5/19/09 - pakistan

In today's excerpt - the origins of the name 'Pakistan.' In India, under British rule in the early twentieth century, the centuries-old enmity between Muslims and Hindus burned hotter than ever. As Nicholas Schmidle reports in his new book on contemporary Pakistan, some from among the minority Muslims yearned to be independent of the oppression of the Hindu, and to form their own Muslim country. They later got their wish with the cataclysmic 1947 partition of India into two countries—India and Pakistan:

"I soon learned about Chaudhry Rahmat Ali, the man who coined the name 'Pakistan.' Rahmat Ali belonged to the cast of characters—along with Mohammad Iqbal, the intellectual dubbed Pakistan's 'national poet', and Mohammad Ali Jinnah, a gaunt sickly barrister—who helped to form Pakistan. Historians regarded Jinnah as the founding statesmen and lqbal as the founding philosopher. Rahmat Ali, however, enjoyed less influence inside Pakistan (he was living in England during the Partition) and most accounts of Pakistan's creation have confined him to a secondary role. 'Official Pakistan' wrote a columnist in Dawn, an English-language daily newspaper, 'has apparently treated Rahmat Ali as the lunatic uncle who has needed to be locked up secretly in the attic.'

"Rahmat Ali's fame stemmed from a 1933 pamphlet he penned titled 'Now or Never; Are We to Live or Perish For Ever?' He opened the treatise:

" 'At this solemn hour in the history of India, when British and Indian statesmen are laying the foundations of a Federation Constitution for that land, we address this appeal to you, in the name of our common heritage, on behalf of our thirty million Muslim brethren who live in PAKSTAN—by which we mean the five Northern units of India viz.: Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (Afghan Province), Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan—for your sympathy and support in our grim and fateful struggle against political crucification and complete annihilation.'

"Thus, the name PAKSTAN made its debut. But it was more than just an acronym for the composite Muslim-majority provinces in northern India. In Urdu 'Pak' means 'pure,' and thus 'PAKSTAN' meant 'Land of the Pure.'

"Rahmat Ali might have coined the name but he wasn't the first to pitch the idea of combining Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Baluchistan into a single political entity. Three years before Rahmat Ali's pamphlet circulated, lqbal, acknowledged as a towering intellect even in his own day, had proposed this imagined configuration, which was to fall under the umbrella of an All-India Federation. But Rahmat Ali wanted total independence from India. An upstart student radical, twenty years junior to lqbal Rahmat Ali noted, with due politeness and respect, that his demand was 'basically different' from the one forwarded by the revered philosopher and poet. 'There can be no peace and tranquility in the land if we, the Muslims are duped into a Hindu-dominated Federation where we cannot be the masters of our own destiny and captains of our own souls,' Rahmat Ali wrote.

"Rahmat Ali described the fate of Indian Muslims as having arrived at an apocalyptic intersection: 'We are face to face with a first-rate tragedy, the like of which has not been seen in the long and eventful history of Islam.' What happened to the days when they were 'custodians of the glory of Islam in India and defenders of its frontiers'? he wondered. Rahmat Ali added in closing 'We have a still greater future before us, if only our soul can be saved from the perpetual bondage of slavery forced in an All-India Federation. Let us make no mistake about it. The issue is now or never. Either we live or perish for ever.' "


Nicholas Schmidle


To Live or To Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan


Henry Holt and Company, LLC


Copyright 2009 by Nicholas Schmidle


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment