Search This Blog

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Regional Geopolitics of Creation of Pakistan

This post is about Pakistan, not of its present state but of its birth itself.

Yours, thinking about Pakistan's strategic importance to China, UK and US analyst,

Protagonists: Britain, the Indian National Congress, Japan, the Indian Right and Russia

Frederick C. King, “India in the War and After”, An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 31, no. 122, Jun 1942, pp. 185-192.

Disclaimer: This post is NOT a review or critique of the aforementioned paper.  Nor does all what I type below follows from what is contained in the paper.  My referencing the paper is merely for the purpose of acknowledging its role in enriching my own information set about the topic I address in this post.

Time to Say Goodbye
As early as 1941 (if not before) the British were already planning to leave the Indian subcontinent.  They had reached the consensus that it was better to continue to exert control of the subcontinental dynamics through the levers of the educational system and trade dependency system they had built in India, the regional foreign relations dynamics and military exigencies vis-à-vis key external powers [1] they had set into momentum and the economic and social policy blueprint that leaders of the Indian National Congress had acquired while at the London School of Economics.

The Japanese Shadow & British Concerns
British prime concern was that if they were to leave, the Indian subcontinent would fall to the march of Japanese materialism [2].

British Comfortable with Indian Military Capabilities
The British felt confident about India’s ability to pay the cost of her own defense against Japan.  In their view, India had (i) a large pool of ‘martial races[3] from which fighting men could be drawn, (ii) Indian farmer and coolies [4] were fatalistic, sturdy and had little requirements; their physical capabilities and simple-mindedness [5] could be commandeered to bolster professional forces and erect a second line of defense, (iii) India’s indigenous production of steel, leather and rubber was adequate to meet the needs of the army, (iv) Indians had improvised their little technological resources to produce arms and ammunitions of adequate quality [6], in sufficient quantity and, (v) India’s eastern topography would act as a force multiplier against the vastly technologically superior Japanese (superior to the Indians, not the British themselves!) – for about 5 months a year, rains and marshes would render mechanized formations useless.

But Feared the Fifth Column
The British were however concerned that the Japanese may instead of marching to the beats of their martial self-image, adopt a different strategy in India – work on her internal differences and wait and watch while the British administration implodes under the weight of fight in Europe and an India rendered ungovernable by exposed fault lines.

In the context of the impending Japanese invasion, no other fault line worried the British than the Hindu- Mohammedan rift.  It would have worked as follows:

A small though ideologically committed number of Indian leaders [7] reasoned that India’s best interests rested in subservience to Japan, a Buddhist nation, than to Mohammedans or to the British [8].  The British feared that inspired by continued Japanese military successes in the Pacific Theatre, the fringe could rapidly grow in size.  If this were to happen, the Indian masses would break away from the Congress, a party that the British had long cultivated and whose leaders were more or less tuned to British line of thinking in their external outlook.  Beyond that, the Indian leaders that preferred Japan also belonged to the same social group which, unlike the Congress, was willing to use direct action in response to calls to revert India or a part of her to a political framework that harked back to Mughal era .  In the fringe were to take the centerstage, widespread rioting would be inevitable.  That would cripple the British administrative machinery in India and cause a rebellion in the ranks of her Mohammedan soldiers fighting for the British on the European soil.  Consequently, the British Empire in the Indian subcontinent would likely implode and the Japanese would move in and gain control of a literally interminable supply of men for war against the USA.

Pakistan – a Solution (to British Problems)
As I mentioned right in the beginning, the British trusted the institutional levers they had built in India to allow them to retain control of the subcontinental dynamics even after their departure.  These levers could however be exercised only if India did not fall to Japan following the British departure and if power was transferred to the Congress as opposed to those Hindus that preferred a Japan-led Asia.  The British had one other major geopolitical concern – how to ensure that their successor(s) in the Indian subcontinent would continue to uphold their long-followed policy of denying Russia access to warm water ports of the Indian Ocean?

On the matter of securing their institutional levers in India, Britain considered it of utmost importance that India be granted independence sooner rather than later.  However with Jinnah having threatened violence if his demand for creation of a Mughal-inspired political set-up was not met, the power transfer process ran a high risk of miscarriage with the consequent implosion of British administration in India and the rise of Japan in the subcontinent.  Getting M.K. Gandhi to concede to Jinnah’s demands became a necessity for this reason alone.  M.K. Gandhi however would have none of this.  He did not threaten to jump right in and join Jinnah in the game of chicken [9].   He instead back-pedalled on the independence movement itself.  The politician wrote as a sage in the Harijan weekly ( April 1942).

“The attainment of independence is an impossibility until we have solved the communal tangle.  We may not blind ourselves to a naked fact.  How to tackle the problem is another question; we will never tackle it so long as either or both parties think independence will or can come without any solution of the tangle.  There are two ways of solving what has almost become insoluble.  One is the royal way of non-violence; the other of violence.  

All interested in freedom have to make the choice.  I suppose the choice has already been made by the chief actors.  But the rank and file do not know their own minds.  It is necessary for them, if they can, to think independently and take non-violent action in terms of unity. It consists in Hindus and Muslims on the wayside fraternizing with one another if they believe joint life is a perfect possibility, nay a necessity.”

This line was echoed by the Congress party.  While they were not excited about the prospects of the Japanese replacing the British, they were nevertheless confident that Britain, in defense of her own self-interest, would not abandon her responsibilities in the subcontinent.  Thus, the Congress decided to put its own independence movement in the cold storage. 

As I have just argued however, the British were eager to grant independence to India.  While the Congress was high on ideals, it did not have the moral courage to pursue what was required to deal with the vexed “communal tangle”.  Or perhaps, I am wrong and that it was not an issue about the Congress’ moral courage or lack thereof but about India herself lacking in adequate capability.  In that case Indians should be grateful to people such as M.K. Gandhi for recognizing India’s weakness, and thereby, not putting the nation on the path of achieving what was at the time, impossible.  This weakness, irrespective of whether it was in Congress’ moral fibre or India herself, played straight into the British hands.  Knowing that the Congress leaders themselves did not have a solution to the “communal tangle” but to kick it down the road, the British set their minds on whetting M.A. Jinnah’s dreams  a part of his dreams became their action point.  This act, as history bears testimony, eventually broke Congress' resolve and they reluctantly conceded to India’s partition.

The emergence of Pakistan would cut off India from Central Asia, bottle the Indian energies in the subcontinent, block prospects of overland pipelines and thereby make her dependent on the British for her energy security.  More importantly though from the British perspective, it united the Hindus behind the Congress, thus pre-empting Japan from waging a 'fifth column' war and, pulled a dark curtain on Russia’s dreams for access to the Indian Ocean.

Pakistan’s birth and the timing of India’s independence were both preordained by the geopolitical imperatives of an exhausted empire.

Fig. 1: Map of British India and Dependencies (1945)

[1] mainly Russia and China, to a far lesser extent, Persia and the Ottoman empire
[2] The Japanese began imbibing the idea of materialism as a way of life in 1853 through contacts with the Americans and Europeans which were not borne out of choice but humiliation forced upon them.
[3] The concept of ‘martial race’ is not a British creation but perhaps no one in the past 300 years have succeeded better at creating new superficial yet distinct identities and utilizing those to maintain a steady supply of natives in support of the master’s wars.
[4] Farmers and coolies constituted over 70% of the Indian population.
[5] Over 84% of the Indians were illiterate (1931 census).
[6] The British encouraged the home-made arms enterprise in the land where today the “Good Taliban” meets the “Bad Taliban”.  Darra Adam Khel was quite possibly a British creation.
[7] The most well-known amongst such leaders was Subhash Chandra Bose.
[8] Even just five years before independence, hardly any Indian leader had concrete ideas on how India would maintain her independence once she emerges from the British yoke.  This includes M.K. Gandhi and J. Nehru who towered over on the Indian political landscape after the departure of Lokmanya Tilak.  M.A. Jinnah had a very different idea of an independent India – an India where power is transferred to claimants of the Mughal heritage.  With imagination and capabilities falling short of what was needed to maintain independence, the political differences mainly centred over the question of whether to continue with the current master, the British, revert to the old master, the Mohammedans, or welcome the new master, the Japanese.
[9] game of chicken – Get into a truck.  Orient towards the opponent.  Press the gas pedal.

No comments:

Post a Comment