(The information in this essay comes from the sources listed below. For research purposes they should be consulted directly.)
Pakistan was carved out of two non-contiguous clusters of Muslim-majority districts in colonial India, one in the northwest and one (now Bangladesh) in the northeast. Despite the existence of these territorial concentrations, Muslims were not a national group in colonial India but an ethnically and linguistically diverse, geographically interpenetrated religious minority. As Aijaz Ahmad points out, Partition resulted in “a division […] of the Indian Muslim population so gigantic that if sixty-five million of them found themselves in a brand new country they had done little to make, another thirty-five million of them remained in the same old country which was not, according to the so-called ‘two-nation’ theory and the dispensation of Partition itself, theirs any longer.” (Ahmad Tryst, p. 6) In the latest census of 2001, Muslims made up an oppressed and deprived minority of 138 million out of India’s billion-plus.
Muslims in the subcontinent overwhelmingly descend from low and untouchable Hindu service castes. Despite changing their religion, these converted castes retained their caste identity and its hereditary function, which they continued to carry out alongside Hindu castes within the same political economy. Urdu, thought of as a special language for South Asian Muslims, is a mutually comprehensible dialect of the same basic language spoken by most people throughout northern and central India, the other major dialect of which is Hindi.
Partition had nothing to do with solving the national question in India. As the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India declared in 1944:
There is no basis, whether of common historical tradition, language, culture or race, or in respect of geographical and economic factors, for the arising of a distinct Moslem nationality. Religion (together, of course, with any common element of culture which that may entail) is the only unifying factor, and is clearly insufficient, on the basis of all historical experience, to produce any sentiment which can constitute a national consciousness. (Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India)
Had it been a socialist federation of South Asia that came into being in 1949 instead of two capitalist neo-colonies, then presumably what became East Pakistan would have been part of a united republic of Bengal containing Hindus and Muslims and what became West Pakistan would have been part of a united republic of Punjab containing Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs (with guarantees for the rights of linguistic minorities within that workers state). Partition not only bloodily severed two emerging national groups (Punjabis and Bengalis) on sectarian-communal lines, but subjected one of these mutilated nations (East Bengal) to the domination of the other (West Punjab) within the state of Pakistan.
The resolution on the slogan of Pakistan adopted by the Trotskyist militants of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India in September 1944 clearly spells out the revolutionary Marxist perspective on this question in opposition not only to the bourgeois nationalists of the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League but also to the Stalinists of the Communist Party of India:
The Indian nation consists of various nationalities (e.g., Bengalis, Punjabis, Andheras, Tamilians, Caneras, etc.) who are bound together by common language, culture, historical tradition, etc. British imperialism has drawn its administrative boundaries regardless of these distinctions, with the result that the demands for a re-definition of boundaries and the formation of new provinces, paying a due regard to the existence of these different groupings, has gained in strength in some areas. But nowhere have these demands gone beyond an aspiration for provincial autonomy, thus demonstrating the insignificance of such “separatist tendencies” in relation to the developing national consciousness of the modern Indian nation. The policy of the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India in relation to these nationalities and their demand is clear. Not only does the Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India stand for a federated India on the basis of these distinct nationalities, but it stands for their right of self-determination.
The Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India must, however, expose the misapplication of the principle of national self-determination by the Communist Party of India, which, while denying the existence of a Moslem Nation in words, recognizes it in fact in its proposed redefinition of provincial boundaries. It proposes to draw the boundaries in the Punjab and Bengal in such a manner as to separate West Punjab and East Bengal, where populations are predominantly Moslem, from East Punjab and West Bengal respectively, which are predominantly Hindu. In the absence of any genuine growth of a West Punjab or East Bengal national consciousness, this attempt to divide, on the basis of mere difference of religion, the territory occupied by two distinct nationalities, namely, the Punjabis and the Bengalis, is clearly a concession to the theory of a Moslem Nation.
Since neither the Moslem League demand for Pakistan nor the Communist Party of India variation of it constitute genuine national demands, there can be no question of any support to these demands helping to bring the masses into the struggle against British imperialism. On the contrary, such support would only help to draw the masses away from this struggle by helping the Moslem League to divert the rising discontent of the Moslem masses into communal channels. (Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India)
Far from being an act of national liberation, Partition was instead the result of a calculated effort spanning well over a century to secure the domination of one imperialist nation over all the peoples of the region. The policy behind it was sometimes formulated bluntly (Lt. Colonel Coke, Commandant of Moradabad, 1858: “Our endeavor should be to uphold in full force the (for us) fortunate separation which exists between the different religions and races: not to endeavor to amalgamate them”) and at other times more circumspectly but to the same effect (Secretary of State Hamilton to Viceroy Elgin in 1857: “I am sorry to hear of the increasing friction between Hindus and Mohammedans in the North West and the Punjab. One hardly knows what to wish for: unity of ideas and action would be very dangerous politically; divergence of ideas and collision are administratively troublesome. Of the two the latter is the least risky, though it throws anxiety and responsibility upon those on the spot where the friction exists,” in Sarkar, p. 21).
In 1828-31, the British East India Company replaced Persian with English as the language of the judiciary and higher education. As Hamza Alavi explains:
Persian was the language of the northern Indian, Muslim Ashraf [i.e., high- caste people], the pre-colonial ruling elite. Abolition of Persian as the official language hit them hard. To qualify for government jobs, they had to take to English education. Hindu service castes like kayasthas, khatris and Kashmiri brahmins in northern India (or the baidyas, kayasthas and brahmins in Bengal) took to English education more rapidly and competed more successfully for jobs that the Muslim Ashraf had previously monopolised. Muslims began to lose their primacy. (Alavi Social, p. 5120)
Each caste has a traditional hereditary occupation or special economic role, and when new functions are taken on it is commonly on a caste-wide basis. So when the administrative needs of British colonialism required the recruitment of a new native class of civil servants and professionals (Macaulay, 1835: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, --a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect”), the opportunity was seized by specific castes acting collectively. These were drawn from the higher, “twice-born” varnas among Hindus (brahmins, kshatriyas, and vaishyas) and their “noble” counterparts among the Muslims (ashrafs). The politically motivated effort by the British to depress the privileges of the once-dominant Muslims on account of their ties to the old regime added a communal dimension to this competition among rival castes for education and positions. “[T]he consequences of the Muslim failure to enter new educational institutions for a generation or more after Hindus did so in the nineteenth century were very marked,” writes Hanna Papanek.
The effects were likely to be felt most acutely in the professions, government service, and in the more modern sectors of commerce and industry, all of which required varying degrees of modern education. […] The continuing operation of factors which favored the entry of fellow caste members into a given enterprise or occupation probably exacerbated a situation in which Hindus were not only numerically more prevalent but also had the advantage of much earlier entry. (Papanek, p. 3)
The early pro-Hindu favoritism of the British was not restricted to the rising petty bourgeoisie but extended to the new native gentry installed by the colonialists. In eastern Bengal, where the peasantry was overwhelmingly Muslim, zamindars were recruited exclusively from the Hindu trading castes. (Mukherjee) However, this bias was not universal: the great Muslim landlords of Punjab were rewarded for their loyalty, and Muslims, as a “martial race,” continued to be well represented in the colonial military.
Communal divisions were reinforced and exploited by the rulers with a special consciousness after the Rebellion of 1857, which Hindus and Muslims took part in jointly. By the 1880s, the British began introducing separate electorates which “inevitably hardened the lines of division by encouraging and even forcing community leaders to cultivate their own religious followings alone.” (Sarkar, p. 21) The Research Unit for Political Economy makes the point that in colonial India,
[u]nlike in the capitalist countries, the system of electoral politics was not introduced through a long process of democratic and working-class struggle; on the contrary it was introduced by the British rulers as part of their effort to associate elite sections with their rule, and to set competing communal elites on one another. However, the impact of these manoeuvres was not restricted to elite sections, but had terrible repercussions among the masses. It was in the late 19th century that communal mobilisations and riots among Hindus and Muslims began making a regular appearance, finding their grim climax in the great massacres of Partition. (R.U.P.E., p. 42)
The Hindu-dominated Indian National Congress was founded as the political expression of the native petty-bourgeois layer recruited and trained by the British to administer their holdings. But by the end of the nineteenth century a new native elite class had emerged, an industrial bourgeoisie drawn from Hindu trading castes and Parsis. It was the interests of this class, who were greatly strengthened by the disruption of foreign trade during World War I, that the Congress came to represent.
Due to their reduced representation in education and government during this period, Muslim trading castes did not have the same chances to invest in industry. As Richard Nations writes,
“Throughout the subcontinent, the Muslim bourgeoisie, of whatever ethnic origin, had played a negligible role in the development of a manufacturing capitalism. Some minority communities of Muslims, however, had traditionally specialized in selected commercial and speculative functions (bullion-broking, for example), mainly in Bombay and Calcutta.” (Nations, p. 2)These purely comprador elements had every reason to support the colonialists politically, as did the Muslim landlords.
Accordingly, the Muslim League was formed at British initiative by a small number of wealthy merchants and landlords “to foster a sense of loyalty to the British empire among Muslims in India.” It was soon hijacked by different forces and made to serve as a political vehicle for the interests of the insecure upper-caste Muslim petty bourgeoisie, mainly Urdu-speakers from the old Mughal heartland in the United Provinces--a class which did have some grievances against the rulers. Between 1913 and 1946 the League sought a bloc with the Congress. Jinnah, then a high-ranking member of the Congress, was recruited to the League to bring the two organizations together on a united-front platform, not in opposition to colonialism but in order to reach an accommodation with it. They succeeded in doing so, briefly, with the Lucknow Pact of 1916. As Hamza Alavi writes, “Jinnah was a unifier and not a separationist, as generally suggested. He persisted in that difficult role, despite setbacks, for a quarter of a century until a point was reached when, despite all his efforts, unity was no longer an option.” (Alavi Social, p. 5122) When a vague separatist demand was finally and unexpectedly made by Jinnah in 1940, it was clearly intended as a bargaining chip.
For Indian Muslims, no bourgeoisie and no separate working class meant no real nationalist movement of their own, just petty-bourgeois quota politics up to the last minute. Though it put itself forward as the representative of the all-India Muslim community, the League had little support among either the Muslim masses or the Muslim exploiters. Consequently its influence was slight. It was only in the mid-1940s, with colonial rule in crisis as it faced a pre-revolutionary upheaval of workers and peasants, that “virtually by British appointment […] Jinnah got elevated as a counterweight to Gandhi.” (Ahmad Tryst, p. 15) At this point the Muslim landlords of Punjab and Sindh, finally realizing that independence was inevitable, and fearing for their interests under a state dominated by an industrial capitalist class that would demand some limited land reforms (never mind whether that class was Hindu or Muslim), threw their support to the League. In the ensuing elections, “[t]he peasants whom they dominated completely needed no ideology to make them vote as their landlord instructed them to.” (Alavi Social, p. 5123) Only in Bengal did the Muslim League receive mass support prior to Partition. This happened against a background of intense agrarian class struggle: the famine of 1943 had provoked a CPI-led uprising, the Tebhaga movement, of predominantly Muslim sharecroppers against the predominantly Hindu landlords. The militancy of the peasant masses was channeled into electoral support for the Muslim League in 1945 with the indispensable help of the Stalinists. (Alavi Social, p. 5123-4)
The map above (Trewartha and Verber) showing the distribution of industrial workers across the subcontinent in 1944 tells a good deal about the political economy of the state formed five years later out of the two nearly blank areas in the northwest and northeast. In 1953 Jerome B. Cohen summed up conditions like this:
Pakistan is one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world. Partition left it with a food and raw materials (cotton, raw jute, hides and skins, wool) surplus but virtually no industry, while India retained almost all of the industry but incurred a food and raw material deficit because the areas which had customarily supplied surpluses had fallen to Pakistan. West Pakistan produced the raw cotton, India had most of the textile mills. East Pakistan produced the raw jute; India had the jute-processing facilities. (Cohen, p. 1)
Pakistan in 1949 was a capitalist country without capitalists. The few industrialists who had existed in West Pakistan, all of them Hindu and Sikh, emigrated during Partition. In East Pakistan there was practically no ruling class left at all. The Hindu landlords appointed by the British had fled along with the moneylenders, also Hindus, and their lands were divided up among former tenants and other poor peasants with a thirty-three acre ceiling. (Nations, p. 2)
The order of the day was therefore primitive accumulation. This was accomplished by means of the essentially colonial exploitation of East Bengal. Income from agriculture was massively transferred to the manufacturing sector by means of an over-valued exchange rate. As Omar Noman explains:
Since the major exports of the country were agricultural products, the rural sector was the source of foreign exchange earnings. The over-valuation of the rupee meant that the farmer was being paid less than would be his due at the free market rate of exchange. The difference between potential earnings under the conditions of a competitive rupee, and the actual earnings at the official rate, constituted a sort of tax on agriculture. (Noman, p. 16)
This drain had a regional character because all the industry was in West Pakistan and jute from East Bengal initially “accounted for 70 percent of Pakistan’s foreign exchange earnings.” (Ahmed Bangladesh, p. 423) Even the jute processing plants in East Bengal were owned by West Pakistanis.
By this and similar state measures (described in Nations and Ahmed Bangladesh), together with an incredibly high rate of exploitation of the working class in the west as well as the east (with wages kept “just above those of the declining incomes of the bottom 40 per cent of the peasantry” through state repression, depressed agricultural prices, and an abundant reserve army of starving rural labor (Nations, p. 8))--and aided early on by windfall agricultural exports to U.S. imperialist forces in Korea--was money capital accumulated for private investment in industry.
This amount (actually only 15-37% of it was used as capital, the larger share going to “higher consumption by the richer urban classes” (Noman, p. 16)) was handed to a couple dozen families drawn from Muslim trading castes, nearly all of them newly arrived from Gujarat, Kathiwar, Bombay, or Calcutta with few assets. Despite having little pre-existing wealth and, in most cases, no local roots, they were able to take advantage of this opportunity not just because of their business skills but also because of the absence of competition at this time among higher castes, who looked down on commercial activity. As Hannah Papanek writes,
people in business occupations as a group held relatively low status with respect to the educated elites, even though wealth itself plays an important role in the status evaluation of individuals and families. Persons from other middle-class occupations, or wealthy landlords with available capital, were not highly motivated to shift to business in the early period. (Papanek, p. 19-20)
So this small group of merchant-caste émigrés, recruited to serve as a pre-fabricated capitalist class, was funded by state policy to develop (and profit from) a modern industrial base for the new nation.
At the time of Partition the state bureaucracy of Pakistan was staffed almost exclusively by upper-caste, petty-bourgeois immigrants from the Muslim-minority provinces in northern central India, the same section which up to the mid-1940s had provided the primary social base for the Muslim League. It was only this educated but not highly propertied elite who--living as a communal minority, competing professionally with Hindu upper castes, and treated by the colonialists with some suspicion--had any interest, prior to that point, in participating in a separate Muslim political movement. Arriving in Karachi in 1949, they saw themselves as heirs to the Mughal aristocracy they had in many cases personally descended from and founders of the new nation. Less than four percent of the population, these Urdu-speakers made their native language, which had never been spoken anywhere in the country, the national language.
This group has persisted as an ethno-linguistic minority called the Mohajirs. The Urdu word mohajir, derived from an Arabic term for “emigrant” that has Koranic overtones, was originally used to refer to all Muslims who entered West Pakistan during Partition. But since the refugees from eastern Punjab (now Indian Punjab), who made up the greatest portion of such migrants, were soon assimilated into the western Punjabi population, and since the tiny numbers of Gujarati-speaking traders who also came have their own distinct place in society, it is only these native Urdu-speakers of urban Sindh who are generally known by the name. There has always been conflict between the Mohajirs and the landowning Sindhi-speaking elite which dominates the economically backward countryside of that province. The community began to lose its political ascendancy in the 1960s, a shift symbolized by the relocation of the capital out of Karachi, and their influence declined further when the Sindhi landlord Zulfikar Bhutto came to power in the center, but they continue to be represented in the civil service out of proportion to their numbers. Though traditionally the most patriotic of Pakistanis, in the 1980s their perceived grievances against the center and the Sindhi-speaking majority of their province fueled a militant separatist Mohajir-chauvinist movement that bizarrely demanded its own state in Karachi.
The other linguistic group that has been traditionally dominant in the center are the Punjabis. The agricultural land of Punjab was the richest of the four provinces of West Pakistan and had benefited from colonial irrigation works. The grateful Punjabi landed elite had helped administer the province for the British and led troops of their dependents in the colonial army, which recruited Punjabis in large numbers. So it was natural that they took control of the military and joined the Mohajirs in staffing the bureaucracy. The Punjabis are the only substantial ethno-linguistic group in Pakistan that has never had, or needed, a separatist movement.
My guess is that of the four major ethno-linguistic groups that before Partition inhabited what became West Pakistan–Mojahirs, Punjabis, Sindhis, and Pashtuns–only the Punjabis had the material basis to form their own national state, and then only one centered in the more developed eastern portion that went to India. Sindh had no bourgeoisie except in Karachi, a city that was economically and culturally set apart from the rest of the province with at that time a migrant Balochi-speaking working class. After independence industrial workers in Sindh were predominantly Mohajir, joined later by Punjabi migrants; only in the 1980s did a significant Sindhi-speaking working class emerge (Alavi Nationhood, p. 1533) and Feroz Ahmed wrote in 1996 that there was still “no Sindhi bourgeoisie to speak of.” (Ahmed Ethnicity, p. 3052) Substantial development in the North-West Frontier Province and the commercial activity of Pashtuns in other parts of Pakistan has probably formed the basis by now for an independent Pashtunistan centered in that province and extending into the northern part of Balochistan and the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan. But that same development, which has integrated the province with the rest of the country economically, has at the same time made such a scenario less attractive to the Pashtuns. They are also significantly represented in the center through their presence in the military, though less so in the higher ranks. Despite recurrent militant separatist movements among ethnically linked tribes known as Balochis--some speaking the Indo-Iranian Balochi language and some the Dravidian (i.e., pre-Aryan) Brauhi (Ahmed Ethnicity, p. 3050)--in the hopelessly backward province of Balochistan (together with their fellow Balochis in Iran), it seems unlikely that they constitute a national group even today by Marxist standards. All the peoples of Pakistan are now so interpenetrated that no just national solution for any of the oppressed minorities would be conceivable under capitalism.
The largest nationality in Pakistan at the time of Partition were the Bengalis, who made up 54 percent of the population. Presumably if there had been a dominant exploiting class left there they would never have agreed to be ruled by a government centered a thousand miles away. But there wasn’t (as explained above, they had all fled), and if a deformed workers state was ever a possibility militarily the nationalist movement had foreclosed it politically, so this majority province ended up subordinated to the rule of an embryonic capitalist class based in Karachi to which it had no national ties. The state committed to defending (and creating) the property of that class spent eight years rigging a constitution denying proportional electoral status to the three smaller provinces in the west--ensuring their control by Punjab--and then giving that artificial political unit of “West Pakistan,” which was still less populous than “East Pakistan,” electoral parity with it. In the meantime there were riots in Dhaka, brutally suppressed, after “Bengali legislators trying to speak their own language in the assembly were warned they could be tried for treason.” (Ahmed Bangladesh, p. 430) In the 1954 provincial elections in East Bengal a “united front” of petty-bourgeois parties and the Stalinists demanding regional autonomy won 233 seats to the Muslim League’s 10. The center dismissed the newly formed Bengali government and banned the Stalinists outright. There were also centrifugal movements for regional autonomy going on at this time among the Pashtuns and the Balochis. A national election was finally scheduled for 1959, which, as Omar Noman writes, “would have entailed a shift in power from the mahajjir-Punjabi executive to a Bengali-dominated legislative government. To circumvent the transfer of power the Civil Service asked the army to take over.” (Noman, p. 14-15) The army agreed, after its leader, Ayub Khan, put in a call to the head of the CIA. (Ahmed Bangladesh, p. 429)
Noman goes on to note that military rule, combined with a strong central bureaucracy, was a model inherited from the colonial state: “The role played by the viceroy in the British viceregal system was now played by Ayub as the supreme martial law commander. Similarly, the viceroy’s reliance on the ‘steel frame’ of the Imperial Civil Service was duplicated with minor adjustments.” (Noman, p. 28) And his successor’s response to the surprise victory in the long-delayed national elections of 1970 of a national coalition of regional parties over the Muslim League by a simple nationwide majority recalls the classic imperialist response when a vital asset abroad is threatened: genocidal chauvinist violence. In this case it was as pointless as it was horrifying. It’s said that Bangladesh is the only majority section of a nation in history to separate and form a new state. Or, as Tariq Ali put it, when the West Pakistani troops “were told that Bengalis were only recent converts to Islam, that Hinduism was in their blood, that this was the reason they wanted to break away from Pakistan[, n]obody said: but we seem to be breaking away from them.” (Ali Plain, p. 187)
By this time, through the success--on its own terms--of the state’s industrialization program, along with massive aid and loans from U.S. imperialism to secure a strategic ally in its anti-Soviet war drive, some new social forces had come into being in Punjab and Sindh: an educated, non-Mohajir petty bourgeoisie and a growing, increasingly restive working class. In the context of the suppression of elementary labor rights (wages were frozen, strikes were banned), a relentlessly repressive political culture, and the military regime’s loss of legitimacy after the failure of its delusional war against India in 1965, these groups began looking for an effective political alliance against the ruling bourgeois-Punjabi landlord combination. The correct one, of course, was the working class at the head of both the rural masses and a section of the urban petty bourgeoisie. But the now-underground Stalinist left offered no such perspective. China being allied with Pakistan, the Maoists supported the military dictatorship as “anti-imperialist,” with the exception of a Naxalite (guerillaist) tendency that turned their backs on the working class to hunt class enemies in the countryside. And the pro-Soviet Stalinists, committed to a two-stage model of revolution, pursued alliances with the petty-bourgeois nationalists in East Bengal and tribal separatists in North-West Frontier Province and Balochistan. (Ali What’s Left) The class that the workers and urban petty bourgeois of West Pakistan ended up allying with against the ruling elite was perhaps the most reactionary section in the country--the landlords of the economically backward province of Sindh, where the estates were even larger and the tenants more inhumanly exploited than in Punjab. One thinks of the New Deal electoral coalition of Northern liberals, trade unionists, and Southern segregationists that the Stalinists helped bring together.
The landlords of Sindh had their own quarrels with the two dominant sections of the ruling class: their class counterparts in Punjab and the bourgeoisie. While the drain on agriculture during the years of rapid industrialization had not squeezed the landlords as badly as the East Bengali peasants, it did hold them back, particularly in underdeveloped Sindh where they had had less chance to take advantage of the green revolution. Feroz Ahmed notes that “[m]any landlords had already realized that feudalism had no future and that industries were a more efficient way of accumulating wealth. If they could seize state power, weaken the monopolies, exercise power over the financial institutions, and acquire industrial and trade licenses, there would be little to prevent them from transforming themselves into capitalists.” (Ahmed Pakistan, p. 186) The smaller landlords concentrated in Sindh, with fewer resources and no representation in the center, craved opportunities they were shut out of. To convince the workers and the middle classes that this inter-ruling-class conflict and their own struggle were one and the same, and at the same time to assure the more dominant sections among the rulers that once in power the leadership of such an electoral bloc would not fundamentally threaten their interests, took remarkable political talents, and even with them the fragile balance held for little more than five years.
Zulfikar Bhutto came from one of the biggest landowning families in Sindh. As foreign minister in Ayub’s military dictatorship, Bhutto had allied himself with the most jingoistic, chauvinist faction of the army--the one that “felt that the ceasefire agreement, signed at Tashkent through Soviet mediation, had been excessively generous to India […,] that Ayub had lost on the negotiating table what the army had won on the battlefield” in 1965. (Noman, p. 43) It was over this question that Bhutto resigned from the government and formed his own political platform: the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). He later pushed for war against the Bengalis and, as president, drowned a separatist uprising among the Balochis in blood.
While appealing with such positions to a layer inside the military and bureaucracy that was even more bloodthirsty than the regime they served, Bhutto built a mass base by posturing to the left under the slogan “Islam our faith, Democracy our polity, Socialism our economy.” Feroz Ahmed writes:
To the vast mass of alienated and exploited people--the peasants, the workers and the lumpen proletariat--the PPP was sold as a revolutionary socialist party that was bent upon “tumbling the thrones and tossing the crowns.” They were told that every trace of feudalism and capitalism would be eliminated, that the fields would belong to the tillers and the factories to the workers, and that every exploiter would be answerable to the people’s court. In short, there was no revolutionary slogan or cliché which was not used by the PPP leaders and cadres. (Ahmed Pakistan, p. 187)
It was not despite his ability to marshal these forces behind him, but because of it, that the dominant class forces handed executive power over to Bhutto. In 1968-71, their rule was in crisis and the situation was close to pre-revolutionary. As Aijaz Ahmed explains:
The Bangladesh War had cut the country to half its size, leading to financial bankruptcy of the state, severe economic setbacks for its bourgeoisie, and the collapse of the armed forces both militarily (as a fighting force) and politically (as the leading factor in the political apparatus of the state, actually in charge of government since 1958). Meanwhile, the crisis of the dominant ideology was immense indeed, since Pakistan, heretofore the “national homeland” of Muslims in the subcontinent, now had fewer Muslims in it than in Bangladesh or even India; it had simply lost its raison d’être. Quite apart from the “nationalist” movement in Bangladesh, moreover, the country had experienced continual and very intense militancy of the urban and rural working classes since 1968, and the wave of factory occupations and land seizures which followed Bhutto’s accession to power was simply the continuation of the politics which had been unfolding previously in the wake of the mass movement of 1968-69. (Ahmad Democracy, p. 24)
A popular civilian politician was needed who could contain these forces, and Bhutto was not just the obvious but the only candidate for the job. In the elections to national and provincial assemblies held in 1970, “[n]o party, other than the PPP [(with 41% overall)], managed to get into double figures either in Punjab or Sind.” (Noman, p. 44) As Feroz Ahmed explains, in Punjab this popular support was real and “[i]n Sind, where political education and organization of the masses had not progressed so well, the PPP owed its success to the traditional hold of landlords over the peasants.” (Ahmed Pakistan, p. 188) Days after the surrender of Pakistani forces in East Bengal, Bhutto was invited by the army to take over as chief martial law administrator. He would go on to replace the military dictatorship with a civilian one.
Aijaz Ahmed sketches the following sequence of events:
Bhutto formed the government in December 1971. In January 1972, he announced a set of nationalizations, the first in the country’s history, and got a few big industrialists handcuffed for television display. In March, he announced the first set of land reforms, hyperbolically described at the time as the “liberation of the Pakistani peasantry.” […] These high-pitched flourishes reached a tremendous climax by May Day, which was declared a holiday, while Bhutto himself expounded on “the spirit of the Paris Commune.”
Then came the turnabout. In June, while a visiting team of experts from the World Bank firmly linked the question of multilateral aid to control of the domestic labour situation, armed police shot down 30 workers in the streets of Karachi. In October, more workers were killed in a joint operation of the police and the paramilitary forces, while over 4,000 workers were either arrested or driven into the underground which now extended beyond the city of Karachi. Over the next few years, far-reaching recession in domestic industry, combined with the sustained bid by the PPP to establish its dominance over organizations of the working class, led practically to a state of siege, and the working class suffered retrenchment by the thousands, wholesale destruction of many trade unions’ offices, occupation of factories (and even whole industrial areas) by armed police, and widespread arrests, tortures, and in some cases assassinations of militant labour leaders. (Ahmad Democracy, p. 27-28)
This vicious anti-labor offensive was met with a wave of mass strikes and militant workers’ actions. But in the absence of revolutionary political leadership, even these open assaults did not seriously erode the PPP’s support among workers. That a ruling party would adopt even a purely rhetorical posture in its favor seemed better than anything they had previously experienced, and there was a belief that “Bhutto was personally keen on reforms but was subverted by ‘vested interests’ and ‘corrupt party colleagues.’” (Noman, p. 95) Besides, their own militancy had elicited some genuine if modest concessions:
The 1972 labour laws improved pension rights and provided educational allowances for the children of workers as well as greater provision for medical and welfare funds for workers. The new labour legislation, which covered over 50% of workers in the manufacturing sector, also provided protection from arbitrary dismissal and the right to appeal to a labour court. …[W]hen food subsidies were reduced, low-income government employees and workers were partially compensated by wage increases. The real wages of organised factory workers rose under the PPP.
The limited, generously compensated nationalizations under Bhutto excluded foreign assets, after 1976 by law. Aijaz Ahmad argues that “the key purpose of these so-called ‘nationalizations’ was to absorb the losses of the private sector in units and branches that were uneconomical.” (Ahmad Democracy, p. 34) Noman claims to the contrary that they had some real effect but were targeted, at least initially, at the capital and intermediate goods sector (Noman, p. 76), and affected principally the property of the tiny monopolist bourgeois class, the “twenty-two families [who] between them owned 66% of industry, 97% of insurance and 80% of banking.” (Noman, p. 41) Credit was extended to benefit members of the ruling class who had been left out--smaller landlords and industrialists--as well as a rural kulak class which had emerged in the course of the green revolution. At this stage the stock market and other indicators of investor confidence bounced back quickly. Noman criticizes later nationalizations from within a capitalist framework, complaining that they affected smaller, non-monopolist concerns and, because they were arbitrary and motivated by corruption and party politics, destabilized the business climate. (Noman, p. 79) Taking these views together, we can say that to the extent that these policies changed anything systemically, it was to mildly curb the power of the very largest bourgeois families in the interests of other sections of the ruling class as well as the best placed members of the aspiring petty bourgeoisie.
The land reforms announced so dramatically had even less material effect, reflecting the continuing dominance of a section of the landholding class prosperous enough to resist any limits on their privileges, even at the expense of the new investment opportunities that the section more directly represented by Bhutto hoped such measures might open up. They set the ceiling for holdings very high, and since they applied to individual owners rather than families, the title for lands over that limit could simply be divided among close male relatives who in the context of the Pakistani joint family were already part of the same economic unit. Even these cosmetic adjustments were not reliably enforced by a local administrative bureaucracy dependent on the landlords. At best, landlords shed small portions of unused or useless land in return for compensation. Noman reports,
The total resumed area was less than 1% of the total area of 36.4 million acres in Punjab, and less than 3% of the total area of 11.4 million acres in Sind. Indeed, the area resumed in these provinces was much smaller than land resumed under the 1959 land reforms. Barely 1% of the landless tenants and small owners benefited from the 1972 land reforms. A recent study indicates that income distribution in rural areas may have worsened under the PPP. (Noman, p. 94)
The Library of Congress in its “Country Studies” series observes that as of the mid-90s,
[l]arge landowners retain their power over small farmers and tenants, especially in the interior of Sindh, which has a feudal agricultural establishment. Tenancy continues on a large-scale: one-third of Pakistan's farmers are tenant farmers, including almost one-half of the farmers in Sindh. Tenant farmers typically give almost 50 percent of what they produce to landlords. (LOC, “Farm Ownership and Land Reform”)
The only region where reforms were pursued with any vigor was the North-West Frontier Province, where Bhutto used them to weaken the pro-separatist ruling class there. Twelve percent of land in that province was redistributed, benefiting about a third of the landless peasants there. Land reform was further used by the PPP to reward supporters, blackmail potential supporters, and punish opponents among the landed elite. (Noman, p. 94)
Among Bhutto’s most fervent and effective supporters were Maoists who went so far as to distribute a three-and-a-half by four-inch selection of the sayings of Chairman Bhutto. (Ahmed Pakistan, p. 184) The results of the PPP regime demonstrate the dangers of exaggerating the “contradictions of the ruling class” and the inanity of somehow trying to exploit them in the interests of the masses. Feroz Ahmed observes that
despite persistence of archaic instruments of production, old oppressive class relations, social power of the big landlords, and traditional values, the agrarian system inherited at independence and conveniently labeled as ‘feudal’ no longer exists. Capitalist development, with all its distortions and unevenness, has intruded into the agricultural sector of Pakistan’s economy, not supplanting but grafting itself on the old system. As a result of the technological changes, increased population density in the rural areas, and social changes facilitating alternative means of acquiring wealth and power, the traditional ‘feudal’ class is no longer tied to the land, and its younger members are seeking a share in the professions, capitalist sector of the economy, and state power, much the same way as other elements of the ruling class. (Ahmed Ethnicity, p. 3053)
As we have seen, the landlords dominating Pakistan were driven from the beginning by the dictates of the imperialists and the technological needs of a modern state to rapidly industrialize through the agency of a new class of migrant entrepreneurs at the expense of their own agricultural sector. Only worldwide proletarian revolution will free the neo-colonial world from the shackles of capitalist imperialism.
The Bonapartist impulses of the PPP led it to seek to turn certain victory in the 1977 election into an overwhelming legislative majority through massive electoral fraud. This provided a final reason as well as a pretext for the dominant sections of the ruling class, through the instrument of the military, to reassert their political control. By 1977 the opposition to Bhutto had consolidated its own mass base: “a sizeable stratum of the urban petty bourgeoisie and the lumpen section--especially the lumpen, who had seen their ranks swollen but their options markedly narrowed--might be mobilized by exhortations of the ultra-Right into a movement of apparent mass opposition against the Bhutto regime, in the name of Islam, yes, but propelled by the daily misery of their material existence.” (Ahmad Democracy, pp. 40-41)
While before Zia political rule in the center had been relatively secular, Noman notes that
[t]he PPP’s concessions to theocratic demands also set in motion tendencies which facilitated the subsequent drift into fundamentalism under General Zia. In 1970, when the religious parties accused the PPP’s socialism of being un-Islamic, Bhutto retorted by stressing that the compatibility between Islam and socialism was not “properly understood.” In 1977, by way of contrast, Bhutto attempted to diffuse the opposition movement by giving in to puritanical theocratic demands […]. The PPP banned alcohol, gambling and night clubs, as well as replacing Sunday with Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, as the weekly holiday. (Noman, p. 110)
But it was Zia who for the first time made such policies the basis of his ideological legitimacy, initially in order to attract a mass base to justify the military’s intervention and later as a cover for the anti-democratic nature of that intervention itself and the military’s wounded stature after its failures in 1965 and 1971. In this second stage, according to Noman, the political logic went like this:
At one level […], the creation of a theocracy was an attempt to fill the political vacuum created by Zia’s renegation on his promise to hold elections. Islamisation provided an objective for utilizing state power, which the military had refused to transfer to civilians. At another level, the […] theocracy was a delayed response to 1971. Events in that year had eroded confidence in the validity of the original demand for Pakistan. It was evident that religion alone did not provide a sufficient basis for a nation-state, contrary to the claims of the two-nation theory. Islamisation implicitly provided an explanation for the failure of national integration. The failure was ascribed to the abandonment of religion by Zia’s military predecessors. (Noman, p. 151)
But, as always, a regime depends less on the cogency of its ideology than on the material support it receives, and as with any nation exploited under imperialism it is not only or even primarily internal support which counts. Zia’s coup and the measures considered necessary to uphold it domestically--hanging Bhutto, suppressing his supporters, imposing judicial punishments out of Islamic law such as mutilations and public floggings--were not well received internationally. U.S. imperialism had doubts about the stability and appetites of the new government and suspended military support. Noman notes that “[t]he deterioration in relations was symbolized by the burning down of the American embassy in Islamabad, more or less with official approval.” (Noman, p. 120)
And then came the Red Army’s intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979. In return for providing a base for the CIA’s counterrevolutionary guerrilla war in that country, Zia’s regime negotiated an aid package worth 3.2 billion dollars, renewed access to military technology, a blind eye to Pakistan’s nuclear program, and a brisk inflow of foreign capital. As a side benefit to the dictatorship, the Soviet intervention in a Pashtun nation quelled separatist agitation among Pashtuns in the northwest, who had earlier looked to the Soviet Union as a possible ally in getting rid of the national border that cut across their tribal territory. (Noman, p. 120-121)
As far as I have been able to find out, none of the succeeding alternations between military rule and civilian governments reflect any qualitative changes in the class structure of the country or the alignment of forces within it and outside of it. A recent article in Workers Vanguard, the newspaper of the International Communist League, sums up the Marxist perspective for going forward:
Pakistan is an example of uneven and combined development, reflecting the impact of imperialist oppression and capitalist exploitation superimposed on an underdeveloped and backward society. In Pakistan, women are subjected to purdah (seclusion) and jailed or stoned to death for adultery and similar “crimes” under Islamic law or murdered in “honor killings” by their own families.
At the same time, Pakistan has a significant working class that has shown a determination to struggle. In the past years, there have been major strikes in several industries. In 2008, tens of thousands of workers at the Pakistan Telecommunication Company struck for several weeks, gaining a 35 percent pay raise and regularizing contract workers. There have also been strikes by textile, sugar mill and transport workers. Reportedly, thousands of health care workers struck throughout Pakistani-occupied Kashmir in mid-February.
The task of liberating all the exploited and oppressed of the Indian subcontinent demands the forging of Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard parties dedicated to the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisies in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and the establishment of a socialist federation of South Asia. Crucial to such a proletarian-internationalist perspective is the fight for workers political revolution in the Chinese deformed workers state, a fight that must be premised on the unconditional military defense of China against imperialism and domestic counterrevolution. Only an internationalist perspective, uniting social struggle on the subcontinent with the fight for workers revolution in the U.S. and other advanced capitalist countries, can open the door to real social liberation for the impoverished masses.
(“Obama Escalates War in Afghanistan,” Workers Vanguard No. 931 (27 February 2009))
sources cited above
Ahmad, Aijaz, “Democracy and Dictatorship in Pakistan, 1971-80” [Ahmad Democracy], Lineages of the Present, Verso (2000)
Ahmad, Aijaz, “‘Tryst with Destiny’: Free and Divided” [Ahmad Tryst], Lineages of the Present, Verso (2000)
Ahmed, Feroz, “Ethnicity, Class and State in Pakistan” [Ahmed Ethnicity], Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 31, No. 47 (Nov. 23, 1996)
Ahmed, Feroz, “The Structural Matrix of the Struggle in Bangladesh” [Ahmed Bangladesh], Imperialism and Revolution in South Asia, Kathleen Gough and Hari P. Sharma (eds), Monthly Review Press (1973)
Ahmed, Feroz, “Structure and Contradiction in Pakistan” [Ahmed Pakistan], Imperialism and Revolution in South Asia, Kathleen Gough and Hari P. Sharma (eds), Monthly Review Press (1973)
Alavi, Hamza, “Nationhood and the Nationalities in Pakistan” [Alavi Nationhood], Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 24, No. 27 (July 8, 1989)
Alavi, Hamza, “Social Forces and Ideology in the Making of Pakistan” [Alavi Social], Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 51 (Dec. 21-27, 2002)
*Ali, Tariq, “Plain Tales from Pakistan” [Ali Plain], The Clash of Fundamentalisms, Verso (2002)
A[li]., T[ariq]., “What’s Left in Pakistan?” [Ali What’s Left], Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 8, No. 47 (Nov. 24, 1973)
Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India, “Resolution on Pakistan” [Bolshevik-Leninist Party of India], adopted September 1944 [AVAILABLE ONLINE AT: http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/ni/vol12/no10/blpi.htm]
Cohen, Jerome B., “Economic Development in Pakistan” [Cohen], Land Economics, Vol. 29, No. 1 (Feb., 1953)
Library of Congress, Pakistan: A Country Study, [LOC] Federal Research Division, Peter Blood (ed.) (1994) [AVAILABLE ONLINE at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/cshome.html]
Mukherjee, Ramkrishna, “The Social Background of Bangladesh” [Mukherjee], Imperialism and Revolution in South Asia, Kathleen Gough and Hari P. Sharma (eds), Monthly Review Press (1973)
Nations, Richard “The Economic Struture of Pakistan: Class and Colony” [Nations], New Left Review, I/68 (July-August 1971)
Noman, Omar, Pakistan: Political and Economic History Since 1947 [Noman], T.J. Press (1990)
Papanek, Hanna, “Pakistan's Big Businessmen: Muslim Separatism, Entrepreneurship, and Partial Modernization” [Papanek], Economic Development and Cultural Change, Vol. 21, No. 1 (Oct., 1972)
R.U.P.E. (Research Unit for Political Economy), “India’s Runaway ‘Growth’: Distortion, Disarticulation, and Exclusion (Part One)” [R.U.P.E.], Aspects of India’s Economy, No. 44 (March 2008)
Sarkar, Sumit, Modern India 1885-1947 [Sarkar], Macmillan India (1983)
Trewartha, Glenn T. and Verber, James L., “Regionalism in Factory Industry in India-Pakistan” (Trewartha and Verber), Economic Geography, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Oct., 1951)
additional sources of note
Ahmad, Aijaz, “The National Question in Baluchistan,” Pakistan Forum, Vol. 3, No. 8/9, Focus on Baluchistan (May - June, 1973)
Ali, Babar, “Two Misconceptions Indians Have about Pakistan: II: Illusions about Benazir Bhutto and Peoples Party,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 21, No. 44/45 (Nov. 1-8, 1986)
Filkins, Dexter, “Pakistani serfs rising up against landlords,” Los Angeles Times (August 29, 1999)
Franda, Maurice F., “Communism and Regional Politics in East Pakistan,” Asian Survey, Vol. 10, No. 7 (July, 1970)
Gazdar, Haris, “Class, Caste or Race: Veils over Social Oppression in Pakistan,” Economic and Political Weekly (January 13, 2007)
Hasan, Arif, “The Roots of Elite Alienation,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 37, No. 44/45 (Nov. 2-15, 2002)
Mai, Mukhtar, In the Name of Honor, Washington Square Press (2006)
Shah, Zulfiqar, “Question of Land Reforms in Pakistan,” Dawn, February 2, 2008
Shaheed, Zafar, “Welcome to the Machine,” Dawn (April 29, 2007)
Silvers, Jonathan, “Child Labor in Pakistan,” The Atlantic (February 1995)
Stuteville, Sarah, “Walking Out of Slavery,” The Indypendent (NYC) (June 29, 2006)
Valasai, Surendar Heman, “Dalits of Pakistan,” ambedkar.org, (September 5, 2001)
Zaidi, S. Akbar, “Sindhi vs Mohajir in Pakistan: Contradiction, Conflict, Compromise,” Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 26, No. 20 (May 18, 1991)