Today marks the 50th year after the abolition of the One Unit scheme in Pakistan. The scheme, launched on October 14, 1955, envisaged amalgamating all four provinces of West Pakistan into one homogenous unit in order to compensate for the political and numerical domination of the Bengalis in East Pakistan. General Ayub Khan had prepared the scheme in London in 1954. In fact, it was at the forceful behest of the Punjabi leadership that the One Unit plan was introduced.
The government claimed that apart from reducing administrative expenses, the scheme would make it much easier to draw up a new constitution while maintaining maximum autonomy for both East and West Pakistan. While the leadership tried to seek support from the provinces, many students, scholars, social activists and civil society members from across the country opposed its creation fearing that Punjab would have a strong hold over other provinces. Therefore, the plan was met with great resistance, thought to be an assault on the rights of smaller provinces, even though many promises were made for the development of backward areas, and only Sindh had surrendered Rs300 million. Lahore became the capital of West Pakistan making it difficult for people living in far-flung areas to travel to the place and have their problems resolved.
Even though the scheme was regarded as an administrative reform meant to create a singular united political entity, marked linguistic and ethnic divide still prevailed at the grassroots level — a problem that is still very much alive today. It was a 15-year-long struggle, but with support of Sheikh Mujeeb Rehman and progressive elements of Punjab, the scheme was finally undone on July 1, 1970.
Aijaz A Qureshi
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2020.