Asia

Pakistan – Muslim Nationalism

When the British ended up completely replacing the Muslim ruling class in the government of India, the Islamic minority that for centuries had administered a largely Hindu population (except in some areas, such as East Bengal, where mass conversions to ‘Islam had produced a Muslim majority) adapted less quickly than Hindus to the new situation created with the advent of the British. Although the Muslim part of the population participated in the attempt to formulate nationalist political demands together, Islam, since the founding of the Delhi sultanate, had acted powerfully to establish Muslim Indians in a separate religious community. The long effective dominion of the Mughals over the country had contributed greatly to conferring a sense of political superiority over the rest of the population to this separation of Muslims. The 19th century saw a great intellectual ferment, which grew in the wake of nascent Indian nationalism. On the Islamic front, a decisive role was played by Aligarh College, the Anglo-Muslim university founded in 1877 by Sayyid Ahmed Khan with the aim of promoting a meeting between Islam and Western culture. Educator, writer, author of essays on the life of Muhammad and a modernist commentary on the Koran, Ahmed Khan, whose family had held important positions in the Delhi of the late Mughals, was the main inspirer of the revival of Indian Islam in the second half of the nineteenth century. The intellectual and political movement that led, at the beginning of the 20th century, to the formation of the Muslim League (LM) first, and then, finally, to the foundation of Pakistan, took its cue from Aligarh College. In 1906 a delegation led by Agha Khan III Muhammad Shah supported the specific national interests of the Muslim population to the English viceroy of India.

According to indexdotcom, the fear was that the way of equipping India with representative institutions on the British model could eventually lead to a form of political subjugation of the Islamic minority by the Hindu majority; fear accompanied by the belief that the protection of Muslim interests would be ensured by preserving their separate identity, rather than amalgamating into a single Indian nation which, for all intents and purposes, it would have been Hindu. Thus, while the Indian National Congress (INC) pressed on the British government to obtain constitutional reforms, Muslims proceeded at the end of 1906 to found in Dhaka their own political formation, the Muslim League, aimed at guaranteeing their minority position. Authoritative leader of the LM and undisputed protagonist of the process that led to the founding of Pakistan was Mohammed Ali Ginnah, born in Karachi, who moved to Bombay, at whose university he followed his law studies, then perfected in London, where he got to know in depth the British political system. Back in India, he entered politics by participating in the work of the INC; supporter of political collaboration between Hindus and Muslims, he joined the LM in 1913 when he was certain that it would no less than the INC embraced the cause of Indian emancipation; in Bombay he became the main organizer of the Indian Home Rule League. Ginnah withdrew from the latter and the INC when Hindu dominance over both became evident, especially after Gandhi’s appearance on the Indian political scene. The reorganization of the LM became Ginnah’s main focus ever since.

As the antagonism between Hindus and Muslims grew, Ginnah continued to work for the collaboration between the LM and the INC ahead of the elections foreseen by the Government of India Act. of 1935, but the electoral outcome, two years later, which gave the INC an absolute majority, marked the fall of the expectations of the LM, which was totally excluded from the formation of provincial governments. The idea of ​​establishing a separate Muslim state was strengthened in those situations. From the beginning of the 1930s to push in this direction was the action of the poet and philosopher Muhammad Iqbal, authoritative voice of the Indian Muslim community, who at the LM congress held in Allahabad in 1930 had supported the need for the creation of an Islamic state in northwestern India as the only way to safeguard the Islamic community from complete political, economic and cultural subordination to the Hindus. Ginnah spoke of the rebirth of the Muslim nation and, in March 1940, the LM officially adopted a resolution calling for the creation of a separate Muslim state, for which the name of Pakistan was coined, “the land of the pure”. The project met with strong opposition from the INC, and even the British government did not look favorably on the fracture of India’s political unity; in the end, however, the political action of Ginnah and his movement prevailed and both the British and the INC could only accept the idea of ​​separation between two states.

The organization of the new state

Pakistan was established as an independent state within the Commonwealth on August 15, 1947. Founded in one of the least developed industrial areas of British India, it had to face serious problems of a religious, economic and social nature right from its birth. The division of territories between Pakistan and the Indian Union undermined the productive structure, especially in Bengal and Punjab, which found themselves divided between the two states, while millions of Muslim refugees from the Indian Union poured into the country, which was in turn abandoned by a large part of the Hindu population. A source of internal tension was also the imbalance existing between the two areas, separated by over 1500 kilometers of Indian territory, from which the country was composed: Bengal, with about one seventh of the territory and four sevenths of the population, and Western Pakistan (formed by Balochistan, North-West Frontier, Punjab and Sindh) which, with the six sevenths of the territory and the three sevenths of the population, exercised a clear political dominance over the first. The claim for a strong autonomy was advanced by Bengal from the early 1950s, but it clashed with the centralist line adopted by the government.

LM dominated the early years of the new state and, with the post of governor general, provisionally endowed with broad powers, Ginnah led the country until his death (September 1948). The other leaders were mostly lawyers, who had supported the Ginnah line in its battle not so much because they wanted an Islamic state, but because they viewed the INC as an instrument of Hindu rule. Only for some groups did Islam represent an all-encompassing model of life, hence the intention to institute a form of theocracy.

In March 1956 the constituent assembly, elected by provincial assemblies in 1955, passed the country’s first Constitution, for which Pakistan was proclaimed a federal state, formed by the two provinces of western and eastern Pakistan, with a parliamentary form of government and republican. But already two years later, on 7 October 1958, following a period of strong political conflicts, in which the hegemony of the LM was weakened by the formation of other parties, General Iskandar Mirza, former governor general and elected president in 1956, he repealed the Constitution and proclaimed martial law under the direction of the head of the Armed Forces, General Mohammed Ayyub Khan, who replaced him as president a few days later. In 1959 a system of ‘fundamental democracy’ was adopted for local government bodies, based on indirect election by councils, according to a pyramid scheme whose lowest step was the village councils, the only ones elected by universal suffrage. In 1962 the system was extended by a new Constitution to the entire state structure: a presidential regime was also established and martial law was abolished.

Pakistan - Muslim Nationalism