On Bengalis, East Pakistan and Progressive Forces

WASHINGTON DIARY: The more progressive ones —Dr Manzur Ejaz

Daily Times, December 20, 2006

In 1971 it was not the Bengalis but almost the entire Punjabi population, along with the Urdu- speaking population of Sindh. who wanted ‘Bengal’. A few tiny progressive groups, like the Young Peoples Front, some pro-Soviet intellectuals and a handful of writers and elements of Amador Kinas Party were raising stifled voices. However, these feeble voices were drowned in the thunder of Bhutto’s and other patriots’ rhetoric. Alas, in the Bengalis we lost the best protectors of democracy in Pakistan and our best allies even in the Punjab University.

I still remember an occasion on which a friend and myself sat in the Punjab University New Campus cafeteria talking about the agony of the Bengali Muslims and the sinful support of military action that we witnessed around us. We could not face our harassed and mentally tormented Bengali friends in those days.

At that time, there were about sixty-to-seventy Bengali students studying at Punjab University in an exchange program. They all lived with us in hostels and were our best ideological allies. All the Bengali students, with hardly any exception, stood with the progressive students to oppose Islami Jamiat-i-Talba (IJT). During the election days they would come out with their own procession, raising slogans of “Jalo Jalo Agan Jaloo.” Palestinian students were also major allies of the progressive movement. Notwithstanding the claims of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and other Islamic groups these days, they were strong supporters of the US policies then.

The military action in East Pakistan not only broke Pakistan but also led to the dismemberment of progressive students” alliances in Punjab’s educational institutions. Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq and Professor Aziz-ud-Din were the major intellectuals and organisers of the progressive students’ movement that started taking shape in 1968 in Punjab. Nationalist Students Organisation (NSO) was the main platform established in the process. The National Student Federation (NSF) was a powerful student organisation, but somehow it was quite negligible in Punjab, particularly in Lahore. NSO gained such strength in universities that it became very competitive with the IJT.

However, the division of opinion on military action in East Bengal devastated this entire set-up. The final debate between Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq and Professor Aziz-ud-Din took place at Prof. Aijaz-ul-Hasan’s (the Daily Times columnist) residence. The scene was quite funny because both sides used the same pages of the Marxist classics to support their position. It was like a religious munazra where befitting quotes are hurled from both sides. Anyway, nothing came out of this munazra and the NSO was split. Our group left the NSO and kept on working under the banner of Young Peoples Front, led by Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq.

To his credit, Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq was the only Punjabi intellectual who formulated a theory regarding oppressed nationalities in his famous pamphlet “Qaumaitoon ka masla” (The issue of nationalities). In this path-breaking thesis he argued that unless people from the oppressor nationalities (Punjab  and Karachi) support the oppressed nationalities (East Bengal, Sindh, Baluchistan. and NWFP), they couldn’t free themselves of dictatorship and an unjust system.

Dr.Haq maintained that even tiny changes for better political and socio-economic conditions were brought about by the struggle of Bengali Muslims. In his view, Ayub Khan had to go not because of a shallow movement in West Pakistan but because of pressure from East Pakistanis. According to Dr. Haq Muslim Bengalis, who wanted to free themselves of domination by Hindu feudals and therefore played a crucial role in the founding of Pakistan, were the best protectors of democracy. By losing East Pakistan, the rest of Pakistan’s people have been left to themselves to protect democracy and they are not yet capable of that. The unfolding of the events of the last three decades has proven that Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq’s formulations were prophetic.

In the years following the fall of Bangladesh many progressives supporting military action in East Pakistan repented and corrected their attitude. However, it was too late to put back the progressive coalition, that had become the victim of military action. With the separation of East Pakistan all our Bengali students were gone and, eventually, the Palestinian students also left. Consequently, Punjab University and other educational institutions were left to the attentions of the JI and IJT.

The progressive elements of Punjab and Karachi learnt their lesson, but now they are not in a position to effect any meaningful change. The creation of Bangladesh may have been better for Muslim Bengalis but it has deprived Pakistan of potent democratic forces. The gap left by the absence of such forces cannot be filled by anyone else. Baloch and Sindhi nationalists are trying to fill the vacuum, but they are much smaller in size and effectiveness.

The Pakistani state has learnt nothing from East Pakistan’s experience. It is still seeking a military solution to the Balochistan and Sindh problems. It believes that, given the present geography of Pakistan, nationalists cannot achieve their goals. They may, as usual, be living in illusions. Time will tell.

However, the people of Punjab and other dominating nationalities cannot get political or socio­economic freedom from this oppressive system unless they support the oppressed Baloch and Sindhi nationalities, as prescribed by Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq.

I once asked a retiring Pakistani senator his opinion on who delivered the most progressive speeches in the Pakistan Senate. He said the Baloch representatives were the only ones who spoke about socio-economic justice for the common man. I was not surprised and neither should anyone else be who remembers East Pakistani slogans of “Jalo Jalo Aagan Jalo”.

The writer can be reached at manzurejaz@yahoo.com