Following the end of the Second World War, Britain lost it’s position as the number one power of the World.
British rule was confronted by popular anti-colonial movements that proved too powerful for Britain to counter and lacked the ability to deploy military force.
Although Whitehall tried for as long as possible to hold on to India, officials eventually came to the realisation that, as in Palestine, the game was up.
Knowing that formal colonial rule would soon be over, British policy-makers sought to salvage what they could for the post-colonial future.
In 1886 a famous conference took place by the Aligarh movement. The conference made a point of not supporting the Indian National Congress, the organisation of Indian nationalism.
In 1906, the movement’s representatives, largely landowners from the Muslim nobility, asked the viceroy, Lord Minto, for special political representation for Muslims in new provincial legislative councils announced by the British.
On 20 December the same year the Aligarh movement gave birth to “the Muslim League”, whose first article was ‘to promote among the Mussalmans of India, feelings of loyalty to the British government’.
The League was looked on favourably by British officials; then Labour MP and future prime minister, Ramsay Macdonald, wrote in his 1910 book, The Awakening of India , that the leaders of the League ‘were inspired by certain Anglo–Indian officials, and that these officials pulled wires at Simla [the colonial ‘summer capital’ in northern India] and in London and of malice aforethought sowed discord between the Hindu and the Mohammedan.’
By the 1930s the idea of a separate ‘Pakistan’ – meaning ‘land of the pure’, gained ground within the Muslim League.
Over the next ten years, Lord Linlithgow, worked with Muslim League leader, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, to try to counter the Congress Party’s demand for full Indian independence from British rule but to no avail.
Whitehall had long opposed demands for Indian independence of any description, but the popular power of the nationalist movement led by Gandhi, coupled with Britain’s weakened postwar position, made the end of the Raj inevitable by the mid-1940s.
By then, crucially, the British realised that, post-independence, Indian nationalists would withdraw India from the Commonwealth and deny Britain military and political influence in the region.
It was at this point that London sought to detach the northwest part of the country to establish a separate Muslim state.
In 1940 backed by the British secretary of state for India, Lord Zetland, the Muslim League adopted the Lahore resolution, declaring as its official policy the establishment of a separate Muslim state in northern India.
The proposed state of Pakistan was strategically located, bordering Iran, Afghanistan and China, and close to the southernmost areas of the Soviet Union – the site, indeed, of the nineteenth century Great Game.
Britain now deliberately set out to partition India to achieve important strategic objectives in the area.
By 1947, the British military chiefs of staff had become enthusiastic proponents of Pakistan, seeing its creation as providing several valuable functions, including obtaining air bases in the new territory and ‘to ensure the continued independence and integrity [of] Afghanistan’.
‘The area of Pakistan’, the chiefs noted, ‘is strategically the most important in the continent of India and the majority of our strategic requirements could be met.’
Britain would also be able to ‘increase our prestige and improve our position throughout the Muslim world, and demonstrate, by the assistance Pakistan would receive, the advantages of links with the British Commonwealth.’
Field Marshall Montgomery, now the chief of the imperial general staff, noted that it would be ‘a tremendous asset’ if Pakistan remained within the Commonwealth, since ‘the bases, airfields and ports in northwest India would be invaluable to Commonwealth defence’.
A document in his papers provides a precise analysis of Pakistan’s strategic importance, post-independence: “The Indus Valley, western Punjab and Baluchistan [the northwest] are vital to any strategic plans for the defence of [the] all-important Muslim belt … [and] the oil supplies of the Middle East … If the British Commonwealth and the United States of America are to be in a position to defend their vital interests in the Middle East, then the best and most stable area from which to conduct this defence is from Pakistan territory. Pakistan [is] the keystone of the strategic arch of the wide and vulnerable waters of the Indian Ocean.”
In 1947 the partition of colonial British India into two new states, India and the Muslim state of Pakistan, involved massive population transfer and a bloodbath: up to a million people lost their lives in the communal violence that accompanied partition.
The Times heralded Partition Day, 15 August 1947: In the hour of its creation Pakistan emerges as the leading state of the Muslim world. Since the collapse of the Turkish empire that world, which extends across the globe from Morocco to Indonesia, has not included a state whose numbers, natural resources and place in history gave it undisputed pre-eminence. The gap is now filled. From today Karachi takes rank as a new centre of Muslim cohesion and rallying point of Muslim thought and aspirations.
Two years after partition, its key proponent, Field Marshall Wavell, made an address to the Royal Central Asia Society, outlining the strategic importance of Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.
Wavell stated that the next great struggle for world power, if it takes place, may well be for the control of these oil reserves.’ These regions might be the battleground not only for the material struggle for oil but also ‘of the spiritual struggle of at least three great creeds – Christianity, Islam, Communism’. Therefore, ‘the Western powers must surely be in the Middle East.’
The partition of India had immediate terrible human consequences. With an estimated 20 million people crossing the new border in both directions, in search of new homes, there was an almost total breakdown in law and order, and massive violence in the border areas.
The above is an extract taken from the book ‘Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam’ by Mark Curtis