| Welcome to Global Village Space

Thursday, July 18, 2024

A short history of strategic decision-making in Pakistan

Strategic decision-making in Pakistan, right from the very beginning, and more so under the military regimes, was exercised by a narrow oligarchy that looked at the political situation primarily from the colonial angle of maintaining law and order. It was futile to generate political stability and any meaningful socio-economic development.

The logical conclusion of problem-solving is decision-making. We define decision-making as the selection based on some criteria of one behavior alternative, from two or more behavior alternatives. Strategic decision-making is related to long-term decisions about political, military, or corporate issues, etc. which need forward planning. This analysis will limit itself to political decision-making in Pakistan at the strategic level. What is the purpose of discussing such a bland subject here? It is to find a reasonable answer to the causes of the constant political turmoil that has gripped this country since 1947.

Pakistan and India gained independence from British colonialism with a difference of one day only. But whereas India’s political decision-making process was established on a firm keel from day one, Pakistan stumbled through a slippery path characterized by palace intrigue, games of musical chairs, and on-again-off-again military and foreign interventions. It was because India was ruled by Nehru for 17 long years, whereas Pakistan lost Jinnah only a few months after gaining independence.

Read more: 1965 War – The Battle for Lahore

How the degradation of the democratic process begins

The degradation of the democratic process- first under a compromised democratic process and then under military rule – was the beginning of Pakistan’s chronic political instability. The death of the democratic process and the rise of an authoritarian system under Ayub -the latter-day King Arthur and his Round Table- reduced the political decision-making in Pakistan, both at the tactical and strategic levels, to the whims of a select few. Ayub’s political system, in which the Bengalis had been excluded from the decision-making process, was the root cause of the disintegration of Pakistan in 1971.

Political agitation against Ayub was not organized by the politicians, who were initially bewildered by the cloudburst mass uprising. A cloudburst is an extreme amount of precipitation in a short period of time, sometimes accompanied by hail and thunder, which is capable of creating flood conditions. The agitation against Ayub started when a group of Gordon College students, on their way back from a sight-seeing cum shopping tour of the smuggled goods market in the border town of Bara, were mishandled at the customs check post in the vicinity of Attock.

The politicians took advantage of the agitation only after it had begun. It is also interesting to note that the anti-Ayub agitation started in West Pakistan, and not East Pakistan where Ayub’s political order and economic policy were vehemently opposed. However, Ayub’s exit, even as his coming to power, was instigated by secret plans and wheeling-dealing. It had the appearance of a mass movement; particularly the one organized by Bhutto in West Pakistan, but had the secret blessing of Yahya Khan.

Read more: The parody of national reconciliation

Because the decision-making process was not articulated and structured, the power vacuum created during the four-month-long agitation against Ayub Khan in 1968-69 did not result in the smooth transfer of power, as stipulated in the 1962 constitution, to Pakistan’s national assembly. Instead, the constitution was abrogated and power shifted to Yahya. When Yahya assumed control in March 1969, he and his military regime made a sincere effort to solve the East-West Pakistan tensions and remove the sense of deprivation among the Bengalis, but subsequent events proved that Yahya Khan and his military junta did not possess the abilities and capacity to meet the complicated situation already created by the misrule in the preceding twenty-two years.

Similarly, both Mujib and Bhutto, the two politicians with whom he had to finally deal to maintain Pakistan’s territorial integrity, did not have political honesty, the integrity of character, broad vision, and statesmanship. The situation in Pakistan, almost half a century ago, has a canny resemblance with the present political turmoil. The failure of Yahya, and that of Ayub before him, demonstrated how a depoliticized regime, however well-intentioned, is not capable of dealing with the complex socio-economic problems of a Third World country that is mired in threats to its sovereignty and reeling under foreign debts. Again, what happened during the twilight years of united Pakistan can be extrapolated to what is happening in Pakistan right now.

Since strategic decision-making in Pakistan, right from the very beginning, and more so under the military regimes, was exercised by a narrow oligarchy that looked at the political situation primarily from the colonial angle of maintaining law and order; it was futile to generate political stability and any meaningful socio-economic development.

Ayub Khan’s and Yahya’s political systems were hybrid systems in which the real decision-making was vested in top military bureaucrats. Some members of the cabinet, like Bhutto and G.W Choudhury in Ayub and Yahya cabinets respectively, might have some share, but usually, the cabinet was relegated to discussing peripheral issues. The major decisions, whether related to defense, foreign affairs, or economic policy, were decided by the kitchen cabinet – The Round Table of King Arthur. Since most of Pakistan’s politicians were brought up in the army’s nursery, we see the same style of decision-making under Benazir and Nawaz.

Read more: The Expendables in Pakistan

The centralization of the decision-making process

The centralization of the decision-making process and bringing it within the ambit of kitchen cabinets only resulted in the sprouting up of multiple centers of gravity which operated parallel to the overt corridors of power. One such parallel center of gravity emerged during the first Kashmir War (1947-49) right after independence. While the government of Pakistan, including its GHQ, feigned ignorance, this war was masterminded and executed by two serving colonels of the Pakistan army.

When the war started, colonels Akbar Khan and Sher Khan were serving as Director Weapons & Equipment and Deputy Director Military Intelligence respectively at GHQ. Unbeknownst to the GHQ (read Generals Gracey and Messervy), Colonel Akbar Khan (later promoted to the rank of major general) of the Pakistan Army, was tasked by the Pakistani premier to set up a covert command headquarters to organize and execute the operations in Jammu & Kashmir.

Colonel Sher Khan was subsequently promoted to the rank of brigadier, and the future Director of Military Intelligence was to assist him. For this purpose, Akbar Khan was to coordinate with the Muslim Conference led by Sardar Ibrahim, a Poonchi lawyer hailing from Rawalakot. Relying on multiple centers of gravity is counterproductive. Akbar Khan, disillusioned by the political and military leadership, joined the communists and tried to topple the government in the famous Rawalpindi Conspiracy. This was the beginning of Bonapartism in Pakistan.

The 1965 War between India and Pakistan was choreographed by such a parallel center of gravity which included Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Ayub’s Foreign Minister, Aziz Ahmed, the Foreign Secretary, and Major General Akhtar Hussain Malik, GOC 12 Division, These three convinced Ayub Khan that sending infiltrators into the Indian Held Kashmir would not result in India attacking Pakistan across the Cease Fire Line in J&K. Thus started the 1965 War which ended in a stalemate. Uncle Sam was jilted because Ayub Khan had, wittingly or unwittingly, tried to throw a spanner in the US scheme of things in South Asia.

Read more: Why Pakistan’s current situation takes us back to the past?

We now talk about another parallel center of gravity, with Bhutto again at its center that played a prominent part in the dismemberment of united Pakistan in 1971. The 1965 War served as the corollary to the 1971 War. It all started in Beijing around mid-November 1971 when Yahya Khan sent Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Lieutenant General Gul Hasan, GGS Army, and Air Marshall Rahim Khan, the Air Chief, to Beijing. The situation in East Pakistan had begun to crumble and considering that Bhutto had a personal equation with the Chinese leadership.

Yahya had chosen Bhutto to lead the delegation on the recommendation of Gul Hassan. The mandate of the mission was to ascertain the extent to which China would be willing to support Pakistan in case of war with India, which was looming with the deterioration of our position in East Pakistan by the day. However, in Beijing, the three of them had decided that the Pakistan Army and PAF would not launch any meaningful operation during the war with India over East Pakistan.

In 2022, life in Pakistan rolls on.


Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.