The Case of Karachi
By Prof Aijaz A. Qureshi Translation into English by Abdul Malik Soomro Peacock Publishers/M.H. Panhwar Institute of Sindh Studies, Jamshoro
Despite a variety of attempts by some politicians at various times to keep Karachi separate from the rest of Sindh, the city is very much part and parcel of the province that was the first to pass the resolution for the creation of Pakistan. Now Prof Aijaz Ahmed Qureshi has written an entire tome chronicling such attempts, from 1947 to 1970.
Qureshi is a well-respected intellectual and researcher, whose books present chapters from the history of Pakistan that one does not find in Pakistan Studies books that successive governments have developed and prescribed for students and teachers.
He has devoted his entire life to research and teaching and, in the past 50 years, has taught and trained hundreds of activists and students in Sindh. By compiling and writing over a dozen books to date, Qureshi has been able to accumulate a sound body of research work.
One of his books that attracted attention was One Unit and Sindh, which was the first comprehensive history of the movement against the One Unit scheme that lasted from 1955 to 1970. Though there were pamphlets and articles on this topic, Qureshi’s book made a detailed and impressive contribution to the history of One Unit.
A well-documented treatise, translated from the Sindhi original, provides a detailed account of the complex issues pertaining to Karachi’s status within the province of Sindh
At 75, Qureshi is as active as a young scholar. His book under review is a valuable addition to the history of Karachi. Though writers such as Akhtar Baloch, Arif Hasan, Aslam Khawaja and Gul Hassan Kalmati have written extensively on the past and present of Karachi, Aijaz Qureshi’s The Case of Karachi fills a wide gap that existed in this area of study.
The M.H. Panhwar Institute of Sindh Studies is also playing a significant role in facilitating the production of such books that highlight an aspect of history that is not merely regurgitation of the official version that many pro-establishment ‘historians’ have been propounding since the 1950s.
The Case of Karachi first appeared in Sindhi in 2017 and there was a need for it to be translated into English so that a wider readership could benefit from Qureshi’s research. Though the main point of departure of the book is 1948, when the new state of Pakistan decided to separate Karachi from Sindh, some background of pre-Partition Sindh is also instructively provided.
From 1947 to 1970 — when Karachi once again became administratively a part of Sindh — the people of this province waged a relentless struggle to reintegrate the largest city and the only port of West Pakistan into Sindh. This book is a compendium that includes articles and essays by renowned intellectuals on the history of Karachi.
The scope of Qureshi’s research is wide and includes not just economic and ethnic dimensions of the issue; it covers political and social ramifications as well. From the first chapter, ‘Separation of Karachi from Sindh’, the book sets the tone for a more detailed study.
The most informative and well-researched chapter in the book is the fourth chapter, which deals with the debates in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan regarding the handing over of Karachi to the federal government. It is interesting to note that a session of the Constituent Assembly on May 22, 1948 — that Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan chaired as the speaker — discussed a motion regarding making Karachi the capital of Pakistan and severing its link from Sindh’s administrative control.
What is even more intriguing is that the presenter of the motion was Khawaja Shahabuddin from East Bengal. East Pakistan was not yet officially a province, as the old name of East Bengal was still in place. The opening paragraph of the resolution is worth reproducing.
“The capital of Pakistan shall be located in Karachi and all executive and administrative authority in respect of Karachi and such neighbouring area, which in the opinion of the central government may be required for the purposes of the capital of Pakistan, shall vest in and shall be exercised by or on behalf of the government of Pakistan and the legislative power shall vest in the Federal government. That notwithstanding anything in any law for the time being in force, the Government of Pakistan shall proceed immediately to take such steps and adopt such measures as may be necessary to give effect to the purposes of this motion.”
Shahabuddin was an assembly member and federal minister from East Bengal, yet it did not occur to him that his own province, having 56 percent of the population of Pakistan, perhaps deserved to have the capital there.
It was East Bengal that, more than any other province, had struggled to create a new country and strived to divide India on the basis of religion. The other provinces in the western wing had played a relatively less significant role, as most of them had witnessed a sudden rise, only in the mid-1940s, of the Muslim League.
The debates of the assembly that Qureshi has painstakingly collected and presented in the book show an eye-opening episode of that period in history that is useful for observers and students of history to know and remember.
Some members from Sindh, such as Ayub Khuhro and Hashim Gazdar, kept asking questions on the various points of the resolution and how it was drafted and approved before its presentation to the assembly, but Shahabuddin was too shrewd. He ducked all such queries. Feroze Khan Noon from Punjab also became a vocal advocate for separating Karachi from Sindh.
Noon was so vociferous in his assertions that he said there was no alternative to separate Karachi from the rest of Sindh. Gazdar argued that the Government of Pakistan may have its capital at Karachi but that area should remain under the administrative control of the Sindh government; members from East Bengal and Punjab — and of course Prime Minister Liaquat Ali himself — termed it a ‘crude idea’ that will produce “Imperium within an Imperium.” That means the talk about a ‘state within a state’ is not new, but of course this expression has taken up an entirely new meaning now.
Section two of the book deals with Karachi’s separation-related matters and its most important chapters are 14 and 15. Chapter 14 discusses the arrival of refugees and allotment of the properties of Sindh, whereas chapter 15 deals with the issue of the lands of Muslims mortgaged with the Hindus who had migrated from Sindh to India. The chapters give harrowing details on how, in January 1948, anti-Hindu riots broke out in Karachi while many refugees from India forcefully took possession of the houses and shops in Karachi and Hyderabad.
The third section of the book is the longest, comprising nearly 200 pages of the most significant annexures. There are articles and essays that scholars such as M.H. Panhwar, Ghulam M. Lakho and Din M. Wafai wrote about the history of Sindh, specifically focusing on Karachi and its adjoining areas.
A 20-page essay by Hyder Bux Jatoi ‘Shall Sindhi language stay in Karachi or not?’ gives a most informative and interesting reading about the presence and use of the Sindhi language in Karachi and how in the new capital there were serious threats to the language that the local people loved and had spoken for centuries. It’s instructive to remember that Sindhi was the mother tongue of 60 percent of Karachi’s population in the 1941 census, but that number had dwindled to less than 10 percent by the time of the 1951 census. The book concludes with some write-ups by Fazlullah Qureshi, Akhtiar Khokhar, Dr Barkat Noonari, Engineer Obhayo Khusk and Shafi M. Jamote.
The book should be recommended reading in the history department of universities not only in Sindh but across Pakistan. It highlights how the aspirations of provinces got a short shrift from the federal government right from the beginning.
Finally, a couple of suggestions: one, the book should also have another abridged version, as some very long speeches and debates would be presented better in condensed form. Two, for the second edition, better editing would help greatly.
The reviewer is a columnist and educator.
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, August 27th, 2023