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The Army's Chequered March

Gen Ayub Khan set a bad precedent that resulted in 24 years military rule

The Army's Chequered March
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-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

THE Pakistan army came into being on August 14, 1947, with headquarters at Rawalpindi and General Sir Frank Messervy as the first C-in-C. Barely two months after Independence, while the army was being organised, the Indian army entered Jammu and Kashmir state in October 1947. The Pakistan army could not intervene as Field Marshal Auchinleck threatened to withdraw all 500 British officers if it did so. Yet six months later, on the recommendation of the new C-in-C, General Douglas Gracy, Pakistan army units entered Kashmir. This was the first time the two armies faced each other in combat. The troops have been in position ever since, pending an amicable solution to the long-outstanding Kashmir problem.

In the mid-fifties the army was reorganised under the US military aid programme. New weapons and equipment were inducted, including SP guns and M-48 tanks. These helped increase the  army’s combat potential and offset, to some extent, India’s numerical superiority in the next two armed conflicts.

In October 1958, C-in-C General Ayub Khan took over the government and remained president for over 10 years. This set a bad precedent and was to result in over 24 years of military rule under three army chiefs—half the country’s life span. Ayub authored a new presidential form of constitution in 1962 tailored to his needs, with no fundamental rights. The president could only be elected by 80,000 basic democrats, half each from East and West. Democracy was distorted for personal use.

In early 1965 an armed encounter took place in the Rann of Kutch. The army moved a division near the area and the Indian brigades there took a drubbing. This prompted Lal Bahadur Shastri to warn Pakistan that India would open another front at a time and place of its choosing. Which eventually resulted in the Indo-Pak war of September ’65. India’s assault across the international border at Lahore on September 6 was preceded by Pakistan’s attack in J&K in Chamb-Jaurian which threatened to make India’s military position at Akhnur and Jammu untenable. This move was a reaction to India’s attack through the Haji Pir Pass, which enabled her to forge a road-link between Uri and Poonch in J&K.

India’s attack on Lahore was followed by her main assault on Sialkot two days later. This area is India’s Achilles heel, as all her military operations in J&K state depend on the one road from Pathankot to Jammu via Samba. This is why Prithvi missiles have been located at Gurdaspur. After 19 days of hard, bitter fighting, the Pakistan army prevented a breakthrough and having brought all Indian attacks to a standstill was able to launch a counteroffensive of its own. The 1965 war was a victory for Pakistan as her small army held its own against a much larger adversary.

After the war Ayub Khan’s stock started to decline and he handed power to General Yahya Khan, who declared martial law. Later, true to his word, Yahya held a free and impartial elections in December 1970, in which Sheikh Mujibur Rehman from East Pakistan won. Yahya was reluctant to hand over power. This led to disturbances in East Pakistan with covert Indian help. Troops  were flown out to maintain order. Eventually India attacked across the border after obtaining Russia’s support on the plea that refugees from East Pakistan were affecting her economy. Elements of the Pakistan army surrendered at Dhaka after putting up a good fight in spite of being out-numbered and out-gunned, with no hope of relief or any reinforcements from West Pakistan.

The war resulted in Yahya handing over power to Zulfikar Bhutto. The Dhaka debacle had a debilitating effect on the pride and elan of the whole army. But it bounced back. On assuming power, Bhutto sent the army into Baluchistan to suppress the tribals. He believed that the army was the third political party and wished to keep it occupied and humiliated further, if possible. Troops were withdrawn when General Zia took over the government in 1977.

After the war General Tikka Khan was appointed army chief, followed by General Zia-ul-Haq (who was selected over the heads  of six senior generals) by Bhutto who believed in personal loyalty rather than efficiency of the institutions. A year later Zia took over the government and eventually combined the office of president and army chief into one. Zia encouraged the religious political parties, resulting in the sectarian clashes of today. He tinkered massively with the judiciary and the laws, producing two parallel systems—the secular and the religious—resulting in confusion. He amended the constitution beyond recognition and invested the president (himself) with vast powers. He had Bhutto tried for murder and hanged, leaving a legacy of provincial hatred. Zia helped Afghanistan when it was occupied by the Soviet Union in December 1979 and did not waver in his support, which may well have led to his death. The Afghan involvement resulted in three million refugees entering Pakistan, an influx of automatic weapons into the country and increase in heroin smuggling.

A year later Pakistan faced the spectre of a two-front war when Indian troops moved into the Siachen glacier, in spite of the Shimla accord and friendly overtures. The army faced these problems with confidence. India now seems prepared to pull out of Siachen because of severe logistic and morale problems. Although during the two major wars with India, the army was in control of the government in Pakistan, the periods of army rule saw a hand of friendship extended to India. Ayub Khan offered "joint defence" and Zia-ul-Haq a "no-war pact", both rejected by India.

Since Zia’s death in 1988, the army has been commanded by post-Independence officers, who are bringing in a greater degree of professionalism and keeping the army out of politics in spite of considerable pressure and provocation. It is today a confident and balanced force, with considerable fire power. Since 1988 it has kept out of politics, but the army chief continues to have considerable standing with the government and is consulted on important matters of state. This is likely to continue awhile, but could fade out gradually, depending on how well the politicians continue their commitments to democracy and the rule of law.

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