The British East India Company which colonized subcontinent was founded in England in the year 1600. At that time, Mughal Empire to which Pakistan is the successor state; comprised an area of 750,000 square miles, stretching from northern Afghanistan in the northwest, to Deccan plateau present-day Maharashtra in the south and the Assam highlands in the northeast. The Mughal empire; for simplicity ‘Muslim India’, under Mughal emperor Akbar and subsequently his son Jahangir possessed wealth and magnificence which could outshine anything that Europe could produce at that time. Artisans and natural produce; condiments, wheat, rice, sugar cane of Muslim India were admired all over the world.
East India Company which started trade in India with the permission of Mughal emperor Jahangir in the year 1605 soon involved into dishonest practices. The company by exploiting local conflicts and disputes became notorious for corruption and profiteering. It is lesser known fact that the East India Company was patronized by British Govt right from the start and even in early days it was able to call on British naval power and Crown troops to fight against local Indian rulers.
Consequently, Tipu Sultan of Mysore and Maratha people in western India were decisively defeated (battle of Plassey 1757). The company was the paramount political power in India, with direct control over two-thirds of the subcontinent’s landmass and indirect control over the rest, by the year 1818.
William Cowper, a British poet spoke of East India Company, its method of conducting business and trade:
“Build factories with blood, conducting trade
At the sword’s point, and dyeing the white robe
Of innocent commercial justice red”
The company masters, when in politically control of India, forced the local farmers to only grow cash crops like cotton and Tobacco instead of wheat and rice which resulted into food shortage. The British company’s sole aim was to make a profit even at the expense of the lives of local people. Resultantly, in the fertile lands of India, there were catastrophic famines, most notably in Bengal (1770) and in the Agra region (1837–8). In short, the first half of the 19th century was marked by an economic depression in India.
The Muslims of India desperately tried to reinstate to power in Delhi the Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. India’s First War of Independence or ‘Indian Mutiny’ as it is called in British histories, was mainly fought by Muslim soldiers, though many Hindu troops also took part as a result of crude treatment by their British officers. The struggle failed with disastrous consequences for Muslims and political control of India was formally taken over by the Crown of England in 1858.
After the failure of the uprising, the ‘Ulema’ (religious scholars) believed in waging war against the British Govt in India. They resolved to boycott the British and their educational institutions. The course followed by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was in opposite direction. He believed in having good relations with the British, benefiting from their institutions and culture. Unfortunately, both of the two movements, did not yield the desired outcome.
The Ulema’s opposition to the English language kept the Indian Muslims away from education and modern sciences and Sir Syed Khan Policy of compromise damaged the Muslim identity and culture. In my view, the movement initiated by Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal was a protest against both these movements. Iqbal advocated the modern education while remaining faithful to own religion and culture.
In the 1930s, the British government made some concessions to the Indian nationalists, but the local population had been totally disillusioned by their colonial masters. Britain after the 2nd World War was weakened. The civilized world looked at the US as a mischievous or roguish nation which had killed millions in Japan by dropping nuclear bombs on the civil population. Hence, something good had to happen to calm down people. Consequently, the US and its allies announced their strong support to the right of self-determination for every nation. Every nation deserved a homeland of their own and the US and the other European nations championed the noble project of decolonization.
Indian Muslims initially hoped for fair political representation in India, 1/3 seats in all legislative assemblies but when frustrated by Indian Congress struggled for ‘nation-state’ where Muslims could live in peace preserving their identity and culture. That means demand for Pakistan was actually originated and reinforced by the narrow-mindedness of Hindu leaders. Had Congress leaders accepted the All-India Muslim League’s demand for Muslims to be given fair representation in legislative assemblies, India would not have partitioned. The movement of Hindutva in the present day India is still on the same path and history is bound to repeat itself.
In India, the discontentment with British rule had grown to such a degree that Britain feared to lose India to the Axis. Muslim league under Quad-e- Azam had won all Muslim constituencies in Indian General Election 1945 and became the rightful representative of Muslims of India. Quad- e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Muslim league convinced the British and other world leaders that Muslims were a separate nation of Hindus and therefore, deserved a separate homeland, the birth of Two Nation Theory and basis of Pakistan.
Quaid-e-Azam MA Jinnah, ironically, is highly criticized in India both by Hindus and Indians Muslims alike. To Hindus, he partitioned India, for Muslims he weakened them by dividing the Muslims population. The fact is that Quaid-e-Azam, throughout his political career, focused on welfare and protection of rights of Indians Muslims. He, as a last resort, after being thoroughly disillusioned by Congress worked for independent Pakistan. It is by now very clear that Pakistan is not the cause but product of Hindus-Muslims rift and rivalry.
The state of Pakistan has emerged on the world map as a result of the Muslim freedom movement in the Indian subcontinent. The movement for independence was driven by the belief that a separate homeland for Muslims would facilitate the achievement of high and equitable growth than would have been the case for them in united free India.
Seventy years to the date, we have been proud about it, and as citizens of Pakistan have been thinking about its achievements and failures.
The critics who thought that Pakistan’s economy would crumble after its independence have been proved wrong. Despite adverse post-independence problems; the inflow of enormous refugees, lack of industrial base, and numerous Indian induced problems, Pakistan’s economy has registered an aggregate growth rate higher than the population growth rate. Pakistan has, however, not matched the expectations of its founding fathers relatively to other similar aged nations in the neighborhood.
The creation of Pakistan brought a lot of benefits to the Muslims of present-day Pakistan but it did not bring any benefit to the Muslims left behind in India as visualized and promised by founding fathers of Pakistan. Rather, the prolonged India-Pakistan rivalry has added further miseries to the lives of Indian Muslims.
Pakistan and India should sincerely need to negotiate peace over Kashmir, Siachin and Sir Creek. Indians may recall that British colonized subcontinent through divide and rule. It is time Pakistan and India should settle their disputes, peacefully. The International players, even today, are immensely befitting from India-Pakistan rivalry. Indians may reassess their proxy role in Asia while studying the case study of Pakistan and its cost being paid to date.
The election victory of Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) of Imran Khan is a good omen for Pakistan. Imran Khan is the most popular, honest and upright political leader of the recent history of Pakistan. The people of Pakistan have attached high hopes from Imran Khan. Though, his challenges are many, thankfully, he has clearly identified the priorities/roadmap as evident in his victory speech. Pakistan is a young country and human development is need of the hour.
We the people of Pakistan, while celebrating political empowerment and independence should not forget the suffering of those who contributed to the creation of and preservation of Pakistan. We should in particular appreciate the sacrifices of Pakistan armed forces combatting terrorism and the difficult lives of Muslims of Kashmir in India and the stranded Pakistani, the ‘Biharis’ in Bangladesh.
Winning freedom from British in 1947 was a job well done but challenge remains. It is to achieve peace and tranquility, economic independence and a dignified position in the global arena.
*The author Atta Rasool Malik hails from semi-tribal areas of Pakistan. He is a veteran and holds an M Phil degree in international relations’ from National Defence University Islamabad. He can be reached at: [email protected]