HistoryPakistan Studies

Reasons For the Tension Between East and West Pakistan

Fall of East Pakistan-1971

This post discusses the reasons for the tension between people of east and west Pakistan which ultimately led to the disintegration of Pakistan in 1971.


Pakistan emerged as an independent Muslim majority state in the wake of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent on Aug 14, 1947.  The newly created state consisted of two wings, the weasand west Pakistan separated by 1000 kilometers of Indian territory in between.

Pakistan faced a security threat right from day one from its neighboring country India from which it was carved out. This threat took it’s practically when Indian attacked Pakistan in 1971, hardly 24 years after independence,  in a bid to support the revolt in the eastern wing. 

According to historians, the roots for the disintegration were laid down soon after the independence. Bengalis right from day one felt as if West Pakistan subjected them to political, economic, social, and cultural subjugation. With time, this feeling and resentment further increased ultimately leading to the breakdown of the country.

What were the reasons for the tension between people of east and west Pakistan? 

Reasons for the tension between east and west Pakistan were as follows: 

Language Issue

After Independence, the government attempted to declare Urdu as the national language of Pakistan. Bengalis reacted by also proposing Bengali as the national language. They argued that East Pakistanis constituted 56% of the total population of the country. Hence by this logic, Bengali qualified to become the national language of the new state.

Jinnah, the founder of the country, refused the demand to make Bengali a national language. He made it clear that only and only Urdu would be the national language of Pakistan. There was no uproar after Jinnah toured east Pakistan and advised people to accept Urdu as the national language.  Similarly, the successive heads of the state also emphasized Urdu as the only national language.

The issue of the language raised its head after he died of Quaid-e-Azam. The rejection of the demand for making Bengali a national language fueled agitation and protest creating law and order problems in East Pakistan.

In a protest rally staged on Feb. 21, 1952, the police killed several students as it opened fire to stop a student protest march in Dhaka in connection with “State Language Day”.  Today Bangladesh as a nation remembers the march as the first act of resistance against what they call, ”cultural, political and economic hegemony of West Pakistan on Bengalis”.

Political Underrepresentation of Bengalis

The constitutions of 1956 and 1962 provided parity of representation at the center. East Pakistanis argued they should have more representatives at the center as they were a majority in the country.

The demand of east Pakistanis did not have any impact on the west Pakistanis-dominated government. The West Pakistani politicians did not want a Bengali-dominated National Assembly.

The Bengalis questioned the logic behind the denial of representation on a population.  Unfortunately, the government did not bother to address their reservations which did nothing but sowing the seeds of alienation from the state. 

Unfairness in Administration

In Pakistan, the heads of the state and government always came from West Pakistan except for few cases. After the death of the founder of the country in 1948 and  Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951, the army and bureaucracy exercised a profound influence in the politics of the country. 

Ghulam Muhammad, a bureaucrat was appointed Governor-General, who did not shy away from appointing and dismissing Prime Ministers, governments, and assembly to hold on to the power. Bureaucrats, in service and retired army generals occupying important political positions, came from West Pakistan.

Moreover, the rulers did not give chance for any Bengalis to take charge of any main political or administrative post. This sorry state of affairs compelled east Pakistanis to believe that the central government treated them as second-rate citizens in a country for which they had fought for so long.

Unfairness in representation in Armed Forces

East Pakistan did not enjoy proper representation in the armed forces of Pakistan. To their disappointment, there were a few officers who came from East Pakistan who constituted less than 20% of the total number of officers. Similarly, they had an underrepresentation at the lower ranks of armed forces. More than eighty percent of lower-ranked soldiers belonged to West Pakistan.

Consequently, this under-representation of Bengalis in the armed forces created a sense of alienation from the army. Resultantly, the east Pakistanis started to feel as if it was not their army.

Unfairness in Economic Distribution

At the time of independence, Pakistan was economically very weak. Among the two wings of the state, East Pakistan was much poorer than West Pakistan. Post-independence steps that the government took for economic improvement seemed to heavily favor West Pakistan. Per capita income of Western Wing kept on increasing whereas it witnessed a steady decrease in the East.

As a matter of fact, the Bengalis also held West Pakistan responsible for their economic miseries. They believed the government used the revenue generated by East Pakistan (from taxes and foreign exchange earned through the export of the country’s largest export ‘jute’) for the development of west Pakistan.

To sum up, the political, cultural, and economic hegemony of West Pakistan over Bengalis was the main reason which eventually led to the revolt against the state. Internal disability and strife provided an opportunity for India to wage war and cause the disintegration of Pakistan.

You might have the interest to read

Reviews on Mr. Jinna’s Speech
Events Before and After Pakistan Resolution

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