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Friday, May 17, 2024

Pakistan’s current crisis and India

Pakistan has consistently attracted significant attention since April 2022 when a carefully orchestrated change of government occurred. The current turmoil bears similarities to the crisis triggered by the 1970 general elections, which resulted in a civil war in East Pakistan, India's military involvement, and the formation of Bangladesh.

Pakistan has constantly remained in the eye of the storm since April 2022 when a choreographed regime change was inflicted on it. The present crisis is no different from the one spawned by the 1970 general elections that led to civil war in East Pakistan, India’s military intervention, and the birth of Bangladesh. However, Pakistan’s economy in 1970 was not facing an imminent meltdown like today. What is going to happen to Pakistan? Is scheming India busy again to pull another 71-like debacle on us? These are the questions that the Pakistani “who is who”, embroiled in hairsplitting the tactical dimension of the current crisis, has almost completely ignored. To make a forecast, we have to look into the past. 

After the 1970 general elections, Indira Gandhi exploited the civil war in East Pakistan to dismember and, according to the advice by Indian defense analyst K. Subrahmanyam, “Kick Pakistan out of South East Asia”. No one denies that Mujib and his Awami League supporters played into India’s hands. The separatist tendency in East Pakistan found open expression and was translated by the Bengali intelligentsia into a popular movement, abetted strongly by India. 

Read more: Locked grave story falsely linked to Pakistan exposes Indian media propaganda

Understanding the matter better

That the West Pakistani centers of power, particularly the Punjabi and Sindhi feudal class, had also gravitated towards separating Pakistan’s two wings, is generally ignored. Some West Pakistani politicians, including Mian Mumtaz Daultana, advertently or inadvertently glorified Mujib and refused to attend Ayub Khan’s roundtable conference unless Mujib, imprisoned on treason charges in the Agartala conspiracy, was released from prison. As for Bhutto, he didn’t even attend the roundtable conference.  Half a century later Mujib’s daughter Hasina Wajid acknowledged that the Agartala conspiracy was real. So did Colonel Showkat Ali (retired), deputy speaker of the Bangladesh parliament.

In 1971, if Pakistan’s military leadership were serious about East Pakistan, it would have pre-empted India in the western sector before the Indian Army had fully mobilized and the Himalayan passes had not become snowbound. It could have done this by attacking India in May or September 1971 in the Ravi-Chenab Corridor. The area between Samba and Dera Baba Nanak was initially held by a division and presented to Pakistan the weakest gap in the Indian defenses for launching a pre-emptive attack. Located in the hinterland, 1 Corps was to assume responsibility in this sector on arrival (Amin, 1999; Katoch, 2011). 

 Bhutto, Lt General Gul Hasan Khan, and Air Marshal Rahim Khan,  during their visit to Beijing in November 1970, concluded  that East Pakistan was doomed and Pakistan Army would not be able to withstand the Indian Army onslaught once an all-out war started. Having convinced themselves about the hopelessness of the situation, they decided that when the ill-fated eastern wing collapsed, they would coerce Yahya into stepping down in favor of a civilian setup that protected their interests – Bhutto would become the ruler of a truncated Pakistan, Gul Hasan the Army Chief, and Rahim Khan was to get an extension as  Air Chief (Khan,2008). Had it not been for Bhutto and some of his booze companions, Yahya among them, India could not succeed in hacking away East Pakistan and turning it into Bangladesh. 

What may happen in the not-too-distant future?

To have some idea, we go back to the 1971 War. In her official statement in the Indian parliament after the fall of Dhaka, Indira Gandhi made a fleeting reference to “human rights abuses in Balochistan”, implicitly threatening Indian covert and overt interference in the troubled province (this has since been dubbed out from the official records but can be verified from All India Radio transcripts). The Soviet leadership had also warned Bhutto that if a Bangladesh-like situation emerged again, the Soviet Union would act exactly as it did during the 1971 War.

At midnight, 9 February 1973, Bhutto’s government claimed to have intercepted weapons shipments smuggled from the Soviet Union with Iraqi assistance. The next day a team of Special Services Group and Rangers stormed the Iraqi embassy and found a cache of Soviet arms and ammunition along with a large amount of money that was to be distributed among Baloch separatist groups. Bhutto claimed that the arms and money were intended to provide military and financial aid to Balochi nationalists fighting against Pakistan and Iran (then ruled by the Shah of Iran). 

Read more: India and Pakistan’s mutual pollution

The London Club, during the 1970s, was a group of scions of mostly Punjabi and Sindhi elite studying in London. There were twenty-five members of the group studying in  London.  Bored of living a life of luxury, and smitten by the ghost of Che Guevara, they left their studies and joined the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA). Ironically, when they joined BLA, they elected to fight against the despotic rule of Bhutto, a person whom they now, especially Najam Sethi, adore as their hero. 

Who were they? Malik Asad Rehman, son of late Justice S.A. Rahman, who had retired as Chief Justice of Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 1968 (He was also the chairman of the Agartala Tribunal that was trying Mujib and his accomplices in Dhaka). Asad was one of the members of the Club. Born in Murree in 1950, Asad was schooled at Lahore’s elite educational institutions. In 1969, he left for London to study architecture.

Asad did not finish his studies in London because, in 1971, he came back to Pakistan (straight to Balochistan). Asad Rehman claims to have killed many security personnel himself. Yet at the end of the insurgency, all of them except one Dilip Das, who was killed during the fighting,  were living, and some of them like, Najam Sethi, are still living unscathed under the very nose of the law. There were others with matching backgrounds. 

Asad Rehman, the ideologue in the group, had this to say during an interview:

  1. The London Club was actively involved in attacking Pakistan Army.
  2. Mir Hazar Khan Marri, the head of the Marri (Bijarani) tribe, provided them with rations, and purchased weapons for the resistance movement, from Afghanistan.
  3. They also snatched weapons and ammunition from Pakistan Army.

In 1970, when there was no insurgency in Balochistan, who sent the likes of Najam Sethi and his fellow members of the London Club to Balochistan? A full-fledged insurgency is already going on there for the last many years. Perhaps it is the metamorphosis of the 1973 insurgency. For Pakistan, the point to note is, if India, in connivance with Iran and US, is using its intelligence agencies to foment trouble in Karachi, Balochistan, and elsewhere in Pakistan, it cannot succeed without the connivance of powerful lobbies within the country. India is financing and arming the terrorists, but the bombers, the hit men, and the target killers are Pakistanis. The present politico-economic turmoil in Pakistan provides breeding grounds for centrifugal forces, particularly in the restive Balochistan province. Presently, Balochistan is ripe for foreign intervention.

The insurgencies that keep sweeping Balochistan from time to time are essentially a power struggle between the local sardars and the rulers in  Islamabad to control the resources of this province. The commoners are exploited and hoodwinked by both sides. When the Baloch sardars talk about the rights of the Baloch people, they mean themselves. All the cultivable land, water resources, and grazing grounds are the private property of these chieftains. The common man ekes out a miserable life in Balochistan. On the other hand, when the central government talks about developing Balochistan, it means grabbing lucrative contracts to line the pockets of politicians and bureaucrats. 


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.