A brief (alternative) history of Pakistan

Posted in fantasy by jrahman on July 23, 2011

Previously, Pakistan is created as a ‘moth nibbled basket case’, with its first prime minister MA Jinnah dying after merely 13 months in office.

Whereas the founding fathers of India had debated a lot about the shape that country should take after independence, nothing like that happened in Pakistan.  Its early years, even decades, were spent reacting to crises.  There were no grandiose speeches about the vision for Pakistan its founders may have had, there are no treatise about the meaning of Pakistan.  Its politics and institutions reflect pragmatic responses to those crises.  For example, it has one of the world’s best disaster management capability — a result born out of the necessity to tackle the manifest natural and humanitarian crises that  engulfed the country at its birth.  But because so much of the country’s meagre resources in early years were spent on relief and rehabilitation, precious little were left for the security apparatus — the result is seen in the country’s terrible crime statistics.

Still, the fact that Pakistan has survived all these decades means that the ad hoc decisions taken in the initial years must have, on balance, worked.  Could it have done better?  Ah, the what ifs of history.  Instead of pondering the unknowable, let’s look at how things played out in the country’s formative years.

Jinnah’s time in office was of course shorter than the 13 months he served officially as the prime minister.  For much of that time, he was ill — a lifelong habit of chain-smoking had left his lungs completely damaged, though this was not well known at the time. Fazlul Huq, the veteran Bengali leader and the country’s first home minister, served as the de facto prime minister for much of the first year, until he became the governor general when Mountbatten returned to London.

Jinnah and Huq were ably assisted by the relief and rehabilitation minister Liaquat Ali Khan and the finance minister Ghulam Muhammad.  Their single biggest priority was to tackle the famine in the western wing, and restore order in the east.  By the monsoon of 1948, both objectives were being met.  HS Suhrawardy, the first chief minister of Purbadesh — as East Bengal was renamed in 1948 — of course played a major role in pacifying the eastern wing.

In the brief time that Jinnah could actually spent in office, he took two momentous decisions.  First, to save on administrative costs, the five provinces in the western wing were amalgamated into one single entity called Maghrebistan.  While it did save the new country a lot in cash, given the periodic strife in its multi-ethnic cities, one does wonder whether this was a wise decision.  Second, he negotiated a comprehensive accord with his Indian counterpart Pundit Nehru that has kept South Asia free of any major state-based (as opposed to internal) conflicts over the past six decades.

Of course, Jinnah didn’t live to sign the accord.  That task fell on Suhrawardy, who succeeded Jinnah as the prime minister in September 1948.  This was somewhat ironic because the accord was strongly resented in the eastern wing — the scars of partition were still fresh.  But Suhrawardy realised that the new country couldn’t afford sustained antagonism with its larger neighbour.

When Suhrawardy moved to Karachi to become the prime minister, Khawaja Nazimuddin replaced him as the chief minister in the east.  Liaquat Ali Khan moved to Lahore to become the chief minister of the newly formed Maghrebistan.  With the survival of the country ensured, Suhrawardy needed to frame a constitution.

Keeping with the practicality and pragmatism theme of the time, the constitution that was adopted in 1949 (coming into effect on 23 March 1950 — exactly a decade after Lahore Resolution was adopted) relied heavily on the 1935 Governance of India Act.  However, two modifications were made.  First, suffrage was extended to all adults.  Second, separate electorate for the religious communities were abandoned.  The first change was uncontroversial, but the second met resistance in the east, where communal bitterness lingered.  However, politicians in the west were keen to capture the non-Muslim vote, and ever-the-canny politician, Suhrawardy was not about to concede grounds to factional opponents in the ruling Muslim League.

His opponents coalesced around Liaquat and Nazimuddin.  Muslim League held its first council meeting after independence in June 1949.  The council, held in Chittagong, ended up in serious bickering over organisational matters.  Fazlul Quader Chowdhury, a local youth leader, physically assaulted Liaquat, who left the venue with his supporters.

The party effectively split across the country in the ensuing weeks.  And then in early 1950, the court ruled that neither factions had stronger claims to the name Muslim League.  As the country prepared for its first election in December 1950, the Suhrawardy faction — in power in the centre — became the Pakistan National League.  The other faction, which ran both provinces, became the Pakistan Awami League.

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  1. […] with its first prime minister MA Jinnah dying after merely 13 months in office.  Subsequently, the Muslim League splinters into two parties, each vying to win the country’s first general election in December […]

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