Bangladesh and the Crises of Pakistan – by Hamza Alavi

Source: Socialist Register, 1971


The cyclonic fury with which the Pakistan Amy struck against the people of East Bengal exactly two years to the day on which the regime of President Ayub Khan had fallen and General Yahya Khan assumed power under Martial Law, marked a new stage in the deepening crisis of Pakistan. It is a crisis of national identity. It is also a crisis of the challenges which are being posed by the rising democratic forces in the country to the ruling bureaucratic-military oligarchy.


The one unambiguous fact in the situation is the relentless brutality
of the Army in its attack on an entire people. Equally clear is the
unqualified right of the people of East Bengal to struggle to liberate
themselves from its yoke. But the underIying issues are complex. They
concern, firstly, the consequences of widening regional economic
disparities inherent in the unevenness of capitalist development, as
well as, on the one hand, the questions of the social basis of unitarian
concepts of nationhood and national ideologies, and, on the other
hand, of the emergence of a sense of separate national identity amongst
underprivileged regional groups. For a quarter of a century the people
of East Bengal, who constituted 54 per cent of the population of
Pakistan, have agitated for a rightful place for themselves in appointments
to the state bureaucracy and the armed forces and for measures
to rectify the economic backwardness of that exploited region by a
re-allocation of economic resources and modification of economic
policies. In the course of that struggle, they established their separate
identity in their distinct culture and language and their sense of
nationhood crystallized. Their confrontation with the Army in March
1971 was the climax of a long struggle.

The action of the Pakistan Army in East Bengal can have few
parallels in history, because it was premised on the elimination of
the entire Bengali intelligentsia, in a desperate bid to silence the voice
of the Bengali people. When, in the dark hours of the night of 25th
March, the army moved into bloody action, by all accounts it did so
systematically, searching out marked houses of political cadres, intellectuals
and members of the University community. They acted,
evidently, on the hypothesis that the voice of Bengali nationalism was
no more than the rhetoric of a small band of intellectuals and politicians,
whose elimination would, therefore, restore loyal obedience of
the Bengali people to their own authority and remove all prospects
of renewed challenge. Their action was calculated to break the spirit
of those who survived and to silence a whole people.

The people resisted. But resistance to the Army’s unanticipated
action was localized, spontaneous and uncoordinated. It was courageous,
because those who proudly proclaimed themselves as the ‘liberation
forces’ had little to fight with except their own defiant spirit and
the will to survive. In retrospect, it is only too plain that the East
Bengali political leadership and, especially, the leaders of the Awami
League who were the spokesmen of Bengali Nationalism, had neither
planned nor anticipated and prepared themselves, for any kind of
armed liberation struggle.

The style of politics of the Awami League leaders is reflected, for
example, in the response of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman, its undisputed
leader, at the moment when the Army went into action. He had a
timely warning of the army’s impending attack. But having exhausted
all possibilities of finding a basis for a negotiated settlement, he chose
to remain at his residence and awaited arrest. This was a familiar style
of politics of an earlier day, a style in which Mujib had been brought
up. Successive generations of politicians had used the technique of
political negotiations backed by threats and pressures, alternating
with spells in British prisons. In this way they secured, step by step,
concessions from the British which led inexorably towards the seats of
Government, without their having to take the risk of mass action on
a scale which could give rise to a revolutionary liberation movement.
Negotiation was possible because the British could rely on that
‘nationalist’ leadership to maintain the social order in which their own
essential interests were embedded and preserved in the neo-colonial
situation which followed. They too feared the alternative to negotiations
with the ‘moderate leaders’, which was the growth of
revolutionary forces.

The situation in East Bengal was no different. There did exist some
common ground and a basis for compromise between the ‘Bengali
nationalist’ leadership of the Awarni League, and the powerful vested
interests of West Pakistan, neither of whom wished to unleash social
forces in East Bengal which might threaten to overthrow the estab-
, lished social order. The Awami League leadership, who championed
the demands for ‘full regional autonomy’ for East Bengal, as expressed
in their ‘Six Point Pr~gramme,’w~e re constantly pushed from behind
by forces which had helped them to an overwhelming electoral victory
in December 1970, but which, nevertheless, threatened to push them
aside if they faltered in pursuit of the East Bengali demands. We shall
examine the nature of these demands and the forces which pressed for
them. But, it must be emphasized at the outset, these demands did
not include any which might threaten the capitalist social order in
East Bengal nor the interests of its landed gentry. Moreover, the leadership
of the Awami League, unwilling to engage in an open struggle
with the armed forces of West Pakistan were at pains to emphasize
that their demand for regional autonomy did not in fact extend to
total independence. However, it was abundantly clear to all the parties
in the situation that, they could not renege on the Six Point Programme
without losing control over the political forces which they
were attempting to restrain. A basis for a negotiated settlement
between the two sides existed not only because of their mutual wncern
to avoid precipitating a revolutionary struggle in East Bengal but
also because East Bengal’s ‘regional autonomy’ would in the circumstances
have been acceptable to some of the vested interests in West
Pakistan, as a necessary price for the preservation of their larger

At the time when the Army struck in East Bengal, the Awami League
leaders had been engaged for several weeks in negotiations with President
Yahya Khan and his political and military advisers as well as
with West Pakistan political leaders. The background to the negotiations
was the constitutional crisis which followed the results of
Pakistan’s first National General Election, which was held under the
auspices of the Army and Martial Law. The Awami League, committed
to a programme of a maximum degree of regional autonomy, won
no less than 167 out of the 169 East Bengali seats. On the other hand,
the Pakistan People’s Party, led by Mr. Z. A. Bhutto, who has great
affinity with the hawks in the Army, won 8 I out of I 3 I West Pakistani
seats, in the National Assembly. Significantly, Bhutto’s greatest
triumph was in the powerful province of Punjab, which has always
dominated politics and Government in Pakistan. Bhutto’s party and
the hawks in the Army were antipathetic towards demands for regional
autonomy, and they stood for a strong centre. The respective positions
of the two major parties were sharply opposed.

The Awami League had an absolute majority in the National
Assembly. It could even count on the support of some West Pakistani
politicians from the underprivileged Provinces; especially from the
left wing National Awami Party. The Awami League demanded that
the Assembly should set to work without delay. Bhutto, on the other
hand, put himself forward as the principal spokesman of West
Pakistan, by virtue of being the leader of the largest West Pakistan
Party, and argued that the Constitution should be based on a prior
agreement between his Party and the Awami League. He threatened
boycott to the Assembly scheduled to meet on March 3, and mounted
a protest movement in West Pakistan. President Yahya Khan postponed
the Assembly meeting. Sheikh Mujib responded by declaring a
General Strike in East Bengal which was successful. There was shooting
and many were killed. President Yahya flew to Dacca, the capital
of East Bengal and a protracted series of negotiations began between
him and Sheikh Mujib, after President Yahya Khan acceded to his
demand that the Army be recalled to barracks. Bhutto and other West
Pakistani leaders also came over later and negotiated with the Awami
League leaders and with President Yahya Khan. On the eve of the
military action on 25 March, optimistic statements had begun to issue
from those who were engaged in the talks, and it was thought that a
settlement was in sight. The. army’s action at that juncture was therefore
sudden and unexpected.

The general strike called by the Awami League in East Bengal at
the beginning of March was a total success and had continued whilst
the negotiations were in progress. The civil administration and the
police too identified fully with the Awami League, for by now the
services in East Bengal were manned almost entirely by Bengalis. It
became necessary for Sheikh Mujib to ‘administer’ the General Strike,
to allow the necessary functioning of ‘essential’ activities. For this
purpose he issued directives which were implemented by the Administration.
The Awami League leaders found themselves, in effect, running the administration of East Bengal; they had achieved de facto state power. Sheikh Mujib was in command of the entire state apparatus
in East Bengal with the exception of the army.

Sheikh Mujib’s decision to continue the negotiations despite this
new situation, unmistakably reveals his political style and intentions.
The army was evidently unprepared to strike at that time because the
bulk of its forces were based in West Pakistan. That was the moment
when an independent state of ‘Bangla Desh’ could have been proclaimed
if the Awami League leaders had so wished, without the
human cost which was involved subsequently. But they did not seek
a struggle for freedom and the perils of forces that would be generated
by a popular struggle. They chose, instead, the path of negotiation
and compromise. The army, on the other hand, began its own preparations.
While negotiations were initiated, it gained time to obtain
reinforcements and prepare for action. The signal that the Army had
decided to embark on a repressive policy was given by the sudden
removal on March I of Vice-Admiral Ahsan, the amiable and liberal
minded Governor of East Pakistan, and his replacement by General
Tikka Khan, a hawk amongst hawks. The Awami League leaders
could not have missed the significance of that change, but they went
on talking.

The ruling classes of Pakistan were aware of Sheikh Mujib’s
dilemma. They also believed that the Awami League was the last
bulwark in East Bengal of the social system in which their own interests
were embedded. They realized that in conceding to the demand for
regional autonomy, they must sacrifice some of their interests. But
they saw no viable option to this, because they believed that if Mujib
lost ground to the growing pressure from below, the situation might
turn into a revolutionary one and then they would be left with nothing
at all. I will discuss below the role and attitude of the different classes,
in the present situation. But at the outset it is essential to grasp the fact
that Sheikh Mujib’s dilemma was also the dilemma of the West
Pakistani ruling groups.

The dilemma of the Awami League arose because it faced
the army on the one side and the growing popular forces on
the other. The dilemma of the West Pakistani bourgeoisie arose
because of an unpalatable choice between the inevitable encroachment
on some of their privileges by the grant of regional
autonomy and the alternative prospects of a revolutionary development
in East Bengal if the aspirations of the people of Bengal
were not satisfied in some measure. For the Americans, who have
played a significant role in the situation, there were no dilemmas,
beyond the niceties of protocol. They freely supported the Awami
League, encouraged it and infiltrated it. In return, the Awarni League
was loyally and openly pro-American; even during times when anti-
American sentiment ran high in Pakistan. It also refused to be drawn
into anti-Indian chauvinism which was fostered and exploited by West
Pakistani politicians. It appeared that with an Awami League Government
in power in an independent East Bengal, that country would
be drawn firmlv into the orbit of American influence.

The manner of Indian intervention in the situation is significant.
So far it has been limited mainly to propaganda and diplomatic activity
in support of the Awami League leadership, some of whom have
taken refuge in India and have proclaimed a provisional Government
of Bangla Desh. The Indian press and radio responded to the Army’s
action in East Bengal by exaggerated and patently false statements,
which did little to help the Bangla Desh cause because it made credible
the Pakistan Army’s propaganda in West Pakistan that the struggle
in East Bengal was Indian engineered and that the Pakistan Army
was engaged in fighting with ‘Indian infiltrators’. But there is little
evidence of a military intervention by India. There have been only
border clashes between the Pakistan and the Indian armed forces,
which could possibly escalate. But so far the Indians have shown sign
of restraint in actual military action and in giving material support
to Bangla Desh liberation forces who are engaged in an armed struggle
which is, at the moment of writing, on a relatively small scale. The
Indian ruling classes could hardly relish the prospects of a revolutionary
struggle developing next door to Indian West Bengal, which is
itself in turmoil. Their strategy is directed towards the establishment
of an Awami League government in Dacca, the capital of East Bengal,
through international pressure aimed at securing a withdrawal of the
Pakistan Army. If such a government is established, under the auspices
of the Western Powers, India can look forward to close ties and cooperation
with it.

The prospects of an independent government of Bangla Desh under
an Awami League leadership closely allied to the U.S. and India was,
evidently, looked upon with apprehension by the Chinese, for geopolitically,
East Bengal is situated in a particularly sensitive location
from their point of view. It is not only next door to turbulent West
Bengal but also to Burma and close to the borders of China
itself. In the context of their confrontation with the Western
Powers, the Soviet Union and India, they also value their alliance
with the ruling oligarchy in Pakistan. In a message to President
Yahya Khan, Chou-en-Lai expressed support for the action of
the Pakistan government and the army and commended them
and “leaders of various quarters in Pakistan” for having “done
a lot of useful work to uphold the unification of Pakistan and
to prevent it from moving towards a split.” The Chinese have issued
dire warnings against “outside intervention in Pakistan’s internal
affairs” and have fulminated against Indian expansionism. Needless
to say, such Chinese statements have been emblazoned on the front
pages of Pakistan’s controlled Press, and have helped to confuse public
opinion and boosted the morale of those who have perpetrated one of
the worst crimes in history against an entire people.

The Maoist Left in East Bengal is in the forefront of a united armed
liberation struggle for Bangla Desh, in the company not only of all
other sections of the Left but also that of militant cadres of the Awami
League itself who have chosen the path of armed struggle rather than
refuge in India. By focusing exclusively on Western intrigues and
aims and speculating on the likely future orientation of an Awami
League Government in Bangla Desh, the Chinese have overlooked
the role of these freedom fighters and have thereby politically isolated
them. In doing so, they have forsaken the obligations of proletarian
internationalism. They have also demonstrated their extreme shortsightedness
and failure to comprehend the development of social forces
in Bangla Desh, and the true relationship of the Awami League leadership
to the resurgent people of Bangla Desh. That leadership was
swept forward to a great electoral victory by the rising tide of Bengali
nationalism; it is only too conscious of the possibility that the tide may
easily recede. Despite its limitations and its dependence on the Western
powers, that leadership will have no option but to respond to the
popular forces, which are growing in strength by their direct struggle,
and to respond to popular demands. The role of the liberation forces,
and not only the orientation of the Awami League leadership, will
decide the future directions of the Government of Bangla Desh. The
Chinese stand could, however, sow confusion amongst the rank and
file, and weaken revolutionary unity. Those who wish to weaken the
forces of the people and to strengthen the right wing elements in the
Awami League leadership are taking full advantage of the opportunity
which has been provided for them by the Chinese stand.

Fortunately, the Maoist leadership in East Bengal, as one can gather
from reports which are available, has not allowed itself to be diverted
from its tasks in the struggle that lies ahead. They fervently hope that
the Chinese will recognize the mistake which they have made and
make amends.

The strategy of the Western powers and the Indian ruling classes is
directed towards a negotiated and orderly withdrawal of the Pakistan
Army from East Bengal and the establishment of the Awami League
leadership in government there. This will not be an easy task for them
to achieve. But they are in a very strong position to exert pressures on
the Government of Pakistan to that end. Despite Pakistan’s much
flaunted alliance with China, it is heavily dependent on Western aid.
So far that alliance has not interfered seriously with the strategic aims
of the Western Powers and it has been valued by Pakistan’s ruling
oli-g archv in its confrontation with India. But the alliance is essentially
fragile, despite a great (and increasing) amount of popular goodwill
towards China, especially in West Pakistan. The alliance is fragile
because of the heavy dependence of Pakistan on foreign aid, the bulk
of which is provided by the U.S. and also the increasing ties of collaboration
between the Pakistani (predominantly West Pakistani)
bourgeoisie and foreign capital.

Pakistan has been in the throes of a prolonged and serious economic
and financial crisis for some years and the situation has been getting
progressively worse. But now the heavy cost of military operations in
East Bengal and the dislocation of East Bengal’s economy, have made
the situation quite intolerable. Unable to meet her current financial
obligations abroad, Pakistan has declared a six-month moratorium
on the annual debt service pavments due from her on account of *,
foreign ‘aid’ received in the past. These currently amount to about
£60 million p.a. or about 20 per cent of Pakistan’s export earnings.
Furthermore, Pakistan’s economy is geared to a large quantum of
imports and a variety of obligations to make payments abroad, which
together are g-reatly in excess of her current export earnings. The
deficit is met by further borrowing from abroad. Last year, the Pakistan Aid Consortium, made up of Western Powers under the leadership of the U.S.A., gave Pakistan ‘standstill aid’ amounting to $380 million,
which is equivalent to about 50 per cent of Pakistan’s export earnings.
This heavy dependence upon Western aid has made Pakistan’s position
highly vulnerable vis-a-vis the Western Powers. China cannot
bail her out of her bankruptcy, although it has extended an interest
free loan to Pakistan to the tune of £88 million. Therefore, the Pakistan
President’s emissaries are touring the capitals of the Western
world, cap in hand. But press reports suggest that they have received
a chilly response everywhere. The financial pressure on the Government
of Pakistan has been turned fully on by the Western Powers. On
the other hand. President Yahva Khan and the Pakistan authorities
have begun making conciliatory noises. But they have gone too far
to be able to restore the status quo ante and resume negotiations where
they were broken off. The trauma of the blood-letting has transformed
attitudes on both sides to implacable hostility.

The aftermath of the holocaust has left deep and bitter hostility in
East Bengal towards the Army and the regime which is based on it.
The regime has made efforts to re-establish a political base for itself
in East Bengal. But even old collaborators appear to be deterred by
the fear of the wrath of the people, if not by the fervour and the anger
of Bengal patriotism, from collaborating with the military regime.
On the other hand, the regime cannot continue indefinitely to maintain
its presence on military might alone; particularly in the face of
the regrouping of popular forces (after an initial battering at the hands
of the army) and the growth of popular resistance. Nor can the
Western Powers be too happy to allow the present situation to continue
much longer. From their point of view, ideaIIy, they would like
to see a negotiated withdrawal of the army and the establishment of
an independent Bangla Desh government under the Awami League.
But that solution will not be easily achieved.

The most potent weapon in the hands of the Western Powers, which
they are using to pressure the regime in Pakistan, is financial pressure
under conditions of financial crisis which Pakistan is experiencing.
But they are applying such pressures gradually and gently. They have
too much at stake, especially in West Pakistan to precipitate its total
and sudden financial collapse. That would disrupt the established
social order and unleash forces in West Pakistan which thev would
fear. Their activities appear to be directed rather towards manipulation
to bring about shifts in the ruling bureaucratic-military oligarchy
and also in alignments of political parties and political leaders, by
exerting pressure in a variety of ways. A few heads must, figuratively,
roll before they can achieve success in their aims. But those who might
collaborate with them also face difficulties. A forced withdrawal of
the Army from East Bengal, as a consequence of international financial
pressure, and a declaration of independent Bangla Desh, will not fail
to have traumatic effects not only on the hawks in the Army but also
on its ranks and a large section of the population of West Pakistan,
who have been brought up on chauvinistic propaganda and have
been led to believe that the movement for the independence of East
Bengal is no more than an Indian conspiracy to ‘dismember’ Pakistan.
There is some indication, however, that the efforts of Western Powers
are having some effect. The hawks in the Army have had the powerful
support of Mr. Bhutto, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party,
which won a majority of seats in the elections from West Pakistan.
Splits and fractional quarrels have begun to appear in the PPP. On
the other hand, Mr. Bhutto himself has made some statements recently
which are rather significant. He had thanked God for the Army’s
actions in East Bengal. But now he has begun to express sympathy
with the plight of the exploited East Bengalis and to minimize the
significance of his own past attachment to the Chinese alliance as being
not much more than a game of ping pong. He is evidently willing
and, indeed, anxious, to allay the fears of the Western powers. If he
does so successfully, he may yet prove himself to be valuable to them.
There are too many uncertainties, for anyone to predict what will
happen to him or his party and what roles different people will play
in the drama that will be enacted. But the fact remains that political
and power alignments in West Pakistan will have to be manipulated
by the Western powers before they can expect to have their plans

There are many difficulties which the Western powers and their
collaborators must surmount in East Bengal also, to achieve their
objectives there. There is a peoples’ liberation struggle being waged
in East Bengal and new forces have emerged as a consequence. The
Awami League is not a monolithic party with a tight organizational
base. Rather its mode of operation has been to rely on a core leadership
around whom people have rallied. The tide which took the Awami
League leaders to their outstanding success in the general elections
can recede and will do so if the leadership fails to live up to the
aspirations of the people or if it aligns itself against those who have
actually carried on the people’s struggle in East Bengal. Even in the
leadership of the Awami League there are those who lean in the
direction of the people rather than towards making deals with the
Western powers against the people. Moreover, an Awami League
government in power cannot afford not to rely on the people, because
the repressive apparatus of the state, on the strength of which it might
have taken the opposite course, is non-existent in East Bengal. There
is virtually no East Bengali army; (although, being surrounded by
Indian territory, with only a small strip contiguous with Burma, a
reactionary Government of East Bengal could believe that its small
Army could be used wholly to combat popular forces rather than be
needed for external defence). Furthermore, the police force in East
Bengal has received crushing blows from the West Pakistan Army and
large numbers of experienced and trained policemen have been killed.
This weakness in what remains of the repressive apparatus of the state
in East Bengal and the growth of the popular forces, must present
difficulties and dilemmas to different sections of the Awami League
leadership as well as the Western powers. They have a choice to make;
and the future of Bangla Desh will be determined by the choices
which they make at this critical juncture and the relationship
which they establish with the forces of popular resistance in the

Associated with the manifestation of the crisis in East Bengal, there
is a deeper crisis which pervades the whole of Pakistan. The resolution
of the present crisis cannot end with the proclamation of an
independent Bangla Desh. The demand for regional autonomy echoes
throughout West Pakistan also. This is because from its inception,
Pakistan has been a nation in search of identity. It was fought for and
established on the strength of the ‘two nation’ theory, which was
propagated by the Musli~n League in India, which argued that the
Muslims of India were a distinct nation, separate from other Indians
who were Hindus. Ironically, this theory was repudiated, on the very
day when the new State of Pakistan came into being, by no other than
its founding father, Quaide Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah. In his
opening address to the newly established Constituent Assembly of
Pakistan, he declared that all citizens of Pakistan, without discrimination,
constituted a single nation. It was a secular concept of nationhood
which he propounded. Pakistan was not to be a theocratic state.
He declared : “in course of time, Hindus will cease to be Hindus and
Muslims will cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense . . . but
in the political sense, as citizens of the State.”

After independence the slogan of ‘Islamic unity’ acquired a new
significance in Pakistan society and politics. That slogan was taken up
by right wing ideologues on the one hand and the dominant elements
in the bureaucratic-military oligarchy on the other, to deny recognition
to groups. The slogan of ‘Islamic solidarity’ was invoked by the
ruling groups to deny the distinct identities of the people of the
different regions of Pakistan and their legitimate demands and
economic needs. The insistence on that ideology and the refusal of
the ruling oligarchy to recognize the demands of the under-privileged
groups has had the effect of undermining the unity of Pakistan and
deepening the suspicions of the diverse regional groups who became
convinced that their rights and needs would never be acknowledged.
The ideology of Islamic unity, as it was exploited by the ruling oligarchy,
was tearing Pakistan apart.

Pakistan is not the first nation state to have cultural diversity
amongst its peoples. Few nations have a total cultural homogeneity.
The regional problem of Pakistan, which was the problem of its unity,
did not arise from the mere fact of cultural diversitv. The ~roblem
arose because of the refusal to recognise that diversity and, more significantly,
the real material problems which underlay the idiom of cultural
diversity in which regional political movements were expressed. The
symbolic demands forthe recognition of the separate cultural identities
were expressive of material inequalities that were really at issue.
Instead of facing up to these realities and legitimate issues, the ruling
elite, professing patriotic unity, pursued policies which progressively
intensified the inter-regional disparities. These disparities existed not
only as between East and West Pakistan. They existed also as between
different parts and regions of West Pakistan. The crisis of East Bengal
is only one manifestation of a deeper crisis which ramifies throughout

By treating the interests of one ‘region’ as opposed to, those of
another, the debate on regional disparities has obscured the underlying
forces which create them, namely those of the capitalist mode
of production and the unevenness which is inherent in capitalist
development. Such development polarizes incomes not only as between
the social classes but also between regions, because of structural differences
between them. This is the universal phenomenon of
capitalist development and is by no means peculiar to Pakistan or to
po~t-coloaial societies. Without a change in the mode of production,
regional autonomy offers no solution. An uncritical support for movements
for regional autonomy, on the mistaken assumption that they
represent a bourgeois-democratic stage which must precede a socialist
revolution, obscures the structural origins of regional disparities and
creates the illusion that the regional problem can (and should) be
resolved before a socialist revolution; that it can be resolved without
a socialist transformation of the mode of production. This diverts
and divides the forces of socialist movements.

By emphasizing the importance of a united struggle for socialism,
which is a necessary condition for the resolution of the problem of
regional disparities, I do not qualify my support for the struggle which
is now going on for the liberation of Bangla Desh. The independence
of East Bengal is now a historical necessity not because that by itself
will resolve the problem of the regional disparity nor because it is
unique in having a cultural identity different from other parts of
Pakistan. It has become a historical necessity because the bloody action
of the Army has precipitated a totally new political situation. It has
severed, irrevocably, the remaining political links between East Bengal
and West Pakistan and has crystallized dramatically the sense of
Bengali nationhood. It has also set in motion forces of national liberation
which will not allow the struggle for socialism in Bangla Desh
to be halted by the weak petty-bourgeois leadership of the right wing
of the Awami League. But, on the other hand, the implications of
this analysis for West Pakistan, also divided into rich and poor regions,
each with a different cultural identity, are very different. The independence
of East Bengal will bring more sharply into focus the interregional
problem in West Pakistan and will give impetus to forces
which threaten to tear it apart. But the problems of West Pakistan
will not be solved by Balkanization; they call for a united movement
for a Socialist West Pakistan.

I will quote some figures to illustrate the inter-regional disparities,
which exist not only as between East and West Pakistan but also
within West Pakistan itself. A statement recently issued by three Harvard
Professors3 quotes relevant data from a recent official document,
namely the “Reports of Advisory Panels for the Fourth Five Year
Plan”, issued by the Pakistan Planning commission-a body which
can hardly be accused of partiality towards East Bengal. The Professors
point out that, for example, in the quinquennium 1956-60, (the
First Five Year Plan period) the per capita income in West Pakistan
was 32 per cent higher than that in East Bengal. A decade and two
Five Year Development Plans later, in the quinquennium 1965-70, the
disparity had widened and the per capita income in West Pakistan
was 61 per cent higher. The professors point out also that East Bengal
“with 60 per cent of the population of the country” (note : the ratio
of East Pakistan’s population, according to the 1961 Census, was 54
per cent.) received as little as 20 per cent of development expenditure
in the quinquennium 1950-55 and that East Bengal’s share
attained a peak of no more than 36 per cent in the Third Five Year
Plan period, namely 1965-70. They quote official data to show that
whereas over the last two decades East Bengal’s share of export earnings
was of the order of 50 to 70 per cent of the Pakistan
total, its share of imports has been of the order of only 25 per cent
to 30 per cent.

Comparable data showing the difference between the different
regions of West Pakistan itself are not available. But a few indices
are indicative of the order of magnitude of the relative differences.
For example, the principal food crop of West Pakistan is wheat, which
accounts for about a third of the cropped area. Punjab produced no
less that 78 per cent of the wheat output of West Pakistan in 1964
and its relative share has increased greatly since then. But it has only
59 per cent of the population of West Pakistan. Again, cotton is the
principal cash crop of West Pakistan. Punjab produces 68 per cent
of it. The third most important crop of West Pakistan is rice, although
the rice acreage is about a quarter of that devoted to wheat. Punjab
produces 50 per cent of the rice. It produced 68 per cent of the sugarcane
and 75 per cent of ‘gram’ which is an important item in Pakistani
diet. Therefore, on the basis of the 1964 data alone, the agricultural
wealth (per capita) of the Punjab was at least 24 times that of the
poorer provinces. The gap is steadily widening. Since 1964, the year
to which these figures relate, the so-called ‘Green Revolution’, based
on the ‘elite farmer strategy’ of agricultural development, has brought
about a far more rapid growth of the Punjab relatively to the other
poorer provinces. For example, by 1968, 96 per cent of all the tubewells
in West Pakistan were located in the Punjab. The significance
of this concentration must be judged by the fact that it was the availability
of additional irrigation water from tubewells which has been
the primary factor which triggered off the ‘Green Revolution’ by
making possible increased use of fertilizer and the planting of new
varieties of seeds for which the use of adequate fertilizer and water
are necessary. Again, by 1968, 13,500 of the total of West Pakistan’s
16,500 tractors were in the hands of Punjabi kulaks. As regards the
distribution of industrial wealth, regional data are not available. But
the concentration of wealth in Pakistan is extreme and much of it is
owned by Punjabis-the rest of the business community consists mainly
of Gujerati speaking immigrants from the West coast of India, so that
the indigenous population of other provinces have very little share of
industrial investment. Moreover, apart from the port of Karachi,
which has the biggest concentration of industry in the country, the
major industrial centres in the country are all located in the Punjab.
Small scale industrial development is also heavily concentrated in the
Punjab, especially in the districts of Sialkot, Gujranwala, Gujerat and
Lahore. It might be added, however, that even in the Punjab there
are great regional disparities; for example between the impoverished
Rawalpindi Division and the rich canal Colony Districts.
These disparities are the direct result of Pakistan’s commitment to
private enterprise. There is also polarization of incomes between the
social classes. For example, the Gross Provincial Product from agriculture
in West Pakistan has doubled within the last decade. But
because the rate of development in the poorer provinces has been
slower, agricultural incomes in the Punjab have more than doubled.
This localized inflation of agricultural incomes is, furthermore, concentrated
in the hands of a small group of the big farmers of the
Punjab. According to the 1960 Census of Agriculture, 8 per cent of
all farms in West Pakistan were ‘large farms’ and accounted for 42
per cent of the farm area. But even these figures are not a true index
of the actual concentration of land ownership because they relate to
farms as units of cultivation and not to ownership units. 50 per cent
of- the total farm area was tenant cultivated and therefore also owned
by the bigger landowners. The concentration in ownership of land is
therefore much greater than that shown by the Agricultural Census

The bulk of the increase in farm incomes in West! Pakistan has gone
into the hands of this small and powerful group of big farmersand
landowners of the Punjab. The inflation in farm incomes has generated
a price inflation, as a consequence of which other groups in the
country are economically worse off than before. For them, development
has, paradoxically, created more poverty. The poor provinces
whose population has been badly hit are Baluchistan, the Northwest
Frontier Province and Sind. In all of these provinces, there has been
political agitation for equitable treatment and a fair share of development
expenditure, and of canal waters (a major source of dispute) as
well as for greater provincial autonomy. These movements too have
emphasized cultural and linguistic identity of the people of the respective
provinces, which takes the focus away from the underlying
economic issues and obscures their causes. Moreover, this emphasis
on language and culture has created a special complexity fir the
situation in Sind where most of the urban population are predomin- * *
antly Urdu speaking refugees from India, whereas the peasantry in
Sindhi. The language issue is divisive here and puts workers and
peasants into opposite camps. Nevertheless, the regional and language
movements focus on real material problems which must be resolved.
They have generated centrifugal forces in West Pakistan. The crisis of
East Bengal cannot but have a far reaching impact on this explosive
situation in West Pakistan. But in West Pakistan the problem of the
respective under-privileged provinces will not and cannot be resolved
only by the grant of regional autonomy; but rather, it calls for a unified
struggle for socialism in West Pakistan and an end to the social order
which, by its very nature, generates inequalities not only between
different classes of societv but &so between iep”i ons.

The narrowing of the political focus from a struggle for socialism
to that for regional autonomy has its particular class basis. It is to
be found in the special role of the educated middle class which has
played an important part in the politics of post-colonial societies. The
nature and role of this class is a question of great importance, therefore,
for political movements in post-colonial societies. But it is a
question to which little attention has been paid by Marxists. It is convenient
to approach this problem in the present context by an identification
of the ruling oligarchy in Pakistan and its class basis and
allegiances, I have argued elsewhere4 that a complex problem arises
with regard to the class basis of the post-colonial state. In particular,
I find that the Military and Bureaucracy in post-colonial societies
cannot always be looked upon, in terms of the classical Marxist view,
as necessarily the instruments of a single ruling class. Because of the
specific nature of the historical experience of post-colonial societies,
the relationship is more complex. In the historical development of
Western societies, we see the creation of the state, by an indigenous
bourgeoisie, in the wake of its ascendant power. Even in that context,
however, such a simplified statement must be qualified, because the
process is often more complex. But in post-colonial societies, the
historical process is qualitatively different from that of European
societies. This follows from the fact of their colonial experience, which
determines their specificity and their unique characteristics.
In the post-colonial societies we find that the essential role of the
bourgeois revolution, insofar as that consists in the establishment of
a bourgeois state and the institutional and legal framework which
are necessary for capitalist relations of productions to develop, is a
revolutionary task that was already accomplished by the Metropolitan
bourgeoisie in the course of the imposition of colonial rule. But the
colonial state had to undergo a development which went beyond that
required of the bourgeois state in the Metropolitan countries, because
the colonial state had to establish a bureaucratic-military apparatus
and mechanisms of Government by which it exercised dominion over
the native social classes in the colony. The post-colonial state inherits
the apparatus of state and its institutionalized practices which regulate
and control the indigenous social classes. At the moment of independence
weak indigenous bourgeoisies have found themselves enmeshed
in bureaucratic controls by which those at the top of the hierarchy
of the bureaucratic-military apparatus of state are able to control
their activities and their prospects.

The classical Marxist theory conceives of the development of the
super-structures of the state in keeping with the development of the
infra-structure of the economic foundations of society, namely the
capitalist relations of production and the ascendant bourgeoisie. But,
in post-colonial societies we find the contrary, namely that the
development of the super-structure of the state, has taken place in
advance of the development of the indigenous infra-structure, or the
economic foundations of society, and the rise of the indigenous bourgeoisie.
The super-structure of the state, in the post-colonial state is,
therefore, relatively over-developed i.e. in relation to the underdeveloped
economic infra-structure and the domestic bourgeoisie. It
was not over-developed in the colonial situation because it was based
on the economic foundations of the colonial society and the Metropolitan
bourgeoisie. The phenomenon of over-development of the
super-structure arose only as a consequence of the disjuncture of its
relationship with the structure of the Metropolitan economy, at the
moment of independence, when the structure of the ex-colonial society
was cut adrift. It is at this point that a fresh equation has to be
established between the highly developed super-structure, which is
over-developed in relation to the indigenous under-developed economic
structure of the post-colonial society. The conjuncture of over-developed
super-structures and under-developed structure is therefore a phenomenon
which is peculiar to the post-colonial society and it cannot
arise in a pre-colonial or colonial society.

The weak and under-developed domestic social classes of the postcolonial
society have the impossible task of subordinating, without a
social revolution, the state apparatus which has institutionalized their
own subordinate relationship in the past. But in the post-colonial situation
the indigenous bourgeoisie and the over-developed state apparatus,
namely the bureaucratic-military oligarchy, are not the only two
elements between whom an equation of power is to be established.
The erstwhile Metropolitan bourgeoisie does not relinquish its colonial
interests; it re-enters the now open situation in the post-colonial society
in company with other competing bourgeoisies of other developed
capitalist countries; and it establishes neo-colonial relationships which,
are, however, qualitatively different, especially in their political mode
of operation from those of the colonial situation. Finally, there is also
the indigenous landowning class in the post-colonial society which is
politically powerful because their sons largely control high positions in
the bureaucratic-military oligarchy and also because, given universal
franchise and the semblance of a democratic political process, they
occupy powerful positions in the political structure.

Pakistan’s experience suggests that none of the three propertied
classes in the post-colonial society to which we have referred, namely
the indigenous bourgeoisie, the neo-colonialist bourgeoisie and the
landowning classes, exclusively command the state apparatus because
the influence and power of each is offset by those of the other two.
They all make competing demands on the post-colonial state, namely
the bureaucratic-military oligarchy, which is in command of it, and
the latter mediate the competing demands of the three propertied
classes. This enables the bureaucratic-military oligarchy to assume a
relatively autonomous role, which serves, as well as mediates between,
the interests of the three propertied classes but is not under the exclusive
control of any of the three.

The role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy is only relatively
autonomous, because it is determined within the matrix of a class
society and not outside it. The preservation of that social order unifies
all the three competing class forces who, together with the ruling
bureaucratic-military oligarchy, is committed to defend it from movements
which challenge its continued existence. But, nevertheless, the
role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy is relatively autonomous
because, once the controlling hand of the Metropolitan bourgeoisie
is lifted at the moment of independence, no single class has exclusive
command over it. But their autonomy is predicated not only on this
negative condition but also on the positive conditions which stem
from the new economic role of the state in the process of ‘planned’
development. The state not only regulates economic activity but also
disposes of a large proportion of the economic surplus generated in
the post-colonial society which it ‘mobilizes’ for development.
The mediating role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy between
the competing demands of the three propertied classes is possible in
the post-colonial situation, because their mutual interests and interrelations
are aligned in a qualitatively different way from that which
is experienced in other historical circumstances on which some of the
conclusions of classical Marxism on this subject are premised. In the
post-colonial situation their mutual relations are no longer antagonistic
and contradictory; rather, they are mutually competing and reconcilable.
The classical theory envisages a coalition between the
Metropolitan bourgeoisie and a native comprador class, comprised of
merchants whose activities complement those of the Metropolitan
bourgeoisie, and, thirdly, the ‘feudal’ landowners. It envisages also
that the interests of a rising native bourgeoisie are fundamentally
opposed to those of the former so that colonial liberation takes the
form of a bourgeois democratic revolution. which is presumed to be
a necessary historical stage, in which the established power of the
former coalition is overthrown by the latter. That this does not always
happen in the post-colonial situation was noted by Paul Baran, who
wrote :

“Its capitalist, bourgeois component, confronted at an early stage with
the spectre of social revolution, turns swiftly and resolutely against its
fellow travellers of yesterday, its mortal enemy of tomorrow (i.e. the proletariat
and the peasantry). In fact is does not hesitate to make common
cause with the feudal elements representing the main obstacle to its own
development, with the imperialist rulers just dislodged by the national
liberation, and with the comprador groups threatened by the political
retreat of their foreign principals Y6
It is true that the three propertied classes in the post-colonial situation
are united in the defence of the established social order, in which their
class interests are embedded, in the face of unprecedented challenges
from revolutionary movements. But this is not the whole explanation.
The suggestion that the rejection by the bourgeoisie of its historic
‘anti-feudal’ and ‘anti-imperialist’ roles is solely due to its fears of the
revolutionary consequences, is based on notions which derive primarily
from analysis of the colonial situation and not the post-colonial situation.
In the latter situation an accommodation between the bourgeoisie
and the ‘feudal’ classes is possible because the task of establishing
the nation-state as well as national independence is accomplished
and that of subordinating ‘feudal’ power to a bourgeois state is one
which does not face the native bourgeoisie. On the other hand, the
‘feudal’ class has an important role to play in the ‘democratic’ running
of the post-colonial state; its role in establishing links between the
state and local-level power structures in the rural areas is of value
in containing potentially revolutionary forces and maintaining the
‘equilibrium’ of the post-colonial system. But, as regards the economic
aspects too of the relationship between the bourgeoisie and the ‘feudal’
classes, the growth of capitalist farming, under the auspices of the
‘feudal’ landowners has, once again, made it unnecessary that the
‘feudal’ iandowning class be eliminated for the purposes of capitalist
development. Perfunctory efforts were made in some countries, soon
after independence, to introduce land reforms. But, by and large, not
only were these measures ineffective but also (what is significant in
this context), that fact has not seriously impeded the interests or the
conditions of development of the native bourgeoisie. In recent years,
the so-called ‘Green Revolution’ based on an ‘elite farmer’ strategy,
has further helped to resolve the problem of increasing the agricultural
surplus needed to sustain industrialization and urbanization, as well
as that of expanding the domestic market for manufactured goods.
The negative aspects of the ‘Green Revolution’ which has profited
landowners, bear almost wholly on the rural and the urban poor,
rather than on the bourgeoisie. It is not possible in the context of this
essay to elaborate further on this important question. But we may conclude
that the conditions of mutual cooperation between the
landowning classes and the bourgeoisie are rooted not only on the
political conditions of the super-structure but also in the economic
conditions of the structure.

The mutual relationships between the indigenous bourgeoisie and
the Metropolitan bourgeoisies, is qualitatively different from that
which is premised in the classical theory. The classical theory argues
that there is a fundamental contradiction between the two and, therefore,
that the bourgeois democratic revolution in colonial societies,
(even where it is led by its nascent bourgeoisie instead of the working
class) has necessarily an anti-imperialistic character. It is true that the
bourgeoisie plays a role in the national movement up to the point of
independence. But in the post-colonial situation we find a totally
different orientation of both the indigenous bourgeoisie and the erstwhile
‘comprador class’ consisting of merchants and building contractors.
The latter, unable to compete on equal terms with giant
overseas concerns, demand restriction on the activities of foreign
businesses, particularly in the fields in which they can aspire to
operate. They acquire a new ‘anti-imperialist’ posture. On the other
hand, as the domestic bourgeoisie grows in size and moves from
industries which involve relatively unsophisticated technologies, such
as textiles, to those which involve the use of highly sophisticated technologies,
such as fertilizers or petro-chemicals etc., they find that
they do not have access to the requisite sophisticated industrial technologies
and their scale of operation and resources are too small to make
it possible for them to develop the requisite technology. For this purpose
they turn increasingly to the highly developed Metropolitan
bourgeoisies for collaboration. This they do despite the fact that the
terms on which the collaboration is offered are such that it hamstrings
their future independent development. The native bourgeoisie
cannot provide the basis for an independent development of the postcolonial
societies. They necessarily opt for collaboration. The mutual
relationship of the native bourgeoisie and the Metropolitan bourgeoisies
is no longer antagonistic; it is collaborative. But it is,
nevertheless, hierarchical, because the native bourgeoisie occupies a
subordinate status in that relationship. Its character changes in the
post-colonial situation from anti-imperialist to collaborationist. The
Metropolitan bourgeoisie too values the collaboration with the indigenous
bourgeoisie because this provides not only an insurance against
political risks involved in direct foreign investments but also because
that collaboration subserves their economic interests by establishing
a captive market for their technology and their domestic products
associated with the transmission of the technol~gy.T~h e conditions
which underlie the collaboration are embedded in the structure as well
as in the super-structure of the post-colonial society.

In this necessary, but necessarily brief, theoretical digression, we
cannot embark upon an adequate examination of the complexities and
contradictions which underlie the actual political processes through
which the demands of the various classes are mediated by the dominant
bureaucratic-military oligarchy. This is because, in the first place,
the bureaucratic-military oligarchy is by no means monolithic. Rather,
typically, it is riven into factions. Struggle for power between factions
in the oligarchy encourages intrigue as well as attempts to consolidate
their respective positions by alliances with political parties. The
factions themselves, however, are not ideological groups which espouse
the interests of one class or another, even though their political
counterparts may invoke an ideological idiom. Their links with parties,
where they exist at all, are tenuous. Moreover, the bureaucratic
military oligarchy as a whole as well as the factions within it, deal
directly with specific demands which emanate from society. The
various social classes do not press their demands on them through
political parties, but directly by making representations and by
establishing links with the appropriate factions in the oligarchy.
Insofar as the respective propertied classes establish direct links
with groups within the ruling oligarchy, they have little use for
political parties. The role of political parties is therefore greatly
attenuated. With the exception of parties of the Left, they exist only
because institutions of parliamentary government exist. Their value
for the ruling oligarchy lies in the fact that they provide a facade of
democracy and confer the mantle of political legitimacy on the regime.
They also satisfy, although only formally and by creating an illusion,
the desire for democracy and popular participation in Government.
‘Ruling political parties’ are not necessarily the pliant instruments
of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy. Nor is that oligarchy an instrument
of the former. A tension, as well as mutual accommodation,
exists between the two. This tension and ambivalence in their mutual
relationship is best seen in the way in which their relationships exist
and develop before and after independence. Before independence, the
bureaucratic-military apparatus, which is as that time the instrument
of the Metropolitan bourgeoisie, is employed on the task of repression
of the nationalist movement. But it is the leaders of that movement
who subsequently inherit the apparatus of state power as the legitimate
party in power. It might be thought that their previous relationship
would have alienated the two completely from each other. But this
is not so. Again a number of possibilities exist which reflect the peculiar
historical experience of particular countries. In South Asia, there
was a continuity in the structure of the bureaucratic-military apparatus
and an equation of mutual accommodation was established between
them and the nationalist leadership. But the balance of the equation
was different, for example, between that which was established in
Pakistan and that which was established in India.

There are certain general conditions which influence the way in
which the equation between bureaucratic-military oligarchies and
political parties is established and evolves in the post-colonial state.
Firstly, a political party which has led the struggle for independence,
is invested with legitimacy as the rightful successor to the colonial
regime and as the party which (in the circumstances) commands a
majority in the parliament or Constituent Assembly. This political
structure is of value to the bureaucratic-military oligarchies. The
politicians are incorporated in a structure in which the bureaucratic military
oligarchy has a firm grip on the levers of power. But the nexus
between power and public responsibility and accountability is broken
and the burden of the latter is shifted on to the shoulders of the
politicians. The political leadership shields the oligarchy. Secondly,
their mutual relationship helps to establish political links between the
regime and local-level power structures which operate at the grass
roots level in society (such as the landed gentry), instead of alienating
the latter and leaving them open to mobilization by a political opposition
for an attack on the regime. The political leadership is therefore
of value to the oligarchy. But this dependence on the political leadership
imposes certain limitations as well as demands on the bureaucraticmilitary
oligarchy. They may grow sufficiently powerful to threaten
their interests. When that happens, a political crisis is precipitated and
the oligarchy ‘seizes’ power, and attempts to rule in its own name;
usually that of the army as the ‘custodian’ of national integrity and
national interests.

Because of the powerful role of the bureaucratic-military oligarchy
in post-colonial societies, places in the oligarchy are of strategic importance,
especially for aspiring educated middle class groups, and political
demands are focused on shares in the oligarchy. Where the oligarchy
is recruited from a narrow social or regional base, as in the case of
Pakistan, the unprivileged educated middle class groups, who are
denied access to places in the ruling oligarchy, organize political
opposition. ‘Moral’ principles and ideologies are invoked both by the
ruling oligarchy as well as by the opposition to justify their respective
interests and to rally public support in their own behalf. Difference
of caste, ethnic origin, religion or language dominate the politics of
post-colonial societies, particularly for this reason. Opposition groups
raise slogans of cultural or linguistic identity. On the other hand,
the ruling oligarchy, in defence of its own privileged position, denounces
the opposition ideology as narrow minded particularism and
divisive. It conceals its own particularistic privileged identity behind
an ideology of ‘national solidarity’.

In Pakistan the ruling (predominantly Punjabi) oligarchy has taken
over and put to its own use slogans of Muslim nationalism, that is the
slogans of the movement on the strength of which Pakistan was
brought into being. It extols the virtues of ‘Islamic solidarity’ and
denounces opposition movements as divisive ‘provincialism’. In this
way, after the creation of Pakistan, the nature of Muslim ‘nationalism’
and the significance of its slogans have altered significantly for they
are put at the service of the ruling oligarchy. Muslim Nationalism in
India propagated the cause of the under-privileged Muslim educated
middle classes of India, who were numerically small and educationally
less advanced than the Hindus. The creation of Pakistan was the
fulfilment of that role, so that after the State of Pakistan came into
being, the raison d’dtre of that movement ceased to exist. At that
point the Muslim League, the principal organ of the movement, was
fragmented. The surviving faction which inherited the mantle of the
Muslim League has propagated its ideology on behalf of the privileged
groups in Pakistan, especially of the Punjabi oligarchy. The idea of
Islamic unity, as an ideology, has been used for example to deny the
less privileged groups of Bengalis, Sindhis, Pathans and Baluchis the
recognition of their separate identity and their claims for recognition
as under-privileged entities whose claims for equal treatment were
justified and had to be listened to. The demands of the latter, on the
other hand, were ideologically in the secular cultural idiom of the
respective Language movements.

The Bengali Language Movement was born in 1947 when Pakistan
itself came into being. It had its first martyrs in 1952, after a general
strike which had brought the entire province of East Bengal to a standstill
and paralysed the entire administration for several days. Its impact
was felt later in the East Pakistan provincial election of 1954
when the opposition United Front had a landslide victory yielding no
more than 10 seats to the ruling Muslim League Party out of a total
of 309. It was on this wave of Bengali nationalism that the Awami
League emerged as a leading political party. The main characteristic
of the Bengali Language movement at this early stage was its apparent
spontaneity because its grass roots cadres belonged to the Left who,
under conditions of repression, remained anonymous. It was not then
espoused by the ruling political elite of East Bengal who enjoyed office
under the patronage of the dominant Punjabi bureaucrats, who
wielded effective political power in the whole country. The Bengali
Language Movement was a protest movement which was of a very
great significance in creating radical political consciousness amongst
all strata of the Bengali people. It gave them a sense of solidarity
as a people and identity as an unprivileged people. Its main thrust
came from the educated lower middle classes of Bengal, amongst whom
the Awami League has its political roots. But the movement echoed
with the ideology of social justice so that its cadres at the grass roots
level were aroused to a consciousness of the demands of peasants
and workers as well as their own.

Reluctantly, but inevitably, the dominant Punjabi bureaucratic elite
had to yield ground to Bengali demands for a fair share of jobs and
promotion. As a consequence by the late sixties the provincial administration
was almost wholly staffed by Bengali civil servants. Bengali
progress was less remarkable with regard to appointments in the
Central Government. It was not until 1969 that a few Bengali officers
were, for the first time, installed as Secretaries to the Central
Government, at the head of Ministries. Even that belated concession
was hailed as an extraordinary event and merited public acclaim and
newspaper editorials. But nevertheless the Bengalis complained with
some justice that this gesture was not enough. This was not only
because the proportionate Bengali share in the senior appointments
was still much below that which would be justified by the population
ratio, but also because only minor Ministries were relinquished to
Bengali hands. The bastions of power, namely, the Ministries of
Finance and Defence, the Planning Commission and the Establishment
Division, were still retained securely in trusted West Pakistani hands.
These Bengali officers were removed from their posts after the army’s
action in East Bengal. In the military establishment, on the other
hand, far fewer concessions were made to Bengali demands, on the
plea that ‘suitable officer material’ was not available from there in
sufficient number for recruitment. In the long confrontation with
India, the bulk of the army, moreover, is stationed in West Pakistan.
In the 1965 war with India, East Pakistan was left virtually defenceless.
This led to strong demands from East Rengal for an adequate
share in the defence forces. Bengali recruitment was slightly accelerated.
But Bengali units in the army were few, small, ill-equipped
and ill-trained.

The Bengali movement for equitable treatment, reached a new
level when, in the late fifties, demands began to be made for an
adequate share of economic resources for development to be allocated
to East Bengal. East Bengali economists have prepared excellent
detailed studies which demonstrate the steady exploitation of East
Bengal by West Pakistan. Their studies have shown that there has
been a net annual drain of resources from East Bengal to West
Pakistan. Their argument that there should be a radical re-allocation
of development resources and a re-alipment of economic policies,
became a major issue in the Bengali movement. In recent years it
was the issue of economic disparity between East Bengal and West
Pakistan which has been at the centre of Bengali demands. Their
demands are justified, and are now universally recognized. Even Mr.
Bhutto, acknowledged the fact that “The Eastern Wing (i.e. Bangla
Desh) has been treated as a colony in the past.” I have quoted earlier
data provided by the Pakistan Planning Commission, which indicates
the large extent of the economic disparity; and the Pakistan Planning
Commission can certainly not be accused of partiality in favour of
East Bengal.

The economic disparity and the fact that East Bengal’s economic
development has been retarded derives principally from the inherent
dynamics of capitalist development and the ideological commitment
of Pakistan’s ruling oligarchy to private enterprise. East Bengal’s share
of private investment has been of the order of only 25 per cent of the
total. Moreover, the bulk of it was in the hands of ‘West Pakistani’
businessmen. The Pakistani bourgeoisie is made up mainly of two
linguistic groups. Many of them are Gujrati speaking Muslims who,
originally from Gujerat in India, migrated to Pakistan; principally
to West Pakistan. The other group of Pakistani capitalists is Punjabi.
Their activities were mainly concentrated in West Pakistan, which
therefore benefited greatly from the cumulative impetus to economic
activity which this generated. West Pakistan, having a more prosperous
agrarian economy, also provided the richer market. A few
businessmen had gone directly to East Bengal from India. But, because
they were identified there as ‘West Pakistanis’, and became the targets
of agitation in the Bengali Language Movement of the fifties, they
were demoralized and shifted their interest increasingly to West
Pakistan. This did not deter some of the biggest of them from continuing
to invest in and exploit East Bengal. But the main thrust of
private investment was confined to West Pakistan and ‘private capital
formation’ in East Bengal became a major problem. The only
viable path for the economic development of East Pakistan was a
socialist one, and a socialist ideology found a receptive audience
in East Bengal.

In the sixties, President Ayub decided to foster in East Bengal
a Bengali bourgeoisie, who he thought would also provide him with a
political base in that province and counter the influence of socialist
ideas. This endeavour was blessed and backed by the West Pakistani
bourgeoisie. But to create a bourgeoisie the regime had to put money
into the hands of men who had too little of it. Two categories of
people were drawn into the process of ‘capital formation’ which was
devised by the Ayub Regime, whom we can refer to respectively as
the ‘contacters’ and the ‘contractors’. The ‘contacters’ were educated
Bengalis with influential contacts (especially those who were relatives
of bureaucrats or politicians) who were granted all kinds of permits
and licences which had a ready cash value because they could be sold
to West Pakistani businessmen who needed them to be able to engage
in profitable transactions. This process transferred money into the
pockets of a parasitic class of people, at the expense of the ordinary
consumer who ultimately bore the burden of inflated prices. The
‘contacters’ lived expensively, and few of them built up any industries.
The ‘contractors’ were different. They were small businessmen who
were awarded construction contracts etc., by the Government at
deliberately inflated rates. The profits made by them were ploughed
back into their businesses. They were later encouraged to become
industrialists, by generous loans and official support. For example,
for some industrial projects, the Industrial Development Bank of
Pakistan, which was set up for the purpose, would advance about
two thirds of the investment funds required and the East Pakistan
Industrial Development Corporation would provide half of the remaining
third of the total amount. The remaining sixth of the amount
had to be raised by the prospective industrialist from his own pocket
or the stock exchange. In fact a substantial part of this equity was
also subscribed by the state sponsored National Investment Trust and
the Investment Corporation of Pakistan. To set up an industry. therefore,
the budding Bengali industrialists needed barely 10 per cent
(or less) of the capital needed. But profits were so high that it did not
take long before they became sole owners d their industries and began
to multiply their new-found fortunes.

The attitude of the newly created nucleus of the Bengali bourgeoisie
towards the politics of Bengali nationalism was one of qualified
support. They profited greatly from the pressures created by such
politics. But, at the same time, they were a little apprehensive because
of its leftward gravitation. Moreover, their extraordinary privileges
had been brought into existence because there was a Central Government
which could be pressured and the continuance of their privileges
in an independent East Bengal was a little problematic. Not all of
them supported the movement wholeheartedly; they provided support
for right wing movements in East Bengal also, and collaborated
with the ruling oligarchy. They were particularly demoralized after
the winter of 1968-9, when nationwide protest against the Ayub
Regime, which brought about its downfall, threatened to develop into
a revolutionary movement, especially in East Bengal. Many of them
transferred substantial amounts to politically more ‘stable’ West
Pakistan or, illegally, abroad, for safer investment. While they sup
ported a movement for regional autonomy and diversion of a larger
share of economic resources to East Bengal, they also looked upon
the bureaucratic-military oligarchy, which is based on West Pakistan,
as a bulwark for the defence and protection of their own class interests.
The movement for independence for East Bengal cannot, therefore,
be explained by reference to the aspirations of the Bengali bourgeoisie.
Moreover, in assessing the class basis of that movement, one
must take into consideration the fact that the movement existed and
flourished before the Bengali bourgeoisie was brought into being. The
class base of that movement is, essentially, petty bourgeois. But the
armed liberation struggle has transformed it into a people’s struggle.
The response to East Bengali demands from the various West
Pakistani classes, neo-colonial interests and the bureaucratic-military
oligarchy, was by no means unanimous. First of all, the West Pakistani
landowners had little to gain from the retention of East Bengal within
the fold of Pakistan; and they had much to lose from it. The threat
from East Bengal to their vested interests came not only in the form
of a generalized threat consequent to the infusion of radical politics.

There was also a specific threat in the form of proposals emanating
from East Bengal which affected them; principally the proposal to
apply income tax to agricultural incomes which have so far been
exempt. Such a tax was essential if sufficient resources were to be
mobilized to allow targets for the Fourth Five Year Plan to be kept
at a level which would ensure the minimum level of development effort
acceptable to underdeveloped East Bengal. Moreover, because of the
small size of landholdings in East Bengal, such a tax would have
affected only West Pakistani landowners. It would be a mistake to
suppose, however, that the question was debated sufficiently widely to
make all West Pakistani landowners aware of the issue and therefore
to have allowed their self-interest to transcend their ‘patriotic
sentiments’. The latter factor did play a part. But there were
powerful members of that class who favoured regional autonomy
(which the Bengalis demanded) to insulate their own privileges.

The West Pakistani bourgeoisie had most to gain from the retention
of East Bengal in Pakistan. It provided for them a captive market
for their overpriced manufactured goods and a useful. source of foreign
exchange earnings. But they were already reconciled to the idea of
regional autonomy under the Awami League. Their interests were
not seriously jeopardized by regional autonomy. As far as investment
in East Bengal is concerned, they were not greatly interested, not only
because of the ‘political risks’ which for them were greater in East
Bengal but also because the great increase in agricultural incomes in
West Pakistan had made it a much more profitable market which was
much easier to exploit. Their interest in East Bengal was a sharply
diminishing one. They were particularly concerned about the prospects
of a revolutionary development in East Bengal, especially after
the experience of the great upheaval of the winter of 1968-9. In
view of this, they relied heavily on the Awami League as a conservative
force, as indeed did the U.S. and other foreign powers. They had
given very large financial support to the Awami League. They recognized
the pressures to which the Awami League leadership had to
respond and were prepared to make small sacrifices in order to contain
the forces which were threatening from East Bengal. They favoured
regional autonomy under Awami League sponsorship, under which
most of their essential interests would be preserved. They would have
favoured a deal with the Awami League rather than the action which
was mounted by the army, and which has brought in its train incalculable
risks and very large costs.

The neo-colonial powers, led by the U.S., had little interest in preventing
regional autonomy for East Bengal. On the contrary, the
Americans have been deeply involved with the East Bengali secessionist
movement and have encouraged it, supported it and infiltrated it.
Under the Awami League, the government of Bangla Desh would be
unlikely to embark upon any revolutionary measures and, committed
as it was to its weak bourgeoisie and the philosophy of private enterprise,
it would be heavily dependent upon the U.S.A. The U.S.,
amongst other Western powers, is now exerting diplomatic and
financial pressures to extricate the West Pakistani army from East

The main thrust behind the army’s action against the people of East
Bengal has come from the bureaucratic-military oligarchy itself. But
here, again, the picture is a little complex because of changes in
attitudes amongst bureaucrats as a result of recent developments. The
Punjabi dominated bureaucratic oligarchy had steadily to yield ground
to progressive Bengali demands. Punjabi officials were disaffected by
the relatively rapid promotion of Bengalis (and others) to senior posts,
which was done under the pressure from regional movements, in order
to redress the balance of allocation of senior appointments as between
various regional groups. By this the Punjabi bureaucratic elite felt
cheated of its own ‘seniority’. On the other hand, insofar as control
over resources was concerned, regional autonomy threatened to undermine
their control over a large share of it. Indications are that, while
many members of the bureaucratic oligarchy might have favoured
the army’s action, not all of them did so and now, in retrospect, they
are aware of the colossal financial problem which has been created
as a result of that action (if not its terrible human cost) and they
would therefore be amenable to the army’s withdrawal from East

It was the army itself which was most directly threatened by the
East Bengali demand for regional autonomy, and the Awami League’s
Six Point plan which would have deprived the centre (responsible for
‘defence’) of financial resources except those which the Provinces chose
to make over to the centre. Moreover, in addition to decentralization
of financial control and economic policy-making, the Awami League
was also committed to a very substantial reduction in military expenditure,
in order to make more resources available for development.

This was a direct threat to the vested interests of the army.
The direct threat to the army’s interests was reinforced by the strong
ideological orientations of the army officers to anti-Indian chauvinism
combined with the belief that Bengali nationalism, was an Indian
inspired, Indian financed and Indian engineered move to disrupt the
unity of Pakistan. The raison d’ttre of the army, as they had been
trained to think, was defence against India. Right wing ideologies
had persistently fostered the idea that Bengali nationalism was
no more than a manifestation of Indian subversion. Bengali
nationalists for their part made little effort to propagate their ideas in
West Pakistan, with the exception of economic demands which were
voiced in the English language press. One of the strongest manifestations
of the Bengali movement was the emphasis on the Bengali
language to the exclusion not only of West Pakistani languages but,
to some extent also of English which is the language of intercommunication
between the educated members of Pakistani society.

The most important literature of the Bengali movement is still inaccessible
to those who do not read Bengali. This failure of the Bengali
nationalists to communicate with West Pakistanis isolated them and
has helped their enemies in West Pakistan to foster hostility towards
them. Such hostility is deeply ingrained in West Pakistan and is
reflected in the ideology of the Pakistan Peoples Party and its leader
Mr. Bhutto, who are close to the hawks in the army. The victory of
the PPP in the elections of December 1970, in Punjab and Sind,
greatly strengthened the hands of the hawks.

Two conclusions arise from our analysis. Firstly, it emphasizes the
political role in post-colonial societies of the educated middle class,
whose aspirations are directed primarily towards positions in the
bureaucratic-military oligarchy which dominates such societies. The
ideology of ‘national’ solidarity is put forward by privileged groups
in that oligarchy in order to obscure their own privileged identity. On
the other hand, under-privileged groups put forward their demands
in the idiom of regional culture or linguistic or ethnic identity. These
demands are reinforced by the phenomenon of economic disparities
which are necessary concomitants of the unevenness of capitalist
development. The focus on cultural and linguistic identity of the
under-privileged regional groups obscures this fundamental cause of
economic disparity. The frustrations and the energies of the underprivileged
groups are therefore channelled into ‘nationalist’ movements
instead of movements directed explicitly towards a socialist
revolutionary change. But because the underlying structure of
capitalist development continues even after concessions are made to
regional demands, the problems of the regional groups are not solved
simply by the achievement of regional autonomy. Their problems can
be solved only by a social revolution, and an end to uneven capitalist
development. Secondly, the specific conditions of East Bengal have
given rise to a situation which can no longer be considered simply as
a regional problem, on a par with the problems of the under-privileged
regions of West Pakistan. For the latter. the perspective must be that
of a united struggle for a socialist West Pakistan rather than a narrow
struggle for regional autonomy within a capitalist West Pakistan. In
the case of East Bengal, however, a distinct national identity has
crystallized. That identity has been baptised in the blood that was
shed by the military massacre and the subsequent armed struggle.
There can therefore no longer be any question of East Pakistan being
‘re-united’ with West Pakistan; least of all under the bureaucratic military
oligarchy which now rules the country. It is difficult to
visualize, at the moment of writing, when and how precisely the
present crisis will be resolved by the emergence of a free Bangla
Desh. But socialists everywhere will support the struggle of the people
of Bangla Desh, and resist the intrigues of the western powers to thwart
its liberation.


I. East Bengal, officially designated East Pakistan, is referred to by Bengali
nationalists by its Bengali name of Bangladesh, which is the name by
which it has been proclaimed as an independent country.
2. The Awami League ‘Six Point Programme’ proposed (i) a Federal Parliamentary
constitution with universal adult franchise, (ii) the Federal
Government to be responsible only for Defence and Foreign Affairs and
Currency, (iii) two separate currencies for East and West Pakistan, controlled
by two separate Central Banks with control on capital movements
between East and West Pakistan, (iv) power to levy taxes and to regulate
fiscal policy to vest in the federating units, (v) separate accounting of
foreign exchange and separate negotiation of foreign aid for federating
units and (vi) the governments of the federating units to have the power
to maintain para-military forces.
3+ E. Mason, R. Dorfman, and S. Margolin, “Conflict in East Pakistan-
Background and Prospects” (mimeographed) April 1971.
4. See: Hamza Alavi, “The Army and the Bureaucracy in Pakistan Politics”
in “Arme’e Et Nation Duns Les TroiS Continents” (Ed.) Anouar Abdel-malek
5. Paul Baran “The Political Economy of Growth”, New York, 1957~
pp. 220-1.
6. This development was analysed in my article “Imperialism, Old and New”
in Socialist Register I 964, (Les Temps Modernes No. 2 I 9-220, AoQt-Sept
1964), and valuable empirical material is provided by Michael Kidron,
“Foreign Investments in India”, London 1965. See also my review of
Kidron’s book in New Left Review 37, June 1966.

About the author: Hamza Alavi (10 April 1921 – 1 December 2003) was a Marxist academic sociologist and activist. He was born in the Shia Bohra community in Karachi, in the then British India which now constitutes Pakistan and migrated in adulthood to the UK. The focus of his academic work was nationality, gender, fundamentalism and the peasantry. His most noted work was perhaps his 1965 essay Peasant And Revolution in the Socialist Register which stressed the militant role of the middle peasantry. These middle peasants were then viewed as the class in the rural areas which were most naturally the allies of the urban working class. In the 1960s he was one of the co-founders of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination.

Selected publications

Alavi, Hamza (1965) Peasant and Revolution, Socialist Register, pp. 241–7
Alavi, Hamza & Shanin, Teodor (2003) Introduction to the Sociology of “Developing Societies”, Monthly Review Press.
Alavi, H. (1982). Capitalism and colonial production. London: Croom Helm.
Alavi, H., & Harriss, J. (1989). South Asia. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Alavi, H., & Harriss, J. (1989). Sociology of ‘developing societies’: South Asia. Basingstoke: Macmillan Education.
Halliday, Fred & Alavi, Hamza (1988) State and Ideology in the Middle East and Pakistan, Monthly Review Press