How Pakistan Got Divided

Review of General Rao Farman Ali’s book by Major Amin


Reviewed by Major Agha H Amin (Retired)

This is yet another disappointing book in the genre that Pakistani writers write to rationalize the separation of East Pakistan and creation of the new state Bangladesh in 1971. The real causes are always simply whitewashed and not even discussed. This book does so again .

The book is divided in 17 chapters but only one deals in a very vague and rudimentary manner with the historical background. The remaining chapters are devoted to 1970 elections and its aftermath. This is a rather ultra myopic way of writing history. The bottom line of the whole issue was that ethnicity was the defining factor in Indian Muslim relations. Starting in 1906 Indian Muslim politics was dominated by United Provinces (UP) Muslims . When All India Muslim League was created in 1906 with Bengalis in the forefront , it was hijacked by UP Muslims and its headquarters shifted to Aligarh in 1907 . Bengalis were regarded as an inferior Dravidian race. The watershed moment was the Lucknow Pact under stewardship of Mr Jinnah,  where without discussing the matter with Punjabis or Bengali Muslims a twin thrust in the back was delivered to Punjab and Bengal. Punjab’s Muslim legislative majority being reduced from 54 to 50 % and Bengal’s Muslim majority reduced from 52 to 40 % . All this being done by an All India Muslim League that contained 90 % of its delegates from Lucknow city and UP.

Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, a UP Muslim leader in his book Pathway to Pakistan severely criticized Lucknow Pact and Mr Jinnah and termed it as an act of Muslim political inexperience. As a result of the Lucknow Pact, Bengali Muslims were reduced to 40 %, were severely destabilized, and could not form any stable government in Bengal from 1937 (when the first elections were held in India) till 1947. The Punjabi Muslims were also destabilized but managed to survive by forming the Unionist Party which was an agriculturist party of combined Muslim, Hindu and Sikh agricultural interests which defeated the All India Congress in Punjab elections.

When Pakistan was created , Pakistani politicians from West Pakistan deliberately delayed constitution making as they did not want to concede to Bengalis their 54 % majority.This situation lasted for nine years, at which point the Bengalis were forced literally at gun point to accept 50 % legislative representation. However before this imperfect and unjust arrangement could be tried in elections scheduled in 1959, martial law was imposed in 1958. This martial law laid the foundations of secession of East Pakistan as it shifted the center of gravity irrevocably to West Pakistan.

The situation of that time had parallels to what happened in united Punjab in the 1920s. Then Punjabi Hindus regarded Punjabi Muslims as politically educationally and economically inferior and in 1921 raised a political demand that if Punjabi Muslims were to get their due 54 % majority in any legislative arrangement , Punjab should be partitioned. We find similar sentiment in West Pakistan’s newspaper articles of 1950s where West Pakistani writers stated that if East Bengal was to get their true majority in parliament Pakistan should be a confederation, ironically just like Sheikh Mujeeb was to recommend many years later in his six points!

The background to this was simple. The West Pakistanis , Punjabis and UP Muslim emigrants in the lead, dominated the civil service and army and thus the decision making processes of the new state called Pakistan. Once martial law was declared this domination became too extreme as the army and civil services were overwhelmingly dominated by West Pakistanis , particularly from Punjab. Interestingly when the second martial law was declared, General Yahya Khan, who was not a Punjabi, knocked out 50 % parity , restoring 54 % Bengali majority which was Bengalis due right from 1947.

This drastic albeit just change was not acceptable to the West Pakistani politicians or to the army and this led to the secession of East Pakistan. But our dear author faults only Yahya Khan and ZA Bhutto and Sh Mujeeb and above all Indian conspiracies in his 17 chapters.A very shallow analysis indeed.

Rao Farman Ali also delivers personal attacks on the character of Lt Gen Niazi but fails to note that Pakistan Army had no strategic plan to save East Pakistan. Rao Farman Ali also fails to note or admit that no Pakistani general was willing to take over the East Pakistan command and Niazi was sent to East Pakistan being the junior-most, as a scapegoat. While Indian general Candeth in his book Western Front states that September-October 1971 was the crucial strategic window in which if Pakistan had launched a pre emptive attack , East Pakistan could be saved . However our gunner general offers no worthwhile or serious strategic analysis. Instead we get petty pin pricks wherein all that happened did so because general Niazi was a man of bad character and was a womanizer and similar allegations.

He completely ignores the the fact that the Pakistan Army was strategically clueless about defending East Pakistan from day one when Pakistan was created. My father who served as GSO 2 Operations of 16 Division states that there was no plan to defend East Pakistan and the so called Fortress defense only envisaged six weeks of fighting after which everything would have collapsed. Rao Farman’s hopes that ceasefire could have saved East Pakistan are also Quixotic. Why on earth would India accept a ceasefire when it was winning the war and was about to impose the ultimate humiliation of surrender to the Pakistan Army? A humiliation that to this date scars and haunts the psyche and character of Pakistan Army ! We are left with a narrative with rants of a barren old woman , beating around the bush , avoiding facts , distorting reality! This remains our tragedy.. Not admitting the truth! This book is just another hogwash and it is an exercise in futility to even read this nonsense narrative.

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Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

33 thoughts on “How Pakistan Got Divided”

  1. “We find similar sentiment in West Pakistan’s newspaper articles of 1950s where West Pakistani writers stated that if East Bengal was to get their true majority in parliament Pakistan should be a confederation, ironically just like Sheikh Mujeeb was to recommend many years later in his six points!”

    One of my Pakistani friend who is a Sindhi says that after 21st amendment, Pakistan has already become what Mujeeb wanted and still there was no major hullabaloo when it happened. Dont know how much of its true though.

    ” Instead we get petty pin pricks wherein all that happened did so because general Niazi was a man of bad character and was a womanizer and similar allegations.”

    How did Niazi or Yahya maintained their image of “super muslim” in general populace considering how they were perceived in their own establishment. For all the allegations which i hear from Pak civilians against the “Establishment” i never hear this specific allegation thrown at them. Its strange considering the “Establishment” has used this “loose character” weapon to delegitimize its opponents. Perhaps civilians feel they are too good for that.

    “A humiliation that to this date scars and haunts the psyche and character of Pakistan Army”

    Dont know about Pak army, but I think Pak folks have admirably moved on from that and sometimes i feel while talking to them, they dont consider Bangladesh as part of Pakistan ever. Its similar to how Indians in general dont seem to remember Pakistan as part of India. Its a good thing in my view.

    1. Indians not remembering Pak/Bangla as part of India is not a good thing. It would be a true loss for Indic civilization if that were to happen. Thankfully, it won’t happen, especially with the rise of Sikh and Hindu cultural nationalism.

      1. Pakistan has been been a sovereign nation for more than 70 years. It’s time for everybody to get over Partition. “Akhand Bharat” fantasies are just that and really serve no purpose in today’s world.

        1. 70 years is no time at all.
          It will take a few hundred years to get back all that was lost in the millennium of humiliation.

          1. We will be better served by living in the present than by worrying about the “millennium of humiliation”. Better relations between India and Pakistan can only be achieved on terms of equality as sovereign nation-states. There is no appetite for “Akhand Bharat” in Pakistan if that is what you are referring to when you say “getting back all that was lost”.

          2. The best strategy to get back our lands is to push Pakistan into economic and ecological misery and then induce mass conversions back to Hinduism in return for technical and monetary help.

            We should do no trade with Pakistan, cut ties to a minimum, build all sorts of dams on the rivers flowing into Pakistan to stop water flowing into their territory.

            As Cato the Elder said of Carthage, “Ceterum censeo”, “Carthago delenda est” (English: Carthage must be destroyed) so must be our attitude towards Pakistan.

            Might take a few centuries but the “desert cult” brain washing needs time to remove.

          3. No one is “getting back” their lands. You “Akhand Bharat” people are just as nuts as the “Ghazwa-e-Hind” types. Mass conversions to Hinduism are never going to happen.

            Statements such as yours only serve to strengthen Pakistan Army’s rhetoric that India has never accepted the existence of Pakistan as an independent and sovereign state. Liberal Pakistanis argue that this point of view is paranoid but people like you seem to be out to prove Pak Army right.

            Partition is a done deal. British India is now three independent countries. Perhaps some EU type structure can be created in the future, if relations improve. But you can never undo our separate Pakistani identity.

          4. Mass conversions are a violent and IMO impractical way forward. It will have to happen slowly at first and then rapidly at the end.

            Demographics might play a role. Pakistan was baked in cake due to the rapid population growth in western Punjab region in the century preceding partition.

            All these things will change. My hope is that Pakistan will become a developed society with low birth rates. But still with a GDP/capita less than 3-4 times that of India. The populace will become more secure in their non-Arab identity. They might start to get more curious about their past. They’ll adopt Yoga at first. Indian entertainment is big anyway. If trade relations improve, schools might start teaching Hindi as a third language. Indians might pump in money to start Sanskrit learning cultural centres or Buddhist studies centres etc.

            Long and slow battle of attrition.

          5. Why would Pakistanis have any interest in Sanskrit? Especially as it is not a language that gets you anywhere in the modern world. Our identity is based primarily on Islam, whether one likes it or not. A Hindu liturgical language is not really that compelling to most of us.

            Why is it so hard for you to let us go our own way as long as we leave you in peace? This revanchist fantasy is quite bizarre.

          6. It’s not your language right now.
            I doubt 1000 years ago your ancestors would have thought you’d be speaking Arabic.
            You shouldn’t decide for your descendants what language they’d find compelling.

          7. We don’t speak Arabic, we speak Urdu.

            I’m not against someone learning Sanskrit if they want. But frankly it is not a language which is relevant for Pakistanis. What does one do with Sanskrit except read Hindu scriptures?

          8. Zack,
            I have no problem with people learning Sanskrit or whatever language they want out of academic or personal interest. However, I don’t think many Pakistanis are going to be interested in a language that is not really relevant to the modern world. In addition, I don’t think that Sanskrit is going to break Pakistan’s identity. We need to move forward as independent nations with our own distinct cultures and histories.

          9. It’s a personal choice–whatever floats your boat. In terms of utility though, Pakistanis will be much better served learning English or Chinese.

          10. Zack,

            Sanskrit, like Latin, is a dead language that is purely of academic interest. How many Indians do you know who speak it?

            Pakistanis can already communicate with North Indians in Urdu/Hindi/Hindustani (whatever you want to call it). People can always learn the Devnagari script if they want. The elite of course communicates in English.

          11. With respect you are dissembling Kabir – go to Taxila and you can see the ruins of Pakistan’s Pre-Islamic past.

            What is the harm in encouraging Pakistanis to reconnect with their own history and geography?

            We complain about the neglect of Mughal monuments but Pakistan has a 5,000 year IVC heritage that it does nothing to promote.

            You can quibble all you want but Pakistan is being left behind. It’s all well and good being China’s warm seaport but it makes no sense to constantly quibble with our greatest neighbour (India).

            Pakistan “soft power” and culture has the greatest uptake in the Subcontinent and especially India.

            This aversion to anything “Hindu” is so absurd that it’s a slow suicide.

            India’s tolerance is exception and is probably the seed of Hindu rage. The amount of Muslim ladies I’ve seen waddling about in burqas, niqabs and what not in Chennai: I can only imagine what sari-clad Hindu women would face in Lahore & Karachi ..

            Not everything is a matter of Izzat; Urdu culture too must be pluralistic rather than constantly look toward the Middle East..

  2. Sanskrit is almost an extinct language in India itself why would anyone speak Sanskrit in Pakistan .lol

    1. It’s not about speaking but understanding and connecting to it.

      The base of all Indic languages derives inspiration from Sanskrit; Urdu has to start embracing its Sanskritic legacy instead of constantly shunning it for Persian & Arabic.

      It creates a psychosis ..

      1. I’m all for people learning whatever they want, as long as it is not imposed on them. The comments I was originally responding to had a tone of wanting to undo Pakistan (mass conversions to Hinduism etc). Such thinking is not healthy. We have to accept that these are now separate countries with their own identities and move on from there.

        Comparing Sanskrit to Persian and Arabic doesn’t make sense. Arabic is our liturgical language and people learn it for religious reasons. Persian is the language of our poetry and high culture. Sanskrit is purely of academic interest. In any case, Pakistanis are not exactly rushing to learn Arabic and Persian either. It is English which is associated with the ability to get a good job and move ahead in life.

        Pakistan may be left behind but the cause of that is not that people don’t know Sanskrit. There are economic and structural reasons (and bad policies) that have caused the current situation.

    2. Agreed. I find this quite bizarre. Even Hindi finds no traction in large parts of India and some people want Pakistanis to learn Sanskrit.

      1. So few people in India no Sanskrit that one person knowledgeable in it in BP is considered an expert.

        Hell, may be 36% of the population can speak, read and write Hindi. Only 70% of the population is literate.

        So all these excitement about Pakistanis reading Sanskrit, Yoga and Buddhism is nonsense; teach Indians something, anything.

  3. I think what Zack is trying to say is that Pakistan, although a relatively large country (220 million) needs to embed itself in a broader network to achieve its full potential. He and some others are recommending a rapprochement with India as a means to achieving, India itself being a giant network. The price to pay will be greater acceptance of Sanskrit/Hindu culture.

    I dont think this is going to happen, nor is it necessary. It is only a matter of time before elites across the Muslim core, embrace English like the Pakistani elites have. After this, interfacing with this pan-Muslim elite will become a lot easier, just like the pan-Hindu elite from Gujarat to Assam interact in English.

    Pakistan had to rely on Indian entertainment (specifically Hindi movies) because it lacked an industry of its own, and there were no alternatives forthcoming from the rest of the Islamic world. And when it comes to financial support, Muslim countries, most of which are richer than India or some other benefactor who wants to keep India in check will be ready to support Pakistan if needed.

    I also seriously doubt Indian elites, on the whole will be willing to accept the Pakistanis ‘back’. ~300 million people (most likely poorer than already poor India) would probably not be welcome to freely travel to our metro cities even if they were not Muslim. And a rapprochement of this nature, due to sheer numbers, will dramatically increase Islamicate influence in North India, with only a minor Hindu influence going the other way. Far more importantly, it will irreparably damage the emerging fusion and cultural exchange between nominally Hindu North India, and the more fully Hindu remaining parts.

    This leaves the question of Indian Muslims. The benefits of embedding themselves inside Indian civilization will eventually outweigh the costs of carrying around the markers that are supposed to provide entry to the Islamic world. But I doubt that this will be enough to actually make them convert to another religion, but a secularization is very much on the cards.

    1. but a secularization is very much on the cards.

      secularization was the first step in the conversion of the european jewry. the last of moses mendelsshon’s jewish descendents died one century after him.

      1. Thing is you really dont need to convert to Hinduism formally to be Hindu, especially within India.

    2. “The benefits of embedding themselves inside Indian civilization will eventually outweigh the costs of carrying around the markers that are supposed to provide entry to the Islamic world. ”

      Dont think so, “Indian civilization” does not have any advantage over the Islamic world. I would say the opposite is true. But many muslims might “embed” them just because of lack of choice, and they have to live in India. The one which does have a choice (Kashmiri Muslims) have shown that their muslim identity matters more than you think.

      1. I think the presence of large mercantile groups and a much more expressive culture are advantages Indian civilization will enjoy even after the Muslim world secularizes. There is a reason why nearly every non-ruling family connected wealthy person in the UAE is Indian. We also do not find entrepreneurs of the Azim Premji kind anywhere in the Muslim world, let alone mega rich like Tatas and Ambanis. Timur Kuran and Faisal Devji both locate this lack of a mercantile caste to Islamic inheritance laws.

        Same thing for artists, actors and performers.

        1. Advantages you have mentioned are available even now to Kashmiri muslims, but they would choose Pakistan/Independence. Some things in life(Identity being one) mean more to people than just economics or “Advantages”. We sometimes discount it (not because of any malevolent reasons) perhaps because we are not in their shoes.
          Let ‘s see what the future holds. I see the fault lines more solidifying and the reversal of the “co-existence ” culture in general.

    3. What does “rapprochement” with India have to do with Sanskrit? Pakistan and India can solve their territorial dispute and move towards being normal neighbors without Pakistanis learning an ancient language on a mass scale. Even within India, I doubt that every single person has great love for Sanskrit.

      It is Pakistan’s choice whether it sees its destiny with India or with the Middle East. The only thing is that we cannot change our neighbors. It is better that we be neutral towards India if we cannot be friendly.

      I also don’t see why Indian Muslims have to give up Islam in order to “embed themselves in Indian civilization”. If India is a secular state, then they should be free to practice their religion as they see fit, as long as they don’t break the laws of the land.

    4. “The benefits of embedding themselves inside Indian civilization will eventually outweigh the costs of carrying around the markers that are supposed to provide entry to the Islamic world.”

      The factor that drives Indian Muslims to Indian civilization is actually the attitude of West, especially America, towards Muslims. When they see the openly hostile attitude of West towards Muslims, some of them, at least the sensible ones do notice that they are much better off in India. America has imposed, or at least tried to impose, a blanket ban on Muslims from entering in the country. In Europe there is a ban of wearing hijab etc. Certainly India has not regressed to such levels.

      You can notice this feeling in some of the recent Bollywood movies. In “Zero”, one of the Muslim character wonders out aloud if it is even possible for a Muslim man to get US visa. “My name is Khan” revolved around the same theme. West is basically openly saying to them – You are not welcome.

      1. Yes, with the West there is a double whammy of religious and racial difference. One can notice that the tone of the rhetoric against the current adversaries (Islamic terror groups) is very different from that during the cold war. It is seen as much more than a political conflict.

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