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Lessons nations can learn from the independence of Bangladesh

Saquib Salim

in March 1940, in Lahore, the All India Muslim League passed a resolution declaring the formation of Pakistan as its goal. It was for the first time that a nation-state in the name of religion was being demanded.

The nation-state is rather a modern idea that has evolved after centuries of empire-building exercises in the wake of renaissance. People in a nation-state share ethnicity, history, and language. The proposed Pakistan had people of several ethnicities who spoke different languages and were the only binding force. according to the Muslim League. was Islam. The idea, though theoretically inconsistent won over with the British help.

Pakistan, created on 14 August 1947, was the first nation-state that derived its existence from a religion with Israel being a close second. The newly created Pakistan started showing cultural cleavages soon. Within a few months, Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s attempt to declare Urdu as the national language was duly resisted by people living in East Pakistan. 

The anomaly was highlighted by famous Pakistani author Ibn-e-Insha in his book Urdu Ki Akhiri Kitab. Insha asked, if ethnic groups like Rajasthani, Punjabi, Sindhi, Bengali, etc. were living in India as well then why was Pakistan created? He answered the question saying that it was a mistake and would not be repeated. 


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Indian leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni, Shaukatullah Shah Bukhari, and several others had been resisting the idea of Pakistan since 1940. They believed that Islam couldn’t be the only binding force for a nation. India has a shared history and thus represents a nation.

In such circumstances, it was not surprising that in less than 25 years of Pakistan’s being, it split after a bloody civil war. 

After the formation of Pakistan, different ethnic groups tried to overrule others. Jinnah’s argument of Islam as a combining force was proved wrong. 

It was around this time that Arab nations were also asserting their national identities outside the rhetoric of a single caliphate for the whole Ummah (Muslims). Interestingly, Mohammad Iqbal, considered by many as an ideological father of Pakistan, has blamed Arab imperialism of the earlier centuries of Islam for suppressing the nations where Muslims lived. 

Since the conclusion of the World War, Arab nations started claiming their national identity in opposition to a united Ottoman caliphate. These new states like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, etc did not base their nationalism on Islam but, rather, on shared histories and genealogies. East Pakistan started feeling the heat after Jinnah attempted to impose Urdu. There were attempts to remove Rabindranath Tagore from the curriculum and change the script of Bengali. Bengalis soon understood that Islam is their religion but a shared history, culture, language, and ethnicity are very important for a nation.

In the name of Islam, Pakistani Generals, mostly Punjabis, unleashed a reign of terror. People were killed, houses were burnt and women were raped. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was denied the Prime Ministership after winning a majority in the assembly. 

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Rahman’s arrest on 26 March 1971 resulted in a unilateral declaration of independence by his followers on his behalf. In a few months, the country with the help of India gained independence. This was not only a win for Bengali people. It was a lesson that religion cannot be the basis of national polity. Any attempt to equate a nation with a religion will always result in a disaster like Pakistan. 

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