One must admire the gall of the British establishment which has taken to the most egregious slander against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the BBC, trying to incite Muslim revolt in India with blatant lies, even as it is negotiating the Free Trade Agreement (FTA). – Dr. Gautam Sen
The background to Pakistan’s dire predicament today, economic and political chaos and unexpected clashes at the border with Afghanistan, need unsparing historical analysis. The hungry millions of Pakistan are already taking to the streets crying for atta, no different from Parisian mobs demanding bread on the eve of the French revolution. The emotions of Pakistan’s impoverished masses, converge with the visceral distaste of the TTP for Pakistan’s corrupt elites, whom they also regard as irreligious. There’s every possibility the mobs may turn on the homes of Pakistan’s elites as the TTP is doing with the nation’s security forces. It is reported members of the families of Pakistan’s wealthy chartered a plane, only three weeks ago, at vast cost, to fly to London to celebrate New Year while the leaders of the bankrupt country went begging for help in the capitals of the world.
This grim ground reality of Pakistan being encountered by millions of ordinary Pakistanis today originated in cynical British imperial intrigues, as it did for so many countries. It is Britain’s involvement and arbitrary creation of borders in the Middle East that left behind serious problems, which other imperial powers are still using to their advantage cynically. The most unjust and illogical partition was experienced by Iraq, which was left fundamentally unviable as an economy. The British drew a map around some oil wells and called it Kuwait, an area that would have legitimately been vital for a viable Iraqi polity. Not much needs to be said of British misdeeds in Palestine that have resulted in a homeless people and endless conflict. India too is a victim, with much of its continuing divisive domestic politics, stemming directly from British machinations that date back to the nineteenth century.
The creation of Pakistan was almost entirely the product of British geopolitical strategy to deal with a presumed Soviet threat from the north and associated aims in the Middle East. The fact that an intense debate was also occurring within the Indian Muslim religious and political community about partition, which was won by its proponents, was fortuitous and convenient for British plans. However, British political leaders at Westminster and its most senior military leaders were not collectively convinced at the outset that partition was altogether desirable. Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck was the most senior military officer who did not regard the partition of India as the best outcome for the withdrawing British. In fact, he refused a peerage in protest at the carnage that ensued with the hasty partition insisted on by Lord Louis Mountbatten. Shockingly, Jawaharlal Nehru made him India’s first Governor-General despite the man’s criminal role over partition. He even acquiesced to the destruction of the memorial for fallen INA soldiers, the first act of Lord Louis Mountbatten when he reached Singapore on victory over Japan.
However, the governor general and viceroy, Lord Archibald Wavell, Mountbatten’s predecessor until February 1947 and a field marshall himself, was convinced partition alone could address Britain’s geopolitical interests and was determined to see it through at all cost. In his view, the Soviet threat from the north and British interests in the Middle East could best be secured by a reliable ally through partition. Lord Wavell had correctly concluded independent India would not cooperate despite only achieving dominion status in August 1947. The request for the British navy to use the port in Bombay was refused and Karachi therefore became absolutely vital for the British navy. Lord Wavell’s concern with Britain’s geopolitical interests was shared by Winston Churchill. He opposed Indian independence and was a bitter antagonist of the “Hindu Congress” while he was wartime prime minister, conspiring assiduously with Mohammed Ali Jinnah to achieve British political aims.
Lord Wavell himself was not a man given to sentimentality, having served in the brutal Boer War, where concentration camps had first been invented, later copied by the Nazis for mass slaughter. However, Lord Louis Mountbatten and his wife Edwina were to prove much more adept than the brusque Lord Wavell at manipulating the Congress leadership, especially Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. It is now known from the recollections of their daughter, Lady Pamela Hicks, nee Mountbatten, and CIA archives, that Nehru was involved with Edwina Mountbatten. He formed an enduring intimate relationship with her until her death in February 1960. This was to prove fateful for India’s history because the Mountbattens and British chiefs of India’s armed forces, shockingly retained by Jawaharlal Nehru after independence, plotted successfully to ensure Pakistan retained a strategically significant part of Jammu and Kashmir thanks to Nehru’s wanton cupidity. Their treasonous role has been recorded by Lt. Gen. L.P. Sen who commanded Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir, as brigadier, during 1947-48.
In order to signal to London and others like Field Marshal Auchinleck, wavering over the idea of partition, Lord Wavell wanted to give them a stark demonstration of what might happen across the length and breadth of India if Muslims did not get their homeland. He hatched a conspiracy to precipitate bloodshed through the Great Calcutta Killings of mid-August 1946, followed by violence in Bihar and Noakhali. The actual instigation of the mass killings, horrendous rapes with naked women hung from meat hooks next to joints of beef were fronted by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Calcutta and Bengal were chosen as the venue for the bloodletting because the Muslim League was in power in the state and its was a Bengali leader, Fazlul Huq, who had proposed the Lahore Resolution on partition. Bengal’s incumbent chief minister was the ruthless playboy confidante of Jinnah, Huseyn S Suhrawardy, who proved a faithful co-conspirator in the grim mayhem.
Governor Frederick John Burrows, the local police and the military commander were instructed by Lord Wavell to stand aside while the violence took place. It was organised by Huseyn Suhrawardy in a chilling public speech at the Calcutta Maidan after he had ensured the Muslims came to the public meeting armed and prepared. It was only possible to stage such an event in Bengal because Muslims were both in power in the state and also the majority population, unlike any other part of India, including the Punjab.
It is this contextual backdrop that accounts for the subsequent history of Pakistan and its evident unenviable and unsurpassable current predicament. Pakistan’s objective was, as Jinnah’s voluminous correspondence and records of his public utterances confirm, nothing short of inflicting permanent fatal injury to India and not merely the creation of a Muslim homeland. The aspiration was a corridor through the heart of India between West and East Pakistan as well as the attenuation of India into a patchwork of independent polities, an outcome that must have been music to the ears of the India-baiting Churchill and Wavell.
The insistence that Jammu and Kashmir be ceded and the war to snatch it from India, despite the hostility of its people towards the prospect under Sheik Abdullah’s leadership, was only the first step in the yearning to wage jihad against Hindu India. The intention was to replicate the genocidal wars waged by the Ghaznavids and assorted Turkic and Persian invaders like Timur and Nadir Shah, a fate which the Muslim League had actually threatened in 1946 if the demand for Pakistan was not granted.
The Pakistan that was established on the apparent basis of religious commonality proved to be a fragile artificial construct. It became the victim of the assorted conflicts over issues like language, political power and equity that bedevil most societies. In the case of Pakistan, Punjabi Muslim racism towards the darker-skinned Bengalis of smaller physical stature was to become an incendiary contributory theme that underpinned genocide in Pakistan’s eastern province in 1971. The disputes between the two halves of Pakistan began almost immediately with the caprice of imposing Urdu as a national language. It succeeded to a degree in West Pakistan, where historical regional mother tongues were virtually obliterated with even the dominant Punjabis abandoning it, whereas Bengalis rioted against the attempted imposition.
The denouement came when the Awami League won a majority in Pakistan’s first democratic elections in 1970, large enough for its Sheik Mujibur Rahman to become entitled to the premiership of Pakistan as a whole. This was unacceptable to the racially conscious Punjabi Muslim military caste that had usurped political power in Pakistan. Another dire specific fear also animated their animosity, which was the possibility of East Pakistani reluctance to fund the national defence budget for wars against India. The house of cards collapsed in short order with the single largest slaughter of Hindus in history that India and the world have striven to forget, not the least the upper castes of West Bengal.
Pakistan had become a garrison state at the outset, with formal military control seized in 1958 by Field Marshal Ayyub Khan. The Western powers came to regard Pakistan as a military cantonment, like other bases around the world, but much more substantial and with a dual purpose. It was a collaborator against Soviet Communism in the region and beyond and a useful constraint on India, unwilling to kowtow to the West and was friendly towards the USSR. Pakistan joined SEATO in 1954 and CENTO in 1955, the Baghdad Pact earlier, the latter along with Iran, Iraq and Turkey. Both these Cold War alliances operated under US leadership. These ties were to prove fateful because the Anglo Americans inferred that Pakistan’s role and military commitments in the anti-communist alliance needed to be insulated from the cut and thrust of any homegrown frivolous democratic political upheaval.
Although, in practice, the contingent raison d’etre for domestic public consumption was the alleged existential threat posed to Pakistan by Hindu India and its illegitimate occupation of Muslim Jammu and Kashmir. These were to become the overarching compelling justifications of the primacy of Pakistan’s military in the country involved in a permanent institutionalised conflict with India. Although the dispute over Jammu and Kashmir provided extraordinarily handy legitimacy, Pakistan’s armed forces must have baulked at any prospect of its resolution. The result was quiet Anglo-American welcome to the military coup of 1958 and inauguration of the absolute primacy of Pakistan’s military over its polity, economy and society, which has endured ever since. In the estimation of Pakistan scholar Christine Fair, elected Pakistani prime ministers are no more than the equivalent of the mayor of a city. But absolute power tends, as Lord Acton once averred, to corrupt absolutely.
The predictable outcome of military dictatorship, all outward fictitious appearances to the contrary, was the inevitable full-blown corruption of the officer corps of Pakistan’s armed forces. It was facilitated by organised plunder of national assets through over generous land grants to army officers and their gradual usurpation of most productive activities of the country as well. The corruption also acquired a parlous ethnic basis with the Punjab dominating the army officer corps, their relatives constituting the privileged landed gentry or recruits to the higher bureaucracy. The moral compass also ebbed in personal conduct with the astonishing sexual licentiousness among senior politicians and army officers alike.
The ordinary citizen was perfectly aware of the unspeakable rot and found nowhere to turn except to embrace religious motifs of protest. Such religious protest experienced a colossal boost when the Pakistani state, under General Zia-ul-Haq, sponsored the augmentation of militarised religious zealotry during the anti-Soviet intervention of the West in Afghanistan. These huge new militant religious assets were then found useful to deploy against India, especially in the aftermath of the nuclearisation of both countries. It seemed to diminish the threat of Indian retaliation against terrorist assault despite its superior conventional forces though that reverie has been disabused by Balakot.
The absence of democratic accountability has not unexpectedly proved to be the principal reason for the contemporary downfall of the entire artificial edifice left behind by the British and put to shameless use by the US, which armed and nurtured Pakistan over decades. Without the constant democratic feedback mechanisms that motivate politicians to adopt sane utilitarian policies for their own survival as public agents, corruption and looting reached catastrophic proportions. Pretty much all players in Pakistan’s public life are only exercised to increase their foreign assets and make retirement plans abroad, with London being a favoured destination. It is extraordinary that virtually everyone in Pakistani public life is a dual national and with their assets located abroad any commitment to national well-being cannot but be suspect.
In the meantime, the survival of the grossly mismanaged economy became dependent on handouts provided to Pakistan, as a useful military cantonment, by vulturine countries which barely regarded its citizens as human. As such, there was always a price to be paid and the recent entry of China into the equation is proving the most noxious. Chinese funding is always in exchange for physical assets or commitments to purchase costly services from Chinese firms allotted the task of creating utilities and infrastructure. Sovereign control of Gwadar port has effectively been surrendered to China, much like large areas of Gilgit-Baltistan in 1963 and now the idea of ceding it in entirety is the subject of much speculation. One wonders at the eventual fate of Karachi port too, which could prove extremely useful to China because of Western military threats to its imports through other routes.
The existence of Pakistan in its present form is surely in doubt unless it finds many hundreds of billions of dollars to reset the economy, which seems highly unlikely, and the military is decisively ousted from public life and confined to barracks. Perhaps only the Punjab will remain a functioning polity with most of the remainder of the country enjoying quasi sovereignty since Islam has proved an inadequate basis for solidarity and nationhood. Some of these newer quasi-independent entities might even look to India for succour and support. But it seems likely India will inherit a much more formidable foe, in the chaos of Pakistan’s disintegration. There is a danger China, not given to international norms and niceties, will occupy the whole of Gilgit-Baltistan and very likely, for strategic reasons, PoK as well.
Yet, the British are getting ready for a triumphant return to India despite ultimate responsibility for the dreadful situation for India’s borders, with China poised to surround it on several sides. Apart from placing India in an unenviable territorial quandary, Britain is the culprit which sowed the seeds of the festering wounds of Khalistan, Dravidianism as well as the poison of truculent Bengali Leftism. India is apparently intent on a free trade treaty (FTA) with Britain, though the benefits are uncertain and the negative consequences palpable. Yet, one must admire the gall of the British establishment which has taken to the most egregious slander against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the BBC, trying to incite Muslim revolt in India with blatant lies, even as it is negotiating the FTA. Unfortunately, it seems some self-serving British Indian-origin Ugandans, well-connected in Delhi’s corridors of power, favour a FTA and may well have the final say irrespective of its intrinsic merits for India’s future. Their rapid and unexplained enrichment since 2014 will only grow. – FirstPost, 20 January 2023
› Dr. Gautam Sen taught International Political Economy and Political Science for more than two decades at the London School of Economics.