Upon partition from India on August 14 1947, Pakistan was heralded as a state that was a “political novelty – a country created to accommodate people who wanted to live separately because they followed a faith totally different from the majority of the country of their origin”1. However despite the optimism of the Muslims in being granted this state, from the beginning it was plagued with problems which in turn meant it was not able to achieve a stable democracy.
Initial partition problems laid shaky foundations for the new nation and in the 24 years before East Pakistan became independent it experienced numerous problems in its political arena, both in leadership and administration. The combination of these shows why in the end Pakistan failed to achieve for itself a stable democratic system. The division of the subcontinent caused many problems for Pakistan, some of which would continue to haunt the nation as it tried to develop its system of government.
The most major problem was that the Pakistan movement and other organisations such as the Muslim League were completely ignored whilst the division took place. In negiotiations they were outmanoeuvred and ended up with a raw deal getting several bits of land that India simply didn’t want, commonly known as “a meagre share of the spoils”2. This was shown in the geographical separation of East and West pakistan by over 1,000 miles. In addition the two areas were also very different in culture and population, thereby creating “polarised”3 states, and a breeding ground for conflict.
The main province in West Pakistan was Punjab, where the population consisted of a wealthy landlord class, an elitist group with strong links to the army. In stark contrast the province of Bengal in East Pakistan was more backward, in both social status, education and wealth. They were perceived as lower class Muslims being local converts to Islam and therefore were often regarded condescendingly by the Punjab elite. So although the Bengalis made up 55% of the population of Pakistan the Punjab elite were determined not to hand over power to them.
So there was a need to “prevent Bengali domination of the state …. as the landlords had no intention of becoming junior partners”4. In short they had “few political ideas in common”5 Partition caused tremendous social dislocation with some 3. 5 million Hindus and Sikhs moving from Pakistan to India and about 5 million Muslims coming into Pakistan from India. These immigrants brought with them their own cultures, especially being of a more middle class background compared to the agrarian society that was already settled in Pakistan.
These cultural conflicts meant that democracy was hindered from the beginning. It made it exceedingly harder to govern when the two parts were so greatly lacking in “social cohesion”6. Another problem with partition was that Pakistan, unlike India, “had an absence of a central state apparatus”7. Instead they had to create it all from scratch, requiring financial investment just to get the basic foundations in place. The only groups that existed were small groups of Muslim minorities that, whilst still part of India, had demanded a new state.
However they were, for the most part, very weak and lacking in coherent ideology or aims. The first Governor General Muhammad Ali Jinnah who took power once Pakistan was created found it difficult to rule as many of the areas he had gained, didn’t agree with his policies and shunned central government, wanting provincial autonomy. So often the government had to contend with provincial politicians who defied their authority and this not only distracted the government from setting up the new national bureaucracy but also diverted financial resources into appeasing the provinces to maintain order.
Therefore the setting up of democracy was given a lesser priority. Similarity partition meant that all the provinces had to decide which country to join. The province of Kashmir was a bone of contention for both sides as it had a Hindu king who decided it would join India but the vast majority of its population was Muslim. The issue Kashmir led later to several bitter wars and once again, money being spent to increase and equip the army rather than trying to set up any sort of democratic stability and bringing “far reaching repercussions on Pakistan’s politics and the national economy”8.