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The History Of Pakistan

Updated on May 22, 2009

The word "Pakistan" was coined in 1933. It is subject to two interpretations. The literal meaning of the Urdu word is "the land of the pure." In a second way of looking at it, the letters stand for the regions of this land: P for Punjab, A for Afghania (the Northwest Frontier), K for Kashmir, S for Sind, and the "stan" for Baluchistan.


When Arab Muslims under Mohammed bin Qasim conquered Sind in 711 the Indian subcontinent was basically a Hindu area, with a Christian minority in the south. However, the Arabs introduced Islam to the people of Sind, and Islam spread south rapidly. By the early 20th century Muslims formed about a quarter of the population of the Indian subcontinent. Although concentrated mainly in the north, they were influential in nearly every region.

Outside of Sind the Muslim conquest began in the early llth century, when Turkic Muslims under Mahmud of Ghazni, in what is now southeastern Afghanistan, established Muslim rule in northern India. Lahore, in the Punjab, became the capital of the Ghaznavid dynasty. In the late 12th century another Turkic dynasty, the Ghor, took the Punjab. In 1193, Mohammed Ghori conquered Delhi. This conquest lay the real foundations for Muslim rule of India. The Ghor dynasty was succeeded by the Muizzi, Khilji, Tughlaq, Sayyid, and Lodis dynasties. In the early 16th century, another group of Turkic Muslims swept in from central Asia. Led by Baber, a descendent of the Mongols, they were called Moguls. In 1526 the Moguls took Delhi and Agra. They then ruled the greater part of India under a succession of emperors—Baber, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan, and Aurang-zeb—for nearly 200 years. After Aurangzeb's death in 1707, Mogul power declined rapidly. In 1757 the British took control of Bengal by winning the Battle of Plassey. A weak Mogul empire lingered on until 1857, when the British, while suppressing the Sepoy Rebellion, deposed the last emperor, Bahadur Shah.

From their glory in the 200 years of rule by the six great Moguls, Muslims lost political control almost entirely and stagnated or declined in other respects. One of the main areas of Muslim stagnation was education. Islamic religious authorities opposed English education, and prejudice against it was common among Muslims. As a result, few Muslims gained a modern education. Few Muslims attained important positions in government, where the British changed the official language from Persian, which Muslims knew, to English. Likewise, few Muslims advanced in modern occupations, such as engineering. Instead, Hindus forged ahead in these fields, leaving Muslims well behind, except in the military, where the Muslims were employed out of proportion to their numbers in the population.

A revival of Muslim higher education began in the last third of the 19th century, in large part because of the work of Syed Ahmad Khan. He resolved to bring modern education to Muslims in order to save the Muslim community and Islam. In 1875 he founded the Anglo-Mohammedan Oriental College at Aligarh (now in Uttar Pradesh); it later became Aligarh Muslim University. At Aligarh strong emphasis was laid on science, mathematics, and other forms of modern knowledge, which Syed felt could best be learned through education in the English language. Aligarh became a center and a symbol for Muslim modernism, and, as such, it was condemned by traditional Muslim clergy. The success of Aligarh stimulated the growth of modern Muslim political consciousness.

In 1906 the Muslim League was founded at Dacca. As a political party the League remained weak and for years was no match for the Indian National Congress, founded in 1885 and dominated by Hindus. However, it did provide a rallying point for Muslim Indians wanting to protect their special interests. As the desire for independence from the British grew among Indians, Muslims worried more about what would happen to them as a minority. Muslims felt the need for strong safeguards for their position once India was granted more self-government, and especially once the British had left. For a long while the League, under Mohammed All Jinnah, looked toward an accord with the Hindu majority. But in the 1930's Muslims began to talk of a separate homeland.
Muslim sentiment in favor of separation grew even stronger when the Indian National Congress kept Muslims out of provincial ministries formed after the 1937 elections. In 1940 the decisive break came, when the Muslim League declared that its goal was a separate nation. The declaration was vague, however, about what parts of India were to be included in Pakistan.

After World War II, while plans were being laid for India to become independent, Muslim separatism triumphed. In 1947 the British and the Indian National Congress (which included many "nationalist Muslims," who did not want to see India divided) consented to the partition of India at independence, with Pakistan being formed out of Muslim-majority areas in the north. The precise terms of partition left many Pakistanis feeling that they had been cheated, however. Districts rather than provinces were given to India or to Pakistan on the basis of their having a Hindu or Muslim majority. As a result, Pakistan got only East Bengal and West Punjab. In addition, Pakistan acquired Sind, Baluchistan, the Northwest Frontier, and a number of "native states," states that were indirectly controlled by the British through a native ruler. Kashmir, because of its majority Muslim population, was expected to go to Pakistan, but it did not because its Hindu ruler chose to keep it in India.

Partition and independence, on August 15 1947, ignited violent communal conflicts that caused millions of people to flee their homes for safety. About six million to seven million people moved from India to Pakistan, and a similar number from Pakistan to India. This left few non-Muslims in West Pakistan, but about 15 percent Hindus in East Pakistan and 10 percent Muslims in India (compared to 25 percent before partition). Perhaps 500,000 people died in these bloody migrations.


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      Kamran100 6 years ago

      this is good informative hub!

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      Pakistan Portal 5 years ago

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