A History of Modern Pakistan #7 1970 – 1977

This series will cover the history of Modern Pakistan, from the earliest notions of a separatist Muslim governance to the creation of Pakistan and all the way to 2023.

You can read post covering 1857 – 1927 here: A History of Modern Pakistan #1 1857 – 1927

You can read post covering 1927- 1939 here: A History of Modern Pakistan #2 1927 – 1939

You can read post covering 1939 – 1947 here: A History of Modern Pakistan #3 1939 – 1947

You can read post covering 1947 – 1953 here: A History of Modern Pakistan #4 1947 – 1953

You can read post covering 1953 – 1958 here: A History of Modern Pakistan #5 1953 – 1958

You can read post covering 1958 – 1970 here: A History of Modern Pakistan #6 1958 – 1970

1970 – 1977

1970 General Elections

The two main parties in Pakistan, East and West, were PPP and Awami League. The PPP faced severe competition from the conservative factions of Muslim League, the largest of which was Muslim League (Qayyum), as well as Islamist parties like Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP). Whilst, the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujib Rehman was the sole major party in the east wing. Mujib was keen on giving the Bengal region (East Pakistan) autonomy. He wanted different parliaments, foreign reserves, taxes, and to trade independently as well as have their own army. East Pakistan was over 2000km away from West Pakistan and living in the shadows.

The Awami League won the election, having 167 seats out of 313, but the majority of their votes came from the east wing, whereas PPP got all their votes from the west wing. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was to be the first democratically-elected Prime Minister of Pakistan. The overwhelming majority vote the Awami league received was also considered a referendum to self-govern by the Bengalis. So when Mujib becomes Prime Minister maybe he will liberate us. They were not going to back down nor be suppressed.

However, the military government, at the request of the opposition leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, refused to transfer power to the elected Parliament. It would mean a power shift from West Pakistan to East Pakistan. Bhutto knew where it may lead and it is here when he uttered his infamous phrase “idhar hum, udhar tum” (We rule here, you rule there) – thus dividing Pakistan for the first time orally. This was the start of the Bangladesh liberation movement.

Operation Searchlight

While the Awami League, PPP and the military remained in political deadlock, General Yahya began coordinating several meetings with his military strategists over the issue in East Pakistan. He and Bhutto made several trips to East Pakistan to resolve the situation. No inauguration was to take place until then. Meanwhile those at the civic level, protested in East Pakistan. A minority of Bengalis began persecuting the Biharis, Urdu speaking sympathisers with Pakistan. When it was revealed, 300 Biharis were killed, on 25 March 1971, Yahya initiated Operation Blitz and Operation Searchlight, a crackdown to suppress Bengali resistance.

The plan was to take the 7 major cities in East Pakistan and then eliminate the opposition, political and military within one month. They would then be able to destabilise any opposition and make a strong unified Pakistan. The plan involved:

  • Control all forms of resistance
  • Seal the city
  • Secure ports, airports, oil refineries and ammunition houses
  • Impose a curfew and close all communication channels
  • Arrest Sheikh Mujib and top 15 Awami League leaders

By the dawn of 10th April, Pakistani forces had gained control of Dhaka, Rangpur-Saidpur, Comilla, Chittagong, and Khulna. Their forces had lost or abandoned Rajshahi, Sylhet, Pabna, Dinajpur, Mymenshing and Kushtia. The vital airfields and all the cantonments remained under Pakistani control, while the rest of the province was unoccupied and outside government control.

The Bengali resistance had put up a decent fight but their success was not sustainable as they began to suffer from lack of trained men, officers, co-ordination among scattered troops and lack of central command structure and proper supplies. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared the independent state of Bangladesh with a government-in-exile. 

Soon after, Sheikh Mujib was captured and arrested by General Yahya on charges of sedition. He requested Brigadier Rahimuddin Khan to preside over a special tribunal to deal with Mujib’s future. Rahimuddin ordered Mujib to a death sentence, but General Yahya put the verdict into abeyance. He feared more uproar from the Bengalis.

Bangladesh Resistance

The Bangladesh government in exile sought diplomatic recognition and requested support from the Indian military. As Pakistan’s takeover worsened, over 10 million Bengalis sought refuge in India. India said they would be ready in November to provide Bangladesh with military support.

As a result of Operation Searchlight, agitation was now transformed into civil war as Bengali members of Pakistan armed forces and Police mutinied and formed the Mukti Bahini along with common people of all classes to launch unconventional and hit-and-run operations. Violent disorder and chaos followed after the Pakistan Army continued its systematic and deliberate campaign of killing and mass rape of the populace of East Pakistan.

When India was ready to fight, they assisted the Bengalis in taking the province back, also known as the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Pakistan attacked at several places along India’s western border with Pakistan, but the Indian Army successfully held their positions. The Indian Army quickly responded to the Pakistan Army’s movements in the west and made some initial gains, including capturing around 15,010sqkm of Pakistani territory.

General Yahya determined to keep Pakistan unified, desperately appointed the veteran Bengali politician Nurul Amin (PML) as Prime Minister, asking him to reach a compromise between the PPP and Awami League. But it was too late, within two weeks of intense fighting, Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered to the joint command of Indian and Bangladeshi forces.

This news caused overwhelming anger in West Pakistan causing both Nurul Amin and General Yahya to resign. Nurul amin is known to serve as Prime Minister for only 10 days, the shortest serving PM. The presidency was handed to Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Amin became Vice President. General Yahya was put on house arrest.

Aftermath of the war

It is claimed between 300,000 and 3,000,000 Bengali men died and over 200,000 women were raped, mainly from Hindu areas in Bangla. This war of independence would be known as the Bengali genocide locally and across the world. It has left a permanent scar on relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh and for years to come leaders like Zia ul Haq, Pervez Musharraf and Imran Khan have tried to improve relations between the two countries.

Bangladesh Founded

Within hours of becoming Bhutto becoming President, Sheikh Mujib was pardoned (due to pressure from the west) and released to London. Mujib was still titular president of the Bengal region, but now a new state had been founded, the Peoples Republic of Bangladesh. He served as the first Prime Minister between January 1972 and January 1975. He worked to establish a new state for the Bengalis and ordered a different state of governance from what was ordained by West Pakistan.

As communism and liberalism grew in the country and divided the people, Mujib had a difficult time unifying the country, so in 1975, he decided to create a single party state with him as President and head of state. By the summer of 1975, Mujib along with his wife and children were assassinated during a military coup by renegade army officers.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto as President

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had been on the political scene for many years and was left-leaning. As President (and later Prime Minister) he focused on improving life for the people. Some of his policies include:

  • Improve workers’ rights, pensions and give trade unions a platform
  • Nationalise industries like iron, steel, engineering, cars, oil, gas and many others
  • Nationalise Education which meant free education in all private and public schools.
  • Promote science, literature, cultural activities and Pakistani nationalism
  • Subsidies to the poor farmers, like giving seeds, fertilisers, and tractors
  • Business loans
  • Establish the state bank of Pakistan

Internationally he strengthened ties with China and Saudi Arabia.

Instead of a new five-year plan, Bhutto decided to have annual plans. Most of his policies involved nationalisation of industry. Bhutto also wanted Pakistan to become a major scientific superpower in the world.

Simla agreement 1972

Bhutto visited India to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and negotiated a formal peace agreement and the release of 93,000 Pakistani prisoners of war. The two leaders signed the Simla Agreement, which committed both nations to establish a new-yet-temporary Line of Control in Kashmir and obligated them to resolve disputes peacefully through bilateral talks. Land taken by India during the recent war also was returned to Pakistan. It also laid down the principles that should govern their future interactions. Another notable agreement made by Pakistan was to recognise Bangladesh as an independent state.

Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC)

During Ayub’s era as President, Bhutto was keen to develop an Atom Bomb. This would ensure Pakistan is on par with India, who were developing an Atom Bomb. Bhutto declared “even if we have to eat grass, we will make nuclear bomb. We have no other choice.”

When Bhutto became Prime Minister, he put the initiative in Hyper Drive. He inaugurated the first Pakistani atomic reactor. For the next 25 years, there would be ongoing efforts to develop the bomb.

1973 constitution

As the 1962 constitution had been repealed by General Yahya, Bhutto along with his team drafted a new constitution.

Some key features were:

  • A federal system with provinces
  • There will be an assembly and a senate that make up parliament
  • It will be a Bicameral legislation that is democratic
  • Both President and PM will be Muslim
  • State religion is Islam
  • Country called is Islami Jamhoor Pakistan
  • Use Islamic way of life in rule, law, culture, and promote Islamic values
  • The council of Islamic ideology will work on the Islamic perspective
  • Constitution will be written so it is hard to amend in future

Notably this constitution is still in effect today with 25 amendments.

When the constitution came in to effect, Bhutto became the Prime Minister and Chaudhry Fazal Ilahi was given presidency.

Chaudhry Fazal Ilahi as president

Chaudhry Fazal Ilahi as President was largely a figurehead, and had less power than the Prime Minister, as written in the new constitution. They had no influence in government operations or military and national affairs.

Baluchistan Operation 1973

Bangladesh’s independence gave rising to a call from the Balochi’s to have greater independence and powers. Bhutto refused to negotiate on any terms that would reduce the power of the federal government.

In time, the nationalist insurgency, which had been steadily gathering steam, now exploded into action, with widespread civil disobedience and armed uprisings. Bhutto now sent in the army to maintain order and crush the insurgency. This essentially pitted the ethno-separatists against the central government.

The army suffered more than 3,000 casualties in the fight while the militants lost some 5,000 fighters. After three years of fighting the separatists were running out of ammunition and so withdrew by 1976.

OIC Conference/Lahore Summit 1974

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation is an intergovernmental organization founded in 1969, consisting of 57 member states, with 48 being Muslim-majority countries. The organisation states that it is “the collective voice of the Muslim world” and works to “safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony”.

In 1974, Pakistan hosted the OIC summit in Lahore. The OIC wanted the new Bangladesh Muslim state to join the summit too. So collectively they pressured Bhutto to recognise Bangladesh and invite Sheikh Mujib. Eventually Pakistan recognised the independent republic of Bangladesh.

Bhutto wanted to host the OIC to propagate strong Muslim world power and check that all Muslims had each others back.

Assassination of Kasuri’s father

Ahmad Raza Khan Kasuri was a key member of the PPP, who soon became dissident with Bhutto’s policies. In 1974 he was driving with his father sitting in the front seat when it was fired upon repeatedly by unknown gunmen. Kasuri managed to escape without getting shot, but his father was badly wounded and later died.

It was alleged that Kasuri was to be assassinated on the orders of Bhutto. Bhutto was acquitted of this crime but it caused public outcry of the murder of an innocent man.

1977 General Election

Bhutto’s government was largely popular amongst the public but right-wing parties (nine opposition parties united together to form the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA)) did not enjoy his policies. They felt Pakistan was heading towards a secular state with no influence of Islamic law. They propagated that Alcohol was not banned in the Islamic country and that Bhutto was alcoholic.

During the elections, this came to no avail as the PPP won by a landslide. The PNA accused PPP of vote rigging, and this led to mass demonstrations and violent anti-Bhutto protests. The PPP did ban alcohol, however.

Martial law of General Zia ul Haq 1977

As the country was breaking down and there was no trust in the political process, Zia ul Haq, the Chief of Army Staff, planned to Coup the government. He ordered all military officials to take part in a training programme and placed Bhutto’s loyal officers, unknown to them, in the same batch of the training. On 5 July 1977, whilst Bhutto’s loyal officers were away, Bhutto and his cabinet were arrested and General Zia announced martial law had been imposed, the constitution suspended, and all assemblies dissolved. He promised elections within ninety days. Zia also ordered the arrest of senior PPP and PNA leaders. Zia assumed leadership of the country as Chief Martial Law Administrator.

When it came to the 90 days, he then claimed the country was sick and the parties were not fit enough to rule. He could not accept sovereignty to be at stake again. He wanted to cleanse the political elitism, he adopted the policy of ‘retribution first, elections later.’

Over the next year, Zia as Chief Martial Law Administrator would attempt to straighten out the political landscape.

A major allegation placed on Zia’s Martial Law was an orchestration of the US and CIA. They did not enjoy Bhutto’s warm relationship with the Soviets and nuclear programme.

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