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23 LESSON 4 DON’T COUNT ON THINGS STAYING THE SAME What’s important is not how to do things right, but how to find the right things to do. peter drucker Nothing is stable if one takes a long enough view, but some things and some places are particularly unstable. Pakistan is one such place. What follows is a brief and selective political history of the land to which I had been sent, as it is important for understanding what we faced next. By the early decades of the twentieth century, English rule of India was entering its endgame. The secular Congress Party had a visionary leader in Mohandas Gandhi, who was backed by prominent members of the Hindu and Muslim populations, most notably Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, respectively. By 1920 Jinnah, a tweed-jacketed , pipe-smoking Muslim nationalist, had broken with the Congress Party; he eventually called for the establishment of an independent state for the subcontinent’s Muslims. His initial focus was the Urdu-speaking Muslim majority concentrated in the Punjab and the rest of northwest India. Only later, when he was pushed to consider the many Mus- 24 TEN LESSONS IN PUBLIC HEALTH lims who lived on the other side of India, in eastern Bengal, were they included in his plans. In time, these areas became the west and east “wings” of Pakistan, divided by a roughly 1,000-mile piece of India that lay between them. The bloodbath that accompanied the division of formerly British-ruled India into these two nations was frightful. The nation of India succeeded in becoming a multiethnic democracy , but Pakistan, particularly West Pakistan, violently rid itself of all Sikhs and Hindus. East Pakistan, which eventually became Bangladesh, was more tolerant. When we arrived in East Pakistan, Muslims made up the vast majority of the population, but Hindus still accounted for more than 10 percent, and local Hindu ceremonies were a colorful part of village life. Although the Bengali-speaking citizens of the east wing made up a majority of Pakistan’s total population, the new country’s leadership was dominated by the Urdu-speaking politicians and military officers of Jinnah’s home, in the west wing. Initially, Pakistan’s central government declared Urdu the official language. After the inevitable language riots that followed, the law was rescinded, but the persistently west wing–centric agenda did not change. For nearly a quartercentury after the 1947 partition that created Pakistan, East and West, the country was effectively ruled by the west wing, either by an elected prime minister or by a post-coup army general. It was sometimes ruled by both, which was largely the case when we arrived in Dacca. The real power in Pakistan in 1970 was General (and occasionally President) Agha Yahya Khan, a hunting buddy of then U.S. ambassador Joseph Farland. The civilian frontman was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party. Then something wholly unexpected happened. A charismatic Bengali, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, energized the east wing’s political factions and rallied them DON’T COUNT ON THINGS STAYING THE SAME 25 around a single party, his Awami League. If the Bengali population united behind this single leader and party, they would win a majority in the national election, dominate Parliament , and be in a position to name the prime minister. They did win—and they did name a prime minister. Neither Yahya Khan nor Bhutto was pleased. They made it increasingly clear that they were not about to give way to an east wing, Bengali-dominated government; and they attempted to change the political rules to thwart the fact that a Bengali had won the nationwide popular vote and should, by rights, be prime minister of the entire nation, both wings. Revolution was in the air. I couldn’t drive to work, visit the market, or sit through dinner at home without being accosted by young students urging me to “support the revolution ,” thrusting makeshift flags of their proposed new nation, Bangladesh, into my hand. Most American expatriates were unhappy with the way West Pakistan had ridden roughshod over their east-wing brothers, but they were not necessarily in support of yet another subdivision of the subcontinent . The political kettle boiled for all to see. Yahya Khan and Bhutto, the west wing’s military-civilian complex, made several highly unpopular visits to East Pakistan. A political cartoon in the local English-language paper depicted Yahya Khan and Bhutto on the roof...


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