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"FROM NEW HOPES TO SHATTERED DREAMS: 1958-1971"
The period of about 13 years from October 1958 to December 1971 is a curious combination of extremes.
It began with the unfortunate but generally widely welcomed imposition of martial law to end the political
instability of 1957-58, quickly becoming the era of Presidential rule by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. It ended
with the disintegration of the original structure of Pakistan. To add yet another unique feature to the nature
of the Pakistani nation-state (which has been covered in lecture no.1), the disintegration of the original
Pakistan meant that the majority of the population of Pakistan which was composed of Bengali-speaking
citizens residing in East Pakistan chose to break away and create a new State by the name of "Bangladesh",
thus leaving the less than 50% of the population to continue using the name and the original concept of
As we shall see in lecture nos.6 and 7, it is to the credit of the minority left behind in West Pakistan that the
concept of "Pakistaniat" was evolved and asserted with such determination onwards of 1971 that the idea of
Pakistan and the permanence of the idea of Pakistan became an established and acknowledged fact despite
the nation-state having reached the extreme of 16 December 1971 when the majority of Pakistanis broke
away from the name of Pakistan.
Be that as it may, the focus of lecture no.5 is the 13 years between 1958 and 1971. Notwithstanding the
undesirability of martial law and the abrogation of the 1956 Constitution, in some significant respects, the
first part of the tenure of President Ayub Khan was marked by some positive social reforms and fairly rapid
economic development. Alongside these gains, actions were also taken to streamline administration and
governance and to reduce and punish corruption.
However, measures taken to curb freedom of the Press and methods used to suppress dissent aggravated the
relations between the regime and civil society, especially in East Pakistan. Despite the fact that a military
personality like Lt. General Azam Khan was held in high regard by large numbers of people in East Pakistan
for his ability to rapidly improve public services and inject urgency and efficiency in public administration in
East Pakistan during his tenure as Governor, the manipulative aspect of the Basic Democrats system
increased rather than decreased the distrust felt by people about a government led by a West Pakistani army
This gap of confidence between the people of East Pakistan and the central government dominated by West
Pakistan was quite visible when the sister of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah
became the Opposition candidate for the Presidential election held in January 1965 because Mohtarma
Fatima Jinnah received visibly enthusiastic support in many parts of the Eastern wing, often as a symbolic
expression of the alienation that the Bengali-speaking part of Pakistan felt about the lack of a fair distribution
of power and resources between East and West Pakistan.
About 7 years after President Field Marshal Ayub Khan seized power, the direction in which Pakistan was
headed became distinctly dangerous. Even though the limited armed conflict with India over the Rann of
Kach ended with a decision to go for a peaceful settlement through arbitration by an international tribunal,
the decision to send armed persons into Indian-occupied Kashmir in July-August 1965 proved to be a
disastrous decision because its possible consequences both internally and externally had not been properly
considered. For example, the assumption made by Ayub Khan and the relevant ministers and advisors such
as Mr. Z.A. Bhutto and senior generals to the effect that India would never retaliate for the infiltration of
armed persons into Indian-occupied Kashmir by attacking Pakistan on the international frontier between the
two countries proved to be totally incorrect. Because India did launch its attack along the West Pakistan
border on 6 September 1965 almost catching Pakistan unprepared.
Another assumption by the top decision-makers to the effect that the defence of East Pakistan lay in
defending West Pakistan also proved to be politically disastrous because when war broke out on 6 September
1965, the people and the leaders of East Pakistan were shocked to learn that, even though they whole-
heartedly supported the brave resistance and the successes of the Pakistan armed forces against India, the
number of troops posted in East Pakistan to defend against any possible attack by India was so small as to be
absurd and meaningless.
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Thirdly, the inability of Pakistan to gain any diplomatic or material benefit from the Tashkent Agreement
mediated between Pakistan and Indian by the Soviet Union in January 1966 greatly reduced the popularity
and support for President Ayub Khan in West Pakistan and gave an opportunity to a growing opposition to
demand an end to his rule.
Fourthly, a war that featured memorable heroism by valiant Pakistanis did not, in the final analysis, result in
strengthening international and national confidence in the stability and security of the Pakistani nation-state,
particularly from the viewpoint of encouraging foreign investment and promoting economic growth.
Fifthly, the negative fall-out of the decision to send armed persons into Indian-occupied Kashmir gave an
opportunity to India to foment conflict and violence in East Pakistan by adding the confusion caused by
deliberate disinformation to the already existing sense of resentment and disappointment felt by East
Pakistanis about West Pakistan.
The decision by President Ayub Khan's government to celebrate 10-years of his tenure through the
observance of a laud and lavish campaign titled: "Decade of development" caused a backlash amongst the
people in general because this came at a time when the prices of basic commodities like sugar had increased
and there was wide-spread dissatisfaction with the failure of economic growth to ensure equity and fair
distribution of income and benefits to the people.
The situation became further complicated by the failure of the government to pursue credibly a conspiracy
case against Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman, the Awami League leader from East Pakistan when the case known
as the "Agartala Conspiracy Case" had to be eventually withdrawn.
There was also high public resentment against President Ayub Khan for permitting his son, the former Army
Captain Gohar Ayub Khan to become a major industrialist through the acquisition Ghandara Industries.
When General Yahya Khan took over as President from an ailing President Ayub Khan, there was once again
a sense of new hopes as had happened in October 1958. The new regime promised, and actually did manage
to hold virtually completely free and fair elections for a National Assembly and Provincial Assemblies for the
first time in Pakistan's history on the basis of adult franchise. However, soon after the polls in December
1970, there began a series of actions which quickly led to the tragedy of March 1971.
Instead of convening the first session of the National Assembly as scheduled, President Yahya Khan ordered
General Tikka Khan to take strict and strong military action against all those Awami League leaders and
followers who were agitating for the convening of the National Assembly and demanding the implementation
of the Six-Points which were the basis of the Awami League's manifesto in the December 1970 elections. A
government which had promised to transfer power peacefully and promptly to the winners of the 1970
elections not only failed to transfer power, it also took violent and destructive actions against the winning
party's leadership and in so doing, dramatized and demonstrated the yawning gulf between the people of East
Pakistan and a West Pakistan-dominated army.
The crucial period between March 1971 and December 1971 when several opportunities came to stop the
army action in East Pakistan and to avert a catastrophe was wasted by further misjudgements and
miscalculations. For example, President Yahya Khan wrongly assumed that President Nixon of the USA,
being highly appreciative of Pakistan for enabling secret contacts between communist China and the USA
would actually sent its armed forces into the Bay of Bengal to help "save East Pakistan" from an Indian
attack. Even though the American leadership did have greater sympathy for Pakistan than it did for India, no
action was taken to help Pakistan on the ground where it mattered.
On the international perception level, India used disinformation and propaganda to wildly exaggerate the
consequences of the actions taken by the Pakistan army in East Pakistan. India also created the perception
that the Hindu citizens of East Pakistan, comprising about 8 to 10% of the population, had largely fled into
Indian West Bengal to seek refuge from the brutal, anti-Hindu actions of the Pakistan army. The response by
Pakistan in using mass media to convey the actual facts and its overall approach to conducting a credible
information campaign was extremely weak and ineffective. In the court of world public opinion, West
Pakistan was the villain and the guilty party.
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Within West Pakistan itself, in an age in which there was only the single government-controlled Radio
Pakistan and Pakistan Television, alongside a Press that was also very West-Pakistan oriented in its coverage,
there prevailed a lack of awareness about how serious and dangerous the situation was becoming in East
Pakistan after March 1971. The attitude was well-reflected in the comment made by Mr. Z. A. Bhutto (the
leader of the PPP who had refused to attend the session of the National Assembly unless there was a prior
agreement with the Awami League) on his return from Dhaka in March 1971 soon after the army action had
begun. He said: "Thank God, Pakistan is saved". Whereas in less than 10 months after this comment was
made, Pakistan had broken into two and was far from "saved".
The sheer distance of East Pakistan from West Pakistan, the suspension by India of overland flying rights for
Pakistani aircraft resulting in the very long route having to be taken via Sri Lanka, the enormous difficulties of
supplying troops in East Pakistan with equipment and support from West Pakistan, the encirclement of East
Pakistan by India on 3 out of 4 sides, the numerical advantages of India over Pakistan in all respects, the loss
of support by the people of East Pakistan as a result of the actions taken after March 1971: all these factors,
and more, allowed India to fulfil its long-held desire to damage and undo Pakistan. In November 1971, India
abandoned any pretence and openly sent its troops into East Pakistan, culminating in the surrender ceremony
of 16 December 1971.
Thus, the dream and the vision of the founder of Pakistan and the tremendous expectations of the people of
Pakistan that they would be able to sustain a unique, two-winged state structure were finally shattered. The
prime responsibility lay within the country itself, with its leaders and with its people for allowing leadership to
take disastrous and ill-considered decisions.
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