Pakistan’s Difficulties at Independence

Shahid H. Raja
11 min readSep 22, 2022


History has a very long shadow; policies formulated, and actions taken in one period have their short-term and long-term repercussions, some spanning over several decades. Some are visible and can be easily traced to any decision taken in one epoch.

However, some impacts cannot be pinpointed to a particular decision because of the interaction of multiple factors in any situation. What is Pakistan today, like any other country, is the cumulative result of all those policies formulated and implemented by the successive ruling elites of the country in 60 years of her existence.


The main reason for the emergence of Pakistan was the failure of the dominant Muslim elite of British India in extracting sufficient constitutional guarantees from their counterparts, namely the dominant Hindu elite for a substantial share in the political decision-making once the colonial rulers left India after the dissolution of the British Indian Empire.

They feared that in the absence of these safeguards, the Muslim minority in an independent India would gradually lose its cultural identity and would become a politically and economically marginalized underclass, another subservient caste, a second-class citizen in a predominantly Hindu India.

These perceptions had been reinforced by the step-motherly treatment Muslim masses got during the brief Congress rule in the provincial governments which it formed after the 1937 elections-a foretaste of things to come. Failing to obtain these assurances and guarantees from the leaders of the Indian Congress, the Indian Muslims launched the movement for the creation of a separate homeland once the British left India.

However, the use of Islam as a battle cry for the Pakistan Movement was more to do with objective realities than a deliberate choice of the leaders of the movement. That’s why the Pakistan Movement, though couched in religious terminology, was basically a movement by the downtrodden Muslim community of India to safeguard their socioeconomic interests and fulfill their dreams of improving the quality of life in a country where they could live according to their cherished dreams.

Thus, for a common man, Pakistan was the Promised Land, an Eldorado to redress all his grievances and remove his deprivations. He was not sophisticated enough to estimate the financial constraints of the new-born country and regarded the creation of the new country as heaven in which there would be no moneylender, no ahrti (middleman), and no scarcity of food, shelter, and clothing.

However, they were in a big shock.

When Pakistan came into existence it inherited more than 8, 50,000 km of landmass which was divided into two wings, one of which was only 15 %of the total but contained 54 % of the population. In between these two wings lay 1600 km of a hostile country, waiting and hoping for the collapse of the new state within 6 months of its coming into existence.

Even though all the communities and nationalities opting for Pakistan were inheritors of rich social and cultural traditions, it was an underdeveloped country in the classic sense of the word it is used in economic literature. Some of the salient features of the political economy of Pakistan at the time of her independence in 1947 can be enumerated as follows.

1. Agricultural Backwardness

Pakistan inherited a predominantly agrarian economy in which more than 60 per cent of her GDP was being contributed by its agriculture sector which was also absorbing more than 70 per cent of her labour force and provided the bulk of its exportable surplus. However, this sector was still at the primitive stage where capitalist development had not made any inroads. Dominated by big landowners who owned large tracts of land where they had limited incentive to increase productivity to earn more income. On the other hand, the vast majority of tenants who tilled these lands did not have the means to raise productivity.

Consequently, it was basically a subsistence agricultural rural economy, with an extremely poor level of rudimentary infrastructure, technological penetration, or application of modern techniques of agricultural farming. After the migration to India of the Sikh farmers who were instrumental in making Punjab the Breadbasket of British India, Pakistan’s agricultural sector was facing an acute shortage of skilled labour force and resourceful landlords.

2. Lack of Industrial Base

The same was the case with its industrial sector. Pakistan was made up of states that were mostly underdeveloped and inherited only 34 industrial units of insignificant importance. East Pakistan producing 70 per cent of the world’s jute was without any jute mill; West Pakistan, most suited for cotton did not have any textile mill worth the name. Although Karachi was a modern port with substantial trading and business activity, much of Pakistan was on the fringes of the British Indian Empire, not linked to the industrialization that had taken place in central India.

Around 90 % of the people lived in the countryside, and there were only 8 towns with a population of more than 100,000. Pakistan being a predominantly agricultural country was not a wealthy country as its major sector i.e., agriculture, did not produce a sufficient surplus to create the wealth needed for industrialisation.

3. Disarrayed Service Sector:

Its service structure was in total disarray with the migration of non-Muslims who had dominated the service sector in pre-independence Pakistan. Mass scale exodus of administrative talent, financial capital, and entrepreneurship, historically under-represented in British India due to imperatives of colonial development and strategic compulsions of the occupying power, meant there were very few people who could run the government offices, social services, financial institutions, and commercial enterprises.

The arrival of more than one million traumatized refugees who were without any assets but full of expectations from a country that was still reeling from the pangs of birth added to the miseries of the state which was almost financially bankrupt and administratively decimated en masse emigration of their key personnel. Hindus and Sikhs, who had traditionally managed much of the commercial activity of West Pakistan, were replaced largely by Urdu-speaking Muslims from India. Although very passionate about the new country, they were no match for the experience of those who departed. Most of them headed for Karachi and other cities in Sindh, where they took the jobs vacated by departing Hindus.

4. External Hostilities

Soon after the creation of Pakistan, Afghanistan laid claims on the Pakistani areas situated along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. These irredentist claims from Kabul were based on the ethnic unity of tribes straddling the border with the emotional appeal of “Pakhtunistan,” homeland of the Pashtuns. However, Pakistan upheld the treaties Britain had signed with Afghanistan and refused to discuss the validity of the Durand Line as the international border. Relations with Afghanistan were hostile, resulting in the rupture of diplomatic and commercial relations and leading Afghanistan to cast the only vote against Pakistan’s admission to the United Nations (UN) in 1947.

While hostilities with Afghanistan were at the most an irritant, it was much more serious with India. It started with the battle of water in Punjab when India stopped the supply of water from the headworks given to India through Radcliff Award; it went to Kashmir where the war started with India over Kashmir. Consequently, India withheld the release of the money which came to Pakistan’s share as a result of the division of assets at a time when it was needed the most.

5. Assets Distribution Controversy

The assets of British India were divided in the ratio of seventeen for India to five for Pakistan by a decision of the Viceroy’s Council in June 1947 reflecting the relative size and populations of the two countries. It was therefore agreed that Pakistan would be paid 750 million rupees of the 4 billion rupees in the Reserve Bank. The first 200 million rupees were paid. Then war broke out over Kashmir and India refused to pay the rest, saying Pakistan would only use it to buy arms to fight against India. It was only after Gandhi went on a hunger strike that a further tranche of 500 million rupees was paid. A financial agreement was reached in December 1948, but the actual settlement of financial and other disputes continued until 1960.

6. Administrative Handicaps

Pakistan lacked the machinery, personnel, and equipment for a new government. Even its capital, Karachi, was a second choice — Lahore was rejected because it was too close to the Indian border. Division of the all-India services of the Indian Civil Service and the Indian Police Service was also difficult. Out of a total of 1,157 Indian officers, only 101 were Muslim. Among them, ninety-five officers opted for Pakistan; they were joined by one Christian, eleven Muslim military officers transferring to civilian service, and fifty Britons, for a total of 157.

But only twenty of them had had more than fifteen years of service, and more than half had had fewer than ten years. These men who formed the core of the Civil Service of Pakistan were the architects of the administrative, judicial, and diplomatic services of a new state and proved indispensable in running the government machinery during Pakistan’s first two decades.

7. Communal Riots

Above all other concerns were the violent communal riots that broke out soon after the announcement of the Radcliffe Award for the demarcation of borders between India and West Pakistan. The actual boundaries of the two new states were not even known until August 17, when they were announced by the Commission. Muslims fleeing India were attacked by the Hindus and Sikhs while their counterparts were similarly attacked by the Muslims in those areas falling within the jurisdiction of Pakistan. No one was prepared for the communal rioting and the mass movements of the population that followed June 3, 1947, London’s announcement of imminent independence and partition. The most conservative estimates of the casualties were 250,000 dead and 12 million to 24 million refugees.

8. Princely States Issue

The India Independence Act left the rulers of 625 princely and semi-independent states theoretically free to accede to either dominion. The frontier princely states of Dir, Chitral, Amb, and Hunza acceded quickly to Pakistan as did the predominantly Muslim states of Bahawalpur and Khairpur ruled by Muslim rulers. However, the Khan of Kalat in Baluchistan declared independence on August 15, 1947. Other Baloch tribal chiefs also expressed their preference for a separate identity. Pakistan took military action against them and the Khan and brought about their accession in 1948.

9. Broken Economic Complementarity

Dividing the Subcontinent on a religious basis and carving out new borders of independent states resulted in discarding the principles of complementarity with devastating consequences for Pakistan because of its being on the periphery. After severing ties with India, Pakistan lost the major market for its commodities. West Pakistan, for example, traditionally produced more wheat than it consumed and supplied the deficit areas in India. Cotton grown in West Pakistan was used in mills in Bombay and other West Indian cities.

Similarly, the main consumer of Jute, the commodity produced in East Pakistan, was now in India. On the other hand, commodities such as coal and sugar were in short supply in Pakistan as they had traditionally come from areas now part of India. And much of Punjab’s electricity was imported from Indian power stations.

10. Trade War

The two dominions decided to allow the free movement of goods, persons, and capital for one year after independence, but this agreement broke down. In November 1947, Pakistan levied export duties on jute; India retaliated with export duties of its own. The trade war reached a crisis in September 1949 when Britain devalued the pound, to which both the Pakistani rupee and the Indian rupee were pegged. India followed Britain’s lead, but Pakistan did not, so India severed trade relations with Pakistan.

The outbreak of the Korean War (1950–53) and the consequent price rises in jute, leather, cotton, and wool as a result of wartime needs, saved the economy of Pakistan. New trading relationships were formed, and the construction of cotton and jute mills in Pakistan was quickly undertaken. Although India and Pakistan resumed trade in 1951, both the volume and the value of trade steadily declined; the two countries ignored bilateral trade for the most part and developed the new international trade links they had made.

11. Defence Needs

As a result of the division of military assets in 1947, Pakistan started its life with a seriously under-resourced military force which it badly needed to ensure its external defence and internal security. The British were, at first, reluctant to divide the armed forces but eventually, it was agreed that they should be split 36%: 44% between Pakistan and India and that too along religious lines. All 16 ordnance factories were in India, which refused to hand any over. Consequently, Pakistan had no factories capable of making military goods. India eventually agreed to pay 60 million rupees in place of handing over ordnance factories and this was used by the Pakistani government to build an ordnance factory at Wah. The military supplies which India agreed to hand over sometimes did not arrive, or when they did, they were often old, worn, damaged, and obsolete.

12. Lack of Civic Amenities

In the last decade of colonial rule in India, the writ of the state had been gradually waning due to the increasing intensity of the anti-imperialistic agitation launched by the native Indians as well as the necessity of the British government to concede to their demands for gaining their cooperation for their war efforts. Consequently, fewer resources and attention were paid to the development and maintenance of social services like health, education, and other civic amenities. Areas later falling within the new state of Pakistan suffered the most on account of this neglect as these were situated at the borders of the British Indian Empire and less well-connected to the rest of India.

Resultantly, communicable diseases like cholera, malaria, and several other water-borne diseases affected a large section of the people of these regions. It was compounded by the lack of resources-human, financial and physical at the disposal of the new state. In 1948, there were only 211 doctors and 2,825 hospital beds in east Bengal. West Pakistan had better health facilities but was far short of requirements.

There were only a few district-level secondary schools. In higher education, there were only three universities, and a few colleges, schools, and religious madrasahs. Both the wings were woefully short of skilled manpower and the facilities for imparting technical skills. More than three million people had died during the great famine of Bengal of 1943, leaving behind poor, wretched and landless members of their families for whom the state was ill-prepared to provide adequate livelihoods.


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