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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Looking at similarities between Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy and Imran Khan

History repeats itself for those who fail to learn from it. We threw away Suhrawardy and got the India-sponsored secessionist in his stead. Today Imran Khan commands the popular will of the bulk of Pakistan. If he is somehow disposed of, it would only create hatred for the armed forces and encourage secessionists and anti-national elements.

Not many in present-day Pakistan know who Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy is. Maybe it’s because he belonged to the former East Pakistan/Bangladesh. Even in Bangladesh, Suhrawardy has been overshadowed by the likes of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Ziaur Rahman. But in his day, Suhrawardy was a popular political force to be reckoned with. A scion of the well-known Suhrawardy family of Bengal, he served as the Premier of United Bengal prior to the partition of India. Considered among the top leaders of the Muslim League during the Pakistan Movement, Suhrawardy rose to become Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1956. Then, Ayub Khan’s martial law in 1958 effectively ended his political career and he died in exile in Beirut five years later.

Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy had many faults – but he was never a traitor. He actively advocated provincial autonomy for East Pakistan but always curbed secessionism decisively. He always stayed loyal to Pakistan even when he was forced into exile by a military dictator. Immensely popular in East Pakistan, Suhrawardy was also reasonably popular in West Pakistan. He can be described as the only politician who commanded significant support in both wings after the deaths of Quaid-e-Azam and Liaqat Ali Khan.

Read more: Imran Khan reveals he called for appointment of Babar Azam as captain

Suhrawardy was not perfect

He had a reputation as a womanizer and he was an expert in political wheelings and dealings. He castigated the establishment (in the 1950s it meant the alliance between the bureaucracy under Iskander Mirza and the military under Ayub Khan) yet became Prime Minister by accepting a partnership with it. He was an expert in the Jorr-Torr politics of that era when politicians shifted loyalties more often than they changed their clothes. Personally honest, his lieutenants (including the young Mujibur Rahman) were rightly accused of graft and corruption.

But his virtues probably dwarfed his faults. Despite being ideologically ambivalent about the concept of Islamic Super-nationalism (advocated by the likes of Iqbal), Suhrawardy believed that Pakistan and its territorial integrity were essential for the independence and survival of the Muslims of both East and West Pakistan. He battled the heavily pro-US Iskander Mirza/Ayub Khan duo on issues of foreign policy (despite being pro-US himself) and rightly recommended opening relations with the Eastern bloc, especially China to avoid over-reliance on the goodwill of the USA.

Few know this fact today that Suhrawardy was the first Pakistani Prime Minister to visit communist China. As Prime Minister, he managed the economy well and tried to further policies that would reduce the economic disparity between East and West Pakistan. Considered anti-military by Ayub Khan, Suhrawardy behaved contrary to Ayub Khan’s expectations as PM and bluntly refused the demands of some East Pakistani extremists to hamper the financial allocations to the military. In Suhrawardy’s view, weakening the military was akin to weakening Pakistan. He was also an eloquent advocate of the Kashmir cause. But his greatest value to Pakistan lay in the fact that he was the sole “All Pakistan leader” during the tumultuous 1950s.

But “the powers that be” and the “establishment” didn’t think Suhrawardy was beneficial to Pakistan. The duo of Ayub Khan and Iskander Mirza refused to accept anyone apart from them as a patriotic Pakistani. They thought only they had the answers to Pakistan’s woes. They also thought that Suhrawardy wasn’t much popular and could easily be sidelined. So, they imposed Martial law in 1958. Suhrawardy was first arrested and then forced into exile. He died in Beirut in 1963 and his funeral in Dhaka was attended by mourners numbering in lakhs.

Read more: Multiple gunmen involved in assassination attempt on Imran Khan?

Let’s talk about Imran Khan for a bit now

Imran Khan has many faults – but he is not a traitor. He has actively advocated the rights of all including the Baloch and Pashtuns but he has always curbed secessionism decisively. He has stayed loyal to Pakistan even when he was forced out of government by an unholy alliance of kleptocrats and shadowy forces inside the establishment. Immensely popular in all four provinces of Pakistan, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Kashmir, he can be described as the only politician who can claim to be an “All Pakistan leader”.

Imran Khan is not perfect, far from it. He had a reputation as a playboy in his youth though he did renounce those ways long ago. He has had his share of political wheelings and dealings. He castigated the establishment and the tyranny of Pervez Musharraf yet became Prime Minister by allying himself with the establishment. He has also actively participated in the Jorr-Torr politics of today with his “transporters” etc. He also accepted help from the “establishment” in skewing key votes in the Senate. Personally honest, some of his lieutenants have been accused of graft and corruption.

But his virtues probably dwarf his faults. Ideologically committed to Pakistan’s Islamic identity, he has been a leading advocate for important Islamic causes like Kashmir, PalestineIslamophobia, and blasphemy against our Prophet (SAW). In foreign policy, he tried to chart a relatively independent course for Pakistan and tried to improve relations with Russia while maintaining ties with China and the USA. He refused to be bullied by the USA regarding Afghanistan and Russia and tried to improve synergy with rising Muslim powers like Turkey and Malaysia.

His management of the coronavirus pandemic invited praise from all quarters when he refused Western pressure to order complete lock-downs. That step alone might have saved the fragile Pakistani economy from collapse during the pandemic. When India’s Modi was making hapless decisions like Note-bandi and snap lockdowns, Imran Khan was shielding the people of Pakistan from both the covid pandemic and financial destitution through expertly managed smart lock-downs. The Ehsas program (managed by the superb Dr. Sania Nishtar) also stands as a worthy effort during this period.

Imran Khan also has stated unequivocally that weakening the military is akin to weakening Pakistan. His leadership during the 2019 armed confrontation with India, which culminated in the triumphant Operation Swift Retort, was highly laudable and a great example of synergy between civilian and military leadership. The whole nation standing behind its armed forces as India was humiliated was an exhilarating event for the country. But today, his greatest value to Pakistan lies in the fact that he is the sole “All Pakistan leader” during these tumultuous times.

Read more: World condemns assassination attempt on Imran Khan

But “the powers that be” and the “establishment” don’t think Imran Khan is beneficial to Pakistan. They refuse to accept anyone apart from them as a patriotic Pakistani. They think only they have the answers to Pakistan’s woes. They also think that Imran Khan wasn’t much popular and could easily be sidelined. So, they collaborated with forces inside and outside the country in bringing about a regime change.

Let’s get back to the Suhrawardy era for a bit again. Suhrawardy died in 1963. So, who replaced him as an “All Pakistan leader”? Well, no one. So, who replaced him as the prime East Pakistani leader? A guy named Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He had spent a long time under Suhrawardy’s tutelage. But Mujib had drawn some conclusions from Suhrawardy’s fate. Even during Suhrawardy’s life, Mujib had expressed secessionist tendencies asking his mentor, “Is it not possible for East Pakistan to become independent someday?” Suhrawardy admonished Mujib, saying, “Do not ever entertain such thoughts. Pakistan has been achieved at a huge cost and its unity needs to be preserved”.

But after Suhrawardy’s demise, Mujib was free to lead his mentor’s party Awami League on the secessionist path. Mujib’s task was greatly aided by the treatment meted out to Suhrawardy by the “patriotic” establishment. Mujib could and did effectively argue that Pakistan was monopolized by the “establishment” and its cronies and therefore it would be best for Bengalis to secede from such a state whose rulers would not even let patriots like Suhrawardy have a voice in governing the country despite possessing across-country popularity and a democratic mandate.

History repeats itself for those who fail to learn from it. We threw away Suhrawardy and got the India-sponsored secessionist in his stead. Today Imran Khan commands the popular will of the bulk of Pakistan. If he is somehow disposed of, it would only create hatred for the armed forces and encourage the secessionists and anti-national elements who want to undo Pakistan for their own selfish ends and are egged on by foreign powers. After all, unlike Suhrawardy, the secessionist Mujib always fanned the flames of hatred in Bengalis against the military because he knew that his secessionist dreams could only be realized by creating an incurable fissure between the people and the military.

Do the scions of the “patriotic establishment” really want KPK and Balochistan to drift into the arms of those who chant “Yeh jo dehshat-gardi hai, iske peche wardi hai!”? Do they really want Punjab and Sindh to become a fiefdom of a couple of kleptocratic families involved in actively demonizing the Pak army and even advocating India’s case regarding the Mumbai attacks? They might be servile in front of the Generals these days but so was Mujib in 1969 and 1970. If yes, then how “patriotic” are these scions of the “establishment”? They say “We are not traitors” but are they not abetting the traitors as was the case in 1969-71? Point to ponder.

 

 

The writer is a doctor and an avid reader of history. His columns have been published in the Urdu daily “Nawa-e-Waqt” and “Global Village Space”. He also runs a social media channel “Tarikh aur Tajziya” which is dedicated to the study of history and current affairs. Currently, he heads the India Desk at South Asia Times, Islamabad.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.