How we lost Suhrawardy – the last of bridges


By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Part II

THE Quaid spelled out his vision in his speech of August 11, 1947 in the mother legislative assembly –rightly described as his Magna Carta for Pakistan, that:

According Jinnah’s Pakistan—all its citizens will be equal, they will enjoy equal rights—irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender; they will be free to practice their religions, go to their temples, mosques and churches etc.

Islamic socialism and secularism—according to the Quaid— were not contradiction of Islam but are its true manifestation.

That Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was Rehmatul Lil Alameen—blessing and leader of all human kind—irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender—an essentially secular concept; while God was Rabul Alameen and was not only God of Muslims.

That’s why Quaid separated religion from state management and declared categorically that Pakistan would not be a theocratic state.

However, after his death (Sept 11, 1948) his dream of Pakistan as a modern, democratic, liberal and secular state was waylaid by the power troika comprising of military, civil and judicial bureaucracy backed by the feudal class and clergy from social welfare state. Pakistan as such was converted at gun point into a garrison state. However,   Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal and the Quaid looked separately.


In the biggest Province among the Muslims was in Punjab with a very powerful Sunni clergy dictating its agenda and identifying Ahmedis as not acceptable as part of the majority. To the extent that when the Punjabi Mashaikhs put pressure on Jinnah Sahib to declare the Ahmedis as non Muslims. Jinnah Sahib put his foot down to oppose crushing the anti-ahmedya campaign of Jamaati-Islami and the Ahraris. Jinnah sahib’s straight mindedness was clearly manifested when he picked out from his talented colleagues Sir Zafarallah Khan to be made most important member of his cabinet to be assigned Foreign Ministry of Pakistan who established many records in performance.

While observing the Independence Day of Pakistan we must understand the dynamics of history. We have before us the most recent example of the breakup of the Soviet Union. It had the biggest military in the world, with a nuclear arsenal second to none and its super spying agency KGB had the most dreaded overt and covert operational network world wide and yet none could save it from disintegration and collapse as it could not sustain its population, provide it succour and socio-economic well-being or bear the heavy load of a back breaking Praetorian establishment. When such institutions become larger than the state, then their existence becomes entirely dependent on external forces. They end up reaping the bitter harvest of the seeds sowed by self serving troikas and religious extremists just like the breakup of the erstwhile Soviet Union. A deeper view of the role by troikas unfortunately indicates that the drift is towards that direction as that of erstwhile East Pakistan.

The mausoleum of three leaders A K Fazlul Huq, H S Suhrawardy and Khwaja Nazimuddin in Dhaka

More or less much similar was the fate of East Pakistan ending up in Bangladesh. Had the West Pakistani leaders come to terms with Sheikh Mujibur Rehaman and had they accepted his Six Points programme and agreed to reasonable understanding on the division of power and sharing of resources, break up of Pakistan could have been avoided.

While that could have been the most reasonable solution to the question of autonomy and distribution of power resources but then the stumbling block was overwhelming domination of Punjabi military, civil bureaucracy, the Jamaatis, Ahraris  and other splinter groups. They forced Bengalis to accept principle of Parity. However, Field Marshal Ayub Khan did not allow that to function. Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, most prominent and weight bearing leader in Pakistan was arrested by and treated very shabbily in prison in Karachi by Ayub Khan.

As the follow up of his arrest Suhrawardy Sahib wrote a very moving letter that was published in later years in Mian Iftikharuddin’s Leftist weekly View Point—beseeching Ayub Khan not to destroy the bridge that was the main stay keeping East and West Pakistan together. ‘Once he is gone it would mean swan song of United Pakistan. The letter said “Let me tell you, Mr President, what you do not know, that Pakistan is my life. I have, I believe, played a great part in bringing to existence …. and to make Bengal accept the Muslim League and align itself in the struggle for Pakistan, I had to work night and day, at the cost of my own living and health and safety”.

So wrote Husseyn Shaheed Suharwardy, founder of Awami league and former Prime Minister of Pakistan in a letter to President Ayub Khan challenging the charges on which he was placed in festoon…

I claim my patriotism is above suspicion and cannot be tarnished. I have noted with great pain and you are alleged to have said in Dacca. ‘It was not beyond Him (I.e myself ) to accept monetary assistance from those who are hostile to Pakistan. Pardon me, Mr President, what possible justification have you for making such a serious charge. What false and dirty reports must have been placed before you to induce you to make such a statement.’

SD/ H.S. Suharwardy

In order to save Pakistan threatened with disintegration Suhrawardy Sahib opted for the principle of parity as a quid pro quo for national survival. As a consequence of this deal One Unit was established merging smaller provinces while East Pakistan was to remain as another Unit sharing equal powers and resources between East and West Pakistan.  

It was followed up by Objectives Resolution is one of the most important documents in the constitutional history of Pakistan. It was passed by the first Constituent Assembly on 12th March 1949 under the leadership of Liaquat Ali Khan. While it laid down the objectives on which the future constitution of the country was to be based and it proved to be the foundational stone of constitutional development in Pakistan. However, its introduction also seems to be an afterthought. Its critics rightly say that the Punjbi feudal/military/bureaucratic/cleric community used Liaquat Ali Khan to out maneuver other vested interests and convert a secular Pakistan into a semi-theocratic state.  

In conclusion I reproduce a Paragraph from late Syed Amjad Ali’s book “Prints and Imprints”—a rich catalogue of a diplomat/politician/executive’s memories.

“One day Prime Minister Suhrawardy sent for me. (He was Finance Minister) When I arrived at the Prime Minister’s House I was taken to his bedroom. He was in bed and asked me to sit near him. He told me that he had received an urgent demand from East Pakistan for additional purchase of rice and he wanted rupees one hundred  million in foreign exchange. I reminded him that only last week rupees sixty millions was given to East Pakistan in Exchange for the purchase of rice and I could not understand why they required the additional sum so soon. The Chief Minister, who belongs to the Prime Minister Party, had sent him an SOS because the food situation in some areas was bad and it would be wise to order the rice  now as it would take some time before it arrived. Officials of the Ministry of Finance who were in East Pakistan had sent us reports and those were certainly not alarming. I told the Prime Minister that we did not have an abundance of foreign exchange and we should  wait a  while.  When he became insistent and dogmatic I told him I would not like to be finance minister of a bankrupt state. His rejoinder was that he would not like to be Prime Minister of a State where people were starving to death. We finally compromised, and I released another fifty million rupees in Foreign Exchange.        

(The author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the UK, a long time adviser to the martyred Prime Minister of Pakistan Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and a veteran journalist. First part of the article has been published in previous edition.)