By Dr Syed Mansoor Hussain
Whenever a few Pakistanis or Pakistani expat ‘liberal’ types get together, after a couple of libations to lubricate ideas and speech, often the conversation comes to the question whether we in Pakistan would have been better off if there were no partition of India.
Now I am not a serious student of the history of partition and am aware only of the basic facts. These being that the Muslim League won most of the Muslim seats during the elections held in 1946 and as such also won the right to represent the Muslims of India. Jinnah, as the leader of the Muslims, decided to opt for Pakistan when the All India Congress led by Nehru and Patel rejected the Cabinet Mission Plan. And this Pakistan that came into being was not quite what Jinnah had expected.
Some historians have said that Jinnah referred to the country he got as a “moth-eaten” Pakistan. Whether that is true is not material since Jinnah accepted whatever he got and it laid the foundation of one and then two Muslim majority countries in the Indian subcontinent, something envisaged by the Lahore Resolution of 1940. It is also an undeniable fact that we in Pakistan could indeed have done a lot better for ourselves.
For me what is important is that I was born in a country called Pakistan and then had opportunities available to me that I would never even have dreamed of if I was an Indian Muslim. I know that it is not proper to generalise based upon a few interactions with Indian Muslims, but I must admit most of them that I met in the US are quite envious of us Pakistani Muslims.
As I attended the convocation of King Edward Medical University in its 150th year as a medical institution, I sat in the famous ‘Library Hall’ and looked around the walls that have the pictures of all the former principals, there is not one Muslim who was principal until after the partition of India. And if I looked on the walls in the hallway where all the medal winners over the years are listed, I would have a hard time finding a single Muslim name before 1947.
Essentially, at least for those Muslims of British India that ended up in Pakistan and now in Pakistan as well as Bangladesh, things could have been a lot worse. If they were still living in a ‘united’ India where Muslims would at best have been a frequently discriminated against minority, it is unlikely that they would have made any serious progress as members of a Muslim minority.
Now we all know that in many countries in Europe and in Israel, Muslim populations are increasing at a rapid rate compared to the non-Muslims and as such in time will become large minorities and in Israel possibly even a majority if the Palestinian territories are not separated from the rest of Israel. But in India it is highly unlikely that Muslims could have or even now become a larger or more influential minority.
All this is interesting as discussion points but when I saw the pictures of the recent attempt at breaking the Gaza blockade, I kept thinking that Indian Muslims could have been in a similar predicament if partition had not happened. The Palestinians in the ‘occupied’ territory are living in a bad way. In 1949 the UN divided the so-called ‘Palestine Mandate’ between the Jews and the Palestinians. The Palestinians backed by their ‘Arab’ supporters refused to accept the division of Palestine while the Jews accepted it and declared an independent state of Israel in the territory awarded to them by the UN.
And for all the fulminant anti-Israeli types, if the Palestinians had accepted the partition of Palestine as mandated by the UN, they would be in control of the entire West Bank, the Gaza Strip and of course all of East Jerusalem including the Muslim as well as the Jewish holy places.
Unfortunately for the Palestinians, they had nobody like Jinnah leading them — someone who had the foresight and the courage to accept the partition of Palestine. Instead of accepting partition, the Palestinians and the Arabs attacked the newly formed Jewish state. Who helped the new state is again immaterial but the simple fact is that the Arabs, in spite of overwhelming numerical superiority, did not win and Israel survived.
But then again it is an important part of history that until 1967, all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip were in Muslim hands and yet the Jordanians or the Egyptians that controlled these territories did not allow the Palestinians to form a state of their own. And in 1967 the united might of the Arab armies again attacked Israel and essentially lost all of ‘Palestine’.
If the Palestinians had accepted partition in 1949, they would have been living an independent country today. ‘Moth eaten’ or not but still an independent country. Sadly, the Palestinians are never going to get anything close to the Palestine the UN gave them in 1949. The ‘facts on the ground’ have changed too much and therefore the Israelis are never going to give up control of Jerusalem. And whether we like it or not, the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem are going to remain under Israeli control for the foreseeable future.
Of course it is impossible to go back in time and rewrite history. What might have happened if the Indian Congress had accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan will at best remain a matter of conjecture. Considering the fact that Jinnah was sick and died in 1948, it is most likely that the Indian Muslims would have ended up in considerable disarray after Jinnah’s death and would have been unable to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.
Anyway, whenever I see the plight of the Palestinians, I cannot but help say: thank you Mr Jinnah.
Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org