To understand Pakistan’s disruptive politics and the damage it did, the readers need to recap the events of 1954-58 and 1958-1971. The name of Sahibzada Sayyid Iskander Ali Mirza a Bengali bureaucrat stands out for his undemocratic mindset. His military lineage was a sinecure serving most of his time in Indian Political Service as a trouble shooter of the Viceroy in Waziristan and tribal areas. Adept at wheeling dealing with Maliks, his contempt for rule of law and propensity for intrigue was a hurdle in statesmanship.

During his tenure as Defence Secretary, he oversaw the partition of the British Indian Army, First Kashmir War, Balochistan Conflict of 1948 and civil unrest of 1952 in East Pakistan. As defence secretary and subsequently minister, his hobnobbing with the military high command provided grounds for military interventions. In 1954, as governor of East Pakistan he used hard power to impose the One Unit. Sworn as Governor General of Pakistan in 1955, he oversaw the promulgation of the 1956 constitution. Elevated as President, he sacked four prime ministers in two years. In 1958, he imposed Pakistan’s first Martial Law. He mentored Ayub Khan and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Begum Nusrat Bhutto and Mirza’s wife were of Iranian descent and close friends. Bhutto wrote to him in 1958, “I feel that your services to Pakistan are indispensable. When the history of our country is written by objective historians, your name will be placed even before that of Mr. Jinnah.” The man proclaimed greater than Jinnah died a poor man in UK.

What an irony that both Ayub and Bhutto conspired against Mirza. Bhutto also accounted for Ayub, Mujib and Yayha. In a similar chain of events, Zia sent Bhutto to the gallows. Even 45 years after his death, the legacy Mirza sowed in Pakistan continues to breed children of opportunity. The lines he demarcated between Bengali and Inventive Nationalism killed the spirit of united Pakistan. 

While Sir Khawaja Nazimuddin stood out as a committed Bengali Muslim Leaguer, Mirza helped Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy isolate A K Fazlul Huq in the pyrrhic politics of East Pakistan. One unit helped foster Bengali Nationalism at the cost of Pakistan. Suhrwardy worked closely with Mirza to annihilate Muslim League in West Pakistan to create the Republican Party that became an ally of Awami League in the center. In 1962, Ayub Khan gathered rag tags to establish Convention Muslim League who’s first Secretary General was the young Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. This lethal brew of unpopular politicians of East and opportunist of the West along with the insensitivity of military’s high command was to oversee the disintegration of Pakistan in 1971.

Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy despite all criticism was the first effective prime minister. He set Pakistan’s course in foreign and defence policies. His paradigm of Pakistan-US relations has endured the tests. Though some malign him a the godfather of Sheikh Mujeeb Ur Rehman, he allied with USA, made friends with China, initiated reorganization of the armed forces and established the Pakistan atomic energy commission. Most, he put the larger interests of Pakistan ahead of Bengali Nationalism. His democratic ideas often clashed with those of President Mirza. After his ouster, he lived a secluded life in Lebanon and never took any part in Awami League politics.

I often wonder why with so many Bengali politicians holding important posts in the central government of Pakistan, East Pakistan felt alienated? Surely, Pakistan would have been a different country had Suhrwardy formed a formidable alliance with A K Fazlul Haq; the strong left led by Bashani needed a breathing space; or that Iskander Mirza himself a Bengali not dragged the military establishment into politics; or that the likes of 18th amendment had been passed as far back as 1956. Most, the stigma of being less patriotic hit Bengali leaders the hardest.

By 1969, all prominent leaders of Pakistan’s independence movement and federation had died. In 1962 A K Fazul Haq died in Dacca. Suhrwardy died in mysterious circumstances in 1963. Sir Khawaja Nazimuddin passed away in 1964. Iskander Mirza died in 1969. By 1970, when the highly divisive elections took place under Yayha Khan the men of crises were no more. East and West polarized around two new leaders; Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman of Awami League and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan People’s Party. Similar trends could have overtaken West Pakistan but for the geographical-social contiguity and presence of strong armed forces. The armed forces in East Pakistan were insufficient to unify a province that had lost heart with the west. By 1970, they were seen as agents of colonialism.

Till 1973, Pakistan never had a bicameral Parliament. Federations world over exist with a great degree of autonomy. Back in 1970-71 Sheikh Mujeeb’s Six Points were viewed by the martial law regime of General Yayha Khan as separatist. In light of the 18th Amendment passed in 2010 it was not. Politician’s post 1947 never looked in this direction. Had these demands been seriously negotiated, Pakistan would not have broken.  

Issues of East Pakistan were mostly economic and could have been negotiated. However, the West Pakistan-centric thinking in GHQ and rigidity of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto with ability to influence General Yahya was the hindrance. The tearing of Polish Resolution was a drama played for West Pakistani audience.

Four of the remaining five points were economic in nature and negotiable. On a template of planning division, distribution of resources was indeed in favour of West Pakistan. The resolution of crises needed imaginative and fruitful economic negotiations that were absent. In the final analysis these holes in political economy cost Pakistan its unity and stigmatised military defeat.

The sixth point stemmed out of a faulty premise by GHQ planners that defence of East lay in the West. The military policy was based on the assumption that Pakistan could defeat India in the West while the Eastern Command with minimum military structure was expected to carry out successful holding operations. Planning for a conventional conflict was based on military geography. Yet the experience of 1965 left the people of East Pakistan with a sense of relegation. India used the ground and weather window in an unconventional conflict to stir an insurgency at the time and place of its choosing. Drowsed in inventive nationalism the military general staff in GHQ Rawalpindi failed completely. The field army was called in to normalise a situation it had not created. Operation Searchlight launched by a thinly deployed Eastern Command in March 1971 was least suited to resolve questions of political economy.

n The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.