Pakistan: The flail of Allah – I
by Naseer Dashti on 17 Aug 2021 2 Comments

Among many other unprecedented political and geo-strategic developments in the wake of the decolonizing process in the 20th century, the creation of a religious state by dividing India is one of the unique phenomena. The historical context of the “great game” of the 19th century and the use of religion in the making of a client state by a colonial power is the hallmark of the creation of Pakistan. It came out of the blue and was so meticulously planned by the colonial administrators in London and New Delhi that the leaders who were involved in the struggle for the liberation of India could not comprehend the context and the consequences of the Pakistan phenomenon on the region.


The historical context of the Pakistan phenomenon


At the dawn of the 20th century, Africa, Asia, and Latin America were almost divided into their ambits by European imperial powers like France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, and Great Britain. These great powers were engaged in two bloody and protracted conflicts in the first half of the 20th century. The aftereffects of which were so grand in magnitudes that both victorious and defeated became weak in many ways.


Internally socio-political dynamics of colonial powers changed and externally with the weakening of their economic and military power, momentum for national liberation in Asia and Africa increased among the subjugated people. The combination of internal and external factors forced them to initiate a process of decolonization. However, the process of decolonization was not smooth. The colonial powers had developed enormous economic and geo-strategic interests in regions which they dominated for centuries. These powers, for the safeguarding of their interests, divided nations and created artificial states. The creation of a client state in South Asia became imperative for the preservation of British interests as the independence of India became inevitable.


Indian independence and the British interests


After the establishment of the Soviet Union, international political and economic situations were mainly being analyzed in a capitalist-socialist or East and West prism. This was because, with the political and moral support of the Soviet Union, national liberation struggles gained momentum in various parts of the world. Any newly independent country would naturally seek friendship with the socialist bloc countries. After First World War, the prime objective of the British Empire was to counter the ever-growing danger of the Bolshevik revolution. In western capitals, there was a genuine fear that after decolonization, their interests would be harmed by socialist-oriented and pro-Soviet Union regimes.


As Britain was still the guardian of western interests against emerging socialist Russia, its interests in the region were multifaceted, and safeguarding not only its national interests but also the interests of western powers became an emerging task for the policymakers in London and New Delhi in the background of Indian independence. An independent India with an anti-western and anti-capitalist attitude was seen as a threat to the British and Western interests in South-Central Asia and the Gulf region.


Persian Gulf region was increasingly becoming important with newly discovered oil fields. Building a geographical and political wall against the expanding wave of socialism and safeguarding economic interests in the Gulf became the main objectives for Great Britain while their officials were giving final thoughts on the independence of India. In this context, plans for the division of India and the creation of a client state which could serve the purpose were put into action. The phenomenon of political Islam was successfully used in the creation of Pakistan by the colonial authorities as an effective tool.


Pakistan: the legacy of the “great game”


During the19th century, in the face of continued advances of Russia in Central Asia and the presumed threat to India from the north, safeguarding the Indian possessions became the obsession of policy planners in London and New Delhi. For them, Afghanistan and Persia were vulnerable spots and if they (Russians) became successful somehow in gaining control of these countries, the next Russian target will certainly be India. A “great game” of espionage and subversion began in regions bordering Russia, the Middle East, and British India. To make a physical barrier around north and west of India was postulated which is popularly known as the “Forward Policy”.


The players of the great game changed when Czarist Russia became the Soviet Union in 1917. A socialist Russia was more dangerous than Czarist Russia with its open support for national liberation struggles and with the ideology of exporting socialist revolutions all over the world. The emerging phenomenon of socialism in China under the leadership of Mao Tse Tung and an untrustworthy Congress Party which was supposed to take over from the colonial administration in an eventual withdrawal from India forced the British policymakers to formulate counter-strategies. It was decided that the great game of the 19th century should continue and Islam should be used again as a tool in countering the socialist menace in Asia; India should be divided and using religious affiliations of a people, a client state should be created to protect the Western interests in the region.


The use of Islam in the division of India


Although Pakistan was created in a hurry in 1947 in a post-second world war perspective, the seeds of the division had already been sown and from 1857, the colonial administration in India had been fomenting religious divisions by encouraging the theory of Muslims being a separate national entity in India. Indians belonging to two nations (Hindus and Muslim) was thought to be the most accepted theory for dividing the country on religious grounds. To establish the religious differences of Indians as the basis for ‘two-nation theory’, writers were commissioned. Their task was to present Indian history, pointing to the religious beliefs of the dynastic rulers of India.


The British colonial authorities helped establish various religious schools in different parts of India. In 1888, Syed Ahmad Khan, a retired clerk and spy of the East India Company was financed to open the famous religious school in Aligarh and officially portrayed as a great Muslim intellectual. Later, the colonial administration assembled all the loyal persons among the Muslims in an ‘All India Muslim Conference’. The network of religious schools and the All-India Muslim Conference were the institutions from where the ideology of Pakistan was propagated. From religious schools and the All-India Muslim Conference, the future activists and leaders of the pro-colonial religious party - the Muslim League - were recruited. The party was later given the task of demanding a Muslim state by dividing India.


Originally, it was not India where the British needed Islam as a political tool, but the phenomenon of using Islam as a tool began in Central Asia in the 19th century. Alarmed by fast-reaching Russian moves towards the Indian borders, plans were made to stop the menace before it reached the precious colonial possession. As the population of Central Asian Khanates was Muslim by religion, it was thought by the colonial administration to use their religious sentiments to encourage the population to oppose Russians or to seek support for the British cause.


In this context, all efforts were made to politically mobilize Muslims of Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa in the name of fighting the infidels (Russian Christians). The slogan of Pan-Islamism was created, and the terminology of Islamic Umma was re-manufactured to create a transnational Islamic movement which could serve the British colonial interests. Writers from different parts of Asia were commissioned for that purpose, and political activists were hired from India, Turkey, and Egypt for the propagation of Pan-Islamism.


They were handsomely financed by the colonial administration in India and Egypt. One of the British agents was Jamaluddin Afghani. There is much controversy regarding his origin; born either in Kabul or Asadabad in 1839, Afghani was the son of an East India Company representative in Afghanistan. Afghani became the powerful tool for spreading Islamic fundamentalism and in many ways was the founder of political Islam in the contemporary world.


Jamal ud Din Afghani: British tool for spreading political Islam during the 20th century


Mentored by the British experts on affairs of the East, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and Edward G. Browne, Afghani was given different assignments and appointed to various important positions in Afghanistan, Turkey and Iran with active British scheming. He was installed as the Prime Minister of Afghanistan in 1866 for some time. In 1869, he was sent to India to coordinate intellectual efforts on the “two-nation theory” with other British agents like Syed Ahmad Khan.


Syed Ahmad Khan and many other religious leaders and academics, allied with the colonial administration in India, were tasked to propagate the “two-nation theory” which was based on the notion that Muslims and Hindus are two separate religious entities, so they cannot live together in one country. However, Afghani was withdrawn from India as he developed serious personal differences with Syed Ahmad Khan and his group. For a short period in 1870, Afghani became a member of the Board of Education in Istanbul through active manipulations in the Istanbul court circles by British officials.


Later, while based in Cairo, he intensified his efforts in the formation of a network of activists under the slogan of Pan-Islamism. Using his important position at Al-Azhar University, he was able to recruit young students for his cause. Famous among the recruited persons of Afghani included Muhammad Abduh - who later became the founding ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement. Most radical movements in today’s Middle East are the direct offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement.


After his expulsion from Cairo, Afghani was installed in Paris where he established an Arabic journal called Al-Urwah al-Wuthkah besides one in French. Among his Pan-Islamist circles in Paris were Egyptians, Indians, Turks, Syrians, and North African propagandists; mostly recruited by the British military establishment in Egypt and India. Afghani was soon found to be useful in dealing with the crumbling Qajar Dynasty in Persia. In 1885, with British connivance, the King of Persia, Naseer ad-Din Qajar, appointed Afghani as the Prime Minister of his Kingdom. But he was expelled from Iran on charges of plotting to kill the monarch. He was installed in London in 1886. From his London headquarters, he was instrumental in the destabilization of the Qajar Dynasty by recruiting and handsomely financing Ayatollahs and other religious personalities. Some of the powerful Ayatollahs and religious leaders ruling Iran since 1979 are the direct descendants of Afghani’s recruited Mullahs.


The immediate objective of his endeavors was to build up an uprising in Persia led by his recruited Ayatollahs to blackmail the Qajar Dynasty to gain commercial favors for British companies, curtailing Russian influence in Persia and accepting British demands of strategic importance. From his London base, Afghani also campaigned vigorously for the formation of a military pact between Britain, Turkey, Persia, and Afghanistan against Russia.


Afghani’s clandestine web of writers and religious leaders played important role in the consolidation of British efforts to divide India on religious grounds. Indian “two-nation theory was an offshoot of the “Pan-Islamic Movement”. This was effectively used by strategic planners in London and New Delhi for the division of India in 1947. Some of the Muslim religious leaders and an elite group of Muslims - affiliated with East India Company and the colonial administration in India - were organized into a political party, the Muslim League, and were given the task of demanding a state out of India on religious grounds.


Afghani’s magazine Urwat al-Wuthkah was continuously urging Indian Muslims to reclaim their territory (Dar al-Islam) as a religious obligation, describing Muslim presence in India as living in Dar al-Harb. Dar al-Islam (the place of peace) is where the Muslims are in command while Dar al Harb means the place of war; however, in an Islamic perspective, the term is used for areas of the world where non-believers or infidels live. According to Qur’an and Sunna Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam are in perpetual conflict until the final victory of Islam over the world.


(To be concluded….)


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