Understanding Jinnah’s Position on World War I and II Lessons to be learned


Looking to the past helps to determine where one was, gives context to the complex and uncertain present, and explains proximity to the future. It is critical to understand how great leaders of the past dealt with the complex problems of their times, to get a sense of what was important to them, to search for clues and lessons that can solve present dilemmas and carve future direction.


From the available literature it is not easy to discern Jinnah’s position on World War I and II. Each nation and civilization narrates history from its own frame of reference and omits or distorts what it may not want to bring to focus. From what one can gather, Jinnah supported Great Britain in both World Wars, against the interests of the Muslims in India, Middle East, and Northern Africa. This should not be interpreted as a reflection of his belief in colonial causes and interests. Rather, these positions reflected the meaning of these wars for him and for the future of the people he represented. Some historians and critics take a simplistic approach in evaluating Jinnah’s stance: He was helping the British in their time of need, but Jinnah positioned himself to gain some reciprocity and sympathy when the opportunity presented itself.

It also could be that Jinnah believed more in Sir Syed’s vision in the aftermath of the Indian Rebellion of 1857; the English were not going away any time soon and salvation and success depended on learning from and working with them, as the Hindus were doing.

Jinnah’s attitude was in stark contrast to that of Mowlana Azad, Mowdudi, Mohammad Ali and Showkat Ali, Ghaffar Khan, and other Pan-Islamists of the time. He was against the ‘Khilafat Movement’ (which was formed against the breakup of the Ottoman Empire) and considered it a religious exaggeration; Gandhi, ironically, had supported this movement. Some Pan-Islamists later resisted the formation of Pakistan, as it would divide the Muslims of the subcontinent, and inadvertently became Gandhi’s staunch supporters.

It is also interesting to note that about 1.3 million men from the Subcontinent served in the British Indian Army in World War I and about 2.5 million in World War II. Many of these soldiers were Punjabis, Pathans and Baluchis and voluntarily fought at various fronts in the subcontinent, Middle East, Africa, and Europe. These Muslims often fought with fellow Muslims, at the behest of the colonial powers of the time. The back-and-forth civilization-based conflicts between Arabs, Turks, and Persians had been going on even before the 1600’s. In other words, politics in this part of the world, as in many others, has been eternally linked with ethnicity, race, and religion.

In the 1920’s Jinnah left for Great Britain; he returned in 1934, at the dawn of World War II. From overseas, Jinnah must have observed closely the aftermath of World War I and how events in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas might affect the fate of the Indian subcontinent. During World War II, Jinnah opposed the ‘Quit India’ Movement. Most of the strategic posturing of Jinnah and Gandhi, and Muslims and Hindus was in relation to the war and what the aftermath of this world war would mean for their particular causes and interests.

The critical point in Jinnah’s position was his differentiation between the importance of local and regional interests vis-a-vis global ones. The local and regional interests translated into nationalistic interests as opposed to larger Pan-Islamic ones, in the post-World War II nation-state environment. In Jinnah’s calculation, more importance was given to what was attainable; he complied with the nation-state trend in opposition to Pan-Islamism — the time for empires had passed. Not to forget, the transformation of Turkey to a State at the end of Ottoman Empire. And, it was not just Turkey. Virtually all the European empires had converted to nation-states toward the end of World War II.

Jinnah’s distinction was how politics on the local and regional levels is impacted by the global level. In other words, one cannot understand the former without comprehending what constitutes the later. In the Muslim world, this has been true for the last couple of centuries. Muslim response usually has been triggered by a change in a local setting due to struggles and advancements in the global theater. Jinnah fully understood this dynamic and was not a revivalist but a futurist. He moved to the future with a vision of what was possible in view of the historical context. In other words, his strategy and outlook was: Adapt and Adjust. Jinnah did not understand this to mean abandoning one’s interests but, rather, being perceptive about the possibilities of the future and their implications for the present.