THE case for self-determination supposes the right of a people to strive to amount to something worth while--not just the opportunity to drift into ineffectuality and frustration. The fostering of international organization and coöperation also assumes the existence of states capable of getting things done and helping each other. Both the aspiration that divides and the aspiration that unites postulate states capable of playing historic rôles. Such is the norm we assume in our concept of the state in international life. One of its characteristics is a population conscious of a political identity, and aware of a common history, able to produce consensus and endowed with capabilities for running the apparatus of a state. A second characteristic is a defined territory, identified with the people by habit and history. A third is a régime identified with the populace and the territory, and endowed with faculties for making policy--that is, for making and enforcing public decisions involving the allocation of resources to new patterns of effort and creating new relationships, in contrast to mere enforcement of custom, order and peripheral security.

It has been all too easy to regard every political entity in colonial subordination as a frustrated state and in this light to view independence as the removal of impediments to development toward a mature, reasonably effective state in accordance with inherent teleological elements. These assumptions and hopes are reflected in the bringing of ever-increasing numbers of political units into formal statehood. An enormous multiplicity of states has come about in three historic phases--the Napoleonic period, the aftermath of World War I, and notably the period since World War II--with still more in the wings getting ready to come on stage in the next few years, especially in the African continent.

These new states are admitted into the dignities of their status. They send and receive envoys. They pick up franchises in international organizations. Those rising to independence in current times usually enter almost at once into the collectivity pondering great issues at the United Nations and form part of that constituency within which contending groups of powers strive to assemble majorities to symbolize legitimacy for their own interests or to frustrate such majorities for their adversaries. Some of them contract themselves into alliances.

The multiplicity of states and the dilution of the character of states are basic political phenomena of the contemporary world. The anomalies inherent in all this are obvious. The words of an eighteenth century versifier are relevant--

To deem of every nation as the same

Is rank rebellion 'gainst the lawful claim

Of Nature, and such dull indifference

May be philosophy but can't be sense.

For fledgling states, the experience of being thrust into a world tribunal and having to cast their franchises on great issues must often be as bewildering--as contrary to the interests of their own right development--as would be the experience of a boy propelled into the Senate with his first pair of long pants.

My purpose is not to remonstrate against, or to suggest reform in, the situation induced by excesses of independence and equality and the rampant generation of new states emerging without regard to their fitness and viability. I wish merely to make note of disparity between juridic status and political fact as background to the consideration of the case of Pakistan. There we have a clear instance of a political entity which has left colonial status but seems unable to settle down to the serious business of being a state. Since the crossing of the threshold of independence eleven-and-a-half years ago the characteristics of statehood, even such as they were at the beginning, seem to have declined. Unity has faded. Purpose has been frittered away. Consciousness of the existence of a Pakistan with a rôle to play in history has dribbled out. "Freedom," said Matthew Arnold, "is a good horse, but a horse to ride somewhere." The Pakistanis have ridden it in circles and have tired it out.

What prompts me to set this down is the débâcle of last October--the rude destruction of such political framework of their own as the Pakistanis had been able to construct and the imposition of outright military dictatorship. My spirit is critical but friendly, for I hope the Pakistanis may yet give up their possessiveness of colonial attitudes and aptitudes. I think one can help them better with informed candor than with the ill-informed encouragement which tends to dominate in American response to events in that unhappy and confused land.

I am fully aware of the interpretation officially put forth for the recent revolt and the resulting dictatorship. Pakistanis have an unfailing faculty for producing scapegoats--this itself a sign of persistent colonial character in a juridically independent people. In Pakistan there is always a "they"--never a "we"--to blame for whatever is wrong. A relentless search goes on for a moral equivalent to the now departed British raj--someone to blame for all the rampant faults. Sometimes it is India. Sometimes it is the United States. West Pakistanis blame East Pakistanis and vice versa. Bureaucrats and the populace blame each other. In the rationale of the October 7 coup d'état, competitive politicians are identified as the authors of national woe. Parties and the parliamentary order are declared the guilty ones and sent into the political wilderness to cleanse the country of its sins.

The failure of the legislative principle in Pakistan has been too obvious to be denied. With it the idea of constitutional government and of democratic processes have come into disrepute. Yet this is only part of a sad story--only manifestations of a wider, deeper failure, a default on the whole idea of the state. During residence in Pakistan I was often told by Pakistanis, from President Mirza down, of the prematurity and impracticability of democracy in Pakistan. I, in turn, never urged democracy as such. The essential things, I stressed, were consensus, authority, a sense of policy--the creation of institutions to enable a state to amount to something and go somewhere. Anyone rejecting democratic steps to these ends must at least offer alternative ways, I argued; but this sort of reasoning was futile. On the one hand were too many Pakistanis habituated to the politics of protest and agitation--as if outcry and harangue were equivalents of policy. Too many Pakistanis, at least in high places, thought it sufficient merely to be negative about democratic modes without any creative ideas of what to put in their place.

II

It would be tedious even to list, let alone to analyze, the quarrels, velleities and frustrations which were the lot of Pakistan in its first two political phases--the initial phase as a Dominion, with the Government of India Act of 1935 and the Indian Independence Act of 1947 as basic governing instruments, and the period under the constitution of the Islamic Republic, which took effect March 23, 1956, and was overthrown by the Army last October 7. Two of these, however, do require brief consideration --the destructive, nagging quarrel between the executive and the Assembly and the rending rivalry and suspicion between the eastern and western wings of the country.

The first of these had roots in a simple circumstance of government in India preceding independence and partition. In the viceregal tradition, supreme power on the scene was vested in the executive. This power was exercised vicariously for a foreign sovereign. The British Parliament held the ultimate power over India. Such legislative authority as functioned on the subcontinent was contingent and imperfect, existing on assignment by the British Parliament. With the establishment of India and Pakistan as independent dominions in 1947, the executive power was vested in a Governor General and the power of Parliament was devolved upon a Constituent Assembly, which was an indirectly elected body set up by arrangements improvised by the executive authority just before partition. Out of this historical experience grew a feud over supremacy between the executive as heir to the raj and an Assembly as legatee of Parliament.

The issue was dormant while Mohammed Ali Jinnah lingered on as the dying personification of independence, the central will in the young Dominion, unchallenged both as the supreme executive authority and as leader of the Assembly. It remained in abeyance during Liaquat Ali Khan's dominance as Prime Minister in the sequel to Jinnah's death. The issue did emerge in the Governor Generalship of Ghulam Mohammed, 1951-55, and festered during the tenure of Iskander Mirza, last Governor General of the Dominion and then provisional President under the constitution.

These last two, each in his way, represented the viceregal pattern under new conditions and without a foreign principal. Each scorned politics, except his own ruthless kind, which neither acknowledged under that name. "May God have mercy on your soul!" was Ghulam Mohammed's remark when I once admitted to a respectful interest in politics. Each was possessive of executive ascendancy, regarded with repugnance the very idea of a parliamentary experiment in Pakistan, and professed to prefer presidential government on the American model, though without having any insight into the political character of the American presidency. Each fancied himself a strong man.

Faith in the Ataturk prototype is an enduring element of the American mythology regarding remote countries. I had often read this interpretation of Ghulam Mohammed before going to Pakistan in 1955. I found instead a sickened man, vague and fitful of will, pitifully possessive of power vastly beyond his capabilities. With his articulation impaired by paralysis of the palate and with too much pride to admit his weakness, he spent his official hours trying to whisper incomprehensible orders.

As for Mirza's limitations in the strong-man rôle, I recall the responses of a correspondent of an American news magazine, which was doing a piece on Pakistan and was relaying urgent questions by telephone to Karachi: Q. What is the people's pet name for Mirza? A. None. Q. What does the man in the street call him? A. Just Mirza, if anything. Q. What do people shout when he drives past? A. Nothing. Q. Then what is the local word for a benevolent despot? A. None, and they wouldn't apply it to Mirza anyway. This suggests one of Mirza's basic handicaps for the strong-man rôle--lack of touch with the masses and of capacity for projecting himself. Yet he had memorized the lines and knew some of the gestures and played the rôle well enough to convince at close quarters men of small discernment and large will to believe in a dictator. Behind the façade, however, imagination was lacking. Mirza understood the routines of administration, the negative business of maintaining order and the techniques of divide and rule. Politics as a business of producing consensus was beyond him--something fearful and strange.

A respectable measure of statesmanship would have perceived a solution in a higher level of political development, for both executive and legislature might have gained stature in a healthy and evolving state. This insight was beyond the grasp of the leadership prevailing in Pakistan. The focus was not on the growth of institutions but on a miserable quarrel over preferment. It led to a baleful series of plot and counterplot of executive against Assembly and vice versa, culminating in the forcible break-up of the first Constituent Assembly in October of 1954. It led likewise to Mirza's interposition against the Suhrawardy ministry in October 1957.

This last piece of folly was of determining importance. It violated the canons of a parliamentary order in removing a Prime Minister while denying him a test of strength in the Assembly. The action was taken on the basis of issues with respect to which the Prime Minister was clearly acting in the interest of national unity and responsibility in policy. It sent out of office the only available man with aptitude as a politician and giving reasonable promise of national leadership. It projected the President into the arena of political competition as protagonist of his own ambitions. It is clear in retrospect that it effectively foreclosed whatever possibility there ever was of holding national elections under the constitution. Such elections would have been difficult at best. They would most certainly have required the establishment of a national government well in advance of the vote so as to neutralize the impact of the electoral process. This in turn could have been possible only under a President epitomizing national unity. These things became impossible when Mirza arbitrarily brought down the Suhrawardy government.

Precisely a year intervened between the overthrow of the Suhrawardy ministry and the military dictatorship. The interval is significant in explaining the background of the coup. President Mirza said in October that he had decided a year ago upon the necessity of abrogating the constitution and had begun his plotting to that end. Thus inferentially he understood the inevitable results of his first action at the time he took it. Events have a way of looking inevitable after they have happened, and it has been this way with the overthrow of Pakistan's constitution, an event now being explained in deterministic terms: "There was no other way out," or "the President had to do what he did," and so on. This line of thought is contingently true. By the autumn of 1958 the political process had descended to a miserable, ruthless competition for place, and elections had lost promise of providing a parliament with a mandate. It is well, however, to remember the rôle of men in creating the necessities by which they profess to be compelled.

III

The separation of provinces ranks with the separation of powers as a disruptive issue in Pakistan. Unity within a federal structure comprising only two regions would be hard in any event, for one must tend to prevail and the other to come off second in any consensus cutting across them both. In Pakistan the problem has been aggravated by obvious factors--the language barrier, and the interposition of the Indian corridor a thousand miles wide between the two wings. Geographic outlook is as important as mileage; West Pakistan looks out upon the Middle East, whereas East Pakistan looks to Southeast Asia.

No recollection of history and concord binds them. Even the fact of Muslim identity is insubstantial as a bond, for West Pakistanis, tracing their faith to Arabic and Persian antecedents, tend to look patronizingly on East Pakistanis as opportunistic Muslims embracing Islam in preference to outcast status in the Hindu structure. In West Pakistan relationships with Hindus fall in the category of foreign relations; in East Pakistan, with a significant Hindu minority, they are a domestic concern. West Pakistan feels more cleavage from India. The East Pakistanis are still drawn toward West Bengal and regard Calcutta as their metropolis.

Each region has its own concept of politics. A combination of the two might have got Pakistan somewhat along the road to political fulfillment. Instead the two points of view have repelled each other. In a useful oversimplification, East Pakistan is political; West Pakistan is governmental. Factors of aptitude and policy held the Bengalis to a slight rôle in the military and civil service of the British dispensation. The effect lingers. Despite recruitment policies aiming toward balance, the Pakistani civil service remains preponderantly a West Pakistani show at the upper levels. The military services remain even more so--and this is especially true of the army. East Pakistanis largely regard the military as an alien force imposed on their land from a thousand miles away. On the other hand, Bengalis, sometimes called the Irishmen of the subcontinent, are apt in competitive politics. Political consciousness and communication are intense in East Pakistan. Regional cohesiveness is high. These differentiate the one region from the other.

The interplay between the regional problem and the issue over locus of power is obvious. West Pakistan has dominated by virtue of executive and administrative preponderance; East Pakistan has counted on elections to shift the balance, sure in being able to hold its own or better in legislative competition and sure also that a directly elected legislature would have a sense of mandate and a better chance of holding its own against the executive.

Yet here again the question has been a rude one of the preponderance of one at the expense of another. In a combination of executive energy with legislative imagination Pakistan might have made something creative out of government, and both provinces would have benefited. The synthesis never occurred. Animosities between the provinces worsened bad relationships between the organs of government, and vice versa, and in this situation the creative possibilities of political life were missed altogether. As a friend of mine has put it, politicking was rampant but politics dead.

IV

The viceregal pattern--in which government is exempt from interference by courts and legislatures--returned with the military dictatorship. The provisional legislatures at the national capital and in the provinces were destroyed. Plans to elect new ones under the constitution were cancelled. The courts were walled off from jurisdiction over acts of the new régime. Though too early for conclusions, it is not too early for some interim estimates of the dictatorship.

It has produced some show of proficiency. The ease and quickness of the seizure of power have brought short-term satisfaction to generals, but an unresisted usurpation is obviously nothing to be celebrated by a nation. The régime harvested local popularity by an act of poetic justice in ousting and exiling the President responsible for bringing it in. It has made some gestures of a sort always available to new despotism in a run-down land--smartening up the bazaars, routing beggars off the streets, putting some well-known rascals in jail--actions in the category of making the trains run on time. These can be counted on for a good press abroad, especially in the United States, where strong-man and new-broom clichés are staples of journalism.

Bumbling also put in an appearance. For example, the régime initially turned a stern face at hoarding and high prices. Merchants outdid each other in establishing evidences of innocence. Buyers rushed in after bargains in foodstuffs and cleared the shelves of durable goods to be held for the inevitable rise to follow. The effect was to deplete stocks in a few days. Shops began to close. Prices moved higher than ever. Generals learned a lesson that orders are not a solvent for every problem.

Such instances whetted the anxiety of many in the régime to get the military extricated gracefully and soon--something easier said than done. In sacking a government and destroying a constitution the army acted--in the words of General Mohammed Ayub Khan, then its commander-in-chief and subsequently president, prime minister and generalissimo in combination--on the basis of its supremacy as guardian of the nation's interests and the people's welfare. Such sovereign claims, once made, would be hard to renounce. The military image, though reduced, apparently would have to remain a paramount factor. To create a new structure of government to take the place of the one cast aside would not be easy.

General Ayub has been described as having a clean blackboard but no idea of what formula to write on it. For such ideas the régime has been depending on its right bower, the civil service, which also has its limitations. Some civil servants have considerable proficiency in administrative routines. Most of them incline to regard these as being the sum total of government. As men of routine rather than audacity and imagination, they tend to have small conception of growth and change and would be beyond their depth in providing the rationale of a revolution or staking out an imaginative course of national development.

If the task were one involving West Pakistan alone, it might be easier, for West Pakistan was reported to have accepted the coup with relative equanimity. But hard as it is to keep in mind in Karachi, the majority of Pakistanis dwell in the East. Reaction there was sullen. The dangers of trying to continue on a coercive basis with a régime in which the larger section had small part and from which it felt alienated were obvious. The difficulties of trying to reach a new concord on anything other than a political basis, and even on that, would be enormous.

A press handout from the Pakistani Embassy in Washington has described the army coup as a working of the democratic process. Ayub himself was reported to have described it as based on consent--since there was no outcry nor violent resistance. This was small wonder. The régime relied on a military court apparatus empowered to give sentences up to the death penalty for a variety of oppositionist acts. Summary courts at the magisterial level were empowered to give sentences up to a year in jail and 15 lashes on the basis only of memorandum findings. The regular courts were walled off from review. Obviously such formidable sanctions, even held in reserve, would suffice to make claim of consent a jest. Moreover, the régime has made a big thing of cracking down--impounding and scrutinizing safety deposits and investigating even moderate bank accounts. In such a stringent economy, government has the determining hand in allocations. Obviously the signs of acceptance were easy to explain. They must be weighed against reports of general apathy and the telltale symptoms of anxiety found in the climate of dictatorship--the onset of the habit of a quick glance over the shoulder before saying anything.

V

Immediately after the coup d'état President Mirza did the expected thing by asserting Pakistan's intention to stand firm in its foreign alignments. After unhorsing Mirza, Ayub said a similar thing. These assurances do not answer the main question regarding the effect of the coup on Pakistan's external affairs. The question is not the intended, but the unintended, effects. It does, of course, make a difference for Pakistan's foreign engagements for that country to manifest such political weakness--to demonstrate that after eleven-and-a-half years it is still so far from being a going concern.

Pakistan also has reasserted accustomed positions on issues with India. Here again it would be idle to pretend that recent developments have made no difference. India's excuse regarding the difficulty of negotiating settlements with an unstable government has been underscored. Moreover, the Pakistani case for Kashmir has lost some force. The original juridic merits may remain unaffected, but the complaint about the tyranny of holding a people in military subjugation and denying it the benefits of a constitutional government of its own choosing has lost edge.

As for United States policy toward Pakistan, developments give new point to some old questions. They supply another demonstration of the folly--at least the perils--inherent in contracting with in-groups in politically underdeveloped states on the assumption that we are dealing with national governments really endowed with contractive capabilities. They supply new data on the fallibility of the strong-man myth underlying some of our undertakings and expectations regarding the fledgling states. They supply a new occasion for inquiring into the relationship of a military build-up to stability in underdeveloped areas. It is time to find out more about the implications of building up a military establishment hugely beyond the level of development of its country--especially, as in the case of Pakistan, a military establishment not national but provincial in its roots. It is time for a new perspective on our alliances and military aid--to see whether, in building enclaves of supposed military strength, we are not giving too little regard to deeper political requirements.

You are reading a free article.

Subscribe to Foreign Affairs to get unlimited access.

  • Paywall-free reading of new articles and a century of archives
  • Unlock access to iOS/Android apps to save editions for offline reading
  • Six issues a year in print, online, and audio editions
Subscribe Now
  • CHARLES BURTON MARSHALL, Adviser to Prime Ministers of Pakistan, 1955-57; now Visiting Research Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; author of "The Limits of Foreign Policy"
  • More By Charles Burton Marshall