315. Airgram From the Embassy in Pakistan to the Department of State 1
Following is my over-all assessment of situation in Pakistan as of now. Against background of increasing economic difficulties and social restlessness Pakistan is moving unsteadily towards its first constitutional elections.2
Though all parties publicly say they favor elections “as scheduled”, sometime in November, there are signs elections may not be held until some weeks, or even months, later. Prime Minister Noon said at Lahore July 5 he might be prepared give two weeks grace when he convenes an all-party meeting in Karachi July 19 to settle election day, but he would certainly want elections held before end of 1958.
Awami League privately wants elections postponed until February, 1959, because November is harvest time in East Pakistan. It dares not risk public reaction by saying so publicly, however. NAP is divided. Some leaders, like Ghaffar Khan, give the breakup of one unit a higher priority than elections and would be willing to have elections postponed if one-unit were broken up in advance. Officially, holding of elections as promised is one of NAP’s five points. But other four points, if instrumented [implemented?], would make holding of elections on schedule impossible.
Muslim League publicly accuses Republicans of trying postpone elections, but many leaguers privately want elections based on separate electorates. This would postpone elections.
President publicly committed to holding elections on time. He has resisted attempts from various quarters to postpone elections by device of allowing additional time during which election commission’s rolls could be “corrected”. Nevertheless, he has often expressed doubts about applicability of democratic system to a largely illiterate country like Pakistan, and threat which elections pose to his own position doubtless enhances his misgivings. He is prepared to “take over”, as he expresses it, should political situation further deteriorate internally, and if he did, elections would probably be postponed. Already, President’s rule has been invoked in East Pakistan under Article 193 for [Page 653] two months, and might then be extended for another four months, should it appear that Ataur Rahman, leader of Awami League coalition until recently in power in province, cannot form new government.
In West Pakistan Prime Minister Noon on July 5 said publicly that Government fears current Kashmir liberation movement, by peaceful crossing of cease-fire line, may get out of hand and recreate a situation like that in Punjab in 1953, when martial law had to be proclaimed. He blamed Muslim League principally for agitation. Privately administration prepared to impose President’s rule in West Pakistan under Article 191 if the movement does get out of hand.
The developing situation appears to have driven Republicans closer together, though they are not naturally a cohesive party. Attempts by President and Chief Minister Qizilbash of the GOWP some weeks ago to weld new coalition of Republicans and Muslim Leaguers (the Parliamentary group), which never had a chance, appear to have failed dismally and to have been abandoned. At same time, H. S. Suhrawardy has avoided antagonizing President in his public utterances and has privately indicated his support for Mirza as first elected President. Mirza, on his side, has toned down his previous bitter private expressions against Suhrawardy and Awami Leaguers and appears to accept reluctantly fact that if he is to be elected President it must be with Awami League support in part.
Pakistani people still cling to probably forlorn hope elections will somehow change everything for better. More realistic and practical politicians in all major political parties expect that make-up of new assemblies at Center and in provinces will be much as at present, with most of present members back in office. In Center, where Assembly membership will be expanded from 80 to 310, political realists among Pakistanis believe additional members will perhaps lower rather than elevate general level of performance.
There is no evidence yet that warrants a conviction any party may have a clear majority in any of the assemblies. It is probable that a coalition of a minimum of three parties will be required to constitute a government in Center.
Most disturbing to relatively few Pakistanis who view Communism as a genuine menace is the balance of power position NAP has gained in East Pakistan (which contributed to imposition of President’s rule). NAP briefly enjoyed a similar position during past year in West Pakistan where Muslim League and Republicans have both signed agreements with them. Republicans are presently not dependent in West Pakistan on NAP support, but in elections NAP may become a strong force in West Pakistan. Republicans are currently attempting to split and reduce effectiveness of NAP by meeting some of the regional demands which serve to draw this collection of leftist provincial dissidents together.[Page 654]
Prime Minister Noon more recently has gone far in publicly defending the traditional foreign policy of Pakistan, thus atoning for the intemperateness of his March 8 Assembly speech. He has shown some adeptness at building good will within his own party, and in increasing the number of its adherents in National Assembly. He has been firm in his handling of Kashmir liberation marchers. He has also kept good will of Awami Leaguers, whose votes are essential to keeping his government in office. In rare press conferences, one in Karachi and another in Lahore, Prime Minister has handled himself well. (Incidentally, Noon has been running a periodic fever during recent weeks and is not physically at his best.)
The improved feelings between Suhrawardy and the President are in part due to the efforts of Noon. He has shown more adaptibility at political peace-making than anyone suspected he possessed.
The victory of the Prime Minister in his appeal to expunge the judge’s gratuitous “indictment” of him in Gurmani defamation suit judgment does not alter facts of Noon’s probable involvement, but politically it confuses the record to his benefit, and probably destroys an issue which might otherwise have brought about his removal from office.3
It appears the Noon government has a better than even chance of surviving until elections, if they are held reasonably close to the target date.
In meantime GOP will make commitments for some capital expenditures which it may subsequently regret. Political considerations of the moment control. None of the political leaders (Amjad Ali is almost the single exception) have economic interests or judgment, or if they do, it is in the election year subordinated to political considerations.
If Pakistan can achieve its first popularly elected national government, that government will inherit more serious problems than have existed in this country since those which attended its tumultuous birth. There is only a slight chance that any of Pakistan’s major problems will be more than fractionally reduced in their dimensions prior to elections. Major problems which will remain include:
- Political instability.
- Many parties and probably continued frequent changes in government.
- Separate electorate issue.
- Constitutional issue of one-unit.
- Prevalence of corruption.
- Absence of national unity.
- Economic deterioration.
- Declining exports and foreign exchange.
- Continuing food shortages.
- Mounting inflation.
- Mounting loss of agricultural lands.
- Excessive armaments burden.
- International problems.
- Kashmir issue.
- Canal waters disputes.
- Lack of Indo-Pak and Arab area amity.
- Mounting Communist penetration.
Despite all this, Pakistan will have acquired a degree of greater maturity. It will be sadder, but also a bit wiser. It may become, from necessity, somewhat more austere. It may, also, be a little less Islamic in handling its public affairs. It should discover some new potential leadership as a result of elections. (Its present principal leaders are physically worn out and tired.) It will begin to count cost of foreign assistance which is more and more in form of loans to government. It will, and should, acquire a little more national dignity, by relying more upon its own potentialities than upon international charity. A national faith it really never has had should begin to emerge.
These possibilities are difficult of accurate measurement and can be imperceptible if one is distracted by the obvious superficialities which constantly obtrude. Muslim Pakistanis are still a badly confused people, but they are intellectually potentially capable of better judgment. Their current great disillusionments are a sign of progressively wider recognition of the realities and responsibilities of a society of free men. Their single greatest need is inspirational leadership. No present leader possesses this faculty. The temptation has been too great to appeal instead to ancient prejudices.
The Embassy, recognizing all these aspects of national life in Pakistan, will continue at every opportunity to encourage every sound aspiration and contemplated action of the Pakistanis and to so handle United States-Pakistan relations as to help the people of Pakistan to the greater degree of self-assurance and confidence of which they are in such great need.4
- Source: Department of State, Central Files, 790D.00/7–958. Secret.↩
- In telegram 3141 from Karachi, June 12, the Embassy offered a detailed analysis of Pakistan’s economic situation. (Ibid., 790D.00/6–1258)↩
- Prime Minister Noon had recently been implicated in a libel suit brought by Mushtaq Ahmed Gurmani, Governor of West Pakistan, against the chief editor of the Times of Karachi.↩
- In a memorandum of July 15 to Bartlett and Meyer, Howison enclosed a copy of airgram G–4 and recommended that they read it. Howison’s memorandum reads in part: “One point on which we might have wished further comment is the array of difficulties in the way of attaining and maintaining a further rapprochement between Mirza and Suhrawardy. I believe that Mr. Soulen, Mr. Dembo, and the [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] people [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] who have in view the historical background of the Mirza–Suhrawardy relationship, may fear that it would be over-sanguine to anticipate that a stable collaboration between these two could be evolved.” (Department of State, SOA Files: Lot 64 D 50, Political Activities—General)↩