By Humera Ali
It was August 1998 when my mother married my father, and it was the following year that she moved from Pakistan to his hometown in England. I was fortunate enough to spend the first five years living between Pakistan and England, as my mother often travelled to visit her family on long trips and I had always accompanied her.
I always preferred living in Pakistan to England, and most of my time in England was spent looking forward to the day that I would go to visit Pakistan again on another trip. The sense of belonging and safety I felt in my grandmother’s house in Pakistan was something which could not quite be compared to living in the English block of flats that I grew up in for the first fifteen years of my life.
As I grew older and my visits to Pakistan became less frequent, I spent my few trips to Pakistan trying to look beyond the cultural vibrancy of the country and learn more about its history. My childhood trips to Pakistan had mostly involved attending family dinner parties, attending random weddings (where I was not acquainted with either the bride or the groom), shopping for new suits, trying new foods…
But there did not seem to be more to it than that – I realised I knew next to nothing about the country that my parents came from. It began to resonate with me that I knew so much about British history, and almost nothing about the history of my homeland.
British involvement within India (before Pakistan was created) can be traced back further than 1858, which marked the formal end to the Mughal Empire and the beginning of British Raj’s formal colonisation of the Indian subcontinent. In fact, Britain’s first landing in the Indian subcontinent was in August 1608, for the purpose of trade.
The Indian subcontinent had an abundance of materials and resources that the British did not. One of these were spices. As spices were a primary way to preserve meat in the 17th century, the British entered India as traders. The trade then expanded to other resources such as silk, tea, cotton, dye and opium.
Eventually, the exploitative relationship came to the surface through gunpoint and force; and the Indian subcontinent was forced into the British Empire.
“1947: a Muslim man sips whiskey & creates a country. Jinnah’s photo framed and hung on the doors of his believers. Freedom spat between every paan-stained mouth as the colonisers leave. & the date trees dance in Ramzan’s winds.”
(‘Partition’, Fatimah Asghar)
The year 1947 was the year in which the partition was established. The British split the Indian subcontinent into two separate nation states – India and Pakistan. This led to one of the greatest migrations in human history. It displaced over 10 million people, and the harsh nature of the partition led to large-scale violence, causing the death of an estimated 2 million Indians and Pakistanis. Whether this was inadvertently done (on the British side) is disputed, or perhaps the negative consequences of such a partition plan were considered and yet not decided to be of importance.
The idea for the creation of Pakistan was something which many had held and advocated for in the years leading up to Pakistan’s inception. The two-nation theory was publicly advocated for by Syed Ahmed Khan, and following this, the All-Indian Muslim league was established in 1906. The movement grew in popularity – Allama Iqbal called for an amalgamation of Muslim-majority Indian states (e.g. Sindh, Punjab etc), and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the President of the Muslim League and founder of Pakistan, became the first Governer-General once Pakistan was created.
“You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed.”
(Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s first speech to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan)
Pakistan has a detailed and complex history which is often overlooked. Colonialism and Partition were two terms I was familiar with but did not know much about, and yet it seemed ironic to me afterwards that the country I was living in now is heavily linked to Pakistan – involving a turbulent, exploitative relationship that lasted years, and one which may still, to some extent, exist to this day.
There is more to Pakistan’s history than the involvement of the British Empire. There were many individuals that pushed for tolerant solutions that led to the creation of Pakistan. Pakistan has been through many struggles and continues to do so. But its creation came from an advocacy for peace.
Faith, unity and discipline have been extremely significant to Pakistan’s history, and to the country in the present day.