Workers Hammer No. 221

Winter 2012-2013


On Britain and the creation of Pakistan

We reprint below an edited version of a document dated 23 November 2012 that was submitted by an International Communist League comrade as a contribution to party discussion.

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In part three that concluded the series of articles “A Marxist Critique of the New Atheists” (Workers Vanguard no 1009, 28 September 2012) it is noted that: “The state of Pakistan was deliberately created as an Islamic political entity in 1947 when the British partitioned the Indian subcontinent, over which they were no longer able to maintain colonial rule.” The article makes the point that, contrary to some leftist groups like the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), there is no basic conflict between Western imperialism and Islamic fundamentalism. It goes on to quote John Foster Dulles on the common bond between imperialism, religions of the East and anti-Communism. In 1950, Dulles, soon to become secretary of state, observed: “The religions of the East are deeply rooted and have many precious values. Their spiritual beliefs cannot be reconciled with Communist atheism and materialism. That creates a common bond between us, and our task is to find it and develop it” (quoted in Paul Baran, The Political Economy of Growth, 1957).

The British imperialists have maintained that the partition of India was aimed at creating a homeland for Muslims where they would be protected from Hindus, a claim belied by the fact that far more Muslims were left behind in India than those incorporated in the new entity of Pakistan. Besides, in the provinces that became Pakistan, the Muslims were dominant; they were neither threatened by post-independence Hindu domination nor were they interested in a separate Muslim state. In fact, the majority of Muslims were fearful of the economic and social impact of uprooting and relocation. They resented the fact that they would be confined to the two corners of the subcontinent and have to abandon the heartland of India, where Muslim rulers held sway for over 600 years before their defeat by the British, and in which lie some of the magnificent symbols of past Muslim power and glory such as the great forts of Delhi and Agra, the Taj Mahal and others. Muslim merchants and businessmen opposed the partition out of concern for the loss of a long developed market. The sizable Shi’ite Muslim population, dreading living in a Sunni-dominated Pakistan, was opposed to the partition scheme.

Up until World War II the British depended on the strategically situated India as a military base to safeguard their interests — in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and their colonies across the Indian Ocean in east Africa. As India’s independence dawned, the British, fearing that the Hindu nationalists who would rule post-independence India would deny them military co-operation, settled for creating a weak, truncated entity that would serve their imperialist interests, would depend on Britain for its defence and would be ruled by their pliable lackeys of the Muslim League of Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Through their divide-and-rule policy and using religion as a tool, the British drove a wedge between Hindus and Muslims, built close ties with Jinnah, in whom they nourished separatist aspirations, and recognised him as the sole spokesman of the Muslims of India.

In his well-documented book, The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India’s Partition (2005), Narendra Singh Sarila laid bare the true intentions of the British behind the partition: a meticulously calculated scheme to detach Pakistan from India, create a militarily strategic foothold aimed at the Soviet Union and maintain control over the oil fields of the Middle East. Sarila, who served as an aide-de-camp to Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, was privy to the British manipulative machinations. He unearthed piles of documents pertaining to the partition: correspondence of British colonial officials; archival papers of major players, British and Indian; etc.

On 5 May 1945, the same day Germany surrendered, Churchill ordered an appraisal of the long-term policy required to safeguard the interests of the British Empire in India. The report presented to him stressed the strategic importance of India “from the northwest of which British air power could threaten Soviet military installations”. Churchill told Lord Archibald Wavell, then viceroy of India, to “keep a bit of India”. According to Sarila, a more candid Lord Wavell, who prepared a blueprint of the partition borders as early as February 1946, grasped the fact that: “ The breach to be caused in Britain’s capacity to defend the Middle East and the Indian Ocean area could be plugged if the Muslim League were to succeed in separating India’s strategic northwest from the rest of the country, a realizable goal considering the close ties that Lord Linlithgow, Wavell’s predecessor, had built up with the Muslim League leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah.”

Dulles’ idea about utilising reactionary religious forces as a battering ram in the Cold War against the Soviet Union echoed British imperialist schemes. In his writings in the late forties and early fifties, British colonial official Olaf Caroe posed the question: “Will Islam stand up to communism?” He advocated turning Pakistan into a base for a community of Muslim states that “would show the way for reconciliation between the Western and Islamic models”. A major architect of the partition, Caroe served in British India as the viceroy’s chief adviser, foreign secretary and governor of the North West Frontier Province, which later became incorporated into Pakistan.

After his retirement Caroe was sent by the British Foreign Office on a lecture tour to the United States to solicit a joint Anglo-American alliance against the Soviet Union and to control Middle East oil. The theme of his lectures, in his own words, was: “The importance of the [Persian] Gulf grows greater, not less, as the need for fuel expands, the world contracts and the shadows lengthen from the north [ie the USSR]. Its stability can be assured only by the close accord between the States which surround this Muslim lake, an accord underwritten by the Great powers whose interests are engaged.” Caroe wanted the US to join a “partner full of garnered knowledge but overcome for a while with weariness, [as] both are faced with the imminence of Soviet Russia towering over these lands”. Caroe’s lectures were later published in a book titled Wells of power: the oilfields of South-Western Asia, a regional and global study (1951). His schemes found resonance with American imperialists who were eager to control the oil resources and to expand the boundaries of the Cold War by ringing the Soviet Union with a series of alliance systems in the region.

By the early 1950s Pakistan became, in the words of a Pakistani leader, “America’s most allied ally in Asia”. In 1954 it signed a mutual defence agreement with the US. Later that year Pakistan became a founding member of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), even though the country is thousands of miles away from Southeast Asia. The next year Pakistan joined the Anglo-American sponsored Baghdad Pact along with Turkey, Iraq and Iran, constituting what Dulles called “the northern tier” that linked the southernmost member of NATO, Turkey, with the westernmost member of SEATO, Pakistan. Pakistan went on to host secret bases for the CIA U-2 planes conducting espionage over the USSR, one of which was shot down by the Soviets in May 1960. In one of the Cold War historical moments, Khrushchev, with no small degree of pleasure, displayed the mostly intact wreckage of the supposedly invincible U-2 and its captured pilot, Francis Gary Powers. In the 1980s Pakistan provided a base for launching attacks against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Workers Hammer adds:

Following the entry of Soviet troops in 1979, Afghanistan became the front line of the imperialists’ relentless drive to destroy the Soviet Union. As the CIA undertook its biggest covert operation ever, Pakistan played a strategic role. The US, Britain, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, among others, armed, funded and trained reactionary mujahedin (holy warriors) to kill Soviet soldiers. The Soviet Red Army intervened on the side of a regime that sought to introduce minimal social reforms and faced a jihad (holy war) led by reactionary landlords, tribal chiefs and mullahs. That war, in which imperialist-backed forces threatened the southern flank of the Soviet Union, posed an acid test for revolutionaries.

The Soviet intervention was progressive, underlining the Trotskyist understanding that despite its degeneration under a Stalinist bureaucratic caste, the Soviet Union remained a workers state embodying historic gains of the October Revolution of 1917, centrally the planned economy and collectivised property. These were enormous conquests, not least for women and the Muslim peoples of Soviet Central Asia, where conditions before the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution had been as backward and benighted as in Afghanistan. For Afghanistan, which is not a nation but a patchwork of tribes and peoples, with its minuscule proletariat, progress would have to be brought in from the outside. The international Spartacist tendency, now the International Communist League, said: “Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!” and called to extend the gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan peoples. In stark contrast, the bulk of the left internationally lined up with the imperialists by denouncing the Soviet “invasion” of Afghanistan. The SWP in Britain criminally stood foursquare with the imperialists. The 12 January 1980 issue of Socialist Worker blared, “Troops Out of Afghanistan!” (For fuller treatment of our position on the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and Moscow’s treacherous withdrawal, see “Afghanistan: women under imperialist occupation”, Workers Hammer no 219, Summer 2012).

Following counterrevolution in the USSR, the end of the Cold War meant that Pakistan’s usefulness to the imperialists was greatly diminished. Pakistan is today subject to US imperialist drone attacks aimed at the Taliban and Al Qaeda — reactionary fundamentalists whose forerunners were created in the 1980s by the Pakistani military and Inter Service Intelligence as well as the American CIA.

Pakistan, like India, is a prison house of peoples, a legacy of three centuries of British colonial divide-and-rule that culminated in the partition of the Indian subcontinent. Pakistan’s claim to constitute “one nation” of all Muslims masks the domination of the Punjabi ruling class over Pashtuns, Baluchis and other oppressed nationalities. Kashmir epitomises the seething complex of national and communal conflicts that extend from Afghanistan to Pakistan and India. India’s brutal repression in Kashmir, the only majority Muslim state in India, gives the lie to New Delhi’s claims that it is a secular democracy. The Indian state was founded on naked Hindu chauvinism, and brutal oppression of minorities has been the rule under the Congress party as well as the avowedly chauvinist BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party). For their part, Pakistan’s rulers can ill afford to support independence for Kashmir, which would pose the same question for the minorities within their own borders.

The task of liberating all the exploited and oppressed of the Indian subcontinent demands the forging of Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard parties dedicated to the revolutionary overthrow of the bourgeoisies in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and the establishment of a socialist federation of South Asia.