It is amusing to see those people who applauded and some of those who shamefully abetted the action in East Pakistan, now shedding crocodile tears on how the division of the country could have been avoided. I lived through those days in Lahore as a student, a young economics teacher and a writer of sorts. The people condemning the action were few and far in between. The dominant section of the press supported the action as a befitting response to the machinations of the so-called Indo-Soviet lobby. Progressive elements were also divided along the Moscow and Beijing lines. Political leaders and workers echoed the patriotic propaganda. Some went as far as to deploy vigilante groups to put the fear of Moses in the “Hinduised” hearts of the Bengalis. Ordinary folks had no idea of the facts on the ground and were completely sold to the absolute essentiality of the action to save the country.
In welcoming economists congregating for a conference at the Dhaka University in 1959, Justice Hamoodur Rahman, then vice-chancellor, subtly presented the problem of East Pakistan: “situated as we are, some thousand miles away from the capital city of our country, we are still somewhat undeveloped and backward and cannot, as such, play hosts to you in as befitting a manner as we would like to”. Bangladesh was not formed in one day. It had long been in the making. I wrote an article, “Political economy of regional autonomy” in The Pakistan Times, making a case for the acceptance of the six points of the Awami League. Some 40 years on, I still remember its last lines: “Pakistan is a case of two brothers minding their own business most of the time and [minding] each other’s business some of the time”. There was a sharp reaction. Mr Reza Kazim, then a member of the PPP’s central committee, wrote a quick rebuttal. Most disturbing at a personal level, my colleagues — all very respectable names — dubbed me as an agent of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Only the publisher, Hussain Naqi, and the late Khadeeja Gauhar, backed me.
In the collective wisdom of Pakistan today, its geographically contiguous provinces requires a large quantum of autonomy under the 18th Amendment. Our younger generation would find it hard to believe that any mention of autonomy for East Pakistan, a thousand miles away, with a country considered an enemy in between, was nothing short of a treasonable offence. Economists, an important part of the intelligentsia, were also polarised. In his address at the annual conference of the Pakistan Economic Association held in 1955 at the University of Peshawar, Professor Ahmad Mukhtar of the same university noted that in the event of war, the land and sea links between the two wings would be cutoff. The solution proposed by him was to allow the two wings to attain complete self-sufficiency in the essentials of life. His fears came true within a matter of 10 years in 1965, when the war drowned in the Bay of Bengal the strategic doctrine of defending East Pakistan in West Pakistan.
What came to be known as the Dhaka School of economists articulated the position that economic planning in Pakistan could not proceed on the assumption of one economy. The reason, elaborated in a special conference held in Dhaka on the first five-year plan, was the immobility of labour and the low mobility of goods between the two wings. Again, in a conference held on the second five-year plan, East Pakistani economists attempted to clarify that two economies did not mean two countries. Economists from West Pakistan, however, stressed the need to maximise growth in terms of one economy; the distinction between one or two-economies was academic. The governor of East Pakistan, a central government representative, was dismissive: “The progress and prosperity of Pakistan is linked up closely with the concept of one country, one nation and one economy”. No wonder, the panel of economists on the fourth five-year plan split along regional lines and the economists from East and West Pakistan presented separate reports. A similar panel on the third plan failed to present any report.
The failure to accept two economies resulted in two countries.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2011.
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