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The second act in the classic drama of post-imperial dissolution in south Asia has been as turbulent and destructive as the first. Act One, on which the curtain went up as the British flag went down in August, 1947, saw what the British had ruled as India split—politically into two parts, physically into three. The centrifugal pull between the two widely separated and culturally diverse territories of East and West Pakistan seemed bound to cause the next break in what promises to be the progressive reversion of the subcontinent into the components from which the British constructed their India. For, as the servants of the Raj themselves saw, and one of them wrote at the turn of the century, “There is not, and never was, an India, or even any country of India, possessing—according to European ideas—any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious: no Indian nation, no ‘people of India.’ ” The working out of that truth began in 1947 and seems likely to inform political developments on the subcontinent for the rest of this century.
To put it another way: Pakistan was pregnant with Bangla Desh from the moment of its own birth. Labor was brought on unexpectedly by extraneous factors such as the decline of the Ayub regime and the great cyclone of late 1970; and birth was achieved by Caesarian section, with the Indian army acting as the scalpel. David Loshak, who watched the beginning of the labor as a foreign correspondent (for the London Daily Telegraph), has written a close and illuminating account, following the detail of developments but never forgetting the political and historical background.
As Mr. Loshak sees, Pakistan was “doomed from the start” because in a real sense it was never a nation at all. Bengali nationalism, the sense of ethnic and historical identity of the population of what was East Pakistan, was from the beginning a far stronger force than the sense of Pakistani identity. It was already clearly developed by the end of the 1950s, and looked, as early as that, to separation and establishment of a sovereign Bengal; through the 1960s it grew, fed by resentment at the disparity in economic and political advantage that left East Pakistan the poor sister, steadily and irremediably becoming poorer, notwithstanding the fact that its jute exports contributed largely to Pakistan’s foreign exchange earnings; and it issued in the Awami League’s six-point demand for regional autonomy. Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman, the Awami League leader, and his associates used to deny that the six points were a secessionist program, but while “it might call for mere autonomy, and not spell out secession,” it was always plain—or should have been—that “secession would be its effect.” Mr. Loshak goes on:
…the paradox was this: while the six-point formula went far beyond what West Pakistan could conceivably grant, it was the least that East Pakistan could demand. The formula, in short, succinctly implied the fundamental irreconcilability of the two wings of Pakistan …
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