A leaf from history: Reshuffle in the armed forces
Bhutto had a complex personality. He was honest and zestful. Thirty-three years after his death, people think of him as a great man who took the country out of a desperate and hopeless situation to rise on its feet; though there are some who believe that he was a self-centred man who wanted to keep all the power in his hand, with no opposition.
Bhutto was quite sure of making a breakthrough in the Pakistan-Bangladesh ties and getting the POWs released; however, he was also pressed by quite a few important domestic issues which needed his immediate attention. Among them, reorganisation of the armed forces and overhauling of the bureaucracy were very important. Reorganisation of the armed forces was more important especially after the Dhaka debacle. He considered the two sectors too independent and wanted to reign over them; as historian Ian Talbot, in his book, Pakistan:
A Modern History, has writes: “Bhutto sought to curb the power of the bureaucracy and the military, those unelected institutions of Pakistan state which both inherited and upheld the pre-independence tradition of vice-regalism.”
It became more important when Commander-in-Chief, General Gul Hassan, and Air Marshal Rahim Khan refused to obey the President’s orders to help contain the police strike in Punjab and NWFP in February. This infuriated Bhutto and he decided to reorganise the armed forces. He replaced Lt-Gen Gul Hassan with Lt-Gen Tikka Khan as the new Chief of Army Staff. Air Marshal Zafar Chaudhry took over as Air Force Chief replacing Air Marshal Rahim Khan. Perhaps Bhutto feared a coup at that time.
On March 3, Bhutto addressed the nation and explained the new format of the armed forces, saying: “We are absolutely determined to have invincible armed forces… The structure has been changed and the heads of all three services are dedicated individuals… The people of Pakistan and the armed forces themselves are equally determined to wipe out Bonapartic influences from the armed forces… Bonapartism is an expression which means that professional soldiers turn into professional politicians… what has happened in Pakistan since 1954 and more openly since 1958 is that professional Generals turned to politics not as a profession but to plunder… These Bonapartic influences must be rooted out, in the interest of the country, in the interest of the Pakistan of tomorrow, in the interest of the armed forces and the people of Pakistan.”
He announced the abolition of the post of one Commander-in-Chief for all the forces, and instead created a post for each force i.e., army, air force and navy. These three chiefs were to be called Chief of Staff and were made accountable to the Supreme Commander and the President.
In all, seven army generals were retired including Gen Yahya Khan, COS Gen Abdul Hamid, Lt Gen. S. G. M. Pirzada, Maj Gen. Umar, Khudad Kiyani and Usman Mitha. In Pakistan Navy, Naval Commander-in-Chief Vice Admiral Muzaffar Hussain, Naval Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Rashid Ahmad and Rear Admiral M A K Lodhi were also retired. On January 8, 1972, General Yahya and General Hamid were put under house arrest. A similar, but smaller, purging was made in August.
The need for the reorganisation of the armed forces has been justified more than once, but it is reported that Bhutto feared a coup and that is why General Akbar of Kashmir fame was asked to act as Minister of State for Internal Security.
Bhutto did not want to add to the humiliation of the army after the fall of Dhaka and therefore, he undertook a plan to re-arm it by getting new arms and replacing the outmoded equipment. In this regard he had to seek urgent supplies from abroad, which was done swiftly.
However, he created the feeling that the armed forces were meant for the defence of the country and only asked to assist political setup whenever needed. It was explicitly communicated to them by General Tikka Khan directly, that the armed forces were working under the civilian government and therefore they had to cooperate with the civil setup.
Three years later, in 1975, Bhutto tried to give a more scientific format to the upper hierarchy of the army, under his personal vigilance, of course. He formed a Defence Council, comprising Minister of Finance, Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs, the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, three Chiefs of Staff, and Secretaries of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Finance. They were given the task of dealing with defence problems from day to day.
Glancing at the post-1971 situation, a promising dimension surfaced i.e, the army now seemed to be little interested in politics. Bhutto thought that with these efforts he had created a re-oriented armed force, but his blind trust was shattered in July 1977 when the Chief of Army Staff, who Bhutto had chosen himself, overthrew him and finally brought an end to his life.