Essence and Love in Urdu Poetry (From Iqbal to Faiz)

Essence and Love in Urdu Poetry (From Iqbal to Faiz)

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

Two great poets, one idolized by his people, the other imprisoned by the same people; two lovers, one whose love was tethered to the throne of God and the world of man, the other whose love was floating unfettered; two great minds, one for whom the destination was known, the other who left it undefined; two reformers, one who stayed within the envelope of his tradition and sought to renew it, the other who broke away from it and looked for solutions outside of the envelope; two revolutionaries, one who sought to transform individuals and societies through a transformation of the Self, the other who sought such transformation on the basis of love alone; two philosophers, one who sought the principle of movement of a civilization in the discovery and application of divine commands, the other who sought it in the material dialectic of the oppressor and the oppressed . The contrast between Iqbal and Faiz can be as illuminating as a contrast between Plato and Aristotle.

What is astonishing is that these two great minds had their origin in the same social milieu of Sialkot and Lahore. At the beginning of the twentieth century Northern Punjab was a nursery for nationalist and patriotic fervor against the entrenched British. Iqbal and Faiz received similar training in their childhood which included the Quran, the languages, namely Urdu, Farsi and Arabic, Tasawwuf and Ethics or Akhlaq. They had the same teacher, Maulvi Syed Meer Hasan, known in the region for his learning and his discipline.

But here the analogy ceases. Like two great rivers emerging from a single lake, they take off in entirely different directions, irrigating the vast human landscape and creating fertile gardens bearing different fruit. A full generation separates the two literary giants. After finishing up his studies in Lahore, Iqbal studied in Cambridge and the University of Munich, Germany, writing his thesis on The Development of Metaphysics in Persia. These were his formative years and Iqbal came into contact with the European master-philosophers of the age, Schopenhauer, Bergson, Goethe and most importantly, Nietzsche. It was also the period when he dived deep into Tasawwuf, studied Rumi and adopted him as his spiritual master and guide. Iqbal showed his metal even as a student, composing Taran e Hind, which is sung by school children in India to this day. Taran e Millibelongs to the same period and shows the transformation of the young Iqbal from a nationalist poet focused on India to a universal poet with horizons embracing the global Islamic community.

World War I was unleashed just as Iqbal’s poetry was coming of age. The utter devastation of the war convinced Iqbal of the emptiness of western civilization. His incisive intellect, already brimming with Islamic fervor, sifted through the philosophical underpinnings of the west and came back with a conviction that it was Islam in its positive and universal ethos that held the key to man’s emancipation. Iqbal was witness to the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire, the enslavement of the Islamic Middle East and the dissolution of the Khilafat. These events profoundly influenced him and firmed up his resolve to unearth the reasons for Muslim decadence and chart out a course for a renewal of Islamic civilization.

It is with the publication of Israr e Khudi that we see the full flowering of Iqbal’s poetry. It is here that we first find his exposition of the idea of Khudi. Indeed, the concept of Khudi runs as a central theme throughout the life and works of Iqbal. It is impossible to understand the genius of this great man without understanding his concept of Khudi. The idea is quoted and misquoted by students and scholars alike and is more often than not misunderstood.

Khudi is not the Ego, as some European scholars have misunderstood it to be. The Ego is that aspect of the Nafs that bestows the “I” on the human personality, referred to in Arabic as “Anayah” from the word “Ana” meaning I. The essence of tasawwuf is to conquer the ego, cleanse the nafs and achieve surrender of the Self without the ego. Iqbal, a self-declared student of Rumi, is certainty aware of this central doctrine oftazkiyat un nafs.

Khudi is not the free will of man. Some scholars have misunderstood Iqbal while comparing him with Nietzsche, the nineteenth century German philosopher of doom. There are profound and fundamental differences between Iqbal and Nietzsche. In Nietzsche, the free will of man is bereft of the grace of God and dangles unfettered between heaven and earth. In Iqbal, the free will of man is a divine gift that is to be used with justice and balance.

Khudi is not the autonomy of man, independent of God’s grace. Indeed, such an idea would be unacceptable from an Islamic perspective, as the Quran specifically rejects it in the very first revelation; “Thinketh man that he is autonomous? Nay! We will drag him, drag him by his forelock”. Iqbal would not countenance a thought bereft of divine grace.

Khudi is sometimes translated as Self. But the Self is a composite term used for the Nafs and all of its attributes, the desirable as well as the undesirable. Thus the Self is disposed towards God but it is also susceptible to the whisperings of evil.

The most appropriate term that describes Khudi is Essence. Man was separated from God and the Essence of man is to find the Divine. As the Quran declares it:

“O humankind! Thou art ceaselessly toiling towards God and thou shall find Him.”

Iqbal embarks on this quest, as a mendicant seeking guidance each step of the way. In the process he explores, reaches heights few poets have attained, shares what he can through the eloquence of his poetry:

Khudi ka sirr e nihan La ilaha il Allah

(The hidden secret of Khudi is La ilaha il Allah).

And when language fails him, Iqbal falls back on a prayer:

Dekha hai jo kuch mai ne, awron ko bhi dikhla de

(O Lord! Let everyone witness all that I have witnessed!)

The eagle and the lotus are the favorite symbols used by Iqbal to capture the reach as well as the sublime beauty of Khudi. He invites us on a journey in search of human Essence, a journey that takes him to the very gates of Arsh, the divine throne. There he submits his quest as Shikwa and is rewarded with Jawab e Shikwa. In Bal e Jibrael, he dares to ask to “see” the divine:

Wahi len tarani suna chahta hun.
Meri saadgi dekh mai kya chahta hun.

(I desire to hear the (divine) voice, “thou cannot see!”
Look! How humble is my desire!”

Like Moses, Iqbal desires to see God. But Iqbal knows the answer from the Quran: “You cannot see Me!” Moses, the great Prophet, insists, is rewarded with a glimpse of divine light which shatters the mountain and Moses swoons. Iqbal asks, and as a mere mortal, is rewarded with an approach to the gates of Arsh, the throne of God, there to seek his own Essence and is rewarded with Jawab e Shikwa. This is a journey that only the Awliyah and the Saleheen take. They search for the essence of man in the first Sirr (the first secret) which leads them to the second Sirr (the second secret), the secret of Adam. The chosen few are taken further and are shown the third Sirr (the third secret), which is Sirr e Khafi, the secret of the Light of Muhammed, the Light of Existence. There are oceans unknown beyond this station, in Sirr e Akhfa, the unknowable, transcendent secret. Iqbal has discovered the essence of man in the secret of Adam, hence he explores the creation of Adam and asks if the experiment in the creation of Adam was a success or a failure.

The greatness of Iqbal has dragged him into the age old disputes of Qida and Qadr, of free will versus predestination. It is a dispute as old as historical Islam. Iqbal’s idea of Khudi has landed him, unjustifiably, in the camp of Qadr. It is the genius of Iqbal that he rides both streams of thought, of Qida and Qadr, and in a transcendent way, reconciles the two:

Khudi ko kar baland itna kay her taqdeer se pahle
Khuda bande se khud puche bâta tayree raza kya hai

Elevate your Essence so high that before every fate
The Lord Himself asks you, “What is thy will?”

Observe how subtly Iqbal has woven together the concepts of Qida and Qadr on the canvas of man’s Essence. The existential essence of man is to discover his own fate. The transcendence of man is in the process of discovery through an exercise of his own will. But Iqbal does not violate the supreme power of God. Man is asked by a loving and merciful God but man does not decide. Man plans but God is the ultimate planner. It is God’s will that is done, not man’s. Never in Islamic history has a thinker weaved together so subtly the power and the destiny of man. The Essence of man exists in the vast oceans of divine contemplation. This Essence, the khudi, is time independent, and is to be found in the timeless oceans of ad dahr. Man’s will is a tool which he uses to discover that Essence in the passage of time that is al Asr. To quote a great Awliya, Grand Shaikh Abdullah Daghestani: “Man’s free will is like a fish in the oceans of divine contemplation”. This observation at once reconciles autonomy and fate, and clarifies the notions of relative time and timeless time. Man is autonomous only to the extent of his predestination. Looked at from another angle, man is autonomous only to the extent of his Essence. Iqbal, the great thinker, intuitively understood it. He sits as a hakam, a judge on the extraordinary caravan of historical personages who have argued the issue of qida and qadr, often ending up in violent disputes. Here Iqbal is a man of reconciliation. He is not a rebel, nor is he a humanist, but a believer in search of his Essence in the limitless oceans of heavenly consciousness. If only Al Ghazzali and Ibn Rushd could hear Iqbal! If they did, there would have been no need for Al Ghazzali’s Tahaffuz al Falasafa, nor for the Tahaffuz al Tahaffuz of Ibn Rushd. That is the genius of Iqbal! That is the genius of his concept of Khudi!

Iqbal, a keen student of Quranic teachings, knows that Khudi applied not just to individuals, it applied to spiritual communities (ummah) as well. The Quran declares, “We have fastened your fate (O humankind!) around your own neck.” Each individual has an Essence. That is the individuality of men and women. Similarly, every community, and every nation, has its Essence. It is in the concept of Khudi that one has to find his political views that so dominated the last third of his life. A people must have the freedom to find their Khudi, their Essence and to express it on the stage of human history, just as an individual must have the freedom to find his Essence and express it in the matrix of human affairs.

Iqbal the poet cannot be separated from Iqbal, the politician and statesmen. Iqbal was deeply concerned about the condition of his own Muslim community in a milieu where they were a numerical minority. Through a careful and thorough analysis of the dynamics of Islam, documented thoroughly in The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, he concluded that ijtihad was the moving principle of Islam. He agreed with the Turkish poet Zia that an elected legislature representing the masses, as opposed to an individual, was in the best position to exercise ijtihad in modern times. Then he came to the momentous and fateful conclusion: “In India, however, difficulties are likely to arise for it is doubtful whether a non-Muslim legislative assembly can exercise the power of Ijtihad”. This led him to propose the idea of a separate state for the Muslims of the northwestern states in British India, an idea that was the precursor for Pakistan. The demand for an independent state in northwestern British India was not an expression of separatism but a positive statement of the Khudi of a people. Iqbal envisaged legislative autonomy so that the people of the Punjab, Sindh, Northwest Frontier and Baluchistan might discover their essence and participate in the majestic march of human civilization.

The important lesson here is that Iqbal was not just a poet, a thinker and a dreamer; he was a man of action. He was willing to take the risk of injecting himself into the process of history knowing full well that great ideas are compromised and often despoiled when they are implemented in the matrix of human affairs. Whether a Pakistan that came into being lived up to or did not live up to Iqbal’s ideals is no reflection on his ideals.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz stands in contrast to Allama Iqbal both in style and substance. As a young man, he studied and was influenced by the material dialetic of Marx and Engel. The exploitation of the masses in British India convinced him that only a revolution could restore the balance of justice. As a young officer in the British Indian army, Faiz was witness to the corruption and rapacity of the money lenders, hoarders and landlords in the great famine of 1943. The ruling Unionist party in his home state of Punjab, a motley conglomerate of sajjada nishins of zawiyas, gurus of temples and gurdwaras and a rapacious merchant class did nothing for the poor peasants and the toiling masses. Faiz was witness to the holocaust that accompanied partition when hatred engulfed the vast plains of the Punjab and human bestiality found a free expression rarely witnessed by humankind. These were the formative years for Faiz, and they reinforced his conviction that justice and love were the only antidotes for the der angst felt by humankind in its march through history. Faiz thus became the poet of justice and love just as Iqbal was the poet of essence and destiny.

It was through the publication of Daste Saba and Zindan Nama, both written in prison from 1951 to 1955 that the world came to know of Faiz. It was in the dungeons of Punjab that Faiz found his voice. While his feet were shackled, he wrote from his soul,

Mata e looh wa qalam chin gayee tho kya ghem hai
Ke Khoon e Dil mein Dubo dee hain unglian mein ne.

(Grieve not that the Pen and the Tablet are denied thee,
I have dipped my fingers in the love of my heart.

Notice that Looh wa Qalam (the Tablet and the Pen) serve different functions for Iqbal and Faiz. Iqbal said:

Yeh Jehan cheese hai kya looh wa qalam tere hain

(This world? What is its worth?
To you belong the Tablet and the Pen).

The pen and the tablet are tools in the hands of Iqbal to discover human Essence and human destiny. For Faiz, they are inconsequential; he writes his destiny with the love of his heart. I have deliberately translated Qoonas love in the tradition of Imam Razi, the 10th century savant for whom blood meant the essence of the heart through which God distributes his mercy to all parts of the body, mind and the soul. If you take the literal translation of qoon as blood, you see the revolutionary zeal of the poet, in that history will be written in the blood of the martyrs.

Iqbal reaches yet another height when he declares in Bal e Jibrael:

Looh bhi tu, Qalam bhi tu, tera wajud al kitab

(You are the Tablet, you are the Pen, your existential Essence is the Book)

Here Iqbal reaches the station of Ibn al Arabi. This line of thought must stop here because it is beyond the scope of this brief paper.

The creative genius of Faiz Ahmed Faiz was to integrate in his poetry his vision of justice and love. The agony of humankind, oppressed as it is with the burden of time, is highlighted, but it is done not with hatred but against a background of the sweet music of love. The heart of Faiz bleeds with sorrow, but what it sheds is tears of love.

It takes enormous compassion, forgiveness and charity to love the hand of the oppressor. While the tongue of Faiz is the tongue of the oppressed, the heart of Faiz is the heart of the lover. In this he stands in the same league as Hafiz who witnessed the destructions of the Timurid invasion of Asia towards the end of the fourteenth century, yet sang of the sublime love that transcends hate and oppression.

Dono Jehan Teri Muhabbat me haar ke
Woh ja rha hai koyi shab e gham guzaar ke

(There goes one, having spent the night of sorrow,
For your love, he lost the here, and he lost the hereafter).

The search of Faiz led him to the conclusion that love alone was the solution to man’s condition. But he left the idea of love dangling between heaven and earth. That is why you find in his poetry an unceasing longing (Ishtiaq), a burning desire for the beloved.

Iqbal’s poetry leaves you satisfied and spurs you to action. It is a like a laser beam trained to perform surgery; Faiz’s poetry, like unrequited love, leaves you longing for more. It is like uncontained fire that burns. Iqbal and Faiz are like two travelers in the desert, the one is guided by a distant star, the other abandons his quest to the love of his heart and is content to cry out in the desert. Both reached heights of imagination attained only by a few. “I offered the trust to the heavens and the earth,” declares the Divine Word, “they declined, being afraid thereof. But man accepted it. He was indeed ignorant.” Why did man accept the trust? Rumi answers it by saying that man was drunk with love and he did not know what he was doing. That love was infused into the Ruh of man when divine love breathed it into the spec of dust that was Adam. Iqbal and Faiz were both drunk with love, and like Adam, they were on earth searching their own way back to God. Iqbal searched, concluded, took a chance and formulated a solution. Faiz sailed through the same oceans, reasserted the love that animates man’s search but he left it at that, satisfying himself with a direction dictated by the material dialectic of man.

Iqbal tries to decipher the will of God and finds it reflected in the will of man. Faiz tries to decipher the will of God and finds it in the love of man. The suspension between heaven and earth gives his poetry an ethereal quality that leaves one longing for more. Iqbal’s work has the ethereal quality but it is firmly tethered to the throne of God and the world of man.

Faiz’s poetry presents a paradox. He is the poet of justice and love but seeks its fulfillment in a material dialectic. This dichotomy requires a deeper understanding of Faiz and the essence of his poetry. Love is a bourgeois feeling; indeed, it is the core of religious experience. How could one be both a Marxist and a lover? One possible explanation is that Faiz, despite his Marxist orientation, remains deeply attached to his Quranic roots. Zulmand its redress run as a continuous thread in the Quran. One of the 99 divine names is al Haq, meaning Justice. Faiz’s poetry searches for Haq. God will hide all sins on the Day of Judgment, says the Quran, exceptZulm. It will speak up and the Zalim will be punished. When Zulm does speak up on the Day of Reckoning, I am convinced one of the voices that will speak up for the Mazloom masses will be the voice of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

Uthe ga Anal Haq ka naara,
Jo mai bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho;
Aur raj kareg khalq e khuda,
Jo mai bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho.

(The cry « here is justice » shall resound,
I shall be there, so will you,
And the servants of God (the people) shall rule,
I shall be there, so will you.

In accepting the Lenin Prize in Moscow in 1962, Faiz said: “Every foundation you see is defective, except the foundation of love, which is faultless.” It takes moral courage to love even when you see the ugly face of tyranny, and have felt its heavy hand on your personal self. Faiz demonstrates that moral courage. It is in this moral courage as well as the enduring value of love that one has to look for the greatness of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

However, Faiz was no social reformer. As a poet, he was the universal voice of the oppressed. He sought the redress for injustice in a material dialectic which has since been discredited. His poetry, with its universal appeal to justice and love, transcends his culture and is accessible to all humankind cutting across religion, race, nationality and time. By contrast, Iqbal was a poet, a thinker, a social and political reformer who stayed within his tradition and sought to expand its envelope to include all humankind. He was a risk taker who injected himself into the process of history and was willing to face the failures and disappointments that are all too characteristic of human effort. Iqbal was a man of action and it was through action that he sought to discover the Essence of man. Faiz was a mirror which showed the contorted face of zulm. It was an ugly face but even while he looked at the ugly face, he saw the beauty behind it and fell in love with it.

In conclusion, Iqbal was the exponent of human Essence, the voice of human longing to find God through history. Faiz was the poet of human love, the voice of der angst, the human agony in its separation from God. Two great men, two great souls, two poets without whom Urdu poetry would not be the same, two stars illuminating the canvas of human history with their light, a light reflected through Noor e Muhammadi, the Light of Existence.

Jamaluddin Afghani

Jamaluddin Afghani

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The lives of towering personages and great minds are like prisms through which we can study the past so that we can make some sense of the present. In this article we will briefly look at one such personality.

Seyyed Jamaluddin Afghani was undoubtedly one of the most influential Muslims of the 20th century. Some consider him to be the principal figure in awakening Islamic political sentiments and social reforms in India, Persia, Afghanistan, Egypt and the Ottoman Empire. Others criticize his role in the destruction of Islamic institutions, including the Sultanate of Persia and the Ottoman Caliphate and suspect that he was working in collusion with one European power or the other. The verdict of history on whether he was a patriot or a turncoat is not clear. It is much easier to make a case that while he fervently believed in his grand pan-Islamic vision, he was caught in the whirlwinds of the times like so many Muslims of that era and became a partner in the demise of political institutions that had provided stability to the Islamic world for 500 years.

Seyyed Jamaluddin was born in 1838 at Asadabad near the Afghan-Persian border. He was called a Seyyed because his family claimed descent from the family of the Prophet through Imam Hussain. The title of “Afghani” refers to his Afghan-Persian heritage. As a youth, Seyyed Jamaluddin studied the Qur’an, Fiqh, Arabic grammar, philosophy, tasawwuf, logic, mathematics, and medicine, disciplines that were the backbone of an Islamic curriculum at that time. In 1856, at the age of eighteen, he spent a year in Delhi and felt the rising political pulse of the subcontinent, which was soon to erupt in the Sepoy Uprising of 1857. From India, Seyyed Jamaluddin visited Arabia where he performed his Hajj. Returning to Afghanistan in 1858, he was employed by Amir Dost Muhammed. His talents propelled him to the forefront of the Afghan hierarchy. When Dost Muhammed died and his brother Mohammed Azam became the emir, Jamaluddin was appointed the prime minister.

In 1869, Seyyed Jamaluddin fell out of favor with the Emir and left Kabul for India. In Delhi, he received the red carpet treatment from British officials, who were at the same time careful not to let him meet the principal Indian Muslim leaders. That same year he visited Cairo on his way to Istanbul where his fame had preceded him and he was elected to the Turkish Academy. However, his “rational” interpretation of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet was deeply suspect in the eyes of the Turkishulema and he was expelled from Istanbul in 1871.

Back in Cairo, Jamaluddin had a major role in the events that led to the overthrow of Khedive Ismail Pasha who had brought Egypt to its knees through his extravagance. European influence increased, and Jamaluddin was at the head of the Young Egyptian Movement and the nationalist uprising under Torabi Pasha (1881) that sought to expel the Europeans from Egypt. The British, suspicious of his motives, sent him back to India just before their occupation of Cairo in 1882.

From India, Seyyed Jamaluddin embarked on a journey through Europe and resided for various lengths of time in London, Paris and St. Petersburg. In Paris he met and influenced the Egyptian modernist Muhammed Abduh. Together, the two started a political organization Urwah al Wuthqa (The Unbreakable Bond) whose avowed purpose was to “modernize” Islam and protect the Islamic world from the greed of foreigners. Its strident anti-European tone annoyed the British who engineered to have the organization and its mouthpiece, the Minaret, shut down.

In 1889 Sultan Nasiruddin Shah of Persia visited St. Petersburg and invited Jamaluddin to return to Tehran, promising him the post of prime minister. A reluctant Jamaluddin saw an opportunity to influence events in the Islamic heartland and returned, soon to find himself out of favor with the monarch. Fearing the wrath of the Shah, Jamaluddin took refuge in the Shrine of Shah Abdul Azeem and from the sanctuary, denounced the Shah as a tyrant and advocated his overthrow. It was while he stayed in the sanctuary that Jamaluddin met and influenced the principal figures who had a major impact on the subsequent turbulent events in Persia, including the assassination of Nasiruddin Shah.

The Shah, furious at Seyyed Jamaluddin’s tirades, banished him from Persia in 1891. The Seyyed arrived in Istanbul and was warmly received by Sultan Abdul Hamid II who nonetheless kept a close watch on his activities. Jamaluddin Afghani spent the rest of his life in Istanbul and died of cancer in1896.

Two principal themes run through the life and work of Seyyed Jamaluddin Afghani. First, his proclaimed goal was to unite the Islamic world under a single caliph resident in Istanbul. Towards this end, he sought a rapprochement between the Ottoman Empire and Persia, working to have the Shah recognize the Ottoman Sultan as the Caliph of all Muslims, while the Caliph recognized the Shah as the sovereign of all Shi’as. He wrote to the leading theologians of Karbala, Tabriz and Tehran, passionately arguing his case and was partially successful in bringing them to his point of view. However, the rapprochement did not take place due to the political turbulence in Persia. Second, he sought to “modernize” Islam to make it responsive, as he saw it, to the needs of the age. The movement that he started, which was championed by his disciple, Muhammed Abduh of Egypt, was called the salafi movement. It derives from the word “as salaf as salehin” (the pious ancestors) and refers to the legal opinions advanced by the first three generations after the Prophet. It was essentially a rationalist and apologist movement, which sought to bring about a nahda(renaissance) of Islamic thought.

Muhammed Abduh sought to replace the four schools of Sunnah Fiqh (Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali) with a single Fiqh. He taught that the laws of the Qur’an could be “rationalized” and if necessary, reinterpreted. The Salafi movement had a major impact on Arab intellectual circles around the turn of the 20th century. It influenced the Aligarh movement of Sir Seyyed in India as well as the Muhammadiya movement in Indonesia. The salafi movement, however, had no roots either in Islamic traditions or Islamic history. The nahda was suspected of attempting to secularize Islam, just as the renaissance of the 16th century had secularized the Latin West. As a mass movement, the Salafi movement was a failure and was rejected by the Islamic world.

Jamaluddin Afghani’s one major success was in paving the way for the tobacco revolution of Persia (see Constitutional Revolution of Persia, 1906), a passive resistance movement, which contained British influence in Iran at the turn of the 20th century.

The War of Algeria’s Independence – 1954-62

The War of Algeria’s Independence – 1954-62

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

It was the century of colonialism. The nations of Europe fanned out across the globe in search of profits and in the process subjugated vast regions of the earth, pillaging the land, destroying old cultures, displacing local languages, transforming ancient customs. They played with the nations of Asia and Africa as if they were playing with pieces on a chess board that could to be captured and removed off the board at will. The people of the colonized territories were pawns, second class citizens at best and slaves at worst, their resources at the disposal of the colonizing power, their destinies decided in European capitals tens of thousands of miles away from home. Despite shifting alliances in Europe, the colonial structure held. The principal colonial powers were the United Kingdom, France, Russia and the Netherlands. By the second half the 19th century there was a broad understanding between these powers about colonies and regions of influence. The structure held until the beginning of the 20th century when the failure of the established empires to accommodate the rising power of Germany precipitated the Great War and spelled the beginning of the end of the colonial world order.

The 20th century witnessed a rising tide of resentment against colonial rule. Political movements arose calling for the rights of the colonized people. It was a slow, tortuous and painful struggle. The colonial powers were dug in. They enjoyed overwhelming superiority in technology and military power. The colonial order was backed by sociology of dominance which arrogated the right of the European races to rule the world. The term “the white man’s burden” was invented to express the self arrogated right of the Europeans to “civilize” the natives. By contrast, the colonized people lacked the organization, the institutions and the resources to confront the colonial order. Any semblance of effective resistance was crushed with a heavy hand. It was only after Hitler’s war, with the colonial powers financially bankrupt and militarily exhausted that the people of Asia and Africa saw the light of emancipation and freedom.

Of all the countries that achieved independence in the immediately post World War II period, Algeria stands out as a tragic exhibit of the brutality of colonial rule. Even an exhausted France was unwilling to relinquish its hold on its colonies. After its defeat and expulsion from Indochina (1954), France was even more adamant in holding onto Algeria. Attempts at reforms and proposals for integration of the colony with continental France were quashed leaving no option to the nationalists but to resist. The ensuing War of Independence (Guerre d’Algerie-1952-62) was one of the bloodiest struggles of the 20th century.

Estimates vary, but according to historians, between 500,000 and 1,500,000 Algerians perished in the conflict. Over two million in a total population of ten million were forced out of their homes and put in concentration camps. French army losses were approximately 28,000 dead and 65000 wounded. Thousands of European settlers lost their lives. The war was characterized by torture and brutality against the Algerian Muslims and terror on the part of the resistance. In a long and protracted test of wills, the French won the military conflict but lost the political battle. The cessation of hostilities and independence opened the floodgates of refugees from North Africa into France. More than a million fled, many were Frenchmen, others were Algerians who had sided with the French during the war. The children and grandchildren of the North African immigrants constitute an unwelcome presence in France and face systemic discrimination in the land of their adoption. Their presence rocks the social and political fabric of France even to this day.

Algeria is the heart of the Maghreb. Situated between Morocco to the west, Tunisia and Libya to the East, Mali and Niger to the South, it is a large North African country, second in size only to the Sudan. The Mediterranean coastline, six hundred miles long, has fine harbors located at Oran, Algiers, Skikda and Anaba. The Atlas Mountains run from Morocco through Algeria into Tunisia. The highlands and the coastal areas receive a moderate amount of rainfall. The bulk of the country in the south is part of the Sahara with scant rainfall, little vegetation and very few habitations. Oil discovery in recent years has increased the strategic importance of this vast and desolate region.

As a part of the Mediterranean world, Algeria has been fought over and settled by wave after wave of invaders. The local people, the Berbers, have inhabited the land from prehistoric times. Circa 800 BC, Phoenician sailors arrived from the Eastern Mediterranean and established the city of Carthage, located in modern Tunisia. The city grew prosperous through trade and in succeeding centuries established a strong city based state and an empire that straddled the coastlines of the Maghreb and Spain. In the second and third century BC, Carthage was an adversary of Rome and a contestant for power in the Mediterranean. The Romans captured the city and destroyed it in the year 146 BC and the Maghreb became a part of the Roman Empire. Algeria was a granary for the Romans. Urbanization grew. Illustrious men graced the land. Among the noteworthy greats was St. Augustine. In the year 698 CE the Arab general Hasan ibn al Numan defeated the Byzantines (Eastern Romans) at the battle of Carthage. North Africa fell before the relentless march of the Arab armies. A combined Arab-Berber army crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in 711 CE. By the year 732 CE, Spain and southern France had been incorporated into the far flung Arab empire. Islamic influence took roots, and by the 9th century, North Africa and Spain were predominantly Muslim.

During the Islamic period, the Maghreb was ruled by successive dynasties including the Omayyads, the Abbasids, the Aghlabids, the Fatimids, the Almoravids, Al Mohads and the Merinides. After the fall of Granada in 1492, Spain thrust its power across the Mediterranean and captured several ports along the Mediterranean coast. The Muslim potentates appealed to the Ottomans for help. A long series of battles ensured. By 1570 CE Ottoman power was fully established in North Africa as far as the kingdom of Morocco. The Battle of Lepanto (1572 CE) arrested the expansion of Ottoman naval power. However, succeeding attempts by the Christian Iberians to colonize the Maghreb were beaten back. In 1588 CE, Emir Ahmed al Mansur demolished an invading Portuguese force led by King Sebastian at the Battle of al Qasr al Kabir. Thereafter, despite occasional forays by the Christian Iberians, the hold of Islamic empires on the Maghreb held, with the Merinids, Wattasid, Sa’adis and Alouite dynasties in Morocco, and the Ottomans in Algeria, Tunisia and lands farther east.

Until the 19th century, Algeria was the western province of the Ottoman Empire and was a source of manpower for the Ottoman navy. It was also a grain surplus area. A governor (Dey) appointed by the Sultan in Istanbul ruled the province and acted as the arbitrating authority in a pyramidal structure supported by local landlords and successful merchants. Due primarily to its distance, the province was largely autonomous. It was divided into four districts, each governed by a Bey.

The Napoleonic wars (1798-1812 CE) released enormous energies in the European continent and provided an impetus to the imperial expansion of the great powers. The weakening Ottoman Empire was the coveted prize. There was consensus between Britain, France and Russia that the Ottoman Empire was crumbling. However, there was no agreement as to how to dismantle it and who would control its pieces after it was dismantled. The Russians had the advantage of geography. They coveted the Caucuses which provided access to the Black Sea. They also pressed their claims as protectors of the eastern Orthodox church whose followers formed a majority in the Balkans. The grand Russian design was to reach the warm waters of the Mediterranean and make their land based realm a world empire. The French had their eyes on North Africa. The strategic goal of Great Britain was to protect its fledging Indian empire by controlling the land and sea routes leading to the Indian Ocean. Hence the British had the dual aims of containing the Russians and enhancing their own interests in the Middle East. The three Great Powers played a grand game alternately cooperating and competing with one another.

The colonial history of Algeria begins in the year 1830 CE. The Ottoman Empire was exhausted from the Russian-Turkish war of 1828-29 and had ceded Georgia, Armenia and the Caucuses to Russia, while accepting Russian influence in Serbia, Rumania and Bulgaria. The Greeks had waged their war of independence (1828-1830 CE), and with encouragement from both Britain and Russia, had broken off from the Ottoman Empire. The powerful governor of Egypt, Mohammed Ali, openly challenged the authority of the sultan, sending his armies into Syria and Anatolia to extract concessions from Istanbul. Sensing a historic opportunity, the French made their move in North Africa. The initial French thrust had the dual aims of containing piracy in the western Mediterranean and enhancing its commercial interests in the region. Using a feigned insult to the French consul in Alger as an excuse, the French navy bombarded the city, and after a fierce battle, occupied it in 1830 CE. With the city of Alger as a base, the French army fanned out across the Mediterranean coast. The Algerians fought desperately but lost out against the superior armaments and discipline of the French invaders. A people who had raised the banner of liberty, equality and fraternity barely a generation ago, now became the perpetrators of the worst kind of human rights abuses. The war against the North Africans had become a “science”, in which superior technology was used to enslave entire nations and tribes. Torture was used as a weapon to break down the resistance. So destructive was the French onslaught that the population of Algeria decreased from 3 million in 1830 to 2.5 million in 1840. By the summer of 1834, the French controlled the entire northern coast of Algeria and declared it to be an integral part of France.

Algerian resistance continued. As has often happened in the history of the Maghreb, it was the Sufis who took up arms against the invaders. In 1558 CE the Jazuliya Sufis, marshaled the Moroccans to defeat an invading force led by the Portuguese king Sebastian. In 1835 CE, it was the Qadiriya Sufis. Shaikh Abdel Qader was the leader of this resistance. He was born in Oran in 1807. His father was a well known Qadiriya shaikh. After studying the Quran, Tafseer, logic and philosophy, he proceeded to Mecca for hajj and on his way back visited Baghdad to visit the tomb of Shaikh Abdel Qader Jeelani and other awliyah. Upon returning to his homeland he found it under occupation. He took up arms and with the help of tribes in the western Algeria, gave battle to the invaders inflicting one defeat upon another on the French (1932-37 CE). Shaikh Abdel Qader was chivalrous to the enemy as he was valiant in battle and won the admiration even of the invaders. In 1937 CE a truce was concluded between the two sides allowing the French to keep Alger and Oran but keeping the hinterland independent under Shaikh Abdel Qader. Two years later the French unilaterally broke the truce. Using overwhelming force, they pursued Abdel Qader’s forces, burning, raping and using widespread torture as they went. Fighters and civilians fleeing the advancing French hid in caves. The French used smoke bombs to flush them out or kill them. Shaikh Abdel Qader surrendered in 1841 on a promise that he would be allowed to stay in Algeria. The French broke the promise and the Shaikh was exiled first to France and then to Damascus where he passed away in 1883.

Colonization destroys the old social, economic and military alliances and creates new ones throwing up in their wake new historical opportunities. So it was with Algeria. The occupation of the northern coast attracted settlers from southern France looking for new economic opportunities. Colonization created a new class of French bureaucrats beholden to the settlers. The old Ottoman aristocracy in which local landlords and businessmen held high positions was destroyed and became subservient to the French bureaucracy. In time the collusion of the settlers, called the colons, and the French administrative machine created a powerful lobby which no government in Paris could disregard. Although Algeria was annexed, it was legally not a part of France, but was administered as three “departments”. The colons had representations in the French parliament but not the Muslim Algerians. The one sided political relationship between the occupier and the occupied created a corresponding imbalance in the economic and social conditions on the ground. Agricultural land owned by Algerians was confiscated, often arbitrarily, and given to the settlers who amassed huge plantations and grew rich in the process. The displaced Algerians were forced to become laborers and servants for survival. As economic disparities grew, so did the social chasm between the settler and the native. A sociology of discrimination emerged which justified the economic and political stratification as a natural order.

The colonial wars had the indirect consequence of French penetration into the interior of the country. The policy of land confiscation and its distribution to the colons was now extended to the Atlas highlands. The local farmers were increasingly squeezed into less productive lands. Traditional centers of power based on land ownership were destroyed. The Algerian farmer had no choice but to become a sharecropper on land owned by the colons or to migrate to the larger cities along the coast and seek employment in menial jobs working for the immigrant Europeans.

The French occupation of Algeria showed the classic signs of colonialism, and was characterized by rabid racism, religious bigotry and exploitative capitalism. The European settlers, Christians immigrants from France, Spain, Malta and Italy, looked down upon the Berbers and Arabs who were predominantly Muslim. The Muslims who constituted ninety five percent of the local population were systematically excluded from employment, housing and social services. Political and economic power resided exclusively with the Europeans. The settlers took over most of the choice land and converted it into plantations for cash crops. Roads and schools were built but these were for the Europeans only. An Algerian Muslim could enlist in the French army and was permitted to shed his blood for the empire but he could not become a French citizen unless he was willing to give up his allegiance to the Shariah. Traditional education based on the Madrasa system was decimated while access to French education was restricted. The use of Arabic language was discouraged and its place taken up by French. Illiteracy increased so much that in 1960, after 120 years of French rule, only ten percent of Algerian Muslims could be considered literate. The Algerians were not just second class citizens; they were not citizens at all in their own land and were considered by the settler Europeans as no more than serfs worthy of benevolent patronizing at best and contempt at worst.

The oppressive policies of the French spawned several revolts. In 1871, the Kabyle tribes in the eastern Sahara rose up under the leadership of Shaikh al Haddad of the Rahmaniya Sufi order. The cause of this insurrection was the extension of colon rule over reserved Muslim villages. There was also widespread famine due to a sustained drought. The French officials were negligent and did nothing to ameliorate the situation. Wars in Europe and increasing commerce between Algeria and France had driven up the price of Algerian wheat to world market levels and the peasants had sold their reserves to speculative French hoarders. The administration reneged on its promise to advance loans to the farmers to replenish their seed grains exhausted by years of famine. More than 200,000 Algerians perished in the famine. Shaikh al Haddad declared a jihad against the French, mustered a force of 100,000 tribesmen and marched on Constantine. Lacking modern firearms and the discipline of modern armies, the uprising was quickly down and Shaikh al Haddad was captured. Following the insurrection, the colonial administration instituted harsh statutes against the Algerian Muslims which sanctioned arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, abrogation of the right to assembly and severe punishment for the slightest disrespect to French officials.

The French government was aware of the growing social and political imbalances but was divided on the issue of Algeria. The French emperor Napoleon III did make a feeble attempt to stop the arbitrary seizure of Algerian lands in 1863 but had to rescind the measures in the face of hostility from the entrenched colons.

In the colonial order, the Algerian Muslim had two strikes against him, one because he was an Algerian, and the other because he was a Muslim. The discriminatory laws had a definite religious angle to them. The Sephardic Jews were accorded full citizenship in 1870 as if to proclaim openly that religion was a key criterion in the discriminatory and oppressive emerging colonial order. Christians and Jews could become full citizens; not so the Muslims. The statutes offered French citizenship to a handful of Muslims provided they gave up their allegiance to the Shariah. This was tantamount to giving up their religion and few Muslims took up the offer.

The Franco-Prussian war of 1880-81 was a disaster for France. The Prussians decisively defeated the French, took Napoleon III prisoner, and occupied Paris. The German states were consolidated into a single state which emerged as the strongest power on the continent. France lost Alsace-Lorraine and was forced to pay an indemnity of 5 billion francs to the Germans. The Third Republic that emerged in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war was too weak to withstand the pressures of the colons in Algeria who were instrumental in getting the Code de l’indigent passed through the French National Assembly in 1985. The Code legalized discrimination against Algerian Muslims and expanded the powers of the colons. Confiscation of Algerian lands proceeded unabated. The growing power of the Europeans attracted further immigration from Southern Europe. A new entrenched European personality emerged in North Africa, more determined than before to keep Algeria French and keep a tight lid on the aspirations of the native population.

The interlude between the war of 1880-1881 and the First World War was a period of colonial consolidation. There emerged in Algeria a two tiered socio-political structure with the French and the colons at the top and the Algerian Muslims at the bottom. The Sephardic Jews were considered honorary Frenchmen. Each group had its own interests and its own political agenda. The French government, licking its wounds from the Franco-Prussian war, was aware of the economic and political condition of its Algerian subjects but was too weak to do anything about it. The colons, determined to preserve their privileges, were adamantly opposed to any concessions to the Algerians. The Algerian Muslims, continuously squeezed economically and politically by the colons, increasingly resented their condition but were powerless to do anything about it.

The worsening social condition of the Algerian Muslims was manifest in their educational backwardness. The old madrasa system was destroyed by the French. Lycees, or high school similar to those in France, sprang up in North Africa, but these were reserved for the French and the colons. The Algerians were reluctant to send their children to the lycees lest they inculcate alien values. But even if they wanted to, Algerian Muslim children were not welcome in French schools. The educational backwardness was most conspicuous in the predominantly Muslim hinterland which received little investment in the educational infrastructure and was at best treated with benign neglect.

The onset of the 20th century saw the colonial empires at their zenith. The British were the paramount power in the world. The French sway over North and Western Africa was unchallenged. The Netherlands had an iron grip on Indonesia. So secure was the political structure that the most that the native populations in the colonies could ask for was a dominion status within the empires. Independence was no conceivable. The colonial powers conceded nothing except tokenism. Any hint of serious political resistance was ruthlessly crushed.

World War I was a war that nobody wanted. The European powers stumbled onto it through a series of miscalculations. Serbia coveted Bosnia-Herzegovina which was ruled by Austria-Hungary after the Ottoman capitulation of 1886. The refusal of the Austrians to relinquish their control of Bosnia-Herzegovina was the pretext for the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo (1914). The assassination of the crown prince could not go unpunished and so Austria, with the tacit approval of Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, declared war on Serbia. Russia, which was an ally of Serbia, and self declared protector of its Eastern Orthodox population, declared war on Austria. Germany, an ally of Austria, declared war on Russia. The French saw in the ensuring war an opportunity to win back Alsace-Loraine. So, France declared war on Germany. The German armies cut through Belgium, advanced on Paris, hoping to deal a fatal blow to the French as they had done in the war of 1880-81 and bring the war to a quick conclusion. Great Britain, concerned that the balance of power in Central Europe was shifting inexorably towards Germany, declared war on Germany. British dominions and colonies including Canada, Australia and India joined in. A stalemate developed on the Franco-German front. The Germans convinced the Ottomans to join the fray on their side with offers of gold and the prospects of winning back the Balkan provinces lost in the war of 1911. Russia dropped out the war after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. There was a risk of an allied defeat and forfeiture of loans which the United States had advanced to the allies. The United States, which was initially neutral, entered war in 1917 partly in response to German submarine attacks on its trans-Atlantic shipping in support of the British war effort and partly to ensure that the allies would repay their debts to Washington. A single assassination thus turned into a world conflagration. The calculations of all the major powers proved incorrect. The Great War dragged on for four years and exhausted the economies and manpower of the European powers.

More than 100,000 Algerians fought for the French in the war, along with troops from Tunisia and Morocco. Thousands gave their lives defending Paris. Many thousands more perished in the trench warfare that pitted contesting armies towards the later stages of the war.

The North Africans had hoped that their sacrifices would improve their political status within the French empire. The American President Woodrow Wilson had articulated a 14 point program which promised self determination for the colonized people. Nationalists in Afro-Asia, from India to Morocco had pinned their hopes that a successful outcome of the war in favor of Britain and France would improve their political prospects. This was not to be.

The allies did win the war. Germany surrendered in August 1918 and was forced to pay enormous war reparations. Alsace-Lorraine was back under the control of France. The Ottoman Empire was occupied and dismembered. Wood Wilson who attended the victor’s conference in 1919 left disillusioned with the scheming of the European powers. France occupied Syria and Lebanon. Britain took Palestine and Iraq. Protests against colonial rule were brutally suppressed in India (Jalianwala Bagh, 1919), Syria (Damascus, 1920) and Algeria. It looked as if the colonial edifice which looked imposing at the turn of the century had received further reinforcement as a result of the war. But the picture was deceptive. The seeds of the next war were sown in the humiliating terms dictated to Germany. The colonial people, having fought for their masters in distant lands, grew restless. The movements towards autonomy and independence gathered momentum.

The First World War contributed to the success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. The impact of this event was global. A host of communist movements spring up in Asia and Africa deriving their inspiration from the success of the Bolsheviks in Russia. The communist rhetoric had its appeal to the colonized masses that were at the receiving end of unbridled exploitative colonial capitalism. In some of the larger countries such as India and Indonesia the communists became important players in the ensuing struggle against colonialism. Communism also made inroads into Algeria. However, there was a difference. Whereas the communist parties in India and Indonesia were home grown, those in North Africa found their voice only through the communist party of France. The presence of a large European colonial population and the repressive political environment they fostered precluded the formation of effective political parties on home turf.

One of the earliest Algerian nationalists who tried to break out of this paradigm was Messali Hadj Abdel Qader. A grandson of the legendary Algerian resistance fighter Shaikh Abdel Qader, Messali Hadj (1898-1974) grew up in the town of Tlemcen. Drafted into the French army, he fought in the waning years of World War I and experienced first hand the discrimination faced by native troops in the French armed forces. Presence on French soil exposed him to new and exciting political ideas. Returning to Algeria in 1921, he held a series of menial jobs under appalling conditions which reinforced in his young mind the wide disparities in the living standards of the French and the Algerians. He returned to France in 1923, settled in one of the North African shanty towns on the outskirts of Paris, married a French woman who was a member of the communist party, became a small businessman and set about giving a voice to Algerian aspirations.

Political opinion of the Algerian émigré population had split into two camps. One camp sought accommodation with France and ultimate integration with French society. These were the elite, the highly educated and successful businessmen. The other camp, consisting of small businessmen, workers and petty bureaucrats wanted autonomy. Messali Hadj worked with the latter group. In 1926, with encouragement from the communist party of France, he founded the Etoile Nordafricaine (North African Star). He gave forceful expression to North African aspirations in a declaration read at the Socialiste Internationale Conference in Brussels, Belgium in 1927. It was here that he first put forth a demand for Algerian independence. The French, apprehensive of the growing popularity of Messali Hadj’s views, dissolved the Etoile Nordafricaine in 1929. The party went underground and continued its activities. Hadj Messali founded a journal El Ouma which found wide readership among the Algerian émigré communities as well as Algeria itself. Hadj Messali tried to combine his socialist rhetoric with Islamic themes so as to broaden the appeal of his message to the working masses as well as the learned ulema in north Africa.

The continued political assertiveness of Hadj Messali was viewed with suspicion by the French establishment and he was sentenced to jail for six months in 1933 on charges of illegal political activities. It was a time of great economic dislocations in Europe. The Nazis had come to power in Germany, riding on a wave of mass unemployment and economic collapse. America was in the grip of the Great Depression. The French needed social peace on the home front. Accordingly, the government of France proposed minor reforms to allow a handful of Algerian Muslims to become French citizenships. These proposals were viewed with favor with the elites who favored integration with France. Hadj Messali travelled throughout Algeria and in speech after speech roused the people to oppose. The proposals were abandoned because of the determined opposition of the colons. Hadj Messali founded the Party of the Algerian People (PPA) in 1937 but it too was suppressed by the French and he was jailed until 1945.

The Second World War intervened. Hitler’s armies occupied Paris, the Vichy government set itself up in Southern France, and as part of the armistice agreement with the Germans continued to govern the north African colonies. Algeria witnessed the same repression against the Jews and the communists as did metropolitan France. The tide of the war turned in 1942 with the American entry into the war and in 1943 Algeria firmly in Allied hands. General de Gaulle set up the headquarters of the Free French Forces in Algiers and there it remains until the liberation of Paris in August 1944. More than 200,000 North Africans saw action during the war as part of the Allied forces. Discriminated, ill-equipped and treated with racist contempt by French officers, these soldiers, often recruits from villages, fought with valor in the Italian and French campaigns, even while the vaunted French corps of the Fifth Republic collapsed and were taken prisoner by the Germans. The colonial order placed these brave men in a class of sub-humans, to be used to preserve and perpetuate the very colonial regimes that suppressed them.

The Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) was no less hostile to Algerian aspirations than its predecessors. Algerian resentment, contained by decades of repressive measures, was like pressurized steam in an air tight kettle. The lid came off immediately after the war.

On May 8, 1945, the day that Germany surrendered, the Muslim population of Setif took out a procession to celebrate the allied victory. Scuffles between the marchers and the Europeans broke out as the procession made its way through the French quarter. The situation got out of control, riots ensued, and in the mob violence that followed, more than a hundred colons were killed. In revenge, the French army went on a killing. Muslim quarters were raided by the army accompanied by vengeful colons. Mountain villages around Setif were strafed and bombed. Estimates vary, but the Algerian chroniclers estimate that over 40,000 civilians were massacred. This was a turning point in the struggle for independence of Algeria. The violence and its fury disillusioned moderate Algerians and political opinion began to shift in the direction of armed resistance.

Meanwhile, on the continent, Hadj Messali was released from prison and he founded a new political party, the Mouvement pour le Triomphe des Libertes Democratiques (MTLD). Even though he remained the most conspicuous spokesman for Algerian independence after the war, the struggle was moving ahead of him. The Setif massacres had convinced many in the younger generation that France would not willingly relinquish control of its north African colonies. Disillusioned, they turned increasingly to armed resistance.

Ahmed Ben Bella, a rising star in the anti-colonial struggle, founded the secret Organisation Speciale in 1947 whose purpose was armed resistance to French rule. Ben Bella is considered the father of Algerian independence. Born into a poor, religious family in Tlemcen in 1916, Ben Bella joined the French army in 1936 as a way of advancing his career. After the fall of France in 1940, the French army was demobilized, Ben Bella volunteered to serve with a regiment of Moroccan infantry and fought in the Italian campaigns. Returning home after the war he participated in the assembly elections of 1947. French interference in the elections convinced the young Ben Bella that peaceful emancipation from colonial rule was impossible. The Organisation Speciale carried out sabotage of French installations. Ben Bella was arrested and sentenced to eight years in prison in 1951. He escaped from prison and found his way to Tunisia and from there to Cairo, Egypt.

In 1952, Hadj Messali was arrested once again, and the MTLD fell apart. It was obvious that France had no intention of withdrawing from Algeria and it was apparent that the older generation of Hadj Messali was becoming irrelevant. Frustrated, young Algerian men deserted the MTLD in droves. In October 1954 they formed the National Liberation Front (FLN) with a military wing Armee de Liberation Nationale. The War of Algerian Independence had begun.

On November 1, 1954 a group of FLN nationalists struck at French military and civilian installations. On the political front, the FLN established its headquarters in Cairo and with the support of Gamel Abdel Nasser obtained access to Radio Cairo and the Arab masses. As the uprising began, the FLN broadcast an appeal to all Algerian Muslims to rise up against French colonial rule and establish a sovereign, democratic and socialist state in accordance with the principles of Islam. The nationalist appeal was packaged in Islamic terms so as to have the broadest appeal to the peasants, the intellectuals and the ulema alike.

France was reeling from its defeat at Dien Bien Phu and the loss of its Indochina colonies. It was in no mood to entertain independence for Algeria, a province that it had long considered a part of itself. The reaction of the French government was to dig in and seek a military solution. This was a grave miscalculation. France’s repressive rule in Algeria for over a hundred years, characterization by discrimination, violence, neglect and exploitation had used up the patience of the native Muslim population. But even at this late date there was a substantial section of Algerian population that was willing to seek an accommodation with France, perhaps some form of association or even integration. A political solution might have worked. But the history of French rule in Algeria was long characterized by racism and blindness to the rights of the Algerians. It was astonishing how even well meaning Frenchmen could claim Algeria as part of France while keeping the native population in a state of perpetual servitude, without political rights or education and employment opportunities. Over the years, even modest attempts at reform were torpedoes by the entrenched colon lobbies in Paris. The die was cast. The cup was full and events moved inexorably in the direction of armed conflict.

Violence begets violence. In retribution for the riots at Setiff, the French army and the colony perpetrated widespread massacres. This in turn nurtured Algerian resentment and armed attacks on French installations inviting more vicious retribution in return. The colons were particularly vicious, carrying out deadly raids on Muslim quarters in which innocent men, women and children were slaughtered. The moderates who sought an accommodation with France were increasingly marginalized. The Algerian merchant in the coastal cities as well the farmer in the highlands came to the conclusion that armed struggle was the only way to throw off the French yoke. What was a political issue became a war of attrition with increasing ferocity in which it was hard to separate the victims from the victimizers but in which the Algerian Muslims were the primary sufferers.

Even in the midst of this mayhem, the voices of moderation were not silent. Ferhat Abbas, the moderate nationalist, who prepared the Algerian People’s Manifesto in 1943, founded the Democratic Union of Algerian Manifesto (UDMA) in 1946. This party stood for political accommodation with France and a resolution of the conflict based on dialogue and compromise. In the initial phases of the War of Independence, during 1954-55, Ferhat Abbas and his party were lukewarm towards the armed insurrection. So were the ulema. It was not until 1956, with positions hardening on both sides, and avenues for compromise exhausted that Ferhat Abbas joined the FLN.

The FLN did not represent all shades of opinion in Algeria. The veteran Messeli Hadj, miffed at not being consulted by the FLN, founded theMouvement Nationale Algerien (MNA) in 1954 as a rival organization to the FLN. The MNA found support among Algerian émigrés in France and also received covert support from the French government to weaken the influence of the FLN. A war of attrition between the FLN and the MNA ensued spanning both sides of the Mediterranean Sea. Many thousands died during the so called “café wars” in Paris between the protagonists of the two political parties. Ultimately, the Armee de Liberation Narionalale (ALN), the military arm of the FLN, gained the upper hand, and the MNA lost out on both political and military fronts.

Using Cairo as its base, the FLN organized its political and military activities with the dual aim of soliciting Arab public support and compelling the French to the negotiating table. Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt was an ardent Arab nationalist and the FLN received his blessing as well as his full political backing. In the anti-colonial atmosphere of the post World War II world, the Algerians also received moral and political support from the emerging Afro-Asian countries. The FNL set up a Comité Révolutionnaire d’Unité et d’Action-CRUA in Cairo. Its nine executive members, Ait Ahmed, Ben Bella, Rabah Bitat, Moustafa Ben Boulaid, Mohamed Boudiaf, Mourad Didouch, Mohamed Khider, Belkacem Krim and Larbi Ben M’Hidi formed the brain trust behind the Revolution. Local political committees were established to influence workers’ union, students, intellectuals and women’s groups. For effective armed action, the CRUA divided Algeria intowilayets and Kasbahs with local commanders assigned to each cell. The decentralized units were autonomous and could initiate military contact at opportune moments. It was classic asymmetrical warfare, which pitted a diffuse, highly motivated insurgency against a centralized, modern French army.

The initial phases of the insurrection witnessed low intensity combat. The FLN stages hit and run attacks against army and police installations, avoiding pitched battles against a superior military force and melted into the local population from whom they drew their moral and material support. The French, who viewed the conflict as a pacification program, confined their initial attacks to FLN positions. The situation changed when the FLN operatives killed scores of civilians in Skikda in August 1955. In retribution, the governor Jacques Soustelle unleashed a rain of terror. The French army raided Muslim Kasbahs, bombed villages and killed, according to some accounts, over 12,000 civilians. In this asymmetrical warfare, the settler Pied-Noir gangs took a leading part. What had started as a pacification program now became a full fledged war. France, which had fewer than 60,000 troops at the start of the war, now had an army of over 400,000 battling the insurgents. The repression and cruelty of the French army and of the settlers further radicalized Algerian political opinion. The moderates, with no quarters to hide, increasingly drifted to the FLN position that armed resistance was the only way to achieve independence.

On the political front, the issue of Algerian independence was brought before the General Assembly of the United States by the Arab states and was supported by the Soviet Union and the emerging nations. To influence the debate at the UN session of September 1956, the FLN initiated a major military campaign in Algiers. Merchants shuttered their doors and the city was virtually shut down. The offices of the French airlines were bombed. The French responded with a major offensive killing many innocent civilians in the process. The battle had an impact on the UN debate and the resolution for Algerian independence passed by an overwhelming majority.

Egyptian support for Algerian independence was a major factor in France joining with Great Britain and Israel for an attack on the Suez Canal in October 1956. In a lightning strike, Israel captured the Sinai peninsula while a joint Anglo-French force occupied the Suez Canal region. However, the opposition of both the United States and Soviet Union forced the occupiers to withdraw. The Suez crisis was a major milestone in the 20thcentury because it demonstrated to the world that the era of the European colonial powers had ended and a new era dominated by the United States and the Soviet Union had begun.

Undeterred by world opinion, France continued its brutal crackdown in Algeria. Soustelle’s successor, Lacoste applied repressive measures with increasing severity. In addition to the French army, the Muslim population endured savage attacks by colon vigilantes and police action by the Harkis who were Algerians who sided with the French in the fight. The French used covert operations to divide the FLN rank and file. Psychological warfare was used to infuse terror into the hearts of the Algerian population. In 1957 Salan succeeded Lacoste and carried the colonial war to new levels of barbarity. Salan divided Algeria into wards. Each ward manned by a platoon of French troops. Trenches, road blocks and walls were installed to preclude movement between wards. Tanks, armored units and helicopters were used with impunity against defenseless civilians. Napalm was used to destroy villages. More than two million villagers were herded into concentration camps where they lived in the most abdominal conditions. This wholesale forced migration of population caused entire villages to be deserted, their orchards untended, fields laid desolate for lack of cultivation. Political prisoners were tortured to death and their deaths classified as suicides. A common punishment for political activists was to be dumped in the ocean from airplanes. Once, when a group of insurgents and civilians sought refuge in a cave, the French walled up the entrance to the cave and left the refugees die in the caves without food and water. Opinions vary, but it is estimated that over a million Algerians were killed by the French and vigilante colonial gangs during the Algerian War of Independence. This was roughly twelve percent of the population of France in 1954. Very few nations of the world had to endure this level of colonial savagery. The president of Algeria, (Abdelaziz Bouteflika), once called the wartime slaughter, a “genocide”.

By 1958, the French had effectively contained the Algerian insurgency and could genuinely claim that they had won the military conflict. However, the conflict in Algeria was not military; it was political. It was for the independence of a land, for the reclamation of its very soul. The French won the battle but lost the war. The widespread use of torture and the brutalities committed by the French armed forces, caused revulsion in France. Public opinion was divided. The divisions were most apparent in the National Assembly which was split into three camps-the socialists, the left wing Stalinists, and the right wing MRP. The right wing parties were adamant about keeping Algeria French and conceding as little as possible to the Muslim Algerians. The socialists favored some kind of accommodation which, while keeping Algeria French would bestow basic rights to the Algerians. The communists and the left wing parties favored a withdrawal. As the debate became intense, the army and the right wing colons became concerned that a weak government, divided between the CP, the SP and the MRP might withdraw from Algeria leaving its influential European population in the lurch.

Even as the National Assembly in Paris was divided over the war, unable to take decisive action, the power of the army in Algeria had grown. By 1958, the bulk of the French army was deployed in Algeria. It was backed by an air wing, airborne commandos, naval power and intelligence units. The balance of power in the Fourth Republic had shifted in favor of the army in Algeria which was suspicious that the politicians in Paris would sell out French interests in Algeria and precipitously withdraw as they had done from Indochina in 1954. In May 1958, the army units based in Algeria staged an insurrection. General Salan displaced the civil authority in Algier and declared himself the head of a Committee for Public Safety. On May 13, French paratroopers were dropped in the island of Corsica and took it over. An ultimatum was sent to the government in Paris to hand over powers to General De Gaulle, hero of World War II, who the army felt would keep Algeria French and safeguard the interests of the European settlers. On May 29, the National Assembly capitulated and ratified the transfer of power to De Gaulle. The Fourth Republic had come to an end, a victim of the Algerian War of Independence.

De Gaulle had deep misgivings about the French colonial venture in North Africa but he was politically suave enough to realize that extrication from the military quagmire had to come in slow, deliberate steps. He promulgated social and political reforms for the Algerian Muslims and constituted a committee to draft a new constitution for the Fifth Republic with strong powers vested in the Presidency. He called on the FLN to lay down their arms and engage in the political process. The FLN saw in the reforms an attempt to weaken the movement towards independence. It rejected the call to lay down arms declaring that the problem of Algeria was a political, not a military one. Its response was to set up a Provision Government with headquarters in Tunis which was quickly recognized by the Arab states and the Soviet Bloc. In spite of FLN opposition, when the reforms were put to a vote, a majority of Algerians cast their ballots in favor.

Support for Algerian independence was also growing within France. The communist party of France openly supported it. Europe was moving away from the age of overt colonialism. New alliances were emerging that would shape the destinies of the nations of the world and De Gaulle desired France to be a key player in these alliances. Intellectuals, abhorred at news of torture inflicted by the army, argued for an exit strategy. It was time for change.

De Gaulle was the man of the hour. A man of extraordinary eloquence, Del Gaulle had a grand vision of France as part of a united Europe that would play a central role in world affairs. Algeria was a distraction from the pursuit of this grand vision that France had to shake off. He backed the movement towards a united Europe that was sweeping the continent in the post World War II climate. The center piece of this unity was a political and economic relationship between Germany and France. De Gaulle backed the Treaty of Rome in March 1957 that created the European Economic Community, or the Common Market. The signatories included, in addition to France and West Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy.

The right wing elements in the army as well as the colons felt let down by De Gaulle’s moves to grant greater autonomy to the Algerians. They were alarmed that he was beginning to talk about self determination for the people of Algeria. Resentment boiled over in early 1960. On January 24, student leader Pierre Lagellairde organized an insurrection in Algiers. Some of the military units, led by Colonel Jean Garde joined in. The rebels seized government buildings and erected barricades all over the city. The bulk of the army stood by and did not intervene. General Challe, who commanded the Algerian armies, did not commit his troops.

De Gaulle went on the air and made a passionate appeal to the army to back his moves for an end to the Algerian war and support self determination for the Algerian people. The bulk of the army heeded his call and remained loyal. The leaders of the insurrection surrendered on February 1, 1960 and Lagellairde was moved to Paris where he was imprisoned. While on parole, he escaped to Spain where he joined hands with a renegade general Raoul Salan and the two together founded a terrorist organization, Organisation Armee Secrete (Secret Army Organization commonly known as the OAS) with the objective of sabotaging any moves towards Algerian independence.

A second attempt was made by some army generals in 1961 to topple the government but failed. Discredited, the army stayed out of politics for the remainder of the Algerian war. Undeterred, De Gaulle negotiated a ceasefire with the FLN in March 1962 at Evian. The terms of the Evian accords guaranteed the safety as well as the social, political and property rights of the colons who were given the right to stay in Algeria as Algerian citizens or be repatriated to France. De Gaulle placed the question of Algeria’s independence before the French electorate. A referendum was called for July 1, 1962.

The OAS, opposed as it was to Algerian independence, let loose a reign of terror bombing schools, hospitals, mosques, cafes and torturing innocent men, women and children. This was one of the deadliest periods in the history of the war. Thousands died. The political objective was to draw the FLN into a tit for tat war of attribution thereby sabotaging any hope of compromise between the government and the FLN. They were, however, not successful in their diabolical plot, and the referendum took place on July 1, 1962.

Over 91 percent of the French voters who took part in the referendum voted for independence. De Gaulle declared Algeria independent on July 3. The FLN declared July 5 to be their independence day to coincide with the day the French had landed in Algiers in 1840. The long night of horrors was over for the Algerians. The sun rose in its splendor on the morning of July 5, 1962 in the desert sands of Algeria bringing with it the glad tidings of freedom, joy and hope.

The FLN negotiated a truce with the OAS but pent up feelings of hatred were so high that on July 5, Algerian mobs seeking retribution for past crimes, killed a number of Europeans. With no guarantees of security, the settler population moved en masse to the continent. More than 1.2 million Europeans as well as Algerians who had fought for the French against the FLN left North African shores and became refugees in France. A large number of Muslim refugees settled in the shanty towns surrounding Paris. Over the decades, their population has grown, augmented by fresh immigration from North Africa and their presence continues to strain the cultural and social fabric of France to this day.

The ravages of war continue to haunt the national psyche of both the perpetrators and the recipients of torture. The French look at the Algerian presence through colored glasses of Eurocentric prejudice. There is a measure of denial on the part of the French for what they did to the Algerians. Most French school children do not even know about the Algerian war. Many documents relating to the war are still classified and not accessible to historians so that a complete picture of the horrors must await another half a century when memories fade, those associated with the war have passed away and future generations may dispassionately look at the events of this monumental tragedy. On the Algerian side, the success of the FLN cemented a one party political structure making it more difficult for a multi-party democratic set up to take hold. This was evident during the municipal elections of 1991 when the prospect of victory by the Islamist parties brought on a massive military intervention. Civil war ensured and consumed tens of thousands of innocent people. The Algerian army, backed by western powers, has shown just as much fear of Islam as had the French in the heyday of colonial rule. There has been a measure of stability in recent years, with amnesty for all sides, while the phenomenal rise in energy prices has enabled the Algerian economy to get back on its feet and embark on the path of economic reconstruction.

Indonesia – Struggle for Independence

Indonesia – Struggle for Independence

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The Islamic world emerged from the First World War with its heartland occupied, its institutions destroyed and its political future in the European colonial juggernaut. While the history of the Islamic world before World War I was a reflection largely of its own internal dialectic, it reflected the dialectic between Europe and the colonized people of Afro-Asia after World War I. It took two world wars to loosen the European stranglehold on Afro-Asia. In the eighteenth and 19th centuries Afro-Asia was divided and parceled by European powers. The divisions reflected the power equilibrium between the big players, Great Britain, France and Russia after the Napoleonic wars (1798-1812). The First World War shook Europe to the core. The Second World War further weakened Great Britain and Franc. The rapid Japanese advance across East Asia destroyed the myth of European invincibility and provided hope to the nationalists in Asia and Africa for their liberation from centuries of bondage. Colonial rule established by brute force and cunning in the 19th century was demolished by brute force in the 20th century.

Privilege does not abandon its advantage without a fight. Even after the bloodletting of the Second World War, the colonial powers made an end run to reestablish their colonial hold on Asia. The French retook Vietnam until they were defeated and ejected from the Indochina by a determined insurrection. The Dutch landed in Indonesia with British help. A protracted war ensued pitting the independence forces against the colonists that lasted four years. Independence came to Indonesia when the United States, concerned about communist inroads into the Archipelago, forced the Dutch to withdraw. The British gave up India when they realize that the Indian army, the lynchpin of the British Empire, was no longer a reliable ally in its colonial venture.

This is the story of Indonesia. It is a story of a dialectic between nationalism, Islam and communism played out against an overarching background of a ruthless Dutch colonial rule before World War II, the ensuring cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union after the World War, and the relentless pressures of American hegemony after the end of the cold war.

For the last four hundred years the history of Afro-Asia has been inextricably tied to the history of Europe. Riding on the mastery of the oceans, the Europeans touched the far corners of the earth, first in search of trade, then to dominate and colonize the world. Ancient civilizations on the Afro-Asian continents were subjugated while Europe became the mistress of the globe. This was a phenomenon unparalleled in human history. Never in human history had a small corner of Eurasia so completed dominated the entire globe.

The rise of the European colossus was gradual. One may list the major milestones in this rise as the Fall of Granada (1492), the discovery of America (1492), the discovery of sea routes to India around the horn of Africa (1496), the introduction of the printing press (1526), the Protestant Reformation (1517-40), the Battle of Lepanto (1572), the Battle of al Qasr al Kabir (1578), the destruction of the Spanish armada (1588, 1598), the formation of the joint stock companies (1600-1602), the failure of the Second Turkish siege of Vienna (1683), the political implosion of India (1707-1762), the Battle of Plassey (1757) and the Industrial Revolution (1758-1812). We have covered each of these milestones in volumes 1 and 2 of our book.

The initial thrust for European expansion was religion. After the conquest of Granada (1492) the crusades spilled over into North Africa and beyond. The need to circumvent the Muslim Maghreb forced the maritime Christian powers of Spain and Portugal to venture out further into the Atlantic. In the process America was discovered (1492) and Africa was circumnavigated (1496). With the Treaty of Tordisillas brokered by Pope Alexander VI, Spain and Portugal divided up the world to explore, conquer and convert. In 1496 Vasco de Gama sailed to the coast of East Africa and with the help of a Muslim navigator, Ahmed Ibn Majid, reached the west coast of India. He returned ten years later, this time at the end of a flotilla of gunships and blasted his way from Shofala in southern Africa to Cochin in India. Naval technology provided Europe the advantage it needed to establish its sway over the Indian Ocean. The Portuguese established a string of colonies all along the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. The major outposts were Shofala in East Africa, Hermuz in Persia, Goa and Cochin in India, Malacca in Malaysia and Canton in China. The thriving Indian Ocean trade, hitherto open to all the peoples of the Indian Ocean littoral states, was now in the hands of Europeans. The land powers of Asia surrendered the oceans to Europe and were smug their attitude towards these seafarers from foreign lands. With the loss of trade, prosperity shrank. Europe expanded while Asia shriveled.

Towards the end of the 16th century, political power shifted from Spain and Portugal to the Netherlands, England and France. The motive for hegemony changed from religion to profits. The Dutch displaced the Portuguese in the Indian Ocean and held sway over the Eastern trade through the first half of the 17th century. However, superior resources enabled France and England to displace Holland and compete for supremacy in Asia, a competition in which the British emerged victorious. The colonization of Asia starts with competition for trade routes and trade monopolies and ends with a slicing of colonial spheres reflecting the power balance between European powers.

This chapter focuses on the history of Indonesia. Stretching over 3000 miles of ocean, Indonesia is a nation of nations and consists of more than 12,000 islands. The resource rich island of Sumatra is the largest and stretches along the strategic Gulf of Malacca dominating the sea lanes from India to China. The smaller island of Java is the most densely populated and holds more than fifty percent of the total Indonesian population of 250 million. Some of the islands are so small that they are mere rocks jetting forth from the ocean. Each of the larger islands has its own rich culture. A shared history dating back more than two thousand years and an overarching Malay culture unites the archipelago into a composite mosaic.

Geography and geology have dictated the history of Indonesia. The far flung islands are connected by the sea which is the conduit for transportation and commerce making the Islanders one of the most seafaring peoples of the world. From ancient times Indonesian boats plied the waters of the Indian Ocean reaching as far as Mozambique and the East coast of Africa. Geologically the great fault lines that separate the Pacific plate from the Indian and Indo-Chinese plates graze the western shores of Java and Sumatra causing immense destruction with earthquakes and tsunamis as they graze past each other and slide. The islands straddle the equator and are blessed with abundant rain and sun, a climate that is conducive to the cultivation of spices. Bountiful nature has made the Indonesians a people of mild disposition and grace.

Ancient empire rose and fell, uniting and dividing the peoples of these far flung islands. The kingdom of Srivijaya flourished in Sumatra from the 4thto the 14th century CE and at times controlled parts of Java and Malaya. The powerful kingdom of Majapahit dominated the islands from the 13th to the 16th centuries from its center Eastern Java and through trade and treaties its influence was felt all over Southeast Asia.

Trade with India and China brought cultural, religious and military influence. In ancient times, Hinduism was brought to the islands by traders from the eastern shores of India and was the dominant religious influence until the 4th century CE, Hindu influence pervaded the islands. In the 4thcentury CE, the Indian Emperor Ashoka accepted Buddhism. Through his patronage Buddhism travelled to Sri Lanka and the Indonesian islands. These external influences were modified and adopted to fit the local cultural milieu. The kingdoms of Srivijaya and Majapahit that dominated the islands were Buddhist-Hindu in their religious outlook but the culture of the islands remained decidedly local.

Islam arrived in the archipelago in the 8th century with traders from Yemen and Persia. However, the initial influence of the new faith was confined to a few trading posts on the sea lanes connecting India and China. The penetration of Islam into interior of the islands dates from the 12th century. This was a period of explosive growth for the Islamic faith in Asia and Africa. Sufi Shaikhs traversed the islands spreading a spiritual Islam that gradually displaced Buddhism and Hinduism. It is significant to note that the growth of Islam in the archipelago was not the result of a conversion of kings and noblemen, nor of military invasions, but of a change in the beliefs of the people of the soil. The kings and noblemen accepted Islam only after a large proportion of their subjects had embraced the new faith. The Islamic influence melted into the older cultural milieu of the islands. Much as it was in the earlier penetration of Hinduism and Buddhism, the people of the islands retained their language and their culture and adopted the new faith within their older cultures.

Geography placed the archipelago in the cross currents of political and military ambitions from powerful dynasties in India and China. In the 12thcentury, the Chola kings of southeastern India launched a series of raids on Sumatra and controlled the coastlines of both Sumatra and Malaya. In the 13th century, the Yuan emperor Kublai Khan (d 1294), sent an expedition to intervene in the internal political struggles in Java. In the 15th century, the Chinese admiral Zeng Yi (d 1433), also known as admiral Ho, made seven voyages to the Indian Ocean and brought his armada of great ships to the shore of Java and Sumatra. Some historians date the Chinese Muslim presence in the Malacca Straits from the visits of admiral Ho’s fleet (1404-1432). The Chinese naval influence waned and disappeared in the second half of the 15th century as the Yuan emperors shifted their resources from sea voyages to their long and hostile land frontiers with Mongolia.

Indonesia was a part of the trade network linking the Indian Ocean with the Western Pacific. With the advent of Islam in the archipelago in the 12thcentury, and the penetration of Sufi Islam in the Indian subcontinent, the faith of Islam provided the spiritual umbrella for the trading nations in this vast network. Arabic became the lingua franca for trade. Even the Chinese emperors, who were not Muslim, found it expedient to appoint Muslim admirals to lead their navy. This vast network was a peaceful one. Even though Islam dominated this network and Arabic was the lingua franca, Buddhists from China and Sri Lanka as well as Hindus from India and Bali participated in this trade as equals and without discrimination.

Early in the 15th century the peace of the Indian Ocean was shattered by the guns of the Portuguese. The year 1492 was a hinge around which the history of the world revolves. It was the year that Columbus discovered America. It was also the year when the Spanish Crusaders captured Granada, the last Muslim bastion on the Iberian Peninsula. The Spanish Inquisition followed and the Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain. In 1494, under a Papal decree, Spain and Portugal divided up the world for conquest and conversion to Roman Catholic Christianity. In 1496 the sailor Vasco de Gama circumnavigated the coast of South Africa and with the help of Muslim navigators in East Africa arrived on the western shores of India. His first visit was a scouting mission. He returned in 1506 at the head of a flotilla of gun boats blasting his way across East Africa to the southern tip of India. Within a short span of three years, the Portuguese occupied Mombasa, Zanzibar and Kedda in East Africa, Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf and Goa, Diu and Daman in India. Malacca fell after heavy resistance in 1511 and Macao and Canton in China was settled soon thereafter. The Indian Ocean which had hitherto been an ocean of trade, commerce and peaceful interaction between people was transformed into an ocean of cut throat competition and war. The Portuguese took the spices out of Asia but in return had nothing worthwhile to teach the ancient peoples of an ancient continent.

The Portuguese had twin goals. The first was to destroy Muslim influence and force their brand of Christianity into Asia. The second was to control the Indian Ocean trade and extract tribute from the traders and the pilgrims on their way to Mecca. So weak were the navies of the littoral states that not one of them could challenge the Portuguese at sea. Even the mighty Moguls of India saw it fit to have the passports of Indian pilgrims stamped by the Portuguese than to confront them in the Arabian Sea. Only the Ottomans offered some resistance. Under the able admiral Piri Rais, the Portuguese were cleared from Aden and the entrance to the Red Sea. The Portuguese were expelled from East Africa north of Mozambique. However, following their defeat at the battle of Lepanto in 1572 and their standoff with the Portuguese navy off the shores of Mozambique in 1578, Ottoman naval power receded from the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean was too large and the Portuguese resources were too meager for them to control this vast region. Ships belonging to the Ottomans and the Sultan of Oman continued to ply the Arabian Sea. A power equilibrium was established at sea so that after the year 1550 as much trade flowed through Alexandria in Egypt as it did through Lisbon in Portugal. The wheels of fortune turned against the Portuguese in the last quarter of the 16th century. The King of Portugal, Sebastian, invaded the North African kingdom of Morocco in 1578. At the Battle of al Qasr al Kabir, the Moroccan monarch Ahmed al Mansur inflicted a crushing defeat on the invaders. Sebastian lay dead on the battlefield. 20,000 of the invaders were either slain or captured and were used as slaves in the campaigns against the Songhai Empire in sub-SaharanAfrica. So complete was the Moroccan victory that two years later, in 1580, the Spanish monarch took Portugal under his protection making it a virtual colony until 1640.

History was no more kind to the Spanish who had grown rich from pillaging the Mayans in Central America. In response to acts of British piracy, Spain assembled its mighty armada and set sail into the English Channel in 1588 with the stated goal of conquering England. A combination of bad weather and superior British tactics destroyed the armada. Ten years later, in 1598, Spain made a second attempt and sailed towards England with another armada to avenge the defeat of 1588. The fleet was caught in a storm off the coast of France and the bulk of it was swallowed up by the high seas.

These events unfolding as they did one after the other shattered the naval power of the once mighty Spaniards and the Portuguese. The Iberians had ruled the high seas in the Atlantic and in the Indian Ocean since the discovery of America in 1492. The papal award of 1494 had given the Americas to the Spaniards and Asia to the Portuguese. Using their mastery of the seas, and their knowledge of ship-mounted cannon, the Spaniards had enslaved the Americas and Portugal had destroyed the Muslim trading colonies around the rim of the Indian Ocean. These were devastating blows from which Spanish did not recover. Spain was so weakened by its naval losses in 1588 and 1598 that it lost its position as the dominant global naval power. Portugal did not recover from its defeat at al Qasr al Kabir in 1588. The decline of the Iberian powers created an opportunity for the North European powers of England and the Netherlands.

The modern history of Indonesia begins in the year1602 in the Dutch city of Amsterdam. It was the year when a group of enterprising investors met and founded the Vereennigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) or the Dutch East India Company. This was a strategic business decision at a most opportune historic moment. After a protracted struggle, Holland had won its independence from Spain (1570). Amsterdam was a naval shipyard for Spain during their occupation. After the departure of the Spanish, the technology and trained manpower in Amsterdam provided the infrastructure for Dutch ship building. Holland rose and for half a century was the undisputed master of the seas.

The rise of Holland as a naval power did not go unchallenged. The Spaniards mounted a blockade of Dutch ships around the Iberian coastline. This only forced the Dutch to move farther out into the Atlantic Ocean and build larger and sturdier ships. An exhausted Spain which was also acting as a protector of a defeated Portugal was no match for a resurgent Holland. The Dutch moved rapidly to displace Portuguese power in the Indian Ocean. In 1605 they captured the Portuguese fort at Amboina in the Moluccas. Unlike the Portuguese who were saddled with a crusader mentality to convert the natives, the Dutch were motivated by pure profit. They were nonetheless as brutal as the Portuguese in their treatment of the local population. In 1519, they massacred the entire population of Banda in the Moluccas islands of Indonesia and established a monopoly on nutmeg production. In 1520 they razed Jayakarta to the ground and built a new town Batavia (modern Jakarta) on its ashes. Further conquests followed in the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. In 1640 they captured Colombo in Sri Lanka. The following year, working in collaboration with the Sultan of Johor, they laid siege to the fort of Malacca. The fall of this strategic fort brought the Straits of Malacca under Dutch control. A series of treaties with the Malay sultans followed, Kedah in 1642, Ujung Salang in 1643 and Bangkeri in1645 giving the Dutch a near monopoly in the spice trade from the archipelago.

The British had their own East India Company chartered by Queen Elizabeth I in 1600 CE ostensibly to trade with Asia. Rivalry between the Dutch and the British was inevitably. At stake was not only the spice trade with Asia but also the lucrative slave trade from West Africa. Sugarcane was introduced into the West Indies in the 16th century. The hot climate and the backbreaking work required hardy labor and the Europeans were unfit for this work. The Spaniards brought in some slaves from West Africa in the 16th century but it was not until the Dutch appeared on the scene that the slave trade picked up momentum. By 1640 the slave trade was even more profitable than the spice trade with the Indies. Sugarcane was transported to New England where it was converted to rum. The rum was sent to Europe. Europe exported guns to Africa in return for slaves who were shipped to the New World. The sugar case-rum-guns and slaves triangle was enormously profitable for the slave-gun runners of Europe. To exploit this trade, the Dutch formed the Dutch West India Company in 1621 and established colonies in New Amsterdam (New York) and up the Hudson River.

The Dutch-English rivalry erupted into open hostilities in 1640. The English held the advantage in this tussle. England had a population six times as large as that of Holland and its sea captains well trained as pirates in the rough seas of the East Atlantic. The English prevailed in the conflict and overran New Amsterdam. However, the Dutch were more successful in the Indian Ocean and managed to hold onto their colonies in the Straits of Malacca, Sri Lanka and the west coast of India. In addition, in 1651 they captured the Cape of Good Hope off the tip of Africa and established a colony there. This strategic location gave the Dutch enormous advantage in the competition for Indian Ocean spice trade.

The Dutch trade policies were monopolistic and were representative of corporate colonialism at its incipient worse. Locally, they encouraged the cultivation of a single crop suited to the climate: cloves in Sri Lanka, Timor for sandalwood, and Banda for nutmeg. Externally, they waged war to prevent other Europeans or local powers from encroaching on their turf. Their employment policies were restrictive, and the wages amounted to little more than slave labor. No inhabitant of Batavia could accept alternate employment or marry without the permission of the VOC.

There was stiff resistance to the brutal policies of the VOC. Princes, noblemen and religious shaikhs alike led the resistance. In the relentless conflicts that raged for control of the islands, the VOC had the upper hand. Control of the high seas gave the VOC the advantage of flexibility and maneuverability. The invaders could train their guns on a town and then withdraw into the relative safety of the high seas only to return when the tactical situation on land was in its favor. Technology and training favored the Europeans. The local rulers, often at odds with each other, could not focus their defense on a single area. Nonetheless, the people of the archipelago put up a long and valiant fight. In the protracted warfare a large number of Malays were taken prisoner and transported as slaves to lands as far away as Sri Lanka and South Africa.

One of the most renowned prisoners taken by the Dutch was Shaikh Yusuf (1624-1693), an Awliyah of the Khilwatiyah Sufi order from Java. Shaikh Yusuf was a prince of the Gowa royal family. At the age of 21 he was sent to Mecca to perform his hajj and to study under the renowned scholars of the age. The young prince stayed in Mecca and Madina for more than thirty years, mastering religious disciplines and learning the secrets of Sufi orders. At the age of 54 he returned to Makassar, Indonesia as a learned Shaikh. He was horrified to find that the kingdom had fallen to the Dutch. Moral degradation had overtaken the local Muslims. Gambling and opium consumption was common. Disillusioned with the state of affairs in Makasar, Shaikh Yusuf migrated to Banten which was ruled by the pious Sultan Ageng. The Sultan received the Shaikh with honor, gave him one of his daughters in marriage and appointed him as the Chief Kadi of the court.

The Shaikh took up the cause of the Malay people and organized an armed resistance to the Dutch. For five long years, his disciplined cadre of fighters harassed the VOC. However, during a fire fight in 1683 the Shaikh was injured and captured by the enemy. He was enslaved and shipped, first to Colombo in Sri Lanka and then to Cape Town in South Africa. In this new land, far away from home, the Shaikh organized a tareeqa, teaching local people the ethics and moral values of Islam. His lifelong dedication earned him the reputation as the first Awliya who introduced Islam into southern Africa. When he died in 1699, he was buried on a hill overlooking the two oceans, the Atlantic and the Indian. It is said that the body of the Shaikh was returned to Gowa in 1705 but the local belief is that he is still there in his tomb. It is a place of pilgrimage now, a place of recluse and a reminder to people of Malay descent in South Africa, of the struggles of their forefathers and their roots in far away lands.

Colonialism is more than loss of independence. It saps the moral strength of a people and scuttles their cultural and spiritual growth. It impoverishes the colonized and enriches the colonizer. In the long and valiant struggle of the Indonesian people lasting more than two hundred years against ruthless and often violent colonization by the Dutch, the name of Shaikh Yusuf stands out among the valiant soldiers of the islands.

The dawn of the 18th century witnessed a protracted struggle between the French and the British for ascendancy in Asia. Much of Asia and Africa was going through an intellectual, technological and political retraction even as Europe has making rapid technological and military advances. At stake was the future of Afro-Asia and a long and protracted struggle ensured spanning three continents. The Anglo-French war of 1702-1712, also known as the war of Spanish Succession was fought in Europe. The Anglo-French war of 1749-1754 was fought in southern India. The Anglo-French war of 1755-1763 was fought in North America. In each case the British generals were more than a match for the French and England came out victorious. France lost its colonies in India and North America.

The Anglo French rivalry worked to the benefit of the Dutch. France was an adversary of England and had resources comparable to those of England. Holland, by contrast, was an adversary of England, but its resources were far less than those of France. The Dutch were vanquished by the British in the war of 1640-47 and posed no threat to British global ambitions thereafter. The British were willing to let Holland control the trade with the East Indies provided it did not threaten their interests in India. The French, by contrast, competed with the British for control of India, North America and Southeast Asia, a competition that did not cease until the beginning of the 19th century.

Towards the end of the 18th century, Napoleon Bonaparte burst out of France, riding on the waves of the French Revolution, with slogans of liberty, equality and fraternity that were heard around the world. His Republican ideas were a direct challenge not just to the British but to all the monarchies of Europe. In the Napoleonic wars that ensued (1798-1812), Holland was occupied by the French. The British moved to protect their colonial interests by taking over the Dutch colonies in the Indian Ocean. Java was occupied by a British Indian expeditionary force in 1811.

The Napoleonic wars ended in 1812. In 1816, Britain handed back the East Indies colonies to the Dutch. However, Colombo and the Cape of Good Hope remained in British hands. Protracted negotiations ensued between Amsterdam and London. By the Treaty of 1824 Holland formally gave up its claims to its colonies in India, Sri Lanka, South Africa and the Malay Peninsula in return for British recognition of its rights in the East Indies. In essence, the Dutch empire became a satellite of the British Empire, deriving its power from the British power in India and Southeast Asia. The treaty of 1824 split the Malay world along the Straits of Malacca. The division of the Malay world into Indonesia and Malaysia follows roughly the boundaries fixed by Britain and Holland in the year 1824.

Resistance to Dutch colonial rule continued unabated. The VOC had made the Malay population of Batavia virtual slaves in their own land. In 1825 Javanese anger erupted like a volcano under the leadership of Prince Dipanagara. Resentment against Dutch colonial rule was only one element in the uprising. There were positive elements in it as well. The ulema saw the Dutch as unbelievers who were bent on subjugating Islam. Peasants and noblemen alike saw this as an opportunity to assert their independence. Dipanagara proclaimed himself the Ratu Adil, the just ruler, who would bring peace and justice to the island. He was immensely successful at first and his forces laid siege to Batavia which lasted until 1828. But the Dutch had the advantage at sea. They brought in reinforcements from Colombo, Cape Townand the Netherlands. The siege of Batavia was lifted. Dipanagara retreated to the mountains and continued a protracted guerilla war that lasted two years. In a shameless violation of all norms of civilized warfare, the Dutch enticed the prince to enter their camp under the pretext of negotiating a peace treaty, captured and exiled him to the island of Sulawesi in 1830. The Java war of 1825-30 was bloody. Over 100,000 Javanese and 10,000 Dutch were killed in the hostilities.

After their victory in the Java war (1825-30) the Dutch abandoned any pretext of dealing with the Indonesian sultans on the basis of treaties and moved outright into a colonial posture. The history of the 19th century was one of unabated and wanton exploitation of the Indies to industrialize and enrich the Netherlands. In 1831 a system of forced cultivation was introduced by the colonial administration in Java. The peasants were coerced into cultivating cash crops like coffee, sugarcane, spices and indigo at the expense of traditional crops such as rice needed for food and were compelled to sell the cash crops to a government owned monopoly Nederlandse Handel-Maatschappij, in which the king of Holland owned a substantial number of shares. The exploitation was so intense that Java, a land of plenty, experienced a series of famines in 1845-47. Political events in Europe added to the misery of the Indonesian peasants. In the decade after the Java war, Belgium waged a successful war for its independence from the Netherlands (1830-39). The war took such a heavy toll on resources that Holland went nearly bankrupt. The Dutch shifted the burden of recovering the cost of war on the Indies and it was on the backs of the wretched peasants of the archipelago that Holland got back on its feet. This pattern of exploitation lasted well into the 20th century.

Rivalries, feuds, wars and treaties between European powers had a direct impact on the fortunes of the colonies. The colonial fray reached West Africa and the Gold Coast in the second half of the 19th century. While France was busy swallowing up Western Sahara, Cameroon and Niger, Britain focused on the Gold Coast. Pushing inland from the Atlantic sea board, Britain gradually consolidated its position in Ghana and Nigeria (1850-1906). The lure of Ghana was gold and ivory while that of Nigeria was timber and oil. The borders between colonies were often no more than lines on maps drawn by colonial negotiators in London and Paris. The British entered into similar agreements with the Dutch. By the Treaty of 1873, the Dutch surrendered their forts on the Gold Coast in return for a free hand in the East Indies. This treaty removed the last British objections to a Dutch colonization of Sumatra which had hitherto resisted the European onslaught.

The large and strategic island of Sumatra jets deep into the Indian Ocean. The northern tip of the island lies Aceh, a fine harbor and a natural stop off point for voyagers between India and China. From ancient times the area played host to Arab traders, Chinese seamen and Javanese sailors plying the waters of the Indian Ocean. The voyagers brought their culture and their ideas with them and Aceh became a caldron of Asian civilizations. Until the 4th century Hinduism was the religion of the land. In the fifth and 6th centuries Buddhism reigned supreme. Islam entered this Hindu-Buddhist matrix in the 9th century. The well known historian Al-Idrisi (d1165) mentions Islamic communities in Aceh, Malacca and Canton. In the 14th century, the celebrated world traveler Ibn Batuta (d 1377) stopped here on his way to China.

In 1508 the Portuguese the Portuguese occupied Goa in India and followed it up with the occupation of Malacca in Malaysia in 1511. The inquisition against the Jews and Muslims was in full swing on the Iberian Peninsula. The Portuguese brought the inquisition with them into the new lands. This drove many a Muslim scholar from the west coast of India and Malaya. These scholars found a welcome home in Aceh which was blessed by the able sultans Ali Shah (d 1530) and Alauddin Shah (d 1571). It was during this period that the Khilafat passed from the Mamlukes in Egypt to the Ottomans in Turkey (1519). In 1526, Suleiman the Magnificent became the Ottoman sultan. He built a powerful navy and challenged the marauding Portuguese in the Indian Ocean. With the help of the Ottomans, the sultans of Aceh successfully defended western Sumatra and Joho located across the Malaccan Straits from the Portuguese during the 16th century.

The 17th century was the golden period for Acehnese history. In the year 1607 sultan Iskandar Muda ascended the throne of Aceh. Through skillful diplomacy he kept the Europeans at bay. With a centralized, efficient administration he built up Aceh into the most prosperous state in the Malacca Straits. He established his sway on western Sumatra and Johor and controlled the lucrative trade flowing through the Straits. Nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, tin, sulphur and nuts were exported from Sumatra. The sultan used the tax revenue to build a strong navy. He was also an avid collector of jewels. Aceh became a center of Islamic learning. Schools and academies thrived. Scholarship was valued and rewarded and learned men thronged to its madrassas from as far away as Gujarat and Madina.

One of the most influential scholars of the period was Shaikh Abdur Raoof al Sinkli (1615-1693). Born in Sumatra, he studied in the local schools and proceeded to Hejaz in the 1644. In Mecca and Madina he studied kalam, hadith, fiqh, tasawwuf and eloquence under the most renowned ulema of the age. Returning to his homeland in 1661, he established a school (dayah) in Aceh. His scholarship attracted students from far and wide and Aceh became a magnet for scholars from all over the archipelago.

Shaikh Sinkli’s teachings became a spark for intense intellectual activity in Sumatra. The writings of Ibn Arabi (d 1240) were available in the islands and his ideas of wahdat al wajud (unity of existence) had trigged widespread debates among Sumatran scholars. Trade had knit together the scholar communities of the Indian Ocean littoral states and ideas travelled with the traders. India was at this time at the zenith of Mogul empire and Indian scholars influenced the intellectual activity in far away lands. For instance, the writings of Indian scholar Shaikh Fadlullah al Hindi al Burhanpuri added to the intensity of debates about wahdat al wajud in Sumatra. One such debate took place in the year 1638 in the court of Sultan Iskander Thani (1637-41) between Shaikh al Raniri and Shaikh al-Sumatrani. Shaikh Sinkli stayed above the fray and tried reconciliation. The proponents of wahdat al wajud maintained that God was immanent in His creation. Those opposed to this concept maintained that this belief was contrary to the injunctions of the Shariah. Al Sinkli was trained both in Shariah and tasawwuf and was able to moderate these debates. He adhered to his belief in wahdat al wajud but he tried to preserve the transcendence of God by stating that the world (alam) was tasbih (a simile) and was a reflection of the essence (dhat) of al haqq (the truth). Al Haqq is one of the Asma ul Husna (beautiful Names of God). Al Sinkli maintained that the oneness of al haqq cannot be compromised. Truth flows from the essence of God. There is nothing that surrounds Him but He surrounds everything. Wahdat al wajud was an experience reserved for the most spiritual of Shaikhs.

The scholarship of al Sinkli was recognized by the ruling elite. Sultana Safiatuddin appointed him the chief Kadi of Aceh and from this position he influenced the development of both fiqh and tasawwuf in the region.

The most famous of al Sinkli’s students was Shaikh Burhanuddin. Shaikh Burhanuddin established his zawiya in Western Java. Learned men, peasants and sufis alike flocked to hear him and learn from him. His students established zawiyas all over Java and Sumatra where young scholars stayed and learned the discipline of a tareeqa. Shaikh Burhanuddin combined in himself the teachings of both the Shattariya and the Naqshbandi silsilah. In a silsilah a Shaikh is connected to the Prophet through an unbroken chain of transmission. His legitimacy derives from this connection and hence his teachings are accepted by students and ulema alike. Shaikh Burhanuddin removed wahdat al wajud from his lectures. Instead he emphasized adherence to the Shariah in his tareeqa While the goal of dhikr (remembrance of the name of God) in the teachings of Shaikh al Sinkli was fana (annihilation), the goal of dhikr in the teachings of Shaikh Burhanuddin was simply tazkiyiatun nafs (cleansing of the soul).

Shaikh Burhanuddin is widely recognized as the founder of Ahle Sunnah Wal Jamaat in Java. The Ahl e Sunnah Wal Jamaat emphasize in their teachings adherence to the Quran, the Sunnah of the Prophet and the ijmah both of the Companions of the Prophet and of the community. They accept validity of all four of the Sunnah schools of fiqh and the philosophical teachings of Abu Hassan al Ashari (873-935) who said God could be known only through his Names and attributes. He also taught that the Quran was “not created”, meaning, it was time-independent and eternal.

The students of Shaikh Burhanuddin established zawiyas throughout Southeast Asia and were responsible for the spread of Islam to the far off islands in the archipelago. Shaikh Burhanuddin died in the year 1699 and his tomb in Ulakan is visited by thousands even to this day. His influence is felt in modern Indonesia in the largest social-religious organization in modern Indonesia, the Nahdatul Ulema which runs scores of pesantrans (religious schools) throughout the archipelago.

Upon the death of Iskandar Muda in 1636, his son Iskander Thani ruled for brief five years and was succeeded by Iskander Muda’s daughter Ratu Safiatuddin Tajul Alam. Queen Safiatuddin was one of a succession of five queens who ruled Aceh from 1641 to 1702. She was a capable monarch who ruled in consultation with a court consisting of noblemen and merchants. She rationalized the tax collection and unlike her father invested the tax revenue for the welfare of the people instead of precious diamonds. Her style was consultative and she made the noblemen and the merchants stakeholders in the continuity of the throne. For these reasons she was extremely popular with the powerbrokers and the peasants alike and her tenure was accepted by the ulema. Four Aceh queens followed Safiatuddin in succession. These were Ratu Naqiatuddin Nurul Alam (1675-1678), Ratu Zaqiatuddin Inayat Syah (1678-1688), Ratu Kamalat Syah Zinatuddin (1688-1699) and Badrul Alam Syarif Hashim Jamaluddin(1699-1702). The tradition of a woman head of state was consistent with the honor bestowed on women in the local Malay tradition (aadat) and with the position that women enjoyed in the non-Arab Turkish, Indian and African Islamic courts. Their legacy reinforced the earlier legacy of Razia sultana of India (1336-1340) and Queen Shajarat ut Durr (1351-54) of Egypt. By their example these women adorned the canvas of Islamic history and paved the way for women heads of state in our own times.

The Treaty of 1873 removed British objections to the Dutch colonization of Sumatra. Wasting no time, the Dutch invaded the sultanate of Aceh. Aceh was ruled by Sultan Mahmud Syah (d 1874), heir to a long line of monarchs dating back to the turn of the 19th century. When the Dutch laid siege to his capital, the sultan appealed for international help. Britain, the only power that could have helped, turned the other way. As the Dutch advanced, the sultan retreated to the mountains to continue resistance. The following year he died of natural causes and the cause of resistance was taken up by Sultan Tunku Ibrahim. A long war of attrition ensued. The Sumatrans fought valiantly for thirty years for their land and for their independence. It was Islam that provided the backbone for their resistance. It was only in 1903 that the Dutch gained the upper hand and convinced the sultan to lay down his arms. Sporadic resistance continued in the hills of the large island and the Dutch were never able to establish the absolute colonial authority in Sumatra as they did elsewhere in the islands.

The dawn of the 20th century saw the colonial empires at their zenith. The British flag flew over India, Egypt, Malaya and South Africa. British arms were triumphant on the Gold Coast and Nigeria. Canada, Australia and New Zealand were in the British Commonwealth owing their allegiance to the King. The French sway over Indochina and West Africa was complete. The Dutch Empire, a satellite of the British Empire had completed its stranglehold on the East Indies. The colonial mind set had taken hold in Europe and the “white man’s burden” was openly talked about as if it was the manifest destiny of Europe to shepherd the peoples of Asia and Africa.

Man is born free and the longing for a free soul is embedded in the human spirit. Even as the colonial powers felt secure in the vastness of their empires the foundations of their power were shaken up by the undercurrents of Asian national consciousness. The first seeds of independence in the colonies of Asia and Africa were sown in the heyday of the colonial empires at the turn of the 20th century.

Throughout the first decade of the 20th century, there were signs that the Asian giants were stirring. The establishment of the Indian National Congress (1885), the All India Muslim League (1906), the Aceh Islamic resistance (1874-1903) and the Moro war (1898-1902) in the Philippines were manifestations of these stirrings. The victory of the Japanese over the Russians in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 showed that Asians could stand up to the military prowess of Europe.

On May 20, 1908 the first Indonesian national organization, the Budi Ultimo National Congress was founded by a Javanese physician Dr. Wahidin Soedirohoesodo. Dr. Wahidin was a modernist who believed that western education would kindle national consciousness among his countrymen. His ideas found a resonance with the educated elite, the doctors, engineers, teachers and government workers. Budi Utomo became an umbrella organization that took in its fold Indonesians of all political persuasion. Included in it were Islamic scholars, merchants as well as labor leaders and is therefore considered the parent organization of various strands that appeared later in the century – nationalist, Islamist as well as communist. It grew rapidly, adopted Malay as its national language, established a national organizational structure and set up scores of local branches in Java and the outer islands. Paid membership grew and a cadre of dedicated workers got their first training in the political process. The Dutch grew suspicious of its strength. To curb its influence at the national level and exploit local rivalries, they recognized the local branches but refused to recognize the national organization.

The broad based Budi Utomo National Congress could not accommodate the divergent, often conflicting goals of the nationalists, Islamists and the communists. Other organizations spring up to provide alternate and specific platforms to these diverse groups. In 1910, Douwes Dekker, a journalist and politician of Eurasian descent, established the Indies party. Dekker had worked as a youth in the coffee plantations of Java and had seen first hand the discrimination and suffering of the Javanese peasants. Together with Tjipto Mangunkusumo and Kihadjar Dwantara, Douwes established a Committee which initially advocated self rule for Indonesia within the Dutch empire but later stood for full independence of the islands. Alarmed, the colonial Dutch government accused the three of subversion and exiled them to the Netherlands where Dekker continued his work in behalf of Indonesian independence. The influence of Dekker in the Indonesian struggle for independence was significant. He was the first one to use the term Indonesia in his writings. In the 1920s he was a mentor to Sukarno, the hero of Indonesian independence.

The centrist Budi Utomo did not sufficiently address the concerns of the workers and a migration to leftist politics was inevitable. The ideas of Karl Marx had found their way to the Indies through Dutch publications. The first move towards organizing the workers was taken in 1914 by Hendricus Sneevliet who formed the Indies Social Democratic Association. Events in Europe continued to affect the destiny of the peoples of Asia. The success of the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) gave a boost to the struggle of Asian workers who toiled under the yoke of unbridled colonial capitalism. In 1924 the Indies Social Democratic Association changed its name to the Indonesian Communist Party and worked to organize trade unions and farmers. However the focus of the party shifted when it started a series of insurrections in Java and Sumatra in 1926. The Dutch forcefully put down the insurrections. The leaders of the party were killed or exiled and it was not until after 1948 that the party resurfaced as a significant player in Indonesian politics.

The diverse Islamic community in Indonesia had its own specific concerns. The loss of independence to the Netherlands was considered a disgrace by the ulema who longed for the establishment of a Shariah-based state. However, it was the merchant community of Muslims that made the first political move. Their primary concern was not so much religion but the economic domination from the Chinese. The colonial government had established a social hierarchy in which the Europeans occupied a privileged position at the top, the Chinese served as intermediaries while the native Javanese occupied the bottom rung of the ladder. International trade was controlled by the Dutch, the retail trade was delegated to the Chinese while the islanders were relegated to subsistence farming and hard labor. There was a great deal of resentment against the Chinese merchants who often sided with the Europeans in the political dialectic between the Dutch and the Javanese.

To address the grievances of the merchants, a Muslim Traders Association was established in 1909. In addition to encouraging trade, the Association emphasized Islamic education. The agenda found a resonance with the large majority of Muslims and the Association grew rapidly. In 1912 it changed its name to Sarekat Islam. By 1914 it had more than 250,000 members and 100 branches throughout the islands.

There were other strands in the Muslim political milieu. The educated elite sought a reformation of the community through western education. In this sense their orientation was similar to that of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan of Aligarh in India who sought to uplift the Islamic community in India through modern, western education. The reformist group started the Mohammediya movement in Yogyakarta in 1912.

Neither the Sarekat Islam nor the Mohammediya were fully responsive to the aspirations of traditional Islam. This need was filled in 1926 through the establishment of Nahdatul Ulema. The Nahda emphasized the traditional values in Islam and served as a balance to the reformist thrust of Mohammediya and the mercantile thrust of Sarekat Islam. In time, the Nahdatul Ulema grew to be the largest religious organization in Indonesia. It established a vast network of schools, the pesantrans, to impart traditional Islamic education to the children. The pesantrans were boarding schools for boys and girls, usually located in the back country and provided the poor peasants the only chance to impart education to their children. Even to this day, the pesantrans form the backbone of rural education and are an important element in the social-religious milieu of Indonesia.

The political resurgence in the early part of the century nurtured some of the giants who guided the destiny of Indonesia towards independence. Two of these stalwarts were Achmad Sukarno (1901-1970) and Muhammed Hatta (1902-1980). Sukarno was born in Java in 1901, the son of a school teacher. He studied in Dutch primary schools and in 1927 graduated as a civil engineer from Technische Hogeschool in Bandung. He was fluent in Dutch, English and French besides his native Javanese and was a powerful and persuasive orator. While a student, he met Tjokroaminoto, a nationalist and came under his influence. In 1928 he established the Indonesian Nationalist Union (PNI) together with Tjipto Mangunkusumo, Kihadjar Dwantara and Douwes and advocated self rule for the islands. Sukarno knew first hand the impact of European colonial rule on the Indonesian workers. The sight of unbridled colonial exploitation fostered in him a distaste for capitalism and a liking for socialism. However, at his core he was a nationalist rather than a socialist and his goal was independence from the Dutch rather than a socialist state.

The Dutch, weary of nationalists, and alarmed at the activities of Sukarno, arrested him, charged him with sedition and sentenced him in 1929 to exile in the island of Flores. When he was released in 1931, he returned home to Java, a mass hero who championed the cause of Indonesia’s independence. In 1932 he dissolved the PNI and founded the Indonesia Party which demanded complete independence from the Netherlands. The party came under intense surveillance from the colonial authorities and was dissolved in 1934. Sukarno was arrested again and imprisoned in Flores.

In the 1930s, Sukarno saw an opportunity for Indonesia’s independence in the rise of imperial Japan. As the Japanese imperial army marched across Manchuria and Eastern China, Sukarno sensed the possibility that the Japanese invasions might spill over into the East Indies. He was willing to help the Dutch against such a possibility provided that independence was first granted to Indonesia. Just as the British paid little heed to similar demands from Gandhi in India, the Dutch brushed off Sukarno’s overtures confining him instead for eight long years in prison.

The political dynamics changed with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 1941). In February 1942 Japan invaded the Dutch East Indies and quickly overran the islands. The Dutch retreated almost without a fight. Sukarno was carted in haste from place to place, taken to Sumatra, but was abandoned by the Dutch in their hasty retreat. The Japanese saw an opportunity in using the young Sukarno for their own agenda. On his part Sukarno saw an opportunity to use the Japanese to gain Indonesian independence. Their interests were a mirror image each of the other. Sukarno helped the Japanese providing Indonesian labor for their war effort while the Japanese allowed Sukarno to develop a cadre of young men trained in military discipline. This was the beginning of the Indonesian army which fought a valiant guerilla war against the Dutch when they tried to reestablish their empire after the war. A persuasive orator that he was, Sukarno worked tirelessly to infuse a sense of nationhood among the Indonesian people. In 1943 he was decorated by the Emperor of Japan for his assistance in the war effort. Necessity dictated politics. The war was the trigger for the independence of Asia and Africa. Sukarno played the politics of necessity but later he expressed regret for the assistance he had rendered the occupying Japanese.

Power is the arbitrator of politics. The Second World War transformed the power balance in Asia. The lightning Japanese advance across Asia destroyed the myth of an invincible Europe and provided an impetus to the political forces seeking the seeking the emancipation of Asia. Without the war, the colonial era would have lingered on much longer.

The independence struggle for Indonesia was not a one man show. It was a corporate struggle involving several significant personalities. One of them was Mohammed Hatta.

Born into an affluent family in 1902 on the island of Java, Hatta lost his father in early childhood and was brought up in his mother’s family. A bright student, he attended Dutch language schools and at the age of nineteen proceeded to the Netherlands where he stayed till 1931 and studied law.

The youthful Hatta was a political activist. In the Netherlands he joined the Indonesische Vereneging (Union of Indonesia) of which he became chairman in 1926. He was also the editor of a magazine Free Indonesia. Indonesische Vereneging became an advocate of noncooperation as a means to gain independence for Indonesia. In support of this goal, Hatta attended conferences all over Europe where he met and made friends with some of the future leaders of Asia including Nehru of India, Ramadan Bey of Egypt and Sedar Senghor of Africa. These activities alarmed the Dutch. The headquarters of the organization were raided in 1927, Hatta was arrested and put in jail. When he was brought before a judge with charges of disturbing the peace, Hatta gave a famous speech in which he passionately argued for an equal partnership between Indonesia and the Netherlands and an end to the colonial relationship.

In 1931 Hatta returned home to an Indonesia torn by conflicts between rival groups of activists and the arrest of Sukarno. Most of the members of Sukarno’s PNI party had joined the Partindo party. The Dutch educated elite had formed a new PNI party. Partindo was a political party with mass appeal whereas the more moderate new PNI focused on education and training. Hatta became the chairman of the new PNI in 1931. When Sukarno was released from prison later that year, he tried to bring about reconciliation between the new PNI and Partindo. When this effort failed he joined the Partindo party.

The Dutch colonial administration would not tolerate the development of a mass movement led by Partindo. Sukarno was arrested once again in 1933 and exiled to the island of Ende. Hatta was critical of Sukarno at this stage. He believed that Sukarno’s mass movement was untimely. Hatta emphasized a more moderate approach emphasizing disciplined noncooperation. The moderate approach was no more acceptable to the Dutch than the mass approach of Sukarno. With Sukarno and his Partindo out of the way the Dutch moved against the new PNI. Hatta was arrested along with other leaders of Partindo and imprisoned in Glodok.

When the Japanese occupied Indonesia in 1941 they transferred Hatta to Jakarta. Here he met up with Sukarno. The old animosities between the two were forgotten and the two together formed a tactical alliance with the Japanese to assist their war effort in return for a promise of independence. Sukarno, the consummate orator, infused a sense of nationhood in his people, trained them militarily and made them ready to fight the Dutch should they attempt to recolonize Indonesia. In November 1943, Hatta and Sukarno were honored by Emperor Hirohito of Japan for their cooperation with the Japanese.

The Japanese were at first lukewarm towards the independence of Indonesia. The islands were a rich source of men and materials, both essential for the war effort and sustaining the empire. After the battle of Midway (June 1942), the tide of the Pacific war turned in favor of the Allied powers. As the Japanese war crumbled and defeat seemed imminent, the Japanese hastily set up a Committee to prepare for the independence of Indonesia (BPUPKI).

On August 9, 1945, the Indonesian leaders Sukarno, Hatta and Radjiman were flown to Vietnam to meet with Japanese Air Marshall Terauchi. They were informed that Indonesia would be granted full independence on August 24. However, events overtook a planned, smooth transfer of power. The Americans dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima on August 6 and followed up with another bomb on Nagasaki on August 9.

Japan surrendered on August 15, 1945. The draft constitution of Indonesia was not yet ready. The news of Japan’s surrender had not reached the Indonesian masses. The political situation appeared confused and muddy. But the youth in Jakarta were impatient. There was the possibility that the Dutch would return in force after the cessation of hostilities. There was a historic sense of urgency. On the night of August 17, a group of nationalists met at the house of Sukarno, hoisted the national flag and declared the independence of Indonesia. The moment had come that Sukarno had dreamed of. The long servitude was over. The nightmare was dispelled, and the Indonesians cried out, “we are free at last”. Sukarno became the Father of the Nation and Hatta became a Proclamation Hero. Indonesia became a Republic.

The Dutch had no intention of relinquishing their colonies. For the European colonists, the war was a struggle to preserve their colonial empires for which the colonized people themselves were to shed their blood. On September 1, the Dutch governor for the , Van Mook requested the British commander in the Pacific, Mountbatten to occupy and hold the islands until Dutch forces arrive. On September 19, a contingent of British Indian troops landed in Jakarta and after fierce fighter occupied the city. Dutch prisoner of war, recently released from prison, formed the vanguard of Dutch troops and attacked Indonesian civilians. Facing the Dutch was the newly formed Republican army assembled from the cadets trained by the Japanese. The Republicans enjoyed broad mass support. For instance, early during the war the Nahdatul Ulama declared the independence struggle to be a national duty and proclaimed it a Jihad. The sultans of Yogya, Solo, Bone and the rajas of Bali declared their support for the Republic.

At the behest of the British, negotiations were held between Sukarno and the Dutch but they quickly broke down. On October 30 the British bombarded and occupied Surabaya. British led Indian troops arrived in November. Nehru strongly protested the use of Indian troops against the Indonesian Republic. As hostilities ensued, a large number of these troops defected to the Indonesian side. The unreliability of the Indian troops and the strong protests from the Indian nationalists was one reason the British withdrew from the islands. The Dutch took over from the British. At the beginning of 1946 there were as many as 20,000 Dutch troops on the island, a number that increased to more than 200,000 by July 1949. On July 4, 1946 the Philippines obtained its independence from the United States providing further impetus to the Indonesian struggle. In November 1946, by an agreement termed the Lingajatti agreement, the Dutch transferred Java, Sumatra and Madura to the Republic while setting up a Dutch ruled government in the eastern islands. This was totally unacceptable to the nationalists. The Dutch never implemented the Lingajatti agreement and in the summer of 1947 initiated hostilities against the republic and occupied Java and Madura and bombed the principal cities. A ceasefire was called and negotiations were held aboard the USS Renville under American auspices. The Renville agreement was favorable to the Dutch and recognized their control over forward positions occupied during their military thrust at the Republic. The major political parties in Indonesia rejected the agreement. Hostilities broke out again later that year and the Dutch made further advances. The United States which concerned that a prolonged colonial war may drive Indonesia into the Soviet orbit The US Senate passed a resolution to withhold funds allocated to the Netherlands under the Marshall Plan. The Dutch caved in under relentless diplomatic and economic pressure.

The war came to a negotiated end on December 27, 1949 and the Netherlands recognized the independence of Indonesia.

Sukarno was not only the father of Indonesian independence but was also the architect of political reconciliation between the Islamic, communist and secular modernist elements in Indonesia. Independence had been declared but there were competing visions for the future of Indonesia. The Islamic political parties pressed for an Islamic state with the Shariah as the basis for jurisprudence in the country. The communists were more concerned with the rights of the workers and the exploited peasants. The modernists sought a compromise between the secularism of the west and the religious leanings of the Islamic parties, focusing on development using western technology. Sukarno was a master compromiser. He was a democrat but a democrat with a difference. He felt that the one man vote democracy of the west would not be suitable for the vast and diverse population of Indonesia. Instead, he sought compromise and consensus between the various stakeholders including the Islamic ulema, the merchant community, the minority Christians, Chinese and Hindus, the army and the workers unions. He placated the religious elements by incorporating “belief in one God” in the constitution. He enlisted the support of the workers and peasants by emphasizing welfare programs for the poor and development programs for villages. His method of consensus building was dubbed “guided democracy”. Political parties were tolerated but without the paradigm of a national consensus.

Sukarno was equally innovative in foreign affairs. He realized that Indonesia, as a large but a newly emerging country, had a role to play in world affairs but not as part of a power bloc. The cold war took off just as Indonesia emerged from colonial domination. The principles on which he based his foreign policy were based on “Panch Sheela” (the five principles): (a) Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity (b) Non-aggression (c) Non-interference in each other’s affairs (d) Equality and mutual benefit, and (e) Peaceful co-existence. These principles were accepted as the basis of international relations by China, India, Egypt, Yugoslavia and a hosts of other countries. They formed the foundation of the so called “non-aligned movement” of which India’s Nehru, Egypt’s Nasser and Yugoslavia’s Tito were principal architects. Sukarno’s finest moment in foreign affairs came in 1955 when he played host to the non-aligned leaders at the Bandung conference. The non-aligned bloc played a significant part in the cold war preventing a total polarization of the world into two hostile blocs.

The communist party had its own checkered history in Indonesia and its involvement in the political process was not insignificant. The ruthless exploitation of the Indonesian peasants and workers by the Dutch spawned the communist movement on the islands. The peasants in Java worked as bonded labor, forced work long works in slimy conditions, subject to the whip or worse if they tried to escape, cowering before the merciless plantation owners and henchmen. The farmers were forced to cultivate cash crops at the expense of food and sell the cash crops to a Dutch monopoly. The Netherlands grew rich at the backs of the Indonesian peasants.

In 1912 Sarekat Islam as formed to protect the interests of the Muslim batik merchants. It was an all-inclusive organization that provided an umbrella for the nationalists, the socialists, the Islamists and the labor leaders. However, the tensions inherent in such a composite organization led to its gradual fragmentation. The Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 encouraged the labor movement in Indonesia and in 1920 the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) was formed. Attempts to organize the peasants and the workers alarmed the Dutch who banned the party and expelled its leaders. In response, the communist movement went partially underground and local.

In 1925-26 some units of the communist party staged minor rebellions in Metan, Jakarta and Surabaya. These insurrections were crushed and the party was disbanded.

It was not until the Second World War that the party made a serious attempt to reorganize. The Germans invaded Russia in June 1941 and Stalin formed an alliance with Great Britain and France. The Netherlands was a part of this alliance. This placed the communist party of Indonesia in a quandary. They had to choose between supporting their colonial masters or the nationalists who were opposed to them. The choice was made even more difficult when Japan entered the war and occupied Indonesia in March 1942. Many Indonesians welcomed the Japanese as liberators and offered to cooperate with them in return for a promise of independence. The KPI chose the path of resistance to the Japanese occupation. It cooperated with the Dutch to wage a sporadic guerrilla war against Japanese forces. For instance, Sjarifuddin, one of the leaders of the independence movement, worked covertly with the Dutch against the popular will of the people, and provided intelligence and other help to the allies.

After the declaration of independence in August 1945, a leftist organization, Barisan Tani Indonesia, was organized to help the farmers. Later, the same year, Sjarifuddin and others formed the Patai Socialis. The communists were slowly coming into their own. However, their leadership, Sjarifuddin and others, were not popular with the Indonesian army officers who had Islamic sympathies. The communists did not succeed in forming a strong central structure. In September 48, local elements of the PKI attempts a coupe in Madiun. The rebellion was crushed by the Republican army. The communist leaders either fled or were executed. The decisiveness with which the Republicans crushed the communist uprising paid off its dividends. It reinforced the perception in Washington that the independence movement in Indonesia was anti-communist, not communist inspired as Dutch propaganda was trying to portray. Ultimately it was the strong jawboning from Washington that compelled the Dutch to give up their Indonesian colonies.

The communists tried one more time to organize. In the early 1960s they were one of the largest and best organized political organizations in the country with over a million members. However, the party was implicated in a coupe attempt in September 1965. This time, the party and its sympathizers were obliterated by the army led by Suharto. Over a million people perished in the bloody retributions. It was not clear if the communists had a hand in the events of 1965. Some political analysts suspect an American hand in the attempted coupe and its aftermath. However, the proof for foreign involvement in the events of 1965 is not as compelling as it is for instance in the overthrow of Musaddaq in Iran in 1953. The communist party never recovered from the debacle of 1965.

Indonesia prospered under Suharto but ultimately lost its economic independence to the IMF and the World Bank in the crash of 1995. We shall cover this part of the Indonesian story in another chapter.

Afghanistan, Land of Valor, Land of Sorrow

Afghanistan, Land of Valor, Land of Sorrow

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

If there was an angel sitting on top the Hindu Kush mountains looking down on Afghanistan, he would shed a tear for each of the last three thousand years and each tear would be an ocean large enough to cause flooding in both the Kabul River and the Amu Darya. Afghanistan is a land of sorrow, invaded time and again over the centuries, ravaged by mighty conquerors and ruthless destroyers. Necessity has made the people of the land valiant warriors, resisting the writ of foreigners. Today, they stand at a point in history when the destructive force of technological warfare unleashed by nations thousands of miles away threatens to overwhelm them and drag Pakistan into the consequent whirlpool.

The history of Afghanistan is dictated by its geography. It sits on a mountainous plateau at the intersection of axes connecting India, Central Asia, Mesopotamia and China. Ancient caravans plying their goods between these great centers of civilization passed through its valleys. Mighty conquerors, in their grandiose schemes to extend their sway over other lands, were forced to scale its mountains and negotiate its narrow passes. Sitting as it does at the cross roads of trade between Central and South Asia, it was fought over time and again by invading armies who were almost always resisted and ultimately expelled by the Afghans.

The term “Afghan” has been used for at least a thousand years in Farsi. Al Baruni mentions it in his book Tareek e Hind (1031CE). The celebrated world traveler Ibn Batuta who passed through Afghanistan circa 1332 CE uses the term Afghan in his Rehla to refer to the people around Kabul. Although different explanations are offered to explain the term, the word probably has its origin in “fughan” meaning echo, or wailing. It perhaps connotes the multiple echoes that resound from the valleys that are surrounded by mountains. The song of a farmer, the ballad of a mendicant or the adhan of a muezzin echoes many times over and comes back to you in degrees of amplification and subsidence. In modern times the term “fughan” most aptly describes the wailing of its women and children caught in the gristmill of invasions from Russia and the United States, and its unending and brutal civil wars. In any case, the term Afghan is a matter of identity. The Pashtun speaking people refer to themselves as Afghan. Today, it connotes a nationality within the broadly agreed upon boundaries of the modern nation of Afghanistan.

The strategic location of Afghanistan, its isolation and its checkered and turbulent history have subjected its people to multiple tensions. The mountainous and harsh terrain has fostered a culture where the tribe and family provide cohesion and support for survival. Over the centuries, invading armies have intermingled with the local populations and have left their traces on the ethnic makeup of different tribes who are often at loggerheads with each other for turf and booty. The constant threat of invasion has made the people tough and resilient who value valor and courage and has molded the men and women of Hindu Kush into warriors who value valor and courage. Sandwiched between mighty empires, Afghanistan has been squeezed from all sides and perforce must accommodate or fight off the foreign pressures. The story of Afghanistan is one of continuous resistance to foreigners. Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Timurlane, Safavid Iran, Mogul India, Czarist Russia, the British Empire, the Soviet Union and now the United States all had a taste of Afghan resistance. In modern times, its strategic location has increased as sits astride potential oil and gas pipelines from the Asian heartland to the ports of the Arabian Sea. The mad rush for energy resources puts Afghanistan squarely in the midst of the strategic competition between the United States and China.

Afghanistan has also been an ideational caldron. Traditional Islam flourished for a thousand years. More recently, fundamentalism and extremism, part home grown, part imported from Saudi Arabia have taken hold. Hence, a modern Afghan is torn apart between tribalism, traditional Islam, fundamentalism, modernism, ethnic discord and great power rivalry. The tensions induced by these multiple pulls have made it impossible for these valiant people to seek their own soul and renew themselves from within.

The invasions and the ideas have left their traces on the land. The present boundaries of Afghanistan were carved out in the 19th century between the British and Soviet empires who were competing for political and economic advantage in Central Asia. The modern history of Afghanistan is a search for a transcendental idea which supersedes the ethnical, linguistic and national pulls. The task would be difficult under any circumstances. But the interference of the neighboring countries and of the global powers has made the task well neigh impossible. Monarchy, communism and Islam have been tried as the transcendent ideas to cement together a modern nation, but each has proven to be inadequate in a matrix largely dominated by feudalism and tribalism.

Afghanistan was one of the earliest lands to attract human settlement and civilized habitation. Between 2000 CE and 3000 CE the Aryans, migrating out of Central Asia, settled the land. The kingdom of Aryana (land of Aryans) straddled the plateau between the Indus and Amu Darya and included Afghanistan, Tadzhikistan, eastern Iran and western Pakistan. The Indus Valley civilization thrived between the lower Indus delta and the Hindu Kush Mountains between 2500 CE and 1900 CE. The Rig Veda, one of the Hindu classics, was composed in Afghanistan (2500-1500 BC). Some scholars maintain that the Sanskrit language may have been born in this region.

In the 7th century BC, Darius of Persia extended his empire into Afghanistan. Cyrus the Great consolidated the empire and Persian influence grew. Zoroastrianism and Aramaic were introduced as was centralized administration. The Persian Empire was cosmopolitan and included Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Central Asians and Indians. The extent of the empire facilitated the flow of ideas and great scholars such as Panini graced the period.

Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire (332 BC). Despite heavy resistance which lasted more than three years, Afghanistan and the eastern provinces of Persia fell to the advancing Greeks. Alexander’s armies reached the Indus and then turned south to march back to their homeland through the Makran desert. After the death of Alexander (323 BC), his extensive empire split and Kabul and Peshawar were absorbed into the empire of Seleucus. The Greeks left their mark on the language, art and sculpture of the land. Intermarriages were common and some of the tribes in the region trace their lineage to Alexander.

As the Greek empire disintegrated, eastern Afghanistan and modern day Pakistan were incorporated into the Maurya Empire based in north India. The third Mauryan emperor, Ashoka converted to Buddhism circa 250 BC after he was revolted by the bloodshed in the battle of Kalinga. He sent Buddhist emissaries to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Greece and Egypt. Buddhism spread throughout central Asia, Tibet, Western China, India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

In the first century AD the Kushan Empire incorporated Afghanistan and Northern India in its fold. At its height the empire included Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Sinkiang, Eastern Iran, Afghanistan and northern India. It produced a synthesis of Buddhist and Greek culture, art and sculpture. King Kanishka, circa 130 AD, was its greatest king. He was a devout Buddhist. He is known to have convened a World Conference of Buddhists in Kashmir and to have erected a monumental tower, 700 feet tall, in Peshawar.

In the third century, the Kushan Empire disintegrated. Invasions from the north followed. The white Huns, descending from Central Asia overran all of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Sinkiang, Kashmir and the Punjab. In the 6th century, they were defeated by the Persians and Afghanistan once again became a province of the Persian Empire. It was during this period, even as the Buddhist influence in Central Asia waned that the giant statues of Buddha, revered by Buddhists all over the world, were carved out in Bamyan and the surrounding hills.

In the 7th century, Arab armies burst out of the Arabian Desert and rapidly overran the Persian Empire which included a major portion of Afghanistan. Kabul fell in the year 674 CE. The Arabs did not force their religion on the local population and it was not until the 10th century that Islam spread in the mountains of Hindu Kush through Muslim migrations from Central Asia.

In the 10th century, the Turkic Ghaznavis captured Afghanistan and made Ghazna their capital. Mahmud Ghaznavi (d 1030) was the most powerful of the Ghanavid sultans. He ruled over a kingdom stretching from Amu Darya in Uzbekistan to Gujarat in India, from Lahore in Pakistan to Tabriz in Iran. He is best known for his many raids into India which brought him extensive riches but which also left a bitter legacy of ill will among the Hindus of India. Mahmud was a patron of literature, art and architecture. He embellished his capital with many fine buildings. The celebrated historian Al Baruni graced his court. Some Afghans consider the Ghaznavid period to be their historical golden age.

The Ghaznavid Empire weakened after the death of Mahmud and was overrun by nomadic Turks from beyond the Amu Darya. One of these tribes, the Ghorids captured Ghazna and went on to conquer northern India (1192 CE) and paved the way for successive Muslim dynasties who ruled for more than five hundred years.

In 1219, Genghis Khan descended upon Central Asia and ravaged Khorasan, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. Great cities were razed, libraries burned, scholars impaled and dams were destroyed turning fertile valleys into deserts. The destruction was so complete that many of the ravaged lands never recovered from the destruction. The Afghans resisted the Mongols and paid a heavy price for it. In one of the battles near Bamyan, the Mongols suffered a reversal and a grandson of Genghis Khan was killed. In retribution, Genghis razed Bamyan and the surrounding areas to the ground, killed the men and enslaved the women and children. Even the Mongol historians referred to Bamyan as the city of sorrow. Genghis advanced up to the Indus River, and then turned around in 1223 CE leaving behind a trail of death and destruction in vast swaths of Central Asia.

The Ghorids briefly reclaimed Afghanistan in the following century but the country was almost continuously fought over by the Uzbeks, Turkomans, Persians and the Afghans. Timurlane advanced through Kabul (1397 CE) on his way to Delhi destroying it once again. In the year 1509 CE, Babur, an Uzbek prince and a great grandson of Timur, captured Kabul and briefly made it his capital (1509-1526). In 1526, he defeated the Lodhis of Delhi and founded the Mogul dynasty of India. For the next two hundred years, Kabul and the Pashtu speaking regions of Afghanistan were a part of the Mogul empire. The northern areas were controlled by the Uzbeks while Kandahar in the South was wrested from the Moguls by the Safavids of Persia (1622CE). Afghan uprisings against the foreign dynasties continued but it was not until 1708 under Mir Wais that the Afghans were finally successful in retaking Kandahar from the Safavids and establishing their own rule. The Persians returned under Nadir Shah (1738 CE) but the Afghans reasserted themselves under Ahmed Shah Durrani (d 1773). Ahmed Shah expanded the Afghan domains to include all of modern Afghanistan, Pakistan, eastern Iran, and portions of north India. Durrani is celebrated as a hero of Afghan resistance. However, in the 18th century, the implosion of the Mogul and Safavid dynasties rapidly took over Afghanistan too and it fell into disarray and internecine warfare. Peshawar was occupied by the Sikhs and Herat by the Persians.

In the 19th century Afghanistan became the prize in the “great game” played between Czarist Russia and the British Empire. Russia coveted Afghanistan because it was a possible outlet to the warm waters of the Arabian Sea. The British interest was to contain Russia and advance its own economic interests. After the Anglo-Sikh wars (1845-49) and the fall of the Sikhs in the Punjab, the British made several attempts to capture and control Afghanistan. The Afghans were triumphant in the first Anglo-Afghan war of 1939-45. However, the British returned during the second Anglo-Afghan war of 1878-80 and forced the Afghans into accepting British supervision over their foreign affairs. Meanwhile, the galactic advance of the Russian armies swallowed up Samarqand, Bukhara, and the Fargana Valley (1868-73) while the British occupied Baluchistan (1858) reducing Afghanistan to a landlocked kingdom completely dependent on external powers for access to the outside world. The Treaty of 1878 fixed the borders between Afghanistan and Russia but did not end the rivalry between the two great powers. The British invaded Afghanistan once again and forced the Emir of Kabul to cede the areas east of the Khyber Pass. The Durand line separated British India from Afghanistan but was not recognized by the Afghans. It became a bone of contention between the modern states of Afghanistan and Pakistan and is currently a hot spot in the ongoing American led war against the Taliban.

Afghanistan was neutral during the First World War. Despite enormous pressures from the Turks and from some of his own people, Emir Habibullah of Kabul stayed out of the war. In the later stages of the War, the Turks contemplated an attack on British India through the Turkoman regions of the Russian empire and Afghanistan. The calculation was that the predominantly Muslim populations of Southern Russia, Afghanistan and northwest India (today’s Pakistan) would rise up against the Allies and help the Turkish war effort. It was a strategic calculation which if successful would have turned the tables against the Allied powers. The temptation to be responsive to such an overture from Turkey was enormous. Istanbul was at the time the seat of the Caliphate and the spiritual center of Sunni Islam. But the Ottomans were militarily too week to successfully conduct such an audacious campaign. For the Afghans, the neutrality paid off and Afghanistan emerged with its prewar boundaries intact, an outcome notably different from those of Ottoman territories in the Middle East that were carved up between the British and the French.

Scanning the decades since the First World War, a few milestones that shaped the destiny of Afghanistan stand out. First, it was the ascension of King Amanullah in 1919 and his success in evicting the British. Second, the dethroning of King Amanullah in 1929. Third, it was the coupe against king Zahir Shah by his own brother in law Dawud in 1973. Fourth, it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Fifth, it was the rise of the Taliban in 1995-96. And lastly, it was the American bombardment and invasion in 2001. Each of these milestones stand out in succession, each contributing to the tragedies that have enveloped this hapless land.

Shortly after the First World War, King Habibullah was assassinated (1919) and Amanullah ascended the throne of Kabul. This marks the beginning of the modern phase of Afghan history. Amanullah organized armed resistance against the British and after a decisive military campaign forced the British to relinquish their hold on Afghan affairs.

King Amanullah was a far sighted monarch. He desired to take Afghanistan out of the middle ages and into the modern age. An open admirer of Ataturk, he travelled to Istanbul to observe and learn from the Turkish experience. Ataturk had banned the wearing of the beards and the fez, forbidden women to wear the hijab, discarded the Arabic script and had adopted the Roman script for the Turkish language. Amanullah contemplated similar reforms for Afghanistan. Ataturk advised him against it saying that the experience of each country was different and what works in one culture may not work in another. Amanullah did introduce a few reforms. He built schools, universities, roads, hospitals and encouraged intellectuals to participate in the modernization of Afghanistan. The noted journalist Mahmud Tarzi was among those who answered the call and started journalism in Kabul.

In 1929 King Amanullah was overthrown by a warlord Bacha Saqaw in a coupe which many Afghans suspect was engineered by the British who would not tolerate a modernized Afghanistan next door to a colonized British India. This was a tragedy for Afghanistan from which it never recovered. It took the Afghans away from gradual, sustained reforms towards escalating chaos, alternating between extremist religion and anarchic communism. Bacha was the son of a water carrier. Upon usurping the throne, he took the title of Habibulla Kalakani. He was an illiterate and incompetent man who surrounded himself with similarly illiterate men. He nullified the reforms instituted by Amanullah and installed a fundamentalist regime. Intellectuals were banished. His excesses were too much even for the normally conservative Afghans. Within a short time this corrupt regime was overthrown by General Nadir Khan. His rule, however, was short lived and he was murdered in 1933. His son Zahir Shah became the king. There was no change in the tribal structure of Afghan society during Zahir Shah’s rule and he depended on his immediate family to oversee the affairs of state. Zahir Shah had the good sense to keep Afghanistan neutral during the Second World War. Things changed after the war and the departure of the British from the subcontinent. The new nations of Pakistan and Afghanistan were embroiled in the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union. The West touted its free markets and personal freedoms while the Soviets emphasized social development and class harmony. These slogans meant little to the emergent countries who were struggling to find their way out of colonialism, and the principal issues they faced were forging national identities and laying the foundation of economies that would help alleviate poverty, disease and hunger.

As long as the British were the masters of India, Afghanistan was too weak militarily to press its case on its borders with the Indian empire. When Pakistan emerged as a new nation, Kabul sensed an opportunity. In 1949 Afghanistan declared its support for an independent Pakhtoonistan embracing the Pashto speaking areas of NW Frontier and formally demanded negotiations with Pakistan on this issue. Pakistan, which was itself a composite of four ethnic groups, and had received an enormous influx of refugees from India saw in the demand for a Pakhtoon state an attempt at its own dismemberment.

Meanwhile, the new nations of India and Pakistan were embroiled in their dispute over Kashmir. Sensing its own weakness, Pakistan turned to the United States for support. The support did come but at a price. Pakistan joined the American sponsored Baghdad Pact (CENTO) and the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) and agreed to base American U2 planes in Peshawar. Afghanistan also appealed to the United States for support. But Pakistan was a much bigger prize than Afghanistan. After an assessment from the then Vice President Nixon, the request was turned down. A frustrated Kabul turned to Moscow for help which was more than willing to oblige. Moscow saw an opportunity to extend its influence beyond its borders and realize its age old dream to reach warm waters. With Afghanistan in its camp, there would only be the deserts of Baluchistan between the southern borders of its influence and the Arabian Sea. There were disgruntled elements within Baluchistan, on all sides of the Iran-Pakistan-Afghan border who could be used by Moscow to gain access to the sea. Thus began the long march of both Afghanistan and Pakistan towards big power involvement in their national destinies.

In 1953 Daud, a brother in law of King Zahir became the prime minister of Afghanistan. An ardent supporter of the Pashtuns, he pushed the dispute over Pakhtoonistan both on the political and military front. He was supported in these efforts by the Soviet Union and India, each of whom had their own interests in the Pakistan-Afghanistan dispute. Afghan cadets were sent to the Soviet Union for military training where they received a heavy dose of communist ideological propaganda. Upon their return to their native land, they formed the nucleus of a power base oriented toward Moscow. This was the beginning of Afghan flirtation with the Soviet Union which was to result twenty years later in outright invasion and occupation from its northern neighbor.

Across the border, Pakistan was increasingly drawn into the American embrace. The die was cast with Pakistan in the American orbit and Afghanistan in the Soviet orbit. Both countries stuck to their feigned non-alignment but their cooption into the spheres of influence of contesting cold war superpowers was apparent to any outside observer. Foreign arms flowed to both sides of the border until the two nations almost went to war in 1961 but had the good sense to step back from the brink and seek peaceful discourse.

Power is the arbitrator of politics. Equality in a political alliance is possible only between nations of equal power. A political pact between a great power and a weak nation is like an alliance between a giant and a pigmy. The pigmy must necessarily follow the giant. When they fight on the same side, the giant gets all the glory and the pigmy ends up with a lame foot. It is like water pressure. When a giant tower is connected by a pipe with a bathtub, water must necessarily flow from the tower to the bathtub. During the cold war many a nation tried to play off the Soviet Union against the United States. In almost every case, the result was predictably the same. The weaker nation ended up as a satellite of one of the great powers.

The Pakhtoon dispute cost Daud his job and he was fired by King Zahir in 1963. The new prime minister, Mohammed Yusuf steered the kingdom towards constitutional monarchy. Political parties, previously banned, were now allowed and elections were held for a democratically elected parliament. The chief beneficiaries of the liberalization of political process were the Marxists. The communist party of Afghanistan, PDPA, was organized in 1965 by Taraki, Amin, Najibullah and Babrak Karmal. There were other political parties as well, some claiming to represent Islam. But the principal difference was that while the other parties were political, PDPA was a political as well as an ideological party which believed that the ends justified the means. Its fatal flaw was that it sought its cues from Moscow and was beholden more to international interests than national interests. Some communists were elected to the parliament but continued to instigate riots to discredit the elected government and pave the way of a violent overtake of the kingdom.

Fresh elections in 1972 brought in a new Prime Minister Mohammed Musa. But the communists were impatient. They incited Daoud, a cousin and brother in law of the king, to overthrow the monarchy. In a coupe organized jointly from inside the palace by Daoud and outside the palace by the communist party, the king was overthrown. Daoud declared himself president of a new republic and promulgated liberal reforms to bring women into public life and encourage education. But he was no more than a show boy for the communists who were biding their time to take over the country. A series of attempted coupes and counter coupes followed, often with the connivance of the Soviet Union. Finally Daoud was killed in 1978. Instability follows and after several move coupes and counter coupes, Karmal became the prime minister and signed a “Treaty of Friendship” with the Soviet Union. The Afghan hug with the Russian bear got tighter.

History is witness that a civilization must seek its renewal from within. Reforms that are imposed from without are resisted and are ultimately thrown out. The Marxist movement in Muslim Asia failed time and again because it was perceived as a foreign element imposing its methods, its processes and its philosophy on the local populations. The history of Indonesia and Afghanistan bears witness to this observation. During the 20th century, the communists built up considerable influence in both Indonesia and Afghanistan. In both cases, they failed because their methods of disruption and sabotage were unacceptable to the people. Karmal was a communist and man in a hurry to transform his country. When he was in the Afghan parliament he encouraged disruption so that the legitimate government would be unsuccessful. When he seized power he imposed changes on a traditional culture that was not ready for change. Resistance was inevitable.

The resistance of the Afghan people to communist rule invited brutal repression. The Karmal junta engaged in mass killings and torture to force the population into submission. The result was the opposite. Resistance escalated and a coalition of Mujahedeen was born. The Soviet Union, sensing a historic opportunity to enlarge its sphere of influence around its borders, at first provided material assistance to contain the resistance movement, and when that did not work, invaded outright with tanks and troops in 1979 to prop up the communist regime.

The forward advance of the Red Army alarmed Washington which was hitherto preoccupied with the Khomeini Revolution in Iran (1978) and the overthrow of the Shah. President Carter made a decision to send military assistance to the Mujahedeen through Pakistan. Financial help flowed in from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. The struggle attracted a large number of volunteers from the neighboring countries as well as from the Arab world who felt it was their religious obligation to free their Afghan brothers from the godless communist Soviets. Among those who made his way to Afghanistan was Osama bin Laden. Osama was the scion of a Saudi billionaire family. His first stated objective was the expulsion of American troops from Saudi soil. As time went on, he expanded his objective to include reform of the Saudi political system. Expelled from Saudi Arabia, he first sought refuge in the Sudan. The Sudanese government buckled under American pressure and asked him to leave. Osama found refuge in the mountains of Afghanistan. There he married the daughter of Mullah Omar, one of the firebrand mullahs who rose to notoriety in later years. This marriage of convenience was to prove fateful for Afghanistan in the aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11.

The Soviets tried trading their satraps. In 1986 Karmal was replaced by Najibullah. The arrival of stinger missiles neutralized any advantage that the Soviets enjoyed in the air. After losing tens of thousands of men and spending billions, the invaders realized they could not hold Afghanistan and they withdrew in 1989 leaving the communists to their fate.

Fighting continued between the Mujahedeen and the forces of Najibullah culminating in the victory of the Mujahedeen in 1993. However, victory did not bring peace to the hapless Afghans. The warlords who had temporarily buried their differences under the umbrella of the Mujahedeen were soon at each other’s throat, fighting for turf and terrain. Rabbani took over the northwest. Dostum controlled Mazar e Sharif. Hikmatyar was the chieftain in Herat. Yunus Khalis held sway over Jalalabad and Pashtun areas. Much of the country was destroyed. Thousands perished. Children died and women were abused. Agriculture suffered. Schools were closed. The infrastructure was in ruins. The flood of refugees into Pakistan and Iran which had started during the occupation by the Soviets increased. Afghanistan became a macabre theater of war in which a suffering, hapless population was held hostage.

The instability was a matter of concern to the ruling circles in neighboring Pakistan who were host to over three million Afghan refugees. As successive waves of refugees poured in across the Durand Line to escape the violence in their native land, they were cared for by a host of Islamic organizations in the NW Frontier Province of Pakistan. Since there were no schools for children, the Jamaat e Islam and other Islamic organizations set up madrasas to provide a modicum of education to the refugee children. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries provided much of the funding for this education. These madrasas became the focus of official Pakistan attention. Without the benefit of a modern syllabus, the madrasas produced graduates imbued with rigid doctrines that viewed all non-Islamic influences as alien that had to be fought and expelled.

Pakistan saw an opportunity to use the graduates of the madrasas for a jihad in Afghanistan. Besides the obvious benefits of a stable backyard, Islamic Afghanistan would also provide strategic depth to Pakistan in its military confrontations with India. The students and some of the faculty of the refugee madrasas provided the backbone of the Taliban (literally, student) movement that considered it a religious duty to wage a jihad to liberate Afghanistan from all alien influences and bring in stability in accordance with a rigid and unbending interpretation of Islam. In this endeavor they received covert and overt assistance from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, and a tolerant nod from Washington.

The Taliban, joined by many erstwhile mujahideen and idealist youth, made rapid gains against the warlords. In 1996 they captured Kabul. The warlords were pushed into a small enclave in Northern Afghanistan around Mazar e Sharif.

The Taliban brought stability to the country and controlled the opium trade. However, the price for this stability was the imposition of a rigid, extremist regime in Kabul. The participation of women in public life was banned. Women were compelled to wear head to toe chadurs and shrouds, and men to grow their beards long. Television was banned and cinema houses closed. Magazines were censored for their pictures and their content. Vice squads were organized to patrol the streets. Violators of the rigid behavioral code were severely and publicly flogged. In 2001, the Taliban, at the orders of Mulla Omar, dynamited the famous Buddha status of Bamyan. These statues were carved out of sandstone in the 6th century CE and were the finest examples of Gandhara Buddhist sculpture. They were declared UNESCO world heritage sites. The demolition of the statues drew worldwide condemnation and vehement protests from the Buddhist world.

The extremist ideology of the Taliban was matched only by their political naïveté. The increasing competition for the dwindling energy resources of the world put Afghanistan squarely in the midst of oil politics. The discovery of oil and gas in the Caspian Sea region increased the strategic importance of Afghanistan. There were only two routes available to transport the oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to the oil thirsty nations of Western Europe, United States, India and China. One was through Iran but the participation of Iran in any oil venture was opposed by the United States which was at loggerheads with the Iranian regime since the Islamic revolution of 1978. The other route lay through Afghanistan and Pakistan. A proposal for such a pipeline originating in Turkmenistan and passing through western Afghanistan and Baluchistan to Karachi was presented to the Taliban government by UNOCAL, a US-Saudi consortium. It was rejected in favor of an alternate proposal from the Argentine corporation Bridas. The hardliners in Washington bridled at this rejection. It provided an added excuse to get rid of the Taliban and have them replaced by a more pliant government.

On September 11, 2001, the twin towers at the World Trade Center were attacked. The horrendous attack took the lives of almost 3,000 people and caused billions in economic loss. In its sheer mendacity, the attack was comparable to that on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The United States accused Al Qaeda of carrying out the attacks and demanded that the Taliban in Afghanistan turn over Ben Laden and his cohorts to the US. The Taliban, inexperienced in global affairs, demanded proof for Al Qaeda complicity. A diplomatic standoff ensued. Despite the advice of their friends in Pakistan, the Taliban did not budge. Within a month, the United States commenced its bombing of Afghanistan. Simultaneously, the Northern Alliance was provided arms and encouragement to break out of its enclave and take over the country.

The sustained, intense bombing obliterated the military infrastructure of Afghanistan. Destroyed were the mountain hideouts and caves so carefully prepared during the Soviet occupation for a long guerilla war. The Taliban reeled under pressure of aerial bombardment from the United States and ground attacks from the Northern Alliance. Thousands died. Civilian casualties were enormous. The Northern Alliance overran Kabul and on the way committed atrocities to avenge of the humiliation of earlier defeats.

The United States installed a new government in Kabul. Hamid Karzai became the President of Afghanistan in 2004 in an American backed government. The presence of foreign troops fueled an insurgency backed by the former Taliban. As resistance increased, so did the military presence of the United State and its NATO allies. And the war continues with increasing intensity fueled by the obscurantism of the Taliban and the fears of an obdurate, overcommitted superpower run by neocons.

Meanwhile, the suffering of the Afghan people continues with no end in sight. Refugees rot in camps in Pakistan and Iran. Children die from land mines. Famine threatens millions. Education and culture have come to a grinding halt. Women continue to bear the brunt of the tragedies and are exploited and abused both inside and outside their land. The war threatens to spill over into Pakistan and place it squarely in the bulls eye. An unstable Afghanistan poses a grave risk to all of its neighbors. A neutral Afghanistan, allied neither with the United States nor with Russia or China, with open frontiers for the passage of oil and gas, and respect for the traditions of its ancient people and its Islamic heritage would be in the best interests of all. Whether this comes to pass will depend as much on the actions of the Afghans as the regional intentions of the United States.

Pakistan – Tradition, Reform and Modernism

Pakistan – Tradition, Reform and Modernism in the Emergence of Pakistan

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

An important element in the emergence of Pakistan was the confluence of traditional and reformist Islam. Modernist elements were largely absent. The one person, who alone could have provided a modernist thrust, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, passed away soon after partition. Pakistan was launched into the post WWII world with the tensions between tradition, reform and modernism pulling it in different directions. These tensions continue to exist within a largely tribal, feudal structure in parts of Pakistan and explain many of the difficulties facing it today.

It is useful to define our terminology at the outset. Traditional Islam has different meanings in different parts of the Islamic world. In the context of the subcontinent, it is the spiritual Islam that was introduced by the Awliya and the Sufi Shaikhs. It has a heavy content of Persian and Central Asian cultural influences. This is the Islam of Khwaja Moeenuddin Chishti of Ajmer, Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi of the Punjab and Shaikh Abdul Qader Jeelani of Baghdad. Reform, in the context of the subcontinent has two branches. The first one aims to remove the accretion of medieval practices in Sufism and emphasizes the Sunnah of the Prophet. The reformist Sufi tareeqas belong to this category. There is a second, concomitant reform movement that repudiates tasawwuf altogether and aims to bring Muslim practices in line with what is transmitted through Hadith and the kitabischools. The Wahhabi and Nadwa schools belong to this category. By contrast, modern Islam has its vision on the future. It sees Islam as a continual spiritual renewal in an expanding universe. It considers history to be an unceasing struggle of man within the bounds established by divine command. It seeks a dynamic presence in a shrinking globe that is guided by science, technology and increasing interactions across civilizational interfaces. A genuine modern Islam, embracing both spirituality and technology, is yet to emerge.

Islam in Pakistan is a product of Sufism, as it is in much of the subcontinent. Pakistan became a possibility when traditional Sufi Islam in the Punjab shifted its allegiance from an inclusive, traditional, rural based political system to the promise of an exclusive, reformist, urban political system. The internal tensions that continue to tear at the Pakistan body politic are a result of the interactions between tradition, reform and modernism. In this series of articles, I will briefly survey how the influence of traditional Sufi Islam in the Punjab was pivotal in the critical events leading to partition.

Geography defines history. Pakistan is separated from Afghanistan by more than 1500 miles of a sinuous border running through hilly, picturesque terrain. The Khyber Pass has been the historic route for the influx of traders, scholars and conquerors from Central Asia and the Middle East into the Indo-Gangetic plains. The Aryans in ancient times, Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC, Chengiz Khan in the 13th century CE, and the Moguls in the 16th century CE took this route to India.

To the south the desolate Makran desert straddles Baluchistan on the Pakistan-Iran border. It extends deep into the province of Sindh and yields unwillingly to the delta of the great Indus River. It was this desert that Alexander attempted to cross on his way back from India in 334 BC. Many a Greek soldier died from thirst and disease. The unmerciful desert did not spare the life of Alexander who fell ill and died near Babylon in 334 CE.

To the north, the Silk Road to China winds through the mountains in Gilgit. Ancient caravans plied this perilous route carrying silk and pottery from China and returning with ivory, spices, gold and Buddhist manuscripts from India. The road, expanded and widened in modern times, serves as a vital link between Pakistan and China.

Modern Pakistan sits astride the intersection of three axes. The first one connects the Indian subcontinent with Iran and the Middle East. The second one connects India with Central Asia. The third connects India with China. Thus Pakistan lies at the confluence of three civilizations: the Vedic Hindu civilization of India, the Islamic Persian civilization of Iran and Central Asia, and the Buddhist-Islamic civilization of western China. The discovery of oil in the 20th century also puts it on the major oil pipeline routes leading from the Caspian Sea and the Persian Gulf to the Arabian Sea.

Summarily, a geographic definition of Pakistan is that it is the interface between Islamic Persia, Buddhist western China and Vedic India. Geographically, the area west of the IndusRiver is a continuation of the Central Asia plateau on which Iran, Afghanistan and the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan are located. The Indus and its five tributaries, Jhelum, Chenab, Sutlej, Ravi and Beas irrigate the fertile plains of Punjab. The Kabul River brings in the waters from melting snows in the mountains of Eastern Afghanistan. To the south, the Makran desert from Iran stretches into Baluchistan and Sindh and is interrupted only by the delta of the great Indus River.

Topographically, Sindh forms a part of the deserts surrounding the Persian Gulf region. The NW frontier is an extension of the hills of Afghanistan, and the Punjab is the beginning of the great Indian plains. The history of Pakistan reflects this strategic location.

In the 8th century, as the Arab Empire extended westward into Spain and eastward into western China, the province of Sindh came into the Islamic orbit through an accident of history By the year 700 CE Baluchistan was a part of the Umayyad Empire and Sindh was a border state between India and the Arab Empire. The littoral people of the Gulf carried on a brisk trade in spices, ivory and perfumes. Security on the high seas was poor and the treasures aboard the ships were a frequent target of pirates. Legend has it that it was one of these acts of piracy that brought the Arab armies to India. In the year 707 a merchant ship belonging to an Iraqi merchant was attacked by Indian pirates. The crew and the passengers aboard the ship were carried off to Sindh where they were imprisoned by the Raja of Daibul. Iraq was a province of the Omayyad Empire and the governor of the province Hajjaj bin Yusuf wrote to the Raja asking him to free the prisoners. The Raja refused.

The irate Hajjaj sent a continent of troops under Ubaidulla bin Binham to free the prisoners. Ubaidulla was defeated and killed by forces of the Raja. Hajjaj was determined that an act of piracy against a ship belonging to the Umayyad realm should not go unpunished. The exotic land of Sindh with its fabled wealth was an added attraction for the Arabs. Hajjaj assembled a seasoned cavalry of 7000 horsemen and dispatched it under the command of Mohammed bin Qasim. For military triumph and political consolidation, the offensive weapons must be stronger than the defensive weapons. The Arabs had acquired the technology for siege engines from China and had improved upon them, mounting them on wheels, and stabilizing the launch platform. One such assault engine, the minjanique, could hurl a two hundred pound stone over a distance of three hundred yards. In addition, the rapid enveloping movements of the Arab cavalry was more than a match for the more static Indian defenses which relied heavily on elephant mounted armor and infantry. The combination of technology and tactics provided the Arabs a decisive military advantage over their adversaries.

At age of 17, Mohammed bin Qasim was one of the ablest generals in the Umayyad armies. Paying attention to details, he ordered the cavalry to move by land and shipped heavy assault engines by sea. Starting his campaigns near the modern city of Karachi, he moved rapidly to capture Panjore and Armabel and advanced towards Debal. The Raja of Debal closed the gates of the city and locked himself inside his fortress. A long siege ensued. The assault engines hammered the city walls day in and day out taking them down brick by brick. Finally, the mighty fortress walls collapsed, the city fell, the Raja fled and the Arab prisoners were released.

From Debal, Mohammed bin Qasim advanced north, and in a series of campaigns captured Sistan, Bahraj, Cutch, Arore, Karej and Jiore. The Raja of Sindh fell at the battle of Jiore. Baluchistan and Sindh were added to the Umayyad Empire. The Arab armies moved up the Indus River. In 713, Multan fell, opening up the vast Punjab plains to the invading armies. Mohammed bin Qasim added portions of southern Punjab to his conquests and crossed the Indus to its eastern banks. But just as he was preparing for a decisive showdown with the rajas of eastern Punjab, the political situation in Iraq changed and Mohammed bin Qasim was called back to Basra. Following a pattern they had established in Iran and Egypt, the conquering Arabs set up military cantonments in Debal and Multan but made no attempts to convert the local population as long as they paid the taxes and accepted the protection of the Umayyad governor.

In the year 717, Omar bin Abdel Azeez became the Caliph in Baghdad. Unlike his predecessors, he was a pious man with a noble vision. He gave up the lavish, profligate ways of the Umayyads, adopted an ascetic lifestyle, abolished unfair taxation on Iran, Egypt and Sindh, engaged the dissidents in dialogue, and treated the population of his vast realm with equity and justice. Attracted by his piety and fairness, many of the Zoroastrians in Persia, Coptic Christians in Egypt, Buddhists in Central Asia and Hindus in Sindh accepted Islam. Historically, this was the first wave of conversion in the Islamic world after the death of the Prophet. However, court intrigue in the palaces of Baghdad intervened once again. Omar bin Abdel Azeez was poisoned in 719 and the far reaching reforms initiated by him came to a halt. So did the process of conversion.

The Abbasids took over from the Umayyads in 751 CE, founded the city of Baghdad, encouraged learning and shifted their focus from conquest to trade. Arab and Persian merchants established colonies all along the rim of the Indian Ocean including Hermuz in Persia, Aden, Yemen, Dar es Salam in Tanzania, Cochinin India, Debal in Sindh, Multan in Punjab, Malacca in Malaysia and Canton in China. Arabic became the lingua franca of the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. The traders mingled and intermarried with the local populations. Impressed by their piety, integrity, fairness and egalitarian discipline, many entered the fold of Islam. Conversion was especially brisk along the Malabar Coast of India.

It was with the advent of Fatimid rule in Egypt in the 10th century that conversion picked up in what is today Pakistan. I have in my books on Islam in Global History explained in some detail the religious, political and military events in North Africa and the Middle East surrounding the emergence of the Fatimids. The Fatimids are also called Ismailis. They follow six Imams as opposed to the Ithna Asharis who follow twelve Imams. Today, they constitute a small but influential section of the Islamic community based primarily in Bombay, Karachi, East Africa and Southern Egypt. The Agha Khan is the titular head of the Ismaili community.

In the year 969, the Fatimid Sultan Muiz captured Egypt. This event was a turning point in Islamic history. Using Egypt as their base, the Fatimids branched out, capturing Mecca, Madina and Jerusalem. For a hundred years thereafter the khutba in Mecca and Madina was read in the name of Fatimid princes whose sway extended from the Atlantic coast in Morocco to the Euphrates River in Iraq. The Sunni Abbasids were cornered into a small area around Baghdad.

Muiz (d 975) was a visionary monarch and an able administrator. He established schools, built canals, encouraged agriculture, fostered trade, reduced taxes on the peasants and supported the ulema. It was he who founded the city of Cairo and established the university at Al Azhar (969 CE). His empire sat astride the trade routes between Asia and Europe and benefited from the east-west trade. Egypt prospered and the people loved him.

With the strategic province of Egypt under their control, the Fatimids attempted to establish a universal Islamic Empire directed by the Fatimid Imams. For over a hundred years, from the conquest of Egypt in 969 to the year 1057 when the Buyids were driven out of Baghdad by the Seljuk Turks, the Fatimid writ reigned supreme over much of the Islamic world. The vast majority of their subjects were orthodox Sunni Muslims. To realize their vision of a global empire, the Fatimids embarked on a conversion program directed at the Sunnis as well as the Ithna Ashari (twelver) Shias. The university at Al Azhar was turned into a vast propaganda center wherein daees were trained and sent to the far flung corners of the Muslim world. In addition, in the year 1002, a formal dawa center, the Darul Hikmah, was established in Cairo.

Some of the Fatimid daees arrived in Multan and Sindh where they met with a degree of success. By the time Mahmud Ghaznavi appeared in the Punjab (1001CE), the Fatimids had converted the Emir of Multan and the Fatimid presence was well established there. Mahmud fought and defeated Dawud and brought his emirate back into the fold of Sunni Islam (1004 CE). The population which had opted for Fatimid Shi’ism reverted to Sunni schools of fiqh.

The influx of Fatimid daees marked the first organized attempt at mass conversion in Sindh and Multan. A large number of the early Sufi Shaikhs were among these daees. The names of Pir Sadruddin, Pir Kabiruddin and Pir Yusufuddin are well known in Pakistan. The influx of Sufi Shaikhs continued during the Ghaznavid period. Among the most successful of these Sufis were Shaikh Ismail and Data Ganj Baksh (d 1079). These stalwarts were the earliest missionaries in Western Punjab and their spirituality convinced multitudes of Hindus to accept Islam.

The ideological challenge from the Fatimids elicited a response from the Sunnis. Nizam ul Mulk (d 1091), the grand vizier of the Abbasids, established the Nizamiya college in Baghdad (1090). The College, in addition to a great center of learning, became a propaganda center for Sunni Islam. In this respect, it was a mirror image of Al Azhar, which was a center of Fatimid learning and propaganda. Local governors in the Sunni provinces followed the example of the grand vizier and established higher institutions of learning in cities as far away as Nishapur and Samarkand.

It was in the Nizamiya College Baghdad that Al Gazzali, the most celebrated dialectician in Sunni Islam, taught as a Professor. By the time Gazzali made his entrance on the stage of world history, classical Islamic civilization was past its zenith. Along the road, it had experimented with and abandoned the Mu’tazalite rational approach and had instead adopted and cultivated the empirical sciences. Now it was turning inwards to discover its own soul. Tasawwuf, the inner dimension of Islam, offered new vistas for a civilization that had grown weary of the exoteric sciences. Renowned empiricists such as Ibn Sina (d 1035) had come to accept tasawwuf as a legitimate discipline for the acquisition of knowledge. Al Gazzali, who experienced this skepticism in his personal life, gave up the teaching of exoteric sciences and embarked on a spiritual quest which opened up for him the vast realm of the spirit.

Al Gazzali took on the dual challenge of accommodating tasawwuf within orthodox Sunni Islam and refuting the esoteric doctrines of the Fatimids. He succeeded on both counts through the sheer power of his pen. Tasawwuf thrived. The Fatimid intellectual challenge was contained, and Sunni Islam went on to radiate its spirituality to India, Indonesia, Europe and Africa.

The work of Al Gazzali laid the foundation for the golden age of tasawwuf. The centuries immediately following Al Gazzali (d 1111) witnessed the establishment of Sufi tareeqas which were instrumental in the spread of Islam beyond the Arab-Persian world. The first and foremost of these tareeqas was that of Shaikh Abdel Qader Jeelani (d 1186) of Baghdad. Considered by some to be the greatest of sages, Shaikh Abdel Qader Jeelani is referred to as Ghouse ul Azam (the great helper-for those who seek spiritual help). So powerful was his radiance, and so sublime his message, that thousands flocked to hear him, and the mureeds who learned from him themselves became well known sages. The conservative theologian Ibn Taymiya of Damascus (d 1328), considered by some to be the greatest exponent of Salafi Islam, referred to Shaikh Abdel Qader Jeelani as his own Shaikh.

Tasawwuf served as the life raft for Muslims during the Mongol devastations of the 13th century (1219-1301). The Mongols destroyed the exoteric, empirical Islam that had flourished during its classical age (753-1258). Faced with the prospects of total annihilation, the Islamic world turned to their innate spirituality. This period produced a galaxy of Sufi Shaikhs, the most celebrated among them were Mevlana Rumi of Konya (d 1273), Shaikh Shadhuli of Cairo (d 1258), Shaikh Ibn al Arabi of the Maghreb (d 1240), Khwaja Moeenuddin Chishti of India (d 1236) and Shah Bahauddin Naqshband of Samarqand (d 1389). Seeking nothing but the pleasure of God and their fulfillment in the service of man, these stalwarts succeeded not only in rescuing Islam from annihilation but in converting the conquerors themselves. The conversion of Gazan (1301), the Mongol overlord of Persia, cemented the sway of Islam over Persia and central Asia. History unfolded, revealing in its wake the Mogul, Safavid ad Ottoman empires.

A tareeqa is a brotherhood following a rigorous process prescribed by a Shaikh for tazkiya (purification) of the nafs (soul) so that it becomes worthy of receiving the spirituality passed on through an unending chain of transmission (silsilah) from the Prophet. All of the tareeqas trace theirsilsilah through Ali (r) except the Naqshbandi which traces its chain of transmission through Abu Bakr (r).

The Shaikhs established zawiyas in the far flung corners of the Islamic world. A zawiya was a mosque-madrassah complex and a meeting place for the brotherhood wherein the students mastered the methodology oftazkiya under the direction of a Shaikh. It was also a place for the public to gain an audience with the Shaikh and benefit from his wisdom and hisBaraka (beneficence). The visitors, touched by the spirituality of the Shaikh renewed their faith. Many accepted Islam. These zawiyas were so widespread throughout the Islamic world that we may refer to the culture that sprang up in the post-Mongol period (1300-1700 CE) as the Zawiya culture.

The Qalandariya tareeqa was one of the first to enter the subcontinent but its influence was confined to Multan and its surroundings. Syed Mohammed Ghouse of Sind introduced the Qadariya silsilah into Pakistan (1482). One of the most important Qadariya Shaikhs was Mian Pir who passed away in Lahore in 1635. Mian Pir was a teacher to Dara Shikoah, the eldest son of Shah Jehan and is widely credited with bringing Islam to Northern Punjab and Kashmir.

It was the Chishtiya tareeqa that was most influential in India and Pakistan. The fountainhead of that tareeqa, Khwaja Moeenuddin Chishti was born in Sijistan, Persia in the year 1139. Orphaned at the age of 12, he received his early education in Samarqand. After becoming a hafiz e Quran and mastering the disciplines of kalam, hadith and fiqh, he moved to Neshapur where he was trained by Khwaja Uthman Chishti. After obtaining his ijazah from the Shaikh, he visited Baghdad and met the towering Sufi personages of the age, including Shaikh Abdel Qader Jeelani. From Baghdad, Khwaja Moeenuddin traveled to Multan and then to Lahore.

The vast Indian subcontinent was dominated by Rajput kings. Delhi and Ajmer were ruled by Prithvi Raj Chauhan, a dashing, colorful prince who had earned the enmity of Raja Jai Chand of Kanauj by eloping with his daughter. Khwaja Moeenuddin migrated from Lahore to Ajmer in the year 1191 and established a zawiya. His initial reception was hostile and the Khwaja faced many hardships. However, the political situation changed the following year when Mohammed Ghori of Kabul, backed by Raja Jai Chand of Kanauj, defeated Prithvi Raj at the battle of Tarain (1192). The establishment of the Delhi sultanate removed the impediments to the movement of Sufi mystics. Khwaja Moeenuddin trained and sent his disciples to Delhi, Lahore and other cities in northern India. Thousands embraced Islam through his radiance. Millions came into the fold of Islam through the work of his disciples.

Khwaja Moeenuddin Chishti passed away in 1236 and the mantle of leadership of the Chishtiya order passed on to Khwaja Qutbuddin. Upon the death of Khwaja Qutbuddin, Khwaja Fareed Ganj (d 1257) succeeded him as the Chishtiya Shaikh. Khawaja Fareed moved to Western Punjab and established a Zawiya at Pakpattan. If there is one person to whome is due the introduced of Islam in Pakistan it is Baba Fareed. His piety, sincerity and spirituality acted as a magnet to the Hindus of the Punjab and they embraced Islam in droves. Both the Sabiriya and Nizamiya tareeqas trace their origin to Baba Fareed. He trained and sent a large number of Shaikhs to the far corners of the subcontinent. Notable among those were Shaikh Jamal of Hanswi, Imamul Haq of Sialkot, Mawzum Alauddin Sabir of Saharanpur, Shaikh Muntaqaddin of Deccan and Nizamuddin Awliya of Delhi.

Professor M. Mujeeb has compiled a list of Shaikhs and Pirs in the Pakistan region. The more notable ones listed by him include Shaikh Masud Ganj Shakar of Pak Pattan (d 1266), Syed Jalaluddin Bukhari of Bhawalpur (d 1294), Shaikh Dawud and Shaikh Ismail of Lahore, Shaikh Ruknuddin Rukne Alam of Multan, Shaikh Jehan Gusht of Uch, Pir Jalaluddin of Baluchistan, Mir Syed Hasan Samnani of Kashmir, Shaikh Ishaq of Pak Pattan, Baba Mullah Taher of Ziarat, Pir Hunglaj of Makran, Pir Shori of Bugti, Shah Bilawal of Lasbela, Pir Omar in Khuzdar, Shaikh Chatan Shah of Kalat, Pir Baba of Swat, Shaikh Kaka Sahib of Nowshera, Hazrat Abdullah Shah of Karachi and Hazrat Shah Inayat of Sindh.

Tasawwuf lit the lamp of faith in the subcontinent. It illuminated the landscape, provided guidance to millions, inspired kings and mendicants alike. Islam took roots and became one of the two major faiths in this vast and diverse land. In the Pakistan region, conversion was augmented by the influx of people from Iran and Central Asia. Soldiers from successive invasions settled in the land between Delhi and Peshawar creating a rich mixture of Indian, Afghan, Persian, Turcoman and Central Asian races.

The light of tasawwuf faded with time. Spirituality and ethics gave way to selfishness and greed. The decay is noticeable in the latter half of the 17thcentury in Mogul India as well as in Safavid Persia and the Ottoman Empire. In a poignant letter to his son Azam written in the year 1704, Emperor Aurangzeb captures the moral bankruptcy of the times:

“My son, my soul, life of my life…..Hameeduddin is a cheat…..Siadat Khan and Muhammed Amin Khan in the advanced guard are contemptible…..Kulich Khan is worthless…..Sarbarah Khan, the Kotwal, is a thief and a pickpocket…..Arshi Khan gets drunk and smells of liquor….Akbar is a vagabond in the desert of infamy…..Kam Baksh is perverse. I myself am forlorn and destitute and misery is my lot.”

Social decay led to political disintegration. A resurgent Europe, riding high on waves of new ideas and technological prowess, moved in to supplant the Islamic world. The expanding social and political rot was reflected in the Sufi world as well. Where great Sufi Shaikhs once radiated their light to an entire subcontinent, there sprang a class of hereditary tomb keepers, the sajjada nishins. Tasawwuf, whose purpose was tazkiya (cleansing) of the self and a longing for divine presence, became synonymous with visits to shrines which became cash machines for sajjada nishins offering cures for incurable diseases with wafts of peacock feather broomsticks.

Reform movements arose to arrest the social disintegration. One of the earliest was that of Shah Waliullah of Delhi (d 1762). Born in 1703, Shah Waliullah was witness to the disintegration of the Mogul empire. India was invaded by Nadir Shah (1739) and Ahmed Shah Abdali (1761). The Marathas rose up in Central India displacing Mogul power. Shah Waliullah sought to arrest the political implosion of India through social reforms. He was a scholar (alim) of the first rank as well as a practitioner of the Qadariya tareeqa and was unique among the reformers of the 18th century in emphasizing both the esoteric and exoteric dimensions of Islam in his writings.

In the 19th century, as Punjab first came under Sikh domination and then under the sway of the British, attempts were made to reform Sufi practices. The effort was led by the Chishtiya tareeqa which was most widely practiced in the subcontinent. The thrust of these reforms was to bring Islam back into its traditional spiritual mold based on the Sunnah of the Prophet. This was the goal of Ahl e Sunnah wal Jamaat. This Jamaat was most active in the rural areas as it was here that Sufism and the sajjada nishins held their sway.

There was at the same time an urban based movement to reform Islam. This movement, spearheaded by the ulema, looked upon Sufism with suspicion and held it responsible for the internal decay within the Muslim body politic. The urban based ulema emphasized strict adherence to the exoteric aspects of the Shariah and its injunctions, and they sought support for their positions in the ahadith of the Prophet. Their intellectual approach and their arguments, however, had little impact on the rural folks who stayed bound by their loyalties to the local sajjada nishins.

A decayed Sufism existed side by side with a feudal structure that had grown around hereditary landlords. The Mogul rulers, and the nawabs who followed them, had granted deeds to large tracts of unsettled lands to their favorite courtiers, generals and soldiers. These titles (jagirs) were passed on from father to son, and in time the hereditary owners of these deeds became powerful landlords whose sway extended not only over their lands but also their tenants. Some of the zawiyas had also received land grants from the emperors and the nawabs so that the sajjada nishins were at once owners of the supernal talisman and temporal fiefdoms. The steady influx of cash from offerings of devotees added to their wealth. Economic power translates into political power. There grew up in Punjab and Sindh a two-tiered social structure wherein the sajjada nishins and the powerful landlords occupied the privileged the privileged upper echelons of society while the masses tilled the land and toiled in their sweat.

The British, who replaced the great Moguls in the 19th century recognized the benefits of keeping the sajjada nishins and the landlords in a power structure that would safeguard their imperial interests. Their policies in the Pakistan region reflected these imperial interests. The Land Alienation Act of 1900 conferred on the sajjada nishins the same privileges as those for the landlords. Since land was a primary criterion for social status, many of the honorary government appointments such as the local judges went to the landlords and the sajjada nishins. The British thus successfully created a two tiered political support structure for the Raj, the first by the maharajas and the nawabs, and the second by the landlords and the hereditary sajjada nishins. It ensured that political power in the Punjab stayed in the rural areas away from the growing political awakening in the cities and the increasing demands for self-rule.

A confluence of money, politics and religion is inimical to the spiritual development of humankind. It creates a triad of power structure which corrupts all three. To be true to its divine mission, religion must remain above wealth and politics. Else, it forfeits its spirituality and succumbs to the downward pull of profane worldliness.

The coalition of landlords and rural shrine-based interests formed the basis of support for the Unionist party which was organized by Fazl Hussain and Chotu Ram in 1923. By focusing on land reforms and emphasizing traditional culture, the Unionists created a regional Punjabi party transcending the communalism that was sweeping much of northern India. Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus alike gave their allegiance to the party and it governed the key province of Punjab for over two decades. The political and social stability of the province served British interests well. A large proportion of the Indian Army that fought in the Second World War was recruited in the Punjab. Service in the army provided another binding element for Punjabis of all faiths supplanting communal and India-centrist elements.

The Unionist Party swept the provincial elections in the Punjab in 1936-37. The Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League, with their centrist all-India agendas, were both miserable failures in that election. Even Allama Iqbal and a few candidates fielded by him were defeated. Traditional Islam, in cooperation with traditional Sikh and Hindu elements, emerged victorious. Sikandar Hayat, as the head of the Unionist party governed the province until his death in 1943.

This coalition of traditional Muslim, Sikh and Hindu elements endured until after World War II. A student of history may argue that if this coalition had survived and continued to occupy the central space in the politics of the Punjab, partition would probably not have happened. How did this coalition fall apart?

Arrayed against the traditional agenda of the Unionist party were the national agendas of the Indian National Congress and the All India Muslim League. These centrist agendas meant different things to the two parties. The Congress party, dominated by Hindu elements from Northern India had the luxury of framing its agenda in all-India nationalist terms because the triumph of this agenda would in effect mean a Hindu dominated central government. The Congress party saw the Muslims as a minority. Jinnah, deeply suspicious of Congress rule and distrustful of a dominant Hindu majority, would not accept this position. His own disillusionment with the Congress had led him to believe that the Muslims could not trust a Hindu majority for safeguarding their interests. He was convinced that a dialogue between the Hindus and the Muslims must be a dialogue between equals and not a dialogue between a majority and a minority. He championed the two nation theory, articulated first by Hindu nationalists, in which the Hindus and the Muslims each occupied their own political and social space. Were the Muslims a minority or a nation, that was the question dividing the Congress and the League.

Neither the Congress nor the Muslim League position was without inherent contradictions. By insisting on a strong central government that would by default be dominated by Hindus, the Congress party failed to accommodate the anxieties of the Muslim-majority areas. The Muslims were a majority in large portions of the northwest and the northeast. But they were a small minority in central and southern India. On the other hand, the position of the Muslim League had its own contradictions. While it might have made sense for the League to speak of the northwestern and northeastern regions as separate “nations” with Muslim majorities, the idea of an all-India Muslim “nation” glossed over the presence of millions of Muslims in the Indian hinterland who would remain in India, partition or no partition. Some historians have argued that the objective of Mohammed Ali Jinnah was not partition but autonomous Muslim majority regions in the northwest and the northeast that were free to govern themselves within a federated India. In support of this argument they offer as evidence Jinnah’s acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan (1946) which envisaged three autonomous regions in a federated India. Two of these, in the northwest and the northeast would have Muslim majorities. It was Jawaharlal Nehru who torpedoes this plan. When the chips were down, Jinnah was for a united India with a weak center while Nehru accepted a partitioned India with a strong center. These positions were a reflection of the philosophical makeup of the two men, each a giant in his own right, and each pivotal in shaping the destiny of the subcontinent. I will elaborate in a separate series how these conflicting philosophies played themselves out in the turbulent years immediately after the World War II, leading to the holocaust that accompanied partition.

The demise of the Unionist Party and the shift in allegiance of the sajjada nishins of the Punjab were not an accident of history. They were a result of the deliberate and determined policies of the Muslim League. Jinnah knew that there would be no Pakistan without the Punjab. But he had a tactical hurdle before him. The Punjab was ruled by the Unionist party which was inclusive and had largely stayed out of the communal frenzy in northern India. The challenge before him was to break Punjab loose from the Unionist party and bring the Muslims of Punjab within an all-India Muslim framework.

The Congress party claimed to represent all sections of India’s population including Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Parsees. Indeed, during much of the period for the agitation of Pakistan, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a scholarly Muslim, was the President of the Congress party (1940-45). The inclusive, all-India posture of the Congress party was a threat to Jinnah’s position that the Muslim League alone represented the interests of all the Muslims of India. This position may at first seem obdurate. On closer examination, it was directed less at the Congress than at the Unionist party of the Punjab. As long as the Unionist party represented the interests of the Muslims of the Punjab, the Muslim League could not negotiate with the British and the Congress as the sole representative of all the Muslims of India. Indeed, the Unionist party was a threat to the very basis of the two nation theory.

Jinnah proceeded to demolish the Unionist party in a two step process. The first step was the abrogation of the Jinnah-Sikandar Pact that Jinnah had signed with the Unionist party in 1942. Sikandar Hayat was the Unionist Chief Minister of Punjab and was enormously popular in the rural areas of that vast province. The Jinnah-Sikandar Pact was a tactical stand – down agreement that enabled the League to consolidate its position in the rural areas even while it professed its partnership with the Unionists. When Sikandar Hayat died in 1944, Jinnah made his move and abrogated the Pact. Without the strong leadership of Sikandar, the Unionists came apart at the seams. There were many defections. Some were co-opted by the League, some went over to the Congress, yet others to the Sikh Akali Dal.

The Second World War was rapidly coming to an end and the British, exhausted from the War, wanted to divest themselves of the Indian Empire which was bursting at the seams with nationalist fervor. They called the Simla Conference of 1945 whose declared intent was to reconcile the positions of the Congress and the League so that an Advisory Committee could be formed to advise the British viceroy on all matters affecting the governance of the subcontinent. At the Conference, Jinnah took a hard stand that only the League, as the sole representative of all the Muslims of India, could nominate Muslim delegates to the Advisory Committee. Jinnah understood very well that the Congress could not accept this demand. It would have meant that the Congress could not even nominate a stalwart like Maulana Azad to the Advisory Committee. The Simla Conference collapsed.

The failure of the Simla Conference was a triumph for Jinnah’s strategy. It demonstrated to the Unionists that in the political end game between the British, the Congress and the League, only the All-India Muslim League would be accepted as the spokesman for India’s Muslims. But it also hardened the position of Congress leadership and killed any hope of Congress-League rapprochement and a united India.

The repercussions in the Punjab were rapid. The landlords and the sajjada nishins realized that if they wanted to safeguard their privileged positions in the emerging political order, they had to get on board with the League. The sajjada nishins abandoned the Unionists and formed a de facto alliance with the Muslim League. This was a key turning point in the struggle for Pakistan.

Defections from the Unionist party came rapidly. Notable among those who switched over to the League were Pir Syed Ahmed Shah of Hazrat Shah Nur Jamal, Pir Jamaat Ali Shah, Pir Fazal Shah, Pir Hussain Shah, and the Pirs of Musa Pak Shaheed, Jalalpur, Rajca and Golra. The pirs injected a religious fervor into the political campaign of 1946 which had not been there in previous elections. Their tilt was decisive in the elections of 1946. Only a small minority of sajjada nishins, such as Pir Bahaul Haque, stayed with the secular agenda of the Unionist party.

Arrayed against the League were the urban based reformist ulema as well as the Ahrar party, the Ahl e Hadith and the Jamiat e ulema e Hind. These reformist ulema visualized the future of Muslim India not in an independent state but in a society based on the Shariah with themselves as the priestly class that interpreted the Shariah for the masses. However, the intellectual approach of the reformist ulema made no impact on the rural masses who stood by their allegiance to the hereditary pirs and voted in droves for the League and its agenda.

The Pakistan movement was also helped by the hereditary landlords. These entrenched interests sensed that their privileged position would be at risk if they did not join up with an emerging Pakistan dominated by the League. Examples of the landlord families who supported the League were the Hayat, Noon and Daulatana families. Some of these families were interconnected through an extensive network of tribal brotherhood calledbiraderees.The landlords and the tribal leaders controlled the votes of their tenants and brotherhoods just as the sajjada nishins controlled the votes of their murids through the fatwas. The Salafi reformist ulema opposed to the idea of Pakistan were unsuccessful against the solid social structure of the sajjada nishins and the landlords.

The dislocations caused by the Second World War were an added element in the extraordinary events leading to partition. As the war dragged on into 1945, there was a scarcity of food grains in the Punjab. Black marketers, sensing an opportunity to make a killing, hoarded the scarce supply of wheat driving up prices and causing immense hardship to the poor rural peasantry. Riots erupted in several areas. The League and its supporters blamed the policies of the Unionist government who they said was pandering to the profiteers, many of whom were Sikh and Hindu. As the war ended and the large Indian army was demobilized, over a million soldiers returned to the Punjab only to find that there were no jobs for them and inflationary prices made even the basic food items beyond their reach. They voted against the Unionist party.

The election of 1946 was a triumph for the reformist pirs and the landlords. It was a defeat for the reformist molvis and the ulema. Traditional Islam operating in a medieval agrarian structure dominated by powerful landlords won over reformist Salafi Islam advocated by the molvis and the ulema.

It was only after partition and the establishment of Pakistan that the reformist ulema and molvis flocked to the new state and hijacked the emerging political agenda. Witness, for instance, the turnabout in the position of Maulana Maududi. He had opposed the idea of Pakistan all his life but soon after partition moved to Pakistan at the head of the Jamaat e Islamic that called for the establishment of an “Islamic state”. This was a far cry from Jinnah’s concept of a modern, secular Muslim majority state wherein Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs would live as equal citizens. The injection of a Salafi reformist agenda into a traditional rural social structure led by the sajjada nishins and dominated by powerful landlords introduced multiple tensions that continue to rock the body politic of Pakistan to this day.

Was Pakistan an “Islamic State” or a “Republic” whose population had a Muslim majority? Jinnah apparently had a vision of the latter while the revised agenda of the Salafi ulema supported the former. These tensions have not been resolved. Torn by these tensions, hesitant to define its destiny, faced with unending confrontations with India, Pakistan turned to the only organized body capable of providing it with a degree of stability, namely the army. But this stability has come at the price of scuttled democracy. The people of Pakistan continue to struggle with the tensions inherent in the contradictions between a rural traditionalist Sufi Islam of the sajjada nishins, a reformist Sufi Islam of some of the pirs, an urban Salafi Islam led by Jamaat e Islami, and a modernist Islam envisioned by its founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah, all of these in a political structure dominated by the army and the hereditary landlords. The tensions will persist until Pakistan defines its own soul.

The Partition of India

The Partition of India

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The partition of British India was an extraordinary event. It brought forth giant personalities, monumental egos, brilliant strategists, saints, scoundrels, politicians, thinkers, tinkers, stinkers, sages and sycophants. Like an angry volcano it spewed forth human passions in their ugliest form consuming oceans of humanity. In its aftermath it left more than a million dead, fifteen million refugees and tens of thousands of women abducted. Two nations inherited the Raj and were immediately locked in mortal combat. A third nation has sprung up since, while the first two, India and Pakistan, now nuclear armed, continue to stare at each other waiting to see who will blink first. The last chapter of the history of partition is yet to be written. The secret of whether it will have a tragic end with a nuclear holocaust or a happy new beginning with cooperation and brotherhood for the poverty stricken millions of the subcontinent is hidden in the womb of the future, dependent as is all human endeavor, on the wisdom of generations to come.

British India was a vast tapestry woven together by a masterful balance of local powers and sustained by an unabashed strategy of divide and rule. It was a mosaic of religions, languages, races, cultures, tribes, castes, historical memories, passions and prejudices. More than five hundred princely states, satraps of the British crown, dotted the landscape, surrounded by vast stretches of territories ruled directly by the Viceroy. The foreigners had come here in the 17th century to trade. As the Mogul empire disintegrated and India imploded, the traders moved like dexterous chessmen capturing one territory after another. From the fall of Bengal at the Battle of Plassey in 1757 to the drawing up of the Durand line in 1893-95 after the Second Anglo-Afghan war, there was a span of almost a century and a half. During this time British power moved inexorably, supplanting a divided India by force of arms as in Mysore and the Punjab or through treaties and manipulation as with the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Nawab of Arcot.

The independence movements of India and Pakistan brought forth giants on the stage of world history. Mahatma Gandhi was at once a sage in the tradition of Indian sages, a staunch advocate of non-violent political change, a masterful tactician and a politician who deciphered the key to unravel the British Empire. His legacy inspired reformers and activists as far away as the United States wherein Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement drew inspiration. Qaid e Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was a strict constitutionalist, a brilliant strategist, a secular gentleman, a champion of minority rights and a nationalist who was pushed in the direction of separatism by Congress stonewalling and became the architect of a new nation thereby changing the map of the world. Pandit Jawarlal Nehru was an internationalist, a brilliant post-modern secularist, indeed an agnostic, whose instincts for centralized, socialist planning obscured from him the reality of communal politics in a divided subcontinent. Sardar Patel was a fierce nationalist and right wing Congressman who moved towards a sectarian anti-Muslim bias in the twilight years of the British Raj. Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad was a scholar whom destiny thrust into politics, the only man who fought unswervingly for a united India until the last moment. All of these stalwarts operated in the 19th century paradigm of nationalism, colonial rule, parliamentary governance, and minority and majority rights. Together, they failed to foresee the horrors of partition or to muster the collective wisdom to forestall the carnage that accompanied it. The independence of India and Pakistan was their collective achievement. Partition was their collective failure.

A student of history may ask: who was the architect of partition? Iqbal? Jinnah? Gandhi? Nehru? Patel? The Congress party? The Muslim League? The Hindu Mahasabha? The Akali Dal? The British? No one person and no single party can take the credit or the blame for partition. It was a deadly serious game that had many players. The principal figures involved have acquired an iconic status in India and Pakistan. Often the hero of one is a villain for the other, so bitter was the experience of partition. Sixty years later, when one looks at them as historical figures, one finds them to be all too human, with their prides and their prejudices, their strengths and their limitations. They made choices like all humans and these choices had the human touch of triumph and tragedy. They were as much creators of history as were its victims.

Britain entered the First World War as the mistress of the world. The British navy ruled the seas. In 1914 an Englishman could boast that the sun never set on the British Empire. The array of nations beholden to the British crown included dominions such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and colonies such as India, Malaya and Nigeria. World War I was a spillover from the instability in the Balkans following the collapse of Ottoman power. It resulted from the unwillingness or the inability of the entente powers, Great Britain, France and Russia to accommodate the rising power of Germany. The Ottomans joined the war alongside Germany in the hope of recovering the East European territories they had lost in the war of 1911. It was a fateful decision which shattered the peace of the Middle East, the consequences of which are felt even today.

India was dragged into the Great War as a colony. Indian leadership, Gokhale, Tilak, Jinnah and Gandhi included, were disappointed that they were not consulted but could do nothing about it. Millions of Indian troops fought under British officers in Europe and the Middle East. In some sectors, such as Iraq, the Indian army conducted its own operations. The Indians hoped that their sacrifices would bring in a reward at the end of the war, perhaps a dominion status within the Empire, on par with Australia, South Africa and Canada. These hopes received a boost as the United States entered the war in 1917 and its idealist American President, Woodrow Wilson, proclaimed his famous 14 point plank as the basis for a general peace after the War. Included in these 14 points was the declaration that “a free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims, based upon a strict observance of the principle that in determining all such questions of sovereignty the interests of the populations concerned must have equal weight with the equitable claims of the government whose title is to be determined”.

An attempt was made during World War I by the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League to present a unified demand to the imperial government in India for administrative reforms. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who was at the time a senior member of the Congress hierarchy, worked hard to achieve a common platform for the Congress and the League. The result was the Lucknow pact of 1916 in which the Congress conceded the right of Muslims for separate electorates. The pact was the highpoint of Congress-Muslim cooperation during the long and tortuous history of these two political parties. The credit for this achievement belongs primarily to Jinnah. The pact made it possible for the Congress and the League to make a unified demand to the colonial administration that eighty percent of representatives to the provincial legislatures be elected directed by the people.

The war ended in a triumph for the allies. Russia had pulled out of the conflict after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 so it was left to Britain and France to divide up the spoils of war. The British and French war aims were different from those of the Americans and included not just the preservation of their empires but their expansion into the former Ottoman territories. The British made it clear that Wilson’s 14 point proclamation did not apply to India. Instead the colonial noose was tightened around the Indian neck. The Government of India Act of 1919, sometimes referred to as Montagu-Chelmsford Act, revealed the true British intentions. It skirted the issue of dominion status and put India on a waiting list for 10 years during which period the major Indian provinces were to be ruled by a dual (diarchic) form of government wherein a provincial legislative council would monitor the activities of provincial ministers. This was a way of shifting the focus of national politics to the local provinces where it could be more easily contained. A separate Council of Princely states was formed to keep the major political parties in check.

The Indians were disappointed with the provisions of this Act. Protests erupted, the British responded with the repressive Rowlett Act. The demonstrations were brutally put down. It was during this period on April 13, 1919 that the infamous Jalianwala Bagh massacre took place near Amritsar wherein, under orders from the British General Dyer, hundreds of unarmed Indians, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus included, were gunned down in cold blood during a peaceful demonstration.

Even as the Great War raged in the heart of Europe, Britain and France entered into the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 partitioning the Ottoman Empire between them. Britain would secure Palestine, Jordan and Iraq, thus securing a land route from the Mediterranean to the Arabian Sea and from there to the British India Empire. France would control Syria and Southeastern Anatolia. As the Ottoman Empire collapsed (1918) and Istanbul was occupied by British troops, the scheming gathered momentum. By the Treaty of Sevres (1920), France, Britain, Greece, Italy and Armenia each claimed a piece of Ottoman territories leaving a tiny slice in Central Anatolia for the Turks. The Turkish nationalists rejected the terms of this Treaty, refusing to ratify it.

India was caught up in the turbulence created by the aftermath of the War. The British attempt to abolish the Khilafat in Istanbul dragged India into postwar politics. The Khilafat was an institution established by the companions of the Prophet Muhammed immediately after his death. It had survived fourteen centuries of Islamic history and its mantle had passed to the Turkish sultans in 1517. Although its influence had diminished in proportion to the loss of Islamic territories to European colonialism, it was still looked upon as the axis of Muslim political life, especially by the world of Sunni Islam. When the Treaty of Sevres awarded the Hejaz to Sharif Hussain as a reward for his collusion with the allies during the War, it cut the principal connection of the Caliph in Istanbul from his spiritual responsibilities as the “guardian of the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina”. This was seen as an attempt to abolish the Khilafat. The Caliph himself became a de-facto British prisoner in Istanbul and had little authority to influence post war developments either in the former Ottoman territories or in the Turkish heartland of Anatolia. The emerging nationalist movement in Anatolia disregarded the edicts of the Sultan-Caliph proclaimed under British duress.

The attempt to abolish the Khilafat created an uproar among India’s Muslim religious establishment. India had lost its independence to British intrigue in the 18th century but the Indian Muslims had taken some consolation in an independent Ottoman empire whose titular head was the Caliph for all Muslims.

The occupation of the Sultan’s territories and the removal of the sultan’s sovereignty over the holy sites in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem meant that the sun had set on Islam’s political domains. At this time, Muslim leadership in India was divided into four categories. The first were the Nawabs and the zamindars of United Provinces (UP) and Bengal who dominated the Muslim League since its founding in 1906. In the second group were the Aligarh trained would-be bureaucrats whose career goal was to secure employment in the administrative machinery of the British Raj. The third were the elite, British educated secular nationalists such as Mohammed Ali Jinnah who were working at the time for Hindu-Muslim cooperation and a common political platform for the Congress and Muslim League. The fourth group represented the religious establishment, the Deobandis and the ulema such as Maulana Muhammed Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali. The vast majority of Muslims, like the vast majority of Hindus, Sikhs and Christians were poor and destitute, often at the mercy of moneylenders and landlords, and had very little political involvement of any kind.

The Khilafat movement was started in 1919 by Muhammed Ali, Shaukat Ali and Hasrat Mohani at a time when the repressive Rowlett Act (1919) and the Jalianwala Bagh massacre (1919) had created a general feeling of animosity against the British. Gandhi, who was by this time emerging as the undisputed leader of the Congress party, saw in the Khilafat movement an opportunity to forge a united Hindu-Muslim stand against the British, and in combination with a peaceful non-cooperation movement, force the British to concede India’s political demands.

The non-cooperation movement was launched on September 1, 1920 under the leadership of Gandhi with the Ali brothers playing a supporting role. It was an alliance of convenience. The goals of the protagonists were different and it soon became clear that the inherent tensions in these goals would make their achievement impossible. First, the Khilafat was an issue for the Turks to resolve. If the Turks did not wish to carry the burden of the Caliphate, the Muslims in India could not force them to do so. Second, the preservation of the Ottoman Empire required the Arabs to acquiesce to Turkish rule. The goodwill between the Turks and the Arabs had been shattered by the Arab rebellion in which the British intelligence agent Lawrence of Arabia had played a key role. Third, the Khilafat movement received only lukewarm support from the elite Muslim leadership such as Mohammed Ali Jinnah who assessed correctly that the agitation in India was unlikely to affect the geopolitics of the Middle East. Jinnah, who was a constructive constitutionalist, desired an orderly transfer of power to India and had no use for the disruptive politics of the Khilafat movement or the non-cooperation movement of Gandhi. Fourth, even though the movement was headed by Gandhi himself, right wing Hindu leaders such as Malaviya were less than enthusiastic about it. Gandhi’s objective was swaraj (self rule) and for him the Khilafat was no more than a tactical battle in that ultimate goal whereas for the right wing ulema it was an end in itself. Fifth, neither the Muslims nor the Hindus were ready as yet for the sacrifices required of a national movement with the dual objectives of forcing the British to concede self rule and influencing international events in far away Istanbul.

Upset over British policy after the War, some molvis from jameet-e-ulema-e Hind, a conservative association of Muslim clerics, declared India to be “darul harab” (the abode of war) and advised Muslims to migrate to a country like Afghanistan which they considered “darul Islam” (the abode of peace). In 1920, more than fifteen thousand peasants from the NW Frontier and Sindh heeded the call and did perform the hijrat (migration) to Afghanistan where they were robbed and some were killed. The protests by Kerala Muslims against the British in August 1921 got out of hand and resulted in a Hindu-Muslim riot which was exploited by British propaganda to drive a wedge between the two communities. Lastly, in February 1922, a violent mob set fire to a police station in Chari-Chaura in UP resulting in the death of dozens of people.

The Khilafat movement and the concomitant non-cooperation movement of 1921 were both political failures. Gandhi realized that the discipline required for a non-violent, non-cooperation movement was not yet inculcated in the Indian masses. He called off the agitation on February 22, 1922 leaving the Khilafat movement in the lurch. Events in Anatolia took their own turn. The Turks went on to win their War of Independence, drive out the Greek, French and Italian armies invading their homeland, and establish a republic under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal. In 1924 the Turkish National Assembly abandoned the Caliphate. The Khilafat movement in India fizzled out without a whimper.

In historical hindsight, the Khilafat movement did more harm than good. On the positive side of the ledger, this was the first and the only time when the two principal religious communities of India, the Hindus and the Muslims, conducted a mass campaign on a common platform. In the great province of Bengal, the movement was largely a success. It enabled the Bengalis to gain some experience in the politics of mass confrontation. But the price for this success was the injection of religious symbols into what had hitherto been a national, non-sectarian struggle. It was a religious movement which was grafted onto a secular national struggle for self rule. Gandhi used religious symbols to bring together Hindus and Muslims on a common platform and galvanize India towards political self awareness. The results were the opposite. The process awakened the latent communalism of both Hindus and Muslims.

The Khilafat movement thrust the molvis and the mullahs into the forefront of national politics eclipsing the role played hitherto by constitutionalists like Jinnah. Ironically it was Jinnah who saw the dangers of using religious and cultural symbols in a secular fight for independence and warned against it. But his warnings were not heeded either by the Congress or the Muslim leadership.

There were multiple ways the Indian milieu could have been sliced. The basis could have been language, region, land ownership, class conflict, wealth, poverty or historical experience. It was a fateful choice to slice it along religious lines. The leaders chose to define their identities as Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs rather than Punjabis, Bengalis, North and South Indians, zamindars and kisans, money lenders and debtors, rich and poor, traditionalists and modernists. This choice dictated the history of South Asia.

The 1920s started as a decade of great promise for religious cooperation and national liberation. It ended with these hopes dashed, trust destroyed, suspicions enhanced and disharmony at its peak.

The political coordination between the Muslims and the Hindus, however limited its success, alarmed the British and impelled them to practice the politics of divide and rule more overtly. As long as the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were at each other’s throats, they were unlikely to unite in common opposition to foreign rule of their native land. Britain had conquered the huge subcontinent playing off one power center against another. As early as 1861, Elphinstone, the British governor of Bombay had observed, “divide and rule was the old Roman motto, and it should be ours in India”. Now this strategy was applied with full force to tighten the British grip on the Indian empire.The Malabar uprising against the British which had spilled over into a Hindu-Muslim riot was dubbed the “Moplah uprising” and was played up as an example of Muslim aggressiveness towards non-Muslims. In retribution, the British packed up hundreds of Malabar Muslims in freight trains, like canned sardines, and sent them to far off jails. Two thirds of those transported suffocated in the railway compartments.

There was an acceleration in Hindu-Muslim polarization in the Punjab, UP and Bengal. In 1922 Shraddhanada started the Arya Samaj with the intent of converting Muslims and Christians to Hinduism. In 1923 Savarkar wrote his book on Hindutva and came up with the concept of the two-nation theory, describing the Hindus and the Muslims as two separate nations. His proposed solution to his self articulated two nation theory was to convert, expel or marginalize the Muslims and Christians. In 1925, the Hindu Mahasabha, which was conceived at the fifth Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Conference in Delhi in 1918, was organized as a political party. Between 1923 and 1925 the Arya Samaj did convert thousands of Rajput Muslims to Hinduism. They were particularly active in the provinces of the Punjab and UP. The aggressiveness of the Arya Samaj fostered a sense of fear among the Muslims. In response, they established the Tablighi Jamaat and Tanzim movements in 1923. The Darul Uloom at Deoband launched a program to train ulema in Sanskrit so that they could counteract the propaganda of the Arya Samaj. These movements were a reflection one of the other. The right wing Hindus and Muslims saw in each other a mortal enemy to their own long term survival. Forgotten in this melee was the Lucknow pact of 1916 for which Jinnah had worked so hard. The populous Indus-Gangetic belt embracing Sindh, Punjab, UP, Bihar, Bengal and Assam which was at the time 40 percent Muslim, 52 percent Hindu and 4 percent Sikh was rent asunder along communal lines.

Religious extremism was often a camouflage for the cold politics of economic exploitation. It was a great game being played by the British and a small number of British trained lawyers for the future of one fifth of humanity. In addition to the sustained exploitation of India by British colonialism, there was rampant internal economic exploitation by Indians themselves. In Bengal, there was mass poverty and the province had experienced repeated bouts with famine and death. The peasantry was in the shackles of the money lenders. In Punjab and Sindh the big landowners were the political bosses. The politics of UP and the Central Provinces was dictated by the zamindars and nawabs. The masses were poor, indeed destitute, and had no say in the wheeling and dealing and the sloganeering going on in Delhi, Lahore, Calcutta and Bombay. The population of the princely states, numbering over 75 million, was not involved in the grand strategies worked out for them.

It is noteworthy that in the 1920s there was a Communist movement in India. The success of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia in 1917 inspired communists around the world to achieve the same in their native lands. The British, suspicious of Soviet intentions in Afghanistan and Northwest India, banned the communist party. Nonetheless many communists worked with the Congress Socialist Party, the left wing of Indian National Congress, forming a working relationship with stalwarts such as Jawaharlal Nehru. Their membership cut across religious lines. The Bengali intellectual, Muzaffar Ahmed, for instance, was one of the founders of the Communist party of India. However, except in Bengal, Communist influence on the overall flow of national politics was at best marginal. Bengal had a socio-political matrix dominated by tensions between landowners and peasants, money lenders and debtors. Here, Muzaffar Ahmed and others avoided the slogans of the Congress party dominated by Hindu property-owning classes, shunned Muslim exclusivity advocated by the League and helped the emergence of the Krishak Praja Party (KPP) in the 1930s. The KPP represented the interests of the indebted farmers of East Bengal and the exploited workers of Calcutta. It is in this context of increasing economic tensions and communal polarization that one has to examine the attempt by India’s British educated elite to establish a constitutional framework for the subcontinent.

Historical documents capture the essence of their age. Great moments produce great men and elicit from them their visions, hopes and aspirations which are enshrined in their declarations and documents. The American constitution is an illustration. It captured a moment in the history of this continent when it threw off the yoke of a foreign power and produced a declaration which has withstood the test of time for more than two hundred years. Historical documents grow out of the internal, often tragic struggles of a people. They reflect the soul of a people at a specific moment in history.

The Nehru Report was the first Indian attempt at framing a constitution for the subcontinent. It was a historical benchmark which exposed the internal fissures in the body politic of Hindustan. In hindsight, it was a document produced in haste, by well meaning intellectuals who had an insufficient grasp of the dynamics of Indian society. It proved to be a first step on the road to partition.

In 1925 the conservative party came to power in London. The British had kept a close watch on the Indian political pulse. Aware of the rising tide of Indian nationalism, the British government dispatched a group of seven members of the parliament to India in 1927. Headed by Sir John Simon, the mandate of the Simon commission was to draft a set of recommendations for self rule in India. However, the commission met a cold reception in India because it did not include even a single Indian member.

The central issue was the right of the Indians to draft their own constitution. The Congress led by Gandhi and the League led by Jinnah boycotted the commission.

The British Secretary of State for Indian affairs challenged the Indians to come up with a constitution that would be acceptable to a broad spectrum of communities. So confident was he of the divisions in the Indian ranks that he was certain that the Indians would fail in this effort. Mrs. Annie Besant, a British social activist and a friend of India, made an attempt to write such a constitution but her attempt received a cold reception in Indian circles.

An all-parties conference in Delhi in January 1928 failed to produce a framework for a constitution. Subsequent conferences in March and May were similarly unproductive. The main hurdle was an accommodation of the rights of the minorities and the differences on this issue between the Muslim League, the Indian National Congress, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Sikh Akali Dal.

Unable to reach a consensus in the general caucuses, the third all-party conference held in May 1928 in Bombay delegated the responsibility of drawing up a constitution to a committee headed by Motilal Nehru. The committee consisted of eleven members. Motilal Nehru was the chairman while his son Jawarlal Nehru was the secretary. There were nine other members. Motilal Nehru, descended from Kashmiri Pundits, was a respected Congress leader, a liberal nationalist with roots in the United Provinces. The eclectic Jawaharlal Nehru, the future Prime Minister of India, protégé of Mahatma Gandhi, was a brilliant man educated at Harrow and Cambridge, a post-modern secularist with a keen sense of international events. However, he was socialistic in his impulse, influenced as he was in his formative years by the socialist movements in Pre-World War I England. The other members were local leaders, including two, Syed Ali Imam and Shoaib Qureshi, who were Muslim.

The Nehru report contained the following essential provisions

  1. The citizens shall be protected under a Bill of Rights. All powers of the government are derived from the people.
  2. There shall be no state religion.
  3. India shall enjoy the status of a dominion within the British Empire.
  4. There shall be a federal from of government with residual powers vested in the center.
  5. There shall be a parliamentary form of government with a Prime Minister and six ministers appointed by the Governor General.
  6. There shall be a bicameral legislature.
  7. There shall be neither a separate electorate nor a proportionate weight for any community in the legislatures.
  8. A recommendation that the language of the federation should be Hindustani written either in the Devanagiri or the Urdu script.
  9. A recommendation that separate provinces be established in the Northwest Frontier, Sindh and Karnataka.
  10. A recommendation that the provinces should be organized on a linguistic basis.
  11. A recommendation that a Supreme Court be established.
  12. Muslims should have a twenty five percent representation in the Central Legislature. In provinces where their population was greater than ten percent, proportionate representation for Muslims should be considered.

It is not hard to see the stamp of Jawaharlal Nehru on the Nehru Report. Even though the report called for a Federal structure, the constitution it proposed was unitary with residuary powers vested in the center. The socialist strand in Jawaharlal Nehru saw a nation state as essentially unitary with centralized planning and economic control, a philosophy which he vigorously put into practice as the first Prime Minister of independent India (1947-64). He was a secularist, who saw religion as a private matter for the individual which should not be reflected in matters of state. He was also an idealist who did not see the practical reality of religious dynamics in the vast subcontinent. Consequently, he failed to accommodate the anxieties of Muslim majority provinces in a central legislature which would be dominated, in a “one man one vote” parliamentary structure, by Hindu interests.

The Nehru Report was a step back in the Hindu-Muslim dialectic of pre-partition India. It negated the positive aspects of the Congress-League Lucknow pact of 1916 which had accepted the principle of separate electorates for the minorities. It threw open the question of minority protection in a parliamentary set up wherein the Hindus would be a majority.

The Nehru Report was accepted by the Indian National Congress but was rejected by the Muslim leadership. The main issue dividing the two was the vesting of residual powers. The Congress wanted residual powers to be with the Center. The League wanted them vested with the states. There was also the issue of separate electorates for the minorities. This issue was not a show stopper as some historians have suggested. In 1927 Jinnah had proposed to the Congress that the Muslims were willing to forego the demand for separate electorates if sufficient guarantees were instituted for the protection of minority rights.

In response to the Nehru Report, Mohammed Ali Jinnah drafted his famous 14 point proposal. The important elements of this proposal were the following

  1. India shall have a federal constitution with residual powers vested in the Center.
  2. Adequate representation shall be given to the minorities in every state legislature.
  3. Every state shall enjoy uniform autonomy.
  4. Muslim representation in the Central Legislature shall be not less than one third.
  5. The representatives of each community shall be elected by separate electorates.
  6. Each community shall enjoy freedom of worship, association, propagation and education.
  7. Sindh shall be separated from the Bombay presidency and be made a separate province.
  8. Reforms should be introduced in the NW Frontier Province and Baluchistan in the same manner as all other provinces.
  9. Any territorial adjustments to state boundaries shall not compromise the Muslim majorities in Punjab, Bengal and NW Frontier Province.
  10. The minorities shall enjoy adequate representation in the services of the state and the Center.
  11. There shall be adequate safeguards to protect Muslim culture, language, religion and personal laws.
  12. The Central cabinet shall have one third Muslim representation.
  13. No bill shall be passed in any legislature if three fourths of the members of a community in that body oppose such a bill on the basis that it will be injurious to that community.
  14. No change shall be made in the constitution by the Central Legislature except with the contribution of the States.

Two significant observations are noteworthy about Jinnah’s 14 points. First, in 1929, Jinnah was still operating within a paradigm of minority rights and not “two nation theory” proposed by Savarkar five years earlier. Jinnah was still a peace maker between the Congress and the League and hoped that he could find common ground for the two. Second, the emphasis in the 14 points was on the reciprocal protection of minority rights, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Sikh alike, and not just the rights of Muslims. Jinnah worked hard to tone down the more strident demands of the right wing Muslim constituency and obtain the concurrence of the League. Students of history may argue whether the 14 points were hard demands or were bargaining openers. The negotiations and the hard bargaining did not take place. The 14 points were rejected by the Indian National Congress.

The Nehru Report and its aftermath constitute a milestone on the road to partition. Jinnah, who had hitherto worked hard to bring about a convergence of Congress and League viewpoints, was disillusioned. He was squeezed between Congress stonewalling and marginalized by the more strident Muslim leaders who felt that Jinnah was too nationalistic in his outlook and too accommodating in his approach. Although he took part in the Round Table Conferences in London in 1931-32, his heart was no longer with Indian politics. He settled in London as a barrister. It was only in 1935 that he returned to India at the invitation of Allama Iqbal to reorganize and lead the Muslim League. The Congress leadership had lost Jinnah whom the eminent Indian social activist and poet Sarojini Naidu had called “the ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”. Now they were to meet him as an advocate of the two nation theory, and finally as Qaid e Azam of a new nation, Pakistan. The wheels of fortune were turning. The march to partition had begun.

The overarching political context of the times was British imperialism, uncompromising in its determination to keep India in bondage despite the bloodletting of the First World War As late as 1935, the Secretary of State for India, Samuel Hoare, reiterated in the British parliament that the goal of British policy was to provide for the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realization of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire. The declarations, conferences and commissions were all directed towards ensuring a continuance of colonial rule. The power equations in Asia changed only as a result of the Second World War. Britain, exhausted by the War realized that its imperial hold on the Indian army was slipping and it could no longer subjugate an India which had become conscious of its own self.

Imperial British aims were reflected in the Simon Commission report of 1930. As stipulated in the Government of India Act of 1916, the British promised to look into further measures towards the attainment of a dominion status for India. The Simon Commission consisted of six members of the British Parliament, including Clement Attlee who was to become the British prime minister when India finally gained its independence in 1947. Indian political opinion was outraged at the absence of even a single Indian on the Commission that was to decide the fate of India. The Indian National Congress as well as the Muslim League boycotted the Commission. The voluminous Simon report recommended (1) the abolishment of diarchic rule, and (2) limited representative government in the Indian provinces. A separate electorate for Muslims was maintained as in the Government of India Act of 1919 but for a limited period. India was to remain a colony with the possibility of dominion status sometime in the undefined future.

It is in the context of the growing communal polarization in North India and the intransigence of Great Britain on the question of India’s independence that one has to assess the address of Allama Iqbal to the Indian Muslim League at Allahabad in 1930. It was in this historic address that he laid out his vision of an autonomous homeland for Muslims in northwestern India. Iqbal was one of the most influential Islamic thinkers of the 20th century. His rousing poetry inspired generations of Muslims in the Urdu and Farsi speaking world. In his earlier years Iqbal was a national poet. His Taran e Hind, composed in 1904, sang of the beauty of the Indian homeland and the love of its people for their country. However, in his later years he shifted his focus to Islamic civilization and was convinced that Islam held the key to the moral emancipation of humankind. His inspiring poetry held up a memory of a glorious past and the vision of a lofty future and sought to rejuvenate a sullen Islamic community. In his Allahabad address, Allama Iqbal said:

“I would like to see the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single State, self-governing within the British Empire, or without the British Empire. The formation of a consolidated North-Western Indian Muslim State appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims at least of north-west India.”

“We are 70 million, and far more homogenous than any other people in India. Indeed, the Muslims of India are the only Indian people who can fitly be described as a nation in the modern sense of the word.”

The address was a crystallization of Iqbal’s political thinking. Even though he was deeply influenced by the tasawwuf of Mevlana Rumi and the ego of the German philosopher Nietzsche, Iqbal stayed within the framework of his heritage as an Indian Muslim. His political thinking follows the intellectual lineage of Shaikh Ahmed Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah of Delhi. Indian Islam had turned away from its universal Sufi heritage during the reign of the Mogul emperor Aurangzeb (d 1707) and had sought its fulfillment in the extrinsic application of the Shariah. As elaborated in his book, “Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam”, Iqbal accepted the premise that jurisprudence (as opposed to spirituality and ethics) was the foundation on which the edifice of Islam was to be erected. For him, the Shariah was not just a set of static rules and regulations but a dynamic tool in an evolving, expanding universe. Ijtihad was the “principle of movement” in the structure of Islam. India, with its vast non-Muslim majority presented a special problem in the application of this principle. Iqbal wrote: “In India, however, difficulties are likely to arise; for it is doubtful whether a non-Muslim legislative assembly can exercise the power of Ijtihad”. Hence, his deduction that only an autonomous Muslim state in northwest British India could discharge this function.

Allama Iqbal left some questions unanswered. His address called for the establishment of a state in the northwestern portion of British India consisting of Punjab, NW Frontier, Sindh and Baluchistan. In 1931 the Muslim population of these areas was only 25 million in a total Indian Muslim population of 70 million. What was to become of the other 45 million Muslims? Iqbal was silent on this issue. Noticeably, Bengal, a Muslim majority province, was absent in his address. While his prescription called for legislative autonomy for the Muslim majority areas of NW India, Iqbal offered no solution for Muslims who would stay as a minority in a non-Muslim or a secular state. He left this task to future generations of Muslim minorities in India, China, Europe and America.

The Allahabad address was a milestone on the road to partition. Iqbal gave a concrete philosophical foundation for the two-nation theory and was a source of inspiration for Jinnah. Iqbal was the principal figure who convinced Jinnah to return to India in 1935 from his retirement in England and lead the Muslim League. Upon Iqbal’s death in 1938, Jinnah eulogized him: ‘He was undoubtedly one of the greatest poets, philosophers and seers of humanity of all times…to me he was a personal friend, philosopher and guide and as such the main source of my inspiration and spiritual support’.

Meanwhile the British sponsored a series of round table conferences in London to hammer out a compromise between the various contestants on the Indian scene. These conferences revealed how deep were the divisions between the principal religious communities on how to share power in an independent India. The first round table conference in 1930 was attended by Gandhi, Jinnah, Ambedkar, Agha Khan, Malaviya, Sarojini Naidu as well as representatives from the Akali Dal and Hindu Mahasabha. The main issues on the table were a dominion status for India, separate electorates and electoral weights for Muslims and other minorities, preservation of statutory Muslim majorities in the Punjab and Bengal, federal structure in a future constitution, and separate representation for the so called untouchables. There was no meeting of the minds on these issues and the conference broke down. Gandhi launched a civil disobedience movement and many Congress workers were arrested. A labor government came to power in London in 1931, released the Congress workers and called a second round table conference. Jinnah was by now fed up with Indian politics and he did not attend. The second conference also broke down. A third round table conference called in 1932 was boycotted by the Congress party and nothing was accomplished.

The failure of the Indian parties to come to an agreement prompted the British to advance their own ideas for self government. The communal award of 1932 accepted the principle of separate electorates for the Muslims, Sikhs and Christians. Bowing to the demand of the Muslim Leaguers from UP for greater representation, the communal award increased Muslim representation in the UP legislature to 30 percent while their population was only 20 percent. To compensate for this increase, the representation of Muslims in the Muslim majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal was decreased. In the Punjab, Muslims constituted 60 percent of the population and their representation in the provincial legislature was decreased to 50 percent. In Bengal, the Muslims constituted 55 percent of the population and their representation was decreased to 40 percent. Muslim politics in north India was as yet immature, dominated by zamindari interests in UP. The end result of their bargaining with the British was a loss of majority in all of the erstwhile provinces. It showed the futility of political horse trading to achieve increased representation for Muslims in regions where they were a small minority. The process worked both ways. Increased power for the Muslim nawabs and zamindars of UP would mean decreased power for the Muslims of the pivotal states of Punjab and Bengal.

The communal award also accorded a minority status to the so called Untouchables and awarded them separate electorates. Gandhi saw in this a grave threat to the cohesiveness of Hindu society. If the depressed classes were classified as a separate minority, the Hindus who constituted over 65 percent of the population in British India would be reduced to 49 percent, thereby losing their electoral majority. Gandhi started a fast unto death if this stipulation was not reversed. The fast applied tremendous pressures on Dr. Ambedkar and there were threats on his life if Gandhi died. Protracted negotiations took place between Ambedkar and representatives of Gandhi and an agreement was reached whereby seats would be reserved for the Untouchables in the provincial as well as central legislatures but only as a part of the overall seats allocated to the Hindus. The Gandhi-Ambedkar pact of 1932 was a major triumph for Gandhi. It confirmed his status as a social reformer of the first rank. The so called Untouchables stayed within the Hindu fold and in independent India have made noticeable gains in education, employment and politics.

In 1933, the British government appointed a commission under the chairmanship of Lord Linlithgow to review and recommend reforms for the administration of the British Raj. The result was the Government of India Act of 1935. The Act did not give the Indians the power to draft or enact their own constitution nor was there a Bill of Rights. It recommended the separation of Burma from British India and the establishment of Sindh and Orissa as separate states. It granted limited self government to the provinces. The elected provincial legislatures served at the pleasure of the British governors who had the authority to convene or dissolve them. The federal legislature was to be elected indirectly with substantial reservations for the princes and the viceroy’s nominees. Separate communal electorates were accepted for Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

The elections of 1937 were held under the Government of India Act of 1935. The Indian National Congress, as the oldest and best organized party, won 750 of a total of 1,771 seats. It had a majority of seats in Madras, United Provinces, Central Provinces, Bihar and Orissa and held the largest number of seats in four other provinces including Bengal and NW Frontier. But it captured only 26 of the 491 seats reserved for Muslims. The Muslim League fared no better. It captured only 106 seats out of a total of 491 reserved Muslim seats. Significantly, it failed miserably in the Punjab where it won only two seats and 39 out of 250 seats in Bengal.

The Congress formed cabinets in the provinces where it had a clear majority. It joined coalitions in Assam and Sindh. Jinnah offered to form coalitions with the Congress in the critical UP and Bombay legislatures. But the Congress, buoyed by its success at the polls, rejected the offer. An elated Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru declared that there were only two political powers in the India, namely, the British and the Congress. He offered to cooperate with the League in UP only if it dissolved itself and joined the Congress.

In declining to cooperate with the League in 1937, the Congress missed a golden opportunity to forge a united political alliance in India. The League had cooperated with the Congress in some of the local electoral districts in UP and in return expected that the Congress would invite it to form a coalition government. Maulana Azad records in his book, “India Wins Freedom” that he had arranged for two of the senior members of the League, Chaudhari Khaliquzzaman and Nawab Ismail Khan to join the UP ministry. But the UP Congress went back on the tacit pre-election understanding for a coalition with the League. Only one ministerial seat was offered to the UP Muslims and that too if they abandoned their allegiance to the League and joined the Congress. Mohammed Mujeeb, a prominent member of the League recalls (Ref: India’s Partition, ed. by Musheerul Hasan, p. 410): “I was at home in Lucknow when the draft of the agreement proposed by Maulana Azad on behalf of the Congress was sent to Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman. My immediate reaction on reading it was that the Muslim League was being asked to abolish itself”. Ultimately, the lone Muslim seat in the ministry was given to Jameet e ulema e Hind, a religious party which had shifted its allegiance from the League to Congress.

Nehru was consistent, but consistently unrealistic on the communal issue. He was a statesman but his statesmanship failed him at critical moments. In 1937, he tried to crush the League in UP. The result was exactly the opposite. It only crushed the pro-congress elements in the League and forced them into a communal corner. A cooperative hand extended at this critical juncture might have paid rich political dividends. His passion for secular socialism made him insensitive to the depths of communal suspicions in the subcontinent. This failure showed up repeatedly in Nehru’s political career, first in the Nehru report of 1928, then in his decisions following the 1937 elections, and finally his sabotage of the British Cabinet Mission plan in 1946. His failures had a decisive impact on the events leading to partition. He was a political giant, next only to Gandhi in stature, and the subcontinent paid a heavy price for his misjudgments. Maulana Azad observers in his book India Wins Freedom: “Jawaharlal’s action (in refusing to give two ministerial seats to the League) gave the Moslem League in the U.P. a new lease of life. All students of Indian politics know that it was from the U.P. that the League was reorganized. Mr. Jinnah took full advantage of the situation and started an offensive which ultimately led to Pakistan”.

Following the elections of 1937, the Congress formed cabinets in seven out of eleven states where it had won a majority of Assembly seats. In addition, in Sindh and Assam it was part of the ruling coalitions. The Unionist Party, a coalition of traditional Muslim, Sikh and Hindu interests, ruled the Punjab. In Bengal the Praja Krishak Party formed the ministry. Thus in nine out of eleven provinces the Congress was either in power or part of a coalition that held power. The Muslim League was unable to command a majority in any of the provinces. This was a low point for the League. It seemed as if the League had become irrelevant to the power politics of India. It was only the singular focus and drive of Jinnah that galvanized the party and molded it into a force that was able within a decade to dictate the partition of the subcontinent.

The actions of the Congress in the two years that it was in power were perceived by the minorities to be a manifestation of a rising tide of political Hinduism. Since its electoral base in 1937 was predominantly Hindu (the Congress had won only 26 of 491 seats allocated to Muslims) it was understandably responsive to the demands of its Hindu constituency. However, it also displayed a noticeable insensitivity to the need of the Muslims in North India. First, Hindi written in the Devanagri script was introduced as the medium of instruction in schools. Urdu, which was the lingua franca of north India, and the cultural language of north Indian Muslims, was marginalized. This was seen by the Muslim elite as an attack on their culture. Second, the singing of Vande Mataram was introduced into schools. This song was written by the Bengali poet Bankim Chandra Chatterjee in 1876 as a protest against the British who had consolidated their grip on India and had made the singing of “God save the Queen” mandatory for all Indian school children. The words Vande Mataram may mean “I worship thee” or “I salute thee” depending on the interpretation. The context of the song which was set by Bankim Chanda in an anti-Muslim novel Ananda MathTemple and its evocation of the goddess Durga made it a controversial part of the Hindu-Muslim dialectic. Some Muslims looked upon the introduction of this song as an attempt to impose Hindu culture on non-Hindus. Some Christians and Sikhs also objected to the song on the grounds that it equated the motherland with the goddess Durga.

In historical hindsight, these “excesses” of the Congress would not be considered politically significant were it not for the charged political context of the times. It is worth remembering that the large provinces of Punjab and Bengal were not ruled by the Congress and were not subject to the Congress “reforms”. Princely India, consisting of 572 autonomous kingdoms and containing almost 25 percent of India’s total population was not affected. A certain amount of cronyism and partisanship was unavoidable in any elective government. Besides, it was not just the Muslims of UP who were unhappy with Congress rule. The Scheduled Caste Federation and the Justice Party of Tamil Nadu were also unhappy. In the larger matrix of the subcontinent the Congress “excesses” would have subsided over time and replaced by the give and take inherent in a democracy. In a pluralistic, democratic India, the center of gravity of political life would have floated towards a populist mass dictated by the dual convergence of self interest and the impossibility of either of the two principal religious communities dominating the other.

Some of the reforms proposed by the Congress ministries were perceived as an attempt to impose soft Hindutva. The Congress pushed mass education but secularized the curriculum under a scheme called the Wardha Taleemi Scheme. The vast network of madrassah-based religious schools in north India felt marginalized. The tricolor flag of the Congress was given official status and pictures of Gandhi were prominently displayed in schools. The land reforms proposed by the Congress ministries hit hard the landed Muslim aristocracy of UP. It was precisely this class that was at the helm of affairs in the Muslim League and they felt threatened. The vast province of UP was the crucible of communal politics. The end game of partition was played out in the Punjab and Bengal but it was UP that witnessed the first act. There were reports of favoritism, normal in any democratic setup, but highly suspicious in the charged atmosphere of the times. Nehru’s attempts to isolate and crush the Muslim League reinforced these suspicions. However, to be fair, Pandit Nehru was under tremendous pressure from some of his colleagues including Pant, Rajendra Prasad and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai to take a hard line against the League.

This was the first taste of power for the Congress party and it missed a golden opportunity to forge a national consensus. Nehru sought to bring more Muslims into the party and initiated a campaign of mass contact. The attempt fizzled out because the dominant Hindu communities of UP, savoring their new found power, had no inclination to share it with anyone else. To cap it all, Pandit Nehru wrote to Jinnah mocking the League as an elitist organization and taunting him that there were only two political forces left in India, namely, the British and the Congress party. “No”, retorted Jinnah, “there is a third force, and that is the Indian Muslims”. This was the parting of the ways for the two men who maintained a cold animosity towards each other until partition.

The war in Europe cast its long shadow on India. Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. On September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany. The Viceroy in India, Linlithgow, followed suit and declared that India was at war with Germany. Indians were outraged that they were dragged into a war that was not of their own choosing. In acting unilaterally, without even the hint of consultations, the viceroy had reminded India of her servile colonial status. Gandhi was especially in a dire predicament. He had opposed the war on moral grounds and had gone so far as to counsel the British not to fight the Nazis but to resist them non-violently. The opinion among India’s leaders was split. Within the Congress party, Nehru, Azad and Patel saw the menace of Nazism as worse than the evil of imperialism and were willing to cooperate with the British provided they gave India its freedom immediately. A free India would join the allies as an equal and willing partner in the war against the fascists. Jinnah extended his cooperation to the British in return for their backing of his demands for Muslim rights. On the other hand, Gandhi, supported by other senior Congress workers, remained adamantly opposed to the war on moral grounds.

The Congress ministries in the provinces resigned in protest against the unilateral declaration of war by the viceroy. The Muslim League, the Scheduled Caste Federation and the Justice Party of Tamil Nadu who had perceived Congress rule as oppressive, rejoiced and observed December 22, 1939 as “youm e najat” (deliverance day). The Congress party had a chance to show its metal as a national party and demonstrate its sensitivity to the minorities. In this attempt, it failed. The Muslims and the Scheduled Castes saw Congress rule as political tyranny. Even some of the British observers described the rule of Congress ministries as “a rising tide of political Hinduism”.

In a broader sense, the tug of war between the Congress and the League was a struggle between the old landed aristocracy and the emerging money lending class. The landed aristocracy had inherited their holdings as jagirs from the Moguls and the succeeding nawabs. These established land owners and the large farmers had come under pressure from the tax collectors appointed by the British East India Company under the so called reforms of 1793. Each collector was required to remit a fixed amount per acre to the British irrespective of the yield on the land. In lean times, the farmers could not pay the fixed tax and had to borrow money from the usurious money lenders to pay the tax collector. Defaults were common and the farmers and the land owners often lost their land to the tax collectors or the money lenders. A substantial percentage of land owners in UP were Muslim while the money lenders were predominantly Hindu. Some of the money lenders, the Marwaris from Gujarat, had become entrepreneurs and had joined the ranks of the emerging industrialists. The Congress party drew its financial backing from these industrialists while its voter base was primarily Hindu in spite of its broad national appeal. The Muslim League, on the other hand, represented the interest of the land owning class, and tended to champion their cause. The voter base of the League was almost exclusively Muslim.

Just as the power struggle between the landed gentry and the emerging merchant class in Cromwell’s England determined the evolution of English politics, the struggle between the Muslim landowners and the Hindu money lenders determined the shape of politics in 20th century India. Whereas in England this struggle shifted political power from the landed class to the merchants, in India there was a divorce between the two. The landed class, the nawabs and the estate holders backed Jinnah and opted for Pakistan. The founders of the Muslim League in 1906, Nawab Viqar ul Mulk, Nawab Salimullah Khan, Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah all belonged to old, established landed aristocracy. The money lenders, merchants and the emerging industrialists such as the Birlas backed Gandhi and stayed in India.

Religion was the surface wave generated by this underlying power struggle between the old guard and new guard. The draft from this wave sucked in the masses and carried them to the holocaust accompanying partition. It is this underlying struggle that explains the opposition of the League to the land reforms introduced by the Congress party in 1937 in northern India. The land reforms hit hard at the Muslim landed gentry. The underlying struggle also explains the opposition of the Congress to the tax proposals advanced by Liaqat Ali Khan as the finance minister in the brief Congress-League coalition ministry in 1946. The taxation proposals hit hard at the Hindu merchant class and were vehemently denounced by their supporters in the Congress party. The price for the divorce was paid by the illiterate masses of India, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh alike.

While the major political parties jockeyed for position and argued among themselves the flames of war spread to Asia and the Pacific. In December 1941, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and declared war on the United States. Hitler formed an alliance with Japan. The United States, in turn, declared war on Japan and Germany. The Japanese made rapid advances in the Pacific, capturing the Philippines, Indonesia, Indochina and Burma. By April 1942 they were on India’s doorsteps.

The Japanese thrust left the Indian leadership in a quandary. Their responses were predictably mixed. Nehru, Patel and Azad had their sympathies with the allies. But they desired that India’s participation in the war be one of free choice, not one dictated by the British. Gandhi was against armed resistance and wanted non-violent resistance and non-cooperation to contain the Japanese thrust. Jinnah supported the British war effort in the hope that the support would pay off political dividends. With the Japanese probing Indian defenses in the eastern state of Assam, Gandhi felt it was an opportune time to force the British to concede India’s freedom. Under his direction the Congress launched the Quit India movement. The goal was a non-violent, non-cooperation confrontation with the Raj to force an immediate transfer of power from the British to the Indians. The Muslim League did not overtly endorse the Quit India movement but did passively support it.

The British were in no mood to cede power in the midst of a war which at that time was going badly for them. Their response was to arrest the Congress leaders and a large number of Congress activists. After the arrests, there were violent demonstrations in the major cities which were put down with the help of Indian police and the army which was still loyal to the British. Nehru, Azad, Patel and other senior member of the Congress leadership spent the next three and a half years in the Ahmednagar prison in the Deccan. Gandhi was interned in the Agha Khan palace in Poona. In 1944 he started a fast in prison. His health deteriorated. The British, fearful of a backlash in case he died in prison, released him in 1944.

The resignation of the Congress provincial ministries in 1939 and the arrest of Congress leadership in 1942 was a boon to the Muslim League. Jinnah supported the British war effort and used the interregnum to consolidate the mass base for the League especially in the crucial provinces of the Punjab and Bengal. When the Congress leadership finally emerged from prison in 1945, India had changed. The British were exhausted. The League had grown to be a national organization claiming to represent all the Muslims of the subcontinent. There was widespread discontent in the country fueled by wartime scarcity, famine and British arrogance.

The formation of the Indian National Army (INA) during World War II was a major event in India’s struggle for independence. Subash Chandra Bose, a senior member of the Congress party, was forced to resign as President of the party in 1939 over policy differences with Gandhi. Bose believed that only armed resistance would compel the British to quit India while Gandhi emphasized nonviolence and non-cooperation. In 1941, when Japan entered the War, Bose made his way in disguise first to Germany where he met Hitler, and then to Japan where he formed the Indian National Army under Japanese patronage. The advancing Japanese armies overran Singapore and Malaya in March-April 1942. A large portion of the British army in the Pacific was Indian in origin. Over forty thousand Indian soldiers surrendered to the Japanese along with the British, the Australians and the New Zealanders. Of these, over thirty five thousand Indian soldiers, Muslim, Sikhs and Hindus alike, joined the Indian National Army under Bose.

The Japanese promised independence for India once the British were defeated and expelled. An Azad Hind (free India) government was set up under Subash Chandra Bose as an Indian government in exile. The INA was the vanguard of a military force spearheading an attack on India from Burma. The INA brigades did advance toward Kohima and Imphal in Assam but were stopped by allied forces. As the Japanese came under increasing pressure from the Americans in the Pacific theater, they pulled back logistic and air support from the Burma-India theater to defend their operations further east. Heavy rain and diseases took their toll. The INA was unable to advance any further than the hills of Assam. Bose died in an air crash on Taiwan in early 1945.

Even though the INA was unsuccessful in pushing the British out of India, its exploits caught the imagination of the Indian population. One may argue that it was the inspiration offered by the INA and the armed rebellions it fostered that was responsible for the ultimate British decision to quit India. News of an Asian power defeating the entrenched Europeans in Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaya and Burma convinced many Indians that the British were not invincible after all. More than two million Indians served in the British Indian army. They fought valiantly in North Africa, southern Europe and the Far East. When the war was over they returned home to an India that was still a British colony. These soldiers had tasted victory in distant lands and were not inclined to accept a permanent colonial status for their motherland.

India was seething with resentment. The subcontinent was like a boiling pot where the steam was contained with difficulty by the Gandhian lid. The resentment did burst out soon after the war. The captured INA soldiers were put on trial in Delhi “for waging war on the King Emperor”. Among those accused of treason were Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. The trial of General Shah Nawaz Khan, Colonel Prem Sehgal and Colonel Gurbux Singh Dhillon at the Red Fort in Delhi attracted national attention. They were defended at the trial by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Bhulabhai Desai who took the position that the INA soldiers were soldiers of the Arizi Hukumate Azad Hind or the Provisional Government of Free India and as such should be treated as citizens of a free and sovereign Indian state. Jinnah appealed to the British to treat the prisoners with leniency.

The trial caused mass uproar. In February 1946, a section of the Indian Navy based in Bombay, observed a hartal (passive non-cooperation) ostensibly over the condition of food served to them. The hartal soon mushroomed into a full blown mutiny involving over 70 ships and 20,000 sailors stationed in Karachi, Bombay, Vishakhapatnam and Calcutta. The Congress tricolor and the League green flag were jointly hoisted over the commandeered ships. Elements of the Royal Indian Air Force joined in. The Indian army contingents based in Jabalpur were the next to defy orders from their British officers. Industrial workers from Bombay went on strike followed by workers in Ahmadabad. The situation was ominous for the colonial authorities.

The rebellion caught the attention of the British Prime Minister Clemente Attlee who ordered that it be crushed. Squadrons of the British navy surrounded the Bombay harbor. British heavy guns were trained on the Indian ships. Crack British army units were called out. Indian navy personnel in Karachi were fired upon killing and injuring dozens. British pilots of the Royal Indian Air Force flew in formation over the Bombay harbor in a show of force.

The stand of the Indian sailors attracted widespread support among the masses, seething with discontent with the apparent lack of progress towards independence by the major political parties. It caught the Indian leadership by surprise. Gandhi distanced himself from the uprising admonishing the sailors that they ought to address their grievances through established political leaderships. Jinnah urged the armed personnel to call off the strike. Nehru was equally unequivocal that the strike should be called off. Patel traveled to Bombay to ensure that the uprising ended peacefully. The apparent concern of the Congress and League leadership was that an uprising without a leader would lead to anarchy and would draw India into the whirlpool of cold war politics emerging after the Second World War. It might have invited intervention by the United States and the Soviet Union, as happened in the Korean Peninsula and Vietnam. The Communist Party of India, never far behind whenever there was an opportunity for anarchy, fully backed the uprising and their flag was hoisted along with those of the Congress and the League.

Bereft of political backing from the national leadership, the valiant stand of the sailors ended in failure and the mutiny was put down by the force of colonial bayonets. However, it demonstrated that as far as the Indian army was concerned the communal question did not exist. This was in February 1946, at a time when the Congress and the League were deadlocked in negotiations over the constitutional future of India. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of the armed forces demonstrated that they were willing to stand up as one and challenge the British.

The British took the uprising more seriously than did Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, and Patel. An exhausted Britain, licking its wounds from a near mortal bout with Hitler’s Germany, realized that the Indian armed forces which were the mainstay of the British Raj could not be counted on to put down a mass insurrection in the subcontinent. The mutiny of 1857 had started under similar circumstances, ostensibly over Sepoy discontent over cartridge wrappings. The British barely escaped a forcible exit from India in 1857 thanks to the support of the Sikhs, the Nizam and some of the nawabs and maharajahs. The situation in 1946 was different. India was now aware of itself. It was no longer willing to tolerate a foreign yoke under which it had toiled for over 150 years.

It was the uprising of Indian sailors, more than anything that Gandhi, Nehru or Jinnah did,  which convinced the British that it was time for them to quit. They could leave in one of two ways, either through negotiations or through armed conflict. Armed conflict would drag India into the whirlpool of the emerging cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union with unpredictable consequences for post war Asia. The larger issue was the shape of the post war world and continued western dominance in the new world order. The huge British investments in India would be safeguarded only through a negotiated settlement with trusted parties. The Indian National Congress and the Muslim League were led by British trained lawyers and in spite of their bitter disagreements on power sharing, could be counted on to safeguard British interests.

Negotiations were accelerated with the Congress and the League and India’s independence was placed on fast track. The British cabinet appointed a commission in March 1946 to visit India, consult with the major political parties and recommend a constitutional framework for independence. The commission was headed by Patrick Lawrence, then Secretary of State for India. It included Stafford Cripps, President of the Board of Trade and A.V. Alexander, Secretary of the navy. The commission held intense consultations with Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League and Azad, the President of Congress, and in May 1946 presented the so-called Cabinet Mission Plan.

The Cabinet Mission Plan envisaged a united India with a federal government consisting of three groups. Group A was the bulk of British India which had a Hindu majority. The northwestern portions of the empire consisting of the Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and NW Frontier constituted Group B. Bengal and Assam were grouped under Group C. Groups B and C had nominal Muslim majorities. Defense, foreign affairs and communications would be handled by the Federal Government. The residual powers vested with the three groups. Each group was free to delegate any additional powers to the federal center.

Jinnah accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan as he felt this was the best that could be achieved under the circumstances. He was assured by the British that the congress would accept it also. But Gandhi was adamantly opposed to the plan. He saw in it the genesis of a future Pakistan. He advised the chief minister of Assam, Gopinath Bordoloi, not to join Bengal in Zone C.

Despite Gandhi’s opposition, most of the senior leadership in Congress supported the Cabinet Mission Plan in the hope that India could be kept united. On July 7, 1946 the Congress did pass a resolution accepting the Plan. However, other fateful events intervened. On July 10, 1946, during a question and answer period following a news conference in Bombay, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru stated that the Congress party was not bound by the stipulations of the Cabinet Mission Plan. Nehru was the newly elected President of the Congress and his statement was the bombshell that destroyed the Cabinet Mission Plan. Jinnah called a meeting of the League working committee to discuss the Congress rejection of the plan. Meanwhile, the Congress working committee met and issued a lengthy statement in which it said that even though they had reservations about the Plan, they would abide by its stipulations. Jinnah saw in this wavering attitude of the Congress a harbinger of things to come. If the Congress could go back on its promises even while the British were in India, he asked, how could the Muslims have faith in their promises after the departure of the British. The League working committee rescinded its earlier acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan.

The failure of the Cabinet Mission Plan was the single most important milestone on the road to partition. Up until August 1946 there was a possibility, however remote, that the Congress and the League would find a meeting ground to keep India united. That hope evaporated with the statement of Nehru and rescinding of the Plan by the League. The question before a student of history is: why did the leaders of the Congress and the League, in their collective wisdom, failed to foresee the consequences of their decisions?

Pakistan was conceived by Mohammed Iqbal as a Muslim majority region in northwestern British India. It would enjoy legislative autonomy within or outside the British Empire. Iqbal foresaw the future of Muslim civilization in a continuous evolution of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Ijtihad, meaning a rigorous application of the Shariah, was for him a dynamic tool which man used in his unceasing struggle as the trustee of divine will to discover new vistas of fiqh. Postulating that Ijtihad could be exercised only by an elected legislative assembly of Muslims, he argued that a non-Muslim legislature could not discharge this function. Hence, he called for the establishing of an autonomous Muslim region in parts of British India wherein the Muslims could elect their own representatives and discharge the divine mission of Ijtihad.

While Iqbal was motivated by the vision of an Islamic civilization rejuvenated through Ijtihad of the masses, Jinnah, the architect of Pakistan, was motivated by a desire to avoid Hindu hegemony over Muslim majority areas which would bottle up Muslim aspirations for generations to come. Jinnah accepted the challenge of implementing Iqbal’s concept in the matrix of a Hindu majority India which was ruled at the time by Pax Brittania. He was a secular man, a nationalist who for most of his life sought Hindu-Muslim reconciliation but was frustrated in his efforts by Congress party which was unwilling to share power with the Muslim League. Unlike Gandhi, Jinnah was against using religious symbols in the struggle for independence and believed that negotiations and constitutional means offered the best guarantee for a peaceful transfer of power from British colonial power to India. Indeed, it was the use of religious symbols by Gandhi in the non-cooperation movement of 1921 and his alliance with the Muslim religious right during the Khilafat Movement that had prompted Jinnah to quit the Congress party.

It is possible to argue that Jinnah’s goal was not partition but parity between Hindus and Muslims in a united India. In support of this thesis, one may look at the commitment of Jinnah to Hindu-Muslim amity in his early career. Jinnah was a champion of minority rights but he advanced them within constitutional means avoiding mass agitation and anarchy. As late as 1928 when the Nehru Report was published, he sought to bridge the positions of the two communities. It was the Congress rejection of Jinnah’s 14 points that convinced him of the vulnerability of Muslims under Hindu majority rule.

The Lahore resolution of 1940 calling for the establishment of Pakistan was deliberately vague as to what Pakistan meant. Jinnah, a master tactician and a political master, knew that the moment the idea of Pakistan became concrete, it would be open to critical scrutiny and would lose some of its abstract appeal to the Muslim masses. A vaguely defined Pakistan meant different things to different people and was amorphous enough to provide at once a rallying point for Muslims and a negotiating platform for discussions with the British and the Congress party. It was Nehru’s rejection of the Cabinet Mission Plan that killed any hope of a united India. Events moved at a torrid pace thereafter. Jinnah, the constitutionalist turned Jinnah the mass leader. He called for “direct action” on August 16, 1946 which started an irrevocable slide towards partition. However, he did not foresee that the implementation of a Muslim majority Pakistan would necessarily mean the partition of the great provinces of the Punjab and Bengal. When partition did arrive, he had to accept a “moth eaten Pakistan” over no Pakistan at all.

The contribution of Gandhi to the partition of the subcontinent was more substantial than is commonly acknowledged. He was a complex man who touched India at multiple levels. First and foremost, he was a nationalist whose mission was to free India from British colonial rule. However, what set him apart from other nationalists who were equally passionate about India’s independence were his methods. He had perfected the art of satyagraha or passive non-resistance while fighting racial prejudice in South Africa . Upon his return to India in 1916 he set out to apply these methods to force the British to concede India’s independence.

It is a tribute to the genius of Gandhi that he understood correctly the basis of British imperialism and came up with an effective political strategy to undermine this basis. India as a colony supplied raw materials to British factories. The British controlled the means of production and the Indians were the coolies and consumers. The finished goods, marked up several fold, were brought back and sold in the vast Indian market at monopoly prices. Thus India provided both the push and the pull for British imperialism, supplying raw materials at the input end and markets for finished products at the output end. In the process Britain got richer and India was poorer by the day. Cotton provides a good example for this process. Indian cotton was shipped in bales to the factories in Lancashire where it was processed into cloth, brought back to India and sold to India’s peasants. The British East India Company had killed the weaving industry in Bengal as early as 1790 with exorbitant taxation and active discouragement of the weavers. The story was the same whether one looked at salt or sewing needles.

Gandhi built a mass movement on the basis of passive non cooperation. His strategy was simple and effective. Avoid British manufactured goods. Be self sufficient. He started to spin his own cloth and the spinning wheel became a symbol of Gandhian resistance. Khadi, or homemade cloth, became the hallmark of Congress workers. By refusing to feed Britain’s productive machine, he struck at the very roots of British imperialism. In 1930 he declared he would march to the ocean “to make salt”. The British first laughed at him. When they realized the political punch of his techniques, they arrested him. When they could no longer contain him, they negotiated with him.

The most enduring contribution of Gandhi was that he made India aware of itself. His use of Satyagraha (truth-force) was both a tactic and a moral weapon. Satyagraha had its foundation in the Buddhist doctrine of self-abnegation and self-control. The thrust of Satyagraha was at once to tap the inner reservoir of moral energy in its practitioner and to place its target on the moral defensive. However, it called for an extraordinary degree of self discipline and restraint which was in short supply among the masses. The non-cooperation movement based o Satyagraha often became disruptive and to the extent it was violent it was counter-productive.

However, it was Gandhi’s use of religious symbols that injected communalism into India’s freedom struggle. In 1921 Gandhi forged an alliance with the Muslim religious right in support of the Khilafat movement. In turn, the Muslim religious establishment backed Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement against the British. When the movement got out of hand and turned violent, Gandhi abandoned it but the seeds of religious separatism had been sown. It was soon thereafter that religious riots broke out in parts of the Punjab and UP. Savarkar composed his book on Hindutva in 1924. In 1928 the Congress made a volte-face on the issue of separate electoral representation for Muslims. The Muslim League upped the ante in its demands. When the decade ended in 1930, India was a divided land, locked in bitter communal Hindu-Muslim rhetoric. The divisions were there for all to see at the round table conference of 1931. Ironically, it was Jinnah, who had warned the Congress and Muslim League against the injection of religion into India’s freedom struggle. Neither side listened to him then. Jinnah was so disgusted with Indian politics that he retired and settled in London after 1931. It was only 1935, with the Muslims completely demoralized that he returned to take charge of the League at the insistence of the Mohammed Ali brothers and Allama Iqbal.

Gandhi was vehemently opposed to the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 and actively campaigned against it. His goal in life was independence of India but he was unwilling to share power with Jinnah to achieve it. Nehru’s statement at a news conference in July 1946 that Congress had agreed only to participate in a Constituent Assembly but not the grouping of states into zones A, B and C, effectively scuttled the Plan. Two months later, partition became a certainty. When it was time to make a decision and the Congress working committee considered the proposal for partition, Gandhi, who had steadfastly maintained that he would never agree to partition, recommended that the proposal be accepted. He would rather accept partition than a federal government under the Cabinet Mission Plan. This was the ultimate contradiction in Gandhi’s political career which historians will argue about for years to come.

Looking through the prism of historical hindsight one wonders where the principal actors on the stage of India’s history stood at this critical juncture. Was Gandhi as passionate about a united India as he is made out to be? If so, why did he not negotiate on the basis of the Cabinet Mission Plan? Was Nehru under so much pressure that he lost his cool at the press conference in July 1946 where he renounced the Cabinet Mission Plan? Was it a misspoken statement, or, was a reflection of Gandhi’s opinion? Was Nehru so enamored of a socialist India with a strong center that he was willing to sacrifice the unity of the subcontinent for his ideological convictions? Was Jinnah really for partition or was it a ploy to obtain the maximum concessions from an unwilling Congress? If he was determined to have an independent Pakistan, then why did he accept the Cabinet Mission Plan for a united India? Did he realize until the eleventh hour that the partition of British India would also mean a partition of the Punjab and Bengal? Was the Congress commitment to a united India so flimsy that they were willing to risk partition rather than share power? Did Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Patel consider the consequences of partition for the minorities on both sides of the border? As for the British, why were they in such hurry to pack up and leave while the Punjab was in flames? Was a divided India more in line with their long term strategic interests?

What is obvious in historical hindsight is that none of them, Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah, Patel, Azad anticipated the holocaust that was to descend on northern India once the partition plan was announced. It left in its wake a million dead and fifteen million destitute refugees. Partition was their collective failure.

The Cabinet Mission Plan was the last hope for keeping India united, giving a chance to the two great religious communities to work together. With the failure of this plan, India took a tortuous and precipitous slide towards partition. The constituent assembly met but the League boycotted it. Weary of the mounting tensions in India and alarmed at the mutiny of the Royal Indian Navy, the British cabinet sent a new viceroy, Mountbatten to Delhi to arrange for a transfer of power. Since the League was boycotting the constituent assembly, Mountbatten invited Nehru to form a cabinet. Jinnah was furious. He saw this as proof of the duplicity of the British and connivance of the Congress. He called for “Direct Action Day” on August 16, 1946.

Until the 16th of August 1946, the leaders of the Congress and the League were in control of history. After that date it was history that was in control of them. The Direct Action day was conceived as a day of peaceful protests. But in the communally charged atmosphere of India any excuse was sufficient to start a riot. The day passed peacefully in most parts of India but Calcutta was the scene of horrific riots with 6,000 dead and more than 20,000 injured. Some chroniclers have put the number of injured at over 100,000. Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs burned each other’s homes and stabbed innocent men, women and children. For five days, Calcutta burned. The army which was still under the control of the British did not intervene until it was too late. So ferocious were the riots that they destroyed whatever hope still lingered for a negotiated settlement of the Hindu-Muslim issue.

Some historians have blamed Suhrawardy who was the Muslim League chief minister of Bengal for the riots. However, the British, after a thorough investigation concluded that this assessment was incorrect. The viceroy Wavell wrote to the British Secretary of India Patrick Lawrence in August 1946: “Last weekend has seen dreadful riots in Calcutta . The estimates of casualties are 3,000 dead and 17,000 injured. The Bengal Congress is convinced that all the trouble was deliberately engineered by the Muslim League Ministry, but no satisfactory evidence to that effect has reached me yet. It is said that the decision to have a public holiday on 16th August was the cause of trouble, but I think this is very far-fetched. There was a public holiday in Sind and there was no trouble there. At any rate, whatever the causes of the outbreak, when it started, the Hindus and Sikhs were every bit as fierce as Muslims. The present estimate is that appreciably more Muslims were killed than the Hindus”.

Jinnah realized that staying out of the cabinet would be a tactical error as it would give the Congress a free reign over policies at a time when the British were seriously contemplating a transfer of power. A coalition interim government was formed in October 1946. Pandit Nehru served as the prime minister of the interim government, Sardar Patel was the home minister, while Liaqat Ali Khan became the finance minister.

So intense was the animosity between the League and the Congress that the interim government became an arena for political one-upmanship rather than a platform for efficient administration. There was daily acrimony between the two sides. The League and Congress ministers held separate meetings. Instead of a give and take required in a democratic set up, each side sought to curtail the activities of the other. Liaqat Ali used his position as the finance minister to subject the Congress ministries to intense scrutiny. Bitterness grew among the cabinet members. Patel in particular was so embittered that he was won over to the idea of partition.

Mountbatten was eager to finish the job of power transfer and return to London. He pushed the idea of partition, converted Nehru and Patel to his point of view and sold the project to the British cabinet. A divided India was more to the liking of Churchill who was now the opposition leader in the British parliament. Jinnah was still under the impression that partition would bring the provinces of Punjab and Bengal in their entirety into Pakistan. It came as a shock to him when the Congress advanced the position in March 1947 that partition of the subcontinent would also mean a partition of the great provinces of Punjab and Bengal. Only the Muslim majority districts would be included in Pakistan. East Punjab and West Bengal would stay in India. The 572 princely states were given the option of acceding to either India or Pakistan keeping in view their geography and the wishes of their people. Jinnah argued passionately to keep Punjab and Bengal united in Pakistan but failed to convince Mountbatten of his position. Reluctantly, he agreed to “a moth eaten Pakistan”.

Widespread riots broke out in Punjab in March 1947. Ethnic cleansing on a scale rarely witnessed in human history was practiced on both sides of the new proposed border. No one knows how many innocent Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs perished in the riots. Estimates range from half a million to two million. Entire villages were decimated. Towns went up in flames. Thousands of women and children were abducted and abused. Fifteen million refugees crossed the border. And the new nations of India and Pakistan came into existence immersed in flames of hatred and soaked in rivers of blood. They have fought three wars and a fourth war has been narrowly avoided. Of late, there is movement towards a détente. One hopes that the process continues, leading to lasting peace in the subcontinent and prosperity for its teaming millions.

A Neutral Afghanistan

A Neutral Afghanistan

A Neutral Afghanistan
By Ghulam Faruq Achikzad
Former Member, Executive Board of the Supreme Council of the Central Bank of Afghanistan.
Submitted to the Encyclopedia on November 15, 2013

Summary: Afghanistan has endured more than its share of foreign intervention and occupation, spanning decades during which its people have suffered death, displacement and seemingly intractable instability. Ghulam Faruq Achikzad argues that it’s time for the international community, and especially Afghanistan’s neighbors, to declare Afghanistan neutral and allow the Afghan people to shape their own future without foreign interference.

THE PAST 30 YEARS have been the most turbulent in Afghanistan’s modern history. The country has struggled to overcome the devastating effects of armed conflict, occupation and intervention by outsiders. More than 5 million Afghans left the country, 1 million were killed and another 1.5 million disabled during three decades of foreign occupations and ensuing rounds of civil war.

The Soviet Union’s brutal occupation in the late 1970s and 1980s caused irreparable damage to the socio-economic fabric of this impoverished nation. The aftermath of the Soviet defeat ushered in a succession of unstable governments as the country was divided into fiefdoms ruled by various warlords. That was followed by the harsh period of Taliban rule that ended in the US-led intervention immediately after Sept. 11, 2001.

The Bonn Conference in December 2001, held under the auspices of the United Nations, tried to restore some semblance of order by attempting to lay the foundations for a secure and stable state. Under this mechanism, delegations of Afghan leaders and exiles created a framework — a three-phase road map — for the new Afghanistan.

The first phase consisted of establishing a six-month interim government, which was led by a former Afghan justice minister, representing former King Mohammad Zaher Shah. The second phase was the creation of a Transitional Authority, paving the way for general elections, which was the third and final phase. An important stipulation was that a traditional loya jirga (grand council) would be convened within 18 months of the formation of the Transitional Authority to draft a new constitution that would build on the suspended 1964 constitution, excising clauses that pertained to the monarchy and mandating a presidential system with a bicameral legislature. It was hoped that this new constitution would accelerate Afghanistan’s move toward democracy and provide much needed stability.

But external forces subverted the political process, expressly ignoring the will of the Afghan people. Hamid Karzai, a little-known exile figure at that time, was selected as the chairman of the interim administration through some questionable backroom dealings and has been kept in power to this day, contrary to the original vision laid out in Bonn. Outsiders also tampered with the new Afghan Constitution, which was supposed to be drafted by Afghans to establish the legal groundwork for a just and stable society.

Karzai’s tenure as president has been marked by systemic corruption, cronyism and a resurgence of the Taliban. Far from fulfilling the expectations of the Bonn Agreement, his poor stewardship has short-circuited the transition to a functioning democracy. It also seems to have further entrenched destabilizing forces that undermine any movement in that direction. So it is hardly surprising that very little has been accomplished in terms of nation-building and sustainable economic development. As a result, movement towards a civil society and a just social order has also been curtailed.

For democratic ideals to take root and for Afghans to take charge of their own future, Afghanistan must be free to pursue its own national interests. Enshrined in the Bonn Agreement was a critically important — and willfully ignored — principle that required all stakeholders to “take necessary measures to guarantee national sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Afghanistan as well as the non-interference by foreign countries in Afghanistan’s internal affairs.”

As host of the Bonn Conference and the only impartial international body capable of overseeing an orderly transition to democracy in Afghanistan, the UN Security Council should build on the Bonn Agreement and pass a resolution guaranteeing the political sovereignty and territorial integrity of Afghanistan in a way that would keep the country free from any outside interference and declare Afghanistan a demilitarized and neutral state.1 This could also be accomplished through a UN-sponsored international conference. Useful precedents for such an idea may be found in the 1955 Austrian State Treaty, or the International Agreement on the Neutrality of Laos, signed in 1962. Signatories to these agreements — neighboring countries and dominant foreign powers — pledged not to interfere in the internal affairs of these states and to respect their fundamental rights of self determination, notwithstanding the semi-secret US intervention in Laos at the time.

This does not mean that the international community should not play any role in shaping Afghanistan’s future. There is a place for responsible action, and the pursuit of peace should rightly be viewed as a moral imperative. But Afghanistan must not be viewed as a battleground where competing ideologies and regional rivalries are acted out in a destructive power struggle. In their zeal to maintain the primacy of their own strategic objectives and national interests above anything else, certain nations have undermined peace and stability and have unduly influenced the political, economic and military spheres in Afghanistan. Neighboring countries and other interested parties can play a more productive role in Afghanistan by encouraging regional economic co-operation and partnership as a way to promote peace and prosperity.

Meddlesome Neighbors

While the question of neutrality was broached at Bonn, Afghanistan’s neighbors have never actually respected its sovereignty. Foreign governments, international institutions, think tanks and the media have all written about the broader international community’s so-called exit strategy. But few suggest any meaningful solution to the meddling in Afghan affairs by Pakistan, Iran and, to some extent, India. Lawless tribal areas along the long and porous border with Pakistan harbor not only the Taliban, but also Al-Qaida, the Haqani network and the Hikmatyar forces. Waziristan, a hotbed of militancy, is effectively a parallel state within Pakistan. These destructive forces use Pakistani territory as a safe haven to train, recruit and arm terrorists. And they continue to roam around freely on either side of the poorly demarcated border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, carrying out deadly incursions with impunity. Pakistan not only countenances such behavior, it even regards these unsavory groups as indispensable to what it refers to as its “strategic depth” in Afghanistan in the event of a war with India. Defusing tensions between India and Pakistan — specifically their longstanding dispute over Kashmir — would greatly bolster peace and stability in Afghanistan and beyond. The Kashmir feud has unfortunately spilled over into Afghanistan and has become an important ideological conflict waged through proxies. And it will continue to fester until some sort of mutually acceptable solution to the Kashmir question is reached.

Pakistan and India have recently agreed to partner with Afghanistan on the crucial Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline project that will transport natural gas from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to India. That could be an indication of a thaw in relations between these two-nuclear armed neighbors. It would be welcome news indeed with far-reaching implications for Afghanistan and the region as a whole.

A troubling aspect of the instability in Pakistan — with the government often mired in internecine disputes — is that it has enabled the Pakistani military and intelligence services to stoke the fires of war in order to retain power and influence in the region. Pakistan’s mini-military-industrial complex has profited handsomely from the war on terror and has every incentive to keep it going for the foreseeable future. If this is allowed, the conflict in Afghanistan could spread and become a “bleeding wound” for everybody involved — Afghans, neighboring countries and the global community.

Iran, on the other hand, continues to play its Shia card to exert influence and stir up the restive Shiite population in Afghanistan. This is a dangerous game. Pakistan, Iran and others must realize that a weak and unstable Afghanistan will eventually mean that their own countries will become weak and unstable.

It is also important to note that both the Taliban and Al-Qaida are foreign creations that found a safe haven in a weak and vulnerable Afghanistan. There isn’t a long-established Islamic militant tradition in Afghanistan. Suicide bombings, decapitations and the wanton and indiscriminate slaughter of civilians are new phenomena expressly forbidden by Islamic law. Outside instigators have fomented much of the violence inside Afghanistan, stirring people’s passions and creating division. The recent, deadly protests that erupted over the burning of the Quran reflect this ability to incite hatred.

External factors have conspired to create this media-driven image of Afghanistan as a seething cauldron of religious extremism and virulent anti-Westernism. In fact, a Western-style modernization drive began in Afghanistan in the late 1950s that lasted for two decades. But this first serious attempt at industrialization and development was thwarted by the Soviet invasion in 1979.

Economic Ruin

The Afghan economy is in a shambles and completely dependent on foreign aid, which pays government and military salaries, among many other things. It runs a massive trade deficit that in 2010 showed $6 billion in imports against just $571 million in exports. The economy will likely collapse when the US military commitment to Afghanistan is sharply reduced. The same scenario played out after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, when over 70 percent of economic activity in Afghanistan was derived from Soviet sources. Chronic overdependence on foreign aid is dangerous and destabilizing. Afghanistan needs a more robust economic policy that focuses on promoting regional economic co-operation with its neighbors. Some progress is already evident. China has invested in Afghanistan’s newly discovered mineral wealth; and natural gas pipeline projects will connect the Central Asian States, Pakistan, India and Russia to Afghanistan and will help spur economic growth. Export promotion should also be pursued, capitalizing on Afghanistan’s once-vibrant textile and handicrafts industry. This will encourage the creation of a dynamic entrepreneurial class.

The integration of Afghanistan into the regional economy and greater mutual interdependence will ease tensions between neighboring nations and reduce outside interference in Afghan affairs, which should provide an incentive for building alliances between states to enhance collective security. The creation of a regional economic union or a free trade zone would boost trade and development and make South Asia an attractive investment option, as member nations work together to remove tariffs and other trade barriers. Everybody stands to gain.

Afghanistan shares close cultural, linguistic and historical ties with its neighbors, particularly with Iran and Pakistan, reaching back across millennia to the halcyon days of the Great Silk Road. Such linkages should form the basis for meaningful, long-term co-operation. These countries have a shared destiny and need to work collectively to strengthen partnerships in new and emerging areas of common interest. They must resist the urge to trample on each other’s sovereignty and must acknowledge the rights and humanity of all the people who would be affected by their actions. They need to view each other as potential trading partners, not as enemies.

Counterinsurgency Alone Cannot Succeed

Another enormous problem is the fact that opium production represents the biggest chunk of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. This doesn’t portend well for the health of the economy, now or in the future. Aggressive and serious crop-substitution and alternative livelihood programs (extracting essence from flowers, for example) can address this critical challenge. Eco-friendly aerial spraying (as has been done South America), administered under the aegis of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), can destroy poppy plants and enable farmers to substitute saffron and mint, say, for opium. Saffron, the world’s most expensive spice, fetches high prices on the world market and is extremely labor-intensive. Afghanistan’s climate is highly conducive to saffron production, and there are small pockets in the country — notably Herat and Khost — where people are growing saffron instead of opium. But such efforts need to be ramped up dramatically.

An important corollary is that the US must seriously discourage the cultivation and sale of opium in Afghanistan. The country supplies more than 90 percent of the world’s opium. The most effective way to control the flow of Afghan-produced opiates would be to block the major transit routes through surrounding countries. This regional initiative would include close co-operation between states in the interdiction of cross-border traffic and the adoption of other new counternarcotics strategies.

Afghanistan’s sputtering reconstruction process illustrates the different and sometimes contradictory foreign influences at play in a situation where the national government is ineffective. Afghans must assume ownership over the reconstruction and development of their country for things to improve.

Some $46 billion in direct aid was pledged to Afghanistan under the four “compacts” put to donors at meetings in Tokyo, Berlin, London and Paris. According to those in charge of overseeing these compacts, only 18 percent of the committed funds have gone to the Afghan budget (for both operations and development expenditures). Due to documented corruption at all levels of government, a mere fraction of this sum is being spent on development and reconstruction. The remainder of the pledged sum, when realized, wends its way through a crooked, multi-layered maze, from the donors to the military to special projects and to foreign non-governmental organizations, with little or no transparency and accountability. Also, the outsized presence and influence of foreign NGOs and private firms may have smothered, to some extent, private sector development, making entry difficult for Afghan organizations and discouraging participation.

The result is that there are too many competing agendas in Afghanistan — the US military, USAID, other donors and foreign NGOs. For the benefits of reconstruction to reach ordinary Afghans, priority must be given to Afghan institutions run by Afghans for the benefit of Afghans — in short, the Afghanization of reconstruction and development is crucial.

It is important to remember that the vast majority of the Afghan population has not been radicalized. Only a very narrow segment of society, aided and abetted by international sponsors, and mostly foreign fighters are responsible for the murder and mayhem in Afghanistan. As a result, the counterinsurgency strategy adopted by NATO can only succeed in winning people’s hearts and minds if military operations are combined with parallel efforts in development — for example, building and strengthening institutions and infrastructure, and creating a positive climate for economic uplift. This is the most effective way to combat extremism. Otherwise, the international community risks prosecuting an unbalanced campaign that will have only a fleeting impact. For example, greater donor investment in projects by the Afghan National Solidarity Program (NSP), which is led by the Afghan government and aims to develop some 5,000 villages throughout the country, will not only restore confidence and trust in government, but also help engender a renewed sense of national pride, purpose and identity in the people.

A key aspect of this strategy should be to curb the use of indiscriminate drone strikes that kill scores of innocent civilians and inflame the local population, fueling the insurgency. Afghans perceive these strikes as a blatant assault on their national sovereignty.

Finding Solutions

Since the need to find a durable solution to the problems in Afghanistan will become paramount in the wake of the US/NATO exit, I would like to make the following proposals, which can be accomplished with a UN Security Council Resolution followed by vigorous enforcement:

1) The UN must declare Afghanistan a neutral state. All intervention in the affairs of the country by outsiders and, in particular, neighboring countries must be stopped. The neutrality and territorial integrity of Afghanistan will only be respected if it is part of a broader regional effort to encourage co-operation and dialogue to address jointly defined challenges.

2) All warlords and their militias must be disarmed through a much more systematic and stringent disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process than was implemented previously. To marginalize entrenched warlords, their assets must be frozen and their financial and military support from foreign sponsors must be cut off immediately. Such foreign support runs counter to a policy of neutrality. Through bribery, horse-trading and intimidation, warlords have subverted democratic processes in Afghanistan. They must face prosecution before an internationally mandated tribunal for crimes committed against the Afghan people.

3) Opium cultivation must be declared illegal and fully controlled by the UNODC. A new, regional counternarcotics strategy must be developed to tackle this problem.

4) A powerful Afghan Planning and Reconstruction Authority must be established to replace the less successful Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund — which is presently administered by the World Bank — to continue funding to the present Afghan National Solidarity Program and other demand-driven, high-impact public initiatives. A fully independent board representing the national government and international donors should oversee the distribution and allocation of funds to various development programs. All activities of this board would have to be subject to oversight by a reputable and unbiased international auditing firm.

This four-point scheme would necessarily require a more expansive UN mandate and cannot be achieved without a legitimate, accountable and transparent government. It can only be implemented if the international community is committed to bringing about real, lasting stability to Afghanistan and helping the Afghans build a stable, democratic society based on the rule of law, minimizing resources expended and effort. The overriding concern, of course, is to establish and maintain security throughout the country. This can be done using current plans to train the Afghan police and security forces, but this time under the strict supervision of the UN, which would introduce and apply best practices and lessons learned from member countries such as Germany, Japan and others. Without the necessary breathing space that a secure Afghanistan would allow, efforts to reform government will ultimately fall flat. Countries that violate Afghanistan’s neutrality would be subject to trade embargoes and other economic sanctions and possibly even limited military action. In the last century, for the most part, the neutrality of nations has been respected. In the few instances where it wasn’t, the offending country incurred widespread international condemnation. The threat of political and economic isolation has proven to be a strong deterrent. Moreover, as regional interests are harmonized through expanded co-operation, this will create powerful incentives for nations to work together to achieve peace and prosperity.


Throughout Afghanistan’s turbulent history, conflict has been an inseparable component in shaping national identity. These events, often instigated by outside aggressors, have influenced language, culture and ethnicity, creating a diverse mosaic of people who have one point of commonality: they are Afghan. At various points in Afghan history, most recently during the British invasions of the 19th century and the Soviet invasion of 1979, these diverse groups set aside their differences and banded together to resist foreign encroachment. They were able to forge a uniquely Afghan identity from this complex patchwork of tribes and ethnicities. It is a fallacy to assume that the differences between the people of Afghanistan are irreconcilable, and that the country must be partitioned to be pacified. History suggests otherwise.

What’s needed is a renewed commitment from the Afghan people and the global community to follow the vision mapped out in Bonn more than a decade ago. Afghanistan must be free to pursue its national interests without any foreign intrusion. It must be allowed to conduct free, fair and transparent elections that reflect the true will of the electorate — to date this has not happened. Afghanistan’s national sovereignty, territorial integrity and the inviolability of its borders must be respected. Excessive meddling in Afghanistan risks widening the conflict and threatens regional peace. Finally, efforts to expand economic co-operation between neighbors, which would revitalize ancient trade routes, should be bolstered and will yield a substantial peace dividend with wide-ranging implications for all stakeholders. Nations must work together to overcome decades of mistrust. Security and prosperity can only be realized by advancing regional solutions.

For the international community — particularly the US — the war on terror and the task of pacifying the nettlesome tribes in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region have proven to be exasperatingly difficult, draining resources that could be put to better use at home. As policy makers debate the costs of a hasty drawdown of troops and the problems that it could unleash, perhaps they might consider the merits of declaring Afghanistan a neutral state and using the right mix of political, economic and military tools to restore order. That might prove to be the best way to untie this Gordian knot.

Ghulam Faruq Achikzad, who is an Afghan-American, is Senior Analyst at the Nautilus Institute and until recently was on the Executive Board of the Supreme Council of the Central Bank of Afghanistan. He was also former UN Resident Co-ordinator to North Korea from 1994-1996.

1 For further reading on Afghan neutrality, please see my article “A Neutral Afghanistan” in the San Francisco Chronicle (July 7, 2011); Gharekhan and Ansari’s article “Another approach to Afghanistan” in The Hindu (Dec. 24, 2003); and Hillary Clinton’s testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 23, 2011.