Jinnah's Legacy: Hyper-militarism in Pakistan

Jinnah's legacy means that the two-nation theory he espoused continues to be relevant 80 years later. But modern-day Pakistan society is reluctant to criticise Jinnah and the hyper-militaristic culture he helped create.

Jinnah's Legacy: Hyper-militarism in Pakistan
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a.k.a Quaid-e-Azam. Source: Tribune

August 1947. The world witnessed one of the most consequential events in history: the British departure from the Indian subcontinent. Before leaving, the British had accepted demands from the Muslim community for a separate nation-state called Pakistan, which, alongside India, would be free to govern itself after almost two centuries of European domination.

In both India and Pakistan, two political leaders were central to the movement for independence: Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Indian National Congress, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, leader of the Muslim League.

From left: Jawaharlal Nehru, Earl Mountbatten, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. / Image: Unknown via Wikimedia Commons

Both had effectively the same role in the creation of their respective states. There is a key difference, however, in how the two leaders are regarded in their respective nations today: Nehru is seen as a political leader like any other. Jinnah, on the other hand, is officially known as ‘Quaid-e-Azam (translation: Greatest Leader) in Pakistan, his name carrying undertones of nostalgia and regret upon his ‘vision’ not being properly fulfilled by the politicians who succeeded him after his untimely death in 1948, just one short year after the birth of Pakistan.

The Formula for Partition

Prior to independence, the regions of British India were organised into two categories: ‘Provinces’ and ‘Princely States’. Provinces were directly under British control, whereas Princely States had some level of autonomy: local dynasties seemed to be in control of certain affairs, but in reality, the British were pulling the strings.

The status of the provinces after independence was somewhat simple: if a province had a Muslim majority, it would go to Pakistan; otherwise, it would go to India. The provinces of Punjab and Bengal were exceptions – although they both had Muslim majorities, their populations were sufficiently large such that a large non-Muslim minority existed in both provinces. Thus, the British decided to divide these provinces further into Muslim-majority provinces and non-Muslim-majority provinces, with only the Muslim portions going to Pakistan.

Princely States were given the right to choose which country to accede to. In theory, this meant that the monarchies which ruled these states were given absolute authority over this decision, meaning that the wishes of the local population could be ignored for the personal preference of one man.

Forced Marriage: Bengal's Union with Pakistan

The name ‘Pakistan’ was penned in the 1930s by Chaudhry Rehmat Ali, a Muslim League politician, evolving from a simple acronym – ‘PAKSTAN’. Each letter represented a region which comprised Pakistan, with the ‘I’ being added later for enunciation: P for Punjab, A for the ‘Afghan province’ (modern-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), K for Kashmir, S for Sindh, and the ‘-TAN’ deriving from the end of Balochistan. This covers the entire territory of modern-day Pakistan, except Bengal – despite its large Muslim population, Bengal was not included in the initial proposal for Pakistan.

A Failed Attempt at Autonomy

Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy, the last Prime Minister of a united Bengal and a member of Jinnah’s political party, advocated for the establishment of an autonomous and united Bengali nation, with the support of Jinnah himself. Following the end of WWII, as ideas of Indian Independence began to be taken seriously by the British, the idea of an independent united Bengal began to gain steam. This idea was briefly entertained by the British as well, with Mountbatten (the former Governor-General of India) acknowledging the possible outcome of the three states gaining independence together.

Unfortunately, the Indian National Congress strongly opposed the independence of Bengal. The party, which had at this point established itself as the representative for the Hindu majority of the subcontinent, was scrambling to keep as much land for India as possible. It had stated clearly that either Bengal as a whole would join India or it would be divided between India and Pakistan. Thus, the Bengali Legislative Assembly took a vote – where Bengali legislators belonging to West Bengal (which held the Hindu majority) voted to separate, while the East supported acceding to Pakistan. As such, West Bengal joined India, and East Bengal acceded to Pakistan, forming a rather strange nation whose halves were separated by a thousand miles of hostile enemy territory.

The Partition of Pakistan. 'East Pakistan' comprised of East Bengal. Source: IndiaToday

The War of 1971

The 1971 Non-Cooperation movement for an autonomous Bangladesh. / Image: SM Safi via Wikimedia Commons

Soon after independence, with Jinnah as the Governor-General of Pakistan (the effective Head of State), he announced Urdu to be the sole national language. Jinnah belonged to neither East nor West Pakistan – he was from the land that had formed the new Dominion of India – and he chose the language of Urdu due to its significance to the Indian Muslim literary tradition. It was nonetheless considered a more foreign, alien language to the Bengalis of the East than it was to the many different ethnicities that populated West Pakistan.

However, the people of Bengal loved their language and did not want to see it undermined or in conflict with their identity as Pakistanis. This disdain was the main source of early tension between the two wings of Pakistan. Suhrawardy himself left the Muslim League to become one of the leaders of the ‘Awami League’, a party that based itself on the principle of respecting the different ethnic groups and cultures that comprised Pakistan.

Eventually, the Pakistani state conceded to the demands of the Bengali people after years of protest. In 1956, Bengali was declared the second national language of Pakistan. But the damage had already been done. By now, the perception that the state of Pakistan was a discriminatory one, biased in favour of West Pakistan, had already been embedded into the minds of the people of East Bengal.

Adding insult to injury was Pakistan’s ‘One-Unit’ policy. The ‘One-Unit’ system of Pakistan’s first two constitutions provided a 50/50 split in legislative representation between the two wings despite the East having a clear population majority. The economic policy of successive Pakistani governments was also biased, with the majority of foreign aid going towards the West despite it having a smaller population.

Nonetheless, it was the initial dispute on language that created a culture of confrontation, not cooperation between the two wings. It was this culture that eventually led to the Liberation War of 1971, which elicited Indian intervention. With India’s support of the independence of the Bengalis of East Pakistan, their victory led to the exit of East Bengal from Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh as an independent country. To this day, Bangladeshis resent the period of Pakistani rule as one of oppression, and Pakistanis look back to the year 1971 as one of national shame.

Jinnah's Contradictory Stance on Princely States

Jinnah had a weak stance on what to make of the Princely States. On one hand, he claimed to support the rights of the rulers to decide what to do with their territory. In doing so, he hoped that Hindu-majority states with Muslim leaders, such as Hyderabad and Junagadh, might accede to Pakistan thereby giving Pakistan more land and power. This stance spectacularly backfired. Although the rulers of both of these states refused to accede to India, India was simply able to militarily subdue them, after which they were integrated into India.

Jammu and Kashmir

The state of Jammu and Kashmir, despite having a Muslim majority, had a Hindu ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh, who initially refrained from picking a side. Despite claiming to support the ruler’s decision, upon being frustrated by the non-committal policy, Jinnah pushed for an armed invasion of the state using Pashtun tribesmen who would hand it to Pakistan once victorious. Against the backdrop of this invasion, Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India in order to garner Indian troops’ support in defending Jammu and Kashmir against the Pakistani invasion. This war led to a military stalemate in Kashmir, with India controlling all of the Kashmir valley and Pakistan only controlling one-third of the territory today.

To this day, Pakistan’s foreign policy stance is that the Kashmiri people have the right to choose which country they belong to and that neither side can claim Kashmir for themselves until a free and fair plebiscite is held. Despite this position being fair, one must not forget Jinnah’s unprincipled stance – a gamble that hoped to maximise territorial gain for Pakistan. One cannot claim to support the right to self-determination for the people of Kashmir, while being uncritically faithful to a man who rejected calls for self-determination.

The Consequences for Modern-Day Pakistan

Pakistan is a country held hostage by its military. It is often said that, while most countries have a military, in Pakistan, the military has a country. Pakistan has been run by the military directly for a total of 33 years out of its 76-year existence. In the 43 years of civilian rule, intelligence agencies and high-ranking generals have been known to interfere in the workings of the democratic system to manipulate electoral outcomes, court judgements and political decisions.

A Case in Imran Khan

The treatment of Imran Khan, the former Prime Minister and arguably the most popular politician in Pakistan today, has been a recent example of the consequences of opposing the Pakistani military. In 2021, when he was Prime Minister, the perception was that the military would do anything it could to crack down on the opposition. However, following a dispute on military appointments and a disagreement with the top brass on foreign policy towards the United States, the military decided to support the opposition instead, after which came a vote of no confidence against Imran Khan in the Pakistani National Assembly.

Following Imran Khan’s ouster, by-elections have shown that his popularity is sky-high and that he would easily retake the government if fair elections were held. It has become evident that the military views Imran Khan as a threat to their domination of Pakistan’s political landscape. The military witnessed mass protests take place after illegally arresting him from court premises on May 9. The protests were framed as violence and riots against the martyrs of the army. Soon after, they initiated a brutal crackdown on Imran Khan’s political party. Women and children have been abducted and used as blackmail to intimidate politicians to abandon support for Imran Khan. The majority of his colleagues have now abandoned him and his cause.

Pakistanis who support Khan now live in a state of intimidation, fearing violence and persecution from intelligence agencies if they exercise their political rights.

Protests in London following Imran Khan's sentencing on August 5 2023. Source: Alisdare Hickson (distributed via CC BY-SA 4.0)

The behaviour of the Pakistani military is directly linked to Partition. Pakistan is a nation built upon fear of India as an adversary. For the Pakistani military, this fear culminates in the notion that any opposition to their archaic and dominating influence on politics is tantamount to opposition to Pakistan itself.

The events of 1971 taught the military that it should crack down on the perceived ‘internal enemies’ of Pakistan to prevent the remaining parts from attempting to secede. The territorial dispute in Kashmir heightens the chances of war against India – Pakistan must be prepared to defend itself at any moment. As such, the Pakistani military is under the impression that it must have a dominating influence over the political environment in Pakistan.

Who's to Blame?

In order to reform Pakistan, one must look to the roots of Pakistan’s current predicament. Jinnah’s insensitivity towards Bengali culture and his opportunism with regard to the Princely States are both factors that have led to hyper-militarism in Pakistan. Of course, Jinnah is not completely to blame for the unfortunate reality of military influence in Pakistani politics. The British must take responsibility for the chaotic handling of boundary-drawing and the transfer of power to the new countries in 1947. Congress, as well as successive Indian governments, are also to blame for their confrontational stance towards Pakistan which has never lent credence to the possibility of success for Pakistan.

Jinnah’s legacy means that the two-nation theory that he espoused continues to be relevant almost 80 years later. However, unwavering loyalty to a figure who, like any human, made plenty of poor decisions, serves nobody any favours.

By Anonymous

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of The PublicAsian.