Dissonances in Approaches to Power: Poststructuralism and Mainstream IR Theory

The following essay was originally submitted as an assignment for my university and was graded as a 1st class essay.

Power is a critical area of study in political science and the broader social sciences. Much of our conceptualisation of the world around us revolves around power, particularly when it comes to disparities between different entities. This is no different when it comes to the field of International Relations (IR), in which the study of power plays a huge role. With this in mind, it is vital that we, as IR theorists, appreciate different approaches to the study of power and how these different approaches affect our understanding of the social world. As such, this essay aims to highlight the dissonances between mainstream IR and Poststructuralism in regard to power.

To do this, we will begin by outlining the main features of Poststructuralism’s understanding of power: discourse, deconstruction, genealogy, and intertextuality. We will then look at Orientalism as a case study of Poststructuralism’s understanding of power. Following this, we will contrast Poststructuralism’s understanding of power with that of mainstream IR theory. To finish, we will conclude by summarising the key points made in this essay.

Power According to Poststructuralism

Poststructuralism is a theoretical perspective that emerged during the 1960s as a response and critique of Structuralism. It is based upon a relativist ontology which asserts that reality does not exist beyond subjects (the observers), leading us to a subjectivist epistemology which asserts that subjects impose meaning on objects (the things that are observed) (Moon & Blackman, 2014). Simply put, no objective reality exists outside observation; reality is constructed by observers. Thus, knowledge is not discovered; it is created. As a result, Poststructuralism aims to deconstruct conceptions of reality to understand the social world and the power dynamics that exist therein.

Poststructuralism’s conception of power is primarily linked to knowledge creation and centres around four main concepts: discourse, deconstruction, genealogy, and intertextuality. These four concepts amalgamate to produce subjectivities (the vantage points from which an observer observes the world). Thus, power is understood as the productive capacity to constitute particular subjectivities as natural, objective conceptions of reality (Hansen, 2020).

During the late 1960s, philosopher Michel Foucault introduced the concept of discourse. As defined by Foucault, discourse refers to ‘ways of constituting knowledge, together with the social practices, forms of subjectivity and power relations which inhere in such knowledges and relations between them’ (Weedon, 1987). According to Poststructualism’s ontological basis, reality does not exist beyond observation. Instead, reality is constructed by the meaning imposed upon objects via language. Depending on the language used to describe an object, the meaning of the object changes. For example, a person firing a gun may be labelled as either a ‘soldier’ or a ‘terrorist’. A ‘terrorist’ firing a gun has different connotations than a ‘soldier’ firing a gun, even though, at the fundamental level, it is just a person firing a gun. In other words, discourse asserts that objects do not have a given essence; their essence is produced by language.

Around the same time as Foucault, another philosopher Jacque Derrida introduced the concept of deconstruction. Derrida posited that language is a system of unstable dichotomies where one term is valued as superior (Hansen, 2020). Words only make sense in relation to other words. To understand the meaning of one word, we must look at where it is positioned in relation to other words. For example, we cannot understand what ‘chimpanzee’ means without other words, such as ‘animal’. Similarly, we cannot understand what ‘chimpanzee’ means without comparing it to what it is not, such as ‘human’. However, these connections between words are unstable because they are never attributed indefinitely. For instance, while the ‘chimpanzee’ may be an ‘animal’, it is often seen as more ‘human’ than other ‘animals’. Therefore, its ‘animalness’ is unstable and may change within a given context. Thus, a ‘human-animal’ dichotomy exists, where ‘human’ is valued as superior to ‘animal’. In other words, deconstruction asserts that a system of unstable dichotomies artificially produces the essence of an object.

Alongside discourse, Foucault also developed the concept of genealogy by building upon the work of renowned philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Foucault and Nietzsche argued that mainstream history is far too homogenous and misrepresentative of a past comprised of gradual, contested, and often forgotten histories. Therefore, genealogy is concerned with drawing attention to the politics involved in making the past look a certain way to understand the discursive and material structures of the present (Hansen, 2020). For instance, understanding and critiquing colonial myths concerning world history can help us better understand the current power dynamics between Europe and its ex-colonies (Halperin, 2006). In other words, genealogy asserts that knowledge of the past is constructed and informs the meaning subjects impose upon objects in the present.

In 1969, philosopher Julia Kristeva introduced the concept of intertextuality. According to Kristeva, the social world can be understood as being comprised of texts that form broader intertexts (the knowledge produced by a body of texts) (Kristeva, 1980). The meaning that a subject imposes upon an object is enshrined in an intertext. Intertexts are developed over time and inform the observations that subjects make about objects. For example, to say that ‘Africa’ is ‘backwards’ is to draw upon the intertext that constitutes ‘Africa’ as ‘pre-modern’, ‘barbaric’ and ‘savage’. Whenever a new text references ‘Africa’, it builds upon the old body of texts that constitute ‘Africa’ as ‘backwards’. This intertext then informs any observations that subjects make of ‘Africa’. In other words, intertextuality asserts that the meaning a subject imposes upon an object is reinforced, preserved, and propagated by a wider intertext.

Poststructuralism’s four concepts of discourse, deconstruction, genealogy, and intertextuality overlap to produce subjectivities. The essence of an object is produced by language (discourse). Language is a system of unstable dichotomies (deconstruction). These unstable dichotomies are constructed over time by controlling our knowledge of the past (genealogy). This knowledge is reinforced, preserved, and propagated by intertexts (intertextuality). These intertexts produce subjectivities which are adopted by subjects, informing their conception of reality. Consequently, power emerges when particular subjectivities are produced and constituted as an objective conception of reality when no such objective reality exists.

In summary, power, according to Poststructuralism, can be understood as the creation and propagation of knowledge. Ontologically, Poststructuralism posits that there is no objective reality outside observation. Epistemologically, therefore, any conception of reality is the result of subjectivities. Thus, power is the capacity to produce subjectivities and constitute them as objective reality via the creation and propagation of knowledge through language: a system of unstable dichotomies propped up by homogenous accounts of history reinforced by intertexts.

Orientalism: A Case Study in Poststructuralist Power

Orientalism refers to the body of knowledge propping up the dichotomous relationship between ‘Occident’ and ‘Orient’. As this essay will demonstrate, this body of knowledge is created via the amalgamation of discourse, deconstruction, genealogy and intertextuality. It is then used to produce subjectivities regarding the ‘Orient’, which are, in turn, presented as objective reality. Thus, Orientalism can be understood as a form of power that privileges the Western conception of reality.

In his 1978 book Orientalism, philosopher Edward Said established Orientalism as “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient” (Said, 1978). Said posited that the existence and development of every culture impels the existence of a different and inevitably competitive ‘other’. In endeavouring to build its self-image, the West created the ‘Orient’ to serve as its ‘other’. Consequently, Orientalists have constructed subjectivities surrounding the ‘Occident’ and ‘Orient’ to explain why Eastern societies are dominated by Western societies, establishing this hierarchy as a natural truth. In doing so, the ‘Occident’ is justified in speaking for and controlling the resources of the ‘Orient’ (Said, 1978).

As discussed in the previous section of this essay, subjectivities are the product of knowledge created via discourse, deconstruction, genealogy and intertextuality. In the case of Orientalism, this is no different.

The object being observed are the people, cultures, and countries that encompass the geographical regions commonly defined as Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The essence of the object is captured in the term ‘Orient’ (discourse). The ‘Orient’ is constituted as ‘irrational’, ‘regressive’, and ‘unjust’ in contrast to the ‘rational’, ‘progressive’, and ‘just’ ‘Occident’, those people, cultures, and countries that encompass the geographical regions commonly defined as Europe, North America, and Australasia. Thus, an unstable ‘Occident-Orient’ dichotomy exists, where ‘Orient’ is positioned as inferior to ‘Occident’ (deconstruction).

The ‘Occident’ and ‘Orient’ are presented as continuously antagonistic objectivities stretching back to antiquity in the form of ancient Greece, the birthplace of Western civilisation, and ancient Persia, the birthplace of Eastern civilisation (Said, 1978). The ‘Occident-Orient’ dichotomy is constructed by homogenous Western accounts of world history (genealogy). This grand narrative has been built up and propagated over time by a wide body of Western scholarly and creative works (intertextuality). Notable Orientalist works include Jean-Leon Gerome’s The Snake Charmer, Rudyard Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden, and Disney’s Aladdin. Thus, knowledge of the ‘Orient’ and the ‘Occident’ is the artificial creation of the West.

As a body of knowledge, Orientalism has been propagated by Western societies as an objective conception of reality and imposed upon non-Western societies. In turn, Orientalist knowledge helps justify superior ‘Occidental’ intervention and domination over the inferior ‘Oriental’, framing it as being in the best interests of the ‘Oriental’ and the moral duty of the ‘Occidental’ as it coincides with the natural reality constructed by Orientalism (Said, 1978). It has been so effective in its purpose that writers who belong to the communities that constitute the ‘Orient’ have begun internalising Orientalist ideas in their works (Lau, 2009). Thus, Orientalism acts as a pervasive form of power that impacts all areas of the social world, from government policy to pop culture.

In summary, Orientalism refers to a specific type of knowledge creation and propagation process that is servile to Western power. To produce subjectivities, it draws upon the four central concepts of Poststructuralism: discourse, deconstruction, genealogy, and intertextuality. Orientalism serves as the perfect medium through which IR theorists can study and apply Poststructuralist power. In doing so, IR theorists will be able to broaden their understanding of the social world and the power dynamics that exist therein.

Dissonances in Approaches to Power

The foundation of difference between Poststructuralism and mainstream IR theory lies in their ontological and epistemological positions. Where Poststructuralism follows a relativist ontology and subjectivist epistemology, mainstream IR theory largely follows a realist ontology and objectivist epistemology. A realist ontology asserts that reality does exist beyond subjects. Building on this, an objectivist epistemology asserts that meaning exists within objects (Moon & Blackman, 2014). Simply put, a single objective reality does exist; reality is not constructed by observers. Thus, knowledge is not created; it is discovered. These starkly contrasting ontological and epistemological positions explain why there is a difference in methodology between the two approaches. Poststructuralism seeks to deconstruct conceptions of reality. Meanwhile, mainstream IR theory seeks to understand and explain the single apparent conception of reality.

In regards to power, mainstream IR theory follows a more straightforward approach centred around political scientist Robert Dahl’s definition: “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do” (Dahl, 1957). In an IR context, power is something that is possessed by a country, allowing it to force another country to do something it would not otherwise do. It is usually measured using a comparative indicator, such as Gross National Product (GNP) or military capabilities (Sterling-Folker & Shinko, 2007). If country A has a higher GNP or military capabilities than country B, it can force country B to do something it would not otherwise do. Thus, country A has power over country B. For mainstream IR theory, power is apparent and measurable on a case-by-case basis. However, for Poststructuralism, power must be uncovered and cannot be easily measured.

Mainstream IR theory locates power in objects. However, these objects must affect other objects (Sterling-Folker & Shinko, 2007). For instance, a tank does not have power if it is not used to destroy buildings, kill people, or deter attackers. Therefore, mainstream IR theory recognises the importance of action. The object must act in order for it to have power. Country A must use its tanks to force country B to do something it would not otherwise do. In response, country B may decide to fight back against country A with its own tanks to resist doing what country A wants it to do. As a result, a disruption of the balance of power occurs, and then more power is used to re-establish balance. At the end of the day, the country with the greater quantity or quality of tanks (the greater power) is the one that will win out in the end. As political scientist Stefano Guzzini summarises: “power implies potential change, which in turn implies a counterfactual situation of potential continuity” (Guzzini, 1993).

Meanwhile, Poststructuralism locates power in subjects. However, these subjects require structures – albeit fluid structures that are susceptible to change – to impose their subjectivities on other subjects. Orientalists rely on the knowledge base of Orientalism to spread their subjectivities regarding the ‘Orient’. Due to power’s abstract nature, subjects can resist powerful subjectivities like Orientalism by producing their own or by even reconfiguring the structures that impose such subjectivities (Sterling-Folker & Shinko, 2007). For instance, Occidentalism, a counter-discourse to Orientalism, has produced subjectivities that constitute the ‘Occident’ as inferior to the ‘Orient’ (Margalit & Buruma, 2004).

Mainstream IR theory and Poststructuralism recognise resistance to power imposed by structures as a critical point of analysis; the difference lies in their approach. Mainstream IR theory is focused on two or more competing structures (country A and B) using their power (tanks) to resist one another. Poststructuralism is focused on how resistance to a structure (Orientalism) is a form of power itself and how it has the potential to reconfigure existing structures (Occidentalism). In other words, mainstream IR theory focuses on the competition of structures that want to stay in being. Poststructuralism focuses on resistance to structural ways of being (Sterling-Folker & Shinko, 2007).

Mainstream IR theorists separate the analysis of power from its practice. On the other hand, Poststructuralists argue that analysing power is practising power because taking structures as analytical givens only rectifies them. Therefore, there exists an ethical dimension to all Poststructuralist analyses of power, and heeding the voices that contest given structures is central to Poststructuralist analysis. However, mainstream IR theory can ignore these voices entirely because it is sceptical of the displacement of existing structures and accepts structural reconstitution as an objective reality. This makes the prospect of reconciliation between the two approaches challenging as mainstream IR theory views the study of power as a morally neutral endeavour, whereas Poststructuralism views it as morally corrupt (Sterling-Folker & Shinko, 2007).

In summary, the dissonances between mainstream IR theory and Poststructuralism lie in their ontological and epistemological foundations. Mainstream IR theory is based on a realist ontology and objectivist epistemology. Poststructuralism is based on a relativist ontology and subjectivist epistemology. While common points of analysis may exist, both approaches lead theorists in different methodological directions. Mainstream IR theory focuses on competing structures that want to stay in being. Poststructuralism focuses on structural ways of being. As a result of these stark differences in ontology, epistemology, and methodology, an ethical dilemma prevents reconciliation between the two approaches.


To recap, we began this essay by outlining the main features of Poststructuralism’s understanding of power. According to Poststructuralism, power is the capacity to produce subjectivities and constitute them as objective reality via the creation and propagation of knowledge through language: a system of unstable dichotomies propped up by homogenous accounts of history reinforced by intertexts. This was followed by an overview of one type of Poststructuralist form of power: Orientalism. As a body of knowledge, Orientalism constructs a natural, objective reality to justify superior ‘Occidental’ intervention and domination over the inferior ‘Oriental’, framing it as being in the best interests of the ‘Oriental’ and the moral duty of the ‘Occidental’.

After this, we contrasted Poststructuralism’s understanding of power with that of mainstream IR theory. The root of dissonance between the two approaches lies in their ontological and epistemological foundations, which inform two starkly contrasting methodologies. For mainstream IR theory, power works on the surface. For Poststructuralism, power works beneath the surface. While simultaneously following both approaches is near impossible due to ethical complications, mainstream IR theorists should at the very least familiarise themselves with the approaches of Poststructuralists and vice versa. Doing so will provide both camps with a broader understanding of the social world, which only serves to enrich the field of IR and the broader social sciences.


Dahl, R., 1957. The Concept of Power. Systems Research and Behavioral Science, 2(3), pp. 201-215.

Guzzini, S., 1993. Structural Power: the Limits of Neorealist Power Analysis. International Organization, 47(3), pp. 443-478.

Halperin, S., 2006. International Relations Theory and the Hegemony of Western Conceptions of Modernity. In: B. G. Jones, ed. Decolonizing International Relations. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Hansen, L., 2020. Postructualism. In: J. Baylis, S. Smith & P. Owens, eds. The Globalization of World Politics: An Introduction to International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kristeva, J., 1980. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. New York: Columbia University Press.

Lau, L., 2009. Re-Orientalism: The Perpetration and Development of Orientalism by Orientals. Modern Asian Studies, 43(2), pp. 571-590.

Margalit, A. & Buruma, I., 2004. Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of Its Enemies. New York: Penguin Press.

Moon, K. & Blackman, D., 2014. A Guide to Understanding Social Science Research for Natural Scientists. Conservation Biology, 28(5), pp. 1167-1177.

Said, E. W., 1978. Orientalism. New York: Pantheon Books.

Sterling-Folker, J. & Shinko, R. E., 2007. Discourses of power: Traversing the realist-postmodern divide. In: F. Berenskoetter & M. J. Williams, eds. Power in World Politics. Oxfordshire: Routledge.

Weedon, C., 1987. Feminist Practice and Poststructuralist Theory. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

International Relations Theory and the Hegemony of Western Conceptions of Modernity: A Critical Review

The following critical review was originally submitted as an assignment for my university and was graded a 2:1.

Halperin, S., 2006. International Relations Theory and the Hegemony of Western Conceptions of Modernity. In: B. G. Jones, ed., Decolonizing International Relations. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, pp.62-88.

This essay aims to critically review the arguments presented in chapter two of Decolonizing International Relations. First, I will provide a concise summary of the chapter detailing how the author structures their overarching argument. Then, I will analyse the critical points posited in their argument before concluding with my opinion on the chapter.

In her chapter, Halperin aims to provide an alternative history and ontology to critique mainstream IR theory by examining areas left wholly untouched by other critical theorists. Halperin asserts that critical IR theory fails to critique much of mainstream IR theory’s historical and ontological basis, reproducing many of its misrepresentations. She then exposes the myths surrounding the “rise of Europe” and the industrial revolution by highlighting how it would not have been possible without the legacy left by the Islamicate world. Halperin concludes that to challenge the Western hegemonic perspective, one must view progress as a product of transnational classes/networks rather than individual states/regions as done in mainstream IR.

Halperin begins her chapter by asserting that critical IR theory has failed in challenging the misconceptions brought about by the prevailing Eurocentric narratives of mainstream IR. Henceforth, critical theorists must ensure that they cover the pitfalls Halperin discusses in her chapter. Namely, a lack of examination concerning Europe’s representation of itself and the outdated notion that progress has historically occurred on a national/regional scale rather than a transnational/global scale. Should critical theorists meet these new requirements in their analysis, they will be able to challenge the Western hegemonic project without drawing from the same classical misrepresentations of the Eurocentric narrative. Furthermore, by pushing the benchmark of critical theory, Halperin forces theorists to become critical of themselves and their shortcomings. Through this continual self-critique, a more accurate picture of history can be painted and new ideas generated in IR theory.

In the main body, Halperin debunks the myths surrounding the “rise of Europe” and the industrial revolution to highlight the gross inaccuracies of the Eurocentric narrative. By choosing to focus on the European experience and contrasting it with that of the post-classical Islamicate world, Halperin demonstrates how later developments were not as unique and exclusive to the West as mainstream IR theory would have us believe. Halperin’s analysis clarifies that the progress in early-modern Europe was simply a continuation of the Islamicate legacy, fitting more broadly into a grander narrative of global human advancement. Furthermore, Halperin points out that the false Eurocentric history of enlightenment is an imperialist tool used to cover up the reality of Western predation. If the wider IR community adopts this approach, it will debunk all notions of Western exceptionalism in progress; instead framing progress as an international human endeavour. Doing so would lay the groundwork for new ideas in IR theory that are not tainted with old fashioned ideas of colonial superiority.

Halperin concludes that to avoid contributing to the falsity of the mainstream Western hegemonic project, critical theorists must develop a new account of world history with a different ontological basis. This different ontological basis should be that of transnational/cross-regional exchange between ruling groups and elites both in and outside Europe. Progress should be viewed as being spearheaded by the urbanised industrial societies located all over the globe, rather than the sole achievement of one particular nation/region such as Europe. This new approach will allow IR theory to uncover much of what is obscured by the mainstream Western hegemonic project, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of social power and its many forms seen across the world. Furthermore, Halperin’s approach would let us better acknowledge the impact of colonialism on non-Western societies, the roles non-Western elites played in it, and the limited nature of Europe’s industrialisation. Lastly, it will also challenge the view that modernity was the achievement of the West alone; instead, making modernity the achievement of humanity as a whole.

Overall, I largely agree with Halperin’s argument. To challenge the Western hegemonic project, we must rebuild our account of world history with a new ontological basis; otherwise, we risk propagating the Eurocentric narrative of mainstream IR. However, in this regard, Halperin’s chapter falls short in two ways.

Firstly, much of Halperin’s account of world history still relies on a comparison to the Eurocentric narrative. While the comparison helps highlight where the Eurocentric narrative is incorrect, continuing to include it when attempting to build a new narrative will position the new narrative in relation to the old one, thereby allowing the Eurocentric narrative to propagate further rather than be forgotten. The next step for Halperin would be to write up a brand-new account of world history from the ground up using the ontological basis she discusses in this chapter. Doing so will provide a new foundation for other critical theorists to build upon.

Secondly, Halperin’s new ontological basis does not explain Europe’s exceptionalism; it only reframes it as exceptionalism in domination rather than progress. If we were to use it to construct a new account of world history, we would still be left with the question of how European urbanised industrial societies came to dominate those of other parts of the world. To remedy this, we should view the predation of European societies as a “mutation” in societal evolution. Similarly, we can view the Islamicate exceptionalism in scholarship as another societal “mutation”. Then, we can link these “mutations” together by highlighting how one is dependent on the other. For instance, early-modern European exceptionalism in colonial dominance depended on the scientific advancements of post-classical Islamicate exceptionalism in scholarship, which relied on adopting classical Persia’s exceptionalism in administration. In other words, we would remove the notion of European exceptionalism by demonstrating the exceptionalism of other societies. Western civilisation can no longer be exceptional and independent if all civilisation is exceptional yet dependent.

Despite these shortcomings, Halperin still delivers a much-needed evaluation of the critical theorists’ approach. Without her contribution, we would not understand how critical IR theory fails to challenge the Western hegemonic project. As a result, IR would continue to stagnate where other social sciences are not. I hope that Halperin’s ideas are taken up by the wider IR community so that theorists can acknowledge the Eurocentricity of mainstream thought and begin actively dismantling it as is done in other social sciences.

What Is Power and Who Has It?

The following essay was originally submitted as an assignment for my university and was graded as a 2:1.

One of the critical areas of study in political science is power, its forms, sources, distribution, modes of exercise, and effects. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to assert that political science itself is very much the study of power given its preoccupation with constitutions and institutions, which are themselves simply ways of regularising and defining its distribution and exercise (Partridge, 1963). With this in mind, it is vital that we, as political scientists, can define what we mean by power and determine who or what it is that has it. As such, this essay aims to arrive at a qualified definition for power and explain its mechanics. Following this, the essay makes the case that the distribution of power follows an elitist-leaning framework and that, while almost any entity can exercise power, the majority of absolute power is held by the ruling class.

Definition of Power

In 1957, political scientist and originator of pluralist theory Robert Dahl defined power as follows: “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do” (Dahl, 1957). For example, a teacher has power over a student to the extent that they can get the student to complete their classwork. Both the teacher and student are agents who decide what actions to take, and both command a relative degree of agency – the freedom and autonomy to decide what actions to take. It just so happens that within the classroom – the structure within which these agents operate – the teacher commands more agency than the student and can utilise their greater agency to make the student complete their classwork. Therefore, power can be viewed as the disparity in agency between two or more agents, allowing one agent to influence or compel the actions of others.

The major flaw in Dahl’s definition is the use of the pronoun ‘he’, which is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, Dahl’s definition implies that the entity exercising power must always be masculine. By associating power with masculinity, political scientists who strictly follow Dahl’s definition will be blind to situations where women exercise power. Secondly, by using a pronoun typically associated with humans, Dahl’s definition implies that the entity exercising power must also always be human. As a result, political scientists will also be blind to situations in which non-human entities exert power. For instance, the power culture and religion have in shaping our preferences. Therefore, the pronoun ‘he’ limits our understanding of power, constricting political science as a field of study. Given this, Dahl’s definition of power should be amended: “A has power over B to the extent that A can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do”. By replacing ‘he’ with ‘A’, the application for Dahl’s definition is now widened in its scope.

Mechanics of Power

Between 1959 and 1965, social psychologists John French and Bertram Raven developed a set of six bases to analyse how power operates in specific relationships (French & Raven, 1959) (Raven, 2008). According to French and Raven, power depends on the specific understandings that A and B apply to their relationship. A must draw on a base or combination of bases of power appropriate to their relationship to motivate B to change in the way A intends. Failure to use the correct bases of power may result in a reduction of A’s power. These six bases include:

Legitimate power – power due to one’s authority given by their relative position in a power structure. Military generals use legitimate power to command their soldiers.

Referent power – power due to one’s charismatic ability to attract followers. Celebrities use referent power to influence consumers into buying their sponsors’ products.

Expert power – power due to one’s skills or expertise. Doctors use expert power to convince patients to take their medication.

Reward power – power due to one’s ability to provide incentives. Employers use reward power to incentivise employees to work harder.

Coercive power – power due to one’s ability to negatively impact another. Dictators use coercive power to oppress and threaten their citizens into doing what they say.

Informational power – power due to one’s access to information. Social media platforms use informational power to influence the type of content their users interact with.

In 1974, political and social theorist Steven Lukes proposed that power has three distinct dimensions: the three faces of power (Lukes, 1974). The first face of power refers to its direct decision-making capabilities to identify an issue and respond to it. When the government implements new COVID-19 restrictions, it is clear who makes decisions and why they are making them. The second face of power refers to its indirect agenda-setting capabilities to control the context in which decisions are made. When lobbying groups influence government policy behind closed doors, it is unclear who makes decisions and for whose benefit. The third face of power refers to its subtle manipulation capabilities to shape preferences and control responses to new decisions. When the government uses propaganda and rhetoric to deliberately shape people’s values before a new law is passed, it is not always clear to people that they are being influenced.

In 1992, political scientist Peter Digeser expanded upon Lukes’ three faces of power by introducing a fourth face of power (Digeser, 1992). The fourth face of power refers to its capability to control and shape the current paradigm. A paradigm is an unquestioned set of fundamental beliefs that shape the reality of everyone in society. All actions and decisions taken by agents will indefinitely be influenced by the parameters set by the paradigm in which they operate. Controlling the paradigm allows one to, in effect, control all agents operating within the paradigm. The actions of any government will inevitably always be the result of the cultural paradigm it operates in. For example, it would be improbable for the United Kingdom’s government to criminalise alcohol consumption, given how pubs are central to British culture.

Digeser’s fourth face of power is synonymous with Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s idea of cultural hegemony, which he developed during his imprisonment under Italy’s National Fascist Party (Gramsci, 1929-1935). According to Gramsci, the ruling class manipulate society’s culture so that their worldview becomes the accepted cultural norm. This universal dominant ideology presents the social, political and economic status quo as natural conditions that benefit every social class. In reality, the status quo only benefits the ruling class. Currently, the USA has a global cultural hegemony evidenced by its considerable social, political and economic influence in countries worldwide. The USA maintains its geopolitical dominance by using its media to present its goals as righteous and for the greater good. In addition, the threat that the US military poses to subordinate states also ensures that they do not step out of line.

In summary, power has two aspects: bases and faces. For A to get B to do something that B would otherwise not do, A must draw on the appropriate power base or combination of power bases. This is A’s source of power. There are six potential power bases: legitimate, referent, expert, reward, coercive and informational. A’s source of power can then be used in four distinct ways: the four faces of power. To illustrate this conceptualisation of power, one can refer to the example of the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal.

Social media platform Facebook exposed the data of up to 87 million of its users to political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica which utilised it to influence the outcome of the 2016 United States presidential election in favour of Donald Trump (Vox, 2018). The main power base that Cambridge Analytica drew from was informational power in the form of user data. Cambridge Analytica then utilised the third face of this informational power to shape the preferences of Facebook users in favour of Trump without them knowing. When it came to election time, these same users voted for Trump. Therefore, Cambridge Analytica had power over Facebook users as it could get them to vote for Trump, which they may not have done otherwise.

Based on this essay’s conceptualisation of power, it can be concluded that any entity can exercise power so long as it has access to a sufficient base of power. Almost anyone can exercise the first two faces of power. For example, a child has the power to decide which flavour of ice cream they wish to consume (first face of power). Similarly, the child’s parent decides whether the child is allowed to consume ice cream in the first place (second face of power). However, the last two faces of power, which are far more absolute in nature, are usually reserved for entities with access to far larger power bases, namely the state. As such, the remainder of this essay concerns the distribution of state power, focusing on the third and fourth faces of power.

Distribution of Power

There are two predominant theories for the distribution of state power: elitism and pluralism. The main difference is that pluralists assert power is horizontally dispersed, whereas elitists assert power is vertically concentrated. Therefore, pluralism and elitism can be viewed as two extremes on the same scale. However, as we will come to see, the truth is really a mix of both views with a slight leaning towards the elitist framework.

Classical pluralism is predicated on the idea that society comprises vastly different groups vying for power (Smith, 2006). These groups compete to influence different parts of the state; however, no single group is able to dominate policy-making. Power is dispersed between these different groups. As a result, the state remains relatively neutral, balancing the weight of different demands in the national interest. Classical pluralism thus sees all groups as having an equal say in the decisions taken by the state.

The fundamental flaw in classical pluralism is that certain groups’ interests are not reflected in the national agenda, having zero say in policy-making decisions because they lack the necessary resources to influence the state. In other words, some groups lack the necessary power bases to exercise the third and fourth faces of power while others do. For instance, the championing of neo-liberal ideas under the Thatcher governments of the 1980s led to increased depoliticisation as many decision-making powers were given to non-governmental organisations, taking them out of the purview of the general public. In addition, tax and welfare reductions transferred resources from poor groups to wealthy groups (Harvey, 2005). Subsequently, some groups felt their concerns were not being addressed by the state leading to widespread dissatisfaction, particularly amongst the working class. The continuation of depoliticisation measures in the decades since has contributed to anti-politics and the recent rise in populism (Hay, 2007).

Reformed pluralism addressed this flaw in the pluralist model by conceding that certain groups exercise greater influence over the state than others. (Smith, 2006). Groups achieve this by forming close relationships with the state and pooling their resources together in policy networks, such as the British Chambers of Commerce. Power is still dispersed but only amongst a particular set of groups. Despite this, reformed pluralism maintains that countervailing powers can develop in other parts of the state to challenge the position of the dominant groups. Overall, this concession moves pluralism closer to the position held by elitists; power is concentrated.

Classical elitism is predicated on the idea that there are two classes in every society: the ruling class that holds power and the subordinate class that does not (Evans, 2006). The ruling class constitutes a single socially cohesive group territorially closed-off from the subordinate class. Power is concentrated amongst the ruling class. As a result, the state is dominated by a single group, whose ideas become the ruling ideas of society. This is an inevitability in all societies making direct government by the masses impossible. Classical elitism thus sees society as the dictatorship of the majority by the minority.

The major flaw in elitism is that the ruling class is one homogeneous group with a single goal in mind. If this were the case, opposition parties would not exist, and all democracies would be reduced to single-party systems. In addition, if power were concentrated in a single group, they would do as they please without anyone having the power to challenge them. In reality, the decisions made by the executive are checked and balanced by the legislature and judiciary. For example, in 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that introducing employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 in 2013 was unlawful (BBC, 2017). Therefore, it would be disingenuous to reject the pluralist’s ideas outright. In other words, power bases must exist outside the control of a single homogenous group.

Contemporary elitism rectified this flaw by conceding that the ruling class comprises multiple factions engaged in an ongoing process of competitive elitism (Evans, 2006). These factions must retain links with global elite networks, such as the European Commission, to maintain their power bases in society. Power is still concentrated, but it is now concentrated amongst a particular set of groups rather than a single group. Overall, this concession moves elitism closer to the position held by pluralism; power is dispersed.

By consolidating these two opposing viewpoints, one can assert that power is distributed at three different levels (Evans, 2006). Each level consists of competing factions vying for state control with different degrees of power at their disposal. At the bottom level, there is the politically fragmented society of the masses. Agents only have access to the sufficient power bases needed to exercise the first two faces of power. At the middle level, there is the semi-organised stalemate of interest groups and legislative politics. Groups have access to the sufficient power bases needed to exercise the first three faces of power. At the top level, there are those in command of major institutional hierarchies, otherwise known as the ruling class. The ruling class has access to the sufficient power bases needed to exercise all the faces of power. The vast majority of absolute power is concentrated amongst the dominant ruling faction. However, there is still the potential for other ruling factions to amass countervailing powers, keeping the dominant ruling faction in check. Therefore, the distribution of power follows an elitist-leaning framework; power is concentrated in its dispersal. To illustrate this power distribution model, one can refer to the United Kingdom.

At the bottom level, there is the British public. In everyday life, British citizens can exercise the first two faces of power as they make direct decisions about their own lives as well as exert nominal control over those around them, whether it be family, friends or colleagues. At the middle level, there are multiple interest groups and political parties with varying degrees of influence competing to exert their control over the state. These groups can exercise the first three faces of power as they have the resources to produce propaganda and influence the values of the British public. For example, UKIP’s political rhetoric concerning immigration significantly influenced the outcome of the EU referendum. At the top level, there is the political elite with control over the United Kingdom’s major institutions. The political elite is divided into multiple factions and can exercise all four faces of power. Currently, the dominant faction is the Conservative Party, with control over the executive and the majority of the legislature. The Conservative Party’s power is countervailed by other factions of the political elite, such as the Labour Party with its control over the remaining legislature and the Supreme Court with its control over the judiciary. Despite this, all factions of the political elite remain part of the same ruling class.

Based on this model for the distribution of power, it can be concluded that the ruling class holds the most absolute power. They have access to the sufficient power bases needed to control and shape the current paradigm. By shaping the paradigm, they control all the agents operating within it. In other words, only the ruling class can exercise the fourth face of power. In addition, the ruling class retains the greatest degree of agency as they are at the top of the state structure. Overall, the ruling class are the most powerful actors in society.


To summarise, power is the extent to which one entity can influence another to do something it otherwise would not do. The entity must draw on the appropriate power base or combination of power bases to exercise power over another and achieve its desired outcome. There are six such power bases (legitimate, referent, expert, reward, coercive and informational) that can be utilised in four distinct ways (the four faces of power). While almost any entity can exercise the first two faces of power, only certain entities have the necessary agency and sufficient power bases to exercise the third and fourth faces of power. These entities are best typified by the ruling class. Therefore, it can be concluded that absolute power is an influencing force concentrated and dispersed amongst the political elite.


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Mass Surveillance and The Erosion of Our Civil Liberties: Why You Should Be Concerned

The Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) uses powerful computer systems, such as Tempora, to spy on the British public.

Big Brother is watching you.

Nineteen Eighty-Four
George Orwell

In 1785, Jeremy Bentham, the founder of modern utilitarianism, designed a prison where a single guard could observe all the prisoners without them knowing, compelling them to regulate their behaviour out of fear of being watched. In effect, the prisoners could be controlled without having to lift a finger, power firmly in the hands of that single guard. The prison came to be known as the Panopticon, and since 1785, not a single one has been constructed. However, with the power of mass surveillance, Britain is becoming a nationwide Panopticon where citizens are the prisoners, and the state their all-powerful guard.

If the documents leaked by Edward Snowden back in June 2013 taught us anything, it’s that not everything is as it appears to be on the surface. The state may appear to be a neutral actor allowing us to get on with our lives without interference. However, as the documents have shown us, computer systems capable of intercepting and storing large amounts of our personal data have been utilised by the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) to spy on the British public without our consent[1]. Worse still, our data is being shared with the US, giving Uncle Sam a direct view into our private lives.

Mass surveillance is no longer bound to the pages of science fiction; it has become the reality of the world we live in. The question is: how did we get here?

After 9/11, the US used its global hegemony to launch an international War on Terror. As President Bush put it to the world: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists”[2]. From then on, governments the world over introduced new measures that curbed our freedoms in the name of national security. And we, in our grief and fear, accepted these new measures believing it to be common sense, blind to the fact our hard-fought civil liberties were being stolen before our very eyes.

No government would go further to support the US in their endeavour to murder nearly 400,000 non-combatants[3] than Tony Blair’s. Throughout his government, laws were introduced that severely impeded our civil liberties, including giving police the power to stop and search without reasonable suspicion (Terrorism Act 2000) and arrest and detain without charge for up to 28 days (Terrorism Act 2006). As you can imagine, these powers were virulently abused by police, particularly when it came to shutting down political dissent.

In March 2003, anti-war protesters were prevented from reaching RAF Fairford, a British military base used by American bombers during the Invasion of Iraq. They were sent back to London under heavy police escort, violating their right to protest[4]. Or take the case of Walter Wolfgang, a Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany in the lead up to WWII. In September 2005, he was kicked out of a Labour conference by police after calling Jack Straw’s policy on Iraq “nonsense”[5]. These incidents of abuse prove the police are nothing more than the coercive arm of the state.

But perhaps none of Blair’s enactments was quite as Orwellian as the Identity Cards Act 2006, requiring citizens to register for an identity card linked to a national database. The National Identity Register (NIR) stored detailed information regarding each citizen throughout their lives with plans to include even more in the future. This information would make it easier for the state to single out anyone who disagreed with its policies, bringing us all one step closer to living under an authoritarian regime. The intention was to make it compulsory to enter your details into the NIR when you apply for a new passport. Luckily the scheme was scrapped, and the NIR was destroyed under the 2010 coalition government before this could happen.

Thanks to agitation from various human rights groups, subsequent governments continued to repeal or amend some of the provisions introduced under Blair. That being said, it would be naive to assume the days of mass surveillance are behind us.

As it stands, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 gives the government unprecedented power to spy on the British population. A total of 48 state authorities, including GCHQ, have the power to access our internet connection records without a warrant. And with tech companies willing to sell our data to the state and private firms around the world, there is nowhere left on Earth where we can be safe from the prying eyes of the political and economic elite.

But surely there’s no need to worry if we have nothing to hide? After all, these measures are designed to catch terrorists, not spy on innocent civilians.

The problem isn’t about whether we have something to hide; it’s about what can be done with our data once it’s in the hands of the state. As the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Data Scandal demonstrated, tech companies have already harvested our data and used it to shape our preferences, influencing our response to key political events in favour of the global elite. If private firms are doing this, then it’s highly likely that state apparatus, such as GCHQ with its advanced surveillance technology, is being utilised by the political elite to do the same. Surveillance is simply another means to maintain power via the manufactured consent of the public.

So, what can we do about it?

While it may seem too late to stem the tide of mass surveillance, organisations such as Amnesty International have already been fighting on our behalf. Earlier this year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the UK’s surveillance capabilities violated our human rights to privacy and freedom of expression[6]. The ruling was a huge step towards getting this issue on the world stage, and now it falls to us to see our governments held accountable lest we find ourselves living in the world described in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. If we keep the pressure on and continue to petition our government to cease its invasion of our private lives, I’m confident that one day we will see the abolishment of mass surveillance altogether.

[1] Amnesty International UK, 2020. Why we’re taking the UK government to court over mass spying. [online] Available at: <https://www.amnesty.org.uk/why-taking-government-court-mass-spying-gchq-nsa-tempora-prism-edward-snowden&gt; [Accessed 23 October 2021].

[2] The Washington Post, 2001. Text: President Bush Addresses the Nation. [online] Available at: <https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/specials/attacked/transcripts/bushaddress_092001.html&gt; [Accessed 22 October 2021].

[3] The Costs of War. 2021. Human Costs of U.S. Post-9/11 Wars: Direct War Deaths Major War Zones | Figures | Costs of War. [online] Available at: <https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/figures/2021/WarDeathToll&gt; [Accessed 22 October 2021].

[4] BBC, 2013. RAF Fairford protesters win legal battle against police. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-gloucestershire-21382889&gt; [Accessed 23 October 2021].

[5] Busby, M., 2019. Walter Wolfgang, antiwar activist and Jack Straw heckler, dies aged 95. The Guardian, [online] Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/29/antiwar-activist-walter-wolfgang-dies-aged-95-labour-cnd&gt; [Accessed 23 October 2021].

[6] Amnesty International, 2021. UK: Europe’s top court rules UK mass surveillance regime violated human rights. [online] Available at: <https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/press-release/2021/05/uk-surveillance-gchq-ecthr-ruling/&gt; [Accessed 23 October 2021].

Iron Brothers: Assessing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Formal relations between Pakistan and China date back to 1950, when Pakistan became one of the first countries to recognise the People’s Republic of China.

The following report was originally submitted as part of my A-level EPQ and was completed in February 2020. As such, some of the information may be outdated. Regardless, I hope it proves informative for anyone interested in Sino-Pak relations.

The Spatial Layout of CPEC

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, most commonly known as CPEC, is perhaps one of the world’s largest infrastructure overhauls seen in the last decade. It is comprised of 70 projects[1], ranging from coal-fired power plants to fibre optic cables, and is currently worth over $62 billion in Chinese investment[2].

CPEC is the flagship for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global development strategy similar to the US’s Marshall Plan. It marks the beginning of a new venture in Sino-Pak relations which already has a strong military and political base. The aim: to ensure sustained economic growth for both Pakistan and China’s western region of Xinjiang.

However, the question must be asked: Is CPEC good for Pakistan?

By this, I mean, is CPEC good for Pakistan economically and politically? This is an important question considering Pakistan’s history as a client state to foreign powers such as the US and Saudi Arabia. These relationships have plunged Pakistan into over $82.19 billion of external debt, with 29.5% of its population below the poverty line[3].

In addition, Pakistan’s involvement in the US’s War on Terror claimed the lives of over 23,375 Pakistani civilians[4] while leaving the country with several terrorist organisations to deal with. Meanwhile, corrupt Pakistani officials hoard money in overseas bank accounts while the poor suffer from a crippling economy. It is no wonder we should be concerned with the recent developments concerning Pakistan’s newfound love for China.

Will CPEC break or reinforce the status quo?

That being said, CPEC doesn’t just affect Pakistan; it could have implications for the whole world. Pakistan is located in one of the world’s most strategically important locations. The Indus River has always been the crossroads between civilisations and ruled by great powers such as the Achaemenid Empire, Alexander’s Macedonian Empire, the Mongols, the Mughals and, most recently, the British Raj.

Today, Pakistan borders two of the world’s fastest-growing economies: India and China, not to mention the oil-rich Middle East and mineral-rich Afghanistan. With the Strait of Hormuz only 600km from Gwadar port and direct access to the Arabian Sea, Pakistan will undoubtedly play a crucial role in the global economy with the help of CPEC.

What does CPEC mean for the BRI? And what does the BRI mean for the world and its future?

In this essay, I aim to answer these questions as well as highlight the necessary steps I believe Pakistan should take to ensure it can get the most out of CPEC.

CPEC Projects

Are SEZs good for Pakistan?

Location of CPEC SEZs

CPEC is going to see many changes to the Pakistani economy. In particular, under CPEC, Pakistan will introduce new Special Economic Zones (SEZs). These are areas where business and trade laws differ from the rest of the country.

China is helping Pakistan establish a total of 9 SEZs[5], most likely based on the Chinese model, such as Shenzhen in the Guangdong province and Kashgar in Xinjiang. Chinese SEZs are export-oriented and primarily driven by market forces. They give special tax incentives for foreign investment and have greater independence from the central government on international trade activities. Furthermore, Chinese SEZs are listed separately in national planning and retain the authority to pass legislation. This gives SEZs the same power as provincial-level administrations regarding economic policy.

Proponents of CPEC put forward the idea that SEZs will bring about economic growth by liberalising the Pakistani economy via increased exports and foreign direct investment.

 ‘If there is one proposition with which virtually all economists agree, it is that free trade is almost always better than protection.’[6]

This is based on the theory of comparative advantage (a country’s ability to produce goods and services at a lower opportunity cost than its trade partners). In short, by liberalising the Pakistani economy, Pakistan will be better off. This is because it will naturally force Pakistan to specialise in whichever industries it has a comparative advantage in, such as raw cotton. Overall, this would increase Pakistan’s output in those industries, leading to increased exports and economic growth as a result.

Pakistan would then be obligated to increase trade in whichever industries it lacks a comparative advantage in, such as dairy products. This will allow other countries to specialise in whichever industries they have a comparative advantage, meanwhile trading with Pakistan in whichever industry they lack a comparative advantage. In theory, this would increase world output and, by extension, economic growth for all countries.

In China, following the establishment of its first SEZs in 1980 and various economic reforms designed to open up the country to global trade, GDP skyrocketed from $191 billion (1980) to $1.2 trillion (2000) and eventually $13.6 trillion (2018)[7]. China is a textbook case study of how market liberalisation can significantly transform a country’s economic position.

If Pakistan learns from China, there is no reason the country would not also achieve long-term economic growth. Furthermore, the CPEC proposed SEZs are said to have the potential to generate over half a million direct jobs and over a million indirect jobs in Pakistan[8].

However, as seen in the case of the Kingston Free Zone in Jamaica, free trade is not always conducive to the betterment of a country’s citizens. In the 1980s, Jamaican citizens were forced to work in poor conditions on wages as low as $16.30 a week[9] for foreign companies that were not legally required to operate according to government standards.

SEZs worldwide have been responsible for the rampant exploitation of workers and loss of government revenue. Other negative socio-economic impacts include suppressing labour rights, preventing trade unionisation, and poor environmental standards[10]. It is evident that without proper government regulation, the SEZs proposed by CPEC can potentially exacerbate already existing problems concerning Pakistani labour. This, in turn, could have severe social and political implications for Pakistan, which already has the third-largest number of people trapped in modern-day slavery at 3.19 million after China and India[11].

Will CPEC put an end to Pakistan’s energy insecurity?

One major obstacle to Pakistan’s economic success is the country’s poor energy provision. Pakistan currently ranks 115 out of 137 countries for reliable electricity[12], with only 70.8% of the country’s population having access to electricity[13], leaving over 52 million people without access[14].

Private sector investors see the lack of reliable electricity as a potential risk to profit. And rightly so; in 2015 alone, power sector inefficiencies cost the Pakistani economy $18 billion (6.5% of GDP)[15]. Couple this with the associated social implications, such as increased strain on healthcare and lower quality of education, and you have a recipe for disaster.

When you compare this to the rapidly emerging economy of China, where access to electricity is at 100%[16], it is clear to see the importance of a reliable energy supply in developing a strong economy. By introducing energy reforms, Pakistan could save $8.4 billion in business losses and increase total household incomes by at least $4.8 billion annually[17].

Proponents of CPEC claim it will “fulfil the electricity demand and ensure the reliability of electricity supply in Pakistan”[18]. After all, CPEC includes a total of 22 projects dedicated to energy generation and supply, which, when combined, offer a power capacity of 12.4 GW[19]. When this is added to Pakistan’s current installed power capacity of 30 GW[20], there will be more than enough energy to overcome Pakistan’s deficit of 5 GW[21]. Therefore, in theory, CPEC will fulfil Pakistan’s energy demands and leave room for demand to increase, which is crucial for long-term economic growth.

However, the question remains: does it work in practice?

Of the 22 energy projects, only 8 are fully operational[22], leaving a significant energy deficit from a lack of power capacity. Furthermore, transmission inefficiencies frequently lead to blackouts across the country. Pakistan’s transmission capacity sits well below the country’s current installed power capacity at 22 GW[23]. This slow progress meant CPEC did not achieve its 2020 goal of addressing the bottlenecks in the country’s economic and social development[24].

In other words, CPEC has already failed to achieve 100% energy access by its own deadline of 2020. If the country cannot even provide enough electricity for its people, how will it provide enough energy for the second phase of CPEC? Therefore, in practice, CPEC has failed to fulfil its own goals, let alone the electricity demand of Pakistan.

In due course, these projects will be completed. However, if they are to be completed in the same timeframe as CPEC’s second and third-phase projects, there will be dire consequences for the Pakistani economy. Without sufficient energy provision, Pakistan will have to increase energy imports to complete its second and third-phase projects, such as the New Gwadar International Airport, which began construction in October 2019.

This will increase the country’s current account deficit, as seen with the ‘Punjab Speed’ predicament[25]. As a result, the Pakistani rupee will be devalued yet again, and annual growth will continue to slow. Pakistan will then be forced to seek another bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and other countries like China.

Even if all the energy projects are completed, they will become obsolete over the long term. Of the 12.4 GW provided by CPEC, 8.2 GW are coal-based[26]. The negative impacts of burning coal are widely documented. For a country with four major cities (Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi) with air quality rankings ranging from unhealthy to hazardous[27], is it wise to invest in coal-fired power plants? While coal is more reliable and efficient, it will not last forever.

Once Pakistan exhausts its domestic supply of Thar coal, it will have to begin importing coal from abroad, most likely from China. Pakistan already depends on Saudi Arabia and Iran for oil and gas, making up 80% of its energy mix[28]. Add China to the mix, and Pakistan will become even more vulnerable to the influence of foreign powers and the fluctuating prices of fossil fuels. This is ultimately counter-productive to achieving sustainable long-term economic growth for Pakistan.

Is CPEC a debt trap?

Pakistan’s debt crisis has significantly impeded the country’s development.

Another major issue afflicting Pakistan’s economy is the ongoing debt crisis. Since the establishment of CPEC, Pakistan’s total external debt has increased from around $60 billion (2013) to over $90 billion (2018)[29]. However, it is important to note CPEC itself did not cause the debt crisis.

As Pakistan accumulates more debt, the country will have to use more money to service debt in the future. Between 2017 and 2018, Pakistan serviced $7.5 billion of debt, of which $2.3 billion was interest[30]. Due to the increasing issue of debt servicing, the current account deficit increased from $18 billion (2017) to $21 billion (2018)[31].

Furthermore, due to the interest of such debt having reached a high level, Pakistan has had to borrow more money to repay its obligations. Despite declaring he would rather die than go to the IMF seeking a bailout, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan was forced to turn to the IMF for $6 billion in the face of a weak economy, making it the 12th time Pakistan has had to rely on the IMF[32].

Pakistan is in the midst of a perpetual cycle of debt which must be addressed if the country ever wants sustainable long-term economic growth. Will CPEC exacerbate or relieve the debt crisis?

Proponents of CPEC are often quick to point out the insignificance of Pakistan’s external debt to China, which is currently around $6 billion, less than 6% of Pakistan’s total external debt[33]. In fact, the majority of Pakistan’s external debt is owed to multilateral lenders such as the IMF and the World Bank[34]. However, nobody calls these organisations a ‘debt trap’ despite having plunged many more developing economies into debt than China.

On the contrary, CPEC offers increased trade, allowing the country to repay its debt in the long term. Pakistan is forecasted to collect between $6 billion to $8 billion from CPEC toll taxes and rental fees, with 4% of China’s total trade ($154 billion according to 2015 figures) passing through CPEC[35]. Other lenders do not offer this, making the debt from China less of a burden as CPEC provides the funds to pay it back.

On the other hand, Pakistan is one of 8 countries of particular concern regarding the risk of debt distress[36][37]. Furthermore, China has also been charging Pakistan interest rates as high as 5% compared to the 2% to 2.5% rate given to other BRI countries[38]. Due to the high cost of electricity and transmission losses, Pakistan would also have to pay Chinese companies for electricity Pakistani distribution companies cannot afford, resulting in a currency crisis as Chinese companies move money outside the country.

In addition, an increase in CPEC-related imports combined with decreasing exports, as the Pakistani market is flooded with Chinese products, could push the country further into a currency crisis. Therefore, it is fair to say while CPEC represents an opportunity for Pakistan to end the debt crisis, it also poses a risk of falling even deeper into it.

There is also the concern that if Pakistan cannot repay Chinese loans, China may begin seizing assets as it did with Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka[39]. Thereby compromising Pakistan’s sovereignty and robbing the country of potential revenue. However, the likelihood of this occurring is very slim.

China’s Debt Renegotiations

A study by the US-based Rhodium Group found most of China’s debt renegotiations end with the debt being completely written off[40]. Furthermore, China’s long-standing political and military relationship with Pakistan, which saw the joint development of the JF-17 Thunder fighter jet, Al-Khalid tank and Pakistan’s nuclear infrastructure, makes asset seizure all the more unlikely for Pakistan.

If Pakistan can utilise CPEC and policy reforms to increase exports, there is no reason why the debt crisis cannot be solved in the long term. Therefore, the argument that CPEC is a ‘debt trap’ is not entirely fair. CPEC itself did not cause the debt crisis. CPEC itself will not exacerbate the debt crisis. CPEC itself will not even relieve the debt crisis. To pin all the responsibility on CPEC is neither fair nor well-grounded. It is, in fact, Pakistan’s own economic policy that will determine whether the country remains in debt, not CPEC.

Does CPEC favour Punjab?

Since Pakistan’s creation in 1947, the country’s politics have been dominated by the Punjab province. Of Pakistan’s 342 seats in the national assembly, 174 seats are reserved for Punjabi politicians, as Punjab makes up the majority of the country’s population. By dominating the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament and contributing to 57% of the country’s GDP[41], Punjab has proven itself to be the most influential province of Pakistan.

This has led to controversies in the past. For example, the proposed Kalabagh Dam has been debated for the last 40 years. The project is advocated by Punjab-based power brokers but has been opposed by politicians from the country’s smaller provinces, such as Sindh, which sees the project as a threat to its water security. Therefore, it is a viable concern CPEC may favour Punjab over the other provinces of Pakistan.

Proponents of CPEC tend to claim all Pakistani provinces will benefit equally. Following the 18th amendment to the country’s constitution in 2010, many powers were devolved at the federal level and given to the provinces[42]. It was seen as a step towards democracy, allowing the smaller provinces greater autonomy from the Punjab-dominated centre.

As a result, when it comes to CPEC projects, parliament only provides oversight and is not responsible for coordination and decision-making[43]. It is down to the provinces to plan and execute projects with China. Therefore, it is argued that the notion of CPEC favouring Punjab is a false narrative. Due to the devolved power, all the provinces are in the same boat regarding CPEC.

On the other hand, given the history of Punjab’s dominance politically, economically, and socially compared to the rest of Pakistan, Punjab remains the most equipped and desirable province to absorb investment from China. This has led to two major controversies concerning CPEC’s lack of transparency and its alleged favouritism towards Punjab. Despite being resolved, these issues have fuelled an overall distrust of Punjab amongst Pakistan’s other provinces.

The first controversy began in 2014, when politicians from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province began claiming the CPEC route had been shifted from KP towards Punjab, thereby excluding the region from Chinese investment[44]. The original route proposed in 2006 passed through the impoverished areas of Balochistan, southern Punjab and central KP, including the provincial capital of Peshawar[45].

Following the rise of the Tehrik-e-Taliban, which grew to threaten most of KP, the route was changed to avoid KP. In response, PTI held a dharna to dislodge the PML-N for electoral fraud with the alleged support of a former Inter-Services Intelligence chief[46]. In 2015, politicians staged a walkout from the Senate[47]. To placate critics, the government proposed CPEC would have three routes (Eastern, Central and Western). By 2017, the issue was resolved[48]. However, the debate may resume should there be another change in government[49].

The second controversy is centred on the Orange Line in Punjab’s capital of Lahore[50]. When CPEC formally launched in 2015, the mass transit rail line stood out as a municipal project amongst largely intercity and interregional connectivity-focused projects. This led to an outcry amongst the smaller provinces of Pakistan.

No Pakistani city outsidPunjab’s’s jurisdiction, except Islamabad, has a mass transit system. Including it as part of CPEC, despite having to be subsidised at $160 million per year to keep fares affordable[51], is a clear example of CPEC’s favouritism towards Punjab. Following the controversy, it was asserted that the Orange Line was not part of CPEC; instead, it was a bilateral agreement between the Punjab government and China planned four years prior.

It was not until December 2016, following document leaks confirming the project had been on the CPEC agenda early on, that the Orange Line was formally added to the Planning Commission of Pakistan’s list of CPEC projects[52]. Following this, additional municipal rail projects were added in Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar[53] to appease the smaller provinces.

Will Gwadar Port put an end to Baloch separatism?

Balochistan has proven itself to be a difficult province for the Pakistani leadership to handle. The conflict goes back to 1948, when Kalat, a princely state that used to make up most modern-day Balochistan, acceded to Pakistan. ThKhan’s’s brother opposed the move, and since then, multiple insurgencies have been fought against Pakistan. However, it was not until the latest insurgency following disputes between the Rajiha, a subtribe of the Bugti tribe, and the government over natural gas concessions in 2003 that anything close to a unified Baloch revolt occurred.

By 2013, the insurgency subsided but is still said to be operational in the Awaran region and Makran coast[54]. With CPEC’s flagship Gwadar port located on the Makran coast, Baloch separatism poses a considerable security risk. Will CPEC placate or provoke the Baloch separatists?

Proponents of CPEC put forward the idea that making Gwadar the focal point of the economic corridor will bring about economic growth and social development for the people of Balochistan. Thereby putting an end to Baloch disenfranchisement and, by extension, the broader anti-Pakistan sentiments fuelling Baloch separatism.

Following the 2013 elections, the PML-N had to form a coalition with the Balochistan National Party (BNP). This nationalist party is pro-Pakistan yet wishes to see more autonomy for Balochistan. By maintaining the support of the BNP, the government has been able to move towards more equitable development through CPEC, thereby avoiding an intensified insurgency. Baloch politicians admire China’s ability to rapidly improve its standard of living and see CPEC as a means to uplift the Baloch people if done right[55]. Therefore, Gwadar port is the only solution for the Baloch insurgency.

However, the BNP still echoes the view Balochistan should have control of its resources. This view is shared by Baloch separatists and has been central to the historical struggle in the province.

Balochistan is home to over $1 trillion of natural resources; however, despite being so mineral-rich, the region has the lowest human development index (HDI) in Pakistan[56]. Any income generated by these resources has primarily been used for the social development of Pakistan’s other provinces, mainly Punjab, rather than the betterment of Balochistan from whence they came.

With this in mind, the BNP has called on the federal government to hand control of Gwadar port over to the Balochistan provincial government[57]. Unfortunately, the port remains in the hands of Chinese Overseas Port Holdings Limited[58]. This could spell disaster for Pakistan. With Gwadar now in the hands of China, resources are bound to leave not just Balochistan but Pakistan as a whole. Therefore, little to any income generated will ever reach the Baloch people. Social development will continue to stagnate, and anti-Pakistan sentiment will worsen.

The nature of CPEC’s interregional connectivity dictates resources are bound to leave Balochistan no matter what. Promising no resources leave the province would be impractical and counter-productive. Instead, what can be done is to ensure Balochistan receives a disproportionally high benefit from CPEC projects to help de-escalate the insurgency and improve its low HDI. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

Take, for example, the Saindak copper mine project. Only 2% of revenue is awarded to the Balochistan province; meanwhile, the Metallurgical Corporation of China receives 50%, and the Pakistani federal government receives the remaining 48%[59]. In addition, the Balochistan Mineral Resources Development Board, formed in 2015 to oversee exploration and mining licenses, is indirectly controlled by the federal government as seven of the nine members are bureaucrats, with only the final two being elected officials[60].

This almost certainly indicates CPEC has so far continued the status quo. Until more is done to ensure the social development of Balochistan, the insurgency will continue to pose risks to CPEC[61].

Will CPEC improve Pakistan’s foreign relations?

It is almost an unwritten rule that when it comes to Pakistani foreign affairs, one has to mention India and vice versa. The Indo-Pak rivalry is virtually iconic in nature, going back to the establishment of the respective countries as they gained independence from the British, resulting in the largest human migration in history. Over a million people lost their lives, and many more were displaced in what is now known as Partition[62]. Since then, Pakistan and India have fought a total of four wars.

Considering South Asia’s tumultuous history, there is a genuine concern CPEC may exacerbate the strained – if not dysfunctional – relationship between Pakistan and its much larger, economically superior neighbour.

Proponents of CPEC point towards the fact CPEC offers the opportunity to foster an economic partnership between India and Pakistan. It is within Chinese interests that as many countries as possible join the BRI as part of the country’s common destiny vision[63] to bring peace and economic balance to the world[64]. Hence, China invited India to BRI meetings in 2017 and 2019[65].

Similarly, Pakistan also wishes for peace with India. Following the flare-up in Indo-Pak tensions during the 2019 Pulwama Attack, which saw cross-border airstrikes carried out by both sides, Pakistan released a captured fighter pilot as a peace gesture[66]. Furthermore, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his wishes for peace following the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the recent 2019 Indian elections, a desire reciprocated by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi[67].

Unfortunately, India declined both Chinese invitations[68]. This is part of India’s fear of being encircled by the BRI,[69] thereby being shut out from international trade. As a result, India has been reluctant to join BRI negotiations so far, being critical of Chinese activities in the South China Sea and CPEC on the grounds it undermines India’s sovereignty claims over Kashmir[70].

In fact, this fear has driven India to exploit the instability in Balochistan by publicly announcing its support for Baloch separatists in 2016 in an attempt to sabotage CPEC[71]. Since then, the Baloch insurgency has been emboldened, leading to increased attacks on Pakistani military personnel and CPEC labourers[72].

On the 18th of April 2019, Baloch militants blocked the Makran coastal highway and executed 14 members of the Pakistan Armed Forces[73]. This highlights how instead of being used as a tool for peace, CPEC has instead been exploited and used to deepen the Indo-Pak divide.

On the other hand, following India’s brutal lockdown in Kashmir, it was China that brought the issue to the UN Security Council on behalf of Pakistan[74]. This was partly due to the long-standing Sino-Pak relationship but also to protect Chinese interests in Kashmir, namely CPEC. As a result, it could also be argued CPEC, having brought China and Pakistan closer, has proven itself to serve Pakistani interests on the world stage by bringing important issues into the spotlight. Furthermore, the international perception of Pakistan has significantly improved, in no small part due to CPEC, in recent years[75].

 However, at the time of writing, the Kashmir lockdown continues[76], and Indian Muslims are now at risk of losing their status as Indian citizens[77]. These issues will most certainly lead to more stand-offs between India and Pakistan. CPEC may not solve the many Indo-Pak disputes; however, it has given Pakistan the upper hand in international discourse, that being the support of China.

Nonetheless, it is well-known influence goes both ways, and Sino-Pak relations are no exception. By supporting Pakistan’s stance on the Kashmir dispute, China has effectively bought Pakistan’s silence on the various human rights violations occurring within Chinese borders. Pakistan has failed to publicly address China’s ethnic cleansing of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang[78] despite jumping at any chance to call out India. Considering the fact Pakistan was created on the basis of protecting the rights of Muslims and the country’s close ally, Turkey, has denounced China for its treatment of Muslims[79], this hypocrisy will undoubtedly lead to some future political complications.


In conclusion, it is clear to see CPEC does indeed have the potential to revolutionise Pakistan. Not just economically but socially and politically as well. However, as highlighted, more needs to be done by Pakistan to ensure it can capitalise on this opportunity. Pakistan must ensure it does not fall into the many pitfalls of large investment packages, such as CPEC, which many other developing countries often fall into. It is also important to remember CPEC will not change the status quo on its own and needs the necessary policy changes to be truly effective. As such, I have decided to summarise the key steps I believe need to be taken to ensure CPEC yields the greatest rewards with minimal losses.

First, as recommended by Arif Rafiq, Pakistan needs to create a formalised CPEC authority[80] that oversees all investments from China. This should be led by the Prime Minister with equal representation from all provinces. This will ensure CPEC projects are distributed evenly and improve interagency coordination. As a result, this will build a sustainable consensus in favour of CPEC.

Second, I would suggest the government introduce their own version of China’s Leading Small Groups (LSGs)[81] to supplement the CPEC authority. Every project should have its own LSG that focuses on community dialogue to ensure local residents are kept in the loop, and their needs are addressed. This will significantly improve the public’s approval of CPEC.

Third, Pakistan needs to scale back on CPEC projects until the energy crisis is addressed. I propose Pakistan put all non-energy projects on hold and introduce more projects focused on increasing transmission efficiency. Once the energy projects are completed, and the energy crisis ends, Pakistan should begin work on other CPEC projects. This will help avoid another ‘Punjab Speed’ incident[82].

Fourth, I would recommend CPEC place more emphasis on renewable energy. In doing so, Pakistan can ensure a sustainable energy supply which will help foster long-term economic growth. Introducing solar panels on a local scale will be especially effective in rural communities. In fact, Balochistan has a solar power potential of over 2,200 kWh/m² per year[83], making it the ideal location for concentrated solar power plants.

Fifth, CPEC should invest in more welfare projects on the local level, especially in Balochistan. This will help ensure the correct social development measures are being taken to improve education and healthcare provision throughout Pakistan. As a result, Pakistan’s HDI will increase along with household incomes. Thereby, CPEC will be able to alleviate poverty and contribute to the betterment of Pakistani citizens.

Sixth, I believe Pakistan must review its economic policy to increase government revenue and protect workers’ rights, especially in SEZs. By doing so, Pakistan will end the debt crisis and ensure Pakistani citizens are not exploited by foreign companies. More importantly, it will provide the government with the necessary funds to continue social development throughout Pakistan.

Lastly, Pakistan must ensure peace with its neighbours so CPEC can continue unhindered. To do this, Pakistan must invite its neighbours to the negotiation table and discuss how Pakistan can facilitate trade between South Asia and the wider world. One example would be connecting Afghanistan to CPEC[84] via an Afghanistan-Pakistan economic corridor. Thereby giving Pakistan access to Afghanistan’s natural resources and giving Afghanistan access to the Arabian Sea.

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[82] Rafiq, A. (2019). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: The Lure of Easy Financing and the Perils of Poor Planning. Asian Affairs: Journal of the Royal Society for Asian Affairs, 50(2), pp.236-248.

[83] British Business Energy. (2016). World Solar PV Energy Potential Maps. [online] Available at: https://britishbusinessenergy.co.uk/world-solar-map/ [Accessed 6 Jan. 2020].

[84] Rafiq, A. (2017). The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor: Barriers and Impact. [online] United States Institute of Peace. Available at: https://www.usip.org/publications/2017/10/china-pakistan-economic-corridor [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

Indian National Pact and Bengal Pact – 1923

Postal stamps of Lala Lajpat Rai, Dr Mukhtar Ahmad Ansari and Chittaranjan Das.

Following the end of Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement, communal tensions worsened in the Subcontinent. The introduction of religious sentiments into the political sphere did irreparable damage to the fragile relationship between Muslims and Hindus. For a more detailed and contemporary breakdown of the worsening relationship between India’s sister communities, I recommend one reads The riot-torn history of Hindu-Muslim relations, 1920-1940[1] by Dr B. R. Ambedkar.

The reality on the ground inevitably drew a wedge between the Hindu and Muslim leadership. Cooperation between the AIML and INC was a mere shadow of its former self. Within Congress itself, Muslim representation was at an all-time low of 3.6% in 1923[2]. The unprecedented era of Hindu-Muslim unity was taking its final breath. However, there were still some that weren’t willing to give up on the failed dream just yet.

Many attempts had been made at achieving Hindu-Muslim unity throughout India’s history. Before the British Raj, Emperor Akbar attempted to bring about Hindu-Muslim unity by creating a new religion Din-i Ilahi[3], a syncretism of Muslim, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Christian, Jain and Buddhist beliefs. Similarly, many Indian saints of both Islamic and Hindu tradition advocated for greater cooperation between the two religious communities, one notable example being Kabir Das[4].

However, all these attempts failed to bring about any meaningful and sustained unity between Hindus and Muslims and largely lived and died with their progenitors. It wasn’t until the advent of the 20th century and India’s modern political awakening that anything close to true Hindu-Muslim unity occurred.

The first example of Hindus and Muslims bridging the political gap can be seen with the implementation of separate electorates under the Minto-Morley Reforms. The Congress Moderates, led by Gokhale, supported the League’s demands for separate Muslim representation despite opposition from those that saw separate electorates as an unnecessary provision, such as Jinnah.

The next and most successful example was the Lucknow Pact of 1916, which precipitated the golden age of Hindu-Muslim unity during the latter half of the First World War. During this period, the Indian political elite became a unified force under the Indian Home Rule Movement, leading to the August declaration of 1917 and the subsequent Chelmsford-Montagu Reforms.

This period of unprecedented Hindu-Muslim unity was brought to an end by mass agitation under the Non-cooperation Movement, which saw Gandhi’s political legitimisation of the Muslim Ulama. During this period, Jinnah went into self-imposed political exile after cutting ties with the INC, and all other political parties save for the AIML.

The majority of Indian opinion was in favour of Gandhi and the Khilafats. To oppose them would be to oppose the will of the Indian people, and so all Jinnah could do was stand by and watch as all the work he did in bringing about an understanding between Hindus and Muslims was undone. As far as India was concerned, mass agitation was the way forward regardless of how much damage it did to Hindu-Muslim unity.

Following this, multiple attempts were made at snatching back what was lost. In this essay, we will look at the first of those attempts.

In March 1923, during their annual session in Lucknow, the AIML passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a national pact ensuring unity between India’s various communities. This went a step further than the Lucknow Pact as it aimed to include a lot more parties than just Congress and the League. In September that year, during their special session in Delhi, the INC resolved to appoint a committee to help prepare a draft for the national pact. In December, the committee’s report was presented to Congress at the INC’s session in Kakinada.

The draft of the Indian National Pact[5] consisted of the following resolutions:

  1. It shall be the firm and unalterable object of the Indian National Pact’s signatories to secure complete Swaraj for India.
  2. The form of government under Swaraj shall be democratic and of the federal type; however, its exact nature will be determined by a national convention.
  3. Hindustani is to be India’s lingua franca written in both the Nastaliq and Devanagari scripts.
  4. Full religious liberty is to be afforded to all of India’s communities as part of their constitutional right.
  5. To prevent any religious community from being given undue preference, no government or public funds will be devoted to any religious institution or purpose.
  6. Once Swaraj has been achieved, it will be the duty of every Indian to defend it against all attack, external or internal.
  7. Minority communities shall have separate representation in the legislatures, both central and provincial.
  8. No cow slaughter to take place except on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, out of respect for India’s Hindu community.
  9. No music is to be played in front of places of worship at such times that may be fixed by local boards.
  10. If two or more religious processions occur on the same day, they shall follow different routes as determined by local boards.
  11. Provincial and local boards will be appointed as arbiters to prevent any conflicts that may arise during religious processions.
  12. India should participate in forming a Federation of Eastern Countries for mutual help in commerce and emancipation from European powers with a view to support oriental culture and foster friendly relations.

The committee’s report was signed by Dr Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, founder of Jamia Millia Islamia University and staunch supporter of the Khilafat Movement, and Lala Lajpat Rai, founder of Punjab National Bank and die-hard nationalist. Lala Lajpat Rai was part of the Lal Bal Pal triumvirate alongside Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal. The three men had led the opposition against the Bengal Partition of 1905. Those who have read the previous essays may recall that Tilak had founded the first Home Rule League in Belgaum.

In regards to separate representation for minority communities, both Dr Ansari and Lala Lajpat Rai held opposing views. Dr Ansari wanted separate representation to be extended to municipalities and local boards. In contrast, Lala Lajpat Rai believed that a time limit should be imposed on separate representation, after which it should be scrapped entirely.

Lala Lajpat Rai further posited that separate representation should be in proportion to the numerical strength of each community with special provisions made for small minorities such as Sikhs, Christians and Parsis. To this, Dr Ansari suggested that larger minorities such as Sikhs and Christians may be given special representation in the provincial legislatures but only very small minorities such as Parsis may be given special representation in the central legislature. Regardless, the electorates will be joint in all cases, and there is to be no distinction based on caste, creed or colour in public services or educational institutions.

In addition to the resolutions already a part of the Indian National Pact, Dr Ansari also wanted the following clause added: No bill/clause/resolution concerning a particular community can be passed if 3/4 of the members from said community oppose it. This very same clause was part of the Lucknow Pact several years prior. Unfortunately, it never made its way into the Indian National Pact, perhaps indicating that relations would never return to what they once were. At least on the national level.

Alongside the Indian National Pact, a second cross-community pact was in development by the Bengal Provincial Congress under the leadership of Chittaranjan Das, founder of the Swaraj Party, with the involvement of Bengal’s Muslim representatives. It, too, was presented to Congress at the Kakinada session.

The draft of the Bengal Pact[6] consisted of the following resolutions:

  1. Representation in the Bengal Legislative Council is to be determined in proportion to population with separate electorates subject to necessary adjustments.
  2. Representation in local bodies is to be in the proportion of 60% for the majority community and 40% for the minority community, with the inclusion of separate electorates to be determined at a later date.
  3. 55% of government posts should be reserved for Muslims.
  4. No resolution or an enactment concerning a religious community can be passed without the consent of 75% of the elected members from said community.
  5. No music is to be played in procession before a Masjid.
  6. No interference is to be made in sacrificial cow slaughter for religious reasons.
  7. No legislation is to be passed concerning cow slaughter in the Bengal Legislative Council.
  8. Cow slaughter is to be carried out in such a way as not to offend Hindu religious sentiments.
  9. Annual representative committees, of which half are Muslim and half Hindu, are to be formed in every sub-division to arbitrate any disputes between the two communities.

One interesting thing to note here is the resolutions in both pacts concerning music outside places of worship, cow slaughter, and religious processions. In the Lucknow Pact, no such resolutions were included. Instead, its resolutions were largely concerning representation rather than actual religious sensibilities. This shows just how much the legitimisation of religious rhetoric had impacted Indian politics. The mere fact that these issues had to be discussed by the political leadership rather than solved by Hindus and Muslims on the ground indicates just how much the communal question had infiltrated Indian politics and how pressing the conflict between the two communities was.

It should be added that there is no religious requirement in Islam to slaughter a cow. In the case of Eid al-Adha, goats and sheep serve just as well, and most Indian Muslims opted for this to avoid unnecessary troubles. At the INC’s Kakinada session, one of the Muslim members boasted that he had reduced the amount of cow slaughter in Aligarh on the occasion of Eid al-Adha from 500 cows to just two[7]. Furthermore, in Hyderabad, a princely state consisting of a majority Hindu population ruled by Muslims, the Nizam had outlawed cow-slaughter on Eid al-Adha entirely. The current draft of the Indian National Pact contradicted that ruling.

Both the Indian National Pact and Bengal Pact were subject to debate at the December session of Congress. A debate that lasted approximately four hours over the course of which many Congress members had their input. It was then decided that a vote would be taken regarding whether each pact should continue being pursued. The overwhelming majority voted in favour of a second report of the Indian National Pact to be presented no later than the 31st March 1924. Unfortunately, no second report ever arrived.

Despite insistence from C. R. Das that the Bengal Pact was still subject to change on account of it being a draft proposal, the Bengal Pact was rejected with 678 votes against 458[8]. The main reason given was that the Bengal Pact was specific to the situation in Bengal, and if other provinces adopted them, it would lead to more frictions between Hindus and Muslims. In contrast, the Indian National Pact was abstract without any hard figures so that it could be implemented in the provinces with respect to each specific situation. In addition, the Bengal Pact directly contradicted the Indian National Pact’s stance on cow slaughter opting to prevent its ban rather than facilitate it.

Other Congress members asked why Muslims should have to enter into an agreement with Hindus before standing under the banner of freedom when other communities didn’t need such concessions. Not only that, but what was wrong with the Lucknow Pact that a new pact needed to be drafted anyway. These were the attitudes of an Indian National Congress that refused to open its eyes to the current state of Hindu-Muslim unity.

Furthermore, regardless of one’s views regarding the relationship between Muslims and Hindus, opting to delete a draft proposal before it was even completed sent the message that the largely Hindu INC refused to even consider the needs and apprehensions of Muslims. For Muslim India, this sent a clear picture of what Indian Independence would look like. A union dominated by Hindu opinion without adequate protection to the Muslim minority. A Hindu Raj.

All in all, the Indian National Pact and Bengal Pact proved to be yet another failed attempt at Hindu-Muslim unity. It was safe to say that things were no longer as simple as back in the days of the Lucknow Pact. For Jinnah, a man who tried his absolute hardest to bring about a fragile understanding between Hindus and Muslims, this must have been a hard pill to swallow.

This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement

[1] Ambedkar, B. R., 1941. The riot-torn history of Hindu-Muslim relations, 1920-1940. [online] Columbia.edu. Available at: <http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00ambedkar/ambedkar_partition/307c.html#part_4> [Accessed 8 May 2021].

[2] Brown, J., 1985. Modern India: The Origins Of An Asian Democracy. Oxford University Press.

[3] Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Dīn-i Ilāhī | Indian religion. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Din-i-Ilahi> [Accessed 9 May 2021].

[4] Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Kabir | Indian mystic and poet. [online] Available at: <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Kabir-Indian-mystic-and-poet> [Accessed 9 May 2021].

[5] Mitra, H. N., 1923. Indian Annual Register, 1923. Vol. II. [online] Archive.org. Available at: <https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.45778/page/n125/mode/2up> [Accessed 8 May 2021]. p.105-108

[6] Ibid. p.127-128

[7] Ibid. p.125

[8] Ibid. p.127

The Greatest Leader in History: Ataturk

Oil painting of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk at the Anitkabir, Ankara, Turkey.

Today, I have a treat for you all.

In celebration of this blog’s twentieth post (in fact, this was pure coincidence, but I’m going to run with it), a good friend of mine, who wishes to go by the alias Savas Alparslan, has kindly written the following article detailing the life of Turkey’s founding father. We briefly touched upon Ataturk in my post regarding India’s Khilafat Movement, and so this is sure to add some much-needed context. Furthermore, it is worth noting here that Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father, actually took inspiration from Ataturk and the Turkish nation-state in his own struggle against British Imperialism.

If you haven’t worked it out already, Savas is of Turkish heritage, and like me, he is an avid reader of history. Unlike me, Savas actually studied history in school. I’m sure it goes without saying that the views expressed in this article are not mine, and all credit should be attributed to Savas.


Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938)

DISCLAIMER: It is important to note that I will refer to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as Ataturk throughout this post. However, Ataturk is also known as Mustafa Kemal Pasha, Kemal Pasha, Mustafa Kemal, or just Mustafa.

If you have ever visited Turkey, you are certain to have crossed a picture of Ataturk at the airport, any restaurant you visit, or any hotel you go to. Why? Ataturk is a revered figure in Turkey to the extent that no other nation-state leader was or is. Ataturk was believed to be a socialist by Hitler, a fascist by Stalin, even a dictator by others, but Ataturk is known in Turkey as the “Father of the Turks”.

What makes a leader a great leader? One who is moral? Well, Genghis Khan was not a moral leader, but he was certainly a great leader who built one of the greatest Empires and changed the course of world history. What about a leader who is accomplished? George Washington was an accomplished leader who led his country to independence, but he owned slaves. What about a leader who is respected? Erwin Rommel was respected by both friend and foe during the Second World War but still lost the North Africa campaign. It is hard to define a great leader because a great leader is subjective to personal definitions. Accordingly, for the purposes of this article, a great leader will be defined as someone who has all the qualities mentioned above.

The story of modern Turkey starts in 1881, in Thessaloniki, Greece. It was then known as Selanik, part of the Ottoman Empire. Ataturk was born as Mustafa into a middle-class family, with a pious mother, Zubeyde Hanim, and an Alevi customs official father, Ali Riza Efendi[1]. Thessaloniki was a multicultural and modern city for the Ottoman Empire’s standards. As such, Ataturk grew up with Greeks, Turks, Jews, Albanians, and Slavs. This would be important in shaping his later views.

In his youth, Ataturk became passionate about warfare and the military. His mother wished for him to be a religious leader. But Ataturk was not interested in religious studies and preferred to talk about politics and the military with his friends. He graduated from military school excelling in mathematics, where he was given the nickname “Kemal”, meaning “perfection”, by his teacher[2] as well as science, history, and philosophy. Ataturk was promoted to an officer at once and started his post in Syria. There he met some very radicalised Turks who believed the rule of the Ottoman Sultanate must come to an end.

The Young Turks

The Young Turks were a movement in the Ottoman Empire that sought to create a Nationalist Constitutional Monarchy that limited the Sultan’s powers to just a figurehead. The Grand Vizier (or the Prime Minister) would be the ruler with the Sultan as the head of state. The Young Turks were extremely militarist and expansive. They believed that the Ottoman Empire can be saved if they were to ally with the Germans. Ataturk joined this organisation because of his personal hatred against the Sultan and had a minor part to play in the Young Turk Revolution.

But once the revolution succeeded, Ataturk was cast aside by Enver Pasha, who elevated himself to war minister. Ataturk disagreed fundamentally with the Young Turks, which now became the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP).

The CUP believed that Islam and the Sultan glued the Ottoman nation together, but Ataturk disagreed. He acknowledged the growing rebellions across the Empire, which indicated that the Sultan’s influence was weakening.

Ataturk also disagreed with the Social Darwinist policies of the CUP, which was modelled after the Japanese policy of making the “Japanese race the strongest in the far east.” The CUP wanted to make the Turks the strongest in the near east. This idea was too idealist for Ataturk, who himself believed in nationality rather than race.

Since Ataturk was not interested in throwing the Ottomans into conflict, he felt the Caliphate was a post that no longer served a purpose. The CUP, however, used the Caliph to influence Indian Muslims to resist British recruitment in World War One.

The CUP’s underground members would even attempt to assassinate Ataturk in 1926. This, of course, failed.

Enver Pasha (1881-1922)

Enver Pasha was one of the three Pasha of the triumvirate period towards the end of the Ottoman Empire. He also served as the minister of war and was Ataturk’s main rival towards 1918-1923.

Ataturk’s original plan for the territorial extent of the Turkish Republic.

Ataturk believed the Empire had to be abandoned for a Republic that will rule over a majority ethnic Turk land. Ataturk saw Kurds as equals to Turks and therefore kept them in the equation.

Enver Pasha’s dream of an empire expanding over the region of Turan.

On the other hand, Enver Pasha dreamed of an expansive imperialist empire that would cover the region of “Turan”. Turan is the collection of all Turkic states into one single country. Ataturk dismissed these and ardently disagreed. He believed Enver Pasha was delusional. As such, Ataturk remained a colonel with limited military and political influence. Many of these Turanists actually joined the Nazi Turkestan Legions during World War Two.

The CUP government was disastrous. The Ottomans lost control of Libya to the Italians and lost the entire Balkans to the Bulgarians and Greeks. Although Enver Pasha managed to reclaim Thrace, the Empire lost 33% of its lands within the space of only 3 years[3], including the strategic and important city of Thessaloniki, Ataturk’s place of birth. Regardless of these Ottoman defeats, Ataturk achieved spectacular results and proved himself to be a promising commander. In Tobruk, Ataturk defeated 2,000 Italians with only 200 soldiers[4]. He nearly drove the Italians out of all strategic cities, but his command tent was bombed by an Italian warplane, which caused his eye to be damaged. It is for this reason Ataturk’s seems to be cross-eyed in later pictures.

The First World War

Ataturk in Gallipoli (pictured fourth from the left)

The Ottomans joined the German side of the First World War. Ataturk and his more Liberal circle of friends warned the government that this would result in the end of the Ottoman Empire. Enver Pasha’s stubbornness and lack of administrative experience denied these warnings. Within a few months of joining the war, Enver Pasha lost 43,000 men, more than half of which died before the battle even started, while fighting the Russians[5].  Although the Russians were successful against the outdated Ottoman army, they struggled to fight against the disciplined, coherent, and robust German army.

As a result, Sir Winston Churchill, the lord of the admiralty, would devise a plan which looked very good on paper but would result in the worst military defeat in British history. If British and French ships could pass the Dardanelles, they could bomb Istanbul (which was the capital) to the ground and kill millions of people in the process. This would cripple the Ottomans into submitting. However, the Turks were prepared for this and ambushed the British Navy in 1915. This forced the British to do a landing to secure the beachheads.

Location of the Dardanelles.

The Dardanelles is a geographic area that links the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara (and therefore Istanbul). The British had a powerful ANZAC and Indian contingent backed by the world’s strongest navy. But the Ottomans also had a superweapon that they did not know existed: the 34-year-old Ataturk.

The British attack was overwhelming. The Ottoman army did not have enough ammunition and was equipped with older rifles that jammed easily. The British easily gained a foothold in Gallipoli and managed to push the Turks many miles from the beaches, except in one area. Ataturk was just a colonel in command of about 10,000 men[6]. His superior was General Otto Liman von Sanders, a German who was losing ground to the British. Ataturk was tasked to defend Chunuk Bair, a critical peak that oversaw the whole battleground. The fate of Istanbul and the entire Ottoman Empire fell into Ataturk’s hands.

Although Ataturk’s men fought tirelessly, they were eventually routed because they ran out of ammunition. Ataturk caught his soldiers fleeing the field and asked them where they were going. A soldier pointed out that they lacked ammunition, to which Ataturk replied:

“If you don’t have ammunition, you have bayonets! FIX BAYONETS! GET DOWN!”[7]

This made the ANZACs believe the Turks were reinforced, forcing them to call off any further attacks. Ataturk single-handedly took a big risk but held back the British for 24 hours. Enough time for reinforcements to arrive. At the end of the first day, only Ataturk’s division out of the six initial divisions held their ground.

A couple days later, the British intensified their attacks, and Ataturk’s division was put in reserve. The British made a risky but successful landing at one of the beaches that lead directly to Chunuk Bair. Upon hearing this, Ataturk, without permission from higher command, collected his men and moved out to intercept the British. He gave his most famous order:

“Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place.”[8]

Ataturk now led from the frontlines and kept motivation among his troops high. He beat back the British forces at Chunuk Bair and saved the Ottoman war effort in Gallipoli. After these successes, Ataturk was promoted and eventually given full command of the entire Ottoman defence at Gallipoli. He launched counter-attacks using storm tactics to beat his enemy. Within a few months of taking control, Ataturk broke the stalemate and shifted the momentum in the Ottoman’s favour. Ataturk saved Istanbul and a million Turks from certain death. His name was being shared across the world for this famous victory.

Meanwhile, the situation against Russia was dire. Enver Pasha lost all his battles against them and began relocating Armenians from the frontlines. The Ottomans, however, were now able to send fresh and experienced troops from Gallipoli under Ataturk’s command. Ataturk held back Russian assaults at Bitlis, which caused the Russian offensive to collapse and triggered the 1917 Russian Soviet Revolution. Ataturk was once again successful and promoted. Now a General, Ataturk was sent to Arabia, where he had his first confrontation with Enver Pasha since 1914.

Ataturk proposed a general retreat towards Anatolia to force the British to march through the deserts unprepared until a confrontation could happen. However, Enver Pasha, backed by von Sanders, suggested that the Ottomans had a numerical advantage and should use it as soon as possible (although they did not). Ataturk was right. The Ottomans suffered their final major defeat at Megiddo, where the British restocked up on water supplies. The Ottoman armies were destroyed, and Ataturk was finally given command of the whole Ottoman army, or what was left of it. Understanding the war was lost, Ataturk sent a letter of rage to the Sultan:

“The withdrawal … could have been carried out in some order, if a fool like Enver Paşa had not been the director-general of the operations, if we did not have an incompetent commander—Cevat Paşa—at the head of a military force of five to ten thousand men, who fled at the first sound of gunfire, abandoned his army, and wandered around like a bewildered chicken; and the commander of the Fourth army, Cemal Paşa, ever incapable of analysing a military situation; and if, above all, we did not have a group headquarters (under Liman von Sanders) which lost all control from the first day of the battle. Now, there is nothing left to do but to make peace.”[9]

Ataturk withdrew to Aleppo and held back all further British attacks, giving way to the Treaty of Mudros. The middle eastern theatre ended, and the Ottoman Empire surrendered after Ataturk refused to continue fighting.

The War of Independence

Results of the Treaty of Sevres.

The Treaty of Sevres was far worse than the Treaty of Versailles and reduced the Ottomans to less than 10% of their land before the First World War. Ataturk was proven right; the Empire was destroyed after joining the World War. Within 4 years, Islam’s greatest Empire was on its death bed. The treaty demanded[10]:

  1. The Ottomans pay crippling reparations, which would last until 1980.
  2. The Ottomans pay crippling and unfair debts, which will also last to 1980.
  3. The Ottomans limit their forces to less than 50,700 men, disbanding their air force and tank regiments as well as downsizing their navy.
  4. Istanbul and the straits world fall under International control.
  5. France, Italy, Armenia, Britain, and Kurdistan will take most of Anatolia (Britain annexed the Kurdish territories before it could form a state)
  6. Turkey would essentially be a puppet of France and Britain, alternating between the two.

To Ataturk, this treaty was worse than death. Turks are an interesting ethnic group in that they are one of the few ethnic groups to have always ruled themselves. As Napoleon once put it:

“The Turks can be killed, but they can never be conquered.”[11]

For Turks to accept this treaty would be an insult to their ancestors and their past. Ataturk managed to rally up eager Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Alevis, and Alawites to fight the War of Independence. In the end, he managed to muster 80,000 men, but he was facing four major combatants on four different fronts against 250,000 men[12]. It was suicide.

Ataturk, however, was perhaps the most accomplished military leader at the time. He was the only Central Powers commander who was not defeated in the field of battle and was loved by his men. Ataturk was quick to strike on the Armenians and French forces, ending their threat by 1921. He negotiated with the British and used the fact that the British public opposed a war to his advantage. However, the bigger threat was Greece. Greece was opportunistic in their goals and used the fact that the Turks were up in arms as a pretext to establish a Greater Greece, known as the Megali Idea. 217,000 Greek forces entered Anatolia, the largest Greek army to enter the region in history[13].

Ataturk could not defeat them in a battle unless he chose the battleground. He made a tactical retreat to Ankara, drawing the Greeks further and further away from their supply routes and tired them in the process. At Sakarya, Ataturk unleashed his trap. Nearly 22,000 out of the 120,000 Greek force lost their lives or were captured[14]. Even King Constantine was almost caught by Turkish troops. Ataturk ended the Greek advance and turned the tide of the war. It was now the Greeks who were on the defensive.

In 1922, Ataturk unleashed his final offensive towards Izmir. 90,000 Turks against 130,000 Greeks[15]. It was all or nothing. Ataturk, within 2 weeks, liberated Izmir and surrounded the Greek army and captured their most renowned Generals. The Generals were treated with considerable kindness. Ataturk’s right-hand man, Ismet Pasha (later known as Ismet Inonu, the second President of Turkey), told the Greek General Trikoupis that his men would not be harmed and that he had the Turkish army’s respect for doing his duty. Ataturk was also offered to step on a Greek flag in the same area that King Constantine stepped on the Ottoman flag 3 years earlier, but Ataturk refused[16]. He is quoted as saying:

“The Greek King might have made a mistake by insulting a National Symbol, I Won’t repeat the same mistake.”

Istanbul was later liberated by Ataturk without firing a single bullet. The Sultanate was abolished, and the Ottoman Empire came to an end in late 1922. Ataturk’s revolution, known as Kemalism, took its first big step.

Ataturk’s Presidency

Ataturk changed Turkey forever. The Republic of Turkey was founded on 29th October 1923, a year after the Ottoman Empire was disbanded. Ataturk brought in a new radical reform to Turkey known as Kemalism or Ataturkism.

Kemalism has 6 arrows or pillars:

  1. Nationalism

Ataturk’s view on nationalism was very modern and rejected all forms of ethnic, cultural, and ultra-nationalism. Ataturk rejected Turanism, rejected imperialism, and rejected unification through religion or ethnicity. Ataturk instead opted for Civic-Nationalism, a form of nationalism that united people through a common duty to a nation regardless of their background. In Ataturk’s form of nationalism, Alevis were emancipated for the first time in Turkish history, Kurds were seen as Turkish citizens, which enabled Inonu (a Kurd) to become the first Prime Minister of Turkey, and even one of the world’s first black fighter pilots was Turkish[17]. Turkish did not mean someone who was ethnically a Turk, but rather as Ataturk said:

“The folk which constitutes the Republic of Turkey is called the Turkish nation.”[18]

  1. Republicanism

Ataturk believed in a parliamentary democracy. Although Ataturk ruled as a benign or benevolent dictator, his end goal was democracy. Ataturk saw himself as the first and last dictator of the Turkish Republic. A dictator that Turkey needs so they may never have a dictator again. Ataturk demanded democracy, but the Turkish people were not educated and ready for it yet.

  1. Populism

Kemalist populism is not the same as the populism we have today. Populism in the Kemalist sense was the aim to enable the people to understand the importance of their citizenship and sovereignty. Populism in the Kemalist sense was designed to create a unifying force for the Turkish people to encourage them to work, contribute to their country, and advance.

  1. Laicism

The most controversial policy of Kemalism is its ardent secularism. Ataturk banned the niqab and fez according to the public code. But he never forbade the headscarf, contrary to popular belief. The headscarf in Turkey was banned after the 1980 coup. Ataturk simply discouraged its use. Ataturk put all religious buildings under state supervision, and the state equally distanced itself from all faiths. The official religion of Turkey was no longer Islam. The call to prayer was to be done in Turkish rather than Arabic. Religious schools were closed. Since Sharia Law in the Ottoman Empire banned girls from being educated, Ataturk now made schools mandatory for girls. Classes were now mixed. Ataturk’s biggest religious impact would come in 1924 when he abolished the Caliphate. The Caliph was a post that existed ever since the death of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. This was widely supported in Turkey, with the only opposition coming from the Kurds, whose rebellions were subsequently suppressed.

  1. Statism

Turkey was technologically and socially behind other countries in 1923. Statism demanded that the state do its part to ensure Turkey’s complete modernisation via economic and technological development. Ataturk’s Turkey underwent mass industrialisation leading to dramatic economic growth[19]. The state also nationalised all foreign businesses, which were seen as exploiting Turkey’s resources and people. These businesses, especially tobacco industries, became successful enterprises and were later privatised by Turkish owners.

  1. Reformism

Ataturk believed traditional institutions must be replaced with modern ones that overlooked a much larger part of Anatolian and Turkish culture and history. Islamism in Turkey saw old Hittite and Assyrian buildings and statues destroyed. Ataturk believed the Hittite culture to be a part of the modern Turkish culture. Islam was adapted to become compatible with Turkey. According to Ataturk, up until this point, conservative Islam had been allowed to control the customs, diet, and even intimate thoughts of the Turkish people.

Ataturk’s reformism was vastly based on resurrecting old Hittite, Assyrian, and Anatolian culture while combining it with Turkey’s Nomadic and Islamic history. For example, the national symbol of Ankara was the Hittite flag. Ataturk never opposed Islam. He only opposed an interpretation of Islam that was suited to an Arab context and was therefore unsuitable to the needs of the Turkish people.

Ataturk increased national GDP, tripled GDP per capita[20], modernised Turkey within a decade, made education compulsory for all, which saw literacy rates skyrocket. Turkey gave women full equal suffrage where polygamy was banned and equal inheritance was mandatory. This was ahead of many European countries. Turkish women congratulated American women for having the right to vote, and British women held signs saying, Are we worth less than Turkish women?[21]

Ataturk had saved Turkey, emancipated all faiths and minorities, and has gained international respect. In 1981, the UN formally honoured Ataturk by naming it The Atatürk Year in the World. Nobody else has been given such recognition:

“The General Conference,

Convinced that eminent personalities who worked for international understanding, co-operation, and peace, should serve as an example for future generations,

Recalling that the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, will be celebrated in 1981,

Bearing in mind that he was an exceptional reformer in all the fields coming within Unesco’s competence,

Recognising in particular that he was the leader of one of the earliest struggles against colonialism and imperialism,

Recalling that he set an outstanding example in promoting the spirit of mutual understanding between peoples and lasting peace between the nations of the world, having advocated all his life the advent of ‘an age of harmony and co-operation in which no distinction would be made between men on account of colour, religion or race.’”[22]

Many world leaders visit his grave, including Putin, Obama, the Pope, Theresa May, the Japanese royal family, and many others. All bow to Ataturk.

The Words of Ataturk

“Peace at home, peace in the world” – Ataturk to the public during his tours of Anatolia[23].

“Unless a nation’s life faces peril, war is murder.” – Ataturk after witnessing the devastation wrought by the Gallipoli campaign[24].

“Humankind is made up of two sexes, women and men. Is it possible for humankind to grow by the improvement of only one part while the other part is ignored? Is it possible that if half of a mass is tied to earth with chains that the other half can soar into skies?” – Ataturk on the importance of women[25].

“Heroes who shed their blood and lost their lives! You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours. You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” – Ataturk in honouring the fallen soldiers that fought against Turkey[26].

Ataturk has statues and streets named after him in many countries, including countries in which Ataturk fought. Ataturk is not only moral, not only accomplished, not only respected; he is the greatest leader in history.

[1] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[2] İnan, A., 1950. Atatürk hakkında hâtıralar ve belgeler. Turkiye Is Bankasi Kultur Yayinlari.

[3] Blakemore, E., 2019. Why the Ottoman Empire rose and fell. National Geographic, [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/why-ottoman-empire-rose-fell> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[4] Military Wiki. n.d. Battle of Tobruk (1911). [online] Available at: <https://military.wikia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Tobruk_(1911)> [Accessed 17 April 2021].

[5] Sanborn, J., 2021. Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire. Oxford University Press, p.88.

[6] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[7] Wikiquote. n.d. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mustafa_Kemal_Atatürk> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[8] ibid

[9] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[10] Helmreich, P., 1974. From Paris to Sèvres: The Partition of the Ottoman Empire at the Peace Conference of 1919-1920. Cambridge University Press.

[11] Bonaparte, N., 1912. Napoleon in his own words. Trieste Publishing Pty Limited.

[12] Pallis, A., 1937. Greece’s Anatolian Venture–and After: A Survey of the Diplomatic and Political Aspects of the Greek Expedition to Asia Minor (1915-1922).

[13] ibid

[14] ibid

[15] Mango, A., 1963. Ataturk: The Biography of the Founder of Modern Turkey. John Murray.

[16] ibid

[17] Nicolle, D., 1994. The Ottoman Army 1914–1918. Osprey Publishing.

[18] Wikipedia. n.d. Kemalism. [online] Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kemalism> [Accessed 17 April 2021].

[19] Pamuk, Ş., 2019. Uneven centuries: Turkey’s experience with economic development since 1820. The Economic History Review, Vol. 72.

[20] Pamuk, Ş., 2019. Uneven centuries: Turkey’s experience with economic development since 1820. The Economic History Review, Vol. 72.

[21] n.d. British womens demanding their rights: “Are British Women Worth Less Than Turkish Women?”. [image] Available at: <https://i.redd.it/rs5p51nht6p61.jpg> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[22] UNESCO, 1979. Records of the General Conference Twentieth Session Paris, 24 October to 28 November 1978 Volume I Resolutions. [online] p.69. Available at: <https://treaties.un.org/doc/source/docs/unesco_res_5_9.2_1-E.pdf> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[23] Goodreads. n.d. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Quotes. [online] Available at: <https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/2793859.Mustafa_Kemal_Atat_rk> [Accessed 16 April 2021].

[24] ibid

[25] ibid

[26] ibid

Khilafat Movement and Non-cooperation Movement – 1919-1924

Mehmed VI, Ottoman Caliph (1918-1922)

During the Turkish War of Independence (19th May 1919 – 11th October 1922), many Indian Muslim religious leaders feared for the fate of the Ottoman Caliphate. For many, the Ottoman Empire’s collapse was viewed as a European conspiracy designed to end Pan-Islamism and the ‘united’ Muslim community.

This anxiety eventually led to the Khilafat Movement[1] and the establishment of the All-India Khilafat Committee in 1919. The committee included Muslim leaders from both the AIML and INC as well as members of the Ulama. It called for the Caliphate’s restoration and acted as a gateway for the Ulama to enter politics.

The Muslim political elite needed the Ulama to reach the masses. Muhammad Ali Jauhar, one of the Khilafat’s leading figures, is quoted as saying, “we can reach [the] mob only through religion”[2]. Although he later denied it. Likewise, the Ulama needed the political elite to achieve its own goals. They had repeatedly tried to implement their version of Sharia in the workings of government but failed. Abul Muhasin Muhammad Sajjad, one of the most influential scholars at the time, sums up the need to work with the political elite:

“Until the Ulama takes the reins of politics in their own hands and cross their voices with those in authority, it will be difficult for them to establish their religious supremacy. Moreover, the fulfilment of their higher aims [i.e., the protection of Islam] will remain merely an empty dream”[3].

The Khilafat’s marriage of political and religious influencers allowed the movement to reach a large base of supporters. Making it one of the most memorable movements in the history of modern South Asia. It also marked the formal beginning of South Asia’s tradition of having political parties led by religious scholars. The most notable being the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind which has since birthed multiple off-shoots, including Pakistan’s Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam.

The following year, Gandhi launched the Non-cooperation Movement[4] to unite all Indians in opposition to British rule. He called for the boycott of British goods in favour of Indian goods and implored Indians to cease all co-operation with the British. The goal was to remove the Rowlatt Act, which had led to the horrible events of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

To consolidate Muslim support, Gandhi made the restoration of the Caliphate one of the Non-cooperation Movement’s main objectives. As a result, the Khilafat Movement joined forces with Gandhi and was practically swallowed up by the Non-cooperation Movement. Similarly, to consolidate Hindu support, Gandhi invoked the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence) and called for the end of untouchability.

By appealing to both Muslims and Hindus’ religious sentiments, Gandhi was able to rile up the Indian masses in opposition to British rule. So how did Jinnah – “the best ambassador of Hindu–Muslim Unity”[5] – react to all this?

Jinnah was against the formation of the Khilafat Movement from the start. He was a firm believer in secularism and the removal of religious authority from the workings of the state. When Gandhi affirmed the Khilafats by allowing them into the Non-cooperation Movement, he opened a can of worms that would plague South Asia for decades to come.

At the INC’s 1920 Nagpur Session, Jinnah openly spoke out against the Non-cooperation Movement. He denounced Gandhi for causing a schism “not only amongst Hindus and Muslims but between Hindus and Hindus and Muslims and Muslims and even between fathers and sons […] in almost every institution”, leading to “complete disorganisation and chaos”[6]. Jinnah was weary of the potential implications of allowing religious frenzy into the realm of Indian politics.

This may seem confusing at first, given how Jinnah was a member of the All-India MUSLIM League and was the architect behind the famed Lucknow Pact that had ensured the extension of separate electorates for Muslim candidates. If anyone should be accused of bringing religion into politics, it should be Jinnah.

It is here that a distinction must be made between Muslims as a religious community and Muslims as a minority community in need of political representation. For Congress Moderates like Jinnah, there was a clear line between the religious and political needs of Muslims. It fell to the politicians to see to the political needs of the Muslim community. Meanwhile, the Ulama were tasked with seeing to the religious needs of the Muslim community. For example, the protection of land rights would be something that falls under the jurisdiction of the politician, whereas religious sermons would fall under the jurisdiction of the scholar. Inevitably there would be some overlap, but overall the system worked fine. Politicians stuck to the councils, and scholars stuck to the Masjids.

As already covered in previous essays, the AIML was formed to see to the political needs of Muslims. Implementing separate electorates in the Morley-Minto Reforms was a means to secure political representation for the Muslim minority. Supporting the Partition of Bengal was a way to advance the economic and political interests of the Muslim minority. At no point did the Muslim politicians try to implement their version of Sharia into government. Their fight was a nationalist fight for freedom, not a religious one. Recall when Jinnah addressed the AIML at the end of 1916:

“I see this great communal organisation rapidly growing into a powerful factor for the birth of United India. A minority must, above everything else, have a complete sense of security before its broader political sense can be evoked for co-operation and united endeavour in the national tasks. To the [Muslims] of India that security can only come through adequate and effective safeguards as regards their political existence as a community”[7].

When Gandhi brought the Khilafats under his wing, he set a dangerous precedent. The introduction of the Ulama threatened the existing political advancements in the cause for an independent India. Using religious rhetoric to stir up the masses ran the risk of causing a disconnect between India’s majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.

To Jinnah, Gandhi’s Satyagraha was politically irresponsible. The masses were a powerful force that couldn’t be tamed. Relying on the Indian masses for agitation ran the risk of doing more harm than good. Instead, Jinnah believed that achieving independence was best done via constitutional methods. Unfortunately, the majority of Indian opinion was not on his side, and he was subsequently shouted down by the delegates. Both the INC and AIML endorsed the Non-cooperation Movement.

This was the nail in the coffin for Jinnah’s relationship with Congress. Following the Nagpur Session, Jinnah resigned from the INC and all other positions, excluding his membership in the AIML. He would spend most of the early 1920s in political isolation as events in India took a turn for the worst.

The first sign of weakening relations between Hindus and Muslims was the Hijarat of 1920[8]. When the Khilafat Movement was at its height, several influential Mawlanas issued a fatwa declaring India a Dar-al-Harb. India was a land ruled by non-believers and was an unsuitable place for Muslims to live. As a result, thousands of Indian Muslims migrated to neighbouring Afghanistan.

Another major event that drove a wedge between India’s two sister communities was the Malabar Rebellion of 1921[9]. The Mappila Muslim community of Malabar, under Khilafat influence, rebelled against their British-backed Jenmi Hindu landlords. Thousands of civilians were killed in the ensuing violence as the enraged Muslim peasantry attacked Hindu temples. Forced conversions and sexual violence were widespread.

On the 4th February 1922, a large group of Non-cooperation protesters marched on Chauri Chaura market shouting anti-government slogans. A standoff between the protestors and police led to the deaths of 3 civilians and 22 police officers. The event came to be known as the Chauri Chaura Incident[10] and led to the Non-cooperation Movement’s disbanding on the 12th February 1922.

The Khilafat Movement came to an end in 1924 after Mustafa Kemal Pasha, Turkey’s Atatürk, abolished the Caliphate. Without a rallying cry to stand behind, the movement lost its impetus and eventually collapsed without achieving its primary goal of restoring the Caliphate. However, the damage was already done, and the Ulama became a permanent fixture in India’s political landscape.

The Khilafat Movement and Non-cooperation Movement alliance did not strengthen but strain relations between Muslims and Hindus. Allowing religious leaders into the realm of politics destroyed the delicate Hindu-Muslim Unity Jinnah worked so hard to establish. Regardless, mass agitation did yield results. The Rowlatt Act was repealed in March 1922 as a direct result of the Non-cooperation Movement.

At the end of the day, both movements would have lasting impacts on the Subcontinent. Without mass agitation, the chances are India would still be a British colony. That being said, had Gandhi taken a more measured approach like Jinnah and abstained from religious rhetoric, Hindu-Muslim Unity could have been preserved. In his haste to free India, Gandhi had sown the roots of communalism, forcing Jinnah to play certain cards he didn’t want to in later years.

This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement

[1] Minault, G., 1982. The Khilafat Movement: The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism And Political Mobilization In India. Columbia University Press.

[2] Qureshi, M., 1978. The Indian Khilāfat Movement (1918-1924). Journal of Asian History, Vol. 12.

[3] ibid.

[4] Bakshi, S., 1983. Gandhi And Non-Cooperation Movement, 1920-22. Capital Publishers.

[5] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[6] Jalal, A., 1985. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, The Muslim League And The Demand For Pakistan. Cambridge University Press.

[7] Jinnah, M. A., 1916. Presidential Address By Muhammad Ali Jinnah To The Muslim League Lucknow, December 1916. [online] Columbia.edu. Available at: <http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00islamlinks/txt_jinnah_lucknow_1916.html> [Accessed 20 July 2020].

[8] Qureshi, M., 1979. The ‘Ulamā’ of British India and the Hijrat of 1920. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 13.

[9] Hardgrave, R., 1977. The Mappilla Rebellion, 1921: Peasant Revolt in Malabar. Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 11.

[10] Low, D., 1966. The Government of India and the First Non-Cooperation Movement–1920-1922. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 25.

A History of Comic Books and the Rise of Kamala Khan

Picture this: A 12-year-old boy walks into a comic bookstore. He’s been reading comics for a good year now. He peruses the shelves scanning for the latest issue of Superior Spider-Man. In the previous instalment, Green Goblin has just become king of New York’s underworld setting the stage for the Goblin Nation story arc. The store clerk looks up from the comic he is reading and beckons the young man to come over.

“Hey there little man, uh, your name is Aqil, right? There’s this new comic I reckon you might like.”

He gestures to a comic book a couple of shelves to the left. The cover features a woman wearing what looks like a dupatta around her neck – like the ones the boy’s mum wears. She’s got her right hand balled into a fist with some books tucked under her left. The title read Ms Marvel #1. The boy is intrigued.

“I thought Ms Marvel was white.”

“No, that Ms Marvel goes by Captain Marvel now. This is the new one.”

 “What’s her name?”

“Kamala Khan.”

Those who know me in real life know that I am a huge geek. My areas of expertise include Star Wars and Marvel in particular. I’ve been reading comics for close to a decade now. That being said, my intake over the last two years has been significantly limited (another hobby of mine choked by the demands of A-levels). Yet, over the last couple of weeks, I have decided to get back into the habit of reading comics. Where before I used to visit the comic bookstore in person to collect my monthly cache of paperbacks, I now read comics digitally via Marvel Unlimited (Netflix but for Marvel comics). Naturally, I decided to revisit one of my favourite Marvel characters.

In this post, I’m going to introduce the character of Kamala Khan a.k.a Ms Marvel for those who are unfamiliar with the Inhuman charged with defending the streets of Jersey City. Seriously? have you been living under a rock? I’ll then “briefly” outline the history of comic books and the backstory behind Kamala’s creation before analysing her impact on the comic industry and popular culture. I’m sure it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. THIS POST WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS.

Who is Kamala Khan?

Kamala was born in Jersey City, USA to immigrant parents Yusef and Muneeba Khan from Karachi, Pakistan. Her older brother Aamir was born in Pakistan before moving to the US. Her family history can be traced back to her maternal great-grandparents, Kareem and Aisha. They moved from Bombay to Karachi during the Partition of India. She also has a nephew called Malik and her sister-in-law Tyesha is an African American revert.

Growing up, Kamala had two best friends: Nakia Bahadir, a social activist of Turkish descent, and Bruno Carrelli, a prodigious genius of Italian descent. Kamala met Nakia in kindergarten, where they bonded over their shared faith in Islam. She then met Bruno in second grade and the two bonded over their shared interest in Tween Mutant Samurai Turtles (the Marvel Universe’s equivalent of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Bruno would end up falling deeply in love with Kamala. Unfortunately, Kamala, too preoccupied with her life as Ms Marvel, has trouble reciprocating those feelings. Not to mention the cultural and religious boundaries that would have to be overcome.

Alongside her close friendships with Nakia and Bruno, Kamala also has an interest in video games, fan fiction and, of course, superheroes. She was a devoted fan of the Avengers. Little did she know she would one day become one. In particular, Kamala looked up to her idol Carol Danvers a.k.a Captain Marvel. I say these in the past tense because future events would test Kamala’s belief in the heroes she looked up to.

In school, Kamala has trouble fitting in due to her Pakistani-American identity. Something all too familiar for those born into immigrant families. Her peers often mock her faith and geeky interests putting her more towards the bottom of the social hierarchy allowing her to fly under the radar. All in all, Kamala is your average teenager. At least, she was, until the Terrigen Mist.

First off, a brief lesson in the lore of the Marvel Universe:

The Kree are an ancient alien race of advanced, militaristic, and blue-skinned humanoids. Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the Kree experimented on early humans resulting in the creation of the Inhomo Supremis more commonly referred to as the Inhuman species. Unlike their human cousins, Inhumans naturally exhibit extraordinary powers. However, these powers can vary significantly. Relations between humans and Inhumans were indifferent at best. Still, some interbreeding occurred, meaning some humans are carriers of Inhuman genes. To activate one’s latent Inhuman genes, they must undergo Terrigenesis. Such is the case with Kamala.

One night, Kamala was caught in the Terrigen Mist which enveloped Jersey City following the Inhumanity crossover storyline. She subsequently underwent Terrigenesis which unlocked her latent Inhuman genes, giving her superpowers. Kamala can share her mass through time with different versions of herself. On a molecular level, she actually transports her atoms through time. This allows her to transform her body (think Ant-Man, Mr Fantastic and Mystique) in any way she can imagine. Kamala can also heal serious injuries (think Deadpool and Wolverine) by reverting to her original form. She usually uses her power to elongate her limbs, enlarge her fists, or enlarge/shrink her entire body.

Now Kamala Khan uses her powers for the greater good, donning the name Ms Marvel in homage to her idol. She has served in several superhero teams including the Avengers and her very own Champions whom she leads. When she is not saving the world, you can find Kamala attending Coles Academic High School, hanging out with her friends and family, or playing World of Battlecraft (the Marvel Universe’s equivalent of World of Warcraft).

A “Brief” History of Comic Books

To really understand why Kamala Khan is such a big deal, one needs a brief history lesson. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, whenever I say “brief”, I do in fact mean anything but “brief”.

The history of comic books can be divided into four ages: The Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, and the Modern Age.

THE GOLDEN AGE (1938 – 1956)

The Golden Age of comics began with the publication of Detective Comics’ (which would go on to become DC Comics) Action Comics #1. It was the debut of the superhero that started it all: Superman. The popularity of Superman gave rise to many rival publications. Timely Comics (which would one day evolve into Marvel Comics) was established in 1939. The first comic book published by Timely Comics was Marvel Comics #1. It included three stories, all of which were first appearances: The Human Torch, Angel and Namor the Sub-Mariner.

During WWII, comics boomed in popularity, particularly the likes of Captain America, Batman, Wonder Woman and Shazam. It was also during this time that comics began to branch out into other genres. By the end of the war, comics had essentially become a mainstay in American culture. However, during the late 40s, the popularity of superheroes began to decline. Many superhero comics would be cancelled as audiences sought out other genres such as westerns, comedies, romance, and horror.

In 1954, the comic book industry would experience its first major setback. Following the release of  Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, comic book publishers were brought in to testify in court. The belief was that comic books were contributing to youth crime. As a result, the Comics Code Authority (CCA) was introduced to enact self-censorship leading to the cancellation of titles and a decrease in comic book sales.

THE SILVER AGE (1956 – 1970)

In light of the changes brought about by the CCA, publishers began reintroducing superhero comics starting with the introduction of DC’s Flash in Showcase #4 in October 1956.  This eventually led to the creation of the Justice League in 1960. Marvel would then capitalise on the renewed interest in the superhero genre brought about by DC publications.

Under the guidance of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, Marvel began its ascent. To compete with DC’s Justice League, Marvel released The Fantastic Four #1 in 1961. For the first time, superheroes were portrayed as multi-dimensional characters with their own problems, inner demons, and fears rather than the archetypal superheroes typical of the time. Marvel ushered in a new era of superheroes that were more relatable to the reader. Fans began to see themselves in their favourite characters. During this time, Marvel also introduced famous superheroes such as Spider-Man, the X-men, and the Hulk.

The Silver Age represented a revival in the comic book industry during which superhero comics rose to prominence as a genre again. Meanwhile, other genres went into decline.

THE BRONZE AGE (1970 – 1985)

By the time the Bronze Age came about, superheroes had become synonymous with comics. Nearly all comics featured superheroes. However, the tone of superhero comics began to significantly shift to reflect real-world social issues. New plotlines tackling subject matter such as drug abuse, racism, grief, and alcoholism began to flourish, pushing the boundaries of what the CCA deemed acceptable.

There was also a rise in female superheroes such as Spider-Woman, Ms Marvel (Carol Danvers), and She-Hulk and minority superheroes such as Luke Cage, Storm, and Shang-Chi. While the industry was primarily dominated by superhero titles, a few non-superhero titles were able to survive such as Star Wars comics which were first introduced in 1977.

The Bronze Age established many conventions in the comic book industry. Artists tended to focus more on realism rather than the heavily stylised work during the Golden and Silver Ages. Team-ups and cross-overs became more common, establishing the Marvel Universe and DC Universe, respectively. There were even a few DC and Marvel cross-overs such as Superman vs the Amazing Spider-Man. Furthermore, Comic books were no longer distributed at newsstands but at speciality stores. Thereby allowing smaller publishers to grow.


This brings us to the current era. Many characters would be redesigned, and independent comics would flourish thanks to speciality stores. At the same time, the larger publishers such as Marvel and DC would become more commercialised. This period also saw antiheroes (protagonists with questionable morals) become the norm with the likes of Marvel’s Wolverine, Deadpool, and Venom and DC’s Batman, Swamp Thing, and Watchmen. Comic books also began targeting adult audiences with more mature-rated content.

Successful comic book film and TV adaptations helped significantly grow the comic book industry. Marvel would see particular success with its animated X-Men series. Things were going right for the comic book industry, and business was booming. At least until the speculator market crash of 1993.

By the late 80s, important comics such as first issues or first appearances were being sold for thousands of dollars. The prevailing thought was that comic books were good financial investments that would be worth fortunes in the future. In response, publishers began releasing loads of special edition comics in the hope of increasing sales. One fascinating trend was the introduction of foil covers.

However, by saturating the market with print runs of special editions, it defeated the very purpose of a special edition; how can something be special if it’s commonplace? As a result, the speculator market began to crash in 1993, causing sales to plummet, retailers to close and publishers to downsize by decreasing the number of series they ran. Comics featuring women and minority characters suffered the most as companies began to take fewer risks. In 1996, Marvel declared bankruptcy however it has since rebounded and retained its position as the largest comic book publisher.

During the late 90s and early 2000s, comic book sales began to drop. However, sales for graphic novels (collected editions with multiple issues bound together) increased. Think of a comic book issue as a chapter and a graphic novel as the entire book. This new publishing format helped comics gain respectability as a form of literature. Graphic novels are usually given volume numbers with writers creating stories that last four to twelve issues. Nowadays, most comic book series are republished as graphic novels as soon as a story arc is completed.

The late 2000s saw another bounce back for the comic book industry. The release of the Dark Knight Trilogy and Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) helped introduce a new generation to comic book superheroes bringing in new fans such as myself. Digital comics were introduced in 2007 with Marvel Unlimited. Since then, all major publishers release their comics digitally helping them reach a wider audience. The new digital space has also allowed independent creators to get their ideas out there as well.

By the early 2010s, superheroes were well and truly part of a global cultural phenomenon. More people than ever before had heard the names Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Superman, Batman, etc. In no small part due to the success of the MCU and other superhero films. That being said, the majority of marketed superheroes were white men.

It is worth noting that when it comes to identity and gender politics, comic books have been relatively progressive compared to other forms of media. In particular, Marvel has done an excellent job of reflecting the world around us. However, the rule has always been that white male characters tend to sell the best. As a result, comic book publishers would focus on narratives that featured this demographic. There were, of course, as with anything, a few exceptions. But even then, Black Panther has never quite had the same reach as Captain America at least until the release of his solo film.

By 2014, Marvel had been focusing on its core characters: The Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk etc. They had also recently begun promoting the Inhumans. While some minority characters such as Miles Morales had loyal followings, they never had the same level of importance as Tony Stark or Peter Parker.

Enter Kamala Khan.

The Birth of a Trailblazer

Sana Amanat, an Indian-Pakistani-American, born and raised in New Jersey with a degree in political science from Columbia University, joined Marvel Comics as an editor in 2009. During her time at Marvel, Amanat worked on several comic books including Captain Marvel, Hawkeye, Daredevil, and Spider-Man. One day, Amanat was talking with one of her fellow editors, Stephen Wacker, about her childhood and her experience growing up as a Muslim-American. The conversation sparked the idea to create a comic book that authentically depicted the Muslim-American diaspora.

They then approached writer G. Willow Wilson, an American revert, also born and raised in New Jersey known for her recent novel Alif the Unseen. She loved the idea and couldn’t wait to work on the project, although she was worried about the potential backlash. Comic book artist and Runaways co-creator Adrian Alphona was brought in to draw Kamala and bring her to life on the page.

When it came to designing the future Ms Marvel, a lot went into consideration. Both Wilson and Amanat wanted to pay homage to the previous Ms Marvel while also creating something new that Marvel fans could be proud of. They also wanted to create something that spoke to a broader audience that is rarely represented in comic books.

Before Ms Marvel, there had only been a few Muslim superheroes in comics such as DC’s Simon Baz and Marvel’s Dust. Even then, no Muslim superhero has ever headlined their own comic series instead only appearing as side characters. Similarly, there was only a handful of female superheroes headlining comics at the time. Amanat and Wilson wanted to change that.

Marvel knew they wanted a teenage Muslim girl to take on the mantle of Ms Marvel. Still, the character’s ethnicity, location and appearance were left to Wilson to decide. After going through many iterations, including the idea of Arab girl from Dearborn, Michigan, Wilson eventually settled on a Pakistani-American from Jersey City. And just like that Kamala Khan was born.

Revolutionising the Comic Book Industry

There were a lot of doubts over whether Ms Marvel would be successful. In an open letter to fans, Wilson admitted that Amanat and her had only expected Kamala to make it to ten issues before being scrapped. New characters tended to have poor debuts; add any modifiers, and they would do even worse. Kamala was at a particular disadvantage: she’s brown, she’s a woman, and she’s a Muslim.

Ms Marvel #1 landed on store shelves on the 5th February 2014. To everyone’s surprise, she was a huge success. The first issue would far exceed expectations by making it to a seventh printing. To put that into perspective, most comics rarely make it to a sixth printing. The Amazing Spider-Man #583, which made international headlines for featuring President Obama in 2009, only made it to a fifth printing. For a new character to do this on their debut was practically unheard of. For a brown, Muslim female, it should have been impossible.

The success would not stop there, though. Ms Marvel graphic novels would also perform very well. Ms Marvel Volume 1: No Normal was the best-selling graphic novel in October 2014 and made it to the number two position on the New York Times Best Seller (NYTBS) list in November. The following year, No Normal won the Hugo award for Best Graphic Story and the Joe Shuster Award for Outstanding Artist as well as nominations for eight other awards.

Over the next few years, Ms Marvel graphic novels would continue to debut in the NYTBS list top five and win multiple awards including the award for Best Series at France’s Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2016 (interesting considering France’s recent attitude towards Muslims).

The unexpected success of Ms Marvel must have definitely come as a shock to comic book publishers. However, it did mean one thing: comic book fans were hungry for new characters from different backgrounds. Ms Marvel began a chain reaction that would pave the way for unprecedented levels of diversity and representation in comic books.

For Marvel, the success of Kamala’s debut proved that new characters from unusual backgrounds could be very lucrative. Marvel would go on to pour new focus into such characters. Korean American Amadeus Cho would take on the mantle of the Hulk in 2015. America Chavez, Marvel’s first Latin-American LGBTQ character, got her own solo series in 2017. Similarly, Marvel would also introduce new characters such as Cindy Moon a.k.a Silk in late 2014 and Riri Williams a.k.a Lionheart in 2015.

However, none would quite reach the same levels of success as Ms Marvel. In fact, in some cases, they were flops: America Chavez’s solo series would only last 12 issues. Thereby highlighting the flaws of cashing in on diversity for the sake of diversity. That being said, the Marvel universe and comics, in general, are more diverse than they have ever been before. This wouldn’t have been possible without the commercial success of Ms Marvel.

As of 2018, Ms Marvel has sold over half a million in graphic novels. Traditionally, she remains one of Marvel’s digital bestsellers.

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Immediately following Kamala’s debut, she became a comic book icon. Fans were cosplaying as her at comic conventions making it pretty clear that Kamala was already a fan favourite. People were beginning to liken her to Gen Z’s equivalent of Peter Parker. It wouldn’t be long before, Kamala started having an impact on the real world.

In early 2015, the American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI) purchased 50 bus advertisements in San Francisco. The adverts called for aid to be revoked from Muslim majority countries and equated Islam with Nazism. In response, street artists began covering the adverts with pictures of Ms Marvel and anti-racist slogans.

This isn’t the first-time superheroes have been used in politics – Captain America is literally a walking American flag – but it does illustrate Kamala’s growing popularity as a symbol of resistance. Kamala’s likeness would once again be harnessed in the wake of President Trump’s Muslim ban.

On the 16th March 2016, Amanat was invited to introduce President Obama at a White House reception for Women’s History Month:

Kamala would make her first TV appearance on the 31st July 2016 in Season 3 Episode 1 of the animated Avengers: Assemble series. She would go on to make multiple appearances in Marvel animated series including a central role in Marvel Rising – a new media franchise launched in 2018 that focuses on Marvel’s new generation of heroes.

In September of this year, Kamala made her first proper video game appearance in Marvel’s Avengers as one of the main characters. She had appeared in other video games but mostly as an unlockable side character not central to the plot.

Next year, Kamala is set to make her MCU debut in her own exclusive Disney+ series. She is going to be played by industry newcomer Iman Vellani. The series is being written by British comedian Bisha K. Ali and is set to have four directors: Belgium-Moroccan duo Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, Pakistani-Canadian Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Indian-American Meera Menon. It remains to be seen what role she will play in the MCU, but if her current status in comic books is any indicator, I’m sure it will be big.

In just six years, Kamala Khan has gone from having her own comic book series to her own place in the MCU. Quite an achievement for a character that was only expected to make it to ten issues.

Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, Rowlatt Act, and Montagu–Chelmsford Reforms – 1919

Jallianwala: Repression and Retribution. Painted by twins Rabindra and Amrit Singh.

On Sunday 13th April 1919, on the traditional Sikh festival of Baisakhi, thousands of Indians gathered in Jallianwala Bagh – a seven-acre garden surrounded by walls roughly ten feet high with five narrow entrances located a stone’s throw away from the Golden Temple (the holiest site in Sikhism). Following recent political upheaval, Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer[1] imposed an 8 p.m. curfew to prevent any potential protests.

Regardless, by mid-afternoon, the bagh was beginning to fill up in the thousands with protestors as well as casual visitors. Most of the people were pilgrims passing through the bagh on their way home from the Golden Temple. In addition, many farmers, traders, and merchants had also been attending the annual Baisakhi horse and cattle fair.

By late-evening, Dyer arrived at Jallianwala Bagh with a group of ninety British Indian soldiers and two armoured cars fitted with machine guns. The troops started by blocking the narrow exits. Then, without warning the civilians to disperse, Dyer ordered his troops to fire into the crowd. The troops didn’t cease-fire until their ammunition was exhausted.

A total of 1,650 rounds were fired, killing approximately 1,000 men, women, and children, and injuring more than 1,500 others in the ensuing chaos. Those that survived the initial onslaught of bullets would be crushed by others frantically trying to escape. Many would try their luck by jumping into the solitary well located in the centre of the bagh. The youngest victim was a six-week-old baby; the oldest was in his eighties.

The event would come to be known as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre or Amritsar Massacre. It came amid large scale political unrest following the passing of the controversial Rowlatt Act on the 18th March 1919. The Rowlatt Act, officially known as the Anarchical and Revolutionary Crimes Act 1919, was an indefinite extension of the emergency measures first introduced in the Defence of India Act 1915.

In short, the Act allowed for the censorship of the press, arrests without warrant, indefinite detention without trial, and juryless trials for anyone engaged in acts of revolutionary nationalism. The Rowlatt Act was subsequently invoked to imprison members of the INC and other political leaders. The aim was to curb the growing nationalist sentiment amongst the masses; the effect was the contrary.

Immediately following the introduction of the Rowlatt Act, protests erupted across India, especially in Punjab. By the end of the first week of April, rioting had reached its peak with the disruption of rail, telegraph, and communication systems. It is said that “practically the whole of Lahore was on the streets, the immense crowd that passed through Anarkali was estimated to be around 20,000”[2]. Events over the next few days would also contribute to the heightened tension between British and Indian that led to the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.

On the 10th April, several protesters were shot and killed outside the residence of Miles Irving, the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. In retaliation, rioters carried out arson attacks on British banks, killed several British people and assaulted two British women.

On the 11th April, Marcella Sherwood was violently attacked by a mob on a narrow street called Kucha Kurrichhan but managed to escape thanks to some local Indians. When Dyer met with Sherwood after the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre on the 19th April, he issued an order requiring every Indian man using Kucha Kurrichhan to crawl its length on his hands and knees as a punishment. He also authorised the indiscriminate, public whipping of locals that came within lathi length of a British policeman. Dyer would later state:

“Some Indians crawl face downwards in front of their gods. I wanted them to know that a British woman is as sacred as a Hindu god and therefore they have to crawl in front of her, too”[3].

On the 12th April, Indian leaders announced that a protest would take place at Jallianwala Bagh the next day, demanding an end to the Rowlatt Act and the release of Congress members Satyapal and Kitchlew. This announcement was believed to have prompted Dyer’s decision to implement an 8 p.m. curfew the following day.

Following the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, many Indian moderates would abandon their previous loyalties to the British becoming nationalists in strong opposition to British rule. The event would also see the radicalisation of Indian freedom fighters such as Udham Singh[4] and Bhagat Singh[5].

Famous Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore renounced his British knighthood writing in a letter to Lord Chelmsford, the Viceroy of India at the time:

“The disproportionate severity of the punishments inflicted upon the unfortunate people and the methods of carrying them out, we are convinced, are without parallel in the history of civilised governments […] The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation, and I wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings”[6].

The massacre caused a tremendous increase in anti-British sentiments across the Subcontinent. However, to fully understand the impact of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the Rowlatt Act on the Indian Independence Movement as a whole, one requires a brief history of India during World War One.

After the British Empire joined the war on the 4th August 1914, there was division amongst Indians over what India’s response to being dragged into a global conflict should be. Indian revolutionaries were in strong opposition to the war, whereas moderates and liberals backed it in the hopes that their loyalty would be rewarded with more autonomy. Indian Muslims were particularly ambivalent towards the war, considering that the British were fighting against the Ottoman Empire, whose Sultan was considered the Caliph of Islam.

Despite this, both the AIML and INC were supportive of the war effort. The following quote from Gandhi during his WWI recruitment drive illustrates the rationale behind the decision to support the British government during the war:

“If we could but crowd the battlefield of France with an indomitable army of home rulers fighting for the victory of the cause of the Allies, it will also be a fight for our own cause. We should then have made out an unanswerable case for the granting of Home Rule not in any distant or near future but immediately”[7].

The Indian political leadership believed that if they could prove India’s loyalty to the Crown, then Indians would inevitably be given self-governing dominion status within the British Empire. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa had become dominions in 1867, 1901, 1907, and 1910 respectively. If other colonies could do it, why not India?

Despite his own gripes with the British, Jinnah was of the same mind. In response to Muslim dissatisfaction with the war, he would implore his co-religionists to remain loyal to the British government:

“Whatever our grievance, whatever reforms we desire. Everything must wait for a more seasonable occasion. Even if the government were to concede to us all that we ever desired or dreamt we would humbly tell the government this is no time for it and we must for the present decline such concessions with thanks. Concessions are asked for and accepted in peace. We are no Russian Poles. We need no bribes”[8].

So, what did India get in return for her loyalty? Draconian Laws.

During the first year of the war, the British introduced the Defence of India Act 1915. The law’s objective was to prevent Indians from engaging in activities that would hinder the war effort. The Act was mainly aimed against members of the Ghadar Party, a group of Indian ex-pats seeking to overthrow British rule, and the Bengali Anushilan Samiti. In practice, the law could be used against anyone the British considered a nuisance because it bypassed the right to a trial by jury.

During the war, 1,470 Indians were imprisoned under the Act, with another 310 facing minor restrictions[9]. The Defence of India Act 1915 was only to remain valid for the duration of the war and six months thereafter. Therefore, on the whole, it was merely accepted as a reality of war with very little resistance.

However, when it was extended indefinitely under the Rowlatt Act in 1919, it is no wonder that Indians were so outraged. Jinnah subsequently resigned from the Imperial Legislative Council, stating that “a government that passes or sanctions such a law in times of peace forfeits its claim to be called a civilised government”[10].

The Rowlatt Act would also push Gandhi to launch his famous Non-cooperation Movement on the 5th September the following year. It would take another three years of agitation before the British repealed it in March 1922.

As the war progressed, it became clear that the geopolitical shifts brought about by the clash of empires would mean that things would never be the same again. To capitalise on this, India’s political leadership went about securing what little ground they could, resulting in an impressive period of Hindu-Muslim unity for the remaining duration of the war. This was primarily due to the efforts of Jinnah, who established the Lucknow Pact in 1916.

In the latter half of the war, leaders from across the political spectrum formed an alliance kickstarting the Indian Home Rule Movement. Bal Gangadhar Tilak[11], leader of the Congress’ estranged extremist faction, founded the first Home Rule League in Belgaum, which would operate in Maharashtra (except Bombay), Karnataka, Berar, and the Central Provinces. Annie Besant[12], an Irish socialist, founded the second in Madras which would operate throughout the rest of India.

Both leagues worked closely together to campaign for dominion status to be given to India. The Home Rule Leagues consisted of India’s educated upper class with members from both the AIML and INC (both Moderate and Extremist factions), including Jinnah. The leagues organised demonstrations which caused quite a stir leading to Besant’s arrest in June 1917, resulting in nation-wide protests. Besant’s subsequent release in September was shortly followed by a major announcement.

The August Declaration took place on the 20th August 1917 at British parliament and was carried out by Edwin Montagu, Secretary of State for India:

“The policy of His Majesty’s government […] is that of the increasing association of Indians in every branch of the administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British Empire”[13].

The declaration was an implicit acceptance, by the British, of the right to Indian self-rule and promised future reforms. Demands for greater autonomy would no longer be considered seditious, opening the door for future negotiations between the British and Indian leadership. Things were looking up for the oppressed people of India.

By the end of the war, a total of 1.3 million Indians would volunteer their service on behalf of the British Empire, and over 74,000 would lose their lives[14]. Many Indian men would go abroad to fight and carry out extreme feats of bravery, such as Khudadad Khan[15], the first Indian to receive the Victoria Cross. The Indian Maharajas and Nawabs also supplied ammunition, men and even their own service, like in the case of 74-year-old Pratap Singh[16].

Following the tragic events of the 13th April 1919, the much-awaited Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms would be put into effect on the 23rd December as the basis of the Government of India Act 1919[17]. Under the new legislation, the following was introduced amongst others:

  1. Diarchy at the provincial level. This meant that the executive branches of the provincial governments would consist of two groups:  The councillors (those appointed by the Viceroy) and the ministers (elected Indians). The councillors would oversee the courts, the police, land revenue, and irrigation. Meanwhile, the ministers would manage education, public health, public works, and agriculture.
  2. The Imperial Legislative Council was now to consist of two houses. The lower house was the Central Legislative Assembly with 145 members, of which 29 had to be Muslim, serving three-year terms. The upper house was the Council of State with 60 members, of which 10 had to be Muslim, serving five-year terms.
  3. Separate electorates for Sikhs, Europeans, and Anglo-Indians.
  4. The budget would be divided into two categories, votable (1/3 of expenditure) and non-votable (2/3 of expenditure).
  5. Those who had property, taxable income, and land revenue of Rs. 3,000 would be entitled to vote.
  6. A statutory commission would be set up in 10 years to assess the new system of government. This would come to be known as the Simon Commission, which I will cover in a later post.

King-Emperor George V summaries the evolution of parliamentary legislation for India up until this point, here:

“The Acts of 1773 and 1784 were designed to establish a regular system of administration and justice under the Honourable East India Company. The Act of 1833 opened the door for Indians to public office and employment. The Act of 1858 transferred the administration from the Company to the Crown and laid the foundations of public life which exist in India today. The Act of 1861 sowed the seed of representative institutions, and the seed was quickened into life by the Act of 1909. The Act which has now become law entrusts the elected representative of the people with a definite share in the government and points the way to full responsible Government hereafter”[18].

While it may seem as though the Government of India Act 1919 was a major victory for the Indian independence movement, it is worth analysing how it fits into the overall British strategy.

The Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms were portrayed as being the first step towards Indian self-rule. However, critics, including myself, would argue that it is was instead a ploy by the British to concentrate power in the centre. The implementation of diarchy simply relegated Indians to the less important areas of government. The real power was still with the British.

Furthermore, seats were distributed based on a province’s perceived importance rather than its population, with franchise only being extended to the Indian gentry. Thereby creating an electorate with pro-British inclinations. By granting concessions to the provinces, Britain wasn’t preparing India for self-government but instead sowing the seeds for federalism which would pose a huge obstacle to achieving Jinnah’s dream.

Following the August Declaration, the Home Rule Movement went into decline. Besant’s hunger for self-rule was sated with the promise of future reforms, and Tilak was off in England pursuing a libel case. With a lack of effective leadership and a now seemingly redundant raison d’etre, many of the movement’s members would go on to join Gandhi’s Non-cooperation Movement – which I will be covering in the next post. Thus, putting an end to the golden age of Hindu-Muslim unity. From this point on, relations would begin to sour. The Home Rule League formally merged with the INC, under Gandhi’s leadership, the following year.

All in all, 1919 represented a watershed moment in the Indian Independence Movement. It laid out new rules for India’s political leadership to play by and awakened her slumbering masses. In a world ravaged by war, India’s future hung in the balance.

This essay is part of a larger series on the history of the Pakistan Movement called Jinnah’s Pakistan: Revisiting the Pakistan Movement

[1] Collett, N., 2005. The Butcher Of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer. Hambledon Continuum.

[2] Swami, P., 1997. Jallianwala Bagh Revisited. The Hindu.

[3] Talbott, S., 2004. Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, And The Bomb. Brookings Institution Press.

[4] Anand, A., 2019. The Patient Assassin: A True Tale Of Massacre, Revenge And The Raj. Simon & Schuster LTD.

[5] Singh, B., 2007. The Jail Notebook And Other Writings. LeftWord Books.

[6] Tagore, R., 1997. Selected Letters Of Rabindranath Tagore. Cambridge University Press.

[7] Begum, I., 2019. The Muslims of India and the First World War 1914-1918. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science Research, Vol. 5.

[8] Qureshi, I., 1967. A Short History Of Pakistan. University of Karachi Press.

[9] Hansard.parliament.uk. n.d. Persons Interned – Hansard. [online] Available at: <https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1919-10-22/debates/098022cf-ef4d-4195-bdee-46a4997416a8/PersonsInterned?highlight=defence%20india%20act#contribution-e0355608-739a-43bb-ab66-e0579b5747c7> [Accessed 9 November 2020].

[10] Wolpert, S., 1984. Jinnah Of Pakistan. Oxford University Press.

[11] Bhagwat, A. and Pradhan, G., 2008. Lokmanya Tilak. Jaico Pub. House.

[12] Taylor, A., 1992. Annie Besant: A Biography. Oxford University Press.

[13] Danzig, R., 1968. The Announcement of August 20th, 1917. The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 28.

[14] Tharoor, S., 2015. Why the Indian soldiers of WW1 were forgotten. BBC News, [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-33317368> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[15] National Army Museum, London. 2020. Khudadad Khan | National Army Museum, London. [online] Available at: <https://ww1.nam.ac.uk/learning/khudadad-khan/#.X6R45qsYCUk> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[16] Morton-Jack, G., 2018. World War One: Six extraordinary Indian stories. BBC News, [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-46148207> [Accessed 7 November 2020].

[17] Constitutionofindia.net. n.d. Government of India Act, 1919. [online] Available at: <https://www.constitutionofindia.net/historical_constitutions/government_of_india_act__1919_1st%20January%201919> [Accessed 5 November 2020].

[18] Ilbert, C., 1922. The Government Of India. The Clarendon Press.