Pakistan, which emerged constitutionally as one country in 1947, was in fact “a double country”. The two wings were not only separated from each other by more than 1,000 miles, they were also culturally, economically and socially different. “The cure, at least as far as the East Bengalis were concerned, proved to be worse than the disease”.
The relationship between the East and the West wings of Pakistan was the mirror image of the Hindu-Muslim relations in the undivided subcontinent. The creation of East Pakistan did not resolve the identity crisis of the majority people in the Bangladesh region. The political leadership in Pakistan was usurped by the Ashraf and their fellow travellers.
The spread of secular education and monetization of the rural economy swelled the ranks of the vernacular elite who were intensely proud of their local cultural heritage. This compounded the dichotomy of language and religion. As a recent scholar rightly observes, “The Bengali love affair with their language involves a passionate ritual that produces emotional experiences seldom found in other parts of the world”. The Language Movement during 1948-1952, which demanded the designation of Bengali as the state language of Pakistan undermined the authority of the Ashraf and reinforced the role of the vernacular elite.
In British India, the Muslims of Bengal united under the banner of Islam to escape from the exploitation of Bengali Hindus who shared the same mother tongue. In the united Pakistan, the Bengalis of East Pakistan reasserted their cultural and linguistic identity to resist the exploitation of their co-religionists who spoke a different language. Though history repeated itself in Pakistan, the lessons learnt from Hindu-Muslim confrontation were forgotten. Neither in undivided India nor in united Pakistan did the dominant economic classes agree to sacrifice their short-term interests. Democratic verdicts were brushed aside and the economic disparity between the two wings widened under the aegis of military dictatorships in Pakistan.
The disintegration of united Pakistan is not, therefore, in the least surprising. However, the way in which Bangladesh was born is unique to South Asia. Bangladesh was the product of a sanguinary revolution. The Pakistan army had to be defeated physically in 1971 to establish the new state. The birth of Bangladesh resolved the dichotomy between religion and habitat, and between extra-territorial and territorial loyalties by recognizing both the facts as a reality in the life of the new nation.