One Unit Scheme of Pakistan, 1955-1970 revisited


Dr. Rajkumar Singh         19/6/2018

As administrative divisions formed a basic tier of the government at independence in 1947, the new nation of Pakistan was comprised by two wings-the eastern and western, separated by India. At the time three of the provinces of Pakistan were subdivided into ten administrative divisions. The single area in the east wing called East Bengal had four divisions-Chittagong, Dacca, Khulna and Rajshahi. The province of West Punjab had four divisions – Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi, and Sargodha. The North-West Frontier Province had two divisions-Dera Ismail Khan and Peshawar. The hasty partition of the Indian subcontinent in August 1947 not only intensified the existing mutual suspicions and fears but also gave birth to many new complex problems. Compared to India, these problems were far more numerous and onerous for Pakistan as India was not only an ‘ongoing concern’ but also inherited a well-developed administrative setup (Cheema, 1990). In the circumstances, Pakistan, the new state, was not only confronted with the important task of setting up an administrative structure but also faced almost chaotic conditions in those areas that formed Pakistan. Also, the August and September of 1947 had given the worst possible start to these two Dominions who faced the massive problem of resettling the refugees and resolving the question of migrants’ property.

After independence between August 1947 and March 1948, the rulers of princely states such as Bahawalpur, Khairpur, Kalat, Las Bela, Kharan, Makran, Phulra, Amb, Swat, Dir, Chitral, Hunza and Nagar acceded their states to Pakistan, giving up control of their external affairs, while all retaining internal self-government, at least to begin with. Stages lost this until and by 1974 all of these states had been fully integrated into Pakistan. In 1948, the area around Karachi was separated from Sind Province to form the Federal Capital Territory. In 1950 the North-West Frontier Province was expanded to include the small states of Amb and Phulra, and the name of West Punjab province was changed to Punjab. The Baluchistan States Union was formed in 1952 by the four princely states of Southwest Pakistan. Thus, between 1947 and 1955, Pakistan comprised five provinces East Bengal, West Punjab, Sind, North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan with one territory called Federal Capital Territory. The Baluchistan States Union formed in 1952 was made combining Kalat, Kharan, Las Bela and Makran and used the flag of Kalat.

Initiation of One Unit Scheme

Initially, in 1930, Sir Mohammad Iqbal conceived the idea of Pakistan by uniting the four states of the northwestern British Empire, the partition of the subcontinent was the result of Pakistan movement led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and came into existence on 14 August 1947. Since then, the country had been without a consolidated written constitution, and all Pakistani state affairs had been run under constitutional acts of British Indian empire enacted in 1935 and 1947. The Government had prolonged difficulty in administrating East Bengal, with its border with Eastern India, and the four provinces, which border Western India, Iran, China, and Afghanistan. Thus keeping in view the administrative difficulties the idea of ‘One Unit System’ was conceived by Malik Ghulam, the then Governor General of Pakistan, whose drafting was completed by Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra who had made the first official announcement on 22 November 1954. The National Assembly of Pakistan passed a bill merging of all West Pakistan into a single province on 30 September 1955, and finally, it was implemented on 14 October 1955. Earlier in 1954, Prime Minister Mohammad Ali Bogra praised the idea and said, ‘There will be no Bengalis, no Punjabis, no Sindhis, no Pathan, no Balochis, no Bahawalpuris, no Khairpuris. The disappearance of these groups will strengthen the integrity of Pakistan. Iskander Mirza who put forward the bill in the Assembly also gave following reasons;

It would end the curse of provincial prejudices.
It would allow the development of backward areas.
It would reduce administrative expenses.
It would make it easier to draw up a new constitution.
It would give East and West Pakistan maximum autonomy.

As a follow up of the plan after the general election of 1954, the four provinces and Tribal areas were merged in the western wing. The region was composed of twelve divisions, and the provincial capital was established at Lahore. The province of East Bengal, now Bangladesh, was renamed as East Pakistan with the provincial capital at Dacca. The federal government moved the country’s capital in 1958 from Karachi to Rawalpindi while the national legislature moved to Dacca. West Pakistan formed a single and united political entity but with marked linguistic and ethnic distinctions. The One Unit policy was regarded as an administrative reform that would reduce expenditure and help eliminate racial and parochial prejudices. However, with the military coup of 1958, trouble loomed for the province when the office of Chief Minister was abolished, and the President claimed executive power over West Pakistan.

Effects on Administration

Also, one potential factor of this growing tendency was the landslide victory of the United Front. As a result, there emerged a possibility that the desire of the civil and military bureaucracy to keep a strong center within their fold might be thwarted should the smaller provinces side with Bengal. The formation of a ‘One Unit’ would give the center a greater chance of arm twisting to get favorable decisions from one provincial assembly rather than dealing with three provinces (Punjab, Sindh, and NWFP), one chief commissioner’s provinces (Baluchistan) and numerous princely states. Overall impacts of the ‘One Unit System’ were;
Although Political benefits were going in favor of West Pakistan yet the people of different provinces of West Pakistan protested against this new scheme and insisted on the separate, distinct identities of regional cultures of the provinces.

The objectives mentioned as a cause of the “One Unit” were not met.

Expenditures were not controlled and limited. Additionally, some related issues were aroused. Remote areas of the country were ignored, and some local problems emerged with high intensity.

The objectives of One Unit could not be achieved. Instead, the power concentrated in few hands; hence the demand for the restoration of small provinces came up through various movements.

In East Pakistan, many political parties and groups questioned the principle of parity between the two wings and perceived that the whole of West Pakistan is together against East Pakistan. These facts increased the sense of alienation among them.

Ironically, after the East broke away to form Bangladesh, the Punjab province insisted that politics in the rump West Pakistan now be decided by a straightforward vote, since Punjabis were more numerous than the other groups, such as Sindhis, Pathans or Baloch.

The ‘One Unit Scheme’ sustained the highly centralized and bureaucratic political order that suffered from a legitimacy crisis in the NWFP and Sindh. Some leaders of Baluchistan, too, opposed the ‘One Unit Scheme.’

Since our leaders failed to apprehend the plural nature of the culture of our country and since they did not identify themselves with the actual national identity, so the consequent identity crises, at last, resulted in the separation of East Pakistan in 1971.

After all the one unit system remained to enforce from 1955 to 1970. Although it was brought to reduce expenditure and to eliminate provincial prejudices, the military coup of 1958 signaled difficulties when the first military President, Ayub Khan, abolished the office of Chief Minister of West Pakistan in favor of Governor’s rule. In 1960 the federal capital moved from Karachi to Rawalpindi and later to Islamabad when Constitution finished in 1966. Eventually, in 1970, the one unit system of West Pakistan was abolished by President Yahya Khan, and four new provinces were created along with some changes in Pakistani Kashmir.


Overall, ‘One Unit’ created more problems internally in West Pakistan, even the disparity between West and the East was neither removed nor was any other issue was resolved. At the time of division of land between the two Dominions in 1947, it was crystal clear that East Pakistan was 1000s kilometer far from West Pakistan. West Pakistan was itself divided into four provinces while West Pakistan was considered one province. It was difficult for east Pakistani to be prosperous with privileges which it had. There were a lot of hurdles between the two including language and sharing of power. This apart West was more developed, and it had a strong military and bureaucracy. Despite goodwill regarding ‘One Unit’ on the part of Government, the fact can not be denied that merging of the provinces created further troubles and tribulations. The circumstances of one unit could not bring prosperity and development in the country.

Even recently in October 2011. The Dawn, in a Flashback: ‘One Unit’ termed the period ‘a dark chapter’ in the history of Pakistan. It viewed the system especially in the context of Sindh province which had already suffered the effects of a similar system during its 89-year annexation (1847-1936) by the Bombay Presidency. It wrote, After independence, a group of politicians backed by vested interests was determined to exploit the resources of Sindh on one pretext or the other. The scheme of One Unit was not a new one. Right from the inception of Pakistan, vested interests had their eyes set on Sindh’s natural resources, but they could not put their plans in action as long as Quaid-i-Azam was alive. Right after his death, plans were set afoot’ (The Dawn, 16 October 2011). The idea of implementing it was raised time and again including one in 1949 on the floor of the first Constituent Assembly. Later it got the favor of General Ayub Khan, who is one of the cabinet meetings in the capacity of commander-in-chief and defense minister, expressed his opinion on One Unit plan by saying that he planned to make West Pakistan one province. General Iskander Mirza who finally piloted the ‘One Unit’ bill too said that it was a road roller and any small stone coming in the way would be crushed. At the time and in afterward, in the absence of a Constituent Assembly, provincial assemblies were the only forums to pave the way for the One Unite Scheme and the only weighty opposition it would invite from the Sindh province. As expected, agitation against the scheme was begun by lawyers, students, writers, and peasants but brute force crushed it and ultimately the federal government of the time succeeded in managing the bill passed by the provincial assemblies of all provinces including the Sindh.

The evaluation and analysis of ‘One Unit System’ that worked in Pakistan from 1955 to 1970 is still active and Naazir Mahmood in an article in The News on 26 July 2015 reminded in context of present-day democracy in Pakistan that forms 1947 to 1955, in all 22 provincial cabinets were dismissed or forced to resign-five in East Bengal, four in Punjab, four in NWFP, and eight in Sindh. No government was changed through a no-confidence vote in the provincial legislatures. Most governments were removed while they commanded the majority support in-house and were forced out at the behest of the central powers that be (The News, 26 July 2015). Even before the civil-military became unbalanced in nascent Pakistan, the fundamental province antagonism had started shattering the dream of a decent democracy. At the juncture, it was wrong to suggest that the entire Muslim League was in favor of an active center, but actually, the gang of four comprising Ghulam Mohammad, Major General Iskander Mirza, General Ayub Khan and Chaudhary Mohammad Ali was adamant to have an active center in Pakistan. Those who tried to stand firm for the protection of provincial rights were shown the door and declared as traitors working against the national interest. In a nutshell, the scheme was a campaign of a few against the will and interest of general public which cast a dark shadow over the administrative setup of the then infant nation called Pakistan.


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