Nation-building in South Asia

This would need clarification in the constitution. Presumably Jinnah, the lawyer, would be just the person to correlate the “true Islamic principles” one heard so much about in Pakistan with the new nation’s laws. But all he would tell me was that the constitution would be democratic because “the soil is perfectly fertile for democracy.”
What plans did he have for the industrial development of the country? Did he hope to enlist technical or financial assistance from America?

“America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America,” was Jinnah’s reply. “Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed” — he revolved his long forefinger in bony circles — “the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves.”

He leaned toward me, dropping his voice to a confidential note. “Russia,” confided Mr. Jinnah, “is not so very far away.”

This had a familiar ring. In Jinnah’s mind this brave new nation had no other claim on American friendship than this — that across a wild tumble of roadless mountain ranges lay the land of the Bolsheviks.

I wondered whether the Quaid-i-Azam considered his new state only as an armored buffer between opposing major powers. He was stressing America’s military interest in other parts of the world.

“America is now awakened,” he said with a satisfied smile. Since the United States was now bolstering up Greece and Turkey, she should be much more interested in pouring money and arms into Pakistan.

“If Russia walks in here,” he concluded, “the whole world is menaced.”

In the weeks to come I was to hear the Quaid-i-Azam’s thesis echoed by government officials throughout Pakistan.

“Surely America will build up our army,” they would say to me. “Surely America will give us loans to keep Russia from walking in.”

But when I asked whether there were any signs of Russian infiltration, they would reply almost sadly, as though sorry not to be able to make more of the argument, “No, Russia has shown no signs of being interested in Pakistan.”

This hope of tapping the U. S. Treasury was voiced so persistently that one wondered whether the purpose was to bolster the world against Bolshevism or to bolster Pakistan’s own uncertain position as a new political entity.

Excerpt from Margaret Bourke-White’s 1949 book, “Halfway to Freedom”. Via Pundita.

Chicago Boyz readers (and bloggers) tend to show a keen interest in history. As a historical recording, the above excerpt is fascinating. And chilling.

Pundita opines that the above excerpt holds many lessons for AF-PAK today. I am curious as to our reader’s opinions on the subject.

UPDATE: There is much more at the link than the bit I’ve highlighted. That wasn’t clear in my original post. Sorry.

7 thoughts on “Nation-building in South Asia”

  1. Makes you wonder if the very existence of the United States government and its Treasury is the greatest source of moral hazard in the world since the end of World War I. Jinnah’s assumption that the money of U.S. taxpayers was destined to flow in unending streams into his newfangled contraption of a country may have been the same assumption that allowed Louie “Chainsaw” Mountbatten to so aggressively partition the Raj: if they monumentally screwed up in their efforts, the Americans would bail them out. If Jinnah failed in cultivating an Islamic democracy in the fertile democratic fields of the Indus, the Americans stood by with wallets open. If Chainsaw happened to leave a few million Hindus or Muslims here or there on the wrong side of the line produced by his magic crayon, the Americans would step in to pick up fading Britannia’s tab.

    My wallet hurts.

  2. Jinnah was born in 1875 or ’76. He grew up in British India. He was 32 at the time of the Anglo-Russian Entente of 1907. Then after World War I, the British were focused on preventing Bolshevik infiltration into India. For almost all of his life (1875-1907, 1919-47), it was a bedrock belief in British India that Russia was determined to penetrate the mountain barrier and reach the Indian Ocean, via Persia, or Baluchistan, or the Punjab. The British were committed to stopping this from happening, though how focused the Russians really were, and how much of a menace they presented, is an open question. As late as 1946, the Americans actively intervened in Iran to push the Russians out of Iran. See Hugh Thomas Armed Truce: The Beginning of the Cold War 1945-1946. On the Mediterranean flank, the British had spent a century working to keep the Russians bottled up in the Black Sea, and when Britain faltered, the USA took up the slack. This is also covered in Armed Truce. So, all across the Southern periphery of the Soviet Empire, It looked very much like the USA would pick up exactly where the British had left off opposing the expansion of Tsarist then Soviet Russia. Jinnah figured, with some reason, that the same strategic imperative would make the Americans step in and try to stop the Russians from gaining control of Pakistan. So, Jinnah was speculating, and speculating correctly, that the Americans would be impelled by circumstances to be friendly to Pakistan. Further, Jinnah knew that British foreign policy had often by shaped, in part, by the desire to avoid offending Muslim sentiment in its Indian Empire. With the American interest in Middle Eastern oil, the same dynamic would be at work with regard to the Americans. So, Jinnah had some basis to be smug. Everything in recent past and in the more distant course of events suggested that an American alliance with Pakistan was over-determined.

  3. “Pakistan is the pivot of the world, as we are placed”

    I think that Islam induces Muslims to see themselves as the center of the world. All religions have this tendency to some degree because they create a cosmology in which all events ultimately relate to the religion’s cosmology and its predictions. Islam is particularly bad about this because the central idea of Islam and the highest moral imperatives of Muslims, is to spread Islam and Islamic political dominance across the entire planet. Islam sees all history and all struggles as being mere side effects of the greater struggle to force the world to submit to God’s will as defined by the Koran.

    That is the primary reason that most Muslims believe that Westerns “hate” Islam. Since Islam is the center of all existence, all major actions taken by anyone must relate to Islam somehow. Since Western actions have not always been pro-Islam, the Muslims reason that they must have been taken from anti-Islam animus. The idea that, until very recently, most Westerns didn’t give Islam a thought at all is simply unthinkable to Muslims. There is no way the most powerful nations in the world could simply ignore the hub of all existence which is Islam.

    Jinnah’s thoughts started from that Islam-centric world view and then he layered any realistic expectations he might have had on top of that.

  4. It was said about the Soviets in the 1950s that this was the first empire in history whose citizens did not want to migrate to the center because there was nothing to attract anyone. Islam might be another.

  5. When I first looked at the excerpt I thought about our aid regimes to the region (in line with Joseph Fouche’s points) and about how many of the societal “faultlines” go back even farther than the Partition and into the history of the British Raj and the freedom movements.

    Complicated region and yet I hear very little other than intellectual boilerplate regarding AF-PAK from our public officials.


    – Madhu

  6. @ Shannon Love: Jinnah was secular and originally joined with Gandhi and others to oppose British rule. Then something happened – some split that is unclear?

    The use of religion and the Muslim League as a motivating force came after the break with Gandhi. Religion was used by various Indian independence movements and, in turn, religious bigots used the various movement.

    It was complicated. At any rate, I need to study the history of the region more carefully and our politicians – or their staffers – need to do so too. My theory is that our institutional understandings of the region are poor because of our previous Cold War relationship, because it was a peripheral region in our foreign policy and culture previously, and because our roots are British.

    – Madhu

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