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August 14, 1947: Birth of a Nation

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

/ by प्रतीक कुमार

On this day, 72 years ago, Pakistan, the end result of the two nation theory, celebrated its creation. Newspapers in Lahore, the epicenter of the partition holocaust, didn't even bother reporting of the independence ceremony. The Muslim League got a 'Homeland' for the subcontinent's Muslims; Indians got Independence the next day, while the British called it the Transfer of Power. Pakistan has largely failed to live up to the hopes of its founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

What was the occasion?

Pakistan celebrated its coming into existence on August 14, 1947 – a day of immense achievement for the founders, but also the day when the event of Partition was unleashing bloodbath on the streets of the new nation. The British rulers had sliced a giant Indian empire into two new countries: a Hindu-majority India, and Pakistan, home to mostly Muslims.

The partition of India and Pakistan ended two centuries of British colonial rule and saw one of the largest human migrations the world has ever seen. The border, cutting through Bengal in the east and Punjab in the west, was confirmed two days after India became independent. A line was quickly marked on maps using censuses of "minority" and "majority" populations.
An estimated 12-15 million people left their homes and crossed the new border based on their faith - Muslims to Pakistan, while Hindus and Sikhs took the opposite journey.At least a million people died in communal attacks as they crossed the border and tens of thousands of women and girls were abducted and raped. This hastily drawn line and the violence that followed continue to plague ties with India and Pakistan to this day.

Partition is central to modern identity in the Indian subcontinent, as the Holocaust is to identity among Jews, branded painfully onto the regional consciousness by memories of almost unimaginable violence. The acclaimed Pakistani historian Ayesha Jalal has called Partition “the central historical event in twentieth century South Asia.” She writes, “A defining moment that is neither beginning nor end, partition continues to influence how the peoples and states of postcolonial South Asia envisage their past, present and future.”
This was the price Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League, was willing to pay.

Jinnah was in many ways a surprising architect for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. A staunch secularist, he drank whiskey, rarely went to a mosque, and was clean-shaven and stylish, favoring beautifully cut Savile Row suits and silk ties. Significantly, he chose to marry a non-Muslim woman, the glamorous daughter of a Parsi businessman.

Indeed, he had spent the early part of his political career, around the time of the First World War, striving to bring together the Muslim League and the Congress Party. “I say to my Musalman friends: Fear not!”he said, and he described the idea of Hindu domination as “a bogey, put before you by your enemies to frighten you, to scare you away from cooperation and unity, which are essential for the establishment of self-government.”

In 1916, Jinnah, who, at the time, belonged to both parties, even succeeded in getting them to present the British with a common set of demands, the Lucknow Pact. He was hailed as “the Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity.” But Jinnah felt eclipsed by the rise of Gandhi and Nehru, after the First World War. In December, 1920, he was booed off a Congress Party stage when he insisted on calling his rival “Mr. Gandhi” rather than referring to him by his spiritual title, Mahatma — Great Soul.
Throughout the nineteen-twenties and thirties, the mutual dislike grew, and by 1940 Jinnah had steered the Muslim League toward demanding a separate homeland for the Muslim minority of South Asia. This was a position that he had previously opposed, and he privately reassured skeptical colleagues that Partition was only a bargaining chip.

Even after his demands for the creation of Pakistan were met, he insisted that his new country would guarantee freedom of religious expression. In August, 1947, in his first address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan, he said, “You may belong to any religion, or caste, or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

Jinnah, who had succeeded in creating a new country, regarded the truncated state he was given — a slice of India’s eastern and western extremities, separated by a thousand miles of Indian territory — as “a maimed, mutilated and moth-eaten” travesty of the land he had fought for.

Jinnah wasn’t wrong. He would not live long enough (passing away on September 11, 1948) to see his vision get trampled by petty politicians who brought religion to the center of all acts of the state of Pakistan.
It is said that when the Viceroy of India Lord Louis Mountbatten, learned of Jinnah’s illness he said, “Had we known that Jinnah was about to die, we would have postponed India’s independence by a few months as he was inflexible on Pakistan”.

Pakistan at 72 is still poor and deprived, a 21st century state still grappling with 19th century problems. Till the last year, it was badly governed and held hostage by the political shenanigans of a corrupt political elite and a distrustful military establishment. Today, the Prime Minister, Imran Khan, is widely seen as a puppet of the army.

Worst of all, those in position of power refuse to see the enormity of the problems the country confronts, preferring instead to play their own petty power games while scapegoating internal and external enemies.
Pakistan has nuclear weapons, so that kind of makes up for the lack of everything else.

Why does Pakistan celebrate its Independence Day on August 14?

Pakistan's first Independence Day was supposed to be celebrated on August 15, as was the case with India, but later on it was advanced to August 14.
One of the reasons is that British Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, who had chosen August 15 to commemorate the surrender of Japan to the Allies Power marking the end of World War II in 1945, sought to transfer power to Pakistan on August 14 so that he could be present in New Delhi to observe India's maiden Independence Day celebrations.

As per another theory, Pakistan decided to celebrate its Independence Day on August 14 because Laylat al-Qadr (27th night of Ramadan), an auspicious date of the Islamic lunar calendar, coincided with it. Hence the Pakistanis decided to celebrate their Independence Day a day before the actual date.
But techically, August 15 is the actual Independence Day for both India and Pakistan (Even South Korea observes its Liberation Day on August 15). The Indian Independence Act of 1947 clearly said: "As from the fifteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and forty-seven, two independent Dominions shall be set up in India, to be known respectively as India and Pakistan."

Even Pakistan's founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah had declared August 15 as the birthday of the independent and sovereign state of Pakistan. The first commemorative postage stamps of Pakistan, which were released in July 1948, also mentioned 15 August 1947 as its Independence Day.

Perhaps this was also Pakistan’s declaration of intent that it would remain ahead of India. That hope would soon be belied.

When did things start to go wrong for Pakistan?

As Jawaharlal Nehru and Jinnah were addressing their respective Constituent Assemblies, they knew the task ahead was not going to be easy. Both nations lacked the institutions that could sustain the test of time. Democracy was an alien concept in both countries — more so in Pakistan. The rushed nature of the partition process meant that Pakistan had to set up a whole new state from scratch.

A model of governance had to be institutionalized through a written Constitution. Moreover, both nation-states had a myriad of socio-political issues to resolve — ethnic and linguistic sub-nationalism, role of religion in state affairs, devolution of power to constituents and implementing land reforms.

While both countries faced similar socio-economic issues, India had the advantage of being the successor state of the British Raj. In 1947, India was home to about a quarter of the world population with an established industrial base. Pakistan, on the other hand, was nothing more than an amputated piece of land without a coherent industrial base or even a capital city.

In the backdrop of such challenges, Nehru and Jinnah came up with impressive inaugural speeches. While Nehru’s “Tryst with Destiny” speech set the tone for India’s future role as a responsible voice of the third world, Jinnah’s “secular State” speech sought to position Pakistan as a country where every citizen, irrespective of his religion will be treated equally. Interestingly, Jinnah’s speech sounded an antithesis of the very concept of Pakistan – a state for the Muslims of India. However, both leaders would not have had the slightest of idea on how the destinies of their countries would pan out in the next seven decades.

Despite all his flaws, Nehru was an institution builder, creating and nurturing several institutions that have endured the test of time.
Jinnah died too soon to turn his vision of a Turkey-like Pakistan into reality. However, historians still debate whether Pakistan could have become South Asia's Turkey had Jinnah lived long enough to fulfill his dream of emulating his idol Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. But history is the saga of many ifs and buts.

The reticent Jinnah never developed a second generation of leadership in the Muslim League.When asked who all he thought helped him achieve Pakistan, Jinnah remarked, “I, my secretary and his typewriter”. Jinnah’s death created a huge void in the national leadership, which could never really be filled. Pakistan struggled with political instability; the Constitution took nine years to take shape, while the idea of democracy failed in the nascent nation-state.

Where was democracy slaughtered?

In 1958General (later field marshal) Ayub Khan took over the reins of Pakistan. Since then, the military has shaped the destiny of Pakistan, either directly or indirectly. Towards the end of 1960s, Ayub had strengthened the military’s hold over the State machinery and inaugurated a Constitution establishing a presidential form of government, elected by “basic electors” – a concept which was as vague as it sounds.

Meanwhile, India had begun to take baby steps into the world of democracy. Proving critics wrong, India successfully held four general elections. The Centre, aided by several states, also introduced legislations to implement land reforms, albeit with limited success.
From 1950s onwards, when ethnic sentiments emerged in East Pakistan over the alleged economic and cultural indifference by Pakistan's western wing. Separated from each other by over a thousand miles, religion was the only common factor between the two wings of the country. The obsession with the theory meant that ethnic and language issue was never given serious consideration. Since the establishment of Pakistan, it was amply made clear that Urdu would continue to be the national language of the newly carved nation-state.

Federalism as an idea never took off in Pakistan. In 1955, four provinces of the western wing – Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa – were unified under the One Unit scheme to bring "parity" between the two wings of Pakistan. The plan also nullified the numerical advantage of the Bengalis, ending up alienating the eastern wing. The controversial scheme was ultimately scrapped in 1970.

The Anti-Bengali sentiment transgressed the economic realm too. The eastern wing was discriminated in the allocation of central funds, with western wing receiving 70 percent of the funds between 1950 and 1970. All these factors forced Awami leader Mujibur Rahman to seek more autonomy in the 1960s. However, Pakistan’s military dictatorship brooked no dissent as Mujibur and fellow leaders were jailed for their demands. Things reached the nadir, when Bengali nationalists declared independence in March 1971. Nine months later, Bangladesh was born.

While "Indira's India" was flirting with authoritarianism, a truncated Pakistan finally saw the dawn of democracy under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. In 1973, Bhutto became Pakistan’s first democratically elected leader after drafting the country’s third Constitution. For the first time in Pakistan's political history, a government pursued an ideology-based policy.

Bhutto embarked on a socialist sojourn, nationalizing heavy industries, addressing labour issues, implementing two phases of land reforms – with limited success and improving ties with the Warsaw Pact countries. In the process, Bhutto created a political ideology called "Bhuttoism". It was probably the only time in subcontinent's history when both countries seemed to be on the same page on the question of economy.

General Muhammad Zia ul Haq

While India applied the break on authoritarianism with electing the Janata Party, Pakistan applied reverse gear to return to dictatorship. On 5 July 1977, General Muhammad Zia ul Haq overthrew the democratically elected Bhutto government. The racoon-eyed Zia cruelly put his former boss Bhutto to death in an obscure murder case and went on to rule for 11 years. Lacking a constituency of his own, Zia introduced Sharia law in a bid to gain the approval of Islamists. While reneging on his promise to hold elections till 1985, Zia consolidated the military as part of Operation Cyclone – the covert US plan to back Mujahideens in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.

Zia's policies created the mullah-military complex – a byword for rabid Islamisation of the State machinery. The dominant moderate voices were sidelined while Islamism gained ground in Pakistan. The general was also single-handedly responsible for the rise of Pakistan as the "motherboard of terrorism". When Zia was planning a non-party election in 1985, Rajiv Gandhi had just won the largest ever mandate in India's history.

Who were at the helm in recent times?

India and Pakistan were again at the crossroads of destiny in the mid-90s.
While India was struggling with coalition politics in its 50th year of Independence, Pakistan had elected its most powerful government. In the February 1997 elections, Nawaz Sharif secured his second term as prime minister with a two-third majority.

1998 will go down in history as the year that changed the strategic balance of the region. India conducted its first thermonuclear tests — Shakti I and II — on 11 and 13 May while Pakistan followed up with its own tests codenamed Chagai I and II on 28 and 30 May.

A day before Atal Bihari Vajpayee was to take oath as the leader of the first majority-enjoying coalition government in India’s history; General Pervez Musharraf disposed Sharif on the night of 12 October 1999. And the reason for Vajpayee’s ascendency to power and Sharif’s downfall was the same: Kargil War.
In 2013, Pakistan saw a democratic transition of power for the first time – a significant event in the country’s chequered democracy. However, no Pakistan prime minister has ever completed a full five-year term. The one who was expected to break the jinx – Sharif – was dismissed by the Pakistan Supreme Court on corruption charges and disqualified from contesting elections. He is currently languishing in prison and his bitter rival Imran Khan is the Prime Minister.

Though the army is unlikely to take over the reins of the country anytime soon, its influence on the government is only expected to get stronger with increase in tensions with India.

How is Pakistan celebrating this year?

Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan will celebrate the Independence Day of Pakistan (August 14) in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK) where he is scheduled to address the legislative assembly after India revoked Article 370 of the Constitution which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir.

According to the Prime Minister's office, Khan, accompanied by several ministers, will fly to Muzaffarabad on August 14 and hold an all-parties' conference there. He will be presented with a Guard of Honour. "The Pak PM will be travelling by helicopter for his one-day trip to Pakistan-administered Kashmir, along with other ministers," the Prime Minister's office said.
Besides, he will also hold meetings with other political representatives, including the All Parties Hurriyat Conference members and other Kashmiri leaders. Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had visited Muzaffarabad on the occasion of Eid on Aug. 12 and had prepared the ground for Imran Khan's visit. "Pakistani nation and political leadership is united on the issue of Kashmir and one voice will be sounded on August 14 in support of Kashmiris." Qureshi had said.

The dispute over Kashmir has long been a flash point between India and Pakistan, with each nuclear-armed country holding the threat of retaliation over the other. But when India stripped the region of Kashmir of its autonomy on Aug. 5, Pakistan’s reaction appeared to be limited to expressing frustration.

As Pakistan marks its independence day, it increasingly feels like a nation with its back against the wall, with few options to protect its existential interests. Its economy is teetering on the brink of collapse, and its international allies have either stayed silent over Kashmir or defected in support of India.

A conventional military reaction is probably too costly as Pakistan seeks to shore up its finances. And one of the most effective strategies Pakistan has traditionally employed — using an array of militant groups as proxies to keep neighbors in check — has become a liability, amid the threat of international sanctions. (Pakistan has denied that it uses militant groups to achieve its foreign policy objectives.)

Muslim nations have usually supported Pakistan’s claims on Kashmir. But with their own economic and political troubles at home, many have tilted toward India, looking to secure lucrative deals with the rising economic power. The biggest blow came from the influential United Arab Emirates, which stated that Kashmir was an internal matter for India, withdrawing any support to raise the issue internationally.

Meanwhile, on Aug. 13, Pakistan's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Maleeha Lodhi had to leave from an event after a man heckled and accused her of corruption, saying "You are a thief and don't deserve to represent Pakistan". In a video, Lodhi is seeing evading questions raised by the Pakistan national during a UN event in New York. While the diplomat was apparently addressing media persons, the man, who seemed enraged, was heard asking whether she had a minute to answer his questions his questions and then without waiting for a reply asked: "What are you doing from the last 15 to 20 years. You are not representing us."
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