Pakistan Under Siege by Masood H. Kizilbash is an ambitious, intense, thought-provoking book that engages as well as distracts as it unfolds. The title and its two parts covering phases from 1857 to 1947, and from 1947 to 2015, suggest that a basic theme applies to both segments of history: that the concept of Pakistan has always been under siege, initially by those opposed to the separate empowerment of Muslims in South Asia and, after independence, by those who acquired power.
However, reading the book indicates a different thematic assumption. In the first part, it is that freedom from colonial rule for Pakistan and India was more the result of a pact between the United States and the United Kingdom — known as the Atlantic Charter — rather than the fulfilment of aspirations for independence of the peoples of the two countries. Signed by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill on Aug 14, 1941, the pact followed the earlier American Lend-Lease Act adopted in March 1941. This provided the UK (and other Allied nations) with direly needed American financial loans/aid and material support of about $50 billion over the next four years to fund the war against the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and later, Japan. In turn, the UK was obliged to accept Article 3 of the Charter: “They [UK, US] respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them.”
Despite this provision, Churchill remained strongly opposed to the British empire’s withdrawal from South Asia. But America’s altruist aims were boosted when Churchill was ousted in the British polls held immediately after the Second World War, and the Labour Party’s Clement Attlee became prime minister. Both Attlee and his party wanted a quick exit for war-fatigued Britain. This premise is not new, but its reassertion as the decisive factor — virtually at the cost of discounting the motivational power of South Asians’ inherent desire for freedom from colonialism — devalues the authenticity and purely indigenous nature of the struggle for independence.
A contentious but thought-provoking book is marred by poor editing
The second, post-independence part of the book’s theme is less contentious. It makes the charge that the post-Jinnah and post-Liaquat leadership dismantled six foundational pillars of the State. They sadly achieved success in five out of six — the sixth being the successful retention of Urdu as the binding national lingua franca in a country where Urdu is the mother tongue of only about eight to nine percent of the population. But the first five pillars, according to the author, have crumbled.
These involve: negating the pluralistic purpose of the State by enhancing the exclusivist Islamic religious dimension in the Constitution and laws; suppressing democratic equity between East and West Pakistan in the first 24 years by imposing the parity principle, the arbitrary dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and the refusal to accept the East Pakistan election results of 1954 and of 1971; the failure to implement effective land reforms in West Pakistan in contrast to East Pakistan, thus permitting the continuation of feudal, tribal dominance; the inability to enforce the impartial rule of law; and wilfully bypassing the rights of non-Muslim citizens and discriminating against migrants from the Muslim-minority provinces of India.
Singly or repeatedly, the book offers assertions that interest as well as invite challenges. They include the claim that the two-nation theory was the result of the covert British policy of ‘divide and rule’ because with the joint Muslim-Hindu revolt against the East India Company in 1857, it was clear that separate adversaries would be easier to manage than a united whole. But this premise spills over into the book’s second part as well to include 1971 when “... this [two-nation] theory of the Muslim League was laid to rest in [Dhaka] ... the place where it was born in 1906.”
An alternative view of history, which this reviewer has expressed in relevant essays published over the past years in Dawn Special Reports (and elaborated in the book Pakistan — Unique Origins, Unique Destiny?) is that the evolution of Muslim national aspirations in the 1857-1947 phase was incremental and reactive. It did not instantly seek a separate nation-state, but only protection of rights as a large minority. Further, that Bangladesh’s creation does not represent a rejection of the two-nation, two-state theory, but a rejection of the state of Pakistan being able to represent Muslim nationalism in both East and West Pakistan.
Post-1971 reflects a continuation and a strengthening of the two-nation theory because the predominantly Muslim Bangladesh shows no signs whatsoever of wanting to re-merge with the predominantly Hindu Indian West Bengal, despite the commonalities of language, culture and history. Religion remains one of the potent factors shaping national identity — in Bangladesh and elsewhere.
The book also claims that the British covertly or overtly supported Mohammad Ali Jinnah (especially in the first two decades of the 20th century) for their own divisive ends. But when they realised that he had become a formidable force in his own right unwilling to be influenced, the British recruited Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and introduced him into the Indian region to neutralise Jinnah as the ambassador of Muslim-Hindu unity and as the unifying visionary of the Lucknow Pact. Gandhi was encouraged to divide the Muslims by his support of the Khilafat Movement and by introducing explicitly Hindu features into politics. Both moves were strongly opposed by Jinnah.
Such assumptions are unjust to both Jinnah and Gandhi. While the author admiringly lauds the unrivalled integrity and determination of the Quaid-i-Azam and also notes that Gandhi began a hunger strike against his own Indian government in January 1948 (to press for overdue remittance to Pakistan from New Delhi of Pakistan’s pre-agreed share of funds, materials, waters, etc, leading to Gandhi’s assassination by a Hindutva extremist shortly after) such speculations disregard the cumulative impact of the historical, political and economic factors that inspired these two individuals to articulate the genuine dreams and values of their respective nations.
Part two of the book makes an emphatic assertion, that up to about 1965, Pakistan’s first two decades witnessed extraordinary economic growth and basic infrastructural development despite the political instability of the 1947-1958 phase. The author points out that this remarkable momentum began in the first 13 months of Pakistan’s existence, energised by Jinnah’s dynamic presence — though he was confined by illness in the last few months. Just knowing he was present in the country as its first Governor-General galvanised hundreds of officers — both civil and military — thousands of citizens and millions of refugees to face the most daunting conditions with fortitude, and unleashed an extraordinary will to overcome the odds. Entirely against hostile forecasts, Pakistan survived well beyond the mere six months given to it by sceptics, mainly because of the invigorating impact of Jinnah’s presence — even if for only 13 months — followed by the sterling integrity and quiet strength of Liaquat Ali Khan for another three years.
There is also the questionable assertion that the formation of Saarc in 1985 was purely due to America’s covert aim to counter China with a new regional bloc. Unfortunately, where the book makes for interesting reading, it also contains some factual errors — Messrs Jinnah and Liaquat did not “abhor” requesting foreign aid or loans. As declassified documents reveal, as early as October 1947, Mir Laiq Ali, as special emissary to the US, made a written request for a loan of $2 billion to meet urgent needs in the economic, agricultural, industrial, services and defence sectors — a request quite understandable in view of the scarce resources of the newborn state, and one that was politely but firmly declined on the grounds that the US simply did not have money to spare. Balakh Sher Mazari is named in the book as the caretaker prime minister in August 1990, whereas Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi actually discharged that function (Mazari was prime minister briefly in May 1993). Ahmadis were declared non-Muslim by a constitutional amendment moved by the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto-led PPP in 1974, not in 1977 during the Pakistan National Alliance agitation against Bhutto. Bhutto did not make “anti-Urdu” comments when he endorsed the Sindh Assembly’s decision to give Sindhi equivalent status in Sindh. Furthermore, in her first tenure as prime minister, Benazir Bhutto (in whose cabinet this reviewer had the privilege of serving) did not accept American requests to remove Pakistani troops from the Line of Control in Kashmir, thereby allegedly upsetting army chief Aslam Beg.
Both author and publisher should have devoted more attention to syntax, spellings and proofreading because blemishes distract. Kizilbash is a respected former government officer with extensive experience in social development and local governance. He worked at senior levels in the federal government and ably represented it in relations with United Nations agencies, the World Bank and other forums. After retirement, he continues his association with the development process as a consultant and as a published analyst. His book reflects a notable sensitivity and deep concern for the future of a country besieged as much by self-created demons as by perennially hostile forces unable to accept the incredible resilience of Pakistan.
The reviewer is the author of Pakistan — Unique Origin, Unique Destiny?
Pakistan Under Siege
By Masood H. Kizilbash
Royal Book Company, Karachi
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, October 22nd, 2017
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