U.S. Role in Pakistan's Military Governments
By Hamza Ali Alavi, author of numerous books and articles on Pakistan who has taught sociology at universities in Britain, the U.S. and Malaysia.
Pakistan's relationship with the U.S. has been an uneven and complex one. During the first five years after partition, Pakistan was largely ignored by both the U.S. and Britain. This has to be seen in the context of Pakistan's bitter confrontation with India. The economic stake in India for U.S. and British capital was far greater than with the smaller economy of Pakistan. There was to be no question of jeopardizing Indian goodwill through involvement in Pakistan.
A major economic stake of U.S. capital in Pakistan has been in sales of military equipment. The U.S. has had a large stake in the militarization of Pakistan. Parallel with this, from the mid-1950s, Pakistan grew increasingly dependent on U.S. aid and was consequently drawn into a dependency relationship with the U.S. and the principal representatives of internationalized capital, the World Bank and the IMF.
1951: Iran Nationalizes Oil
With the intensification of Pakistan's economic dependence, the U.S. has been able to intervene decisively in Pakistan's internal affairs, even to dictate the choice of ministers and allocation of major portfolios in the government. After 1952-1953, Pakistan passed under the tutelage of the U.S.. "The earlier indifference of the U.S. and western powers towards Pakistan changed overnight after the nationalization of Iranian oil in March 1951 by the National Front government in Iran, led by Mohammad Mossadeq. Immediately the regional strategic priorities for the western powers changed decisively. Their economic interests in India were far less important than their control of Middle East oil."
A direct consequence of this was the militarization of Pakistan. Military expenditures increased phenomenally and the army establishment was inflated. A 'Summary Presentation of the (U.S.) Mutual Security Program' (1957) stated: "From a political viewpoint, U.S. military aid has strengthened Pakistan's armed services, the greatest single stabilizing force in the country and has encouraged Pakistan to participate in collective defense agreements."
During the 1950s, with U.S. military aid and expansion of the military and its newly forged (direct) links with the Pentagon and the U.S. establishment, the army was greatly strengthened and began to have much weight in the nation's affairs. Parallel with this, Pakistan's military Commander-in-Chief, Ayub Khan's ambitions grew, but as yet the military did not play an independent political role.
1951: The Prime Minister's Assassination
Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan - who was also the Defense Minister - was assassinated in 1951. Soon thereafter, an ex-bureaucrat Ghulam Mohammad was elevated to the high office of Governor General and the U.S. became closely involved in Pakistan's internal affairs. This occurred in the wake of the crisis of power in the Middle East following nationalization of Iranian oil and the formulation of a new U.S. military strategy for the region in which Pakistan was to play an important role. By 1952, the U.S. wanted to draw Pakistan into a military alliance and commensurately build up Pakistan's military capacity. East Pakistani politicians were, however, opposed to a policy of militarization because of concern about availability of resources for the economic development of East Pakistan and also because they feared the military's growing power in state affairs. The government of Khwaja Nazi-muddin, an East Pakistani, was therefore not forthcoming about U.S. proposals.
1953: Unseating the Government
Operations to destabilize that government were set in motion. A series of riots and crises were engineered, one of them being the instigation of large-scale sectarian riots in the Punjab in March 1953, when Mullahs [Moslem preachers] were mobilized against Ahmadis, a minority community.
The ploy that was decisive in unseating the Nazimuddin government was the creation of a famine scare by the U.S. A U.S.-backed press campaign was mounted to magnify a small food shortage into a great spectre of impending famine. The Nazimuddin government turned to the U.S. for help but anxious weeks passed with no response. The climate of opinion was by now ready for Governor General Mohammad to go into action. In April 1953, he dismissed the Nazi-muddin government on the grounds that it was mishandling the food crisis and was incapable of maintaining law and order. With Nazimuddin's departure, the U.S. promised food aid. What they actually gave Pakistan was a new Prime Minister, Mohammad Ali Bogra, Pakistan's Ambassador in Washington. The Governor General not only installed the new, U.S.-nominated, Prime Minister in office, but also chose his team of ministers and assigned their portfolios. It reflects sadly on Pakistan's parliamentarians that they did not utter a word of protest.
Even worse, as soon as Bogra was made Prime Minister they dutifully passed a vote of confidence in him. It took more than a year for even a small part of the promised U.S. wheat to arrive, by which time a bumper crop had been harvested in Pakistan. There was no famine, nor even a serious food shortage. The ploy had achieved its purpose and U.S. nominees were in control of the Pakistan state.
A challenge to the Governor General's authority and the rule of the Punjabi dominated military-bureaucratic oligarchy came in March 1954, in the form of the dramatic result of the much postponed East Pakistan provincial elections. The results were beyond belief for the opposition, the United Front and the 'ruling' Muslim League Party which had underwritten oligarchic rule from the center. The League won only 10 of the 309 seats; the United Front won the rest.
However, the United Front government was barely installed when it was dismissed by the Governor General on grounds of incompetence. Troops were hastily dispatched to East Pakistan. General Iskander Mirza, Defense Secretary, was appointed governor to take charge. A wave of repression in East Pakistan followed.
1954: A Bureaucratic Coup
The sharp verdict of the people of East Pakistan, emboldened members of the Constituent Assembly, who took a more independent stance vis-a-vis the dominating oligarchy. In October 1954, proposals were introduced in the Constituent Assembly to curtail powers of the Governor General, in particular to abolish his arbitrary powers under the Government of India Act of 1935, which allowed him to dismiss any ministry even if it enjoyed the confidence of parliament. Before these amendments could take effect, Governor General Mohammad declared a State of Emergency. On October 4, 1954, he dissolved parliament and assumed full power. The Governor General's illegal act was given a semblance of legitimacy by the judiciary under the dubious doctrine of 'necessity.'
This was Pakistan's first coup d'etat; but it was a bureaucratic coup, for neither the military nor martial law were involved. Having taken over dictatorial powers, Ghulam Mohammad appointed a new Cabinet. Prime Minister Bogra, the U.S. nominee, continued as Prime Minister, although lacking legitimacy after the crushing defeat in the 1954 East Pakistan elections. Chaudhry Muhammad Ali carried on as Finance Minister. General Ayub Khan, Commander-in-Chief of the Army, became the Defense Minister as well. General Iskandar Mirza, the Defense Secretary and Pakistan's 'eminence grise,' became Minister of the Interior. They called themselves the 'Ministry of all Talents.' They represented the power of the military-bureaucratic oligarchy.
However, the regime needed legitimacy. The bureaucracy was totally discredited because of its corruption, nepotism and harassment of the people. Previously, bureaucratic power had been legitimated by the fiction of the Governor General's constitutional authority. Later, this legitimacy was in the name of the Prime Minister, Liaqat Ali Khan, who simply abrogated his responsibilities. The parliament was a mere facade, being impotent. Nevertheless, the mere existence of a parliament as the seat of political authority was one of enormous importance for the ruling oligarchy, for it provided a structure of legitimation of state power, invoking the principle of representative government, however hollow in reality that was. When Ghulam Moham-mad dismissed the cabinet and parliament, he looked in vain for other means to legitimize his regime.
Ghulam Mohammad turned to General Ayub Khan and asked him to 'take over power' in the name of the army. Ghul-am Mohammad was asking for a symbolic seizure of power by the army, a step that would establish the army as a source of political virtue and the true 'guardian' of national interest. At that time, the army still enjoyed a charisma, especially in the Punjab and more generally in West Pakistan. While politicians and bureaucrats, of whom the public had direct experience, were known to be corrupt, the army was as yet a distant and mysterious entity and therefore was imagined as the final guarantor of the nation's well being and could be exploited to legitimate a regime.
1955: Restoration of Parliament
Failing to obtain a positive response from Ayub Khan to rescue his bureaucratic coup, Ghulam Mohammad restored Parliament in July 1955. A new Constituent Assembly and parliament was elected on an indirect basis by the Provincial Assemblies as before, bringing in some of the victors of the East Pakistan elections of 1954. The new Assembly began to frame a constitution, which was completed by 1956. Iskandar Mirza, a powerful member of the military-bureaucratic oligarchy, was elected the first President of Pakistan under the new constitution.
Pressure grew in intensity throughout 1957 and 1958 for the much-postponed general elections, under direct universal adult franchise. Indications were that in East Pakistan the Awami League would sweep the polls and that in West Pakistan, the Muslim League led by Qayyum Khan would have a solid majority. Nothing could have suited the U.S. better. The elections promised a democratically-elected government strong-ly committed to the U.S. alliance. However, because neither party would have tolerated President Mirza, he had to go. The strategy for Mirza, and the oligarchy behind him, was to pre-empt the elections by dismissing parliament and abolishing the constitution.
1958: Another Coup
On October 7, 1958, President Iskan-dar Mirza proclaimed martial law, abrogating the 1956 constitution and dismissing the central and provincial ministries, parliament and provincial assemblies. The coup was brilliantly stage-managed to appear as an immediate response to dramatic events in East Pakistan's Assembly.
The coup dismantled the apparatus of constitutional government which, given the prospects of general elections, threatened to bring in a new political leadership that would be less pliable. That promised to put an end to a decade of political manipulation by the Governor General and following him, after 1956, the president.
It was not a military coup, although martial law was declared. A military coup places military officers in command of the state apparatus. In this case, there was nothing of the kind except for a few days when the military was demonstratively 'up front,' to intimidate potential opposition. It was soon ordered to return to barracks and stop 'assisting civilian authorities.' From the beginning the civil bureaucracy was in control.
Nothing would have suited the Americans better than having a democratically-elect-ed leadership supporting the U.S. military alliance. C.B. Marshall, a senior member of the State Department Pol-icy Planning Staff expressed U.S. unhappiness with the coup (Foreign Affairs, Jan. 1959).
1959: U.S. Appoints New Leaders
So, the U.S. intervened once again, demonstrating its capacity to determine Pakistan's internal affairs. On October 21, two weeks after the coup, U.S. Secretary of Defense, Neil McElroy, went to Pakistan. He dismissed Mirza and appointed Ayub Khan as President. Mirza had to go because, as U.S. authorities understood it, he was incapable of providing legitimation for the regime. Khan's image as the country's 'savior' was then built up. He was portrayed as having rescued Pakistan from chaos and disintegration.
Recognizing the need for an institutional basis of legitimation of state power, U.S. experts worked with Pakistanis to hammer out a novel system of 'Basic Democracy.' It was an imaginative scheme expertly designed to give a semblance of democratic legitimacy as well as linkages for the bureaucracy to plug into local-level power structures. It was remarkably well-designed for direct patronage and manipulation of local power-holders.
The 'Basic Democracy' system was ideally suited for consolidating bureaucratic power through direct, local-level linkages with power-holders, as well as urban mafias and for the legitimation of state power in the name of local level democracy. However, it emerged as the basis of extraordinary corruption and oppression by privileged landowners and fell into total disrepute. It became so hated that even if the system had had any capacity to legitimize regimes when it was initiated, it soon clearly lost it. After a massive uprising that shook the country in the winter of 1968-69, 'Basic Democracy' and Ayub Khan were overthrown.
1969: A New Style of Military Rule
Ayub Khan had to go because he symbolized a hated regime. His unexpected fall in March 1969 precipitated a political crisis. Predictably, and with some help from the most sinister element of the military establishment - the Inter-Services Intelligence, the initiative passed once again into the hands of the army. General Yahya Khan stepped in where Ayub Khan left off. Yahya Khan set up a military regime of a kind that had not existed before. Military officers, as Martial Law Administrators, were attached to every civilian officer in the field at provincial, district and subdistrict headquarters and wards in towns. This led to chaotic rule, according to the whims and inclinations of local military officers.
At this point, a new philosophy emerged about the military's role in the structure of state power. Yahya Khan received advice in a letter from General Sher Ali, a senior right-wing General who was Pakistan's Ambassador in Indonesia. Ali put forward an elaborately-reasoned philosophy of the military's most profitable role within the state. It was a turning point in policy. The nub of Ali's advice was that Yahya should immediately withdraw military officers from the field and leave the business of administration to civilians, establish a cabinet of civilian ministers, even if only nominally, at the center to act as a buffer between the administration and the military rank and file, and finally to promise that general elections would be held on a free and fair basis. There were some suggestions that this long and sophisticated letter was the work of the CIA. Be that as it may, the new philosophy impressed Yahya and recommendations were followed without delay.
Source: "Authoritarianism and legitimation of state power in Pakistan," in The Post-Colonial State in South Asia, 1990. Online at: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/sangat/powertt.htm