Wavell and His Majesty’s Government: the Cabinet Mission

Wavell and the Labour Government

With Labour Party’s victory at the polls in July 1945, Attlee, as the new prime minister, continued his opposition to Wavell’s proposed policies for India. According to Irail Glynn, the Labour Party also preferred, like its predecessor, that men in Whitehall to be the final judges of the policies to be adopted in India. Wavell was this kept in the dark by his own superiors resulting eventually in his failure to deal with the Indians in an atmosphere of mutual trust and to prevent the Pakistan plan from emerging soon.

Labour Party had been a strong supporter of the Congress and a big proponent of self-government in India for years. Above all, during the recent election campaign it had promised that if Labour is returned we would close the India Office and transfer Indian business to the Dominions Office . . . This act would give them confidence that they are no longer governed from Whitehall. At the start of the new parliament on 21 August 1945, Attlee replied to a question by Woodrow Wyatt about transferring Indian affairs to the dominions office by declaring that he had no statement to make.

The Labour Government on 13 August 1945 undertook three important steps:

  • Release of the Congress prisoners
  • Removal of ban on Congress
  • Immediate ordering of general elections in India.

Wavell was called to London immediately in this regard and he gave his briefing about the problems of the Indian political scene. But ground realities were different as the Hindu-Muslim conflict had reached such a point that in the opinion of David McIntyre,

 Only one week before the Victory Parade, Wavell was predicting the possibility of violent uprising, requested orders as to whether he should plan to scuttle or to stay.

  • It had become clear after the Governors’ Conference on 2 August 1945 that elections to verify the claims of the Congress and the League should be held before the formation of the central and provincial ministries.
  • Secondly, the Pakistan issue must be dealt with and its drawbacks brought to notice of all parties, especially the Muslims.

Wavell went to England with this frame of mind but was taken aback, for Whitehall had a diametrically opposite understanding of, and consequently, a different stance concerning the Indian problem. Although the Cripps Proposals had been rejected by both the Muslim League and the Congress, they had remained the only outstanding offer of the British government during the Second World War. R.J. Moore is right in suggesting that,  the irony is that by the time Labour achieved office, its scheme for the transfer of power (Cripps Proposals) was no longer feasible.

The Secretary of State for India, Lord Pethick-Lawrence, in his briefing to the India Committee suggested that the best guarantor of political progress in India were still the Cripps Proposals. He said that while the constitutional issue was being settled, there would presumably be a time lag during which the business of India had to be carried on. He also suggested means for forming a provisional Executive Council from a provincial panel.

Wavell demanded two things during his talks in London:

  • That the Pakistan issue be tackled
  • The elections take place for the Constituent and Provincial assemblies.

The general elections which were held in 1945-46 witnessed that the Muslim voters gave an overwhelming mandate in favour of Pakistan while the Hindus overall voted for Congress which stood for a united India. This most visible victory of the League, however, was not accepted by the Congress and the British as a complete and wholehearted mandate of Muslims for Pakistan.

Durga Das has recorded his meeting with Attlee in 1945 and writes,

Attlee did not conceal his deep agitation over the Muslim demand for Pakistan and agreed with my plea that a minority should not be allowed to hold up progress of the majority to self-rule. He added that his intention was to promote in India a structure that would give her federal unity . . . He considered the Congress as a party which was the true advocate for freedom and the League a disruption its one and expressed the hope that in the impending elections the League candidates in Punjab, Sindh and North West Frontier would be defeated. That would help preserve the unity of India.

 However, contrary to the desires of Attlee and many other well-known political pundits the results of elections to the Central Assembly and the provincial seats forcefully strengthened the case for Pakistan. Even then, Wavell was not ready to accept ground realities and thought that it was time for the British government to make a clear statement regarding its intentions for acceptance or rejection of the Pakistan demand. He held that the Congress and the League would be unable to settle/arrive at any agreement about the Pakistan issue and this would result in a political deadlock. He thought that His Majesty’s Government should not allow another deadlock in the event of parties failing to come to terms and, therefore, must be ready to offer its own plan.

The Labour Government, though it agreed with the seriousness of the demand for Pakistan, wanted to find out for itself whether it could be dealt with effectively by some other means. They decided to send a fact-finding mission consisting of members of the Parliament to India. Wavell welcomed this proposal and rejected the other one according to which the two main leaders from the Congress and the League should go to London for talks. The Parliamentary delegation was able to confirm that Jinnah was firm on his stand. It also concluded that the demand for Pakistan was not a bargaining counter on the part of Jinnah, therefore, it had to be faced and tackled by appropriate political means.

Wavell and the Cabinet Mission

The British government decided, the foundation of a provisional constitution for India must be based upon the 1935 Act, and such a constitution must continue to provide a unitary framework, but within it means of satisfying, to the greatest degree compatible with preservation of India as a single state, the aspirations of Indian Muslims for self-rule. This was the game plan of the India Office as conveyed to the Cabinet Mission on its departure for India.

According to Philip Ziegler, Lord Pethick-Lawrence was technically to be in charge of whatever negotiations were necessary; but in fact, Cripps and the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, took over responsibility. The Cabinet Mission which came to negotiate with Indians about the formula and modus operandi of the transfer of power, did not wish to include Wavell, the Governor General, during its workings in India. Probably they thought they knew more than him, therefore, they thought of him as less than useful. The Labour Government, however, included him after his note of protest. Though they decided to include Wavell as one of the negotiators, he was not taken into confidence about their game plan. Wavell rightly observed, I may be left with all the loose and awkward ends to tie up, and perhaps to implement a policy with which I do not agree. He, therefore, made it clear that he should not be treated as a communicator but negotiator and mediator and if it is the wish of H.M.G. that I should be responsible for implementing in India any settlement to be negotiated, I must really and genuinely be consulted.

Wavell’s relationship with Cripps had never been cordial, and it worsened with time. Wavell thought that Cripps could not be an honest and impartial negotiator because he is sold to the Congress point of view. Wavell deplored that both Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence failed to maintain high standards of impartiality, fair play and justice while they were dealing with the Hindu-Muslim problem. He complained to the prime minister that the late Cabinet Mission had too many unofficial advisers and indirect contacts, which had made his job and the job of the Mission more difficult in settling disputes. Further, he said, I thought it was a mistake that the Mission should have had, outside the official discussions, such a continuous and close touch with one of the two main parties, the Congress. This naturally aroused the deep suspicions of the Muslim League about the intentions of the Cabinet ministers.

Wavell was dissatisfied with the tactics of double-cross and underhand dealings adopted by the Cabinet delegation during their negotiations with the Indian leaders.  Cripps methods created suspicion and confusion as Wavell thought that Abdul Kalam Azad and Jinnah were being presented with different propositions. According to Patrick French, in the end the Delegation created more problems than they solved, and the last chance to retain a united India disappeared.

The Cabinet. Mission Plan had pleased neither the League nor the Congress. The Cabinet delegation, especially Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence, knew that without Congress’s support of the plan, a government of a united India though with a weak centre, could not be formed. Cripps, especially wanting to avoid the formation of a government by Jinnah at all costs, persuaded the Congress to at least accept the long-term part of the plan. Wavell wrote on 25 June 1946:

The worst day yet, I think. Congress has accepted the Statement of May 16, though with reservations on its interpretation. They did not intend to do so, having always said they would not accept the long-term policy unless they accepted the short-term one, the Interim Government. Now Cripps, having assured me categorically that Congress would never accept the Statement of May 16, instigated Congress to do by pointing out the tactical advantage they would gain as regards the Interim Government. So, did the Secretary of State. When I talked to him on this, he defended on the grounds that to get the Congress into the Constituent Assembly was such a gain that he considered it justified. It has left sin an impossible position vis-à-vis Jinnah.

 Describing the delegation members’ underhand dealings with the Congress, Sudhir Ghosh has written:

This ‘parity’ between the majority and minority, between the Muslim League and the Congress, was of course wholly unacceptable to the majority party. In giving Mr. Jinnah such an indication, the Viceroy had seriously slipped up and the Secretary of State was disturbed about it. He sent for me on 12 June and told me how upset he was about it all. Was there no way of persuading Gandhiji to find a way out of this tangle? I told the Secretary of State that only thing to do was to have a heart-to-heart talk with Gandhiji and to appeal to him for help. So, he asked me if I could not fetch Gandhiji to his house for a talk that evening . . . It was because of Gandhi’s influence that the Congress accepted the long-term part of the plan only on 25 June.  

Pethick-Lawrence and Cripps were partly successful in trying to clear up the mess created by Wavell’s assurances to Jinnah because he had refused (Wavell) to allow the Muslim League to form the Interim Government without the Congress, contrary to his earlier assurances. Wavell’s justice, fair play and honesty were now put to the test. He told Alexander,

I should normally ask to be relieved of my appointment after what happened; that I thought I had been placed in an impossible position with the M.L. (Muslim League) and that Cripps had not been quite straight.

He thought of resigning but soon dropped the idea, reasoning that his resignation would badly expose the conduct of the three Ministers and His Majesty’s Government and did not want to embarrass either of them. Though Wavell regretted for a short while the failure of not forming the Interim Government, he still believed, we must try to leave India united; and we must secure the cooperation of the Congress which represents the great majority of Indian political opinion whatever our views on the past record of that party. Besides, he held that too much dependence on the shifting views and actions of a set of inexperienced, short-sighted and sometimes malevolent politicians had caused the failure.

According to Kevin Jeffreys, certainly, in assessing the record of the post-war Labour Government, historians are agreed that Attlee’s party made only limited advances towards its stated aim in 1945—the creation of a socialist commonwealth. In some policy areas, continuity with wartime practice was undeniable. Under Ernest Bevin, for example, the surprising choice as Foreign Secretary, hopes of a ‘socialist foreign policy’ soon disappeared as the Cold War got underway, but in case of India it seems oversimplification of the facts. The Labour Government had high regard and respect for Congress and wanted to quickly transfer power to their so-called socialist brothers. This state of mind led the delegation to appease the Congress at all costs during the negotiations and they used all means, moral or otherwise to enlist its leaders’ support for keeping India united.

 Meanwhile Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence continued their daily secret meetings with the Congress leaders. Lawrence took daily walks, with Agatha Harrison (Secretary, India Conciliation Group), a friend of C.F. Andrews, who was himself an associate of Gandhi which prompted concerns about their integrity in Wavell’s mind. He thought, but far more unfortunate than these was the presence of Agatha Harrison and Horace Alexander, who lived in the Congress camp, were completely sold to Gandhi and saw the S.of S. almost daily.

According to Sudhir Ghosh: why Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence, at moments of crisis in the India-Britain negotiations, chose to meet Gandhiji secretly in the garden at the back of the Viceroy’s house in New Delhi without making knowledge either of the British Viceroy or of the Indian political leaders in a struggle to hand over power to an undivided India is, I see now many years later, a poignant as well as a dramatic story.

 While saluting the services of these English leaders for the Congress, B/R. Nanda, a biographer of Gandhi quite frankly admits:

Not merely the compulsion of events, but a measure of idealism went into the policy which Prime Minister Attlee initiated and carried through during the years 1946-47. And in so far as the British Government was impelled by idealism, by a desire to open a fresh chapter in Indo-British relations, it was a victory for Gandhi, who had pleaded for thirty years for transformation of a relationship between the two countries. Among the advocates of this transformation were several English men and women. Hume and Wedderburn, C.E. Andrews and Horace Alexander, Brailsford and Brockway, Laski and Carl Heath, Mauri Lester and Agatha Harrison who never wavered in their sympathy for the Indian cause in their own day they represented a tiny and not-too-influential minority, but in the fullness of time their opinions became the national policies of their country.

 Even Cripps and Pethick-Lawrence quite frankly admitted that they had contacts with the Congress leaders about the nature of which Wavell was unclear. Lawrence admitted that he wrote a secret letter to Nehru while he was in Simla. However, even such favours failed to win Congress’s support as it kept raising the bar. Even, Pethick-Lawrence later conceded,

We think you will agree that it was our experience that it is the consistent practice of Indian parties to take up a bargaining position well in advance of what they expect to get and we feel that it would be fatal to deal with Nehru’s letter on assumption that it is final challenge under threat of a direct breach with Congress. We regard it rather as another attempt, such as was constantly made during Mission’s negotiations, to squeeze some further concessions out of H.M.G.

The Labour Party did not mind letting Jinnah down while trying to appease the Congress. It cared the least for upholding any moral standards while dealing with him. And the Cabinet Delegation also decided to blame him for its failure.  Lawrence went to the extent of using provocative language and even passed irresponsible remarks about Jinnah.

Wavell before offering the formation of the government to the Congress, wanted some clarifications. He wanted to make it clear to the Congress that it must first accept the statement of May 16 fully and sincerely on the lines laid down by the Mission. Besides he did not want any reduction in the powers of the governor-general unless both parties agreed to it. He also requested Whitehall to stand firm against any blackmailing by the Congress. He wanted to correct the Congress’s impression that they had got the British on the run. But the prime minister told him to carry on with what he had been directed to do. But perhaps the greatest of all the impediments to a solution was the state of mutual mistrust amongst the various political actors. According to Leonard Mosley,

Jinnah and the Muslim League mistrusted the Congress and Congress mistrusted the Viceroy; Wavell mistrusted the Labour Government; Attlee did not necessarily mistrust Wavell but had certainly lost faith in him.

Attlee asked Wavell to accept Sir Maurice Gwyer as political adviser. Wavell felt very bad about it and thought that the prime minister and his Labour Government did not trust his political wisdom because it was not sufficiently pro-Congress. He wrote,

 I had a letter from the PM, pressing me again Maurice Gwyer as Political Adviser. He has obviously been told that I receive nothing but official I.C.S. advice and that my political judgement is therefore unsound, i.e., not sufficiently pro-Congress. I think my judgement is better than H.M.G.’s and shall say so; and tell him that if H.M.G. don’t like it their duty to find another Viceroy, as I will not be a figure-head.

Nonetheless, he acted upon the directions and started negotiations with Nehru. Nehru, sensing the weak and awkward position of the governor-general vis-à-vis his own government in London began to behave as if he had already become the Prime Minister of India and expected Wavell to act accordingly. Wavell, under the circumstances, was forced to accept his suggestions.

Wavell was convinced that a coalition government would not only help to bypass the demand for Pakistan but help avoid a civil war as well. However, Nehru and Gandhi did not share his feelings and insisted that the Congress Party should solely be allowed to form the Interim Government regardless of the consequences. When Wavell warned that one-party rule would lead to a certain civil war, as was obvious from the carnage on the Direct Action Day, Gandhi pounded the table and said, if a bloodbath was necessary it would come about in spite of non-violence. Gandhi in his letter on 28 August told Wavell that Congress would not bend itself to adopt what it considered a wrong course because of the brutal exhibition recently witnessed in Bengal. Such submissions would itself lead to an encouragement and repetition of such tragedies. Therefore, he advised Wavell to wholly trust the Congress concerning the formation of the Interim Government.

Wavell aware of the repercussions and the backlash it would bring to induct one party rule in a multi-religious country with hostile feelings, three days before induction of the Nehru’s government, again asked His Majesty’s Government to declare the Grouping was a mandatory part of the Cabinet Mission Plan. To him, it was not a matter of legal niceties but of practical considerations and also because it would put the full weight of His Majesty’s Government behind that important part of the Cabinet Mission Plan. Wavell wrote:

 Though the consequences may be serious I think it as well that things have come to a head. Calcutta with its 4,400 dead, 16,000 injured and over 100,000 homeless showed that a one-party government at the Centre was likely to cause fierce disorders everywhere. Far from having any sobering effects, it had increased communal hatred and intransigence. If Congress intentions are as Gandhi’s letter suggests the result of their being in power can only be a state of virtual civil war in many parts of India while you and I are responsible to Parliament.

But Pethick-Lawrence did not agree with Wavell’s statement that Congress always meant to use their position in the Interim Government to break up the Muslim League and in the Constituent Assembly to destroy the grouping scheme. In response to him he advised Wavell, we should therefore like you to avoid pressing the grouping question to a final issue before the Interim Government takes over and has a period in office. Thus, Wavell was left with no choice but to invite the Congress to form a new government in September 1946.

But Jinnah was not ready to yield to such pressure tactics on his principled stand for Pakistan, referring to which Ayesha Jalal has written,

Not to be outwitted and without wasting further time, Jinnah accepted Wavell’s offer of joining the Interim Government on 13 October 1946. Wavell had made this offer despite opposition from Nehru and His Majesty’s Government. His aim of bringing the two parties together was an attempt to try and solve the major constitutional and political issues, especially those related to Pakistan, but it seems that enough time had already been wasted and now only the adoption of the Cabinet Mission Plan in its entirety could have ensured the unity of India. Such delays had already created doubts in Wavell’s mind that things were moving too fast to be contained simply by bringing the two parties together.

Wavell sincerely believed that the Congress’s objection to the Grouping clause was contrary to the Cabinet Mission’s interpretation, therefore, he showed reluctance to call the meeting of the Constituent Assembly unless the Congress accepted the Cabinet Mission Plan in its entirety. He maintained that the Compulsory Grouping part was the crux of the Cabinet Mission Plan whereas the Congress leaders believed that accepting that part would result in ‘Balkanization’ of India. In fact,

 at this stage a difference of opinion between the Viceroy and the London authorities was noticed. Attlee and Pethick-Lawrence not only regretted Wavell’s intimation to Congress that he would not call the Constituent Assembly until the point about grouping was cleared up, but also asked the Viceroy not to take any steps which were likely to result in a breach with the Congress.

Now Wavell pressured the Muslim League that it must either attend the Constituent Assembly meetings or otherwise resign from the Interim Government to which Liaquat Ali Khan responded that the League members would be ready to resign whenever required, but they would not accept the long-term plan unless His Majesty’s Government declared that the provinces must meet in Sections. Wavell did try again as he himself was convinced that the League’s stand was right. He also knew of the growing risk of civil war in case of the League’s resignation from the government which might put the life, property and interests of the British imperialists in jeopardy. He was equally aware of the growing tendency towards militancy in the League circles which he himself conceded was because of a lack of firmness and honesty on the part of the British government.

Failing to convince Whitehall to make an unequivocal statement regarding the Cabinet Mission Plan, Wavell on 20 November 1946 announced the decision of His Majesty’s Government to call the Constituent Assembly on 9 December. In fact, the Labour Government itself had been under extreme pressure from Congress leaders like Nehru and Patel who had twice threatened to resign from the Interim Government if their demand for dismissal of the League ministers from the Interim Government was not met. Thus, in order to break the deadlock and to bring about a settlement on the issue of the Constituent Assembly, Whitehall invited two representatives each from the Congress and the Muslim League along with one Sikh to fly at once to London for discussions.

On 2 December 1946 in London, Wavell apprised His Majesty’s Government:

The Muslim League leaders raised cries of Pakistan and Islam in danger originally to enhance their prestige and power and thus their bargaining value as a political party. They have now so inflamed their ignorant and impressionable followers with the idea of Pakistan as a new Prophet’s Paradise on earth and as their only means of protection against Hindu domination, that it will be very difficult to satisfy them with anything else. I think Jinnah is honest in saying that he had great difficulty in putting across the Mission Plan with his party, though he was probably wise enough to recognize it as a reasonable compromise worth trying at least for a period.

He recommended to the British government to make the fullest use of the present discussions to try and restore the Mission’s plan to its originally intended form. He feared that it would be impossible to carry out the present negotiations with any hope of success unless the Labour Government made up their mind ‘whether or not they are prepared to stand up to the Congress’. On their part the British government thought that Wavell had outlived his usefulness in his present position so did not heed his advice and decided to re over him. The immediate reason for his removal, however, was his insistence upon implementing his ‘Breakdown Plan’ in case of a political deadlock which he felt was imminent.

Courtesy of: The Dying Days of the Raj by Muhammad Iqbal Chawla, Oxford University Press Karachi 2011


Wavell and His Majesty’s Government: the Conservative Party

This chapter attempts to investigate the relationship between the British government in India and His Majesty’s Government in London during Wavell’s viceroyalty of India. It discusses the difference in ideas, approaches and plans of Wavell with the British political leaders and bureaucrats such as Winston Churchill, Sir Stafford Cripps, Leopold Amery, Lord Pethick-Lawrence and Clement Attlee, and examines their actions, because they shaped the policies of the British government towards British India.

Wavell and the Conservative Party

Wavell’s relationship with Churchill had never been cordial but it worsened soon after he became the Viceroy of India because the British War Cabinet under Churchill realized, owing to their divergent ideas with Wavell that they had chosen the wrong person at the wrong time and for the wrong place.  Firstly, the War Cabinet had appointed Wavell as no suitable replacement to Linlithgow was available. Secondly, Whitehall wanted to preserve law and order in the country and did not want to touch upon the political and constitutional problems of the country. Amery wrote in his diary, Winston would not have been as keen about Wavell as Viceroy if he had realized how thoroughly Wavell backs up Allenby’s policy of sympathy with Egyptian nationalism. Amery opined that he would not be at all surprised if Wavell went a long way in trying to find a solution to the Indian problem.

Wavell, of whom Churchill thought of in cricketing terms as a ‘night watchman’ inserted to stonewall until the end of the war offered fresh options, on the contrary was a politically savvy military officer who started making plans for political changes in India even before he had assumed the top office in India. His first plan is known to history as the Wavell Plan. He was concerned about the tense political relationship then existing between the British government and the Indians and wanted to change that with a proactive approach.

The War Cabinet* issued a draft directive to the Viceroy, originally suggested by Cripps on 29 September 1943 and then approved it so that the new Viceroy should be able to approach the political leaders in India as and when he considers it desirable. But it was amended on 4 October on a more restrictive sense with the addition of the words but should consult the War Cabinet about the time and form of any invitation to be issued.

*The wartime Coalition Government in UK was headed by Winston Churchill of the Conservative Party and its Cabinet was composed of outstanding political personalities. The India Committee of the British Cabinet set up in 1942 was the powerhouse for Indian policy-and decision-making. Its members were chosen for their wide knowledge of India. Besides Attlee, the Deputy Prime Minister, who chaired the committee, other well-known ministers included Simon, Anderson, Grigg, Butler, Amery and Cripps, and Wavell was indirectly answerable to this committee via the Secretary of State for India, who acted as a middle-man between the Viceroy and the British government. Besides the above, Wavell was also answerable to the War Cabinet and Whitehall with regards to any political initiatives in India

The British Cabinet’s instructions exhorted Wavell to give top priority first to the defence of India and he was warned to beware above all things of raising political issues that might prejudice India’s war effort. All this meant in other words that he should simply forget about the political situation in India. Thus, not only did the Wavell Plan go into cold storage, the course of action proposed and endorsed by a majority of the India Committee was ruled out. Wavell also gathered from his private discussions with Churchill that the latter feared a split in the Conservative Party and some kind of a parliamentary trouble in case of any fresh step regarding political reforms in India.  Churchill was not ready to take this risk and was determined to block it as long as he was in power. *

*Churchill cancelled the meeting of the Cabinet on India and invited Wavell to see him alone. Winston had a formula for a directive which, in Wavell’s eyes, was mostly meaningless. It entailed instruction to improve the lot of the Indians; to make peace between Muslims and Hindus, and only at the end indicated that political progress during the war was not debarred.

Churchill never wished to see his new Viceroy taking initiatives on the political front in India. *

*Though Wavell always came up to the expectations of Winston and won many laurels on the battlefield, he never received the acknowledgements and recognition from the Prime Minister Winston Churchill for his services. In June 1941, Churchill wrote to Wavell that he had concluded that public interest would best be served by the appointment of General Auchinleck to replace you in command of armies of the Middle East. Although he acknowledged and appreciated Wavell’s services in the region but was very angry with him, as he had become impatient at Wavell’s reluctance to take the offensive against the Germans. He got into serious doubts about the intellect and vision of Wavell whom he always saw as an unimpressive and boring kind of person. He thought he was more like ‘the chairman of the golf club’. Quoted in Ronald Lewin, The Chief, p. 26; Churchill transferred him to the position of Commander-in-Chief of India in June 1941. Despite Wavell’s repeated requests he did not grant him home leave for some days. John Connell, Wavell: Scholar and Soldier, pp 464-507, Wavell was called back to London in April 1943, never to return as commander-in-chief for India.  The confidence of Churchill on the generalship of Wavell began to waver. Churchill decided to remove Wavell. Their relations became strained and when Wavell returned to England from the United States of America, instead of going back to India, he was told to take some of his overdue home leave.

He was annoyed with Wavell’s political views and his insistence on pursuing them that he even refused to attend Wavell’s farewell party when he was leaving for India as the viceroy-designate. On 7 October 1943, Amery recorded in his diary,

Winston who seems to have been rather on the rampage at first and more or less accused Wavell of playing for his hand and trying to do a public stunt to which Wavell seems to have said that he had no desire to go to India and was quite willing to resign if the PM did not trust him.

 Wavell, in spite of all these impediments did introduce some confidence building measures in India like his determined efforts to help the victims of the Bengal famine.

At the beginning of his viceroyalty, Wavell had a high opinion of Gandhi, thinking that he would help in resolution of the political deadlock in India. In spite of Whitehall’s reluctance, Wavell released him from prison in 1944 as he had been seriously ill for some time. Wavell also wrote many letters to Whitehall concerning Gandhi’s demand that he wanted to talk to the Viceroy concerning the formation of a national government. Amery wired back to Wavell on 4 October in which he stated that the entire Cabinet was perturbed over his contacts with Gandhi. They considered Gandhi a political dead horse and believed that Wavell’s re-opening of negotiations with him would revive his political career.

Wavell’s actions on behalf of Gandhi led to severe disagreements with the people in London including an exchange between the Viceroy and the British Cabinet which created a row with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who wanted no part of negotiations with Gandhi. The debate gathered momentum over the next few days. Amery maintained that the Viceroy should have avoided a direct collision with the PM and the Cabinet on an issue, not of substance, but of tone and wording. Amery lent his dissent to the War Cabinet’s decision at its meeting on 14 August, recorded in the minutes that on the ground that in a matter not of broad policy, but of wording and tone, the earnest and repeatedly expressed opinion of the Viceroy should not be overridden. 

 Wavell nearly resigned over his stand concerning Gandhi’s release from prison, but he withdrew from his earlier determination to do so. There was a strong Indian reaction to His Majesty’s Government’s decision of not having parleys with Gandhi. Wavell complained to Amery of an obviously hostile Cabinet who seem to have no confidence in my judgement on any matter and justified his complaint by reference to the previous incidents. Indian reactions to Wavell’s reply had been strong and Wavell rightly suggested that the Cabinet has destroyed at one blow my reputation for fairness and good temper in my correspondence with Gandhi. In his protesting letter to Amery, Wavell wrote, they have now turned down my recommendations for:

  1. Indian Finance Minister
  2. Section 93 in Bengal at the beginning of the year
  3. Bajpai’s status
  4. The form of my reply to Mr. Gandhi; and
  5. My requests for food imports, of which my great persistence has produced an inadequate amount. He warned Amery that His Majesty’s Government must really give up trying to treat the Government of India as a naughty and tiresome child whose bottom they can smack whenever they feel like it.

Future interaction between Wavell and Whitehall suffered immensely due to this episode. It substantially weakened Wavell’s position in the eyes of the Indians and he feared that there might be a Congress-League coalition against the British government. *

*Gandhi-Jinnah talks were expected to be held soon and possibly result in a compromise between the two main parties. Wavell believed that Gandhi had the talent and would manoeuvre successfully as Jinnah would not totally understand his feelings and intentions. He wrote that ‘I am sure that Gandhi’s real object is to get the Working Committee out of detention and that he will go a very long way (with the usual mental reservations) in dealing with Jinnah to secure the cooperation of the Muslim League. Having drafted an agreement of some kind he may tell Jinnah that he is at a disadvantage because the working committee, who alone can commit the Congress, are in detention and may suggest a joint approach to Viceroy to secure their release.’ Wavell, Viceroy’s Journal p.87; Wavell to Amery 15 August 1944, Wavell Collections

In the meantime, a further clash between Churchill and Wavell occurred when Whitehall suddenly announced that the pay and allowances of the British forces serving in the Far East were to be increased. Despite the fact that under the rules of defence expenditure the costs would mainly fall on India and would almost inevitably involve a corresponding increase in the pay of Indian forces and result in increased inflation in India, the Delhi government was not consulted. Wavell did not like such decisions being made in London without even consulting Delhi.

In one of his private telegrams of protest to Amery which was imprudently permitted to come to notice of Churchill, Wavell feared that the Council will take the line that if His Majesty’s Government has to bribe the British forces to fight in the Far East, they should pay the bill. Wavell’s use of such flagrant language against him and Whitehall was more than insubordination and highly treasonable in the eyes of Churchill, who condemned Wavell’s seditious language and accused him of insulting the British soldier. Wavell noted in his diary that this exchange of letters and controversy would neither improve Churchill’s mindset about India nor would it improve personal relations between the two.

He visualized right at the outset that if the British government did not take the initiative to break the political and constitutional deadlock in India, it would result in chaos, civil war and partition of India. By middle of 1944, Wavell once again stressed upon the home government to reconsider his earlier Wavell Plan, which had been turned down in 1943. He was also conscious of the fact that India’s services in the war must be recognized along with other contributions which India had made towards turning the tide of war.

Amery had been keenly observing these developments and formulated a new approach to the Indian problem. In his letter of 3 October 1944 to Wavell, he explained his plan in detail stating that India’s main grievance and source of bitterness was not the existing Government of India but Downing Street and the House of Commons. He further added that Indians constantly felt discriminated in all spheres of life by decisions taken by outsiders.

Based on his own soul-searching, Amery suggested to Wavell that he should announce that India would enjoy dominion status. He also visualized that the Viceroy would be more powerful and would exercise the power to override his council or dismiss it with his own judgement and without any prior approval from the Secretary of State for India or Whitehall.

Amery was not only interested in seeing the Delhi government rid of the remote control from Whitehall but also wanted to sideline the demand for Pakistan. He wanted to ensure:

This continuance of unity of India under the present Government does not preclude an eventual Pakistan, though I believe that in fact it would create an atmosphere in which at any rate the extreme Pakistan demand would no longer make the same appeal, and more practical considerations get the upper hand.

 He chalked out a programme in which the Congress would be empowered to impede the Pakistan demand. Therefore, he thought the essence of the idea in fact would be to release the Congress internees and to send an invitation to them to take part in coalition governments in the provinces and to participate in planning the future constitution at leisure. Amery feared that the division in Indian society was so obvious that the proposed Wavell Plan would result in further division among them. Similarly, after the failure of Gandhi-Jinnah talks, Amery suggested that, since the two main organized parties were incapable of finding a solution, both should be excluded from, or sparsely represented on the contemplated constitution-making body. To him, the best remedy was to avoid establishing a council proposed in the Wavell Plan and set up a council consisting of non-political elements instead. It would form a very suitable nucleus, partly because it would already include representatives of the princes.

On 6 December 1944 India Committee met to discuss the Wavell and Amery plans. The Wavell Plan was bitterly criticized by its members including Amery who put forward his own alternative scheme. He explained that what he had in mind was a body of some 40 to 50 persons, thoroughly representatives of all sections, parties, and interest groups and in particular the martial races of the Punjab. However, his idea was dropped, and Wavell’s proposals were postponed for another six months.

However, neither the British Parliament could be bypassed nor, could the two major political parties of India be ignored as proposed by Amery. Wavell was of the view that Amery has a curious capacity for getting hold of the right stick but practically always the wrong end of it.

 As Wavell did not appreciate the response from the India Committee* he decided to write directly to the prime minister. After complaining of the various grievances of the Delhi government against London, he informed Churchill that the current Government of India could not continue indefinitely, or even for long—the British Civil Service, on which the good government of the country had until then depended, might almost be described as moribund, the senior members being tired and disheartened. He said that with the approaching end of the Japanese war, political prisoners would have to be released and they would find a fertile field for agitation in food shortages and unemployment, following the closure of war factories, unless their energies had previously been diverted in trying to solve the constitutional problem.

*Wavell writing to Amery said that ‘I definitely do not agree with your remedy. If we held general elections in the present state of feeling there would be a great increase in communal bitterness, with unfortunate results on the war effort; and I do not believe that a constituent assembly on the Cripps model could be formed or would produce any useful result at this stage. I have reason to think that the Muslim league would not agree to a constitution-making body of this kind. Jinnah told Mudie a few days ago that he would not hear of such a proposal and gave figures to illustrate his objection; he repeated his opinion in another letter that Jinnah told Mudie during their recent talk that the Muslim League would not accept anything of the kind, as the method of the election of the Constituent Assembly outlined in the Cripps offer would be dis satisfactory to the Muslims. Wavell to Amery, 5 December 1944, Wavell Papers, Political Series 1944-45 p. 134.

Wavell, recommending an approach to Gandhi and Jinnah and their followers, said,

But the Congress and the League are the dominant parties in Hindu and Muslim India and will remain so. They control the Press, the electoral machine, the moneybags, and have prestige of established parties.

 He held that even if Gandhi and Jinnah disappeared tomorrow, he could see no prospect of having more reasonable people to deal with. He insisted on consideration of his plan because the commander-in-chief, governors of all eleven provinces, and the senior members of the services supported his plan.

Churchill’s response on 26 November 1944 clearly showed that he disagreed over the urgency of the matter. He held that these large problems require to to be considered at leisure and best of all in victorious peace. Wavell was anxious to write another letter to convince the prime minister of the urgency of the moment and to inform him of the psychological advantage but was restrained by Amery’s advice.* Amery suggested to him to refrain from a direct communique to the prime minister and promised to influence the members of the War Cabinet to get the matter referred to the Cabinet India Committee.

*Wavell wrote that ‘I have been careful not to commit myself with Jinnah or anyone else. It would be quite impossible for me to shut myself up and refuse to see any of the Indian politicians or to try to find out what they are thinking. I am sure it is right that I should continue to see political personalities as opportunity offers, to have a chance to size them up. I think you can trust me not to give away anything.’ Wavell to Amery 27 December 1944, Wavell Papers, Political Series, 1944-45, pp 134-5

The India Committee in its meeting of 6 December disagreed with the vitals of the Wavell Plan but did invite him to London for a face to face meeting where he could justify the details of his plan.

Wavell thought that it would be a grave mistake to postpone, because of Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru’s non-party conference, as that would produce no proposals of value; and he proposed that he should reach London about 15 January. Now, Churchill directed Amery to place before the Cabinet the question of whether Wavell should come home at all at this juncture. He feared, I expect he is going to make trouble and stage a scene for resignation. But Wavell was quite conscious of the urgency for getting both the parties to work together in the coalition government and this would, he expected, generate team spirit. Their cooperation would also help to sideline the Pakistan issue. He met with Jinnah on 6 December 1944 and got an opinion. Writing to Amery on 12 December 1944, Wavell told him:

Jinnah was prepared to accept the unity of India as an ideal, but an ideal quite unattainable in present conditions. He said that the Muslims had been led by their experience of Congress domination to regard Pakistan as the only possible solution. I put it to him that if in the critical post-war years, on which the whole future of India may depend, we were busy cutting up the country, all parties would suffer, and that it would be very much better to hold India together for the time being at least and to undertake partition only if the Hindus and Muslims found in practice that they could not carry on.

Wavell thought that Jinnah would cooperate if an Executive Council was constituted under the present constitution.

Wavell arrived in England on 23 March and his first meeting with the India Committee took place on 26 March. * Attlee, who chaired the meeting, was horrified at the thought of a rule by the brown oligarchy. ** Attlee declared, he was dismayed that we should hand over the people of India to a few very rich individuals who would control the caucuses without responsibility to anyone. Wavell noted in his diary on 18 April that Attlee started attacking me at once . . .John Anderson complained that I would not admit that I was making radical changes in the constitution. Cripps was absent; Grigg and Simon were hostile.

*Attlee refused to allow Wavell to see a record of discussions on the Indian constitutional problem in the India Committee, as ‘the making of this request is, I fear, only another example of having a Viceroy with no political experience.’ Hugh Tinker remarks that ‘Attlee’s complaint seems particularly peevish when we recall that the man he chose to succeed Wavell, Mountbatten, had even less knowledge of British politics.’ Hugh Tinker, Viceroy Curzon to Mountbatten p. 193.

**Attlee also held that a government responsible neither to parliament nor to a legislature would leave His Majesty’s Government powerless to protect the Indian masses, who would be defenceless. He also said that the new members would owe allegiance to an outside body and not to the viceroy, who would be forced more and more into the position of a Dominion Governor-General. Therefore, effective control would pass to an Executive Council ‘responsible only to the party caucuses.’

India Committee showed a lack of concern about the Indian problem and tried to avoid the Wavell Plan. They did not want to go beyond the Cripps offer of 1942. Churchill, like Attlee, also disapproved of the Wavell Plan. At that moment, Wavell realized,

now I think we have missed the bus in any case. The sudden collapse of the Germans and the approaching reoccupation of the whole of Burma will make Indian politicians less accommodating than a few months ago. If I got my own way now, I feel it would be too late.

Wavell’s repeated requests annoyed Churchill who gave an ungracious reply to him and said, I do not consider that your visit to this country was necessary at the present time.

In the meantime, the War Cabinet had been replaced by a “caretaker” Conservative Cabinet in June 1945. However, this time both the India Committee and the Cabinet accepted the Wavell Plan but not in its entirety. Thus, Wavell called the Simla Conference in June 1945 which, however, failed to produce any results.

One of the main reasons for Churchill’s continued tense relations with Wavell was that the former was vehemently opposed to granting of freedom to India. Wavell rightly wrote to Churchill, I know you have often found me a difficult and troublesome subordinate; I have not always found you an easy master to serve. Wavell got nothing from Churchill which could have made him popular in India. Amery much later conceded that the failure of the Simla Conference in 1945 was due to Churchill’s obstinacy. Churchill never wanted Wavell to succeed in his political plans for India and it can be rightly said that it was he, not Wavell, who was responsible for the failure of the Simla Conference. *

*Wavell went to see Churchill on 31 August 1945 when he had been ousted from power. He had an hour-long meeting with him. Churchill was in a good mood and ‘revealed that the only reason he had agreed to my political move was that India Committee had all told him it was bound to fail.’ Wavell, Viceroy’s Journal p.168.

By Courtesy : Wavell and the Dying Days of the Raj by Muhammad Iqbal Chawla, Oxford University Press, Karachi 2011


The Language Divide

 Outside of the particularities and rituals of the two faiths, what also separated them was the medium of education, the language used, and the curriculum adopted; they were entirely different and separate. Schools of teaching tended to be attached (mostly) to temples, mosques and such other congregational centres. The medium of instruction here was different: Sanskrit, Hindi or other regional language for Hindu schools just as Persian, Arabic or Urdu were standard for the Muslim.

Though Hindu students could, and were admitted to Muslim schools, Muslims were hard to come by at Hindu establishments. Also, while Hindus severally took to learning Urdu or Persian, it was seldom that a Muslim was fluent in Sanskrit, though Hindi was even then, as now, a commonly-used medium. This schooling system, native to the country, continued through the first half of the nineteenth century even as more modern establishments (in their educational curriculum), began to appear. Though Muslims were freely entering government establishments then, in proportion that is to their population, yet, an assumption became common amongst leading Muslims of North India that their community did not have the advantage of English education.

The situation in Bengal was entirely different, as indeed it was, for example in South India. However, we examine only Bengal where Muslims were educationally backward. This was for a variety of reasons, amongst which, prominently was the “Wahabi Influence.” While North India had a Sir Sayyid as an ardent reformer, Bengal, where the need was perhaps greater, had no such benefactor. Syed Ameer Ali, Nawab
Abdul Lateef and such other Muslim leaders of Bengal did emphasize that Urdu ought to be for the Muslims what Bengali was to the Hindus of Bengal; yet it never did acquire the same status. A fact never left unstressed being that there was too much of a Hindu influence in an ordinary school.

In the 1870s, there arose a conflict between the protagonists of Hindi and Urdu. Though the Hindus never did really abandon Urdu, the superiority of this camp language, its usability and other attractions provoked Hindu protagonists to protest in Bihar, then a part of Bengal. In consequence, the government of Bengal issued orders for the
use of Hindi in the court offices of Bihar thereafter Devanagari was made the exclusive script of use in Bihar official documents. The doggedness with which this order was followed antagonised Muslims and the controversy travelled then to the provinces like NWFP. Here the reverse manifestations occurred: a failure to introduce Devanagari in
the provinces, like in Punjab or NWFP became a cause for grievance amongst the Hindus.

For both communities, the question of language and script had more than any ordinary significance. For Hindus, Hindi as a language was purged of Arabic and Persian influence, and for the Muslims, Urdu came to signify power and influence; the Arabic script, in consequence acquired a completely unwarranted religious significance. This was by the second half of the nineteenth century by when Urdu had indeed replaced Persian as a language of the government. In the literary circles of the north and western province, much of the drive against Persian and Urdu came from people like Pandit Pratap Narain Mishra and Bhartendu Harishchandra, famous names who switched loyalty, also the medium of expression, from Urdu to Hindi. Wishing to break the
patronage in government jobs for the Urdu speaking elite, Bhartendu Harishchandra’s pro-Hindi paper Kavi Vachan Sudha, frequently gave expression to the attitude of such civil service hopefuls: “The Muslims, it was true, might suffer by the change from Persian to Nagri script but few must always yield to the many.”

It was Benares from where emerged the main inspiration for the pro-Hindi agitation. Here Raja Shiv Prasad from the 1870s, mainly through the efforts of Bhartendu Harishchandra helped Hindi acquire a body of literature, also its form as a language. Much of the activity involved Hindi translation of Bengali works. The Arya Samajists also found that they could use Hindi and the Devanagari scripts for facilitating contact with the masses. The campaign for Hindi and Devanagari script was possibly just one prominent aspect of a growing awareness for the protection and promotion of Hindu interests. Certain others like cow protection movement and holding processions on religious occasions were more specifically oriented towards the religious interests of the Hindus.

Unfortunately, an assertion of these religious interests at municipal level tended to push the political parties increasingly towards conducting themselves as religious parties. This trend further weakened the already strained cross-communal alliances, with the result that the Urdu speaking elite broke away at many places, an unfortunate development, for it had held together for long the Hindu and Muslim components.

Within the Hindu society, as a reaction to the social influences exerted by the British rule, there then arose movements attempting reforms, for example the Brahmo Samaj of Calcutta (1828), the Prathana Samaj of Bombay and the Arya Samaj (1875). These attempts at reform when directed against orthodox Hinduism did not remain unchallenged. The founding of Brahmo Samaj was immediately countered by the foundation of Dharma Sabha. The spread of of the Arya Samaj also inspired orthodox reaction, culminating in the formation of Bharat Dharma Maha Mandal. It was the Sanatanis who were primarily responsible for the formation of Hindu Sabha of the United Province in mid-1910, essentially as a reaction against the extension of a separate electorate in favour of Muslims at the municipal level. The Hindu Sabha spread beyond Punjab and the United Provinces into Bihar, Bengal and Central Provinces and included the Bombay Presidency, too.

In the final analysis it was more the fact rather than any prospects of a partitioning of Bengal that crystallized Muslim opinion against an anti-partition agitation launched by the Hindus. This was largely a consequence of a stir amongst Hindus of rural Bengal who opposed Partition, consistently both before and after it had occurred; their appeal being based largely on popular Hindu religious sentiment. In historical terms this division of Bengal and then joining of the separated East Bengal with Assam, planted yet another poisonous seed which continues to bedevil the entire region till this day: ounchecked, illegal immigration in Assam, and of this destructive Muslim electorate politics of the region.

For the Muslims of Bengal, adjoining areas of Assam and its rich, fertile lands were (are) a continuous temptation, a natural hinterland for their ballooning numbers to expand into first; first to encroach upon, as almost by right and then to usurp. Political activism, separate identities, assertive claims of political equality with Hindus, (by Muslims) all had by now arrived, and all this within a half century of 1857. Then again, in less than fifty years from this reawakened Muslim and Hindu political activism, that is, from the beginning to mid-twentieth century, the logic of a sponsored and an unreal Hindu-Muslim political equalism led inevitably to the separation of the two. “As you sow so shall you reap,” we are told, trite no doubt to repeat this over used axiom, but here it is nevertheless very apt, for having sown the seeds of separation, what started limited as separate electorates kept growing and spreading until it finally became a demand for a separate nation.

Let us pause in that fateful year of 1905. Once this new, Eastern Bengal, a Muslim majority province had got established, leading Muslims then began to see clearly its many advantages, and with this partition agitation appeared (to the Muslims) as an interference in what they considered by then as already “theirs,” as a rightful due, their own Muslim province. Limited issues like Minto’s acceptance of Fuller’s resignation in August 1906, over Government of India’s refusal to support reprisals against agitators in Sirajganj came across as a victory for the Hindu agitators just when Muslims in this Muslim majority province were basking in the then unfamiliar sun of official favour. This eventually brought the Muslims of east Bengal politically nearer to their co-religionists in North India, again totally unexpectedly.

However, all this was of little avail, for in the new province of eastern Bengal things became worse. As Lovett records in the History of the Indian National Movement:

As purely sentimental appeals were ineffectual to excite sufficient popular sympathy, the (Hindu) leaders of the anti-partition movement, searching for a national hero endeavored to import from Bombay the cult of Shivaji and appealed to the religion of the multitude by placing their efforts under the patronage of Kali, the goddess of strength and destruction.

The many dice of fate were already rolling, unstoppable, as we are now able to see, but we do so with that helpless clarity of hindsight. Almost unavoidably, the Congress identified itself with the agitation. In turn, the Muslims galvanized by these events persuaded their leaders to realize that the call of the times was for assertive action, and that it was a must for sheer self-preservation. It is in consequence of all these agitations that the famous Simla deputation to Lord Minto was organised in 1906.

Excerpts from Jinnah by Jaswant Singh Oxford University Press 2010

How War Was Precipitated


The last thing that Hitler wanted to produce was another great war. His people, and particularly his generals, were profoundly fearful of any such risk—the experiences of WWI had scarred their minds. To emphasize the basic facts is not to whitewash Hitler’s inherent aggressiveness, nor that of many Germans who eagerly followed his lead. But Hitler, though utterly unscrupulous, was for long cautious in pursuing his aims. The military chiefs were still more cautious and anxious about any step that might provoke a general conflict. A large part of the German archives was captured after the war and have thus been available for examination. They reveal an extraordinary degree of trepidation and deep-seated distrust of Germany’s capacity to wage a great war.

When in 1936, Hitler moved to reoccupy the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland, his generals were alarmed at his decision and the reactions it might provoke from the French. Because of their protests only a few token units were sent in at first, as straws in the wind. When he wished to send troops to help Franco in the Spanish Civil War they made fresh protests about the risks involved, and he agreed to restrict his aid. But he disregarded their apprehensions about the march into Austria, in March 1938.

When, shortly afterwards Hitler disclosed his intentions of putting the screws on Czecho-Slovakia for the return of the Sudetenland, the Chief of the General Staff, General Beck, drafted a memorandum in which he argued that Hitler’s aggressively expansionist programme was bound to produce a world-wide catastrophe and Germany’s ruin. This was read out at a conference of the leading generals, and, with their general approval, sent to Hitler. As Hitler showed no sign of changing his policy, the Chief of the General Staff resigned from office. Hitler assured the other generals that France and Britain would not fight for Czecho-Slovakia, but they were so far from being reassured that they plotted a military revolt to avert the risk of war by arresting Hitler and the other Nazi leaders.

The bottom was knocked out of their counter-plan, however, when Chamberlain acceded to Hitler’s crippling demands upon Czecho-Slovakia, and in concert with the French agreed to stand aside while that unhappy country was stripped of both territory and defences.

For Chamberlain, the Munich Agreement spelt peace for our time. For Hitler, it spelt a further and greater triumph not only over his foreign opponents but also over his generals. After their warnings had been so repeatedly refused by his unchallenged and bloodless successes, they naturally lost confidence and influence. Naturally, too, Hitler himself became overweeningly confident of a continued run of easy success. Even when he came to see that further ventures might entail a war he felt that it would be only a small one, and a short one. His moments of doubt were drowned by the cumulative effect of intoxicating success.

If he had contemplated a general war, involving Britain, he would have put every possible effort into building a Navy capable of challenging Britain’s command of the sea. But, in fact, he did not even build up his Navy to the limited scale visualized in the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935. He constantly assured his admirals that they could discount any risk of war with Britain. After Munich he told them that they need not anticipate a conflict with Britain within the next six years at least. Even in the summer of 1939, and as late as August 22, he repeated such assurances—if with waning conviction.

How, then, did it come about that he became involved in the major war that he had been so anxious to avoid?

The answer is to be found not merely, nor most, in Hitler’s aggressiveness, but in the encouragement,  he had long received from the complaisant attitude of the Western Powers coupled with their sudden turn-about in the spring of 1939. That reversal was so abrupt and unexpected as to make war inevitable.

If you allow anyone to stoke up a boiler until the steam-pressure rises beyond the danger point, the real responsibility for any resultant explosion will lie with you. That truth of physical science applies equally to political science—especially to the conduct of international affairs.

Ever since Hitler’s entry into power, in 1933, the British and French Governments had conceded to this dangerous autocrat immeasurably more than they had been willing to concede to Germany’s previous democratic Governments. At every turn they showed a disposition to avoid trouble and shelve awkward problems—to preserve their present comfort at the expense of the future.

Hitler, on the other hand, was thinking out his problems all too logically. The course of his policy came to be guided by the idea formulated in a testament which he expounded in November 1937—a version of which has been preserved in the so-called Hossbach Memorandum. It was based on the conviction of Germany’s vital need for more lebensraum—living space—for her expanding population if there was to be any chance of maintaining their living standards. In his view Germany could not hope to make herself self-sufficient, especially in food-supply. Nor by buying it abroad could she obtain what was needed since that meant spending more foreign exchange than she could afford. The prospects of her obtaining an increased share in world trade and industry were too limited, because of other nations’ tariff walls and her own financial stringency. Moreover, the method of indirect supply would make her dependent on foreign nations and liable to starvation in case of war.

His conclusion was that Germany must obtain more agriculturally useful space—in the thinly populated areas of Eastern Europe. It would be vain to hope that this would be willingly conceded to her. The history of all times—Roman Empire, British Empire—has proved that every space expansion can be effected only by breaking resistance and taking risks . . . Neither in former times nor today has space been found without an owner. The problem would have to be solved by 1945 at the latest— after this we can only expect a change for the worse. Possible outlets would be blocked while a food crisis would be imminent.

While these ideas went much further than Hitler’s initial desire to recover the territory that had been taken from Germany after WW1, it is not true that Western statesmen were as unaware of them as they later pretended. In 1937-38 many of them were frankly realistic in private discussions, though not on public platforms, and many arguments were set forth in British governing circles for allowing Germany to expand eastwards, and thus divert danger from the West. They showed much sympathy with Hitler’s desire for lebensraum—and let him know it. But they shirked thinking out the problem of how the owners could be induced to yield it except to threat of superior forces.

The German documents reveal that Hitler derived special encouragement from Lord Halifax’s visit in November 1937. Halifax was then Lord President of the Council, ranking second in the Cabinet to the Prime Minister. According to the documentary record of the interview, he gave Hitler to understand that Britain would allow him a free hand in Eastern Europe. Halifax may not have meant as much, but that was the impression he conveyed—and it proved of crucial importance.

Then in February 1938, Mr. Anthony Eden was driven to resign as Foreign Minister after repeated disagreements with Chamberlain—who in response to one of his protests had told him to go home and take an aspirin. Halifax was appointed to succeed him at the Foreign Office. A few days later, the British Ambassador in Berlin, Sir Neville Henderson, called on Hitler for a confidential talk, in continuation of Halifax’s November conversation, and conveyed that the British Government was much in sympathy with Hitler’s desire for changes in Europe to Germany’s benefit—the present British Government had a keen sense of reality.

As these documents show, these events precipitated Hitler’s action. He thought that the lights had changed to green, allowing him to proceed eastward. It was a very natural conclusion.

Hitler was further encouraged by the accommodating way that the British and French Governments accepted his march into Austria and incorporation of that country in the German Reich. (The only hitch in that easy coup was the way many of his tanks broke down on the road to Vienna). Still more encouragement came when he heard that Chamberlain and Halifax had rejected Russian proposals after the coup, to confer on a collective insurance plan against the German advance. Here it should be added that when the threat to the Czechs came to head in Sept. 1938, the Russian Government again made known, publicly and privately, its willingness to combine with France and Britain in measures to defend Czecho-Slovakia. That offer was ignored. Moreover, Russia was ostentatiously excluded from the Munich conference at which Czecho-Slovakia’s fate was settled. This cold-shouldering had fatal consequences the following year.

After the way the British Government had appeared to acquiesce in his eastward move, Hitler was unpleasantly surprised by their strong reaction, and the partial mobilization, which developed when he put the heat on Czecho-Slovakia in September. But when Chamberlain yielded to his demands and actively helped him to impose terms on Czecho-Slovakia, he felt that the momentary threat of resistance had been a face-saving operation—to meet the objections of the large body of British opinion headed by Mr. Winston Churchill, which opposed the governmental policy of conciliation and concession. He was no less encouraged by the passivity of the French. As they had so readily abandoned their Czech ally, which had possessed the most efficient Army of all the smaller Powers, it seemed unlikely that they would go to war in defence of any remnant of their former chain of allies in East and Central Europe.

Thus, Hitler felt that he could complete the elimination of Czecho-Slovakia at an early moment, and then expand his eastward advance.

At first, he did not think of moving against Poland—even though she possessed the largest stretch of territory carved out of Germany after WW1. Poland, like Hungary, had been helpful to him in threatening Czecho-Slovakia’s rear, and thus inducing her to surrender to his demands—Poland, incidentally, had not exploited the chance to seize a slice of Czech territory. Hitler was inclined to accept Poland as a junior partner for the time being, on condition that she handed back the German port of Danzig and granted Germany a free route to East Prussia through the Polish Corridor. On Hitler’s part, it was a remarkably moderate demand in the circumstances. But in successive discussions that winter, Hitler found that the Poles were obstinately disinclined to make any such concession and had the inflated idea of their own strength. Even so, he continued to hope that they would come around after further negotiations. As late as March 25, he told his Army Commander-in-Chief that he did not wish to solve the Danzig problem by the use of force. But a change of mind was produced by an unexpected British step that followed on a fresh step on his part in a different direction.

In the early months of 1939, the heads of the British Government were feeling happier than they had for a long time. They lulled themselves into the belief that their accelerated rearmament measures, America’s rearmament programme and Germany’s economic difficulties were diminishing the danger of the situation. On March 10 Chamberlain privately expressed the view that the prospects of peace were better than ever and spoke of his hopes that a new disarmament conference would be arranged before the end of the year. Next day, Sir Samuel Hoare—Eden’s predecessor as Foreign Secretary and now Home Secretary—hopefully suggested in a speech that the world was entering a Golden Age. Ministers assured friends and critics that Germany’s economic plight made her incapable of going to war, and that she bound to comply with the British Government’s conditions in return for the help that it was offering her in the form of a commercial treaty. Two ministers, Mr. Oliver Stanley and Robert Hudson, were going to Berlin to arrange it.

The same week Punch came out with a cartoon which showed John Bull awaking with relief from a nightmare, while the recent war scare was flying out of the window. Never was there such a spell of absurdly optimistic illusions as during the week leading up to the Ides of March 1939. Meanwhile the Nazis had been fostering separatist’s movements in Czecho-Slovakia, to produce a breakdown from within. On March 12 the Slovaks declared their independence, after their leader, Father Tiso, had visited Hitler in Berlin. More blindly, Poland’s Foreign Minister, Colonel Beck, publicly expressed his full sympathy with the Slovaks. On the 15th, German troops marched into Prague, after the Czech President had yielded to Hitler’s demand to establish a Protectorate over Bohemia and to occupy the country accordingly.

The previous autumn, when the Munich Agreement was made, the British Government had pledged itself to guarantee Czecho-Slovakia against aggression. But Chamberlain told the House of Commons that he considered the Slovakia’s break-away had annulled the guarantee, and that he did not feel bound by this obligation. While expressing regret at what had happened, he conveyed to the House that he saw no reason why it should deflect British policy. Within a few days, however, Chamberlain made a complete about-turn—so sudden and far-reaching that it amazed the world. He jumped to a decision to block any following move of Hitler’s and on March 29 sent Poland an offer to support her against any action which threatened Polish independence, and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist.

It is impossible to gauge what was the predominant influence on his impulse—the pressure of public indignation, or his own indignation, or his anger at having been fooled by Hitler, or his humiliation at having been made to look a fool in the eyes of his own people.

Most of those in Britain who had supported and applauded his previous appeasement policy underwent a similar violent reaction—sharpened by the reproaches of the other half of the nation, which had distrusted the policy. The breach was cemented, and the nation reunited, by a general surge of exasperation. The unqualified terms of the guarantee placed Britain’s destiny in the hands of Poland’s rulers, men of very dubious and unstable judgment. Moreover, the guarantee was impossible to fulfil except with Russia’s help, yet no preliminary steps were taken to find out whether Russia would give, or Poland would accept, such aid.

The Cabinet, when asked to approve the guarantee, was not even shown the actual report of the Chiefs of Staff Committee—which would have made clear how impossible it was, in a practical sense, to give any protection to Poland. It is doubtful, however, whether this would have made any difference in face of the prevailing mood. When the guarantee was discussed in Parliament it was welcomed on all sides. Mr. Lloyd George’s was a solitary voice when he warned the House that it was suicidal folly to undertake such a far-stretched without first making sure of Russia’s backing. The Polish Guarantee was the surest way to produce an early explosion, and a world war. It combined the maximum temptation with manifest provocation. It incited Hitler to demonstrate the futility of such a guarantee to a country out of reach from the West, while making the stiff-necked Poles even less inclined to consider any concession to him, and at the same time making it impossible for him to draw back without losing face.

Why did Poland’s rulers accept such a fatal offer? Partly because they had an absurdly exaggerated idea of the power of their out of date forces –they boastfully talked of a cavalry ride to Berlin. Partly because of personal factors:

  • Colonel Beck, shortly afterwards, said that he made up his mind to accept the British offer two flicks of the ash off the cigarette he was smoking.
  • He went on to explain that at his meeting with Hitler in January he had found it hard to swallow Hitler’s remark that Danzig must be handed back, and that when the British offer was communicated to him he saw it, and seized it, as a chance to give Hitler a slap in the face. This impulse was only too typical of the ways in which the fate of peoples is often decided.

The only chance of avoiding war now lay in securing the support of Russia—the only power that could give Poland direct support and thus provide a deterrent to Hitler. But, despite the urgency of the situation, the British Government’s steps were dilatory and half-hearted. Chamberlain had a strong dislike of Soviet Russia and Halifax an intense religious antipathy, while both underrated her strength as much as they overrated Poland’s. If they now recognized the desirability of a defensive arrangement with Russia they wanted it on their own terms and failed to realize that by their precipitate guarantee to Poland they had placed themselves in a position where they would have to sue for it on her terms—as was obvious to Stalin, if not to them.

But beyond their own hesitations were the objections of the Polish Government, and the other small powers in Eastern Europe, to accepting military support from Russia—since these feared that reinforcements by her armies would be equivalent to invasion. So, the pace of the Anglo-Russian negotiations became as slow as a funeral march.

Very different was Hitler’s response to the situation. Britain’s violent reaction and redoubled armament measures shook him, but the effect was opposite to that intended. Feeling that the British were getting opposed to German expansion eastward, and fearful of being blocked if he tarried, he drew the conclusion that he must accelerate his steps towards lebensraum. But how could he do it without bringing on a general war? His solution was coloured by his historically derived picture of the British. Regarding them as cool-headed and rational, with their emotions controlled by their head, he felt that they would not dream of entering a war on behalf of Poland unless they could obtain Russia’s support. So, swallowing his hatred and fear of Bolshevism, he bent his efforts and energies towards conciliating Russia and securing her abstention. It was a turn-about even more startling than Chamberlain’s—and as fatal in its consequences.

Hitler’s courting approach of Russia was eased because Stalin was already looking on the West from a new slant. The Russians’ natural resentment of the way they had been cold-shouldered by Chamberlain and Halifax in 1938 was increased when, after Hitler’s march into Prague, their fresh proposal for a joint defensive alliance had a tepid reception, while the British Government rushed into an independent arrangement with Poland. Nothing could have been more certain to deepen doubt and heighten suspicion.

On May 3 a warning, unmistakable except to the blind, was conveyed in the news that Litvinov, Russia’s Foreign Commissar had been release’ from office. He had long been the chief advocate of co-operation with the Western Powers in resistance to Nazi Germany. To his post was appointed Molotov, who was reported to prefer dealing with dictators to dealing with liberal democracies.

Tentative moves towards a Soviet-Nazi entente began in April but were conducted on both sides with extreme wariness—for mutual distrust was profound, and each side suspected that the other might be merely trying to hinder it reaching an agreement with the Western Powers. But the slow progress of the Anglo-Russian negotiations encouraged the Germans to exploit the opportunity, quicken their pace, and press their suit. Molotov remained non-committal, however, until the middle of August. Then a decisive change took place. It may have been prompted by the Germans’ willingness, in contrast to British hesitations and reservations, to concede Stalin’s exacting conditions, especially a free hand with the Baltic States. It may also have been connected with the obvious fact that Hitler could not afford to postpone action in Poland beyond early September, lest the weather might bog him down, so that the postponement of the Soviet-German agreement until late in August ensured there would not be time for Hitler and the Western Powers to reach another Munich agreement—which might spell danger for Russia.

On August 23 Ribbentrop flew to Moscow, and the pact was signed. It was accompanied by a secret agreement under which Poland was to be partitioned between Germany and Russia.

This pact made war certain, and more so because of the lateness of the timing. Hitler could not draw back on the Polish issue without serious loss of face in Moscow. Moreover, his belief that the British Government would not venture on an obviously futile struggle to preserve Poland, and did not really wish to bring in Russia, had been freshly fostered by the way that Chamberlain had, in late July, started private negotiations with him through his trusted adviser, Sir Horace Wilson, for an Anglo-German pact.

But the Soviet-German Pact, coming so late, did not have the effect on the British that Hitler had reckoned. On the contrary, it aroused the bulldog spirit—of blind determination, regardless of the consequences. In that state of feeling, Chamberlain could not stand aside without both loss of face and breach of promise.

Stalin had been only too aware that the Western Powers had long been disposed to let Hitler expand eastward—in Russia’s direction. It is probable that he saw the Soviet-German Pact as a convenient device by which he could divert Hitler’s aggressive dynamism in the opposite direction. In other words, by this nimble-side-step he would let his immediate and potential opponents’ crash into one another. At least this should produce a diminution of the threat to Soviet Russia and might well result in such common exhaustion on their part as to ensure Russia’s post war ascendancy.

The Pact meant the removal of Poland as a buffer between Germany and Russia—but the Russians had always felt that the Poles were more likely to serve as a spearhead for a German invasion of Russia than as a barricade against it. By collaborating in Hitler’s conquest of Poland, and dividing it with him, they would not only be taking an easy way of regaining their pre-1914 property but be able to convert eastern Poland into a barrier space which, though narrower, would be held by their own forces. That seemed a more reliable buffer than an independent Poland. The Pact also paved the way for Russia’s occupation of the Baltic states and Bessarabia, as a wider extension of the buffer.

In 1941, after Hitler had swept into Russia, Stalin’s 1939 side-step looked a fatally short-sighted shift. It is likely that Stalin overestimated the Western nations’ capacity for resisting and thus exhausting, Germany’s power. It is likely, too, that he also overestimated the initial resisting power of his own forces. Nevertheless, surveying the European situation in later years, it does not seem so certain as in 1941 that his side-step proved to Soviet Russia’s disadvantages.

For the West, on the other hand, it brought immeasurable harm. The primary blame for that lies with those who were responsible for the successive policies of procrastination and precipitation—in face of a palpably explosive situation.

Dealing with Britain’s entry into the war—after describing how she allowed Germany to re-arm and then to swallow Austria and Czecho-Slovakia, while at the same time spurning Russia’s proposals for joint action—Churchill says:

. . . when every one of these aids and advantages has been squandered and thrown away, Great Britain advances, leading France by the hand, to guarantee the integrity of Poland—of that very Poland which with hyena appetite had only six months before joined in the pillage and destruction of the Czechoslovak State. There was sense in fighting for Czechoslovakia in 1938, when the German Army could scarcely put half a dozen trained divisions on the Western Front, when the French with nearly sixty or seventy divisions could most certainly have rolled forward across the Rhine or into the Ruhr. But this had been judged unreasonable, rash, below the level of modern intellectual thought and morality. Yet now at last the two Western democracies declared themselves ready to stake their lives upon the territorial integrity of Poland. History, which, we are told, is mainly the record of the crimes, follies, and miseries of mankind, may be scoured and ransacked to find a parallel to this sudden and complete reversal of five or six years’ policy of easy-going, placatory appeasement, and its transformation almost overnight into a readiness to accept an obviously imminent war on far worse conditions and on the greater scale. . .

Here was decision at last, taken at the worst possible moment and on the least satisfactory ground, which must surely lead to slaughter of tens of millions of people.

It is a striking verdict on Chamberlain’s folly, written in hindsight. For Churchill himself had, in the heat of the moment, supported Chamberlain’s pressing offer of Britain’s guarantee to Poland. It is only too evident that in 1939 he, like most of Britain’s leaders, acted on a hot-headed impulse—instead of with the cool-headed judgment that was once characteristic of British statesmanship.

Courtesy of: History of the Second World War by B.H. Liddell Hart, G.P. Putnam’s Sons New York 1970

Towards the Watershed of 1971

During a visit to Dhaka in the late summer of 1968, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto declared Bengali demands for provincial autonomy to be in the best interests of the country. He assailed civil bureaucrats, the CSP in particular, for treating the people of the eastern wing as Kala Admees, literally black men. This derogatory attitude had misled the government into implicating Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in the Agartala Conspiracy Case when they might have tried negotiating with him. Self-interested quarters in West Pakistan had started attacking the Awami League’s demands the moment they were announced by Mujib without examining their merits and demerits. Bhutto regretted that Mujib had refused his invitation to debate the six points set forth in public. Only two of the six points were totally unacceptable to the PPP leader, who was prepared to discuss the others in order to remove doubts and misgivings. He urged the government to find some political solution of the problem as such issues cannot be solved byforce.

Three years later, when the golden hues of eastern Bengal’s lush green landscape had been turned red with the steely might of oppression, the sharp-witted Bhutto stood knee deep in the bloodshed in East Pakistan alongside the leadership of a hated military junta. Upon returning to Karachi from Dhaka after the military crackdown on the night of March 25, 1971, the former foreign minister thanked the Almighty for saving Pakistan. He defended the military action publicly and accused Mujibur Rahman of conspiring with India to dismember the country. In private, he conveyed to Yahya Khan that even if limited military action had been found necessary to counter the threat of secession, a resolution of the crisis demanded a political solution that gave the people of the eastern wing their due share of both political and economic power. If the correct course is not followed, Bhutto wrote in a memo to Yahya Khan, then why should East Pakistanis want to stay a part of Pakistan–what stake would they have left in Pakistan with their due rights denied to them? Bhutto warned Yahya against projecting discredited Bengali politicians and strongly recommended providing economic relief to the rural populace of East Pakistan who had not yet been swept away by the Awami League’s propaganda. It was dangerous to create a situation in which the government was left facing a hostile public in both Wings during this national crisis, particularly when India is waiting to take advantage of the situation.

The military regime was disinclined to countenance civilian rule until the successful conclusion of the counterinsurgency operations in East Pakistan. Mindful of the risks involved in attacking the junta, Bhutto confined himself to calling for a transfer of power in the west, which he defined as democratization to deflect criticisms of his thirst for power. Similar steps were to be taken in the eastern wing whenever circumstances became conducive. Despite clear differences in their stances, Bhutto has come to be regarded as Yahya Khan’s accomplice in the making of the colossal human tragedy that culminated in the breakup of Pakistan in December 1971. Bhutto vehemently denied the charge. His differences with Mujibur Rahman were not in the nature of power struggle but a struggle of conflicting equities. For the Awami League leader, equity lay in an independent Bengal . . . for me in the retention of Pakistan. Mujib claimed that the six points were the property of the people of the eastern wing. For Bhutto, Pakistan was the property of the people and the Awami League’s demands a concealed formula for secession. it was in this that our points of view clashed.

The question of who ultimately was responsible for the 1971 debacle has spawned a rich harvest of commentary. At the political level, the debate on the causes of Pakistan’s disintegration has three sides to it in much the same way as one about India’s partition. The Pakistani Army might be seen as replacing the British at the base of the triangle, with Bhutto and Mujib substituting the Muslim League and the Congress as its two sides. As in 1947, the primary hurdle in the way of a mutually acceptable arrangement was how power was to be shared between the main political contenders within a federal state. The similarities between 1947 and 1971 should not be allowed to obfuscate the key difference between them. Unlike the British, who were transferring power before leaving the subcontinent, the Pakistani Army wanted to secure its own interests before passing the mantle to the victorious political parties. Despite the army’s self-interest in the outcome of the negotiations with the Awami League, a powerful current of popular opinion in Pakistan and Bangladesh has held that Bhutto in his greed for power bamboozled a mentally and physically unfit Yahya into dismembering the country. On this view, a conniving and unprincipled politician tricked the army into committing national suicide. Although there may be some merit in this view, the events of 1971 also had a fourth dimension in the form of India’s role, which had a direct bearing on the Pakistani Army’s calculations. To make sense of the single most important watershed in the subcontinent’s post independence history, therefore, requires retracing the evolution of the Awami League’s demands for provincial autonomy within the context of the formation and consolidation of Pakistan military bureaucratic state structure.

The Politics of Denial

Starting its independent career without the semblance of a centre, Pakistan showed its determination to parry external and internal threats to its survival by developing an elaborate hydra-like state structure during the first two and a half decades of its existence. Steeped in the classical tradition of colonial bureaucratic authoritarianism, the state sought to penetrate society, extract resources from the economy and manipulate the polity rather than devolve responsibilities or serve as a two-way channel of communication between the rulers and ruled. The early demise of representative political, processes shored up the centralizing logic of bureaucratic authoritarianism, replacing the democratic requirements of consensus with the dictatorial methods of coercion. The primacy of the central state in all spheres of a society characterized by regional heterogeneities and economic disparities generated rancour among the constituent units, breeding a web of political intrigue and instability that affected the functioning of state authority at the local and provincial levels.

Unable reconcile the imperatives of state building with those of nation building, successive ruling combinations tried to gain legitimacy by playing up the Indian threat and paying lip service to a vaguely defined Islamic ideology. With a narrowly construed security paradigm defining the centre’s conception of national interest, the perspective of the provinces was sidelined, if not altogether ignored. Rumblings of protest in the provinces were put down with an iron fist or given short shrift by invoking the common bond of religion. Islam in the service of a military authoritarian state proved to be divisive. Far from unifying a people fractured along regional and class lines, the state’s use of religion encouraged self-styled ideologues of Islam to nurture hopes of one day storming the citadels of the Muslim state. The great populist poet Habib Jalib poured scorn on the state’s appropriation of Islam to promote national unity. “ISLAM IS NOT IN DANGER” he cried out in a memorable poem. It was the idle rich, the exploiters of the peasantry and labour, the thieves, tricksters, and traitors in league with Western capitalists who were endangered.

Proponents of such populist ideas were hounded and winnowed out. With the press in chains and civil society the target of novel forms of social and political engineering, the odds were stacked against the advocates of democracy. After derailing the political process in 1958, the military-bureaucratic establishment tried securing its bases of support. This meant bypassing political parties and using state power to bring segments of dominant socioeconomic groups under the regime’s sway through differential patronage and selective mobilization. During the heyday of modernization theory in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Pakistan under military rule was hailed in some quarters in the West as a model of social harmony and political stability in the developing world. The expectations were sorely belied by the realities on the ground. The methods employed to construct and consolidate the state exacerbated provincial grievances, with dire consequences for Pakistan’s political stability and tenuous federal equation. State-sponsored processes of political inclusion and exclusion, the economics of functional inequality, and neglect of regional disparities made it increasingly difficult to administer two geographically separate parts, triggering the ignominious downfall of two military regimes and sowing the seeds of disintegration of the country.

The breakup of Pakistan was the result of the autocratic policies of its state managers rather than the inherent difficulties involved in welding together linguistically and culturally diverse constituent units. Islam proved to be dubious cement not because it was unimportant to people in the different regions. Pakistan’s regional cultures have absorbed Islam without losing affinity to local languages and customs. With some justification, non-Punjabi provinces came to perceive the use of Islam as a wily attempt by the Punjabi-led military-bureaucratic combine to deprive them of a fair share of political and economic power. Non-Punjabi antipathy towards a Punjab-dominated centre often found expression in assertions of regional distinctiveness. But politics more than cultural differences stoked regional resentments. Clarion calls for provincial autonomy were effectively demands for better job opportunities, basic social services, and a larger cut of state finances.

Here the fault lines in the Pakistani state structure played a decisive role. The demands of the military establishment on the state’s meagre resources left little for development in the provinces. Seeing India as a near and present danger, the military-bureaucratic establishment used Pakistan’s geo-strategic location to attract American military and economic assistance in return for supporting Washington’s Cold War agenda. Once a partnership had been struck with the United States, a security-conscious state fostered a political economy characterized by high defence and low development expenditure. The primary goal of the state’s development initiatives were to enhance revenue rather than social welfare— a process that saw the no- elected institutions edging out the elected institutions in the struggle for dominance in the new state. These non elected institutions carried a legacy of uneven recruitment patterns from the colonial era, compounding the difficulties in integrating diverse linguistic and socioeconomic groups.

An overarching reason for the Pakistani state’s faltering steps in the quest for social support and legitimacy was that the federal centre came to represent the interests of the dominant non-elected institutions more effectively than those of the regional socioeconomic groups to which at different stages it was loosely tied. Apart from extending patronage to its functionaries and locating them in key sectors of the economy, the state defined the field of political privilege. In the absence of democratic politics, the dominance of a predominantly Punjabi civil bureaucracy and army heightened the grievances of non-Punjabi provinces and the linguistic groups within them. The entrenched institutional supremacy of a Punjabi army and federal bureaucracy, not Punjab’s dominance over other provinces per se, had emerged as the principal impediment to restoring democratic processes in Pakistan. In the face of chronic tensions between the centre and the regions, the religious glue of Islam alone could not bind a diverse and disparate people into a nation.

The proposed homeland for India’s Muslims was envisaged in the Lahore Resolution of 1940 as a federation of sovereign and autonomous units. The hint of confederalism quickly fell by the wayside in the heady aftermath of 1947. The first requirement of the new government in Karachi was to establish its writ over two geographically distinct constituent units. In the absence of a preexisting central apparatus and effective political party machinery in the provinces, pragmatism was the better option. The Government of India Act of 1935 was adapted as the provisional constitution and later made the bedrock of the 1956 and the 1962 constitutions. Aimed at perpetuating, not terminating colonial rule, the Act of 1935 retained certain unitary features of the British Indian state to counterbalance the concessions of federalism. Unlike most federal systems of government, the constituent units were made subject to a single constitution. The federal centre arrogated superior powers in legislative, financial and political matters. Soon after independence, the provinces were deprived of the financial autonomy granted to them under the act and made dependent on central handouts which, given the severe shortage of funds, were wholly inadequate for their development needs.

The future course of democracy was imperilled in a country whose federal configuration to begin with consisted of fifteen different entities—five provinces and ten princely states—of vastly uneven size and political importance. Troubled by the political implications of an overall Bengali majority in the federation, officialdom in West Pakistan gave enthusiastic support to the merger of the western wing under the one unit scheme. Unlike the western wing, with its heterogeneities, East Bengal was in relative terms linguistically and culturally homogenous. It was also politically more volatile than parts of West Pakistan. Bengalis felt passionately about their autonomy and were prone to leftist ideologies and sporadic bouts of violence. They resented the use of their hard-earned foreign exchange to beef up a military establishment wedded to the curious strategic doctrine of defending the eastern wing from West Pakistan. Seeing an Indian hand in Bengali demands for provincial autonomy, the federal government declared them seditious and, in turn, used this to justify its centralizing and homogenizing designs. But neither the threat of India nor the allure of Islam could save the centre from the wrath of constituent units reduced to being hapless appendages in a state that was federal in form and unitary in substance.

If East Bengal was a thorn in the side of the federal establishment, the fourteen units composing the western wing presented a political and constitutional conundrum. Most of the princely states claimed some semblance of sovereignty and had to be cajoled and coerced into acceding to Pakistan before being summarily bundled into the one-unit scheme of October 1955. Those that resisted, Kalat, for instance—were clobbered with an iron hand. As the largest of the tribal states in Baluchistan, Kalat enjoyed the allegiance of tribal chiefs who, though monitored by the British resident in Quetta, had retained autonomy over their local affairs during the colonial period. The Pakistani centre’s encroachments on Baluchistan threatened to alter a jealously guarded status quo. Sporadic eruptions of armed insurgency became a recurrent feature of politics in Baluchistan. This was not too difficult given the impoverishment of the people and the absence of the most rudimentary forms of infrastructure for the economic development of the province. During the 1960, Sher Mohammad Marri spearheaded the resistance under the umbrella of the Baluch Liberation Front. The battles fought by the Pakistani Army in the rugged terrain of Baluchistan shaped its institutional psyche in decisive ways. Baluch nationalists were labelled miscreants working hand in glove with either Afghanistan or the country’s premier enemy. This perception did not remain confined to the military. Tarring regional demands with the Indian brush became such an entrenched part of the official discourse of nationalism in Pakistan that the managers of the centralized state regarded legitimate demands for provincial autonomy with deep suspicion.

Consequently, even in the relatively quiescent parts of West Pakistan, there was no love lost for an unresponsive centre that continued swallowing up larger and larger chunks of provincial revenues without contributing much for the development of local infrastructure and social welfare. The massive demographic changes accompanying partition strained the limited administrative capacities of Punjab and Sindh to breaking point. While the exodus of non-Muslims disrupted the economic and educational networks in these provinces, accommodating the bulk of the 7.2 million Muslim refugees from India within a short span of time was impossible without the sustained help of the central government. Preoccupied with matters of defence and its own political survival, Karachi’s assistance to these provinces fell well short of expectations. In the absence e of funds and efficient administrative solutions, the rehabilitation of refugees was quickly transformed into an explosive political issue. Several provincial politicians used it to chip away at the centre’s uncertain authority.

Accounting for 10% of Pakistan’s population by 1951, the refugees permanently altered the political landscape of Punjab and Sindh. Despite taking in a much larger percentage of Muslims fleeing parts of East Punjab ravaged by violence, Punjab had a relatively easier time absorbing the mainly Punjabi-speaking migrants into its social fabric. By contrast, the influx of mainly Urdu-speaking migrants into Sindh created a clutch of political and cultural problems for the provincial administration. More than half a million refugees came to Sindh during the initial years of independence. Almost two-thirds of them opted for urban centres like Karachi and Hyderabad while the remainder settled in the rural areas of this overwhelmingly agricultural province. In principle, the incoming migrants were expected to replace the non-Muslims in both the urban and rural areas. However, the problem of resettlement was far more complicated and the ensuing tensions between local Sindhis and the newcomers much fiercer than in Punjab. For one thing, the outflow of Hindus to India was slower in Sindh than in Punjab. For another, some of the more powerful Sindhi Muslim landlords are said to have grabbed nearly two-thirds of the agricultural land vacated by the Hindus before migrants from UP, Hyderabad Deccan, or East Punjab could make their presence felt. The situation was particularly fraught in Karachi, a thriving cosmopolitan city of 400,000 in 1947, but one in which construction activity had not kept pace with the growth in population due to World War II. The preferred destination for a majority of uprooted Urdu-speakers from North India’s urban areas, Karachi had thinly spread municipal facilities, whether for health, communications, water supply, electric power, or housing, that were incapable of bearing the burden of its new population.

The sheer pace of the sociocultural and political transformation of Sindh can be seen by the jump in the number of Urdu speakers from a mere 1% of the population in 1947 to 12% by the time of the 1951 census. With just a sprinkle of Urdu speakers at the time of partition, Karachi by the late 1950s had become a migrant city with more than half its population claiming Urdu as their mother tongue. This would not have been possible if the provincial government had succeeded in getting its way. Within a year or so of partition, relations between the centre and the Sindh government had nose-dived over the forcible separation of Karachi from the province. Justified on the grounds of national interest, the loss of Karachi rankled the Sindhis all the more because they were not compensated for the loss of the province’s primary revenue earner. Under the circumstances, the centre’s advocacy of Urdu-speaking migrants’ right to space, gainful employment, and adequate political representation was perceived as a deep-seated conspiracy to displace Sindhis from a position of dominance in their own province. The centre’s preference for authoritarian methods over democratic ones even during the first decade after independence only confirmed the worst fears of the Sindhis. Calling themselves muhajirs, or refugees after the early community of Islam that migrated from Mecca to Medina, the Urdu speakers believed that their sacrifices of life and property for Pakistan entitled them to a privileged position in the new state. Lacking a provincial base of their own, the class, occupational, and emotional profile of many Urdu speakers made them particularly susceptible to the appeal to religion by self-styled “Islamist” parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami and the JUP, which had made Karachi the focus of their oppositional politics. Paradoxically enough, their religious pretensions and claims of cultural superiority over other linguistic groups suited a West Pakistani establishment, harping on the Islamic identity of Pakistan and Urdu as the cultural motif of its national unity, much more than political parties with provincial bases of support.

The concordat between the centre and the better-educated Urdu speaking muhajirs, many of whom held top positions in the federal bureaucracy, had large implications for Pakistani politics. Even before the first military takeover of 1958, the migrants’ success in creating a social and political niche for themselves, especially in Karachi, was intensely resented not only by Sindhis but also by Punjabis, Pathans, Gujaratis and Baluchis who had come to the city looking for employment and a better quality of life. Antipathy towards the Urdu-speaking migrants was not a facet of the Sindhi sociopolitical scene alone. It extended to other provinces where the educated classes felt slighted by the cultural pretensions of the Urdu speakers. This was true even of those members of the urban Punjabi middle and upper classes who accepted Urdu as their lingua franca in the interest of national cohesion. Urdu was much less prevalent in the NWFP and Baluchistan. The Pathan provincial elite gradually took to it for pragmatic reasons without abandoning their own mother tongue, Pashto. In Baluchistan, Urdu was resisted as an alien imposition by a rapacious and indifferent government.

The suspension of democratic government in October 1958 gave a fillip to these sentiments and, in turn, provoked the centre into draconian measures in the name of national unity. Disgruntled politicians with regional bases of support were either locked out of Ayub’s bureaucratically controlled political system or locked up in jail on various grounds. Pakistan under military rule flouted the elementary norms of federalism, accentuating strains in centre-province relations. As the non-elected institutions were the main beneficiaries of administrative centralization and democratic denial, their overwhelmingly Punjabi character caused bitterness among non-Punjabis. Unable to allocate financial resources equitably to the provinces and unwilling to grant them their share of power, the federal union of Pakistan was built on a fragile branch that was liable to break under the weight of its own contradictions.

To prevent this eventuality, steps had been taken as early as 1949 to placate the non-Punjabi provinces by instituting a quota system for recruitment to the federal government services. This failed to provide adequate, far less equitable representation to the provinces or the linguistic minorities within them. Instead of correcting centrifugal trends, a centralization drive by an administrative bureaucracy dominated by Punjabis and Urdu speakers fanned provincialism. Bengalis led the non-Punjabi charge in demanding better representation in the civil, diplomatic, and armed services. The federal centre was accused of pursuing policies of internal colonization by posting Punjabi and Urdu-speaking civil servants to the non-Punjabi provinces to pilfer their meagre share of resources. Instead of consulting with the provinces or making a prior reference to the legislature, the federal centre soon after independence had temporarily withheld the share out of income tax. In an audacious move, the centre arbitrarily took away the right of the provinces to collect sales tax, the single most elastic source of their revenue. Justified in the name of national interest, the centre’s monopolization of the entire gamut of fiscal and financial arrangements to pay for a debilitating defence burden extinguished such hopes as existed of generating a measure of federal bonhomie.

The nub of Bengali hostility towards the West Pakistani establishment was the pernicious logic of functional inequality. Once militarization and industrialization became the twin pillars of Pakistani officialdom’s development rhetoric, an astonishing range of special concessions were offered to West Pakistani-based business families at the expense of the agricultural sector in East Pakistan. Raw jute grown in the eastern wing was the leading foreign exchange earner during Pakistan’s first decade of independence. In the fall of 1949, Pakistan exercised its financial sovereignty by refusing to follow the example of Britain and India and devaluing its currency. As the centre’s economic wizards had correctly calculated, this boosted export earnings by nearly 40%. The non devaluation decision brought down jute and wheat prices while those of other essential commodities increased. By imposing heavy export duties to the detriment of agriculture, the central augmented its foreign exchange reserves. The additional foreign exchange was used to finance the defence procurement effort and the industrialization of West Pakistan. Bengali grumbles about being used as milk cow for the security and development of the western wing were dismissed or conveniently misread as evidence of secessionist and pro-Indian tendencies.

So long as even the most compromised form of a federal parliamentary system was in place, it was impossible to leave the provinces completely in the financial lurch. Soon after the controversial erosion of provincial fiscal rights, the central government entered into negotiations with the provinces to arrive at a more mutually acceptable allocation of financial resources. An official of the Australian treasury, Jeremy Raisman, had been asked by the Pakistan government to examine the existing financial arrangements between the centre and the provinces. In January 1952, the Raisman Report increased the provincial proportion of federal finances. It gave East Bengal just under two-thirds of the export duty on raw jute but turned down Punjabi and Sindhi requests for a cut in the export duties in view of the federal government’s precarious financial position. Raisman also rejected provincial demands that the sales tax should be distributed among them and not shared between them and the centre. Although a positive development in an otherwise grim federal landscape, the Raisman Award did not go far enough in alleviating centre-region frictions over the all-important issue of financial autonomy.

If the centre’s tight fistedness could be justified in the light of the strategic and economic consequences of partition, its overbearing attitude towards the cultural sensitivities of the provinces was inexcusable. There were powerful undercurrents of cultural alienation in provincial demands for autonomy. Bengali outrage at the centre’s Urdu-only language policy was just the tip of the iceberg, concealing a deep-seated resentment at the marginalization of their culture in the emerging narratives of the Pakistani nation. The wounded pride of the Bengalis had met with a rude shock on February 21, 1952, when the centre’s crackdown on the student-led language movement in Dhaka led to the killing of four students and injured several more. Commemorated as Martyrs’ Day by Bengali ever since, the incident is thought to have marked the beginning of the politics of dissent that culminated in Bangladeshi nationalism and independence. Bengali linguistic nationalism, however, was one among several factors that led eventually to the breakup of Pakistan.

Bengalis were not alone in feeling aggrieved by the centre’s imposition of Urdu as the official language. A section of Punjabis belonging mostly to the lower and less well-off middle classes, bemoaned the loss of their linguistic tradition in the rush to embrace Urdu. They felt alienated by the state’s artificial attempts to imitate the mores of the Mughal court. Their opposition was not to Urdu but to its patronage by the federal centre at the expense of Punjabi, a language with a rich and vibrant oral and written literary history spanning a thousand years. Confusing cultural assertion with parochialism, the central government harassed Punjabi intellectuals working to promote their regional language, declaring the more recalcitrant among them as “anti state.” The suspension of parliamentary government in 1958 dealt a hammer blow to regional linguistic aspirations not only in Punjab but also in non-Punjab provinces. Fancying himself as the great unifier, General Aruba suppressed regional literary associations, dubbing some of them as extensions of the banned Communist Party.

State coercion could at best curb the growth of mass-based language movements, not dilute the enthusiasm of the more ardent protagonists of linguistic regionalism. Bengalis defied the government’s crude attempts to prevent them from celebrating the birthday of the revered Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. The ban on his works in the state-controlled media heightened Tagore’s appeal as a symbol of Bengali resistance against an intrusive and dictatorial centre. Bengali writers and poets used Tagore, along with socialist and communist themes, to highlight the exploitation of East Pakistan and attack the state’s Islamic ideology. In West Pakistan too, regional languages like Punjabi, Pashto and Sindhi continued to expand their readership by increasing their literary production independently of the state. Advertising the risks of forcibly regimenting cultural traditions, Urdu came to be seen as an alien implant at the service of a neo-imperialist agenda.

The centre’s myopic handling of provincial sensibilities on language was matched by ham-handed attempts at marshalling Islam in the cause of nation building. With the religious ideologues agitating for the introduction of sharia, senior bureaucrats set about feverishly establishing the religious credentials of the state. The result was a strange convergence of interest between an authoritarian centre, besieged by a crescendos of demands for provincial autonomy, and a spectrum of Islamic ideologues looking for ways to squeeze through the woodwork to the apex of state power. Although it is impossible to exaggerate the extent of the symbiosis between these two distinct forces, the state’s emphasis on its religious identity lent greater legitimacy to the would-be-ideologues of Islam than the ground realities merited. But there was a world of difference between using religious preachers to advance the state’s homogenizing logic and a commitment to turning Pakistan into a conservative, hidebound Islamic state on a narrowly construed reading of Islam.

Ever since the Objectives Resolution of 1949–ostensibly a victory for modernist interpretations of Islam—the so called religious parties had chastised the state overlords for not living up to the ideals of Islam. Mawdudi, the leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami, lent ideological starch to this argument. In his opinion, it was the duty of a state created in the name of Islam to mold the hearts and minds of its citizens according to the tenets of their religion. There was no scope for citizens to influence or contest the state’s understanding of Islam. Mawdudi defended this on the grounds that because sovereignty in an Islamic state was vested in Allah, such perfect justice and equity will prevail that dissent would amount to apostasy. The Jamaat ideologue had pretensions about pressing his credentials as an Islamic scholar with infallible authority to interpret the divine will. Consistent with his view of the state in Islam as a spiritual democracy, Iqbal had proposed reposing the authority in an elected Parliament. In Mawdudi’s authoritarian conception of an Islamic state, there was no possibility of Parliament debating, far less defining God’s will. Muslims not confirming to his idea of Islam were implicitly excluded from Mawdudi’s definition of a believer. In another significant departure from the poetic visionary of Pakistan, who had held that the idea of the state was not dominant in Islam, Mawdudi considered the acquisition of state power vital to attain the ideal Islamic way of life. He proposed a jihad to seize state power and declared the lesser jihad (against the enemies of Islam) to be more important than the greater jihad (with one’s inner self). Jihad was justified against internal Muslim others quite as much as against non-Muslims, sharpening the edges of the fault lines in the battle for the soul of Pakistan. There was no place in this scheme of things for any mutually negotiated coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims. The Islamic state was the ideological embodiment of Muslim belief in one God and the Prophet Muhammad. Consequently, non-Muslims had to be debarred from holding key positions of responsibility. The same logic led Mawdudi to propose that Indian Muslims, a rump of a once significant community, had no choice but to live according to the dictates of the Hindu-majority community.

Mawdudi’s idea of indoctrination and his strident anti-Indian rhetoric coupled with an insistence on Islam held out attractions for a military dominated state. However, there was no question of the decision makers in the military and civil bureaucracy letting the clerics rule the Islamic roost. During Ayub Khan’s era of enlightened Islam, Mawdudism became a word of execration and also fear. The religious lobby’s potential to kick up a popular storm to the detriment of an authoritarian regime fully dawned on the general within years of his usurpation of state power. Moon sighting for the Muslim festival of Eid was a source of contention among the believers, with the clerics using it as an opportunity to enhance their public reach. When the Ayub regime tried rationalization of the process in 1967 by setting up a committee that proceeded to announce a day for Eid, the ulema led by Mawdudi protested this unwarranted intervention by the state in a sphere they regarded as their exclusive preserve. Five of them were quickly put behind bars, including Mawdudi, and the press prohibited from reporting on the matter. Throughout the Ayub era, Mawdudi bore the brunt of the state’s coercive apparatus and was dragged through the courts in lengthy and financially withering legal battles. Ayub vented his fury against the Jamaat leader, calling him a traitor and true enemy of Islam. In any other country, the dictator opined, Mawdudi would have been lynched like a dog, but in Pakistan we have rule of law of which traitors take full advantage and protection.

A gaggle of senior civil bureaucrats close to Ayub’s way of thinking set about conjuring up the idioms of an Islamic ideology designed to expedite national integration rather than any visible kind of religiosity. What ensued was a scrappy tug-of-war between self-styled ideologues at the helm of state power and the bearded legions with their prayer rosaries, whether in the mosques, seminaries, or on the streets, over the authority to interpret the message of Islam. Among the main casualties of the struggle was the centre-province equation, with dire consequences for the federation. The state’s recourse to religion was designed to counter claims based on cultural diversity and difference. Intended to facilitate unity among Pakistan’s diverse regions, cynical uses of Islam served to undermine any sort of consensus on national identity. For a largely destitute populace seeking to eke out a decent living, matters to do with Islam’s ritualistic, doctrinal and spiritual aspects were not the primary issue. Singling our Islam as the only thread in the intricate regional weave of Pakistan’s national identity was a crudely conceived policy of homogenization through which the military-bureaucratic state succeeded in making an issue out of a non issue. A citizenry more in tune with the eclectic and varied social makeup of the country was quite comfortable wearing multiple affinities of region, religion, and nation. Policies of national indoctrination in the name of Islam generated derision, dismay and dissension, most noticeably in the eastern wing.

The votaries of the Pakistani state’s centralizing and homogenizing project arrogantly dismissed dissenting reactions as products of ignorance, insularity, and worse still, secessionist inclinations. General Ayub had a visceral dislike for the advocates of provincial rights, who he thought were disrupting the economic progress of the country. The Pakistan Council for National Integration was established with the explicit objective of promoting better understanding among the people of the two wings in order to fashion a common national outlook. Reading rooms were opened in key cities, and lectures, seminars and symposia were held on the theme o& national unity and integration. Some of these did help lift the veil of ignorance between the two halves of the country. But without qualitative changes on the political and economic front, integrative rhetoric without a concrete action was wholly ineffective in bridging the gulf separating the Bengali from the people of West Pakistan.

Ayub had banked on the leavening effects of his economic development policies to justify keeping tight curbs on political activity. This was excessively optimistic, as he soon found out. Under his regime’s externally stimulated development policies, East Pakistan received a bigger share of state resources than in the 1950s. But with 55% of the population, a share of 35% of the total development expenditure was neither fair nor equitable. The centralized nature of the state-directed development effort, in any case, ensured that the economy of the eastern wing continued to lag well behind that of the western wing. The regime’s growth oriented strategies increased regional income disparities without any improvement in Bengali representation among army officers, which remained at a lowly 5%. The higher income levels in West Pakistan were ascribed by officialdom to the effects of the “Green Revolution” and the leap in agricultural production that had ensued after the introduction of new technologies. In fact, inter regional discrepancies in growth and development were a direct result of the policy to use East Pakistan’s export surplus to finance West Pakistan’s deficits. The federal government’s hollow propaganda incensed Bengali popular opinion further, galvanizing support for the Awami League but, at the same time, threatening to subsume its campaign for provincial autonomy with cries for full independence.

By courtesy of: The Struggle for Pakistan by Ayesha Jalal, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2014

Losing East Pakistan

East Pakistan’s possible secession had always troubled Pakistan’s first military ruler. Ayub Khan’s worst fears came true when the radical Bengali leader Maulana Bhashani, after sitting out the 1970 elections, upped the ante by calling for an independent and sovereign state of East Bengal as envisaged in the Muslim League’s Lahore Resolution of March 1940. The general pondered whether he was witnessing the beginning of the end.

This was what most Bengali nationalists always meant when they talked of complete provincial autonomy. The fiery left-leaning Maulana may have been venting his fury against West Pakistani callousness towards the recent cyclone victims and, by the same token, cashing in on an opportunity to take some of the shine off the Awami League. Even before the results of the 1970 elections were out, Ayub suspected that Bhashani’s firecracker would spur Mujib into lighting the bonfire of Pakistani unity. The Sheikh seemed to have been waiting for such an opportunitymaking independence a common cry of Bengal and turning it into an irresistible movement. Several of Ayub’s visitors, including former as well as serving members of the federal cabinet, agreed with him that it was now only a matter of time before the eastern wing separated from the rest of Pakistan. With the Awami League’s landslide victory, Mujib was no longer a free agent but a prisoner of his vast support. Bhutto, too, would be loath to make any compromise that would allow his opponents to accuse him of selling West Pakistan down the drain.

As the architect of a political system that was threatening to fall apart, Ayub’s forebodings offer a poignant insight into his reading of history. On January 4, 1971, he recorded the strange irony of fate that had seen Pakistan escaping the tyranny of an inflexible and hostile Hindu majority, only to end up facing an untenable situation where one wing was about to establish its permanent majority without bearing a proportionally higher burden or higher liability. The alternative to this artificial alliance was independence or a loose confederation. Ayub thought that Bhashani’s call for independence, if premature, was more representative of the inner feelings of his people. The President was unimpressed by the fact that Mujib was not asking for independence but wanted complete autonomy for the eastern wing within a federal arrangement. From Ayub’s angle of vision, Mujib was stalling for time in a calculated attempt to milk Punjab and Sindh of their surpluses before opting out. Although in the 1970 elections, Punjab and Sindh sold themselves to Bhutto and had no choice of their own left, Ayub wondered whether they would not rebel against such an idea. He surmised that the demand for separation may well start in these provinces once the reality dawns, as it was bound to in course of time, that they are being robbed.*

*Italics are diary entries of Ayub

Ayub had put his finger on the crux of the 1971 crisis. Who was liable to secede from whom, the majority in the eastern wing or sections of minority in the west? If Pakistan was to remain united, by what democratic or federal principle could anyone prevent the majority population in the eastern wing from redressing past injustices by diverting resources from the western wing to develop its own economy? Mujib interpreted the Awami League’s absolute majority as a validation of his six-point program for provincial autonomy. But the program had not formed part of the electorate debate in West Pakistan, where the Awami League did not win a single seat. Bhutto had taken the PPP into the 1970 elections on a socialist platform. The PPP leader told the commission investigating the causes of Pakistan’s military defeat in 1971 that he had refrained from attacking the Awami League’s program at public meetings because they were venues for emotional outbursts, not reasoned arguments about the political and constitutional niceties of the six points. Bhutto had criticized the Awami League’s provincial autonomy demands at small gatherings of lawyers and intellectuals in West Pakistan, arguing that they were not in the best interests of the country and could lead to secession.

In the run-up to the 1970 elections, right-wing parties opposed to the PPP in the western wing were more vocal in criticizing the Awami League’s six points, which they often equated with the breakup of the country. After the elections, the PPP reaffirmed its commitment to a constitutional settlement within the framework of Pakistan. Because Pakistan was a federal and not a unitary state, Bhutto argued , it was vital to secure the consensus of the federations units. He never explained how a consensus was to be obtained after the elections. Though it emerged as the majority party in West Pakistan, the PPP’s support base was confined to the Punjab and Sindh. In the NWFP and Baluchistan, the Deobandi-oriented Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) fared better at the polls. Along with the defeated parties and politicians of West Pakistan, the JUI led by Maulana Mufti Mahmud could not be shut out of discussions on the future constitutional arrangements.

This made Bhutto’s claim to speak on behalf of West Pakistan indefensible and hints at the essence of his dilemma. On the threshold of a historic opportunity, the PPP chairman found himself between a rock and a hard place. The PPP had done well but not well enough. Although the party’s radical program accounted for its electoral success in central Punjab, where the Green Revolution coupled with the Ayub’s regime irrigation projects had made the most impact , Bhutto’s controversial decision to enlist the support of conservative landlords in south Punjab and Sindh had played an equally important part in the PPP’s victory.

Tensions within the left and right wings of the PPP threatened to split the party even before Bhutto had succeeded in registering his claim to power. To make matters worse, in cutting a deal with Mujib, Bhutto ran the risk of being denounced as a traitor in West Pakistan. Wary of becoming the butt of West Pakistani criticism if he compromised with Mujib, Bhutto miscalculated his ability to withstand the ill effects of becoming a willing pawn in the regime’s game plan to thwart the Awami League’s bid for power. If he wanted to avoid being called a traitor to West Pakistan at all costs, Bhutto was equally determined not be cast in the role of arch-conspirator in the breakup of Pakistan. Bhutto’s role in the post- 1970 election crisis has to be assessed in the light of the positions taken by Mujib and Yahya Khan, not to mention the structural obstacles in the way of a smooth transfer of power from military to civilian rule in Pakistan.

The basic democracies system had been designed to safeguard the centre from challenges mounted by political parties with broad-based support at the provincial level. instead, opposition to Ayub’s exclusionary political system crystallized in East Pakistan in the form of six points, which for all practical purposes, made the centre redundant. Most political parties in the western wing wanted an effective, if not a strong centre that could lend credence to the existence of Pakistan as a sovereign independent state. There was scope for discussions between the representatives of the two wings, leading to a narrowing of differences on the question of centre-province relations. But the localization of political horizons under the basic democracies system had prevented the forging of meaningful alliances between political parties both within and between the two wings. This in large part explains why the six points elicited such different responses in East and West Pakistan.

The main bone of contention between the two wings was the powers of the federal centre. The Awami League’s vision of a limited centre was a red flag for the gendarmes of the Pakistani State.

1. The first of the six points called for the creation of a federation of Pakistan in the true spirit of the Lahore Resolution with a parliamentary form of government based on the supremacy of a legislature directly elected on the basis of universal adult franchise.

2. The second point confined the powers of the federal government to defence and foreign affairs and vested all the residual subjects in the constituent units.

3. According to the third point, there were to be two separate but freely convertible currencies for the two wings and, if that proved unworkable, a single currency for the whole country with constitutional safeguards to prevent the flight of capital from East to West Pakistan. Moreover, the eastern wing was to have its own reserve bank and a separate fiscal and monetary policy.

4. The fourth point stripped the federal centre of its powers of taxation and revenue collection and handed them to the federation units. Turning the twenty-four year logic of military fiscalism in Pakistan on its head, the fourth point made the federal centre dependent on handouts from states taxes to meet its expenditures.

5. If this did not raise the hackles of the military brass, the fifth point certainly did. It envisaged separate accounts for the foreign exchange earnings of the two wings, with the federal centre getting an agreed percentage of their financial resources. Indigenous products were to move free of duty between the two wings. But this gesture to federalism was offset by the provision empowering the constituent units to establish trade links with foreign countries.

6. The sixth point’s demand for a separate militia or paramilitary force in East Pakistan was anodyne by comparison to the drastic readjustment that was being proposed in the apportioning of finances between the federal centre and the federating units.

Yet for all the clouds darkening the political horizon, there was also an element of creative ambiguity in the post electoral context. It was evident that Mujib’s six points were negotiable, and he was not thinking of secession. His conception of a free Bengali nation was not incompatible with something less than a fully separate and sovereign state. If the military junta had seized this opening to negotiate the terms for a transfer of power with the newly elected representatives of the people, the course of Pakistani history might have been different. Stung by election results that were completely contrary to the intelligence reports, Yahya delayed announcing a date for the meeting of the National Assembly, which was to function as both the legislature and the constitution- making body. This aroused Bengali suspicions, prompting Mujib to take a more rigid stance on the six points. On January 3, 1971, at a mass meeting of a million people at the Dhaka Race Course ground, all the Awami League members of the national and provincial assemblies took an oath of allegiance to the six points. Most telling was Mujib’s assertion that the six points were the property of the people of Bangladesh and there could be no question of a compromise on them.

Yet when he met Yahya Khan in the second week of January 1971, Mujib was a paragon of moderation. As the general had not bothered studying the six points, Mujib explained them to him and asked whether he had any objections. Yahya said he had none but noted that the Awami League would have to carry the West Pakistani political parties, the PPP in particular. Mujib urged him to convene the National Assembly by February 15 and predicted that he would obtain not only a simple majority but almost 2/3 majority. Admiral Ahsan, who was then still governor of East Pakistan, noted that with its absolute majority, the Awami League could bulldoze their constitution through without bothering about West Pakistan’s interest. Mujib was quick to the defence: No, I am a democrat and the majority leader of all Pakistan. I cannot ignore the interests of West Pakistan. I am not only responsible to the people of East and West Pakistan but also to world opinion. I shall do everything on democratic principles. Mujib wanted to invite Yahya to Dhaka three or four days before the assembly session to see the draft constitution. If you find objections, Mujib told Yahya, I will try to accommodate your wishes. Towards that end he promised to seek cooperation of the PPP as well as other parties in West Pakistan. The Awami League realized that the western wing did not need the same measure of autonomy as East Pakistan. In a telling statement of the inner thinking of the Awami League leadership, Mujib said that although he was prepared to be of help, he did not wish to interfere in any arrangements that the West Pakistani leadership may wish to make. Looking forward, Mujib talked of about drafting Yahya’s address to the National Assembly, which he wanted convened no later than February 15, and went so far as to say that the Awami League intended to elect the general as its presidential candidate. Mujib spoke of a democratic parliament and discussions on issues to find acceptable formulas inside and outside the Assembly. The meeting ended with Yahya flattering Mujib by calling him the next prime minister of Pakistan.*

*The Report of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission of Inquiry into the 1971 War (as declassified by the Government of Pakistan) (Lahore Vanguard).

An uncompromising public posture contrasted with private reassurances exchanged by the main actors and complicates the story of the tripartite negotiations that preceded the military action in East Pakistan. As far as Mujib was concerned, a formula could be worked out to save the unity of Pakistan even while pursuing legitimate Bengali demands. Soon after the elections, Mujib is said to have conveyed to Bhutto through a personal emissary that he could have the big job in return for accepting the six points and joining hands with the Awami League to force the military back into the barracks. Taken aback but excited about the idea, Bhutto declared that he was personally not opposed to the six points but had to carry the party with him. Secure in his knowledge of his powers under the LFO, Yahya Khan exploited Bhutto’s uncertainty about the PPP’s reaction to striking a deal with the Awami League. On his return to West Pakistan, Yahya stopped off in Larkana to visit Bhutto at his ancestral home. There is no record of what transpired at the meeting but the president would almost certainly have mentioned his conversation with Mujib, though he did not tell Bhutto about the Awami League leader’s readiness to discuss the outstanding constitutional issues both inside and outside the National Assembly. Yahya might also have hinted at the limits to which the regime was prepared to accommodate the Awami League’s demands. Any reference to the LFO and Pakistan’s national interest would have alerted Bhutto to the military establishment’s distaste for the six points.

The junta downplayed the meeting between Yahya and Bhutto, describing it as coincidental. There were several subsequent consultations between the two men that were far from incidental. The existence of a secret channel of communication between the PPP chairman and the martial law administrator pointed to a collusion, generating a rash of negative speculation in the eastern wing. Bhutto was already held in high suspicion when he arrived in Dhaka on January 27 for the first round of talks with the Awami League leader. Bengali doubts about Bhutto’s intentions were strengthened when, after eight hours of being holed up alone in a room with Mujib, the PPP leader did not go beyond seeking clarification on the six points. There was no mention of joining hands to oust the military regime. Mujib was understandably disappointed and puzzled by these tactics.

Upon returning from East Pakistan, Bhutto denied any differences with Mujib and said that their talks had been exploratory in nature. Before these statements could have a salutary effect, two Kashmiris hijacked a Indian Airlines Fokker on January 25, 1971, and forced it to land in Lahore. While Mujib condemned the hijacking on principle, Bhutto rushed to Lahore airport to greet the freedom fighters who were granted asylum by Pakistan. That the regime and the PPP chairman had been ensnared soon became apparent when the hijackers blew up the plane two days later and New Delhi reacted by banning all Pakistani connecting flights from using Indian airspace. This increased the distance between East and West Pakistan from 1,000 to 3,000 miles around the coast of Sri Lanka. The hijacking widened the gulf between Bhutto and Mujib and brought Indo-Pakistan relations to an all-time low, especially once the tribunal set up to investigate the incident concluded that the hijackers were not heroes but Indian agents. Mujib’s stance on the hijacking intensified Punjabi hostility towards him, making it more difficult for Bhutto to compromise. On February 21 a PPP convention vowed to abide by the chairman’s decision not to attend the session of the National Assembly scheduled for March 3.

Yahya Khan used the excuse of a deteriorating political situation and the Indian threat looming on the borders to dismiss his civilian cabinet and invest the governors with martial law powers, a first step to clearing any hurdles in the way of a military action. The decision indicated the president’s semi-isolation and made him more dependent on the military hawks in the National Security Council (NSC). On the evening of February 22, he presided over a conference in Rawalpindi attended by the governors, martial law administrators, and intelligence officials where a decision was taken in principle to deploy force in East Pakistan. An operational plan was discussed that envisaged the deployment of troops and the mass arrest of Awami League leaders on charges of sedition.* 

  • Brigadier A.R. Siddiqi, East Pakistan, the End Game 1969-71 Karachi Oxford University Press

The governor of East Pakistan, Admiral Ahsan was the only one to raise his voice in objection. Along with Sahibzada Yaqui Ali Khan, the commander of the eastern forces, the governor insisted on the imperative of finding a political solution and openly expressed dismay at the unthinking jingoism of West Pakistani officials who regarded the people of East Pakistan as a vast colonial population waiting to be proselytized.** Until the third week of February, Yahya had appeared to endorse his views, but now the tide had turned. On arriving in the capital from Dhaka, Ahsan was alarmed to notice a high tide of militarism flowing turbulently. There was open talk at the conference of a military solution according to plan. Ahsan’s refusal to endorse such a course of action made him unpopular with his colleagues, who thought he had sold out to the Bengalis.

**Admiral S.M. Ahsan in his testimony to the Hamoodur Rahman Commission

There is no indication that Bhutto was privy to the regime’s plans to clamp down on the Awami League leaders. Publicly, he persisted in calling for a political solution acceptable to both wings. Signs of the military leaning on Bhutto, albeit for its own institutional reasons, created the impression of complicity. The election results had blown Yahya’s cover under the LFO. A counter foil was needed to stop Mujib’s thunderous march to power. In his narrative of the events, Brigadier A. R. Siddiqi, the head of the military’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) wing, maintains that after the elections, General Gul Hassan, the chief of the general staff, told him, Let’s back Bhutto. In his memoir, Gul Hassan holds both Bhutto and Mujib in contempt and refers to them as creative liars whose ambition and vindictiveness made them prone to fabrications if that served their political purpose. What is undeniable is that the army had a clear self-interest in the outcome of the post electoral negotiations. According to Siddiqi, the right of a provincial-cum-regional party to frame the national constitution and run the national government for the next five years was not acceptable to the military high command. Bhutto was preferred not because he was more worthy of trust than Mujib. The generals knew that the Awami League leader was no friend of theirs and feared he might try to seek a drastic cut in the army’s size and power. Circumstantially, Bhutto had better credentials. The PPP’s biggest majority was in Punjab, home to 75% of the army’s rank and file. This would force Bhutto to be “more reasonable and not touch the army.

Encouraged by the regular exchange of missives with Yahya Khan and his contact with other top generals in the regime, Bhutto became more insistent on not attending the National Assembly. While denying any fundamental opposition to the six points, he charged the Awami League with wanting to impose its preferred constitution on West Pakistan. Letting the majority frame the constitution of its choosing would make sense if Pakistan was a unitary state. In a country split in two parts that lacked any semblance off political cohesion, the federal constitution had to be based on the consensus of all the federations units. In the interest of national unity, Bhutto agreed to the six points barring the second and the fifth relating to currency, taxation, international trade, and foreign assistance. When push came to shove, he was prepared to accept all the points except the one pertaining to foreign trade and aid. If these were adjusted in favour of the centre, the PPP was prepared to cooperate with the Awami League in formulating the constitution.

The more ruthless of Bhutto’s critics have persisted in accusing him of stalling for time at Yahya’s behest. There is no question that Bhutto over estimated his ability to get the better of the general. Spurning Mujib’s offer to help eject the military from the political arena was an error for which history cannot absolve Bhutto. Like any politician, Bhutto needed the support of his party leadership. Notwithstanding the PPP’s studied public silence on the Awami League’s demands, Bhutto remained remarkably consistent in his stance on the six points. Raising the PPP’s objections to the conception of federation in the six points, he noted that there was no federation in the world without a second House of Parliament, a proposition Mujib had rejected. Equally objectionable was the fact that although some of the points upheld the principles of federalism, others implied a confederal arrangement between the two wings. The Awami League wanted West Pakistan to assume responsibility for the bulk of the external debt of the federal government. East Pakistan was to contribute only 24% of the centre’s running costs, and even this sum was to be set against “reparations” due from West Pakistan for its past exploitation of the eastern wing. On this basis, the entire central levy would have to be borne by the western wing for several years to come.

For a West Pakistani politician, let alone a Sindhi, to agree to such an arrangement was political suicide. Right-wing parties considered the six points blasphemous and would invariably denounce Bhutto for being opportunistic and, worse still, a traitor. His own ideologically divided party cadres were liable to revolt, certainly in Punjab, where the PPP had received strong electoral support in military cantonments. Leery of the Awami League’s absolute majority, Bhutto stuck to his guns about discussing the main points of difference before the meeting of the National Assembly. If Mujib had wanted Yahya to call the National Assembly by mid-February, Bhutto wanted the meeting postponed until the end of March so that the two parties could thrash out all the contentious issues. Ignoring Bhutto’s arguments but also falling short of accepting Mujib’s, Yahya had announced on February 13 that the National Assembly would meet on March 3, 1971. Bhutto said his party would not attend unless assurances were given that it would be heard. The PPP was not boycotting the Assembly but asking the Awami League to reciprocate its gesture of accepting four out of the six points. Likening the constitution to an essay, Bhutto said we accept the essay written in East Pakistan—but we want to write some concluding paragraphs which are of vital national importance. We have gone a mile to accommodate the Six Points, he continued, and request our East Pakistani friends to move at least an inch to accommodate our views. In a deliberate act of omission, Yahya Khan did not tell Bhutto about Mujib’s readiness to engage in discussions outside the Assembly. This implies that far from colluding with Bhutto, or for that matter with Mujib, as the PPP claimed, Yahya was looking to extend his regime’s continuation in office by pitting the two main parties against each other.

The tactic worked. Sensing the army’s reluctance to transfer power, Bhutto went on a verbal rampage through the populist alleyways of the historic city of Lahore. In a stormy speech to a mammoth crowd at Lahore’s Mochi Gate on February 28, he reiterated his line that Mujib had decided on the constitution and wanted the PPP to rubber-stamp the document. Bhutto demanded a postponement of the National Assembly or an extension of the 120 day-period for the formulation of the constitution. Getting carried away by the force of his own words, he threatened to break the legs of anyone, whether from the PPP or any other West Pakistani Party, who attended the National Assembly session in Dhaka. This was provocative in the extreme. The die had been cast; the Awami League leadership’s distrust of Bhutto was complete. Egged on by the intelligence agencies, most political parties in West Pakistan refused to attend the assembly session. On March 1, Yahya used the excuse to postpone the National Assembly and aggravated matters by not announcing an alternative e date for its meeting. While this sparked disappointment in West Pakistani political circles, the eastern wing exploded in violent frenzy. In clear evidence of serious differences in higher military circles, both Admiral Ahsan and General Yaqub resigned from their positions. With the removal of the two senior most West Pakistani officials who still believed in the need for a political solution, the military gunned down several demonstrations in East Pakistan on March 2 and 3 before returning to the barracks.

From March 1 until the fateful moment on March 25, 1971, when a crackle of gunfire disrupted the silence of the night in Dhaka, Bengali antipathy for the Pakistani military presence in East Pakistan soared. Food sellers refused to supply meat and fresh produce to the army while West Pakistanis and pro-government Urdu speaking Biharis were targeted by the Awami League muscle men. Despite clear and present provocation, the army desisted from taking action, purportedly to allow the political negotiations to succeed. Yet since a decision to resort to military action had been taken in principle, the lack of any remedial measure on the part of the military can equally well be seen as marking time to fly in troop reinforcements from West Pakistan. The state’s inaction after a vicious display of its coercive power emboldened Awami League workers to begin taking over state institutions. After March 2, Mujib popularly known as Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal) was running the civilian administration in East Pakistan from his unassuming two-storied home at 32 Dhanmandi. The three-member Hamoodur Rahman Commission set up to investigate the causes of the military defeat in East Pakistan chastised the military regime for letting the situation get out of hand, with the result that much greater use of force was needed later to regain control. There was no reason why keeping the door open for negotiations with Mujib was inconsistent with maintaining law and order. As far as the Commission could discern, the majority of the people of East Pakistan were not in favour of secession. But with the government doing nothing to stop the violence, it was difficult to prevent people from thinking that it was making ready to pack up and go. Even those who may have wished to oppose the Awami League were deflected from doing so.

By the time Yahya came around to announcing that the National Assembly would meet on March 25, Mujib’s stance had stiffened. Mindful of the extreme views in the Awami League cadres, who considered the six-points non-negotiable, he now demanded the immediate withdrawal of martial law and a return of all military personnel to the barracks, an inquiry into the loss of life, and an immediate transfer of power to the representatives of the people. Reluctant to transfer power, Yahya could not agree to these demands prior to the completion of the constitution making process. But he was prepared to ask the army to hold their fire until he had gone through the motions of trying to make Mujib see sense. Banking on the inability of the two main political parties to agree, Yahya Khan had eased into a life of excess in wine, women, and song. Yet the Hamoodur Rahman Commission did not attribute the general’s dereliction of duty to his heavy drinking. The supreme commander of the armed forces held his drink, though his mental reflexes had evidently slowed down. The information garnered by the Commission indicated that Yahya Khan, flanked by a close circle of military officials, played out a game in which no clear cut decision could be reached.

Such a game was played out in the vitiated atmosphere of the negotiations. Yahya had set the tone on March 6 while announcing a new date for the National Assembly. Slamming the Awami League for misunderstanding his reasons for postponing the meeting of the National Assembly, he had said: I will not allow a handful of people to destroy the homeland of millions of innocent Pakistanis. It was the duty of the Pakistan Armed Forces to ensure the integrity, solidarity and security of Pakistan, and it was a duty in which they never failed. With Bhutto demanding time out at the decisive moment in the match, and the junta cloaking the threat of force in the flighty language of national unity, the Bangabandhu had few options. Mujib was now even more of a captive of his Awami League supporters who, realizing that the regime had no real intention of either sharing or transferring power, wanted Bengali to fight and take what was theirs by right.

On March 7, 1971, Mujib addressed a massive political rally at the Ramna Race Course in Dhaka. A skilled public orator in Bengali, the Bangabandhu delivered a stirring speech that reflected the mood of his people. He called for every Bengali home to be turned into a fortress. As blood had already been shed, he was prepared to offer more blood to free the people of his country. The struggle this time is a struggle for freedom. The struggle this time is a struggle for independence, he proclaimed passionately, before concluding with the slogan Jai Bangla ( Victory to Bengal). A virtual declaration of independence, Mujib ‘s March 7 speech did not, however, completely shut the door on further talks.

The negotiations that got underway in Dhaka in mid-March 1971 were peculiar in many respects. The presidential team closely choreographed the meetings. No minutes were kept, making it impossible to cross-check and verify either Yahya’s or Bhutto’s testimony to the Hamoodur Rahman Commission. Mujib did not appear before the Commission. He was assassinated in 1975, and the report was not declassified until 2001. Whatever the limitations of the inquiry commission’s findings, they do make it possible to piece together a proximate account of what transpired at the negotiations. At his first meeting with Yahya, Mujib demanded the immediate lifting of martial law and convening of the National Assembly. There was to be a simultaneous transfer of power at the centre and the provinces. Yahya accepted all the demands except the lifting of martial law on the rather lame excuse that this would create a legal lacuna. By the time the two men met again on March 20, their aides had worked out the modalities for ending martial law. Power was to be transferred to all five provinces but not for the time being at the centre, where Yahya was to remain in office. The National Assembly was to be divided into two committees, one for each wing. These committees were to meet together to frame a constitution on the basis of their respective reports.

This was a circuitous way to keep a divided country united. But, then, Pakistan was no ordinary country. Considering the Lahore Resolution of 1940, the idea of a confederation was not nearly so far-fetched. On arriving in Dhaka on March 21, 1971, Bhutto rejected the proposal to divide the assembly into two parts on the grounds that it pointed to a confederation and paved the way for secession. This was in line with Yahya’s own thinking. That night Bhutto consulted other PPP leaders, who concurred with the assessment. The next morning when the three protagonists met together for the first and only time, Yahya said that the PPP’s agreement was required for the Awami League’s proposals. Mujib bluntly told Yahya that it was up to him to persuade Bhutto. The discussions ended with the two politicians saying nothing to each other in the president’s presence. Outside the presidential salon, Mujib took Bhutto aside and asked for his help to overcome an increasingly grave situation. Afraid that the conversation might be tapped, the two walked out into the verandah and sat in the portico, where Yahya saw them, honeymooning with each other,  as he snidely commented later. Mujib told Bhutto to become prime minister of West Pakistan and leave the eastern wing to the Awami League, warning him not to trust the military, as it would destroy both of them. Bhutto replied that he would rather be destroyed by the military than by history. While agreeing to consider the Awami League’s proposals, the PPP leader urged Mujib to place them before the National Assembly, as he was not prepared to give a personal pledge on such a serious matter. According to Bhutto, Mujib rejected the idea of the National Assembly being convened even briefly.

The only direct exchange between Mujib and Bhutto in the tripartite talks ended in a stalemate, though the two had planned on meeting again in secret. For a second time within a matter of months, Mujibur Rahman had solicited Bhutto’s help in dislodging the military regime. That the effort failed is not surprising once the haze is lifted from the moves and countermoves in the final days of a united Pakistan. Recourse to thick narrative detail reveals that the principle hurdle in the way of a united Pakistan was not disagreement on constitutional matters but the transfer of power from military to civilian hands.

More concerned with perpetuating himself in office, Yahya Khan was strikingly nonchalant about the six points. He left that to the West Pakistani politicians, in particular Bhutto, who, contrary to the impression in some quarters, was more of a fall guy for the military junta than a partner in crime. In his testimony to the Hamoodur Rahman Commission, Yahya blamed Bhutto for the failure of negotiations to make headway. What he did not reveal was that the policy of divide and rule had survived colonialism and become the preferred policy instrument of the post colonial state in handling an intractable and increasingly violent polity. It was a recipe for disaster at the service of a drunken and dissolute ruler, more capable of dividing than ruling according to any known norms of governance.

Given the historical evidence, the verdict on apportioning responsibility for the 1971 debacle in East Pakistan must go decisively against Yahya Khan and his senior military associates in the NSC.*

*The associates included, most notably:

  • General Abdul Hamid Khan
  • Lt. General S.G.M.M. Pirzada
  • Lt. General Gul Hassan
  • Major General Umar
  • Major General Mitha.

What clinched the issue for the military high command was the law-and-order situation in East Pakistan, where the Awami League was running a parallel government with bruising effect on the morale of the armed forces. Irritated by the daily abuse levied at the military presence by the Bengali press, they were incensed to find that India was actively supporting the dissidents. What the military’s eastern command did not gauge, thanks to a linguistically impaired intelligence network, was that its own Bengali troops strongly supported the Awami League miscreants. Although the decision to use military force in East Pakistan was taken only on February 22, plans had been put in place much earlier. As early as December 1970, East Pakistan’s martial law administrator, General Yaqub Khan, had worked out the operational aspects of imposing law and order in what was code named Operation Blitz. Yaqub subsequently resigned, warning against taking military action in a situation that required a political resolution. The alarm bells went off on March 23 when the Awami League marked Pakistan Day by hoisting Bangladeshi flags but fell short of declaring independence. There were reports of Jinnah’s portraits being defaced. More seriously from a military point of view, fighting broke out in Chittagong that day, with the East Pakistan Rifles and East Bengal Regiment joining hands with the dissidents against West Pakistani forces, completely paralyzing the port city. Faced with supply difficulties, the eastern command under General Tikka Khan was implementing the first stages of its Operation Searchlight Plan, while Yahya Khan and his aides continued their talks with Mujib and Bhutto.

It is commonly held that military action followed the breakdown of negotiations. But the talks never actually broke down; they were unilaterally abandoned on the orders of the president acting in unison with his inner military circle in Rawalpindi. A transfer of power acceptable to Mujib and Bhutto was still not outside the realm of possibility. The PPP leaders saw the Awami League’s revised proposals on March 25. These called for a confederation of Pakistan and two constitutional conventions, instead of the separate committees in the earlier version, which were to frame the constitution for each wing. The conventions would then meet to frame a constitution for the confederation. In shifting from a vaguely federal to a clearly confederal arrangement, the Awami League addressed the PPP’s main objection that the six points said contradictory things about the future constitutional structure. Separate constitutions for the two wings, followed by one for the confederation of Pakistan, accommodated the PPP leader’s fear of being diddled out of power by the Awami League. On March 14, he had made a similar demand at a public rally in Karachi’s Nishtar Park. Remembered in Pakistan as his udhar tum, idhar hum (you there, us here) speech, Bhutto had maintained that power ought to be transferred to the Awami League in the east and the PPP in the west. He was widely condemned in West Pakistan for sanctioning the division of the country. Dismissing accusations of colluding with Yahya Khan and being responsible for the political gridlock, Bhutto spoke of one Pakistan. The rule of majority for the whole country could become applicable only if the six-point demand with its secessionist overtones was dropped. As that was not being done, the rationale and logic of the six-point demand necessitated agreement of the majority parties of both the wings.

Bhutto’s two-majority thesis was conceded in the final version of the Awami League’s constitutional proposals. However, the notion of a confederation was wholly alien to the thinking of the military command in Pakistan. Having run Pakistan as a quasi-unitary state despite its federal configuration, the guardians of military privilege were not about to concede ground to those they saw as traitors. Instead of trying to bring the situation under control by disarming the East Pakistan Rifles and the East Bengal Regiment, the army gave vent to its rage by unleashing a reign of terror. Dhaka University was stormed and many students, faculty and staff killed. There was indiscriminate killing of civilians, with Hindus and intellectuals serving as main targets. The sheer ferocity of the military action ensured that Dhaka was quickly subdued, but fighting continued to rage in Chittagong and other key cities while the countryside remained in ferment. In a glaring instance of strategic oversight, Yahya and his aides moved to pummel the Awami League without fully considering India’s or, for that matter the world’s, likely reaction. The Pakistan Foreign Office should have had no difficulty anticipating India’s likely response. But the merrymaking general and his inner coterie of military generals in their ineptitude cut themselves off from the thinking of the Foreign Office. They also had made no clear plans on how to deal with East Pakistan after the objectives of the crackdown were achieved. Yahya Khan left for West Pakistan a few hours before the start of the military operation. From his room in the Intercontinental Hotel, Bhutto watched the army setting ablaze the horizon with breathtaking ruthlessness. Punitive action without any thought to reopening the political dialogue made no sense. Yet at no time after the first shots were fired in the barricaded streets of Dhaka on March 25,1971 did Yahya Khan restart negotiations with the Awami League. While most of the top Bengali leadership fled across the border to West Bengal, Mujib was promptly arrested and transported to a West Pakistani jail. Apart from a facetious trial in which he was given a death sentence, the regime made no effort to initiate dialogue with the Awami League leader.

With the international media flush with harrowing tales of the army’s atrocities and the plight of millions of refugees who had fled to India, Pakistan ‘s stocks slumped internationally. Archer Blood, the American consul general in Dhaka, thought it unconscionable for the United States to turn a blind eye to the reality of the oppression Bengalis were facing and to which the overworked term genocide is applicable. The only likely outcome of the conflict was a Bengali victory and the consequent establishment of an independent Bangladesh. It was foolish to give one sided support to the likely loser. In contrast to 1965, China politely distanced itself from a regime charged with genocide. Washington was a bit more forthcoming because the Pakistani government had recently helped the Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, to make contact with Beijing. But American support was more symbolic than real— a morale-boosting assurance that India would not be permitted to rip through West Pakistan. It did not extend to absolving the Pakistani regime of its crimes and misdemeanours. The story of the junta’s botched international diplomacy is a trifle less appalling than its abysmal failure on the military front. A brutal military crackdown in late March and April may have resulted in a semblance of order in key urban centres and around the cantonments. Once the monsoon set in, however, the army was constantly harried by the Bangladesh Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army) resorting to guerrilla tactics in the watery terrain of the Bengal delta. In late August 1971, India, which was actively training the Bangladesh liberation forces, buttressed its international position by entering into a treaty of friendship and cooperation with the Soviet Union. The Pakistani Army’s strategic doctrine of defending East Pakistan from the western wing exploded in its face when India launched a full-scale attack on the eastern front. There were no effective lines of communications between key players in the regime and an internally divided GHQ, far less between them and the eastern command. Pakistani troops did fight the advancing Indian troops effectively in key sectors. The United States sent its nuclear carrier USS Enterprise from the Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal to hover on the edges of Indian territorial waters. But the surrender of 93,000 soldiers without a whimper on December 16, 1971, highlighted the magnitude of the defeat suffered by the Pakistani Army at the hands of its primary rival. General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, then in command of the eastern front alleged that the ignominy of surrender, which is a death warrant for a soldier was imposed on him and his men by our selfish rulers and selfish officers sitting in GHQ in order to save West Pakistan. We accepted humiliation to save our homeland, the disgraced general claimed in his memoir.

Strategic blundering and political ineptitude combined to create a horrific nightmare for a military high command that was ill equipped to handle the situation. Once orders had been given to put boots on the ground and enforce law and order, pent-up frustrations shredded the last remnants of humanity still adorning the hearts of the West Pakistani troops. The ethical dilemma of killing fellow Muslims was quickly overcome. Bengalis were not just black men; they were Muslims in name only and had to be purged of their infidelity. Whatever the reasoning of the perpetrators, nothing can justify the horrendous crimes committed in the name of a false sense of nationalism. As in any war, there was violence on both sides against unarmed men, women, and children. But there was a world of difference between organized state coercion against a largely unarmed populace and the targeted violence of armed dissidents against known collaborators of the military regime.

A blackout on national and international news from East Pakistan kept the majority of the people of West Pakistan in a state of blissful ignorance. Some accounts of the massacre of civilians and rape of women in East Pakistan by the national army and its hastily raised Islamist militias known as razakars did filter through. Some West Pakistanis registered their protest. But few in the western wing were listening, convinced that the armed forces were performing their duty to protect the national integrity of the country against Indian machinations. This makes the words and actions of those brave souls from the western wing who did speak out that much more significant. Habib Jalib bewailed the savagery that had ravished East Pakistan. For whom should I sing my songs of love, he asked, when the garden is a bloody mess, when they were battered flower buds and blood drenched leaves everywhere despite an unstoppable rain of tears. Jalib had sensed that nothing could wash away the sins of the cabal of generals who had presided over the most inglorious moment in the history of Pakistan. The noted Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz also wrote poems in 1971 lamenting that events in East Pakistan had shaken his faith in humanity. Three years later when he visited Dhaka, Faiz felt a strange kind of estrangement upon meeting with intimate Bengali friends. After how many more meetings, he wondered, will we be that close once again? How many monsoons would it take to usher in a spring of unstained green in east Bengal?

The end of love has been so cruel and pitiless that the crushed heart longed in vain just to quarrel once again with old friends. Faiz had gone to Bangladesh, ready to offer everything, even the gift of his own life. Such was the distance between him and his closest friends that these healing words remained unspoken after all else had been said.

More than four decades after the bloody separation, the gulf between the erstwhile wings of Pakistan has grown wider in the absence of any remedial measure. Unable to forget, the people of Bangladesh might at least try and forgive if presented with a formal apology by their tormentors, Unwilling to learn the lessons of their own history, successive rulers of what remained of Pakistan in the west avoided owning up to the crimes committed by their defeated and disgraced predecessors. The tragedy of East Pakistan had been partially foretold by the wilful manipulation of centre-province relations in the 1950s and 1960s by a military dominated state. Yet a fully separate and sovereign state was an option of the last resort in the spring of 1971 once the military junta shut down all prospects of realizing Bengali national aspirations within a federal or confederal framework. What came in the wake of 1971 promised to be an endless trial by fire for the constituent units of a Pakistani federation that the military in league with the central bureaucracy insisted on governing as a quasi-unitary state.

By courtesy of: The Struggle for Pakistan by Ayesha Jalal, Harvard University Press 2014

The Atomic Bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war

Atomic Bomb

1938: In December, Fritz Strassmann & Ottoman Hahn, two German physicists succeeded in splitting the uranium atom.

1939: Leo Szilard solicited the help of Albert Einstein

1942 September: Manhattan project was turned over to the military. Project’s military commander:  Brigadier General Leslie Groves. Robert Oppenheimer, a leftist and communist chosen by Groves as Manhattan Project Coordinator. He created and coordinated the most destructive weapon. Assembled were:

  • Enrico Fermi
  • Leo Szilard

First nuclear chain reaction achieved in an atomic pile.

1945 March 9: LeMay’s masterpiece, 300 planes sent over Tokyo. Incendiary and napalm used to kill 100,000 and 1,000,000 homeless. Stench caused vomiting in planes. American military bombed 100 cities, some with no military value taking more than an estimated 1/2 million lives; the atomic bomb can be viewed as a chilling and logical next step.

Leo Szilard and others understood that this bomb they were building was a primitive prototype of what was to follow:

  • Szilard,
  • Harold Urey (Nobel prize winner, chemistry)
  • Astronomer Walter Bartky

attempted to see Truman to caution him against the use of the bomb, but were re-routed to South Carolina to speak with Brynes, whose response appalled Szilard. Mr. Brynes knew at the time as the rest of the government, Japan was essentially defeated. He was much concerned about the spreading of Russian influence in Europe and that possessing and demonstrating the bomb would make Russia more amend to. Leslie Groves also admitted that in his mind Russia was always the enemy and the project was conducted on that basis. A petition was signed by 155 project scientists for Truman, but Oppenheimer barred it and alerted Groves. Groves had recommended Szilard to be interned as an enemy alien for the duration of the war, in May 1945 General Marshall supported Oppenheimer suggestion to share information with Soviet scientists but Brynes vetoed the idea.

1945 May:  the Japanese war council decided to feel out the Soviets for peace terms to keep the USSR out of their war and to seek better surrender terms from the Americans. This was a delicate negotiation; the US intelligence had been intercepting Japanese cables since the start of the war. On July 18, a cable sent from Tokyo to Japanese ambassador in Moscow seeking surrender terms said: unconditional surrender is the only obstacle to peace. Truman unambiguously categorized this: “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.”

  • Forestall noted an evident desire of the Japanese to get out of the war
  • Stimson describes this as Japanese manoeuvrings foe peace.
  • Brynes pointed to Japanese peace feelers
  • They all knew that the end was near, the Japanese were finished. Several of Truman’s close advisers urged him to modify the unconditional surrender to signal that Japan could keep its emperor and speed the end.

MacArthur: the hanging of the emperor would be like the crucifixion of Christ to us. Jimmy Brynes told Truman that he would be crucified politically if the imperial system was retained. Once again, his advice prevailed. Truman and Byrnes believed that they had a way to speed the Japanese surrender on American terms without Soviet help, thereby denying the USSR the territorial and economic concessions promised by Roosevelt. MacArthur: considered the bomb completely unnecessary from the military point of view. He later said that the Japanese would have surrendered in May if the US had told them that they could keep the emperor.

Opposition was sufficiently known that Groves posted a requirement that US commanders in the field . . . clear all statements on the bomb with the War Department. “After three years of the highest tension we did ‘t want MacArthur and others saying the war could’ve been won without the bomb.”

1945 July 16, 0529 and 45 seconds: Alamogordo, New Mexico, the bomb turned the refuge of the founding fathers into a militarized state. War in Europe ended May 8. First atomic bomb dropped on Japan on August 6.

  • Iwo Jima: 7000 US Marines and sailors were killed, 18,000 wounded.
  • Okinawa: 12,000 Americans killed or missing and 36,000 wounded. 100,000 Japanese and 100,000 Okinawans were killed. Many of them committed suicide.
  • 1900 kamikaze attacks which sank 30 and damaged 360 naval vessels
  • Marshall told Truman that he expected no more than 31,000 casualties.
  • Estimated 1/2 million German, Italian and French civilians were killed because of British and US bombing.
  • 79,000 US and equal number of British aircrew members were killed

1945 July Potsdam: Big three discussing the post war world. Truman had said that his primary reason for going to Potsdam was to ensure Soviet entry into the war, an assurance that Stalin was ready to give again. Truman in his diary: He will be in the Jap war on August 15.

Allied intelligence concurred:  an entry of the Soviet Union into the war would finally convince the Japanese of the inevitability of complete defeat. Yet it was clear to most that the Japs were already finished. By the end of 1944, the Japanese navy had been decimated, the air force was badly weakened, railroad system was in tatters, food supply shrunk, public morale plummeting.

Truman had delayed the start of Potsdam for two weeks giving the scientists the time to ready the bomb test. It worked. Stimson gave him the news. The conference began the very next day. He later read the full report. The test was terrifying, almost beyond comprehension. Truman’s demeanor changed immediately, Churchill was stunned by the transformation.

1945 July 24: Truman informs Stalin that the US possesses a new weapon of unusual destructive force.

Klaus E.J. Fuchs a man of ideological conviction, part of the British scientific mission at Alamogordo had delivered technical information relating to the bomb to his Soviet handlers. Stalin already knew that the test had succeeded. On return, Stalin remarked to Gromyko on return to his villa that the Americans would use the atomic monopoly now to dictate terms in Europe. But that he wouldn’t give in to that blackmail. Stalin concluded from Truman’s behaviour at Potsdam that the US wanted to end the war quickly and renege on its promised concessions in the Pacific.

1945 July 25: Truman approves directive signed by Marshall and Stimson ordering the use of the atomic bomb against Japan after August 3 asap weather permitting. He expected the Japanese government to reject the Potsdam declaration which failed to give any assurances about the emperor. The US even vetoed Stalin’s wish to sign the declaration adding that Stalin’s signature would have signaled Soviet entry in the Pacific war. It was an incredibly underhanded behaviour by the US both toward the Japanese and USSR.

Truman accepted responsibility for the decision, it was Groves who drafted the final order to drop the bomb. He contended Truman didn’t really decide: “As far as I was concerned his decision was one of non-interference. Basically, a decision not to upset existing plans. Truman did not so much say ‘yes’ as not say ‘no.‘ He described Truman scornfully as ‘a little boy on a toboggan.

Six of America’s seven five-star officers who received their final star in WWII declared the bomb morally reprehensible, militarily unnecessary, or both.

  • General Douglas MacArthur
  • General Dwight Eisenhower
  • General Henry Arnold
  • Admiral William Leahy
  • Admiral Earnest King
  • Admiral Chester Nimitz

Eisenhower: the Japanese were ready to surrender, and it wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing. I hated to see our country be the first to use such a weapon.

After the war was over, General Curtis LeMay said, “Even without the atomic bomb and the Russian entry into the war, Japan would have surrendered in two weeks. The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war.

1945 August 6, 0245, 3 B-29s took off from the island of Tinian for Japan. Six and a half hours later the Enola Gay cane into sight of its target. 300,00 civilians, 45,000 Korean slave labourers. From 31,000 feet at 330 mph. The bomb (uranium) fell5 miles to two thousand feet and then detonated. An estimated 140,000 were dead by the end of the year, 200,000 by 1950. Officially the US reported 3243 Japanese troops killed. Japanese did not surrender

1945 August 9:  Stalin honouring his pledge to Churchill now moved I 1/2 million men to the eastern front and attacked Japan on three fronts in Manchuria.  700,000 Japanese killed, wounded or captured. Also attacked in Korea, the Kurile Islands and Sakhalin Island. Later that morning on August 9 before Japan had time to react to the Soviet invasion, the US dropped a second atomic bomb (Plutonium) on Nagasaki. 40,000 died immediately.

  • General Masakazu Kawabe: in comparison, the Soviet entry into the war was a great shock. Because we had been in constant fear of it with a vivid imagination that the vast Red Army forces in Europe were now being turned against us.
  • Suzuki: Japan must surrender immediately. “There was little mention in the Japanese cabinet of the use of the atomic bomb by the US.”
  • The dropping of the bomb was the pretext seized upon . . . As a reason for ending the war. But it is almost a certainty that the Japanese would have capitulated upon the entry of Russia into the war.”

On August 14, five days after the second bomb was dropped at Nagasaki and with desperate fighting still raging against the Soviets, Emperor Hirohito exerted his personal power. Hirohito speaking to the Japanese people directly ordered surrender over the radio.

Truman’s estimate of the anticipated American casualties kept climbing as the years went by. In 1991 President George H. Bush praised Truman’s tough calculating decision which spared millions of American lives.

Attributing victory to the bomb insults the memory of the many men and women who gave their lives to defeat the Japanese year by year.

1945 October: Truman met Oppenheimer to inquire when the Soviets would have the bomb. Oppenheimer replied he didn’t know. Truman responded that he knew the answer, never, giving Oppenheimer an insight into his ignorance. He told Dean Acheson, “I don’t want that SOB in this office ever again”.  Later Oppenheimer was attacked by right wing conservatives as an agent of the Soviet Union and subjected to numerous by the FBI.  Oppenheimer’s security clearance was revoked in 1954. His crime was opposing the building of the hydrogen bomb which he considered a weapon of genocide. The dropping of the atomic bombs did not make the Soviet forces any pliable. They occupied the Northern portion of Korea Peninsula face to face with US forces in the south.

  • The Japanese could keep the emperor for stability of Japan.
  • Condoleezza Rice named Truman her man of the century to Time Magazine.
  • It was a warning to the Soviet Union.

Henry Wallace: it is obvious that the attitude of Truman, Brynes and both the war and navy department will make for war eventually.”

Robert Oppenheimer met Henry Wallace shortly after the war: he proposed international control of atomic technology to assuage Soviet fears over US intentions. In September, Stimson sent a memo to Truman saying that the Soviets should be treated as allies, saying that they should be trusted. He proposed that America should dismantle its bomb if the Soviets accepted a ban on atomic research and thus submit to an international system of control.

Wallace allied himself to Stimson indicating the absurdity of trying to keep an atomic monopoly. ” I then went in some length into the scientific background describing how foreign Jewish scientists had in the first place sold the President in the fall of 1939. I indicated the degree to which the whole approach had originated in Europe and that it was impossible to bottle the thing up no matter how much we tried.

Navy Secretary Forestall argued that the Soviets could not be trusted, the Russians like the Japanese are essentially oriental in their thinking. Truman vacillated and ultimately yielded to the Byrnes/ Forestall hardline faction.

“Some have spoken of the American century, I say that the century on which we are entering, century which will come out of this war can be and must be the century of the common man. If we really believe we are fighting for a people peace, all the rest becomes easy. “–Henry Wallace

In 1946 ran for president. Accused of being a Soviet sympathiser, he compromised himself during the pressures of the Korean War and the McCarthy period loudly condemning the Soviets but decried support for Vietnam. He died in 1965. He remains the unsung hero of the second world war showing the world a kinder vision of America. Though his vision was opposed at every step it did not die.

 Roosevelt: No man was more of the American soil than Wallace. In July 1944 Roosevelt acceding to the party bosses’ choice of Harry Truman committed his greatest blunder. He could have resisted and had Wallace at his back as his VP, but he was tired of defending his vision for world peace, near death. His sad moment points most clearly to the fallibility of all human history. To fail is not tragic, to be human is. What might this country be if Wallace had succeeded Roosevelt in April 1945 instead of Truman.