Dr. Naseer Dashti
Among many other unprecedented political and geo-strategic developments in the wake of the decolonizing process in the 20th century, the creation of a religious state by dividing India is one of the unique phenomena. The historical context of the “great game” of the 19th century and the use of religion in the making of a client state by a colonial power is the hallmark of the creation of Pakistan. It came out of the blue and was so meticulously planned by the colonial administrators in London and New Delhi that the leaders who were involved in the struggle for the liberation of India, could not comprehend the context and the consequences of the Pakistan phenomenon on the region.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Africa, Asia, and Latin America were almost divided into their ambits by European imperial powers like France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Great Britain. These great powers were engaged in two bloody and protracted conflicts in the first half of the 20th century. The aftereffects of which were so grand in magnitudes that both victorious and defeated became weak in many ways. Internally socio-political dynamics of colonial powers changed and externally with the weakening of their economic and military power, momentum for national liberation in Asia and Africa increased among the subjugated people. The combination of internal and external factors forced them to initiate a process of decolonization. However, the process of decolonization was not smooth. The colonial powers had developed enormous economic and geo-strategic interests in regions which they dominated for centuries. These powers for the safeguarding of their interests, divided nations, and created artificial states. The creation of a client state in South Asia became imperative for the preservation of British interests as the independence of India became inevitable.
After the establishment of the Soviet Union, international political and economic situations were mainly being analyzed in a capitalist-socialist or East and West prism. This was because, with the political and moral support of the Soviet Union, national liberation struggles gained momentum in various parts of the world. Any newly independent country would naturally seek friendship with the socialist bloc countries. After First World War, the prime objective of the British Empire was to counter the ever-growing danger of the Bolshevik revolution. In western capitals, there was a genuine fear that after decolonization, their interests would be harmed by socialist-oriented and pro-Soviet Union regimes. As Britain was still the guardian of western interests against emerging socialist Russia, its interests in the region were multifaceted, and safeguarding not only its national interests but also the interests of western powers became an emerging task for the policymakers in London and New Delhi in the background of Indian independence. An independent India with an anti-western and anti-capitalist attitude was seen as a threat to the British and Western interests in South-Central Asia and the Gulf region. Persian Gulf region was increasingly becoming important with newly discovered oil fields. Building a geographical and political wall against the expanding wave of socialism and safeguarding economic interests in the Gulf became the main objectives for Great Britain while their officials were giving final thoughts on the independence of India. In this context, plans for the division of India and the creation of a client state which could serve the purpose were put into action. The phenomenon of political Islam was successfully used in the creation of Pakistan by the colonial authorities as an effective tool.
Pakistan: the legacy of the “great game”
During the19th century, in the face of continued advances of Russia in Central Asia and the presumed threat to India from the north, safeguarding the Indian possessions became the obsession of policy planners in London and New Delhi. For them, Afghanistan and Persia were vulnerable spots and if they (Russians) became successful somehow in gaining control of these countries, the next Russian target will certainly be India. A “great game” of espionage and subversion began in regions bordering Russia, the Middle East, and British India. To make a physical barrier around north and west of India was postulated which is popularly known as the “Forward Policy”.
The players of the great game changed when Czarist Russia became the Soviet Union in 1917. A socialist Russia was more dangerous than Czarist Russia with its open support for national liberation struggles and with the ideology of exporting socialist revolutions all over the world. The emerging phenomenon of socialism in China under the leadership of Mao Tze Tung and an untrustworthy Congress Party which was supposed to take over from the colonial administration in an eventual withdrawal from India forced the British policymakers to formulate counter-strategies. It was decided that the great game of the 19th century should continue and Islam should be used again as a tool in countering the socialist menace in Asia; India should be divided and using religious affiliations of a people, a client state should be created to protect the Western interests in the region.
The use of Islam in the division of India
Although Pakistan was created in a hurry in 1947 in a post-second world war perspective, the seeds of the division had already been sown and from 1857, the colonial administration in India had been fomenting religious divisions by encouraging the theory of Muslims being a separate national entity in India. Indians belonging to two nations (Hindus and Muslim) was thought to be the most accepted theory for dividing the country on religious grounds. To establish the religious differences of Indians as the basis for ‘two-nation theory’, writers were commissioned. Their task was to present Indian history, pointing to the religious beliefs of the dynastic rulers of India. The British colonial authorities helped establish various religious schools in different parts of India. In 1888, Syed Ahmad Khan, a retired clerk and spy of the East India Company was financed to open the famous religious school in Aligarh and officially portrayed as a great Muslim intellectual. Later, the colonial administration assembled all the loyal persons among the Muslims in an ‘All India Muslim Conference’. The network of religious schools and the All-India Muslim Conference were the institutions from where the ideology of Pakistan was propagated. From religious schools and the All-India Muslim Conference, the future activists and leaders of the pro-colonial religious party-the Muslim League-were recruited. The party was later given the task of demanding a Muslim state by dividing India.
Originally, it was not India where the British needed Islam as a political tool, but the phenomenon of using Islam as a tool began in Central Asia in the 19th century. Alarmed by fast-reaching Russian moves towards the Indian borders, plans were made to stop the menace before it reached the precious colonial possession. As the population of Central Asian Khanates was Muslim by religion, it was thought by the colonial administration to use their religious sentiments to encourage the population to oppose Russians or to seek support for the British cause. In this context, all efforts were made to politically mobilize Muslims of Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa in the name of fighting the infidels (Russian Christians). The slogan of Pan-Islamism was created, and the terminology of Islamic Umma was re-manufactured to create a transnational Islamic movement, which could serve the British colonial interests. Writers from different parts of Asia were commissioned for that purpose, and political activists were hired from India, Turkey, and Egypt for the propagation of Pan-Islamism. They were handsomely financed by the colonial administration in India and Egypt. One of the British agents was Jamaluddin Afghani. There is much controversy regarding his origin; born either in Kabul or Asadabad in 1839, Afghani was the son of an East India Company representative in Afghanistan. Afghani became the powerful tool for spreading Islamic fundamentalism, and in many ways was the founder of political Islam in the contemporary world.
Jamal Ud Din Afghani: British tool for spreading political Islam during the 20th century
Mentored by the British experts on affairs of the East, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and Edward G. Browne, Afghani was given different assignments and appointed to various important positions in Afghanistan, Turkey and Iran with active British scheming. He was installed as the Prime Minister of Afghanistan in 1866 for some time. In 1869, he was sent to India to coordinate intellectual efforts on the “two-nation theory” with other British agents like Syed Ahmad Khan. Syed Ahmad Khan and many other religious leaders and academics, allied with the colonial administration in India, were tasked to propagate the “two-nation theory” which was based on the notion that Muslims and Hindus are two separate religious entities, so they cannot live together in one country. However, Afghani was withdrawn from India as he developed serious personal differences with Syed Ahmad Khan and his group. For a short period in 1870, Afghani became a member of the Board of Education in Istanbul through active manipulations in the Istanbul court circles by British officials. Later, while based in Cairo, he intensified his efforts in the formation of a network of activists under the slogan of Pan-Islamism. Using his important position at Al-Azhar University, he was able to recruit young students for his cause. Famous among the recruited persons of Afghani included Muhammad Abduh—who later became the founding ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement. Most radical movements in today’s Middle East is the direct offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement.
After his expulsion from Cairo, Afghani was installed in Paris where he established an Arabic journal called Al-Urwah al-Wuthkahbesides one in French. Among his Pan-Islamist circles in Paris were Egyptians, Indians, Turks, Syrians, and North African propagandists; mostly recruited by the British military establishment in Egypt and India. Afghani was soon found to be useful in dealing with the crumbling Qajar Dynasty in Persia. In 1885, with British connivance, the King of Persia, Naseer ad-Din Qajar, appointed Afghani as the Prime Minister of his Kingdom. But he was expelled from Iran on charges of plotting to kill the monarch. He was installed in London in 1886. From his London headquarters, he was instrumental in the destabilization of the Qajar Dynasty by recruiting and handsomely financing Ayatollahs and other religious personalities. Some of the powerful Ayatollahs and religious leaders ruling Iran since 1979 are the direct descendants of Afghani’s recruited Mullahs.
The immediate objective of his endeavors was to build up an uprising in Persia led by his recruited Ayatollahs to blackmail the Qajar Dynasty to gain commercial favors for British companies, curtailing Russian influence in Persia and accepting British demands of strategic importance. From his London base, Afghani also campaigned vigorously for the formation of a military pact between Britain, Turkey, Persia, and Afghanistan against Russia.
Afghani’s clandestine web of writers and religious leaders played important role in the consolidation of British efforts to divide India on religious grounds. Indian “two-nation theory was an offshoot of the “Pan-Islamic Movement”. This was effectively used by strategic planners in London and New Delhi for the division of India in 1947. Some of the Muslim religious leaders and an elite group of Muslims—affiliated with East India Company and the colonial administration in India—were organized into a political party, the Muslim League, and were given the task of demanding a state out of India on religious grounds. Afghani’s magazine ‘Urwat al-Wuthkah’ was continuously urging Indian Muslims to reclaim their territory (Dar al-Islam) as a religious obligation, describing Muslim presence in India as living in Dar al-Harb. Dar al-Islam (the place of peace) is where the Muslims are in command while Dar al Harb means the place of war; however, in an Islamic perspective, the term is used for areas of the world where non-believers or infidels live. According to Qur’an and Sunna Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam are in perpetual conflict until the final victory of Islam over the world.
Pakistan: a purposely created state
In the changing political scenario where the Soviet Union emerged as the second superpower after Second World War; China and an independent India were eventually to be ruled by communists and nationalists, creating a client state to serve the interests of colonial power in South Asia and the Middle East with its newly found vast oil reserves was thought to be imperative. The Muslim League which was formed in 1906 was a political party composed of loyal Muslims, spies of the British administration in India, and personalities whose families had been on the payroll of East India Company for generations. Its leaders were ready to serve the purpose of safeguarding British interests. A pilot project of dividing Bengal in the early 20th century was implemented.
The open rebellion on the part of the Indian National Congress by initiating the ‘Quit India Movement’ of 1942 gave impetus to the British efforts of dividing India before withdrawing. However, the Muslim League party was not serving the purpose of gaining support from the public as its leaders were not trusted by the Muslim masses because of their open connections with the colonial administration. Despite sending their trusted person Muhammad Ali Jinnah from England to take over the Party to give it a new lease of life, in elections held in 1937, the League failed to secure a majority vote in any of the Muslim majority provinces of India. But the British authorities decided to impose the partition and to do it fast. After World War II, the British hurriedly put into action their well-chalked-out plan of dividing India and then quitting. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1940, in Cairo, discussed the unfolding events regarding India with the pro-British Indian politician Sir Skandar Hayat. Sir Skandar Hayat after returning to India told his colleagues that he had discussed India’s constitutional problem with the British Prime Minister and had tried to make two points clear to him:
“. …I tried to impress upon him the fact that only the martial races of Punjab had contributed to the British War effort with loyalty and it would be a travesty of justice if they were made subservient to the Congress and the Brahmins who would be in majority at the center in a free India……. A loyal Punjab deserved to be the leader of a separate dominion, which should include Sindh, the NWFP, and Baluchistan. This could be easily achieved provided the British statesmen were convinced of its advantages. Such a federation would be loyal to the British under all circumstances. The defense of the new dominion and the rest of India should for some time, be joined under British supervision. Later, a mutually agreed formula could be evolved for the purpose. The new dominion would be economically self-sufficient”
He told his colleagues that the British Prime Minister has assured that a country would be created for the loyalists of the British administration in India.
Sir Winston Churchill: One of the architects of Pakistan
During the meeting, Winston Churchill praised the loyalties of Indian Muslims towards the British Empire by saying that the Indian Muslims have shown their loyalty; their help in this critical moment has proved that they will be loyal after the independence of India. He declared that the British government, therefore, has decided to divide India and hand over a part of it to loyal Muslims. He emphasized that a government loyal to Britain in the Muslim part of divided India will in the future help in the creation of a group of countries friendly to the British. By leading the Muslim countries in the Middle East, the Muslim leaders in India who were loyal to the British are going to get the position of future leaders of Muslim states.
Meanwhile, Mr. Muhammad Ali Jinnah was asked to increase the campaign for the division of India. In this regard, a resolution to be passed during the 1940 Lahore convention of the Muslim League was drafted by officials of the India Office in London. Lord Zetland, the then secretary of state for India discussed fully and endorsed the resolution when Muslim League leader Choudhry Khaliquzaman met him in London to deliberate on the Lahore meeting of the Muslim League. The resolution was passed demanding the partition of India and the creation of a state for Muslims.
Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, in an unsigned memorandum, summarized the crux of the British view for the creation of Pakistan:
“The Indus Valley, western Punjab and Baluchistan[the northwest] are vital to any strategic plans for the defense of [the] all-important Muslim belt…the oil supplies of the Middle East. If one looks upon this area as a strategic wall (against Soviet expansionism) the five most important bricks in the wall are Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Only through the open ocean port of Karachi could the opponents of the Soviet Union take immediate and effective countermeasures. The sea approaches to all other countries will entail navigation in enclosed waters directly menaced by Russian air fleets…not only of the sea lanes of approach but also the ports of disembarkation.
If the British Commonwealth and the United States of America are to be in a position to defend their vital interests in the Middle East, then the best and most stable area from which to conduct this defense is from Pakistani territory.
Pakistan is the keystone of the strategic arch of the wide and vulnerable waters of the Indian ocean.”
With the speedy passage through the British Parliament of the Indian Independence Act 1947, two provinces of Punjab and Bengal were divided and with the merger of Sindh and North-Western Frontier Province, the state of Pakistan was created out of India on 14 August 1947. In a controversial referendum, British Balochistan was also merged with Pakistan. British Balochistan consisted of leased areas of the Baloch state of Kalat and some regions of southern Afghanistan which were ceded to British India with the drawing of the Durand line during the last decades of the 19thcentury.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah: The British protégé who was installed as the ruler of Pakistan
Pakistan: the Allah given country
‘Divide and rule’ had been employed by imperial powers throughout history. India was divided and Pakistan was created to safeguard the multi-faceted strategic interests of the British Empire who at that time was also the guardian of Western Imperial interests in the region. However, Pakistan is the only country in the contemporary world whose creation has been sanctioned, according to Pakistani state narratives, by a divine entity. The only other example of a divine sanction of granting land, according to the old testament, was the promise of the land of present-day Israel by god Jehovah to Jewish Patriarch Abraham in ancient times. In the school curriculum, Pakistan is being mentioned as an ‘Allah given’ country for the believers of the Islamic faith in India. However, for the people who were engaged in a protracted struggle against the colonial power, it was a British-created country; nevertheless, as put forward by a Sindhi nationalist, many unique and unnatural characteristics of Pakistan make a person seriously think about a supernatural origin of the country.
The genesis of Pakistan is a unique experience in the history of political science in the sense that it was the first country created on the assumption that the people of one religious faith cannot live with the people of another religious faith in one country. It was also unique in that to give an ideological base for the creation of the state, a new theory of nationhood was manufactured which was based on the perception that people of different cultural, historical, and linguistic backgrounds can form a nation only upon the basis of their religious faith denying all established social science definitions of a nation. People who invaded, ruled, and settled in India since the 8th century was a medley of various Middle Eastern and Central Asian nations and tribal groupings who never constituted a nation. The Indian two-nation theory outrightly rejected the universally accepted definition of national identity based essentially on a common race, common language, common social values and traditions, a common history, and a territory.
There are many other unique features of this ‘Allah-given’ state. The speed at which the creation of Pakistan was finalized is unprecedented in the history of colonialism. In 1940, a resolution was passed at the meeting of a pro-colonialist party demanding the division of their country on religious grounds, and within six years, they achieved what they demanded. It was also unique in the history of political science, that a country was created without any movement on behalf of the general population and without even a nosebleed in the struggle to liberate a people from a powerful colonial power. It was unique that the entire national leadership of this newly independent state was exported from elsewhere, its ideology was created by the colonial power, its national language was not the language of any national entity of the country, and the population of regions, which now comprised Pakistan, was overwhelmingly against the creation of Pakistan. All this uniqueness force someone to believe in divine intervention in the creation of Pakistan.
For the people of the regions, which now comprised Pakistan, the creation of a religious state came as a shock; however, the British decision of partitioning India and creating a religious state was the culmination of a long-standing and unrelenting policy of the colonial administration in India and policy planners in London for the Middle East and Central Asia. The occupation of India, the rivalry of Czarist Russia with Britain in Central Asia, the emergence of the Soviet Union on the horizon of world politics, and the discovery of oil reserves in the Middle East can be cited as causative factors in the creation of Pakistan. Pakistan is a unique case of exploiting a people’s religious or mythological beliefs in the division of a country by powerful forces in the political history of the world. Although, the creation of Pakistan shows the brilliance of a colonial administration in successfully carving out a client or subservient state; nevertheless, it was a mortal blow on the aspirations of those people who struggled long for sovereignty and national integrity of their country. It was a blow that came from heaven and for which they were not prepared. For them, Pakistan appeared to be a real divine punishment. Pakistan, as it appeared later, was a flail of Allah to punish the people of this region for their committed or uncommitted sins.
About the Author:
Dr. Naseer Dashti is a writer on south-central Asian affairs. His books include; Tears of Sindhu: Sindhi National Struggle in the Historical Context (2018) The Baloch Conflict with Iran and Pakistan: aspects of a national liberation struggle (2017), The Baloch and Balochistan: a historical account from the beginning to the fall of the Baloch State (2012), The Voice of Reason (2008) and In a Baloch Perspective (2008). He has contributed numerous articles on current affairs related to South Central Asia in general and on Balochistan and Sindh in particular. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Balochistan Affairs.