Ted Grant

Pakistani-Indian War?

Written: November 1971
Source: Militant, no. 84 (November 12, 1971)
Transcription: Francesco 2008

Tanks, planes, guns and divisions of troops are being massed on the borders of India and Pakistan. Both sides are preparing for a showdown. In the uneasy relations since the partition of India, even in the border war of 1965 over Kashmir, the situation has never been so tense. Ever since the setting up of the capitalist-landlord state of India and the reactionary theocratic state of Pakistan, with the imperialist aim of divide and rule, relations between the Pakistani and Indian ruling classes has been one of embittered antagonism.

Now into this cauldron has been thrust the explosive issue of ‘Bangla Desh’. The Punjabi capitalist-landlord clique, with the militaristic Punjabi caste which controls the army, has treated East Bengal as a colony, to be bled dry for the benefit of the West Pakistani overlords. 22 West Pakistani millionaire families control 60 percent of industry, 80 percent of banking, and 75 percent of insurance. Despite the fact that it has a bigger population, only 20 percent of the revenue of the central government was spent in East Bengal. In the army 80 percent of the posts have gone to Punjabis. Most of the top jobs in the civil service have gone to Punjabis. Officers and servicemen, principally Punjabis, get the allocations of newly irrigated land.

The hungry working class, and especially the many millions of peasants, resulted in a revolt against the military police dictatorship of Ayub Khan, forcing his successor, Yahya Khan, to promise elections. In these the Awami League was overwhelmingly successful in East Bengal, while in the West the Pakistani People’s Party of Zulfikkar Bhutto gained a big majority of seats, 81 out of 119.This was eclipsed by the success of the Awami League, which gained 151 seats out of 153 in the constituencies of East Bengal. This gave it an actual overall majority in the whole of Pakistan. They received over 75 percent of the votes in Bengal, perhaps the biggest election victory in history.

This victory was gained because of the programme which was put forward by the Awami League, under pressure from the workers and peasants, in order to gain their support. There was no intention of carrying out such a programme, neither by Mujib nor Bhutto.

The programme included: nationalisation of the banks, insurance, and heavy industry; transport, shipping, and other key industries; development of Co-op enterprises, workers’ participation in the management of industry, and exemption from land revenue tax of holdings up to eight-and-a-half acres with cancellation of tax arrears on such holdings. Fundamental rights should be guaranteed by the constitution and should be limited only in wartime. Pakistan should pursue an independent foreign policy, and should withdraw from SEATO, CENTO, and other military pacts. Bhutto’s party put forward similar demagogic demands. But, as Bhutto explained to the international capitalist press on December 11th last year, he was “A Democratic Socialist who believed in Socialism on the Willy Brandt or British pattern”. At the same time Bhutto put forward the demand for a confrontation with India over Kashmir, calling for a “…thousand year war if necessary”.

The Awami League put forward demands which would have meant the virtual separation of the two wings of Pakistan:

  1. Federal form of government.
  2. Federal control only of defence and foreign policy.
  3. Two separate freely convertible currencies, separate banking reserve, separate fiscal and monetary policies.
  4. The exclusive authority of the two wings to levy taxation.
  5. Separate external trade accounts.
  6. A militia or Para-military force, an ordnance factory, a military academy and navy headquarters in East Pakistan.

This could not possibly be accepted by the capitalist-landlord clique in control. The crushing victory of the Awami League gave them no room to manoeuvre between the two parties as Yahya Khan had intended. Consequently this military dictator fought for time. He pretended to negotiate with Sheikh Mujib Rahman while pouring troops and war material by sea, and with the assistance of Maoist China, by air, into East Bengal. Instead of mobilising the workers and peasants (indeed almost the entire population of East Bengal could have been organised for the struggle), Mujib took the negotiations at face value. The judges, police, civil servants and Bengali troops struck together with the workers and peasants after martial law had been proclaimed on March 1st. A general strike in Dacca and East Pakistan was proclaimed on March 2nd. At the election rally to celebrate the victory in Dacca there had been a demonstration of 2 million workers, students, peasants and professional people.

1.5 million killed

Now in the face of brutal repression they were temporarily disorganised. The military clique thought that with bloody repression they would soon cow the Bengali people. Instead an implacable guerrilla war has been organised which has resulted in economic life being reduced to a low level. One and a half million people have been killed by Yahya’s troops and bands of thugs and thieves, the ‘Kazakars’, armed by the Pakistan army. Ten million people have fled to West Bengal and other border states of India. An endless war of attrition has begun. Instead of economic advantage, the Eastern wing has become a drain on the resources of the West Pakistan oligarchy.

However, the hypocritical horror of the Indian ruling class at the national suppression of East Bengali people is shown by the suppression in Kashmir, whish has not reached the scale of the bloody terror of the West Pakistanis, but is still monstrously suppressive. They banned the Plebiscite Front, arrested Sheik Abdullah the leader of the Kashmiris, and put forward a Preventive Detention Act in Kashmir worse than South Africa’s which allows ten years preventive detention without trial. The Kashmiri majority of Muslims have been terrorised into submission.

For the industries of West Pakistan, East Bengal has been used as a source of raw materials, a market, and, mainly through jute exports, as a source of foreign exchange – the classical position of a colony. The lion’s share of the foreign exchange and all the resources are used for investment in West Pakistan, principally the Punjab. Consequently the Bengalis are impoverished and have about half the standard of living of the already low standard of the West Pakistanis. The average income is about £20 a year for those lucky enough to have a job in industry or on the land. Many millions are landless or unemployed.

The attempt of Yahya Khan and the Punjab caste to ‘play the Muslim-Hindu card’ has failed utterly. Communalism has failed to gain support among the Bengali people. The burning of villages, wholesale rape, torture and executions in the towns and villages of East Pakistan have failed to achieve their purpose. They have only succeeded in inculcating an undying hatred of their overlords among the Bengali people.

30 million unemployed in India

But the Punjabi military overlords are riding the tiger of repression, and cannot dismount. They are afraid of the repercussions in West Pakistan of even a modest measure of autonomy in the East. Autonomy would inevitably lead to separation with the prevailing mood of the Bengalis. West Pakistan could not hold together under these conditions. The Sindhis, Baluchis and the people of the North West Frontier Province would demand autonomy. The Punjabi people too are seething with unrest under the tyranny of the big business military government. Consequently, defeat in Bengal would be the beginning of the end for the rapacious ruling class of West Pakistan. They would prefer war rather than voluntarily evacuate, despite their untenable position in East Bengal.

On the other hand, India, before the arrival of the refugees, had over 30 million unemployed. The economy of the capitalist-landlord sub-continent of India cannot absorb the refugees or even allow them to work for their keep. It is costing India over £600 million a year – truly a nightmare to the Indian capitalists. The aid which has been sent by the developed nations, mainly America and Britain, covers only a fraction of the cost. To India it is the cost of a small war. Moreover, they are faced with the pressure from the Bengali people in West Bengal, who speak the same language and are part of the same people as in the East.

The Indian capitalist-landlord economy cannot stand the strain of the 10 million refugees indefinitely; consequently they demand that these be enabled to return ‘soon’. It is these contradictions that are forcing India and Pakistan into a confrontation.

Neither India nor Pakistan can wait for years until the guerrilla pressure forces collapse in the East and explosion in the West of Pakistan. In any case, both sides calculate that this would be even more dangerous for them than a war. The border war of 1965 relieved pressure socially, albeit for a very temporary period. But a war now would no longer be a border war, but an all-out war.

In this situation the imperialist countries are coldly calculating the balance of advantage to themselves. The American and British governments, behind the scenes, are exerting pressure to ‘compromise’. But, beyond establishing a puppet regime in East Pakistan, the ruling class in West Pakistan cannot withdraw their troops from the area without provoking, in the immediate future, collapse in the West of the country. It is easy for the capitalist powers to see the advantage of withdrawal, after making preparations for an armed force to be established to hold down the workers and peasants of Bangla Desh. But, for the West Pakistanis, the fate of the military-industrial-landlord clique is at stake.

It is ironical that in this situation the contestants of India and Pakistan should turn to the so-called ‘socialist’ states for support. India has signed an agreement with Russia for the supply of arms and ‘support against the aggression of a third party’. The British ‘Communist’ Party reports as news items the positions of China and Russia without comment. Mr Chi (Chinese Foreign Minister) said: “Our Pakistan friends may rest assured that, should Pakistan be subjected to foreign aggression, the Chinese Government and people will, as always, resolutely support the Pakistan Government and people in their just struggle to defend their state, sovereignty, and national independence”. (Morning Star, 8th November 1971). Thus the bloody butcher Yahya Khan is supported in his war against Bengali people by the Chinese Stalinists.

On November 4th, also as a news item, the Morning Star reports: “India’s people must be prepared to face the possibility of war with Yahya Khan’s military regime in West Pakistan, the Communist Party of India warned here.” They detail demands they would make on India’s regime and the various struggles of the Indian workers, including a general strike in West Bengal. But as the quotation indicates, they will give uncritical support to the war of the Indian ruling class.

The Indian capitalist parties, from the ruling Congress to the reactionary and communalist Jan Sangh, are all screaming for war. Both Indian Communist Parties have joined in the patriotic uproar. Marxists in the Labour Movement in Britain and all over the world will determine their attitude towards such a war by the class interests involved. For Pakistan it will clearly be an unjust and reactionary war for the purpose of holding down the peoples of East and West Pakistan. It is of no fundamental importance who starts the war, or in the current parlance, who is the ‘aggressor’. For workers the issue should be: In whose interests is the war being waged? What class interests are being served?

For the masses of India and Pakistan, already half-starved, the war can only mean worse hunger, misery and starvation. The aims of the Indian ruling class are no less reactionary than those of the Pakistanis. They intend to put back in power the Bengali landlords and capitalists of Bangla Desh. War could lead to a military police state in India. Thus the working class must take up a position independent of the capitalist powers involved. The Bengali workers and peasants must fight for a united socialist Bengal, as a step towards a democratic federation of socialist states on the sub-continent.