“Pakistan’s constitutional history is a story of repeated betrayals and surgical procedures by butchers. Bureaucratic intrigues, repeated military interventions and exclusion of popular sentiments have fortified the role of elites. They have directly and indirectly toppled governments to ensure that Pakistan’s political clock clocks what they want. These elites have exploited the many gaps in political structure of Pakistan for entrenchment, wherein even apparently popular governments once in opposition adopted a similar approach.” (Pakistan’s Achilles Heels, The Nation, January 10 2010.)
I called it the Achilles Heels because the quest of unbridled powers beyond the Viceroy System of 1935 far outweighed the fervor to consolidate Pakistan’s founding paradigm. The interim constitution was violated with abandon by a group of few. Inherently, West Pakistan with a better infrastructure, investors, bankers, exclusivity in defence was more powerful to exercise the whip. Rafay Alam summed it up by writing that, “there has been no revolutionary exertion of rights in this part of the world; it is not difficult to conclude that the Pakistani state did not acquire a fresh personality at its birth and that instead, it inherited the worst possible mindset for running a country.” But there was a revolutionary exertion of rights that caused the disintegration of the country in 1971.
In retrospect, the events from 1949 to the Martial Law of 1958 imposed by Iskandar Mirza, a soldier turned bureaucrat/politician reflected political jingoism and not nation building. Within the musical chair of prime ministers, the idea of reinforcing constitutionalism was eclipsed by expediency. Prime ministers were treated as pawns. In 1951, Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan was murdered in a mysterious manner.
Khawaja Nazimuddin an East Pakistani succeeded him till he was arbitrarily shown the door by Governor General Ghulam Muhammad in 1953. Martial Law was imposed in Punjab and the provincial government in East Pakistan replaced by direct central rule. He was replaced by another East Pakistani Muhammad Ali Bogra. When Bogra tried to democratically assert his powers through amendments in the 1935 Act, Ghulam Muhammad with support of the army dissolved Pakistan’s first constituent assembly.
The second constituent assembly was explosive and irreconcilable to Ghulam Muhammad who was backed by Ayub Khan. Muslim League was wiped from East Pakistan and replaced by A. K. Fazlul Huq’s Krishak Sramik Samajbadi Dal and the Awami League led by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. It was a fight to sudden death between A. K. Fazul Haq and Suhrawardy setting pyrrhic trends. In West Pakistan, Muslim League melted and overnight Republican Party emerged. Due to this hotchpotch of old leaguers, unionists and feudal elites, the culture of Lotaism began.
After the promulgation of the 1956 Constitution, Suhrawardy emerged as the consensus prime minister. Suffice to say that 1956 constitution was an affront to federalism in a country whose two halves were separated by 1,000 miles. He lasted merely thirteen months.
His fault; advocating a federal system seen as separatism, which was later adopted in 1973 and devolved through 18th amendment.
With agitational politics spurred by a considerably strong left in East Pakistan, threats of secession by Khan of Kalat and intriguing by West Pakistani politicians, Iskandar Mirza declared martial law in 1958. He was later ousted by General Ayub Khan. The army that had worked behind the scenes with West Pakistani politicians was now in the driving seat.
Over the years, the army had been co-opted into the political system by weak civilian bureaucrats turned politicians. At the same time, it exploited the Cold War tensions to secure military hardware from USA. Pakistan joined the CENTO and SEATO containment alliances to shore its defences against India. Tis newly acquired warmth with USA was used to over awe politicians already weakened by intrigues, infighting and disunity. Thus began the era of basic democracies and a presidential system meant to safeguard western interests against communism.
Reactions in East and West were different.
The East viewed a West Pakistan centric policy as a bias. To them the issues of Chittagong Hill Tracts, water appropriation, nuisance value of Calcutta Market and empowerment of people was far more urgent. Though the army made a good contribution by sealing eastern borders with India and building Chittagong as the first major port, it was not enough to address the seeds of discord sowed by the first thirteen years of intrigues. Vertical pockets of development in East Pakistan were controlled by the west. Bengalis desired socio-economic empowerment of people.
West Pakistani ruling elite’s apprehensions about the new Bengali leadership was reinforced by international politics and Pakistan’s warmth with USA. In February 1954, there was a protest in Dacca over Pakistan’s alignment in Cold War. The scuffling with police outside the provincial assembly was its death knell. The ruling group in Karachi (Governor General Ghulam Muhammad, C-in-C General Ayub Khan and Defence Secretary Sikander Mirza) saw this situation as a grave threat to the new policy of containment. After signing the mutual US-Pakistan defense agreement in May 1954, the Governor General dismissed East Pakistan Provincial Assembly on the flimsy charge that Fazlul Haq had uttered separatist words to Indian media. A day earlier, Pakistani Prime Minister told the US Charge de Affairs that Governor rule was planned for East Pakistan to rout communists. Declassified memos indicate that as far back as 1954, General Ayub Khan confided with US ambassador that, ‘it would be necessary to keep military rule in effect in East Pakistan for a considerable length of time.’
In East Pakistan, Pakistan stationed only two infantry battalions in 1948. In 1950 the strength was raised to two infantry brigades.
Deployments of an air squadron took place in 1962. The military axiom that defence of the East lies in the West, made East Pakistanis feel vulnerable. The deployment of less than an infantry division in 1965 Kashmir War convinced East Pakistani intellectuals that they were being left vulnerable due to a Punjab centric defence and foreign policy. Excluded from the main decision making mechanism, they were the Orwellian Sheep feeling helpless outside the glass house. To make matters worse, popular East Pakistani representatives were replaced by military friendly elites who had no roots in the masses.
No one in West Pakistan paused to think that Bengalis were a politically awakened class with a history. In 1969, the anti Ayub riots in East and West Pakistan had divergent logics. East was looking for autonomy as proposed by Suhrawardy in 1958, while Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto used the Tashkent Card to agitate against his godfather with a leftist ideology he ironically had heled suppress in the 50s. These divergent movements led to different pathways.