Fall of Dhaka in 1971: the impact on
Pakistan’s national security approach
General Ayub Khan became widely unpopular, due to his economic policies that largely favoured the military-industrial complex and crony capitalism. Moreover, the leftist politicians accused him of exploiting workers and suppressing the rights of minority ethnic groups, including Sindhis, Balochs, Pashtuns, and Urdu speakers (Mohajirs). Moreover, Bengalis (in East Pakistan), the largest ethnic group, were convinced that the power structure had ignored their political aspirations and socio-economic development. The Awami League, a major political party in East Pakistan, also accused General Ayub of leaving East Pakistan open to attack during the 1965 war against India (Dawn, Pakistan, 31 August 2014). Consequently, General Ayub became very unpopular, and countrywide protests were started against his authoritarian regime.
In March 1969, General Ayub resigned following countrywide protests and a growing rift between West and East Pakistan. He handed over power to General Yahya Khan. Prior to becoming the second martial law administrator, General Ayub appointed General Yahya as a major general, and he led an infantry division during the 1965 war (Paracha 2017). In June 1966, he was promoted to C-in-C of the Pakistan Army. After taking office, General Yahya promised to hold elections and restore a parliamentary system in the country. Elections were held in 1970, and the Awami League won the majority of seats, forming a government at federal level. However, General Yahya was reluctant to facilitate a full transfer of power to East Pakistan under parliamentary rule because the Awami League had promised decentralization and provincial autonomy in their election campaign and in Sheikh Mujib’s six point, and it was feared that this would undermine the national security state.
In this context, the Awami League launched a mass movement for the political autonomy of East Pakistan. The Pakistani military reacted with a crackdown against the protesters in East Pakistan. This, in turn, led to a bloody civil war between Mukti Bahini (the Bengali resistance movement) and the Pakistani security forces that continued for two years. Over 10 million refugees fled to India during the civil war. In November 1971, the Indian military intervened in the conflict to support the resistance movement, and that led to the third full-scale war between Pakistan and India. The war ended after 93,000 Pakistani troops surrendered to India, resulting in the humiliation and defeat of the Pakistani nation (Paul 2014). East Pakistan separated from West Pakistan and became Bangladesh on 16 December 1971. The creation of Bangladesh was both a political and military victory for India and consolidated its dominance in the South Asian region (Ayoob 1976). After the fall of Dhaka, the Pakistani leadership realized that strong centralized government is mandatory for the survival of the country which became another characteristic of the national security state.
After the loss of East Pakistan, however, there was a window of opportunity for the political leadership in West Pakistan to assert some control over the state. It was the first time in the history of Pakistan that military dominance was apparently
Pakistan ’s national security state 51 undermined (Aziz 2008). The military allowed Z. A. Bhutto of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) to form his government in (West) Pakistan. Actually, the military leadership may have calculated they needed some form of civilian rule to avoid harsh criticism for their humiliating defeat in East Pakistan. The new civilian leadership under Bhutto drafted the 1973 constitution. Under this constitution, the civilian government tried to subordinate the military by defining its role as a more defence-oriented one, to protect the country’s territorial boundaries. In particular, Article 245 of the 1973 constitution of Pakistan clarified that “the military [are] required to defend Pakistan against external aggression, threat of war, and [are] subject to law, [and must] act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.” It was first time in the history of Pakistan that the role of the military was formally defined in constitutional terms.
However, Bhutto was unable to reconfigure the Pakistani national security state and establish full civilian control. In structural terms, the national security state was deeply embedded within Pakistani society, and Bhutto had to contend with that constraint in policymaking. Under Bhutto’s leadership, Pakistan continued with a centralized form of government, intense rivalry with India, and military modernization through external alliances to counterbalance Indian military power (Haqqani 2005; Siddiqa 2007). Bhutto also felt obliged to seek favour with Pakistan’s military leadership by not making the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report7 public after the separation of East Pakistan. He publicly emphasized the role of the military in disaster relief programmes, and it was under Bhutto’s leadership that the military gradually recovered from the loss of prestige following the humiliating defeat in the 1971 war (Haqqani 2005).
After formulating the 1973 constitution, Bhutto also established an “intelligence reforms commission” to carry out an in-depth study of the intelligence organization and its possible shortcomings. On the recommendation of the commission, Bhutto established the ISI’s political wing through an executive order in 1975. This recommendation gave legitimacy to the role of the ISI in internal political affairs. In fact, the ISI had been involved in monitoring internal political matters since the 1950s (Rizvi 2000). The primary objectives of the political wing of the ISI were to monitor activities of communists, the minority Ahmadi and Shia sects, cabinet ministers, opposition parties, and members of his own party in both the national and provincial assemblies. Under Bhutto, the ISI’s political wing also got involved in vote rigging, bribing politicians, forming and breaking coalitions, and intimidating some opposition parties and leaders (Sirrs 2016). The establishment of the ISI’s political wing would arguably prove to be the biggest political blunder by Bhutto, and one which had long-term consequences for the Pakistani state and society, particularly for civilian governments.
On the external front after 1971 debacle, Pakistan avoided direct hostility with India and adopted various other foreign policy initiatives to counter Indian dominance in the 1970s. For example, the country emphasized proactive bilateral relationships with all small South Asian countries. Pakistan tried to play a more active role in regional organizations and forums including the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Organization of Islamic
Cooperation (OIC), and the Regional Cooperation for Development organization (Malik 1994). As a result, Pakistan was able to maintain a credible regional deterrence against India in order to escape a subordinate role in South Asia and prevent further external aggression from India.
In addition, Pakistan also realized that nuclear deterrence was essential in order to avoid such incidents of external aggression in future after the 1971 war. Bhutto had proposed the making of a nuclear bomb when he was the foreign minister in General Ayub Khan’s cabinet. Bhutto argued for nuclear deterrence both in cabinet meetings as well as in public. In response to India’s developing a nuclear programme in 1965, Bhutto famously said that “If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass and leaves for a thousand years, even go hungry, but we will get one of our own” (Bangash 2015). Z. A. Bhutto (1969) stated in his book:
Pakistan’s security and territorial integrity are more important than economic development ... All wars of our age have become total wars; all European strategy is based on the concept of total war; and it will have to be assumed that a war waged against Pakistan is capable of becoming a total war. It would be dangerous to plan for less and our plans should, therefore, include the nuclear deterrent ... our problem in its essence, is how to obtain such a weapon in time before the crisis begins.
Furthermore, General Ayub Khan also showed his concerns over the Indian nuclear programme during the visit of Glenn Seaborg, chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission, to Pakistan in January 1967. Ayub Khan said that “If India was to acquire atomic military capability, we shall have to follow suit and it will just ruin us both” (Baxter ed. 2007, 49; in Hoodbhoy and Mian 2014). It would take a huge strategic effort for a developing country like Pakistan to build its own nuclear programme.
In the wake of the 1971 war, Bhutto found an opportunity to launch Pakistan’s nuclear programme. After taking office as prime minister, Bhutto called upon senior scientists and gave them the task of starting a nuclear programme. Pakistan took the official position that “the Pakistan nuclear programme was entirely for peaceful uses” (Hoodbhoy and Mian 2014). The threat from India was the justification for building a nuclear arsenal which would prevent events like those of 1971 in future. From then on, building the nuclear bomb became a major part of Pakistan’s national security thinking. General Zia advanced and upgraded the country's nuclear weapon programme by exploiting the opportunity of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. More specifically, both the civilian and military regimes worked on building the nuclear capability after Bhutto started the nuclear programme. Nonetheless, the nuclear weapons programme had further strengthened the role of the military in strategic decision making within the national security state.
In addition, Pakistan established the Heavy Industries in Taxila (HIT) in September 1971 and the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra the following year. The primary objective was to upgrade, rebuild, and modernize its military
Pakistan ’s national security state 53 capabilities. The HIT has manufactured sophisticated weapons, including tanks, guns, and armoured personnel carriers. These facilities have also produced F-6s, the Mushshak and K-8 Karakoram trainer aircraft, radar and avionics equipment, and recently produced the JF-17 aircraft in collaboration with China (Mirza et al. 2015). These measures demonstrated that Pakistan did not accept Indian dominance in the region and that the national security state was still paramount, despite civilians being in power under the leadership of Bhutto.