Pakistan: British Control and the Muslim League

British Control and the Muslim League

The British attempted to subdue the anarchic northwest during the First Afghan War (1839–42) and succeeded in conquering Sind in 1843 and the Punjab in 1849. The turbulence of the region was intensified by the fierce forays of Baluchi and Pathan tribespeople from the mountainous hinterlands. The British occupied Quetta in 1876 and again attempted to conquer the tribespeople in the Second Afghan War (1878–80) but were still unsuccessful. With the creation of the North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) in 1901, the British shifted from a policy of conquest to one of containment.

Unlike previous settlers in India, the Muslim immigrants were not absorbed into Hindu society. Their ranks were augmented by the millions of Hindus who had been converted to Islam. There was cultural interchange between Hindu and Muslim, but no homogeneity emerged. After the Indian Mutiny (1857), a rising Hindu middle class began to assume dominant positions in industry, education, the professions, and the civil service. Although, in these early decades of the Indian National Congress, vigorous efforts were made to include Muslims in the nationalist movement, concern for Muslim political rights led to the formation of the Muslim League in 1906; in the ensuing years Hindu-Muslim conflict became increasingly acute.

The idea of a Muslim nation, distinct from Hindu India, was introduced in 1930 by the poet Muhammad Iqbal and was ardently supported by a group of Indian Muslim students in England, who were the first to use the name Pakistan [land of the pure, from the Urdu pak,=pure and stan,=land]. It gained wide support in 1940 when the Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, demanded the establishment of a Muslim state in the areas of India where Muslims were in the majority. The League won most of the Muslim constituencies in the 1946 elections, and Britain and the Congress party reluctantly agreed to the formation of Pakistan as a separate dominion under the provisions of the Indian Independence Act, which went into effect on Aug. 15, 1947.

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