Pakistan in Crisis

From: The Crisis of Britain and the British Empire 1957 by R Palme Dutt

The course of events in Pakistan showed a marked diversion from the experience of India during the initial years of sharpening new alignments and deepening crisis after the settlement of 1947.

In India the more advanced development had made possible a relatively stronger basis for the new government.   In Pakistan, with its relatively more backward economical development and dominant role of a handful of powerful feudal families, reaction and repression were extreme from the outset.   The divisions between West Pakistan, with a population of 33 millions, or a minority of the population of Pakistan, but the seat of the main ruling forces, and East Pakistan, with a population of 42 millions or 57 per cent, of the total, was further accentuated by the divisions within West Pakistan between the ruling elements in the Punjab and in other provinces.   The Moslem League had no such deep roots in the masses of the people as the Congress in India.  The regime bore from the outset a deeply corrupt character, with palace intrigues on top and sudden coups replacing the more stable political advancement in India.   The explosive character of the situation was already shown by the large scale “conspiracy” trial launched in 1951, against leading left-wing representatives and military personalities, and ending, after a prolonged secret trial in heavy sentences.  The Communist Party was banned.

In April 1953, the Premier Nazimuddin was dismissed by the Governor-General Ghulam Mohammed, and replaced by the then ambassador in Washington, Mohammed Ali.   This coup had no relation to any electoral or parliamentary verdict.   It marked the replacement of  the previous dominant British influence by American domination in Pakistan.  Lavish grants and loans followed from the United States Government to Pakistan, and the new Government proceded to negotiate a military pact with the United States, by which the United States would supply arms and military instructors and assist Pakistan in the development of military air bases.

Premier Nehru issued a very sharp warning in January 1954, on the significance of such a United States-Pakistan Military Pact.   It would mean, he said, that “freedom recedes in Asia and the currents of history are reversed … Pakistan becomes potentially a war area, and progressively her policies are controlled by others.”   The truth of this warning was rapidly demonstrated in the events of the following months.

In March 1954, a general election on the basis of universal suffrage was held in East Pakistan – the first election since the formation of Pakistan.   The Moslem League was routed, obtaining only eight of the 309 seats.   Victory went to the United Front, a coalition of democratic parties which won 97 per cent of the votes on the basis of a progressive democratic programme.   On May 19 the United States-Pakistan Military Pact was finally signed.   Within less than a fortnight of its signature, on May 30, the United Front ministry in East Pakistan was dismissed by the Governor-General, parliamentary rule suspended, and Governor’s rule or dictatorship established, with General Mirza in control.  Wholesale arrests followed of all democratic leaders.

By October 1954, the crisis extended to the whole of Pakistan.   The Governor-General proclaimed a State of Emergency and suspended the Constituent Assembly.   While Mohammed Ali remained the titular Prime Minister, effective dictatorship was vested in the hands of General Mirza as Minister of the Interior (later Governor-General).

It is worthy of note that these successive arbitrary anti-democratic coups by the Governor-General, Ghulam Mohammed, an old Indian Civil Service official, were openly based on Section 92a of the 1935 Government of India Act, the Act passed by the Baldwin Conservative Government for a subject India, and proclaimed to be still valid in Pakistan seven years after the supposed establishment of “freedom” in 1947.   General Mirza made no concealment of his hostility to democracy.   Pakistan, he declared, was “not yet ripe for the processes of democracy” and needed to be “run in the British way.”   “To an Englishman…   The Times reported on December 2, 1954, “it is extremely like the administration of one of the bigger colonies.”

The Turkey-Pakistan Pact signed in April, 1954, drew Pakistan closely into the chain of United States military alliance in the Middle East, while the adhesion of Pakistan to the South-east Asia Pact later in the year aligned Pakistan with the chain of United States military allies in Eastern Asia.   The linking with the series of imperialist-inspired military pacts in the Middle East was further carried forward by adhesion to the Baghdad Pact of Britain, Iraq, Turkey and Iran in 1955.

These measures of subjection of Pakistan to the economic and political domination and military plans of Western, and especially American imperialism, by no means corresponded to the national feeling of the Pakistan people.  “It is generally agreed,” reported The Times correspondent from Dacca on December 6, 1954, “that if fresh elections are held the United Front party would win a second sweeping victory.”

In the autumn of 1955, the pressure of popular dissatisfaction led to further political changes, with the establishment of a new Coalition Government based on the Moslem League and a section of the former United Front, the release of a number of political prisoners, and preparations for new elections.

The stormy events and successive sharp changes in Pakistan during these years have demonstrated the instability of the regime.  While the rules of Pakistan during this period turned the country into a satellite of the United States, there can be no doubt that the crisis will further develop.  Whatever the ordeals and struggles through which they will have to pass, there can be no doubt that the people of Pakistan, no less than the people of India, will find their way forward to a progressive future along the path of liberation in common with the other nations of Asia.