Was the creation of Pakistan a mistake?

Published: September 7, 2013
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A picture taken in October, 1947 shows wagons packed with Muslin refugees fleeing to Pakistan by train in the border city of Amritsar, at the start of the first India-Pakistan war (October 1947-December 1948). PHOTO: AFP

Over the years, I have come across many people who believed that Pakistan should never have been created. Keeping today’s lawlessness and corruption in mind, I often feel that they are indeed right.

However, amongst the many reasons given to me by such individuals for Pakistan being a mistake, one of the most prominent is that had India not been divided then, Muslims today would have been the largest religious group in the subcontinent. Such statements are misguiding as these people are misinformed.

Currently the population of Muslims in the subcontinent is 510 million, with roughly 180 million each in Pakistan and India, and another 150 million in Bangladesh. Had partition not taken place, the subcontinent’s total population would have been 1.7 billion (including the Muslims in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan).

Therefore, 510 million Muslims in the total population of 1.7 billion would mean that Muslims would have been only 30% of the total population. Keeping these statistics in mind, surely Muslims would not have been as powerful in a United India as they are today with Pakistan or Bangladesh (where Muslims are more than 90% of the population in both countries).

So, was the creation of Pakistan a big mistake?

Let me tell you a few stories I heard from my father.

My father, when he was alive, often used to tell me of the hardships Muslims had to endure in the pre-partition India. Most restaurants were out of bounds for Muslims. Thus when my father and his friends desperately wanted to eat at such restaurants, they would walk in and ask,

“You’re sure Muslims are not served here?”

The owner would reply,

“Muslims and dogs are not served here.”

And my father and his friends would then eat at such eateries, pretending to be non-Muslims.

In geography text books of those times, prescribed for schools in Kathiwar (present day Indian Gujarat), the regions comprising present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh were described as having climates which were “unsuitable for industrialisation”, because they were Muslim-majority areas. Hence the non-Muslims would set up textile mills in Ahmedabad and jute mills in Calcutta, even though cotton was produced in West Pakistan and jute in East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh).

Muslims were thus condemned to be peasants, and this would not have changed even if India had remained untied. Proof of this is that the first textile and jute mills in Pakistan and Bangladesh were set up by Muslim refugees after partition.

During my college days, a relative of mine brought back a book from Mumbai (former Bombay) on how to write good letters for job applications. The letters began with the words, “I am a Brahmin, 25-years-old,” or “I am a Jain,” or “I am a Christian” and so on. In that whole 200-page book, the word “Muslim” did not even occur once. One could easily have concluded that Muslims had become extinct in India.

Back in 1976, I was supplying fuel oil to ships at Karachi port. I would come across people of many ethnicities and nationalities serving in the ships. There were Muslim officers and engineers in ships of practically all countries, except those of India. Once I asked a Parsi engineer on an Indian ship,

“How is it that on your ships there are Christians, Parsis, Sikhs and Hindus, but no Muslims?”

“Indian Muslims don’t like to work on ships,” he shrugged and replied.

Therefore, did Mr Jinnah make a mistake in almost single-handedly creating Pakistan?

Perhaps it may appear so to some, particularly those who had to leave everything behind in India and flee to the new country to save themselves and are still suffering on their new land of the pure. But on deliberation and keeping facts in mind, I personally believe that the emergence of a new country for the Muslims of the subcontinent was perhaps the best thing to have happened in recent history.

Looking at the pitiable condition of Muslims in India (not every Indian Muslim shares the same fate as Shahrukh Khan or Salman Khan), I believe that my parents took the right decision in 1947 and migrated to the new country. Had they stayed in India, they would surely have been killed by wild mobs, who were indulging in indiscriminate killing of Muslims.

Shakir Lakhani

Shakir Lakhani

Engineer, former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, industrialist, associated with petroleum/chemical industries for many years. Loves writing, and (in the opinion of most of those who know him), mentally unbalanced. He tweets @shakirlakhani (twitter.com/shakirlakhani)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.