By Babar Ayaz
While Nawaz Sharif may not be Sadiq or Amin, he wasn’t wrong when he said that Pakistan ought to do some soul searching about the secession of East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. However, instead of reflecting, many jingoists pounced on him in the media. One senior PPP leader stood out in particular for his outrage about Nawaz’s claim that Mujeebur Rehman was forced to launch a liberation movement because of the follies of West Pakistan’s leadership. At the cost of repeating myself, and perhaps also angering more hyper-nationalists, I am going to defend Nawaz’s statement. It is high time that this country face the truth, no matter how bitter it is. The creation of Bangladesh was not the result of those crucial eight months when a military operation was launched in East Pakistan. It was a long term consequence of all the wrongs done to East Pakistan by West Pakistan’s ruling classes, which treated the East like a colony. It was a liberation movement which was supported by the Indian government, because they finally had a chance to show the world the Two Nation Theory’s fragility.
Soon after Pakistan was established, the leaders of the Muslim League, led by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan thought it appropriate to impose Urdu as the only national language in February 1948. Mohammed Ali Jinnah jumped into this debate on March 21, stating that Bengali can be the language of the Province, but said “let me make it clear to you that the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language”. This was not acceptable to the Bengalis because they would have been placed in a disadvantageous position in competition with the Punjabi and Mohajir west Pakistanis, who had a better understanding and command of Urdu.
After giving the East Bengalis a ‘Shaheed Minar’, it was finally agreed in the third draft of the Constitution in 1954 that Bengali and Urdu would be the official languages of the country. ‘At the same time it provided for the use of English as the “official language of the country for twenty years.” (Mehrunnisa Ali 1966)
But it was an expensive tradeoff for the Bengalis as they had to accept the perfidious idea of ‘One Unit’, thereby giving away their majority in the assembly. Not only that, once all of West Pakistan was declared one province, what was called East Bengal in official documents until 1954 was renamed East Pakistan.
Now let us take a cursory look at a few disparities: the total government expenditure between 1950 and 1970 in Pakistan was $30.95 billion, out of which West Pakistan extracted the lion’s share of $21.49 billion. Meaning over 69 percent, while East Pakistan, despite having 55 percent of the country’s total population, was only given a measly $9.45 billion, which was just 30.45 per cent of the total. This distribution of resources was in sharp contrast to the income generated by East and West Pakistan. All through Pakistan’s initial 24 years, East Pakistan had enjoyed a foreign trade surplus. In a paper Why Bangladesh, a group of scholars in Vienna collected data from the government of Pakistan’s official papers showing how East Pakistan was exploited by West Pakistan. Taking stock of the foreign trade they pointed out: ‘In foreign trade East Pakistan exports constituted 59 percent of the total but imports only 30 percent of the total imports… During the same period West Pakistan earned 41 percent of the total foreign exchange and was allowed 70 percent of the foreign exchange earnings’. While the surplus generated by East Pakistan was invested in the infrastructure and industry of West Pakistan, it was a secured market for West Pakistani goods. Between 1964 and 1969, West Pakistan exported goods worth Rs 5.29 billion to East Pakistan, while it imported goods worth Rs 3.17 billion. Of the total foreign assistance, almost 80 percent was consumed by West Pakistan. On the whole, again according to the Vienna Group, 77 percent of the funds allocated for development went to West Pakistan in the first 20 years. Not only were all the major investments in the jute and paper industry in East Pakistan owned by the big business houses of West Pakistan, East Pakistan was their undisputed market of over 50 million people. It was because of the loss of this colony that Pakistan had to devalue its currency by 135 percent in 1972 and its textile and consumer industry had a great fall. The East Bengal middle classes were also bitter because of their meagre share in government services. For example, by 1971 the share of 54 percent of East Pakistan’s Bengalis in the central civil services was 16 percent; in foreign services, 15 percent; in the army, out of 17 generals, there was only one Bengali. And in the PIA, only 280 employees were from East Pakistan opposed to 7000 from West Pakistan. Keeping all these factors in mind, how can Nawaz be blamed for calling for introspection about the Bangladesh issue. It is indeed a good sign that a leader hailing from Punjab is raising these issues which used to be taboos for the Panjabi establishment.
The Germans have not only apologised to the Jews and the communists who were killed by the Nazi government during the Third Reich, they have museums to tell future generations what they did wrong. Can we summon the righteousness needed to apologise for the wrongs done to East Bengal and move on instead of living in our cocoon, believing that it was an Indian conspiracy?
(The writer is a prominent journalist and author of Pakistan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)