(Part 2) Civilian Dictators, Dictatorial Democrats and Bangladesh

By: | Muhammad Ali Azlan |




Bhutto was not a common man. He didn’t come from a common family and nor did he have common upbringing. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and hailed from a prominent political family with his father being the last diwan (prime minister) of the state of Junagadh, India. He was not anti-establishment and his political career began under the wing of General Ayub Khan who was then president of Pakistan and a top-ranked military man.

It was this association with Ayub that led to Bhutto’s rise as a champion of democracy. Using the popular sentiment in Pakistan against the Tashkent Declaration and Ayub Khan, Bhutto formed the Pakistan People’s Party in 1967.

Moreover, Bhutto’s role in the independence of East Pakistan in 1971 continues to be an ardently debated topic. There are those who put the blame on him for everything that transpired that year. They argue that had he been more flexible and let Mujibur Rahman form the government, East Pakistan would have still been a part of the country.

Among other things, what has been dragged into the background is the fact that Bhutto and Mujib had developed an understanding to form a coalition government with Mujib as the Prime Minister and Bhutto as President and it was Pakistan’s then President Yahya Khan who postponed the inaugural session of the National Assembly and ordered a military crackdown in East Pakistan after his own talks with Mujib failed, completely unaware of the fact that Bhutto and Mujib had agreed upon a coalition.

East Pakistan was the more heavily populated state in Pakistan. Thus after the removal of General Ayub Khan in 1968, it had a greater number of seats in the Pakistan parliament. Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman the leader of the Awami party articulated the sentiments of Bengalis and they in one voice supported him.

In the 1970 elections called by Gen Yahya Khan, the successor of Ayub Khan, the Awami league got the majority in the Pakistan Parliament.

The Awami league won 99% of the parliamentary seats in the east and emerged with a majority and logically the Sheikh should have been invited to form the government. But ZA Bhutto whose party had won in the west was loathe to hand over power to the Bengali leader. Though he won 60% of the seats in the western wing he was in a minority and this played heavily on his psyche. He started a campaign against handing over power to the Awami party.

Bhutto joined Ayub in Tashkent – Uzbekistan to negotiate a peace treaty with the Indian premier Lal Bahadur Shastri. Ayub and Shastri amicably agreed to exchange prisoners of war and withdraw respective forces to pre-war boundaries.

This agreement was deeply unpopular in Pakistan, causing major political unrest against Ayub’s regime.

Bhutto’s criticism of the final agreement caused a major rift between him and Ayub. Initially denying the rumours, Bhutto resigned in June 1966 and expressed strong opposition to Ayub’s sellout in Tashkent.

Pakistan’s enthusiastic attempt to liberate Kashmir in 1965 (Operation Gibraltar) champined by Bhutto earned them the wrath of the Indian leadership who now wanted to avenge this and cut Pakistan down to size, given the first opportunity which came just five years later.

Following his resignation as foreign minister, large crowds gathered to listen to Bhutto’s speech upon his arrival in Lahore on 21 June 1967. Tapping a wave of anger against Ayub, Bhutto travelled across Pakistan to deliver political speeches. In October 1966 Bhutto made explicit the beliefs of his new party, “Islam is our faith, democracy is our policy, socialism is our economy. All power to the people.”

Following Ayub’s resignation, his successor, General Yahya Khan promised to hold parliamentary elections on 7 December 1970. Bhutto attracted the leftist and ultra-leftist forces, who gathered under his leadership, becoming the full sum of force. The Socialist mass, under Bhutto’s leadership, intensified its support in Muhajir and poor farming communities in West Pakistan, working through educating people to cast their vote for their better future.

Gathering and uniting the scattered socialist-marxist mass in one single center was considered Bhutto’s greatest political achievements and as its result, the leftists and Bhutto’s party – Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) won a large number of seats from constituencies in West-Pakistan.

This leftist wave was also felt in East Pakistan and a leftist oriented party also gathered strength in East Pakistan called the Awami league.

The Awami league had been established in 1949 itself. One of its candidates had been Prime Minister of Pakistan before, so Mujib being made Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1970 was not unprecedented.

In September 1956, the Awami League had formed a coalition with the Republican Party to secure a majority in the new National Assembly of Pakistan and took over the central government.

Awami League President Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy – a Bengali, became the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Suhrawardy pursued a reform agenda to reduce the long-standing economic disparity between East and West Pakistan, greater representation of Bengalis in the Pakistani civil and armed services and he unsuccessfully attempted to alleviate the food shortages in East Pakistan.

My Country Beckons Me Speech at the Security Council, New York, December 15, 1971 Yesterday my eleven year old son telephoned me from Karachi and said “Do not come back with a document of surrender. We do not want to see you back in Pakistan if you do that.” I will not take back a document of surrender from the Security Council. I will not be a party to the legalization of aggression. The Security Council has failed miserably, shamefully. For four days we have been deliberating here. For four days the Security Council has procrastinated. Why? Because the object was for Dacca to fall. That was the object. It was quite clear to me from the beginning. All right, so what if Dacca falls? So what if the whole of East Pakistan falls? So what if the whole of West Pakistan falls? So what if our state is obliterated? We will build a new Pakistan. We will build a better Pakistan. We will build a greater Pakistan. The Security Council has acted short-sightedly by acquiescing in these dilatory tactics. You have reached a point when we shall say, “Do what you like.” If this point had not been reached we could have made a commit¬ment. We could have said, “All right, we are prepared to do some things.” Now why should we? You want us to be silenced by guns. Why should we say that we shall agree to anything? Now you decide what you like. Your decision will not be binding on us. You can decide what you like. If you had left us a margin of hope, we might have been a party to some settlement. I find it disgraceful to my person and to my country to remain here a moment longer than is necessary. I am not boycotting. Impose any decision, have a treaty worse than the Treaty of Versailles, legalise aggression, legalise occupation, legalise everything that has been illegal upto 15 December 1971. I will not be a party to it. We will fight; we will go back and fight. My country beckons me. Why should I waste my time here in the Security Council? I am going.

The paper that Bhutto tore was USA’s revised draft proposals dated 13 December to Security Council Resolution 303 of 6 December 1971 (vetoed by USSR with France & UK abstaining) proposing an immediate cessation of hostilities between India and Pakistan and effect a withdrawal of their armed forces to their own side of the India-Pakistan border in order to bring about conditions necessary for the voluntary return of the East Pakistan refugees to their homes. Had he accepted the proposals perhaps the outcome of the war could have been different. In a fit of bravado he created a dramatic scene, vowed to continue the fight & walked out. As it turned out, the Pakistan Army surrendered the very next day.

The controversy over One Unit (the division of Pakistan into only two provinces, east and west) and the appropriate electoral system for Pakistan, whether joint or separate, also revived as soon as Suhrawardy became Prime Minister. In West Pakistan, there was strong opposition to the joint electorate by the Muslim League and the religious parties. The Awami League however, strongly supported the joint electorate. These differences over One Unit and the appropriate electorate caused problems for the government and paved the way for Pakistan’s first military dictatorship to be established in 1958.

In the 1970 elections, Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League won a majority in the legislature, receiving more than twice as many votes as Bhutto’s PPP.

After the Awami League had won a decisive majority (capturing 167 out of 313 seats) in the 1970 Pakistan parliamentary elections, the Bengali population of East Pakistan had expected a swift transfer of power to the Awami League based on the Six Point Programme.

On February 28, 1971, Yahya Khan, the President of Pakistan, under the pressure of PPP of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, postponed the national assembly meeting scheduled for March

Bhutto refused to accept an Awami League government and famously promised to “break the legs” of any elected PPP member who dared to attend the inaugural session of the National Assembly which now had a majority of elected representatives from East Pakistan’s Awami league.

Blatant refusal to accept a democratic verdict infuriated the East Pakistanis who felt that Sheikh Mujib had every right to be sworn in as Pakistan’s Premier but was being denied this because of the racist attitudes of the West Pakistanis against the Bengali East Pakistanis.

Capitalizing on West Pakistani fears of East Pakistani separatism, Bhutto demanded that Sheikh Mujib form a coalition with the PPP.

Amidst popular outrage in East Pakistan, Sheikh Mujib declared the independence of “Bangladesh”. According to historical references and a report published by leading newspaper, “Mujib no longer believed in Pakistan and was determined to create Bangladesh”, despite Bhutto’s urging to form a coalition.

On 26 March 1971 Mujib was arrested by the Pakistan Army, which had been ordered by Yahya to suppress political separatist activities in East Pakistan after receiving constant advise from Bhutto given his popularity and past credentials and connections with Yahya’s predecessor who Yahya held in high esteem.

While supportive of the army’s actions and working to rally International support, Bhutto suddenly did an about face and distanced himself from the Yahya regime and began to criticise Khan for mishandling the situation once he saw the tide was turning against the Pakistan Army in East Pakistan and the situation was going out of hand.

He totally refused to accept Yahya’s scheme to appoint Bengali politician Nurul Amin as Prime minister, with him as deputy prime minister.

Soon after his refusal and continuous resentment toward General Yahya Khan’s mishandling of the situation, General Yahya Khan ordered the Military Police to arrest Bhutto also for treason charges, – quiet similar to Mujib.

Bhutto was situated at the Adiala Jail along with Mujib, where he was set to face the charges.

At the same time, Pakistan’s Air force attacked India whose leadership had already mobilized an immense military force on East Pakistan’s borders over a period of eight long months with an intent to invade East Pakistan from four attack points, given the first opportunity.

The Indian armed intervention in East Pakistan led to the very swift and bitter defeat of Pakistani forces, who surrendered on 16 December 1971 to the joint command of regular Indian Army soldiers and Mukti Bahini guerillas called Mitro-Bahini.

Bangladesh came into being soon after this.

By the time Bhutto had assumed control of what remained of Pakistan, the nation was completely isolated, fractured, angered and demoralized.

Bhutto and many others now soundly condemned Yahya for failing to protect Pakistan’s unity.

Isolated, Yahya resigned on 20 December and transferred power to Bhutto, who became president, commander-in-chief and the first civilian chief martial law administrator.

Bhutto reversed the verdict of Mujib’s earlier court-martial trial, in which Brigadier-General Rahimuddin Khan had sentenced Mujib to death, released him and allowed him to fly back to the new nation Bangladesh (Formerly known as East Pakistan)

Bhutto then became PM of Pakistan for a five years after fresh elections but democracy unfortunately lasted in Pakistan only till 1977 before the Pakistani Army commanded by General Zia, intervened again.


June 29, 1974, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan publicly apologized, today for what he called the “shameful repression and unspeakable crimes” committed in Bangladesh by the Pakistani Army before the eastern part of Pakistan gained independence in December, 1971.

Mr. Bhutto said he had no part in the events, which he attributed to the “selfish and myopic military regime” headed by Pakistan’s former president Gen. Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan.

In the nine months of repression that preceded the war between India and Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh out of what was East Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of Bengali’s were killed or driven out as refugees to India. There was extensive damage to property.

Mr. Bhutto, in an emotion filled speech at a reception on the second day of his visit here, said that it was his “long‐cherished wish” to visit Bangladesh and convey the goodwill of the Pakistani people.

“Do not equate us with those who ruled over us and over you,” he pleaded. “We share your grief and sorrow, condole with you and lament the losses. In the name of the last prophet, I say toba [sorry] to you,” he said.

Bhutto immediately placed Yahya Khan under house arrest, brokered a ceasefire and ordered the release of Sheikh Mujib, who was held prisoner by the Pakistan Army.

During his years as Prime Minister of the now truncated Pakistan, credit must be given to him however for kick starting Pakistan’s nuclear program and its quest to make the atomic bomb and many other constitutional and social reforms and for his foreign policy success of forging very strong ties with the People’s Republic of China.



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