The Violent Creation of Pakistan

In 1946, the British dispatched three cabinet ministers to close the rift between the Muslim League and Congress. The Cabinet Mission Plan, as it came to be called, proposed a single nation with national government that would leave the provinces virtually autonomous, with their own constitutions. The Muslim League at first accepted the idea in principle, but when Congress refused to give the League as much of a role as they wanted, the Muslim League refused to endorse the plan. However, the British authorized the creation of an interim government by Congress, though it was agreed some League members would participate in its construction. This caused many Muslims to protest bitterly.

In response, the Muslim League proclaimed what they called a Direct Action Day on August 16, 1946, calling for hartals: enormous displays of noncooperation that would bring business to a grinding halt, such as strikes, rallies, and other demonstrations. This display of Muslim unity incited a violent Hindu response, who attacked Muslims in Calcutta, where they were a minority. 4,000 people of both faiths were killed, with 15,000 injured and 100,000 left homeless. The violence would continue into the fall.

In September of 1946, Wavell announced the posts of the interim government, naming Jawaharlal Nehru as vice president and a member of the Muslim League, Liaquat Ali khan, one of the three key cabinet posts, that of the finance portfolio. What came to be known as the Constituent Assembly was scheduled to go into session in December of 1946, but Congress led the Muslim League, the Princely States, and the Sikhs in refusing to take part in the Congress. The British were determined to hand over power before June of 1948, and took steps to suppress Muslim protests and groups, banning the Muslim National Guard, a volunteer corps, and arresting league leaders. In response, the League called for a civil disobedience movement, and try as they might, the British were unable to completely suppress the spreading Pakistani movement.

During this time, across the subcontinent, sectarian riots and violence spread, and tens of thousands of Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs were killed in the violence. Legislative matters were virtually impossible, and the Muslims used their power over the finance ministry to hamstring the Hindu business class.

In March 1947, Louis Mountbatten was named the next and last viceroy of India. As he toured the subcontinent upon his arrival, he was shocked at the depth of Muslim nationalism and was convinced by Jinnah that the idea of an independent Pakistan had the widespread support of Indian Muslims and could not be abandoned now. On March 8 Congress called for the division of Punjab, which was equivalent to endorsing the partitioning of the subcontinent. Congress had decided the lesser of two evils was to jettison the Muslims then do everything they could to ensure that the new Muslim state would not succeed.

Mountbatten, with Nehru’s help, developed a plan for the partitioning of India. His plan proposed a transfer of power to the dominions of India and Pakistan, and territorial borders would be determined by the provinces. Baluchistan went on to decide to join Pakistan, as well as the NWFP (Northwest Frontier Province), Bengal, and parts of Assam.

On July 18 the Indian Independence Act was passed in British Parliament, providing the foundation for the establishment of India and Pakistan as individual British Commonwealths, establishing the officer of governor-general for each one.
With independence imminent, violence between the two nations flared, but there was no receding on decisions made at this point. The first meeting of the Pakistan Constituent Assembly was held on August 11, and on August 15, 1947, both Pakistan and India became independent. Unfortunately, the real challenges to the young nation of Pakistan lay ahead.

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