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Reasons for Military Intervention

Since military interventions are seen often as a denial of the incipient democratic values and institutions of new states considerable scholarly attention was devoted to explaining why and how military coups occurred. Early scholarship explored the reasons for military intervention in the relative ‘underdevelopment’ of civil political institutions (May, Lawson and Selochan, 1998; 2) and the relative capability of the military, associated with the very organization of the armed forces. These organizational features provide them with discipline and cohesion, hierarchy and centralized command and unity both at the decision-making and executive levels. These enable the generals to take over political power promptly if they decide to act. Among a large number of studies which broadly pursued this line, major contributions include Shils (1962); Pye (1962, 1966); Finer (1962); Johnson (1962); Halpern (1963); Jannowitz (1964); Von der Mehden (1964); Huntington (1968); Zolberg (1968); Daalder (1969); Dowse (1969); Lefever (1970); Bienen (1971, 1983); Lissak (1976); Perlmutter (1977, 1981); Stepan (1978, 19880; Crouch (1985) and Chazan et al. (1988).

An alternative line of reasoning is related to the corporate interests of the armed forces. Any threat to their corporate interest may impel them to move and capture political power. The corporate interests of the military may be threatened when the military is fiscally deprived, or its autonomy or professionalism threatened (see, for example, Janowitz 1964; First 1970; Bienen 1971; Hakes 1973; Thompson 1973; Nordlinger 1977; Horowitz 1980; Clapham and Philip 1985; Rouquie 1987).

In both these lines of reasoning the military is viewed essentially as a cohesive entity with a sense of collective unity. The third strand of thought, in contrast, has portrayed the military “as simply an extension of the larger civil society, subject to the same class, regional and ethnic cleavages, prone to internal friction, and likely to side with particular political factions at particular times” (May, Lawson and Selochan, 1998: 3). That the military is at least potentially fragmented has had particular salience in those states in which the military had a specific ethnic bias, and where recruitment was made during the colonial period either from the so-called “martial races” or from ethnic minorities rather than dominant ethnic groups (Daalder 1969); Guyot 1974; Kabwegyere 1974; Mazrui 1976; Hansen 1977; Nordlinger 1977; Enloe 1980; Horowitz 1985 and Gow 1991). Added to this is the “intra-military elite factionalism”, due mostly to ethnic bias in its composition, and as the Orkand Corporation Study of 1990 has suggested, about a third of the plots, attempted coups and coups were instigated because of intra-military elite factionalism (Seitz 1991: 70). In some studies various types of coup and coup attempts have been distinguished. Some coups sought to set up new regimes, buy some were directed against regime change (Huntington 1968; Hoadley 1975; Chazan et. Al. 1988; Luckham 1991). These explanations are however not necessarily mutually exclusive. In most cases, “Personal, organizational and societal factors are intermingled” (Welch 1974: 135). There are however two types of civilian regimes which are more prone to traditional aristocratic elements, generally with hereditary kings, are more prone to military intervention; second, such regimes “whose primary support comes from the lower class, and those that might come to power with the support of politicized workers and peasants” (Nordlinger 1970: 77). Not surprisingly, therefore, a growing body of case studies, intended to provide support to all these hypotheses, emerged. All these suggest however that while there were some recurring characteristics of military intervention, the explanation of individual cases involved an understanding of their special historical and social circumstances. It has been found that in some countries the military, or factions within the military, serve as tangible means of taking over political power (May, Lawson and Selochan, 1998; 5); in some others the military intervened to replace an inefficient or corrupt civilian regime; while in still others the military went ahead ot forge a partnership deal with the civilian authorities for exercising political power. Having this in mind Bebler wrote in 1990: “Whether officially recognized or not, the military everywhere constitute an important part of the state apparatus and of the political system, and the soldiers, even when sound asleep in their barracks, participate in the political process and tacitly share political power with civilian rules” (Bebler 1990: 262-263).

How do we characterize the role of the Bengali military officers in March 1971? No doubt their intervention was political, but they made a move neither for a blatant seizure of power for themselves nor for replacing an inept or a corrupt regime, neither did they intend to establish a system of joint participation in government. They revolted in effect against their parent body, the Pakistani military. One of their leaders, Major, Zia, made a declaration of Independence of Bangladesh and they took up on their shoulders the responsibility of fighting the War of Independence during that crucial period. While the Pakistani generals were fighting in 1971 for retaining control over East Pakistan by sheer force and governing it as a captive territory, through a joint partnership with the West Pakistani political leaders, the Bengali military officers fought the Liberation War under the leadership of Bengali political leaders to free East Pakistan and make it an independent Bangladesh.

So how can we conceptualize this war? The Government of Pakistan portrayed it as an “internal war” or a civil war (GOB 1981). Some Indian security experts termed it as “classical war” between two natural enemy states (Palit 1972; Pran Chopra 1972; Mohammad Ayub and K Subrahmanyam 1972). Some military officers in Bangladesh, who took part in the War of Liberation, called it a War of Independence against the Pakistani occupation forces (Bhuiyan 1972; Islam 1981; Safiullah 1989). The political leaders of Bangladesh took it as a Liberation war, While some of the academics, delineating its characteristics, termed it as “a revolution” (Jacksor 1975; Loshak 1972; Talukder 1980; Ahamed 1988).

This war has been taken in this study as the Liberation War. Its beginning may be traced to the revolt of the Bengali military officers at the night of 25 March 1971 and subsequently to the Declaration of Independence of Bangladesh by Major Zia on 27 March 1971. The series of events i.e. revolt of the military officers, declaration of independence and beginning of the war, were however precipitated by the action of President Yahya Khan when he, without formally breaking the negotiation with the East Pakistani political leaders, left Dhaka in the evening of 25 March after deploying armed forces eith a view to solving the East Pakistan crisis militarily. The Pakistan Army since then began to be treated as occupation army by the Bengalis, resisted by the Bengali armed forces and people of all sectors in the society in the revolutionary political situation of East Pakistan. The role of the Bengali military in the Liberation War and revolt are analyzed in Chapter Three.

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