Public Record Office


REF: FCO 37/472




1. The impact of the Martial Law authorities is essentially moderate, and most of the steps taken or promised so far indicate an enlightened approach (paragraphs 1-6).

2. The achievement of a constitutional basis for General Yahya's promised restoration of parliamentary government is likely to provide the biggest problems. The politicians themselves are clearly still undecided. General Yahya has indicated that, like Ayub before him, he regards the integrity of the nation as of fundamental importance (paragraphs 7-11).

3. The basis of his dilemma is the fact that the demands of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman for greater autonomy for East Pakistan, which are unacceptable to him as they were to Ayub, still command majority support in East Pakistan (paragraph 12).

4. Faced with this dilemma, General Yahva could try to risk imposing a constitutional solution unacceptable to MUJib. There is a danger_ likely to grow with time, that General Yahya might be tempted to resolve his difficulties by staying on as President. This danger is, however, at present very slight (paragraphs 13-16).

5. His best alternative method for reconciling the two wings would be to concentrate all efforts on removing economic and administrative disparities between them. But the problems of doing so, however good intentions may be, are so great that East Pakistan may grow tired of waiting long before any really effective measures have been taken (paragraphs 17-18).



British High Commissioner,


31 May, 1969


The Right Honourable

Michael Stewart, C.H., M.P.,

etc., etc., etc.




The Martial. Law Administration: An Interim Assessment


When General Yahya Khan accepted power from President Ayub Khan, and declared Martial Law, he gave as his main reasons for doing so the need to restore peaceful conditions in the country, to clean up the administration, and to deal with the grievances

of students, labour and peasants. This, once achieved, would provide the basis for "the smooth transfer of power to the representatives of the people elected freely and impartially on the basis of adult franchise." In this despatch, written two months after the advent of General, now President, Yahya's administration, I propose to survey the progress made towards the aims he outlined in his first speech on 26 March, and to attempt an analysis of the courses open to him.


2. 1 reported in my despatch 1/59 of 2 April that the immediate effect of the declaration of Martial Law had been to calm the atmosphere completely. The mood of the country remains calm now: in the first two weeks after Martial Law a few small strikes were attempted by industrial workers or students, but since then there has been virtually no trouble. Yet while the twenty-five Martial Law Regulations promulgated on 25 March formed a potentially draconian system for dealing with trouble, in no case tried so far has more than a fraction of the maximum permissible sentence been imposed on a convicted offender. Also, while the total number of convictions under Martial Law is now well over 400, a large proportion of these cases are for holding unlicenced arms; like many of the other cases, they could have been dealt with under ordinary laws - though admittedly not with the same scope for sentencing. All in all, and despite Sheikh Mujib's assertion that he has a list of hundreds of brutalities or harassments committed by the Armed Forces, a fairly modest crack of the whip has so far been sufficient.


3. At all but the most senior levels of the administration civilian officials are being left to get on with their work by the Martial law authorities. But certain steps have been taken to clean up the administration and, in the country at large, to locate tax evaders and those illegally holding assets like foreign exchange overseas. Officials are being required to declare their properties, and investigatory committees are at work in the central and provincial governments. Further Martial Law Regulations issued during April cover a wide range of offences such as tax evasion. Measures like the Improper Acquisition of Property Ordinance and the West Pakistan Inquiry Tribunal Ordinance give the administration ample powers to investigate suspected offenders. About a dozen people have so far been convicted, under ordinary laws rather than Martial Law Regulations, of foreign exchange irregularities, and sentenced to modest jail terms but large fines.


4. The government's gentle application of its authority to disturbers of the peace has been justified by the generally placid atmosphere. But there are signs, which admittedly it would be premature to find conclusive, of a similarly gentle approach to official and private corruption, which had been recognised as widespread. Only a few officials have yet been dismissed for malpractices, and some known incompetents have even been transferred to posts as important as those they held before, whereas in the months after Ayub came to power nearly 1,600 officials were dismissed. The deadline for the surrender of illegally-held foreign exchange had to be extended from 15 May to 15 June, supposedly because of "the pressure of this work on the banks," but more probably because the government has not succeeded, as did Ayub in 1958, in scaring offenders enough to make them surrender their illegal holdings. The most likely reason is that really substantial holders of such assets, like the "Twenty Families," have learned to conceal their assets better in the last ten years; also they are conscious the government will not wreck the industrial economy by seeking to expose every offender. Another possibility is that people feel, cynically but with much justification, that many in the Armed Forces are guilty of abuses themselves and therefore will not crack down really hard. There is certainly time yet for the anti-corruption measures to work, and steady painstaking exposure will be better than a rapid flurry, but having begun at relatively

low pressure the government may have difficulty increasing it. Nevertheless, distaste for corruption was such a factor in the growth of disaffection with Ayub, and Yahya has talked enough about eradicating corruption, for him to have to show some results in due course.


5. In dealing with the grievances of various sections of the population the government has shown a liberal and conciliatory approach which has earned it, despite misgivings in East Pakistan about softness towards workers, a reasonable amount of respect. The first major move to satisfy East Pakistan, the largest aggrieved section, was a substantial reshuffle of senior civil servants, which raised five East Pakistanis in status, two to Central Secretary posts and three others to more senior East Pakistan positions. But there is a limit to the extent that this can be done, because of the danger of weakening the East Pakistan administration. One of the earliest orders issued by the government was to employers, ordering them to pay the wage rises won during March by "gherao" tactics, a move clearly designed to appease the workers, and therefore apparently weak. Both wage and education policy are currently under review: initial indications are that the changes proposed will be generous, and would go a long way to satisfy the claims of workers, students and teachers for more money and for more independence in their own fields. A gesture to the needs at least of the West Pakistan consumer, though also to the imperatives of a bumper harvest, was the cut in the wheat support price; but the East Pakistan rice price is much as it was last year.


6. The steps so far promised have mostly been aimed at the urban population. This could merely indicate that the urban and therefore more organised sections of the population are easier to deal with quickly than the agricultural population; but it could also indicate Yahya's recognition that the political agitation came mainly from the towns, and that those must therefore be placated first. However, the biggest structural fault in Pakistan is the disparity between East and West Pakistan, which means that much more should be done for agriculture and the peasants. Yet, depressing, the Rural Works programme for East Pakistan, and other programmes, were sharply cut last month. Here, though, as with anti-corruption measures, it is probably too early to tell: there are indications that the National Plan and the Budget, due in about three weeks, will recommend increases in taxation and consequent increases in development expenditure for agriculture and for East Pakistan. The increase in Consortium aid should help with further funds.


7. President Yahya made stability and administrative reform the prerequisites for a return to civilian government: and despite the qualifications above, most of the steps taken so far have been well-conceived (although essentially designed to keep developments moving gently forward, rather than sharply changing direction), and generally well received. But it is in the political field that the long-term difficulties lie. An important example of the mildness of Yahya's approach to Martial law was that political parties were not completely stifled: although no meetings of party councils or public political meetings may be held, individual party leaders are not under restriction, and the press carries full news of their movements and statements. And Yahya has not ignored politics and politicians: on 22 April he began a ten-day tour of both wings, during which he met a large proportion of the country's political leaders; on a brief further visit

to the Frontier area of West Pakistan, he met more, and has now seen all those politicians of any substance who have been willing to meet him. The only major politician who declined to do so was Maulana Bhashani.


8. In his talks with politicians, where mostly he appears to have listened rather than talked, Yahya has been looking for ways of effecting the promised restoration of political life and civilian government on the twin bases of parliamentary government and adult franchise. So far, as he has admitted, neither he nor the politicians are clear as to the solution. But he has given a few indications of his views, which help to define the limitations within which he will work.


9. After his tour of East Pakistan he announced that most of the East Pakistani politicians he had met were "all very clear that the integrity of Pakistan and the glory of Islam are to be maintained on any account," an interpretation from which many he saw, e.g. Sheikh Mujib, would in fact dissent. He also said that foreign ideologies were not wanted. After his Peshawar visit he re-emphasised the importance of Islam and national integrity. Later in his first tour he told a questioner that he thought there were too many political parties. When asked about the date of elections, he has said that they would be held "soon," this meaning "not years but not days either." On being further pressed, he has always retreated to the point that his first priority was and had to remain the cleaning up of the administration.


10. President Yahya's remarks about Islam and integrity are viewed with perhaps excessive suspicion by many East Pakistanis, who see in them principles which could exclude "autonomist" parties like the Awami league or the Wall Khan National Awami Party, merely secular parties like the Peoples' Party or the Justice party, and parties close to foreign ideologies like Bhashani's National Awami Party, leaving only the various Muslim Leagues and the purely Islamic parties. Other politicians, some anticipating the President's hint about the large number of parties, have been discussing mergers of "like­minded groups." Of the groups which might be formed by merger, far and away the most important, in West Pakistan at least, would be a unified Muslim League. But there are so far few hopeful signs: for the most part the "moderate" politicians are just squabbling.


11. [n trying to find a political solution which will satisfy all, or at least a clear majority of the people, however, President Yahya is faced with a complex problem. It is abundantly clear that he was in full agreement with Ayub that the prime danger to Pakistan as he and the Armed Forces wanted Pakistan to be, lay not in the industrial or rural disturbances: the "utter destruction" which he stepped in to prevent, was the chaos likely if Martial Law had to be imposed after, and because, the Awami league's "specialist" constitutional amendments had been passed by the National Assembly. The industrial losses and rural disturbances were not, in any case, as bad as had been feared: (see my despatches 5/21 of 6 May and 1/51 of 30 May).


12. In holding this view Yahya is Ayub's heir, just as he inherited the two major planned constitutional changes that Ayub was prepared to grant - parliamentary government and adult franchise. He is therefore heir to the same problem that confronted Ayub: he wishes to hand over to parliamentary government, but only on terms which those dominant in East Pakistan cannot accept. Although some of the glitter has fallen

from Mujib, his Awami League and, to a lesser degree, Bhashani's N.A.P. still enjoy overwhelming support in East Pakistan, and the chance of a rather stronger Muslim League, a possibility in the West, barely exists in the East Wing. Any move to exclude parties from consideration because of their "autonomist" views would not make the views less popular, rather the reverse. Nor should Yahya make the mistake of asserting too strongly that Islam is the basis for Pakistan, because most East Pakistanis, though devout Muslims, see their primary Islamic link with West Pakistan as the negative one: their common rejection of Hindu domination. Any use of "Islam," therefore, to justify domination of East Pakistan by Punjabis instead of Hindus through the "strong centre" theme, would be politically unrewarding.


13. Faced with this dilemma, Yahya has several possible courses of action:


a) he could put forward a constitutional solution which would satisfy the Awami league's Six Points, at the cost of losing the sympathy of most Punjabis. But this is just the result he assumed power to prevent.

b) He could impose a solution which provided rather more power for East Pakistan while not satisfying Mujib. A number of moderate politicians think Yahya is considering holding elections under the umbrella of Martial Law, then still under Martial Law letting the resultant Assembly work out a constitution, which would of course have to be acceptable to him.

c) He could try to avoid the separatist and One-Unit issues by instituting a new system, where a strong central parliament would have below it fifteen or more local units, each with rather more powers than English county councils. This suggestion has come up often enough in conversation to make it possible that it is being deliberately aired by the government.


14. But it is not easy to see the solution, and just because it is not, I think it possible that President Yahya may put off any constitutional decision rather longer than many Pakistanis hope, say for at least a year. He can use the complementary excuses of the politicians' continuing failure to agree and the need to complete the clean-up of the administration, to continue consultations for some time, meanwhile permitting the investigatory committees and the courts to pursue the task of reforms. And at the same time he might be able to put through some uncontroversial reforms which would help to keep the peace, now that the economic situation is better in West Pakistan and aid has been increased.


15. This course of action would delay elections for more than a year, since the processes of registering electors and arranging election machinery would take more time after the administrative clean-up was completed. But the possibility is there that after a while President Yahya might decide not to be quite such an interim President, a possibility many East Pakistanis fear. He might come to feel that the country run reasonably well under his direction, while the politicians were still squabbling, and remain President, with suitably ordained democratic trimmings. This would be much like Ayub over again. On the same lines there is the alternative danger that even if Yahya decided the time had arrived to hand over by the politicians, some of his colleagues might force him to hand over power to them and maintain military rule.


16. All the signs so far point to the genuineness of Yahya's professed reluctance to assume power (and even more that of Ahsan and Nur Khan) and of the desire of all three to run the country efficiently, find a satisfactory way to hand over and then do so. But it is so difficult to see a way to establish a democratic system which would satisfactorily balance the Punjab's wishes against Bengal's, that the possibility of President Yahya staying on must be considered. However, although East Pakistan, like West, is at present quiet, long delays on the government's part in restoring political life, or any attempted permanent retention, by Yahya, of the Presidency, would most likely lead to the revival of the "movement," as the January-March events are called, in East Pakistan. This is a fact that Yahya must bear in mind, for it affects the extent to which he can risk a leisurely approach.


17. But there is another alternative to purely political and constitutional measures. East Pakistan's dissatisfaction with the past does not merely reflect the fact that it has been dominated administratively and politically by West Pakistan. Far more important is the fact that as a result of that domination, which supplanted its earlier domination by Hindus and West Bengal, East Pakistan has had less than its fair share of development money, private investment, and allocation of Government jobs, especially in the Armed Forces. It is this disparity that has led so many East Pakistanis to hope that through having a greater say in their own government, through greater autonomy, they can move to correct the imbalance. From this it follows that President Yahya's best long-term chance, and it must be considered no more than a chance, of ensuring a calm and balanced relationship between East and West Pakistan lies in making very clear and substantial efforts soon to eradicate economic and other disparity between the two wings. Possible means should include larger increases in development expenditure in the East, a large­scale effort (which would mean joint work with India) to cope permanently with the flood problem, thus providing East Pakistan with a project of comparable size to the Indus Waters scheme, and even determined efforts to recruit East Pakistanis for the Armed Forces, so that the appearance of troops in East Pakistan would not automatically evoke a feeling of colonial domination by the Punjab.


18. There are great problems in the way of achieving this, however. Efficient and devoted East Pakistan officials will admit that their machinery can barely administer present funds, let alone an increase. To work realistically with India on the Eastern rivers question, Pakistan might have to shelve permanently the Kashmir question: this would be difficult for West Pakistanis, especially the Armed Forces, to accept. And it would be 20 years or more before the Armed Forces could be brought anywhere near parity. Long before anything substantial enough to satisfy East Pakistan could be achieved, the potential willingness of the Bengalis even to go to perdition so long as they were free to do it in their own way, might become irresistible. This is the dilemma confronting Yahya.


19. I am copying this despatch to the High Commissioner in New Delhi and to Her Majesty's Ambassadors in Washington and Tehran.


I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant.
C.S. Pickard




Source: The British Papers – Secret and Confidential India.Pakistan.Bangladesh Documents 1959-1969, Oxford University Press. P. 941-946