Why Was the Pakistan State Between 1947 and 1971 so Unstable?

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Why was the Pakistan state between 1947 and 1971 so unstable? The main reason for the instability within Pakistan after partition was the weak political infrastructure and its failure to deal with the immediate problems following the creation of Pakistan on the 14th August 1947. The authoritarian style of government meant there was an inherent failure of democracy, notably characterised by Kapur who emphasises that the antidemocratic nature of Pakistani politics were cemented by the actions of Jinnah during the first few years of independence. Furthermore, the weak political structure was at the root of all subsequent problems Pakistan faced, for example the on-going India-Pakistan rivalry and the growth of regionalism in each province. While these crises destabilised Pakistan both internally and externally, ultimately it was the failure of the political system to deal with them effectively which was at the root of the instability. Firstly, a key issue with the political situation of Pakistan was the attitudes of the leaders; Ashok Kapur successfully argues the view that there was an inherent rejection of democracy by Jinnah who cemented the tradition of authoritarianism within Pakistan throughout the 1950’s until Zia-al-Huq’s regime ended in 1988. Furthermore, Kapur goes on to argue that Jinnah’s “conception of Pakistani politics centred on a political system that revolved around Jinnah and the Pakistani bureaucracy. His views revealed an anti-democratic base.” This is evident in the fact that the political system of Pakistan was dominated by civil and military bureaucracies; factionalism, corruption and violence formed part of the government’s everyday experience. For example, the attempted coup of 1951 and the coup d’etat of October 1958 whereby General Ayub Khan disposed of the Prime Minister Mirza. Thus, the leaders of Pakistan had little legitimacy within Pakistan encouraging the growth of sectarianism particularly in Sindh and East Pakistan where the sense of regional identity grew. It could also be argued that the political infrastructure was considered weak outside of Pakistan thus encouraging the Indian government that domination of Pakistan could be possible hence showing the link between political and international instability. Furthermore, a key problem during the period 1947 to 1971 was the insensitivity of the government towards ethnolinguistic groups which triggered a wave of social distress amongst the population, destabilising the social conditions, specifically the divisions between East and West Pakistan. Jinnah declared Urdu the national language of Pakistan in 1948 which triggered hostility amongst the population of East Pakistan which predominantly spoke Bengali as their mother tongue and couldn’t understand Urdu. When confronted by the Bengalis, Jinnah stated that anyone who opposed Urdu as the official language of Pakistan was a traitor to the country. This caused a wave of dissatisfaction which gave rise to the Bengali Language Movement which climaxed in 1952 when police open fired on students protesting for the recognition of Bengali as a national language. This was a major miscalculation of the government as it added impetus to the movement by generating sympathy for the victims. As a result, the Government agreed to provide equal status to Bengali as an official language of Pakistan which greatly undermined the political institution of Pakistan and encouraged Bengali nationalist movements which ultimately resulted in the partition of Pakistan along ethnolinguistic lines with the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, a significant example of the deteriorating stability within Pakistan. Furthermore, one could argue that the divisions between East and West could have been easily diminished through effective governance however the leaders’ failure to do so shows the instability of the central government in dealing with the social problems Pakistan faced. Kapur argues that when faced with internal...
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