The Colonial Heritage

THE ARMY ENTERS POLITICS

The eighteenth, nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century, during which most of the Asian and African countries were European colonies, was a period of great political and social change. The Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, they Russo-Japanese War of 1904, the First World War, the Russian Revolution, the Second World War and the emergence of communist China as a world power, were events that had a profound effect on the thinking of people in Asia and Africa. These events of great historical importance had a worldwide effect and provided the downtrodden all over the world with the hope of a better future. The idea of social equality and a move towards egalitarianism gathered strength and peoples’ hopes and aspirations gained a fresh momentum. The people, who had been enslaved for years, built up an idealistic picture of a post-independence society. The harsh economic realities that must inevitably influence any evolution from a colonial to a modern state were generally overlooked and those who spearheaded the movements for independence usually painted an unrealistic picture of a post-colonial society. They also did not take into consideration the numerous social and political handicaps which would impede progress in the immediate post-independence era. The ravages of the Second World War weakened the colonial powers both militarily and economically. Those who had emerged as victors suddenly found themselves confronted with stark reality and the inescapable conclusion that they could no longer hold sway over their colonies.
Although in a number of regions, particularly Indo-China, Algeria and other parts of Africa, the colonial powers failed to see the writing on the wall and vacated these territories only after they had been left with no other option, independence came to some of these colonies rather earlier than expected. Even the leadership in some of these countries which had been struggling for national freedom was not fully prepared for it. In most of these countries, the leadership, which had launched a struggle for liberation and made great sacrifices for the realisation of their cherished goal, had done little if any homework for running the administration. These countries, therefore, awoke at the dawn of independence to find that they had an organised army and an experienced bureaucracy trained by their erstwhile masters but no political leadership conversant with statecraft. It was, therefore, not surprising that the political leadership found itself at the mercy of the bureaucrats and the military, and with the passage of time their vulnerability increased.

After the initial flush of independence, it was, in the circumstances, only natural that disillusionment should cast its shadow over most of the newly emerging countries. Dissatisfaction with the slow pace of development and disappointment with the virtually unchanged social, administrative and economic conditions characterised the mood and the climate in most of these countries. In a few cases, where leadership of a high order was available- generally in the person of the founder of the state – the country was able to settle down under normal democratic institutions. Where, however, national leadership of the right kind was not available, the country became an easy prey for ambitious generals. In the apparent untidiness of political life and slow functioning of political processes, the military appeared to be a tidy set-up which was able to work with speed and apparent efficiency. As the political governments’ stock fell in the eyes of the people, the armed forces began increasingly to appear as an alternative. Few of these countries possessed strong democratic traditions which might have prevented a drift towards authoritarianism. The displacement of civilian governments by the military has, therefore, been a common feature in most countries which gained independence from colonial rule in the second-half of the twentieth century. Wherever the social and political conditions deteriorated and an ambitious general was at hand, the country went through a period of military rule. The bureaucracy, claiming to be the natural rulers, found it convenient to function for the military much as they had done for their colonial masters.

Most of these colonial countries had been dominated by foreign commercial interests. In such conditions, a national bourgeoisie had not developed. In its absence, the foreign business classes continued to play an important role in the post-independence era much as they had done in the colonial days. An army takeover suited them as the army, because of its authoritarian outlook and la k of a nationalistic economic philosophy, was willing and able to protect their interests. The national bourgeoisie, therefore, found it difficult to develop and the new middle class found itself without the leadership that could assert itself in national affairs and check the power of the armed forces and the bureaucracy.

This is what happened in Pakistan. It lost its founding father and guiding figure, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, barely a year after its creation. Three years later, when it had hardly overcome the pangs of birth and was still in the throes of a host of problems, including the absence of a consensus on a constitutional framework, it lost its first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, through the bullet of an assassin. This development brought to an abrupt end the little supremacy that the political leadership had over the bureaucracy and the army. This situation thus paved the way for a painfully long series of traumatic developments that left their scars on the body politic of the country, unleashing the forces of adventurism and palace intrigues. However, Pakistan had a few special features that further complicated the picture. The armed forces, or about 85% of them, belonged to one province of West Pakistan, the Punjab, whereas the majority of the population was in East Pakistan and had virtually no representation in the armed forces. The situation vis a vis the bureaucracy was about the same. Whereas the army takeover, when it first happened, was generally accepted by the Punjab, it was resented in East Pakistan. To the various anti-democratic decisions taken by the rulers sitting in Karachi and later in Islamabad, the reaction of East Pakistan was different from that of the Western wing for a number of reasons. Apart from the lack of geographical contiguity of the two wings, there was the fact that the people of the eastern wing were politically more conscious than those living in West Pakistan, who were suffering under the age-old domination of feudal lords and the serfdom imposed by tribal chiefs. Linguistic, racial and social differences aggravated this situation and the military rulers could not ignore for long the feelings of the people of the more populous part of the country. The restraint that East Pakistan exercised on unbridled leadership was a factor which led those who supported these regimes to feel that they would be better off without the eastern half of the country. For such people, East Pakistan was an encumbrance. The ruling class of West Pakistan, therefore conditioned itself to believe that Pakistan would do better without its eastern wing.

The involvement of the army in active politics goes back to the mid-1950s. The martial law of 1953 in Punjab gave the army its first taste of power and it discovered that it could control seemingly unruly mobs with the power of the gun. Ayub Khan’s ambition, which was the normal response of a general in a classic situation, received encouragement from Ghulam Mohammad, the governor-general. A bureaucrat to the hilt, Ghulam Mohammad neither believed in democracy nor in equal treatment for East Pakistan. He dismissed Khawaja Nazimuddin, the prime minister, in April 1953, when Nazimuddin commanded a majority in the Constituent Assembly which had just passed the annual budget. This was the first major blow to democracy and could not have been struck without the tacit support of Ayub Khan, the commander -in-chief of the army. Chaudhary Mohammad Ali, the federal finance minister, and Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani supported Ghulam Mohammad in this move and six of the nine members of Nazimuddin’s cabinet, led by Chaudhary Mohammad Ali, joined the new government of Mohammad Ali Bogra, who was brought in from the USA where he was Pakistan’s ambassador. Another federal minister, Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar, who refused to be a party to this ignoble and unconstitutional act, shared the fate of Nazimuddin. The civilian governor of East Pakistan, Chaudhary Khaliquzzaman, who could not agree to the dismissal of the United Front ministry of A.K. Fazlul Haq in Dhaka, was removed and replaced by General Iskander Mirza. The governor’s rule clamped down over the province. Encouraged by his arbitrary actions against the central and provincial governments, which remained unchallenged, Ghulam Mohammad chose in October 1954 to dissolve the Constituent Assembly which had just prepared a draft constitution restricting the governor-general’s powers. The constitution contained a clause which provided that the governor-general could not dismiss a ministry as long as it commanded a majority in the House.

Ghulam Mohammad, who by then had suffered a series of strokes, was very ill but not too ill to destroy any remaining semblance of democratic propriety in the running of the country’s affairs. Moulvi Tamizuddin Khan, the President of the Constituent Assembly, challenged the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly in the Sindh High Court which gave a verdict in his favour and against the action of the governor-general. However, the appeal of the governor-general against the decision of they High Court was upheld by a majority judgement of the Supreme Court delivered by Chief Justice Mohammad Munir. In the new cabinet that was formed, Iskander Mirza became the interior minister and Ayub Khan the defence minister. The fact that Ayub Khan insisted on retaining at the same time the post of commander-in-chief of the army and was allowed to do so, speaks for itself. The bureaucracy-military collaboration was thus total and complementary. Despite their rivalries, both needed each other; the bureaucracy wanted the military to lend it support while the latter sought the skilled and adroit assistance of the former in elbowing out the professional politicians who were relegated to the status of junior partners. It was therefore, not surprising that a half-dumb, half-paralysed Ghulam Mohammad ruled the country for more than a year.

That the generals deemed it necessary to mould the national politics to suit their whims and interests is evident from a significant development of those days. Soon after the unification of the provinces of West Pakistan into a single administrative unit, Dr Khan Sahib, a non-Muslim Leaguer and a close friend of General Iskander Mirza was made its chief minister. Realising that the Muslim Leaguers, who were in an absolute majority in the assembly, were in no mood to cooperate with Dr Khan Sahib, Governor-General Iskander Mirza, in active collaboration with Governor Gurmani – also a one-time bureaucrat – tore the Muslim League asunder and founded the Republican Party. This was a motley crowd of office seekers and it failed to be resurrected as a political organisation in 1962 when political parties were restored by President Ayub Khan. A large number of politicians, most of whom claimed to have worked for the freedom movement, allowed themselves to be used as puppets by the bureaucracy-military clique only to share power as junior partners. In the eastern wing, they United Front was dismembered by arraying A.K. Fazlul Haq, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Maulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani against one another and by trying every conceivable move in the intrigue-ridden game of formation and dismissal of ministries.

 

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