The birth of Bangladesh on a Thursday—December 16, 1971—is a reminder to Pakistan of what it has lost, and a looming threat of a repeat for the beleaguered nation. When Pakistan came into being, Bengali Muslims were at the forefront of the movement. It was the only province where the Muslim League of Jinnah had an absolute majority. My home province of Sindh was the second. The rest of Pakistan, including Punjab (Punjab under Unionist Party and Balochistan of the Qalat Jirga) and the then North West Frontier Province (NWFP, now renamed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) had voted against Pakistan.
For the first few years, politicians of then East Bengal did hold some influence over the newly-emerged state but could not hold it against the growing power of the western wing’s civil and military bureaucracy, in cahoots with the feudal elite of Pakistani Punjab. That’s the reason why, soon after the death of Jinnah and assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan, Hussein Shaheed Suharwardy and Khwaja Nazimuddin of East Bengal were humiliated and thrown out. Sheikh Mujib too, who was a staunch supporter of the Pakistan movement and a close lieutenant of Suharwardy, met the same fate and faced imprisonment many times.
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In a strange stroke of luck, the same classes of Pakistani Punjab who opposed the creation of Pakistan, all of a sudden became the custodian of the new state and created a system of discrimination and exploitation of the very people who created the All India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906. The downgrading of Bengali language, imposition of Urdu on East Bengal and later discriminatory policies, including the unjust ‘One Unit’ system created to...