Revisiting separation of East Pakistan

ByM Ali Siddiqi

writer who contributes to leading periodicals


July 24, 2022

Revisiting separation

M Ali Siddiqi Revisiting separation of East Pakistan

Revisiting separation of East Pakistan will celebrate seven and a half decades of its inception next month, that is, August 2022 and it will be a landmark occasion for the country. The best part of the whole Pakistani saga is that it has survived for this long despite all predictions to the contrary. The negativity inherent in assessments regarding Pakistan was based upon the profound geographical, social and cultural differences existing in the new state. Many viewed the situation from the angle that a backward area of the subcontinent was subjected to divisive notions of statehood that entail that a state can exist even if its two parts were 1,600 kilometers away from each other. However, much against the conventional wisdom Pakistani state stayed united for a quarter of a century that caused a sense of wonder the very fact that it did not break-up earlier appeared illogical. However, the historical progression has a tendency of not condoning incongruity and that is precisely what happened in the case of Pakistan and inevitably both wings of the state separated in 1971.

In this respect it is now acknowledged that Pakistan was created due to the wave of history that determined the fates of East and West Pakistanis at the partition of the subcontinent. And as history dictates it was not the first post-colonial state arrangement to wither away as few other such phenomena did not succeed. Pakistan came into being sprawling over more than 850,000 km of land mass divided in two wings. The Eastern wing was only 15 % of the total but contained 54 % of the population. The new state was inhabited by 5 major and more than 12 minor nationalities with independence notions of their own but the British decided to grant state-status only to two major communities living in the subcontinent. While the Western wing had many of the attributes of potentially gelling into a nation-state such as the racial stock of its inhabitants, Islamic belief and the common script of their languages, the Eastern wing also possessed such attributes in abundance.

The common identity of Bengalis was strengthened by British Indian Government’s decision of 1880 to change Bengali script from Arabic into Devnagiri giving it a distinctive edge and bringing it closer to Hindi. It was only their religion that both wings of the state shared. As the events proved simply the Two Nation Theory only was not enough to integrate these two distinct nationalities and it lacked wherewithal to create a new nation which required far more than just religious affinity. A prescient indication of their destiny as two separate independent nation-states was given in the 1940 Lahore Resolution which demanded division of India on religious basis but proposed two Muslim states but the political operatives considered it as the weakening of their stance and brushed it under the carpet.

The intense disparity in economic conditions of both the wings was very evident as Bengal was kept weak by the British owing to its seditious nature by means of discouraging its industry to avoid competition with Britain in textile manufacturing. The British avoided infrastructure development in flood prone region as it was not cost effective, beneficial and strategically important as central and northern India. Moreover the booming Calcutta relegated the need for development of east Bengal into secondary position. On the contrary the Western wing was widely developed through irrigation systems and was converted into the granary of the subcontinent. Second World War brought boom to the northwestern parts of India as it became the logistic hub.

It was well known that Bengali Muslims were scantily represented in administrative and military spheres whereas people of Western wing had more than average representation in armed forces although they were not very well represented in administrative machinery. While Western wing of Pakistan was strong in agriculture, its Eastern wing’s agriculture was still at the primitive stage where capital development had not made any inroads. It was basically a subsistence agricultural rural economy with extremely poor level of rudimentary infrastructure, technological penetration or application of modern techniques of agricultural farming.

Successfully out of colonial grip, Pakistan nevertheless inherited considerable socio-political baggage comprising of underdevelopment, disparities in political representation and economic contradictions that entailed pursuing prudent and sustainable policies. But to the chagrin of the new country it got inexperienced leadership and short-sighted planners who adopted measures that opened the doors of separation right at the outset. Successive regimes followed flawed economic development model and inappropriate political reengineering that resulted in alienation of the Eastern wing.

Pakistani leadership miserably failed in framing a constitution that prohibited them to hold national elections. Lack of formal democratic process allowed mushrooming of grievances and gradually undermined the intuitional legitimacy of the state. Muslim League, the founding political Party, reversed its stance of weak centre right after attaining independence and insisted on developing a strong centre. This paradigm shift was abhorred by East Pakistan as the centre was heavily dominated by Punjab denying Bengalis effective representation. It was frustrating for Bengalis not to get their due role in running the state despite their numerical superiority which they rightly claimed was the cornerstone of democratic rule. The Constitution that was hammered out in 1956 lacked an upper house considered sina qua non of federation.

Bengalis felt betrayed as the political power was vested in Punjab and commerce centred in Karachi and when they let their representative political group Jugtoo Front end the grip of Muslim League and form its own government, the centre dismissed it within two months further isolating the Eastern wing. It was the belief of Bengali leadership in Pakistan that such slap in the face was tolerated but when such betrayal was committed again after 1970 elections the Eastern wing decided to separate itself. The worst part of the deal given to the Eastern wing related to the economic field. The resource transfer from Eastern to Western wing was very clearly objected upon by Bengalis but no redressal was attempted. The adherence to maintaining an overvalued currency negatively affected exports of jute whereas it favourably suited the heavy importing class of the Western wing. Even the jute earnings were not judiciously spent on East Pakistan and same was the case of foreign aid obtained by Pakistan.

Eastern Wing had to pay for manufactured goods imported from the Western wing at high prices and had very little to offer in return. West Pakistani industrialists earning money in East Pakistan very rarely spent it there and transferred it to the Western wing. The most heavy non-development expenditure was incurred on defence that was dominated by West Pakistan. The incompatibility between Western and Eastern wings of Pakistan was not limited to economic or political fields only. In actual fact the civil society was also responsible for growing dissonance between East and West Pakistan. Bengalis were socially and culturally looked down upon by West Pakistanis as they were considered an inferior race and their culture heavily influenced by Hinduism was abhorred. It was an irony of fate that the majority Bengalis had to pay in blood for getting their language recognised as national language. The sad chapter of separation of East Pakistan is yearly revisited and Pakistani conscience realises the mistakes committed during its association. TW


The writ of international law
The writ of international law
M Ali Siddiqi looks at a crucial...
Resurgence of fascism
Resurgence of fascism
M Ali Siddiqi describes a dangerous...
President Xi Jinping
XI on his way to ruling China for life
M Ali Siddiqi talks about apparent...
Governance and equitable distribution of resources
Governance and equitable distribution of resources
M Ali Siddiqi talks about Governance...
The Need For Pakistan
The Need For Pakistan
M A Siddiqi expresses surprise...
The Presence And Essence Of Pakistaniat
The Presence And Essence Of Pakistaniat
M Ali Siddiqi describes a strong...

Get Newsletters


Subscribe Us