who are nevertheless making their presence felt as independent artists, musicians, writers and film-makers in the Subcontinent.

Individual success in swamps of collective failure is not uncommon in an authoritarian state. Pakistanis’ cultural achievements, amply evident in the musical, artistic, literary and dramatic productions coming out of the country, reflect the politicization of the personal sphere that comes with the depoliticization of the public arena under authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes. If military dictatorships have failed to stunt creative impulses, waves of terror and counter-terror are being resisted through imaginative recourse to local, regional, as well as transnational idioms of a cosmopolitan humanism that celebrates, rather than eliminates, the fact of difference.

Despite these signs of cultural renewal based on individual creativity, Pakistan has not been able to shake off the stigma of being the epicentre of global terror and the price of losing control of international narratives about Pakistan has been hefty. While Pakistanis must take part of the blame, much depends on the willingness of the international community to recognize their creative accomplishments.

Their efforts to promote peace and accommodation may appear inconsequential, given the aggressive and exclusionary narratives on jihad and Muslim identity that have enjoyed state support for nearly four decades. But the costs of external wars on Pakistani soil have been a potent influence in the rising popular interest in the rich cultural repertoire of the mystical traditions of the country. These conflicting dynamics of moderation versus extremism, openness and engagement with the world versus a narrow and inward-looking closing of the mind, signify the battle for the soul of Pakistan that is being waged on several fronts, most perceptibly in Pakistan’s literature, music and the arts.

This is not to deny that the magnitude and range of problems besieging Pakistan are so vast that even a competent elected government cannot expect to deliver on all its promises. Learning to live with the shortcomings of their chosen representatives without losing faith in the democratic process is difficult for a people who, under years of military rule, have internalized negative narratives about politics and politicians.

If there is one thing Pakistanis need to take from their own history, it is that there is a world of difference between an ineffective government that can at least be voted out of office and the abject failure of democratic processes that military interventions signify. This subtle but crucial distinction holds the key to Pakistan’s release from interminable cycles of military authoritarianism.

It can help trigger the beginnings of a long but arduous journey towards a functioning democracy based on checks and balances between different institutions of the state. Institution building is a long and painful process and Pakistanis have not dignified themselves in this crucial realm. If they can overcome this crippling handicap, they may yet lay the basis for a new and robust federal union based on mutual respect and accommodation among the different constituent units.

Pakistanis can engage fruitfully with the current nexus of political factors only by getting their bearings right. If they are to renegotiate the complex contours of the contested spaces and competing narratives of their collective identity to establish a mutually beneficial federalism, they must face up to some hard truths about their history and muster the courage to learn from its lessons.

The biggest challenge for them is to reject the received wisdom about the past to deal more realistically with the present as a first step towards planning for a better future. What they cannot afford is to continue to allow official idioms of state-sponsored nationalism to gloss over the multiple and conflicting aspirations in different regions that fueled the dream of Pakistan, a denial that constitutes the single biggest obstacle to fashioning a coherent, if not necessarily unanimous, nation. Forced unanimity is no unanimity at all while restrained conflict, respectful of the human rights of all contenders, is the very stuff of democracy.

Insofar as visions of the founding fathers are meant to signpost a nation’s historical trajectory, it may be tempting to attribute the failure of democracy in Pakistan to their flawed political and intellectual legacies. Seen this way, the very notion of a Muslim nation distinct from the Subcontinent’s Hindu-majority community smacked of an inherently undemocratic conception of politics.

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Asif Ali Zardari at Benazir Bhutto’s funeral in 2007 | White Star

Even among those who otherwise hail Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s contribution to the creation of a separate homeland for India’s Muslims, measured skepticism about the appropriateness of democracy in Pakistan has been part and parcel of a self-serving agenda in which the convenience of continued access to state patronage is better than the uncertainties of dealing with an elected government.

As for those given to making sweeping judgments with little understanding of history or context, the absence of democracy in Pakistan is attributed to authoritarian strains in its Muslim culture. Those of the technocratic ilk are known to scoff at the prospect of democracy in a country with a woefully low literacy rate, conveniently overlooking social indicators in neighbouring India, billed as the largest democracy in the world.

One might disagree with the reasons why democracy went off the rails in Pakistan so early in its history. But it is palpably incorrect to locate the failure in Islam, socio-economic determinism or in the founding father’s political legacy.

An examination of Jinnah’s long and distinguished public career should disabuse anyone of doubts about his commitment to democracy and human rights. He was the most eloquent proponent of minority rights before feeling the need to claim national status for India’s Muslims. Firmly grounded in the democratic tradition, he was at the forefront of advocacy when it came to universal education, women’s rights, equal rights of citizenship irrespective of differentiations along lines of caste, class or religious community.

A moderate constitutionalist, he looked disdainfully upon professional rabble-rousers who made cynical uses of religion. “I know of no religion apart from human activity,” he once told Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, since it “provides a moral basis for all other activities”. Religion for him was meaningless if it did not mean identifying with the whole of mankind. Wary of all forms of exclusivity and an uncompromising opponent of bigotry, whether cultural or religious, Jinnah faulted the Indian National Congress’s methods but never once took his sights off the ultimate goal of independence from British colonial rule.

After March 1940, his insistence on national status for Indian Muslims was unshakeable. But the demand for a wholly separate and sovereign state, with no relationship whatsoever with a Hindustan containing almost as many Muslims, remained open to negotiation until the late summer of 1946. The claim that Muslims constituted a ‘nation’ was not necessarily incompatible with a federal or confederal state structure covering the whole of India.

This left open the possibility of an all-India entity reconstituted based on multiple levels of sovereignty. In keeping with the better part of India’s history, an overture to shared sovereignty seemed the best way of tackling the dilemma posed by the absence of any neat equation between Muslim identity and territory. With ‘nations’ straddling states, the boundaries between them had to be permeable and flexible, not impenetrable and absolute.

Therefore, Jinnah remained implacably opposed to a partition of Punjab and Bengal along religious lines, even while furthering the cause of a political division of India between ‘Pakistan’ and ‘Hindustan’. It was the Indian National Congress’ unwillingness to accept an equitable power-sharing arrangement with the All-India Muslim League that resulted in the creation of a sovereign Pakistan based on the partition of Punjab and Bengal along ostensibly religious lines.

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Benazir Bhutto at a press conference in 2007 | White Star

Cast against its will in the role of a state seceding from a hostile Indian union, Pakistan has tried securing its independent existence by espousing an ideology of Muslim ‘nationhood’ that has entailed trampling on the provincial rights promised in the Lahore Resolution and dispensing with democracy for the better part of its history. It is no wonder that the claims of Muslim nationhood have been so poorly served by the achievement of territorial statehood.

These insights have been lost on those who unquestioningly parrot the official idioms of nationalism. Charting a linear course to the winning of statehood, these idioms paper over the vexed problems that a geographically dispersed and heterogeneous community such as the Muslims of India faced in its bid to be considered a ‘nation’. Nor can the sacred tomes of official nationalism explain why there are more subcontinental Muslims living in India and Bangladesh than in Pakistan, the much-vaunted Muslim homeland.

As if these confusions were not sufficient to plunge the Pakistani state into a serious identity crisis, its creation in the name of religion has heaped confusion upon confusion. Diehard secularists see in it the kind of anachronism that only Muslims are capable of conjuring. Self-styled representatives of religion, for their part, have seen in it an opportunity to realise the goal of an Islamic state in which they call the shots. Few have ventured to probe what religion as faith had to do with the politics of difference in late colonial India. It was mainly religion as a social demarcator – and for some also concerns about religion as faith – not the dream of an Islamic theocracy which prompted the demand for Pakistan.

Jinnah certainly envisaged Pakistan as a modern, progressive and democratic state and said as much in his speeches: “We … have a State in which we c[an] live and breathe as free men and which we c[an] develop according to our own lights and culture and where principles of Islamic social justice can find free play.”

This vision resonated with Muhammad Iqbal’s evocation of individual freedom, which was in complete contrast to the theological centralisation advocated by Jamaat-e-Islami’s founder Maulana Abul A’la Maududi. The political architect and poet-philosopher of a Muslim homeland espoused a conception that acknowledged the continued salience of some sort of a state of temporal and spiritual union presiding over regions with shares of sovereignty and citizens with multiple identities — an idea of freedom where Pakistanis in all their diversities and differences could live the lives they valued with dignity, responsibility and a sense of security.

The citizens of the Muslim homeland created by Jinnah, whose federalist vision played such a formative role in the creation of Pakistan, have both a self-interest and moral responsibility to reject the old and tired methods of coercion and neglect of constituent units. It is equally imperative to uphold his singular belief in the rule of law. Pakistan’s future historical trajectory will be what the citizens of Jinnah’s Muslim homeland want it to be. Speaking in Karachi before the Bar Association on January 25, 1948 – as cited in my book The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics – he had urged: “What reason is there for anyone to fear democracy, equality, freedom … as the highest standard of integrity and on the basis of fair play and justice for everybody?”

It remains an aspiration worth striving for, seven decades after the creation of Pakistan.

Lessons we have learnt in the last 70 years by Dr. Ayesha Jalal.  The writer is a noted historian and the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University and is also the director of the University’s Center for South Asian and Indian Ocean Studies. This was originally published in the Herald’s August 2017 issue.

By courtesy Dawn.

The Memsahibs

The Women of Victorian India

In 1834, George, Lord Auckland,  Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital, is appointed to the Admiralty as First Sea Lord in the Whig government of Lord Melbourne. George is a bachelor, and Emily & Fanny Eden are his sisters.  The Government falls but returns to power in April 1835.

In October 1835, Auckland is appointed Governor-General of India, a position which carries with it a great deal of prestige, a high salary and supreme administrative authority over the British Presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay. He leaves Portsmouth on the the Jupiter, accompanied by his sisters, his nephew, William Osborne, and a pet dog, Chance.

In India, George would be answerable to no one; but he had two masters in England–the Whig government and the Directors of the East India Company.  In matters of political policy, he is to act in consultation with the Home Government whenever possible; in commercial matters, he was responsible to “The Company”.

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Emily Eden

Emily Eden writes to her friend, Theresa Lister in London, about their arrival in Calcutta five months later on March 4, 1836. They were to spend six years in India. Auckland’s predecessor in India was Lord William Bentinck, who had instituted a number of successful and far-reaching social and legal reforms which Auckland was expected to consolidate and extend.

Auckland was considered able, with an unflappable disposition and a strong head for hard work. But he lacked imagination, flexibility and sound personal judgement. His sisters possessed some of these qualities but they were not in India to govern; they were there as top memsahibs of the country and their functions were social, decorative and ceremonial. Everyone passing through Calcutta felt they had to call at Government House–and everyone was always through.

 “They come to Calcutta on their way out to make their fortunes or on their way home because they have made them, or because their health requires a change of station and they come here to ask for it.”–

-Emily to Theresa Lister in correspondence.

Barrackpore, sixteen miles from Calcutta, and standing in a large park by the River Ganges, was their weekend retreat.

The unquestioning and prompt fulfilment of their every wish which resulted from their elevated status was a trifle startling at first, even to those of the Eden’s aristocratic background.

“The subservience of the natives to the handful of white men who have got into this country shocks me at this moment”,–

-wrote Fanny. 

Anglo-Indian society in Calcutta had been notorious for this narrow parochialism since the late seventeenth century when the first overseas trading houses were established here. The increasing wealth of the foreign community was based entirely on commerce and its aspirations on the life style of the eighteenth-century British nabob. The nabobs were famed for the size and extravagance of their households, their gargantuan appetites and the numbers of their ‘dusky mistresses’.

For in those days English women were indeed a rarity in India and those there were,  

“not in the opinion of one male resident, either in the education of intellect or heart what an intelligent, reflecting and cultivated man would select as his companion.”

Not that the ladies were short of admirers.  Sophia Goldbourne, one of the fair few, wrote home that

“the attention and court paid to me was astonishing. My smile was meaning and my articulation melody; in a word, mirrors are almost useless in Calcutta and self-adoration idle, for your looks are reflected in the pleasures of every beholder and your claims to first-rate distinction confirmed by all those who approach you.”

By the early nineteenth century more English ladies had arrived on the scene, and in the rows of mansions at Chowringhee, Calcutta’s richest quarter, no expense was spared to recreate for them the ambience of luxurious western-style comfort. Their lofty rooms were stuffed with ‘objects your only interest in which would arise from their familiar associations’, wrote the anonymous author of the Anglo-Indian Domestic Sketch Book. They boasted ‘marble halls and passages, carpeted floors, oil-clothed stairs, fireplaces with all their decorative accompaniments, window curtains, chandeliers, stained glass and, in short, a thousand and one ornamental elegance of fashionable life that would do no discredit to St James’.

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The memsahibs go dancing (India Office Library)
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The memsahibs go dancing (India Office Library)
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The memsahibs do their shopping (India Office Library)
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The memsahib in her sitting-room (India Office Library)
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The memsahib weighing out the day’s supplies (India Office Library)

‘It is so very HOT, I do not know how to spell it large enough’, Emily commented.

People unused to such temperatures do very little in them unless forced. The men who had to earn enough money to bring in the butter and keep the punkahs moving, managed to continue work; the women, for whom there was little compulsion to do anything much, often lapsed into inertia and dullness.

In her drawing-room for the chief part of her day, the Anglo-Indian lady is as much a prisoner by reason of the heat as the zenana woman is by custom,’

wrote one sympathetic gentleman.

‘She is by herself all day long and thrown on her own resources of music, reading, letter-writing or sketching.’

Alone and yet not freely alone, for at ever turn servants waited to do her every bidding and encourage her indolence. Top of the service hierarchy indoors were the

  • butlers and footmen (who wore household liveries),
  • the cooks
  • valets for the gentlemen,
  • ayahs, amahs, and wet nurses for the ladies and children.
  • Each person of consequence had his own tailor who sat cross-legged snipping and sewing on the verandah all day, and
  • most of them had personal dhobies (washermen) who arrived in the morning on a donkey laden with equipment, soap board, a stick for thrashing clothes clean, drying lines and a firebox for heating the water.
  • The water was carried by the bhistie, who had also to fill the rows of earthenware jars in the bathrooms and keep the tatties wet.
  • Then there were the general domestics who carried messages or goods, cleaned or swept, filled and trimmed the lamps.

And outside in the garden and compound was another structure of service,

  • topped by the coachmen
  • elephant-drivers (mahouts
  • head gardeners
  • through the fowl keepers, cowmen, grooms, watchmen, palanquin-bearers, grass-cutters and gatekeepers
  • down to the young lads who swept the stables, cleaned the latrines and the wells, and dug the irrigation ditches round the vegetable plots.

As a lady newly arrived in Madras commented, the results of such a system was that

‘Every creature seems eaten up with laziness. Even my horse pretends he is too fine to switch off his own flies with his own long tail, but turns his head round to order the horse keepers to wipe them off for him.

It was a commonplace that, in the British establishments, the servants were often treated worse than the animals. Emily Eden mentions that the natives competed for employment at Government House because it was

‘one of the few houses in Calcutta where they are not beaten. It is quite horrible and disgusting to see how people quietly let out that they are in the habit of beating these timid, weak creatures.’

But the servants were so poor they had to bear it, and the English, even had they wished for less grandeur, could not economize by letting one servant perform several tasks because of the taboos of the caste system.

The Edens, while learning to adapt themselves to the extravagancies and deprivations of their new life, were also able to stand apart from it, strong in the knowledge that it could not last for more than six years at the worst and that everything back home afterwards would be pleasurable by comparison . . . Assuming, of course, one was lucky and lived long enough to return home, for there was no denying that the India of the period was a dangerous place for foreigners and an alarming number of men and women under forty died there of fevers and other undiagnosed  illnesses.

‘Lord Auckland has a very dry manner always. The sisters quite the reverse, extremely agreeable,’ wrote Mary Wimberley, after her first dinner at the Governor’s residence in Barrackpore. She was quite happy as the wife of Charles Wimberley, who had recently become his Lordship’s private chaplain. Charles and Mary Wimberley had spent the past twelve years shifting about the world in the Christian cause and, compared to where they had been, their ‘nice clean little cottage’ in Barrackpore park seemed a haven of comfort. They had first been assigned to India in 1816, then to the Straits Settlements at Malacca, then Java, Macao, Cape Town and then back to Fort William, Calcutta, where they lived in four stifling rooms with no running water, no nursery and no stabling for their horse and buggy.

Mary was a Scot, with the national characteristic of resilient practicality which she greatly needed, having married a man whose principal gift was for pulpit oratory, and having already borne him five children in various uncongenial habitations. However, it was her husband’s power of preaching in a manner sufficiently stirring to entice people to worship even in the heat of Sunday mid-mornings that had resulted in his Barrackpore appointment.

It was true; she (Emily) was essential to George’s equilibrium, and when Lord Auckland began to plan an extensive tour of the north-west provinces, it was taken for granted that his sisters should accompany him, though it was unusual for ladies of such elevated status to take long journeys ‘up-country’. From his point of view, it was essential to gain some first-hand experience of the real India, for he was surrounded by advisers who knew much more about it than he did, and who were full of bushy-tailed ideas of expanding British influence and authority to the various provinces of the north-west.

But George possessed a too highly developed sense of duty not to go and take a good look at the country under his governorship. Perhaps by so doing he could reassure himself that it would get along all right without too much intervention on his part in the future, for neither he nor his sisters had any urgent desire to probe very deeply into the mysteries of Indian affairs. There were rumours in August that the Whigs would lose power in which case Lord Auckland would have to go home to Kensington instead of on his planned tour Up the Country, on which the Wimberleys were to accompany him. Most of the ladies concerned including Emily Eden and Mary Wimberley, devoutly and secretly hoped for such an outcome but it was not to be. Lord Melbourne, who had appointed ‘G’ to the Governor-Generalship,  remained at Westminster.

Lord Auckland and his sisters left Calcutta on 21st October ‘for eighteen months of travelling by steamers, tents, and mountains’ Emily wrote inconsequentially hating the prospect ahead. With all their pauses en route for visiting out-stations, sketching ruins and holding durbars, it took them nearly three weeks to reach Benares.

The imperial cavalcade was twelve thousand strong with:

  • government secretaries
  • scribes
  • aides-de-camp
  • army officers, their wives and children
  • soldiers
  • sepoys
  • servants
  • servants’ servants
  • drivers
  • drummers and valets
  • guards 
  • guards’ guards
  • laundrymen 
  • loaders
  • messengers 
  • tent-pitchers
  • grass-cutters 
  • cooks
  • mahouts 
  • amahs 
  • herders 
  • grooms.

To transport this multitude and their equipment between ten and twenty miles a day overland in strictly hierarchical degrees of comfort required unspecified numbers of

  • elephants
  • oxen
  • camels
  • horses and ponies
  • tilburies
  • buggies 
  • jonpauns (sedan chairs on poles carried by four bearers)
  • hackeries drawn by bullocks
  • palanquins that were furnished with shelves, a little oil lamp and a mosquito net, rather like a steamer-berth
  • dhoolies, covered litters, lighter and cheaper than palanquins and described by one traveller as ‘a tray for women’ and by another as ‘little four-poster beds with very short legs and curtains buttoned up all round to keep out the rain’.

Relatively few women ventured to India in the first half of the nineteenth century and those who did were frequently ‘in an interesting condition’ or staying at the hill-stations. At regimental balls, therefore there might be but six dancing ladies for every twenty-five men, so that he couples had to dance from one side, then on the other in the quadrilles until the fair few were quite exhausted. It was an artificial situation for both sexes that resulted in a number of hasty and ill-considered marriages, as Emily noted.

For the Eden sisters, elevated by their rank above situations of this sort, life retained its hectic tenor, relieved by the first visit to Simla in the summer of 1838. But come autumn, they were again doomed to the road for a ceremonial state visit to the ruler of the Punjab, Ranjit Singh, at the town of Ferozepore in Ludhiana. The object of this visit was to ratify the terms of a new Sikh-British alliance which Macnaghten and other advisers had been negotiating during the summer. The earlier treaty between the two nations had bee made in 1809, soon after the ‘Lion of Lahore’ came to power. He ruled with masterful ferocity, his greatest strength the well-disciplined and efficient Sikh army which he used to increase his territories by conquest-including the capture of Peshawar across the River Indus that had formerly belonged to the Afghans.

Afghanistan, that was what it was all about–a cunning, virile, poverty-stricken, cynical country which refused to accept its geographical role as reliable buffer-state between the Middle-East and British India. In 1838 the Amir of Afghanistan was Dost Mahomed, an enterprising warrior of ambiguous allegiances who had battled to the top after a turbulent series of tribal plots, fights and counter-plots that followed the defeat of the former ruler, Shah Soojah (Shuja). Early in the century, Soojah (Shuja) had signed a treaty of friendship with the British-which stated that the two countries “shall in no manner interfere in each other’s countries”– and after his deposition,  the Shah had been in exile in Ludhiana under British protection.

When Lord Auckland went to India he was burdened with a secret directive from the East India Company’s committee of directors that the slippery state of Afghan affairs was to be looked into

“either to prevent an extension of Persian domination in that quarter or to raise a timely barrier against the imperial encroachment of Russian influence”.

Once settled in Calcutta, Auckland was further burdened with a great quantity of conflicting advice from his government members on the trustworthiness of Dost Mahomed, the actual intentions of the Persians and Russians about the north-west frontier and the true feelings of the Afghan themselves. Ignoring the last, Auckland made the most disastrous decision of his political career: that the most effective way to forestall Russian encroachment and secure the stability of Afghanistan was to restore the elderly but still aspiring Soojah (Shuja) to the throne of Kabul, and to do this by sending a military expedition made up of levies raised by the Shah, supported by British and Sikh forces.

After reaching that decision in the cool hills during the summer, G. issued a ‘Declaration on the Part of the Right Honorable Governor-General of India’ that became known as the Simla Manifesto, which set out justification for the proposed invasion of Afghanistan. It was an erroneous, distorted and hypocritical document (‘the welfare and happiness of the Afghans’ was, of course, the prime British objective), and it was severely criticized by all in London and Calcutta who had a true grasp of Afghan affairs. But Auckland was determined and, as his elder sister who knew him better than anyone else explained, it was impossible

“to get out of his Lordship’s head what had once been put into it”.

So that was why, in early November, it was away from Simla and back to the tents.  The cavalcade was rather less cumbersome because ‘all the women and other superfluous baggage’ had to be left behind. The only essential females were the Eden sisters and Mrs. Macnaghten. Emily had acquired some lovely bonnets that arrived just before she left the hills. She determined to save the finest one for Ferozepore, “to give Ranjit Singh some slight idea of what’s what in the matter of bonnets”.

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Ranjit Singh drawn by Emily Eden (India Office Library)

What, if anything, Ranjit thought of Miss Eden’s bonnets is not on record; what she thought of him, when she first sat at his side on a gold sofa, is.

“Exactly like an old mouse, with grey whiskers and one eye. . . no jewels on whatever, nothing but the commonest red silk dress. He had two stockings on at first, which was considered an unusual circumstance; but he very soon contrived to slip one off, that he might sit with one foot in his hand, comfortably”-

she wrote that on the 29th November, the day after the first official encounter between the Sikhs and British who had spread their great camps over the plains on either side of the River Sutlej near Ferozepore. 

During the meeting there was the customary ceremonial exchange of presents, but on a particularly lavish scale. From Ranjit, Emily most admired

  • ‘a bed with gold legs, completely encrusted with rubies and emeralds’;

from the British, Ranjit crowed with delight over

  • seven horses,
  • two howitzers ornamented with the Punjabi Star and
  • his own profile, and a portrait of Queen Victoria that Emily had painted specially for him.

In practice, all presents received were immediately whisked away by the aides-de-camp and stored in treasure chests, some for later distribution to other rajahs, for it was an inflexible rule that none of the Company’s servants should receive and keep gifts from natives.

The initial meeting signalled the beginning of two weeks of frenetic ceremonial activity, with fireworks and balls, suppers and dancing girls, and military parades for each force to show the other how fit it was, all accompanied by salutes from Ranjit’s personalized howitzers. Even the more somber rituals of the church went splendidly and Wimberley gave many sermons so stirring that Ranjit sent for him to explain why the English congregated in such numbers every Sunday. Wimberley went, armed with translations of the Lord’s prayer and the Ten Commandments, which Emily thought,

must have been a puzzle- from not worshipping graven images down to not coveting his neighbour’s goods’.

For the Lion of Lahore had done a lot of successful neighborly- goods coveting in his time–after a promising start twenty year before, when he had wheedled the famous Koh-I-Noor diamond out of Shah Soojah (Shuja) under false pretenses. His love of a large glitter was still apparent in his heavily bejewelled Sikh followers.

At last, when everyone of any consequence was utterly surfeited with food, drink and splendor and Emily had seen so many emeralds, pearls and diamonds that she had quite lost any wish to possess them, the leaders of the two armies swore eternal friendship to each other and the camps were struck. For the Edens, it was a move towards another state occasion a Lahore, the Sikh capital; for the men of the Bengal Army it was a move towards the north-west frontier and the unknown perils of Afghanistan.

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Featured image: The memsahibs do their shopping

By courtesy: Excerpts from: The Memsahibs by Pat Barr, Secker & Warburg London 1976

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