By Khaled Ahmed
March 21, 2015
The Aral Sea, situated in the autonomous Karakalpakstan region in Uzbekistan, was once the world’s fourth-largest inland sea. Today, it is only 10 per cent of what it used to be. The two rivers that fed it were largely diverted in a failed cotton-production project during the Soviet era. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says it is one of the planet’s most shocking environmental disasters. Once a flourishing fishing port, Karakalpakstan is today a city of sand and salt.
Under Stalin, the Soviet Union created a new autonomous area in the Uzbek republic of what Muslims in India knew as “Turkistan”, anciently associated with the Karakalpak (black cap) Turkic tribe. (The cap, not necessarily black today and completely differently shaped, may have become known in Pakistan as the Jinnah cap.) There is no reason why this desolate region south of the Aral Sea should become the origin of the name Pakistan, but thereby hangs a curious tale.
Sometime in the early 1980s, a scion of the famous house of Fazl-i-Hussain visited my uncle, Agha Ahmad Raza Khan, in Zaman Park, Lahore, and I, as a young journalist, was called in to listen to his conversation. The guest was an Indian diplomat, the retired ambassador Azim Hussain. I must here recall that his father, Fazl-i-Hussain, a Punjab chief minister, was immortalised in a teaching wing of the Government College Lahore (GC) building where I studied for six years and taught for an additional four.
Fazl-i-Hussain led the Unionist Party — which he had founded in 1924 — and governed united Punjab, opposing the politics of both the Congress and the Muslim League. He was gratefully remembered in GC as a reformer who gave Muslims proper institutional representation. Azim Hussain was his third son. Like his father, Azim was a Cambridge graduate and, like him, had been called to the bar from Lincoln’s Inn. His sister was to marry another great son of Punjab, lawyer Manzur Qadir, who wrote Pakistan’s first constitution in 1960 and became Pakistan’s foreign minister during the Ayub Khan era. Khushwant Singh recalled that his friend Manzur saved his life by accompanying him to the border during Partition in 1947, when Lahore was gripped by communal riots.
Azim (1913-2007) practised law and served in the Punjab government from 1937 to 1942. He joined the Indian diplomatic service in 1948 and was deputy high commissioner in London from 1957 to 1960, and subsequently held ambassadorial positions in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Switzerland and the Holy See. After his career in the Indian diplomatic service, he was elected deputy secretary general of the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, where he lived till his death.
Sitting in Zaman Park, he told me that the word Pakistan was inspired by the Central Asian region of Karakalpakstan, and was not an invention of Chaudhry Rahmat Ali, who more recognisably first carved out dozens of Muslim homelands in India with funny names — like Osmanistan for Hyderabad, Bangistan for Bengal and Maplistan for Kerala — and then wrote his pamphlet, “Now or Never” (1933), in which he put down the name “Pakstan” (note the absence of the “i”) for the first time.
Azim insisted that the name was actually coined by a Punjabi civil service trainee in London, Khwaja Abdur Rahim. I reproduced his conversation in the weekly, Viewpoint, then edited by the late Mazhar Ali Khan, father of my favourite writer-activist, Tariq Ali. Azim understandably repudiated it upon realising it could affect his position in the Commonwealth Secretariat.
His version went like this. Khwaja Rahim was reading a British journal on Central Asia while riding a bus — in an area called Golders Green — in London and came upon a map that showed Karakalpakstan as a new autonomous region under Stalin. According to Azim, the spine of the journal divided the word into Karakal and Pakstan. Hence Chaudhry Rahmat Ali’s spelling of Pakistan.
Later, I saw the map in Olaf Caroe’s book, Soviet Empire: The Turks of Central Asia and Stalinism (1953). The map was in this later publication but the name of the region was not exactly divided by the spine of the book. I assume that the “Pakstan” of Chaudhry Rahmat Ali became “Pakistan” when written in Urdu, because Urdu has no vowel letters and they are frequently “assumed” by its speakers. Today, Pakistanis mispronounce Kazakhstan as “Kazakhistan”.
Historian K.K. Aziz in his comprehensive Chaudhry Rahmat Ali: A Biography admits that many contemporaries of Ali thought he had not coined the name of Pakistan. One such was another uncle of mine of Zaman Park, Jehangir Khan, who had gone to England as a member of the Indian cricket team in the early 1930s and had stayed on to finish his doctorate in history at Cambridge. He thought Khwaja Rahim, the Indian civil servant, had coined the name, prompting Jinnah to call it a “students’ dream”.
Another non-civil service student, Mian Abdul Haq, thought so too and in 1964, wrote in the daily Nawa-e-Waqt Lahore that Khwaja Rahim had suggested the name to him in 1932. Yet another friend of Ali, Jamil Wasti, was in London when a Bengali Muslim pointed out after reading the pamphlet “Now or Never” that there was no letter in Pakstan denoting Bengal. Pakistan was supposed to represent all Muslim regions through the letters of its name. If “B” for Bengal is not there, it simply strengthens the other thesis of derivation from Karakalpakstan.
Aziz reported in his book that Ali showed his borrowed formulation to Allama Muhammad Iqbal, who was in London for the Round Table Conference. Iqbal thought it was a good name, but the other Muslims in the delegation dismissed it as a “students’ dream”. Bengali Muslim students in London objected, claiming that Pakistan as an acronym omitted reference to Bengal. Since Khwaja Rahim was a civil servant, Ali was likely allowed to “own” the coinage. Ali later turned on Jinnah for being conciliatory towards the Congress on Partition and insultingly called him “Quisling-e-Azam”.
Aziz also pointed out in his book that Ali tried to return to India to attend the 1940 Lahore session of the Muslim League, where the famous “Pakistan Resolution” was adopted, and landed in Sri Lanka two months ahead of the date. He was dissuaded by Khwaja Rahim — representing Punjab as a civil servant — who advised him to return to London. Ali rejected the suggestion and landed in Karachi in February 1940 and was there when the 1940 resolution was passed. He returned to London in May. According to Aziz, both the Unionist Party of Punjab and the Muslim Leaguers attending the 1940 session disliked Ali. The Leaguers thought Jinnah didn’t like him; the Unionists didn’t like the word Pakistan. The resolution didn’t mention the name either.
This little anecdote carries no authority. I am intrigued by it because it carries some remarkable “clues”. I must say I was never completely convinced by the acronym deployed in the textbooks. Even “A” for Afghania (Pakhtunkhwa) is a bit of a stretch. Two “Bs” for Bengal and Balochistan — the latter is supposed to be contained in the “tan” ending — were missing anyway, while “K” for Kashmir is there.
Khaled Ahmed is consulting editor‘‘Newsweek Pakistan’