Seventy-eight years ago this week, a young Indian Muslim introduced a new word to the world, a word that is now a nation.
When Choudhary Rahmat Ali Khan published his now famous Pakistan Declaration on the 28th of January, 1933, he made it very clear what he thought the new Indian Muslim nation should look like: “At this solemn hour in the history of India, when British and Indian statesmen are laying the foundations of a Federal Constitution for that land, we address this appeal to you, in the name of our common heritage, on behalf of our thirty million Muslim brethren who live in PAKSTAN – by which we mean the five Northern units of India, Viz: Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (Afghan Province), Kashmir, Sindh and Balochistan.”
Pakstan, or Pakistan as it is phonetically spelled now, was envisioned by its earliest of imaginers as a unified nation, connecting all of those areas which are today so tenuously held by this young country. Khan was one of a group of people who participated in a conference in December of 1930 wherein the beloved poet Muhammad Iqbal first hinted at the idea of a Muslim province of India not nation comprised of these five areas. But Khan, in his January 1933 publication, is credited for coinage of the name of a nation which years later, in another publication, he revered as a Persian and Urdu word meaning land of the pure.
Khan was 36 years old, a Cambridge graduate and a teacher at Aitchison College, when he wrote his famous manifesto proposing for the first time in print the new name of a new nation of Pakistan, entitled “Now or Never; Are We to Live or Perish Forever?” He and his colleagues in the effort started the Pakistan National Movement on the heels of this declaration, and ultimately Pakistan became a nation in 1947. But even then, the idyll had begun to vanish before Khans eyes.
He was angry at Muhammad Ali Jinnah for accepting a nation smaller than was intended from the outset, though no doubt pleased that Pakistan became a nation and not merely a province as Iqbal had wanted. Perhaps, even then, he would not have been surprised at how much tinier it would become. East Pakistan which was not even in Khans original plan is today another nation altogether, which is possibly an indication that the original plan was more practical than the one that ensued in 1947. And the areas that remain of Khans plan do not exactly constitute a beacon of unity. Today, although some may disagree, Punjab and Sindh remain as unified as any two states in Pakistan, but they too, struggle for their footing in this land. Worse, as one edges out toward Balochistan, the Afghan province and Kashmir, the imagination of Khan and his compatriots falls even shorter. Baluchistan is at least still a state of todays Pakistan, but both it and the Afghan province are in many ways disconnected and disillusioned territories and frontiers. And Kashmir, dangling Kashmir, is far from included in Pakistan. The only thing it seems to have been included in is a grand chess game of perpetual war, instigated by the British sorts who divvied the nation in the first place.
As for Khan himself, things didnt turn out as he had hoped either. He ended his life in exile banished from his Pakistan by the Prime Minister in 1948. He is said to have died alone in England three years later, where he is still buried. The Hoshiarpuri from Indian Punjab is today referred to as a Pakistani, though he couldnt have known it the day he died.
There are those now, especially the men and women who were children when their families lost lives and land to cross over into Pakistan, who wonder if Khan was right to want a Pakistani nation. In their later years, they find themselves nostalgic for a unified India they barely knew and despondent over the wanton loss that resulted when the nation was split. They worry about the ulterior motives for carving out the Pakistani nation motives not resting in the welfare of the people who would be affected, but in the strategies and profits of imperialists and businessmen.
Then there are those others, the ones who have only ever known a Pakistan, who look to the East and hear stories of the Muslims who were left behind in India. These young men and women have a home in Pakistan. Most of them do not know of Choudhary Rahmat Ali Khan and his reasons for wanting, or rather, needing, a Pakistan. They find themselves in a troubled nation today caught in a tight place between war and poverty. But its their nation and its where they feel most at home. Khan, languishing, isolated, in a burial plot in England, gave all he could so he, too, could have lived and perished forever in the land of the pure.
The writer is a US-based political analyst and a fomer Producer for BBC and Al-Jazeera. Follow her on Twitter @ShirinSadeghi