Regional Nationalism: The driving force for the secession of East Pakistan

East Pakistanis were given cause to separate 

If East Pakistan’s people had been given equal rights, no regional nationalism would have been created and Pakistan would not have been separated into two sovereign states.

Regional Nationalism is a form of nationalism aiming to break existing nations into what its proponents argue are true nations. This too is based on hatred of being ruled by unlike people. For Example, Québécois want to separate from Canada, Basques from Spain, Tibetans from China, and Scots from Britain.

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This article is based on how regional nationalism played an important role in breaking Pakistan into two different states. Nationalism is always a key factor in most civil disobedience wars, rebellions, and revolutions such as the the American Revolution. Pakistan after the independence always neglected the people in the majority, the Bengalis. There arose a series of disputes between East and West Pakistan based on representation in government or other public or private institutions, the language controversy, and the lack of a direct land connection between the two wings as well as many other issues. These issues built a sense of nationalism in West Pakistan, that they are a different nation and are not part of the existing nation and that ember of regional nationalism eventually became the major reason for the independence of Bangladesh.

This sense of sub-nationalism rose because the people of East Pakistan were neglected and considered inferior, and was further heightened by the media, regional politicians and foreign countries. Eventually, that nationalism led to a revolution ending in the form of an independent Bangladesh

  It is worth discussing the core issues that erupted into regional nationalism in East Pakistan, how it could have been stopped from going to an advanced level and what impact it had on Pakistan.

The attitude and policies of West Pakistan towards East Pakistan were not promoting equal rights and representation which eventually implanted the seed of nationalism in the people of East Pakistan that they are not one nation, there is no similarity except for religion. This negligence by Pakistan’s government proved to be deadly.

The rise of regional nationalism was because of some major issues that erupted with independence, such as the language issue which is basically the government of Pakistan not giving Bengali the status of the state language of Pakistan. Other than that, East Pakistanis were very much ill-treated and considered as inferior to West Pakistanis. Economic, Political, and constitutional disparities were happening in East Pakistan along with disparities in civil services and armed forces.

Economically, East Pakistan is an agricultural province with much fertile land, especially jute, which was also exported and generated a good amount of revenue. East Pakistan contributed almost 60 percent of total revenue, but only got 25 percent for development funds.

Politically there was less representation of Bangladesh in the National Assembly although having a province with a majority of the population. Also, after the fall of the Muslim League, the rise of regional parties, such as the Awami League and the “Krishak Sramik party” (The Labour Peasant party) raised the fire of sub-nationalism in East Pakistan.

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The disparity according to the constitution is that the report of the Basic Principles Committee was more inclined toward a unitary government. This concept created a sense of threat in Bengalis that they would eventually be colonized, and independence would turn into a mere change of ruler. Whereas the six points of the Awami League demanded a federal type of government with provinces having more authority and power, and a federal government only to look after security and foreign policy.

The 1970 cyclone in East Pakistan caused up to 500,000 deaths and worsening the situation because the local regional parties and media misled the people of Bangladesh that West Pakistan was not offering them relief.

In the 1970 elections, the key cause of the separation of East Pakistan was mainly between the PPP led by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in West Pakistan, and the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman in East Pakistan. The Awami League won with a majority in East Pakistan whereas PPP won in West Pakistan. East Pakistan had enough seats to form a government but Yahya khan did not want the six points of Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman to be implemented. Operation Searchlight was launched on 25 March 1971, by the military under the leadership of General Tikka Khan. This operation led to bloody massacres and civil war, creating uncertainty between East and West Pakistan.

The seed of regional nationalism was sown in the hearts and minds of Bengalis and all the events mentioned above enhanced that seed into a revolution in the form of civil disobedience and civil war. This sense of nationalism further increased with the arrest of Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman; the military forces of West Pakistan launched an offensive that caused the killing of many Bengalis. India took full advantage of this nationalist revolution and tried to weaken Pakistan. They started training a rebel Bengali army which called itself “Mukhti Bahini”. A bloody massacre is witnessed in history with up to 300,000 deaths, millions of people injured and hundreds of thousands of women raped. Each eventually led to a rise in the spirit of nationalism, which led to civil war and eventually resulted in the separation of East Pakistan from West Pakistan.

The major causes of the rise of nationalism in East Pakistan were language issues, the disparity in economic, political, and constitutional matters, less representation, the disparity in civil services and armed forces, the 1970 cyclone, and the elections of 1970.

All these major issues contributed to the rise in nationalism, eventually leading to Bangladesh’s independence.

The rise of nationalism and separation of East Pakistan is blamed on the negligence of the government of Pakistan, but there are many other factors, including the greed for power of their regional extremist nationalist, and politicians, the local media portraying the wrong image of Pakistan, brainwashing of people on the basis regional nationalism, and India supporting and funding the rebel groups were also some major issues that caused this separation

A sense of sub-nationalism or regional nationalism that arose in the mind of East Pakistanis was a major cause of the separation of East Pakistan. The People of East Pakistan considered themselves different from West Pakistan in culture, ethnicity, norms, and all else except religion.

This sense of sub-nationalism rose because the people of East Pakistan were neglected and considered inferior, and was further heightened by the media, regional politicians, and foreign countries and media. Eventually, that nationalism led to a revolution ending in the form of an independent Bangladesh.

Muhammad Shahbaz Rajper
Muhammad Shahbaz Rajper
The writer is a freelance columnist


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