Journey from an eastern-wing to a nation-state

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In 1966 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman emerged as the pre-eminent opposition leader in Pakistan and launched the six-point movement for autonomy and democracy. Hold on folks!! This is not the beginning of a story, it’s a chapter in between.

Let’s start over again, once upon a time “East Pakistan” was a provincial wing of a country called Pakistan. It was an eternal part of the country that we may relate it as “Atoot Ang” but the ‘A’ from “atoot” was removed later.

In search of real facts this week in Toronto, I sat down with Sibt-e-Yahya Naqvi, ex-Ambassador & a career diplomat, who shared his memoirs with me. He unfolded fundamental root causes of poignant events recalling 16th December as a dark chapter of South Asia’s history book.

Mr. Naqvi, during his Government Service tenure had served as Ambassador in many countries and as a Diplomat with senior politicians. He identifies three main explanations that led to this separation, (a) Racial Discrimination on every level, (b) Economical in-justice and (c) ignorance for Bengalis by West Pakistan’s establishment. A combination of cultural, economic, and political factors pushed relations to a breaking point.

According to Mr. Naqvi, the name ‘East Pakistan’ was renamed from East Bengal by the One Unit scheme of Prime Minister Mohammad Ali of Bogra. The Constitution of Pakistan of 1956 replaced the British monarchy with an Islamic republic. Bengali politician H. S. Suhrawardy served as the Prime Minister of Pakistan between 1956 and 1957. A Bengali bureaucrat, Iskandar Mirza, became the first President of Pakistan. Things were going smooth then.

I had a telephone chat with Karamatullah Ghori, a Senior Ex-Ambassador and another Career Diplomat, who also agreed to these realities and states that the problems started in the year 1958 when a Pakistani coup d’état brought a dictator general Ayub Khan to power. Khan’s first order of the day was to replace Mirza as president and then Ayub Khan launched a crackdown against pro-democracy leaders.

Once upon a time ‘East Pakistan’ was a provincial wing of a country called Pakistan. It was an eternal part of the country and we thought of it as an ‘Atoot Ang’, but the ‘A’ in ‘Atoot’ got removed later

He also enacted the Constitution of Pakistan of 1962 which ended universal suffrage. Ayub Khan wrote a book on relationships between East & West wings, called Friends, Not Masters, which provides insight into one influential man’s perspective on the matter.

Now this is where I began my article, that by 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman emerged as the pre-eminent opposition leader in Pakistan and launched the six point movement for autonomy and democracy, then in 1969 uprising in East Pakistan contributed to Ayub Khan’s overthrow.

Another dictator, and general, Yahya Khan, usurped the presidency and enacted martial law. The 1970 Bhola cyclone was a major natural disaster. In 1970, Yahya Khan organized Pakistan’s first federal general election.

As a result the Awami League emerged as the single largest party, followed by Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party, but the then military junta stalled in accepting the results, leading to civil disobedience, the Bangladesh Liberation War and the 1971 Bangladeshi genocide. East Pakistan seceded with the help of India.

Ehtisham Arshad Nezami, a renowned columnist and subject matter expert, discussed this and emphasised historians and public to study the issue deeply and get the facts right, as he believes that blaming everything on India is not a real truth.

“According to him this outrage was not a matter of days or weeks, it had been boiling for quite sometime. ”

Nezami says that often we forget the fact that right after independence in 1948, the national government, dominated by West Pakistani elites, made Urdu, the West Pakistani language, the official language, sparking outrage across East Pakistan, leading to a prolonged protest movement, called the Language Movement, and serious civil unrest.

This movement moulded a Bangladeshi civil society, as it is where many leaders got their start and where the Awami League, one of the nation’s two major political parties, gained much of its early support.

Sibt-e-Yahya Naqvi, reiterates that the central government at that time spent a disproportionately small fraction of its money on East Pakistan during this period, and throughout the history of the undivided nation, providing a kind of background tension along with the cultural and political events that usually define the narrative.

That was the same time that in 1965, a war between India and Pakistan had just ended, and the nation moved more towards the hardline Islam we associate with it today, while East Pakistan began to push for greater autonomy.

Here Karamatullah Ghori believes that traditionally, both East and West Pakistan had practiced a fairly ‘moderate,’ Sufi-influenced kind of Islam. West Pakistan however, became increasingly orthoprax, and the ‘Hindu-like’ nature of East Pakistani Islam became a major talking point for some West Pakistani leaders.

He also agrees to the fact that language was one of main issues between East and West Pakistan. While West Pakistan had a smaller population, they generated more revenue and East Pakistanis didn’t get their due share of government expenditure. This led to some level of alienation.

My two cents that we all recognise these facts, some are hidden in the Government’s archives researched & investigated by Hamoodur Rehman commission that never saw the light of the day, I purposely avoided the episode about our Surrendering Army and POW issue to save embarrassments for some.

But questions remain what have we learnt from our history and these blunders? How are we going to protect the only piece of pie that is left as present Pakistan and not let history replicate itself again in Karachi and Baluchistan.  Have we settled, or this episode of faulty towers is still on?

The writer has been writing op-eds from North America on current affairs for the past 25 years. He also conducts TV Shows in Canada and enjoys poetry

Published in Daily Times, December 16th 2017.

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