UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Bangladesh Army History - Pakistan Era

The partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 to form India and Pakistan also entailed the division of the units and equipment of the British Indian Army. Under a partition formula announced on July 1, 1947, existing military forces were divided on the basis of religious identification; units with a Muslim majority were transferred to Pakistan with their records and unit designations more or less intact. Individual Muslim servicemen who were from the areas that were to become India were given the option of remaining with the Indian armed forces or going to Pakistan. Hindus in the Muslim majority units could stay with those units when they transferred to Pakistan or be reassigned to Indian units. In both countries the newly formed armed forces continued to be organized, trained, and employed along the familiar lines of British practice.

The armed forces that Pakistan inherited in 1947 from the division of the British Indian Army included Bengali Muslims, and there was always a small minority of them in the Pakistani armed services. These Bengalis served with their units as a matter of course in the 1947-48 and 1965 wars with India and in the numerous security operations in Pakistan up to 1971.

Despite the participation of these Bengalis, East Pakistani spokesmen vigorously denounced East Pakistan's lack of military representation and influence in military policy. All senior military headquarters were located in West Pakistan, and almost all regular Pakistani forces were stationed there. Defense expenditures from indigenous revenue and foreign military aid in the 1950s and 1960s constituted the largest single item of the country's budget. But because of the force-stationing policy and associated allocation practices, the economic benefits from defense spending-- in contracts, purchasing, and military support jobs--went almost entirely to West Pakistan. Pay and allowances to members of the armed forces also largely benefited only the West Pakistanis.

Pakistani recruiters claimed difficulty in securing volunteers in East Pakistan. West Pakistanis held that Bengalis were not "martially inclined"--especially in comparison with Punjabis and Pathans, among whom military orientation was deeply embedded. East Pakistanis asserted, however, that as active participants in the movement to create an Islamic homeland they had a right and obligation to participate more extensively in the armed forces and should be represented in about the same ratio as their numbers in the total population. They assailed the old, entrenched doctrine of the "martial races" as ridiculous and humiliating. Arguing from the standpoint of security, they pointed out that the force-stationing policy left East Pakistan virtually defenseless against rival India and that no planning was under way to remedy this situation.

All these arguments, although frequently and eloquently advanced, had little effect. Pakistan president Mohammad Ayub Khan (1958-69) held that East Pakistan was indefensible without the prior development of strong forces and bases in West Pakistan. On this principle he continued existing practices. In 1956 the Pakistan Army had a total of 894 officers in the grades of major through lieutenant general. Of this number only 14 (1.6 percent) were of East Pakistani origin. Of these, only one was of brigadier rank, the highest rank held until then by a Bengali. Naval officers of all ranks numbered 593, but only 7 (1.2 percent) of them were of Bengali origin. Bengalis fared slightly better in the air force, which had a total of 640 officers, 40 (6.3 percent) of whom were Bengalis.

By 1965 the participation ratio had improved slightly, although it was still far from East Pakistani desires and expectations. Among the total of 6,000 army officers, 5 percent were Bengalis. Only one of them had become a major general. In the navy and air force, with officer totals of 800 and 1,200, respectively, the overall percentages of Bengalis had increased more than in the army but were still at a distinct minority level. Most Bengali officers in the navy and air force were in technical or administrative rather than command positions.

In February 1966, Mujib, head of the East Pakistani Awami League, announced a six-point program calling for East Pakistani provincial autonomy with a federated Pakistan. Significantly, the sixth point of this program held that the federating units should each "be empowered to maintain a militia or paramilitary force in order to contribute effectively toward national security." This point was, in time, expanded to encompass the attainment by East Pakistan of selfsufficiency in defense matters. Specific actions called for under the sixth point included establishment of an ordnance factory, a military academy, and the federal naval headquarters in East Pakistan.

Mujib's six-point package was unacceptable to the central government, but in July 1969 General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, who had succeeded Ayub as president earlier that year, announced a major policy change. The recruitment of Bengalis into the military services was to be doubled. Among steps taken to improve recruitment of East Pakistanis were establishing new recruiting centers in East Pakistan, giving greater publicity to the recruitment process, making promises (albeit vague ones) of promotions for Bengalis, and reducing the minimum height for enlistment by 5 centimeters to 162 centimeters. (Bengalis are, on the average, smaller than Punjabis and Pathans, and the old height requirement had excluded many Bengalis from military service.) East Pakistani participation in the armed forces increased, but Bengalis were still heavily underrepresented when the civil war that led to the partition of Pakistan erupted in March 1971.

On the eve of the civil war, there were only two military units specifically identified with East Pakistan. One of these was the lightly armed paramilitary border security force called the East Pakistan Rifles; the other was the East Bengal Regiment of the Pakistan Army. The East Bengal Regiment had been established soon after the division of the British Indian Army in 1947. The First Battalion of the East Bengal Regiment was raised in February 1948 and the Second Battalion in December of the same year. Thereafter six more battalions were formed. The Ninth Battalion was being raised at the East Bengal Regiment center in Chittagong when the civil war broke out in March 1971.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 23-05-2012 16:09:41 ZULU