Pakistani nation suffers from collective amnesia with respect to the history of military coups.
The first organized effort to overthrow the civilian government in Pakistan was actually made in 1951. This is the story of the forgotten coup that failed to achieve its purpose. This was also the most interesting attempt to topple the government. The coup was planned by left-wing officers of the Pakistan Army, a very rare breed even in the days of Soviet Empire.
The ruling party was Pakistan Muslim League and the PM was Liquat Ali Khan. The government was facing economic difficulties because of the influx of migrants from India and a heavy defense budget. This left very little for social development of the fledgling country. Almost everyone was unhappy with the way things were going. However, the Pakistan Army was unhappiest of all, which brings us to the main reason behind the coup.
The main cause
In one word, Kashmir.
The war to liberate the Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir had just ended in a ceasefire that had left many officers unhappy.
The drive to capture the entire valley had failed and the war had come to a stalemate. This caused a rift in the Pakistan Army with many frontline officers in favor of a second push to achieve the objective. The political establishment of both countries, however, decided to end the war in a truce that was considered a dishonorable defeat and a strategic mistake by many officers. The common sentiment in the Army was that of outrage as the frontline commanders could see the Indian forces strengthening their positions across the valley.
The list of participants accused of the conspiracy is very interesting. It comprises of eleven army officers and four civilians. This remains a notable fact about the coup as no other subsequent coup would include civilians in the planning and execution phase.
The principal accused was Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan, the chief of general staff of the Pakistani army. The civilian conspirators included leading Pakistani poet and leading left-wing activists Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sajjad Zaheer.
The complete list of the accused is:
Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan, Air Commodore M. K. Janjua, Maj. Gen. Nazir Ahmed, Brigadier Sadiq Khan, Brigadier M. A. Latif Khan, Lt. Col. Zia-ud-Din, Lt. Col. Niaz Muhammad Arbab, Captain Khizar Hayat, Maj. Hassan Khan, Major Ishaq Muhammad, Captain Zafrullah Poshni, Mrs. Naseem Akbar Khan, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Syed Sajjad Zaheer and Muhammad Hussain Ata.
The conspiracy was betrayed by an unknown confident of Maj. Gen. Akbar Khan. The government took swift action led by the army commander-in-chief, Gen. Muhammad Ayub Khan.
A special trial court was setup to try the accused. This case remains the most important one on the history of civil-military relationship in Pakistan for two important reasons.
Firstly, the civilian participants meant that the conspiracy was supported by a section of society desperate and frustrated enough to actually take matters in their own hands.
Second and most importantly, the coup’s failure taught the military commanders important lessons in planning and execution of the event. These lessons were put to successful use by Gen. Muhammad Ayub Khan in 1958.
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