Pakistan : Born to lose and destined to fail ?

Don’t be turned-off (or turned-on) by the title of this post. It is not about the current media coverage of how Pakistan is or isn’t a failed state. Rather this one is about how the people presiding at the time of its creation conspired to make it fail in couple of years.

Below are excerpts from Perry Anderson’s excellent Why Partition? which covers the events that influenced the 1947 partition that created Pakistan.

For Mountbatten, paramount in importance was keeping whatever states were to emerge from the Raj within the re-labelled British Commonwealth. That meant they must accept independence as dominions. The League had no objections. But Congress had since 1928 rejected, on principle, any submission of India to fabrications from London, expressly including future as a dominion. For Mountbatten, this raised the unacceptable prospect of the lesser community, which he regarded as the principal culprit of partition, becoming a member of the Commonwealth, while the larger community, not only relatively blameless but of much greater strategic and ideological importance, remained outside it. How was this conundrum to be solved?

The answer came from the Father Joseph of the moment, V.P. Menon, a Hindu functionary from Kerala in the upper ranks of the imperial bureaucracy, working on Mountbatten’s personal staff and a close confederate of Patel, the organisational strongman of Congress. Why not offer Indian entry into the Commonwealth to Mountbatten in exchange for a partition so point-blank that it would leave Congress not only in control of the far larger territory and population to which it was entitled by religion, but also in swift command of the capital and the lion’s share of the military and bureaucratic machinery of the Raj? As a final sweetener, Menon suggested throwing the princely states – hitherto left inviolate by Congress, and nearly equal in size and population to any future Pakistan – into the pot, as compensation for what would be foregone to Jinnah. Patel and Nehru needed little persuasion. If these assets were handed over within two months, the deal would be done. Informed of this breakthrough, Mountbatten was overjoyed, later writing to Menon: ‘It was indeed fortunate that you were reforms commissioner on my staff, and that thus we were brought together into close association with one another at a very early stage, for you were the first person I met who entirely agreed with the idea of dominion status, and you found the solution which I had not thought of, of making it acceptable by a very early transfer of power. History must always rate that decision very high, and I owe it to your advice.’

In the first week of June, Mountbatten announced that Britain would transfer power at what he himself would describe as ‘the ludicrously early date’ of 14 August. The logic of such a rush was plain, and in speaking of it Mountbatten did not beat about the bush. ‘What are we doing? Administratively it is the difference between putting up a permanent building, and a Nissen hut or a tent. As far as Pakistan is concerned we are putting up a tent. We can do no more.’

Then came the issue of Bengal. It was far from states making up Pakistan.

In the Hindu community a movement led by Bose’s brother Sarat, and in the Muslim community by the local head of the League, Hoseyn Suhrawardy, joined forces to call for a United Bengal as an independent state, adhering neither to India nor to Pakistan. Mountbatten wanted only two dominions in the subcontinent, though if it was difficult to avoid, did not rule out a third. Jinnah, to his credit, said he would not oppose a unitary Bengal.

What was Nehru’s position? India should take as much territory as it could get: if religion was a lever to that end, so be it. Mountbatten reported a formal exchange with Suhrawardy to the governor of Bengal with the revealing phrase: ‘I warned him that Nehru was not in favour of an independent Bengal unless closely linked to Hindustan, as he felt that a partition now would anyhow bring East Bengal into Hindustan in a few years.’

Now we come to actual business of partition

London dispatched the future law lord Cyril Radcliffe to Delhi to determine the boundaries of the two states, India and Pakistan, to be given independence five weeks later, on 15 August. He knew nothing of the subcontinent. But there already existed a detailed plan to divide it, drawn up in 1946 by none other than V.P. Menon and another Hindu bureaucrat, B.N. Rau, who would play a scarcely less fateful role in the events underway. Radcliffe adhered closely to the plan. Radcliffe could be bent, not to money, but to power. [At behest of Nehru] Mountbatten had little difficulty getting him to change his boundaries to allot two pivotal Muslim-majority districts in Punjab to India rather than to Pakistan: one controlling the only access road from Delhi to Kashmir, the other containing a large arsenal.

Radcliffe finalised his award on 12 August, exiting rapidly back to England before it was announced. He made sure to leave no incriminating evidence for posterity, destroying all his papers. Mountbatten, well aware of what was impending, delayed the announcement of the Radcliffe Award until 36 hours after India and Pakistan had received their independence.

If partition was to have any chance of being carried through peacefully or equitably, at least a year – the year London had originally set as the term of the Raj – of orderly administration and preparation was needed. Its conveyance within six weeks was a sentence of death and devastation to millions.

It is amazing that how much Pakistan was conspired against from its inception rather even before its inception.

In the ensuing chaos, Congress made good a primary objective.  Fourteen out of 20 armoured regiments, 40 out of 48 artillery regiments, and 21 out of 29 infantry regiments fell into its grasp, plus the larger part of the air force and navy. Of the 160,000 tons of ordnance legally allotted to Pakistan, no more than 23,000 ever reached it.

During the first India Pakistan war of 1948 over Kashmir, this what Vallabhai Patel had to say

‘If all the decisions rested on me, I think I would be in favour of extending this little affair in Kashmir to a full-scale war with Pakistan … Let us get it over with once and for all and settle down as a united continent.’

Mountbatten turned out to be the biggest villain in this saga

Mountbatten had engineered point-blank partition with the same end in mind, saying explicitly that this would ‘give Pakistan a greater chance to fail on its demerits’, and so was in the best interests of India, because a ‘truncated Pakistan, if conceded now, was bound to come back later’.

The playing field was uneven I knew but odds were so much stacked against Pakistan from the beginning is a revelation to me

In September 1948, Auchinleck reported to London: ‘The present Indian cabinet are implacably determined to do all in their power to prevent the establishment of the Dominion of Pakistan on a firm basis.’ Nehru, who had for decades denied there was any possibility of an independent Muslim state in the subcontinent, repeatedly expressed his confidence that Pakistan was such a rickety structure – by October it was in his eyes ‘already a tottering state’ – that it had no chance of surviving.

Well Pakistan did survive and has survived for more than 60 years.

Above are just a few excerpts from the brilliant piece by Perry Anderson. I highly recommend that one should read it in full.

On a related note, the only person who comes out as a gentleman and statesman is Jinnah. He may have his faults and might have made a few bad decisions on the way but he was steadfast and uncompromising on his principles unlike Nehru who would used any means (mostly wrongly) to get his way or Gandhi whose principles also seem capable of bending.

Tail piece: Though author mentions Radcliffe destroyed his paper to not leave any evidence, poet W. H. Auden captures beautifully how ruthlessly partition was decided in his poem Partition that he wrote in 1966

Unbiased at least he was when he arrived on his mission,
Having never set eyes on the land he was called to partition
Between two peoples fanatically at odds,
With their different diets and incompatible gods.
“Time,” they had briefed him in London, “is short. It’s too late
For mutual reconciliation or rational debate:
The only solution now lies in separation.
The Viceroy thinks, as you will see from his letter,
That the less you are seen in his company the better,
So we’ve arranged to provide you with other accommodation.
We can give you four judges, two Moslem and two Hindu,
To consult with, but the final decision must rest with you.”

Shut up in a lonely mansion, with police night and day
Patrolling the gardens to keep the assassins away,
He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate
Of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date
And the Census Returns almost certainly incorrect,
But there was no time to check them, no time to inspect
Contested areas. The weather was frightfully hot,
And a bout of dysentery kept him constantly on the trot,
But in seven weeks it was done, the frontiers decided,
A continent for better or worse divided.

The next day he sailed for England, where he could quickly forget
The case, as a good lawyer must. Return he would not,
Afraid, as he told his Club, that he might get shot.


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