East Pakistan Revisited

East Pakistan Revisited

Written By : Mr. Navid Zafar
...we can process a vision for a strong and stable Pakistan, we need to work out a vision that takes the nation along and blends it into a strong unity. Until we do not blend our people into one single language and one single vision for our future progress, our enemies will continue misguiding our people through false interpretations on religion, terrorism and extremism.

East Pakistan Revisited


By Navid Zafar



On 14 August 1947, our present day , involved in a joint struggle for freedom, along with the Muslims of the present day won its liberation, from the colonial rule of the British India . The melody of joint struggle was short-lived and the two units separated in the presence of a most treacherous Indian assault. Much has since been written in the political analysis by the political analysts of all three countries, yet no realistic effort has been made to focus the causes of separation between the two units and to ensure that such events never repeat in our current history.




There are viewpoints on both the phases;

a) the pre 1947 struggle that brought the two peoples together, and

b) the brief sojourn of a quarter century, where the two people split, never to reunite.




The most appropriate approach in history is to revise the facts in a dispassionate analysis. The British philosopher Lord Bertrand Russell states:


In all affairs, love, religion, politics or business, it is a healthy idea, now and then, to hang a question mark on things you have long taken for granted.




Let us, thus, go back to history and pick up only the most agreed facts. The chronology of events reveals the following:


  1. East India Company gets its charter to trade in Surat, consisting of Calcutta and Madras , in the reign of Mughal Emperor Akbar in the year 1600.


  2. The Bengali ruler of Murshedabad, Sirajud Daula is the first native of any significance, who smells evil design in the British guise of merchants and coerces them to wrap up their activities. In stead the British merchants challenged the Bengali ruler to a battle at Plassey in 1757 and defeated him. Sirajud Daula was beheaded as a result and his Commander of Forces, Mir Jaffer reinstated in his place, who agreed to facilitate the British traders further in Bengal .


  3. Another Indian ruler, who momentarily stopped the British expansionism over , was Hyder Ali and his son Tipu Sultan. The state of Seringapatam surrendered when Tipu Sultan died fighting in May 1799 and there was no further hurdle in British take-over of the sub-continent.


  4. Next year, i.e. in the year 1800, British rulers established Fort William College at Calcutta and appointed John Gilchrist as its founder Principal to educate Urdu to both natives and to their own compatriots. The establishment of College was part of a strategy to introduce Urdu as the future court language of . Best Urdu prose and poetry writers were induced to join the college at higher salaries.


  5. In 1825 East India Company replaced Court Language Persian with Urdu. Persian had been the Court language since the arrival of the first Muslim ruler Qutbuddin Aibak in 1206 and the purpose to replace the Court language, after more than 600 years was only to disconnect Indian links with its Muslim neighbors in , and central Asia, up to . Hindu Brahman was not prepared to pollute his Sanskrit with non-Brahmins and since entire was familiar with Persian script for over six centuries, there was no resistance to accept a language in the same script. Urdu that was thus introduced had its Centre at Calcutta , which was also the Capital of the ruling East India Company.


  6. In 1827 British Viceroy Lord Amherst announced that East India Company is no longer functioning under the Mughal King Bahadur Shah Zafar and that the sovereignty of belonged to the British Government. There was no reaction in on this announcement. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, in his first of the three essays on The Causes of 1857 Mutiny places on record, that even Shah Ismail Shaheed who launched jihad movement against the Sikhs in Punjab and Frontier provinces refused to initiate a similar war against the British since their presence protected the local Muslims from the savagery of Hindu Marathas.


  7. Urdu did not gain enough popularity till 1857 and Persian continued to be the language of the masses. Even the bills distributed and pasted on public places in 1855 by the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, were in Persian language and one of these bills was reproduced by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan as an annexure to his famous essay on The Causes of 1857 Mutiny.


  8. Urdu continued to remain the Court language of the entire sub-continent until 1900 and this included Bengal . Calcutta was the Capital of British India until 1911 and Urdu that thus introduced, had its roots in Fort William College that also originated from the Capital of Bengal.


  9.  In 1905, the ruling East India Company found the Province of Bengal, which included Bihar, Orissa and the present day Bangladesh, with a total population of 54 million at that time, too large to manage and bifurcated it into East Bengal with its Capital at Dhaka under a lieutenant governor and West Bengal with Bihar and Orissa with its Capital at Calcutta under a full Governor. The division, though administrative in nature, also divided the inhabitants into Hindu and Muslim majority areas in West and East Bengal respectively. Hindus who enjoyed an overall superiority in the combined province of Bengal found their grip missing over East Bengal , in the new arrangement and retaliated with nation-wide protests. This included an attempt on the life of the Colonial ruler Lord Minto by a Hindu protestor.


  10. Fearing that the division of Bengal will be annulled under the pressure of Hindu majority of West Bengal, a delegation of leading Muslims of East Bengal met the Viceroy at Simla under the leadership of His Highness Sir Aga Khan and conveyed their support for the bifurcation of Bengal . The Muslims of Bengal had found an identity and they were prepared to defend it at all cost.


  11. In continuation of their pressure to keep East Bengal separate from West Bengal and rest of , Muslims of East Bengal hosted the annual session of All India Mohammadan Educational Conference at Dhaka in December 1906. In a session presided over by Nawab Viqarul Mulk, Nawab Salimullah of Dhaka proposed the formation of a political party to safeguard the interest of the Indian Muslims by the name of All India Muslim League. The proceedings of the Conference were in Urdu and seconded by Maulana Zafar Ali Khan from Punjab and Hakim Ajmal Khan from Central India .


  12. The Colonial British government, nonetheless, yielded to Hindu pressure and accepted their two major demands in 1911, which included the reversal of the division of Bengal and shifting the federal Capital from Calcutta to Delhi . The Muslims of East Bengal, nonetheless, never looked back to rejoin the Hindu dominated West Bengal and kept striving for their independent identity.


  13.  In the annual session of All India Muslim League at Allahbad in December 1930, Sir Muhammad Iqbal proposed in his presidential address, a concept of an independent state only for the Muslims living in the North Western provinces of . There was no reference of a Muslim state in East Bengal , the Muslims of Bengal, nonetheless, kept pushing their struggle for a separate identity, on their own.


  14. In March 1940, Moulvi Fazlul Haq of East Bengal presented the concept of two Muslim states in the East and West of Indian sub-continent at the annual session of All India Muslim League.


  15. In 1946 Elections, All India Muslim League bagged 446 seats out of a total 495 Muslim seats throughout and thus became the sole representative of the Indian Muslims. In Bengal its score was 113 out of 119 Muslim seats and Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy of All India Muslim League became the Muslim Chief Minister of Bengal .


  16. The elected legislators of All India Muslim League, in central and provincial Assemblies, met at Delhi on 9 April 1947 to modify the Lahore Resolution and resolved that the six Muslim majority provinces, i.e., Bengal and in the North-east and Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Baluchistan in North West of , be constituted into a separate and independent state of .


  1. as an acronym was coined by Choudhry Rehmat Ali in 1932. The original acronym spelt as PAKSTAN, where ‘P’ represented Punjab, ‘A’ for Afghania or Abasin (NWFP), ‘K’ for Kashmir, ‘S’ for Sindh and STAN for Baluchistan. The Quaid later approved the acronym for his new state with the addition of ‘I’ in its centre, to make the word more coherent, where ‘I’ would represent Islam and bind the provinces. The provinces of Bengal and were not represented in this acronym, yet the representatives of the two provinces did not raise any objection on adopting a name, in which their presence was not identified.


  2. After independence, the majority province East Pakistan surrendered a series of rights to remain into . To begin with, it never objected to the selection of Karachi as the Capital.


  3. Every country in the world must adopt a single language to ensure a unity amongst its people. The Father of the Nation identified Urdu as the only national language of , at a public meeting at Dhaka on 21 March 1948:


Let me tell you in clearest language that there is no truth that your normal life is going to be touched or disturbed, so far as your Bengali language is concerned. But ultimately it is for you, the people of the province to decide what shall be the language of your province. But let me make it very clear to you that the state language of is going to be Urdu and no other language. Any one who tries to mislead you is really the enemy of . Without one state language, no nation can remain tied up solidly together and function. Look at the history of other countries. Therefore, so far as the state language is concerned, ’s language shall be Urdu. But as I have said, it will come in time.


  1. A group of students of Dhaka University raised a protest against the announcement of Urdu as the only state language. This protest was never supported by the elected legislators of East Pakistan in national or provincial assemblies, yet the vested interest in West Pakistan, that feared its authority minimized in the presence of East Pakistan ’s numerical majority, blew up the event out of context and blamed the Founder of the country for separating the majority province.


  2. The Quaid, nonetheless, addressed the students of Dhaka University , three days later and followed up his philosophy of one language for one country, at Dhaka University convocation, on 24 March 1948. He repeated his arguments in details:


Let me restate my views on the questions of a state language for . For official use in this province, the people of the province can choose any language they wish. The question will be decided solely in accordance with the wishes of the people of this province alone, as freely expressed through their accredited representatives at the appropriate time and after full and dispassionate consideration. There can however, be only one lingua franca, that is, the language for intercommunication between the various provinces of the state and that language should be Urdu and can not be any other. The state language therefore must obviously be Urdu, a language that has been nurtured by a hundred million Muslims of the sub-continent, a language understood throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan and above all, a language which more than any other provincial language embodies the best that is in Islamic culture and Muslim traditions and is nearest to the languages used in other Muslim countries. It is not without significance that Urdu has been driven out of the Indian Union and that even the official use of the Urdu script has been disallowed.




  1. It was the vested interest in West Pakistan that united against East Pakistan’s numerical majority and never agreed on a single national language, neither before 1971, nor afterwards. As a result each of the four provinces in today boasts of a variety of official languages and have still not developed a consensus on carrying the state activity in any single language; an experience, which is unique in the comity of nations.


  2. The power of capital and army provided the muscle to West Pakistan, which it used to flex East Pakistan in any odd way. The Constitutions of 1956 and 1962 ignored the numerical majority of East Pakistan and provided undue weightage to the West Pakistani population.


  3. In spite of coercions and incitement from West Pakistan, East Pakistan stood by the concept of one and when the opportunity appeared to nominate one single representative in 1964 Presidential elections, all political parties of East Pakistan rallied behind Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, whose only qualification in politics was that she was Quaid’s sister. Thus proving the West Pakistani politicians wrong that East Pakistan was sour on Quaid’s announcement of Urdu as the only national language of .


  4. Amongst the politicians that canvassed for Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah was Awami League’s Shaikh Mujibur Rehman, who was earlier alleged as a Dhaka University student, who launched the language movement against the Quaid in March 1948. The official results of 1964 Presidential elections revealed that while Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah had won majority votes in East Pakistan, she was defeated by Field Marshal Ayub Khan in West Pakistan .


  5. In September 1965, when initiated a seventeen day war against , the entire Pakistani armed forces were in West Pakistan . If East Pakistan had chosen to separate, there was nothing to stop them at that time. The people of East Pakistan, nonetheless, exhibited exemplary patriotism during the most trying time in nation’s history and proved beyond doubt their loyalty to the concept of one .


  6. According to the documents classified in July 2005 by the US State Department, Commander-in-Chief Pakistan Army, General Muhammad Yahya Khan routed a letter through Secretary of State William P. Roger, before initiating Martial Law in March 1969. In its assessment, the mission in wrote to the state department contending that the principal reason for clamping of martial law was to protect existing power structure in West Pakistan and to prevent East Pakistan from obtaining national power, proportionate to population.


  7. In 1970 Elections, Awami League of Shaikh Mujibur Rehman posted its candidates in all five provinces of . Although its 161 candidates got elected in a total of 162 candidates in East Pakistan, none of its candidates got elected in West Pakistan . Pakistan People Party, in comparison that got maximum seats in West Pakistan did not post a single candidate in East Pakistan .


  8. The six point agenda that Awami League introduced in 1970 elections, did not seek any separation for the Eastern wing of the country. Rather it identified a Federal and Parliamentary constitution on the basis of universal adult franchise, where federal government shall deal with defense and foreign affairs and all other residuary subjects will be vested in federating states.


  9. In accordance with the result of 1970 Elections, Awami League could form the government all alone, yet none of the elected members or political parties from West Pakistan negotiated with the majority party leader on the matters of government or transfer of power.


  10. The Army ruler Yahya Khan refused to give any date for transfer of power to the victorious Awami League, after the elections.


  11. Shaikh Mujibur Rehman invited all elected members of National Assembly to Dhaka on 3 March 1971 into the first session of National Assembly. None of the elected members from West Pakistan responded to Shaikh Mujib’s invitation and the Assembly session was cancelled. As a result Awami League initiated agitation against the government. President Yahya Khan announced military action for East Pakistan and arrested Shaikh Mujibur Rehman.


  12. With Sheikh Mujib in prison and no formula for transfer of power to the elected representatives, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was inducted as Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister by Yahya Khan’s government.


  13. Indian armed forces entered East Pakistan in November 1971 to take advantage of the political impasse. West Pakistani troops surrendered to Indian armed forces on 16 December 1971 and East Bengal ceased to be a part of . But although West Pakistani troops surrendered to in East Pakistan, the people of East Pakistan did not join Indian union and re-established their Muslim identity under an independent Muslim country Peoples Republic of Bangladesh.


  14. On 11 August 1974, former East Pakistan made one last attempt to relink itself with West Pakistan, when a distinguished Barrister-at-Law Mr. Ali Muhammad Abbas from former East Pakistan took oath of Administrator of the government of East Pakistan in exile, in a public meeting consisting mostly of Bengali Muslims, at Conway Hall,
    Red Lion Square London
    . The Cabinet consisting of five Ministers, all of them originating from East Bengal, belonging to legal profession and residing in , urged the Government of Pakistan to withdraw its recognition of , since majority of the people belonging to former East Pakistan still wanted to remain part of . The news of establishment of the Government of East Pakistan in exile, was not carried by any Pakistani print or electronic media, nor considered at the government level.


  15. The struggle that started with Sirajud Daula at Plassey in 1757 and separation of Bengal which the colonial British introduced in 1905 provided such unity to the Muslims of Bengal that no force or inducement could ever pull them back to the rest of . East Bengal was never in confusion to re-establish its Muslim identity, while the four provinces of West Pakistan are still trying to find their common denominator.


  16. Sixty-one years since the independence, we have still not introduced a common language. We have still not defined our nationhood. The country with a population of 160 million that according to Samuel Huntington has the potential to become a core state of the Muslim world has yet to discover its own identity. In his magnum opus, The Clash of Civilization and the Remaking of the World Order, the eminent political scientist states:


Pakistan has size, population and military prowess; and its leaders have fairly consistently tried to claim a role as the promoter of cooperation among Islamic states and the speaker for Islam to the rest of the world. Pakistan is however relatively poor and suffers serious internal ethnic and regional divisions, a record of political instability and a fixation on the problem of its security vis-à-vis India, which accounts in large parts for its interest in developing close relations with other Islamic countries, as well as non-Muslim powers like China and the United States.




From the observations of Samuel Huntington, we can process a vision for a strong and stable , we need to work out a vision that takes the nation along and blends it into a strong unity. Until we do not blend our people into one single language and one single vision for our future progress, our enemies will continue misguiding our people through false interpretations on religion, terrorism and extremism.