Pakistan in Early Days

The new nation of Pakistan began its journey from independence riding a ground swell of public support. in this too, my findings contradict the conventional narrative in Bangladesh history books. Bengali scholars argued that although the Urdu speaking group was very pleased with the turn of events, Bengalis knew from the very beginning that things would not go their way. The stories I collected paint a different picture. Just as Ansar Ali asserted that no Muslim from his generation could truthfully claim they were not pro-ML at the time, the interviews make it clear that in 1948 at least, it was impossible not to feel buoyant about the new state. MSI, who later was branded as a collaborator for his role in 1971, recollects: "I was standing on this brick road, what they called a herringbone road, because that was how the bricks were arranged. And on that day, I was so happy, I looked up at the sky, and made a small prayer: 'Allah, please don't let this country go into the hands of the mullahs.'"

So optimistic was the mood, that even the Urdu speaking "outsiders" who came to from India were welcomed by local residents. What is equally remarkable about the early years of Pakistan is how quickly this euphoria faded. Several factors contributed to this, of which the most unexpected was the sudden death of Jinnah, his terminal condition being something that he had kept secret until his dying day. Following the loss of the Qaid i Azam (father of the nation), came the mysterious assassination of his successor, Liaqat Ali Khan. In contrast with India's relatively stable two decades of rule by Nehru, Pakistan got off to a very bumpy start.

In spite of the political upheavals in the beginning, there were many economic opportunities in the new state. At least in the initial years, there was such a dearth of qualified Muslims, every person with even a high school degree was guaranteed a choice assignment. Gradually though, a pattern emerged and it became clear that the dominant group was, and would continue to be, Urdu speakers who had migrated to Pakistan from India (primarily from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh)-- popularly known as the mohajirs. Bengali historians in the 1960s ascribed this imbalance to a systematic bias against Bengalis. However, my travels and interviews in Karachi made it clear that there were other explanations for this imbalance. The mohajirs often came from villages where they had left everything behind, and had often been witness to large-scale carnage. For these people, there really was no looking back-- Pakistan was the promised land. Because of the Darwinian self-selection that went into the migration process, these migrants came to Pakistan with an incredible amount of drive and desire to succeed. Generally, the people that chose to migrate also had a high level of education. Sakr Khanu Badruddin Lakhani, a Karachi resident and migrant from Bihar, described how her mother already had a Bachelors' degree-- a highly unusual achievement for a woman in 1944.

One other, more controversial aspect of the mohajir success story is their alleged aptitude for business. Many of the mohajirs had been wealthy in India, and managed to bring a large portion of their savings with them. These savings were often seed money for new ventures in Pakistan. Prior business connections also helped them to win the confidence of government institutions. At the same time, Bengali historians assert that, the mohajirs received biased treatment when applying for loans and permits. In response to this, the otherwise even-handed Hasan Zaheer states in The Separation of East Pakistan: The rise and realization of Muslim Bengali nationalism: "The fact of the matter was that the Bengali middle classes had failed to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities offered by the departure of Bengali Hindu businessmen. They failed to exert themselves to learn new trades, and did not develop entrepreneurial flair as the locals and migrants from India did all over West Pakistan. There was no indigenous capital or enterprise in East Pakistan to set up industries or take over the trade." Mr. G Inam owned the largest construction company in East Pakistan, but lost everything after 1971 when he had to migrate to Karachi. He explained his own success as the result solely of hard work: "Nobody handed me anything. I came over to what is now Bangladesh, and I had a burning desire to succeed. I did everything I could to get to that objective, but I had to work hard for it." Although these arguments made a strong case that the mohajirs were "more talented and entrepreneurial" than the Bengalis, Professor Mojaffar Ahmed added a different angle to this debate when he reminded me that Bengali businessmen could often not even get a permit if they did not have Urdu-speaking partners. Clearly hard work was important, but belonging to a group perceived to be "business-minded people" did not hurt either.


The language movement

The 1952 language riots, protesting the imposition of Urdu as the only state language, were of pivotal importance in Pakistan's early trajectory. Coming only four years after independence, the incident revealed deep contradictions lying underneath the surface of the new state. The attempt to impose Urdu as the state language in order to foster solidarity resulted in quite the opposite. The action was a major blunder because it alienated even the most die-hard Pakistan and ML supporter. Because Urdu was only spoken by 4% of the general population, the incident revealed a streak of blatant favoritism. That people like Mofaxxal Haider Chowdhury would be furious over the incident was no surprise, since his specific field of study was Bengali. But the move alienated even those who saw Pakistan as a "savior" to Muslims of the subcontinent. Jubeida Khatoon entered the new state with great enthusiasm. Particularly in light of her horrific experience during the Calcutta riots, she was quite inclined to accept many government impositions as "necessary" for unity. But even she declared that, the move to ban Bengali was a mistake on the government's part. Clearly, the planners had thought that casting Urdu as an Islamic language would be sufficient to convince people of the necessity of one state language. But their calculations overlooked the incredible importance of language and culture for the middle class Bengali-- of whom, a large portion in 1952 were Muslims who had stayed on in Pakistan.

The language riots served as the first indication of bubbles of discontent that were beginning to surface in East Pakistan. However, in their desire to present a smooth narrative of continuous Bengali resistance to central hegemony, Bengali historians stress that, since 1952, Bengalis have simply been more and more aware of their deprivation. leading logically to the events of 1971. In fact, my research revealed that, although there was immense anger at the time of the actual riots, once the state language ordinance was repealed, much of this hostility dissipated. 1952 was pivotal in two ways: firstly because a conflict based on issues of language helped Bengali Muslims to start differentiating themselves from the other Muslims who were fellow Pakistanis. Secondly, it gave Bengalis their first taste of street power, where demonstrations alone were enough to reverse an edict that was one of Jinnah's last wishes before dying. This feeling of empowerment was to have ominous impact on the military dictatorship of Ayub Khan in the future.


Martial Law

Following a tumultuous decade of civilian rule, the military dictatorship of Ayub Khan took over in 1958. Army rule, with all its oppressive trappings, had significant impact on the situation in East Pakistan. Firstly, the Punjabi elite of the army displaced the mohajir from their lofty positions in the civil bureaucracy and the business community. This meant that, the already negligible Bengali share of the pie shrunk even further. In addition, the Punjabi military rulers took a very hostile approach to the Bengali middle class. To Ayub Khan and others like him, the Bengali middle class, with its pride in education and gentle manners, was the antithesis of the practical warrior code of life that the army was now bringing to Pakistan. Conflict was frequent in the ten years of Ayub's rule. Aminul Kawser Dipu tells this striking anecdote, which illuminates the air of distrust that prevailed on both sides; "I was in the train station, waiting for something. Now, at that time, I am a thin boy, very slight in build. There was a convoy getting on the train, and they were very smartly marching onto reserved carriages. Anyway, I soon lost interest in them and went over to the platform. I was doing something, don't remember, perhaps looking inside the carriages, when suddenly I feel something on my back. Next thing I know, I am lying on my back on the other side of the platform, staring as one convoy marches away. Apparently what happened was, I was in the way of one group marching along. So the company leader just picked me up and threw me to the side. I am so young, and yet I remember, right then and there, I developed pure hatred for these bloody Urduwallahs. Is this any way to treat a human being? I knew then, it was impossible to live with them."