We Must Tell The Truth To Our Younger Generation And Stop Lying About Our History
Most of the current widely held views on Pakistan’s dismemberment, provincial autonomy, external wars, quota system, etc. are deliberate and massive distortions when viewed in the context of historical facts, writes Yousuf Nazar.
An old friend called last night and urged me to write about our political history, if for nothing else, for posterity. The cynic in me told her who cares? History is written by the victorious. In Pakistan’s case, it is the military establishment. Our children know almost nothing about our political history. Ask a few and I wonder how many would know that the most popular leader of Pakistan’s history after Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s death was Sheikh Mujib ur-Rehman.
Most of the current widely held views on Pakistan’s dismemberment, provincial autonomy, external wars, quota system, etc. are deliberate and massive distortions when viewed in the context of historical facts.
Take the break-up of Pakistan in 1971. It didn’t just happen in a year no matter what the immediate causes were. The problems in former East Pakistan began with Mr Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s decision to impose Urdu as the sole national language despite the fact that Bengalis were in a majority in the newly created state. It was not appropriate or constitutional to decide about the national language without referring the question to the elected representatives of the people. It was this fateful decision that had sown the seeds of secession.
Bengali students started a protest movement against this decision. On February 21, 1952, several students were killed and injured in Dhaka. This day was commemorated as Martyrs Day in former East Pakistan and marked the beginning of the politics of Bengali nationalism within Pakistan. Due to the policies of the Punjabi-Muhajir dominated central government, a prominent Bengali leader, Fazalul Haq had called for independence as early as 1954. Ironically, Fazalul Haq was the mover of 1940’s Lahore resolution. He had won 1954 elections in East Pakistan but he was wrongfully removed as chief minister by the central government.
Mr Jinnah’s decision to declare Karachi as the capital and separate it from the Sindh province created unrest among the Sindhi politicians. Dismissal of Sindh’s first chief minister Ayub Khuhro in April 1948 was due to his reservations about the policies adopted by Mr Jinnah and Liaquat.
The quota system was introduced by Liaquat Ali Khan in 1948. East Pakistan had 56% of the population but its quota was just 42%. Karachi’s population was 1.5% but its quota was 2%. 15% was reserved for migrants from India. So the quota for Muhajirs was far in excess of their relative population from 1948 to 1971. The 60/40 quota for Rural/Urban areas in Sindh was introduced under the regime of General Yahya Khan in 1971 and not by the late Mr Bhutto as is commonly believed. Bhutto promised, in 1972, to end this after 10 years but didn’t live to fulfil this promise. Military governments did nothing to change this, neither did any civilian one nor the MQM itself whose representative, Ishrat ul-Ibad, was the longest-serving governor (14 years) of the province.
Kalat (whose area covered about 25% of present-day Balochistan province) was never envisioned to be part of Pakistan but it was forcibly annexed through an armed action in April 1948. This marked the beginning of a state of permanent unrest and periodic insurgencies. There was another military action in Kalat in October 1958, years before an armed insurgency rocked the province in the 1970s. It is an outright lie to tell young Pakistanis that problems in Balochistan have been created by enemies. It is not that simple and hides the ugly reality of how the ordinary Baloch have been treated since the early days of Pakistan and throughout its history.
Although most Pakistanis believe that India attacked Pakistan in 1965 and the 1971 war was an Indian conspiracy, it is a matter of historic record that Pakistan started the wars. The first India-Pakistan War of 1947–1948 was fought over Kashmir. Following a Muslim revolt in the Poonch and Mirpur area of Kashmir, on October 22, 1947, a Lashkar of tribals from north-western Pakistan, some five thousand strong, led an incursion into the valley from Abbottabad. Even as the Indian army came to the rescue of Kashmir’s maharaja, the joint incursion of the Lashkars and regular troops enabled Pakistan to acquire roughly two-fifths of Kashmir which it established as Azad Kashmir. On October 30, 1947, Mir Laik Ali, a special emissary of Quaid-e-Azam, met with the US state department officials in Washington and requested American financial assistance.
The two events, the use of tribal Lashkars and request for US financial assistance, took place within three months of Pakistan’s birth and were to cast a long shadow over Pakistan’s foreign policy. Ironically, it was Mr Jinnah, a proponent of the peaceful and constitutional independence movement and opponent of the British colonialism, who went for a military solution and sought the help of then rising neo-colonial power, the United States, when Pakistan’s very survival was at stake.
A former Chief of Pakistan Air Force, Asghar Khan was part of Ayub Khan’s martial law regime in 1958. He had a long political career after his retirement in the sixties. Just around three years before his death in 2018, Asghar Khan admitted in a television interview that it was Pakistan which initiated the wars. He said, ‘our policy for India has always been wrong. All wars fought against India were started by us.’ He cited the wars of 1947, 1965, 1971 and the Kargil war.
Coming to the more recent history, much is made of corruption. The median age in Pakistan is 23. The majority of this generation has been fed so much disinformation that it is almost impossible to have an enlightened and informed debate because the popular media is heavily dominated by doctored narratives and the state apparatus.
Corruption had always been there. However, the period during which the state resources including the banks were brazenly used to enrich a selected few and buy political loyalties was that of Zia ul Haq’s military regime. Beginning around the mid-1980s, it was under Zia, that the resources of the banks were abused to the extent that two of the biggest banks, Habib Bank and United Bank, were technically bankrupt by 1991. Nawaz Sharif, Chaudhry family, and others were among the biggest beneficiaries of bank loans during this period. Ironically, it was Nawaz Sharif who, as Punjab’s Chief Minister, allotted the land, as a grant, to Imran Khan to build Shaukat Khanum Hospital.
The ugly reality is that the business of the state and politics has become a criminal enterprise with a mix of big money (read big business, real estate barons) interests and religious forces. The core cause of the inner cancer is the military’s interference in politics especially since 1977. The mass commercialisation of politics by military’s proxies, personified by Nawaz Sharif in the 1980s, large scale criminalisation of politics by military’s creations principally the Mohajir Quami Movement in the mid-1980s, and use of terrorist organisations (e.g. Jamat ud-Dawa, Taliban, and allied groups) as proxies in both internal and external conflicts, are the direct consequence of the army high command’s active role in politics.
In short, what is currently taught in our schools and colleges and commonly believed and propagated on the popular media day and night is nothing but a murder of history. The denial of historic wrongs has led to the creation of a parallel world with many Pakistanis living in a bubble where it is a strong nuclear power which no power on earth can do any harm. The reality is bitter: Pakistan cannot afford to fight even a short war because it would go bankrupt and because it has mortgaged its sovereignty to the external powers.
Pakistan’s chronic issues are affecting the viability of state structures. The military high command is disappointed with Imran Khan, who it actively supported since 2011. Imran thinks the army does not have a choice after having destroyed other political parties. Forget polemics, this is actually a very sad state of affairs. Pakistan’s current crisis is not just a legal or political crisis and can no longer be addressed by prescriptions offered by conventional wisdom because it mostly focuses on the symptoms, while the rot has turned into a gangrenous mess turning Pakistan into a failing state. Pakistan faces an existential crisis. What do we need to do to make it a tenable state? Those who maintain that only the army can keep it together don’t understand that no army can hold a state together for very long if it is not a viable state.
We can’t build a nation on narratives that are lies designed to cover up colossal blunders. That is not to say that nations do not make mistakes but mature ones recognise mistakes and take measures to correct the course. Only a new beginning that recognises those blunders can heal the long-festering wounds. The only way out is a new social contract where army generals pledge not to interfere in politics. They may not like to hear this but that lies at the core of all crises since the 1950s. It is easy to blame politicians but then it is very convenient to blame the politicians after getting rid, one way or the other, of those who opposed the military’s interference and ultimately domination of politics.
Yousuf Nazar is a former investment manager. He has published several articles on Pakistan’s politics and economy. He is the author of a book, “Balkanisation and Political Economy of Pakistan.”