The Left in Pakistan - 7
By Dr. S. Akhtar Ehtisham
The participants had divulged their grandiose plan while in their cups. It was named Agartala, after the town where the whole thing was supposed to start. The conspirators were tried in a Kangaroo court and duly sentenced to long terms of jail sentence. Mujib became an authentic hero.
During his exile Bhutto made frequent trips to Paris and had had detailed discussions with J. A. Rahim, at the time serving as the ambassador of Pakistan to France. Rahim was a senior and exceptionally talented civil servant. He was Bhutto’s mentor, guide and philosopher and had helped Bhutto navigate through the minefield of bureaucratic establishment when Ayub had taken the latter into his cabinet and was to become the secretary general of the party Bhutto founded and wrote its constitution.
Fed up of the life of an exile in London, he returned to Pakistan and started a furious campaign to gather support and did manage to attract a few left wing intellectuals and lawyers. But they were political nonentities. He was getting nowhere fast.
Then he struck a gold mine. A student leader, whom the Intelligence agents running the communist party in Pakistan had managed to run out of Karachi, threw his support behind Bhutto. Leftist and progressive elements [i] veterans of innumerable insurgencies against the Ayub dictatorship, though weakened by the internecine warfare of Soviet/China ideological divide, as a group they were still a force to reckon with. They had found a helmsman.
Bhutto was [ii] still not able to catch the imagination of the people of Pakistan at large.
Ayub came to his rescue and put him in jail.
Putting Bhutto behind bars was quite unnecessary. He was widely despised for his perceived penchant for opportunism. He managed to create a hero in the Western Wing too. Public mind accepted the fiction that Bhutto must have been telling the truth that Ayub did not listen to the latter’s advice and caved in under American-Soviet pressure.
Ayub’s minions now came up with an extremely outlandish idea [iii]. They advised him to celebrate ten years of his rule, dubbing it “decade of development”.
The catalyst to the upheaval was a scuffle between the police and students in Lahore. The students had apprehended a purse-snatcher and the police wanted to let them go. That incident led to a conflagration. Demonstrations, processions and public protests broke out all over the country. In Karachi, Dacca and Lahore administration fell apart completely. East Pakistan had already been simmering. The unrest had reverberated to the Western wing. Led by students both exploded simultaneously. There was a spate of student/industrial workers strikes and other disturbances.
I happened to be visiting Pakistan at the time. Ayub addressed the nation on national TV, a nascent medium in the country at the time. He looked like a dog which had been kicked by its master.” Ayub Kutta Hai Hai” dog Ayub shame, shame was actually a popular refrain.
Ayub had to withdraw all cases against Mujib, release him and invite him to an all parties’ conference with a view to forming a national government. He had to accord the same honors to Bhutto. Shrewder of the two, Bhutto declined the invitation [iv].
The conference ended in expected failure, but Mujib had gained “face”. Bhutto could finally put behind him the record of public and private sycophancy to Ayub. His craven letter of flattery to Iskander Mirza [v] was not in the realm of public knowledge. His minions were able to claim that Bhutto had genuinely believed in Ayub’s sincerity and integrity, but Tashkent had opened his eyes and he had promptly cut his links with the regime.
Bhutto got his first break in government and politics when Iskander Mirza, the then President of Pakistan, named him the leader of the country’s delegation to a maritime conference in Geneva. He was picked up because he was the legal counsel to the shipping concern of Cowasjee family. Bhutto sent Mirza an absolutely slavish letter of thanks. Even in a country awash with toadies and sycophants, it will be difficult to emulate, much less exceed, this exhibition of flattery.
Ayub Khan on taking over the country had to find persons to run the ministries. His eye fell on Bhutto. Bhutto was not fully accepted by the feudal aristocracy of Sindh.
As senior Bengali civil servant, J.A.Rahim took Bhutto in hand. On his own admission, Rahim had guided him through the intricacies of statecraft [vii].
After the diplomatic and economic disaster that 1965 war turned out to be, Ayub blamed Bhutto for persuading him to launch the 1965 war with India.
Bhutto would have remained a footnote in the history of Pakistan if Ayub, beset by the 1968 protest against him, had not put him in jail and grant him a new lease of life. Bhutto caught the imagination of the Punjab[viii].
Hailing from Sindh, Bhutto had only moderate support in the province.
In his weakened post-1965 war state, Ayub could never hope to withstand the combined onslaught of East and West Pakistan. The campaign against him was led in both wings by students and industrial workers.
Ayub’s days were numbered. He threw in the towel and handed over the Presidency to Yahya Khan who re-imposed martial law and assumed the combined offices of the President and Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA).
Calm was restored pretty soon. Public meetings were once again scheduled and attended with a semblance of order. Politicians went about organizing their parties and gear them for an election campaign.
Mujib and Bhutto led large processions and addressed mammoth gatherings in the respective wings. It was carnival time once again. Bhutto, enthusiastically supported by leftist students, industrial workers, peasants and all the disenfranchised members of the society, gave a catchy slogan of Roti, Kapra aur Makan, roughly translated bread, clothes and home .He also pledged that industries would be handed over to workers to be run for their benefit and not for the profit of capitalists. Land will be taken away from feudals and ownership given to tillers. Homes will be built for the homeless.
The “left”, with heads in the clouds, heartily endorsed him, some hailing him as Pakistan’s equivalent of Mao. Perhaps taking the cue, he donned Mao style uniform.
Mujib contested the elections on his now famous - or infamous, depending upon one’s point of view - six points[ix].
Widely held belief was that Bhutto’s PPP will do well in the Punjab, moderately so in Sindh and might carry a few seats in Frontier and Baluchistan. Bhashani’s NAP would carry the majority in Frontier and Baluchistan, with remainder of the seats going to smaller fundamentalist and other fringe parties. In East Pakistan, Awami League might win majority of seats or even a large majority, but the redoubtable Maulana Bhashani, would certainly get at least a third of the seats for NAP.
In the scenario, Yahya acting as a referee would be able to get Mujib or some one else to indulge in the usual horse-trading and cobble a coalition.
But it was not to be. East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, is a hurricane-prone country.
Hurricanes [x] have a vastly different impact on a region like Bengal than they do in an advanced country like the USA. They wreak havoc.
Maulana Bhashani demanded, and with good reason, that the emergency be dealt with first and election be postponed till after the human misery of enormous proportions had been tackled. His demand was not accepted, he boycotted elections.
Under the system of the front runner taking all, Awami League without an effective competition from Bhashani’s NAP, won 160 seats out of 162 assigned to East Pakistan and commanded absolute majority in a house of 310 members.
Yahya and the Army high command were stunned. Bhutto was too.
[i]. They were in a position to give Bhutto a measure of legitimacy and respectability in Karachi, the place to earn political kudos in.
[ii] I have it on reliable sources that he once sent for a uniquely honest student leader Rashid Hasan Khan, then a medical student, who had had a “lover’s tiff” with him. This person, Dr Rashid, was to turn out to be a substantial student leader. I hasten to add that I am using the phrase “lover’s tiff” in strictly non-sexual terms. Rashid told the emissary to tell Bhutto that he was busy. The emissary, a family retainer, begged him that the “Sain” would punish the poor messenger for failure in the mission entrusted to him. Rashid relented.
In a public meeting Bhutto was to declare another student leader Mairaj Muhammad Khan, one of his successors, if anything untoward like an assassination were to remove him from the field. The other successor was the infamous Mustafa Khar!
I would like to tarry a bit with Mustafa Khar. A wealthy semi-literate dissolute landowner he had latched on to Bhutto when the former was courting the feudals in Punjab. Bhutto was to appoint him governor of Punjab in which capacity he became the Chancellor of Punjab University - the only high school (tenth grade in Pakistan) to do so. Another hilarious story told about Khar goes like this.
Once he joined a tenth of Moharram procession while it was passing through the Red Light Area of Lahore. Denizens of the pleasure houses lost control at the site of the Governor and screamed, ”Ab toosi ethe aande nain ho, Saadi ankhian thwano vehkan to taras gain hain”- you do not deign to visit us now, we are desolate without you.
[iii] According to economists GNP in Pakistan grew an astonishing 160% during Ayub’s time, but distributive aspects were ignored. A few became very rich. The vast majority only saw prices rising and wages going down.
The 1968 campaign against Ayub coincided with the student-led upheaval in Europe and Japan
documented by Tariq Ali in his Street Fighting Years, but were not linked.
[iv] Bhashani had sensed that Ayub was a spent force and also declined the invitation.
[v] I have mentioned it in the chapter on Bhutto as well that following his appointment by Mirza to lead Pakistan delegation in a maritime conference, Bhutto compared the former to Jinnah - favorably.
[vi] Sajjada Nashin is a sort of deputy saint, the honor usually but not necessarily restricted to the saint’s family) that when Bhutto was about twelve years of age the Sajjada Nashin’s father told Bhutto’s father “Sain (a customary Sindhi salutation to an equal or a superior) he looks just like you. Why don’t you marry his mother?”.
[vii] He had also drafted the constitution and helped organize the party. That however did not keep him from putting the old man in his place. Soon after assumption of nearly absolute power Bhutto was irked by the man’s les majeste. He had pleaded diabetic problems and old age, and had left an official function before the great man arrived. Rahim had also been overheard muttering some disparaging remarks about Bhutto’s arrogance and lineage. Some minion had dutifully passed on the remarks to the boss, who dispatched a few gangsters to beat the man up in his official ministerial residence.
The assault of a minister must have set some kind of record in countries outside of Stalinist Soviet Union, and Mao’s China of the cultural revolutions period. The man disappeared. After Zia overthrew Bhutto, he was found in a house where he had been held incommunicado for several years. This was actually a favor. Less exalted dissidents had been held in a concentration camp in Azad Kashmir.
[viii] The other provinces, Baluchistan, Sindh and even East Pakistan, were treated as virtual colonies. In the early years of Pakistan, Bengal with its world monopoly of jute production had been the major source of foreign exchange earnings of the country. Greater portion of the income so earned was invested in West Pakistan. Bengalis were given a few ministries and jobs as a consolation prize, in much the same way as the British Viceroy used to appoint a few prominent toadies to his council. Their subordinate civil servants routinely overruled these hapless individuals, much as their British mentors used to treat Indian ministers. At the risk of alienating my Mohajir and Punjabi friends I would hypothesize that the two communities have played a role in Pakistan identical to the one played by the US and British governments in the world at large. The latter wrecked peace and order in the world. The former functioning from a lesser height messed up Pakistan.
[ix] Six points introduced as agenda first in 1966 were as follows:
-Federation based on 1940 Lahore Resolution which called for establishment of sovereign states, not a unitary Pakistan.
-Federal government to deal with only two subjects - defense and foreign affairs and possibly currency. This was based on Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 referred to under the chapter on pre- and early post-partition.
-Common currency with a lot of limitations making it unworkable or two freely convertible currencies.
-Foreign policy to have no say in external economic affairs
-Federating units to set up trade missions.
No Government should allow a political party to contest an election on a thinly veiled separatist platform. It would amount to an attempt at secession through the ballot box. The issue could only be presented to, and decided in a referendum. Mujib dare not overtly support a move at virtual secession. East Pakistanis would not stand for it. They only wanted a fair deal. But Pakistan’s military, poor at defense, turned out to be poorer at political insight. Supposedly astute politicians, Bhutto among them, kept on deluding themselves that six points were all hot air, and Mujib was bound to come into senses after the elections. He would have to compromise, wheel and deal, if he wanted to be a minister in the government or the prime minister if his party were to win plurality in the parliament .No one advised Yahya that he should not allow Mujib to run on the platform. The least they should have done was to offer a referendum on the six points, along with elections. In Quebec Canada, though the secessionist party won elections and formed a government, yet they failed to carry the province on the question of separation from Canada.
[x] I had drafted this before the hurricane Katrina of 2005. I am now not so sanguine about the capacity of advanced countries to deal with disasters of the scale.
It is not an insurmountable problem. At one time plans were developed to build a sea wall, twenty feet high and hundreds of miles long, to keep the sea out and to control flow of water into it. Rivers were to be dredged so they could hold water. The excavated soil would be tremendously rich and fertile, and reclaim vast areas from the rivers, a veritable boon to the land hungry region. Trees would be planted to hold excess water on the hills. It would seep gradually, slaking the thirst of parched land in dry season.
It was a gigantic project and a task that would tax the capacity of a Government, which cared for the welfare of people, spent a decent proportion of national budget on health, welfare and education and had the will to undertake stupendous projects. But donors were willing to help with funds and technical expertise. Holland offered services of experts in the field free. A large part of that country is under sea level. They literally hold it at bay and know more about the hazards of living under the constant menace of submersion under water than any other people do. It was, however, not a greater undertaking than the Aswan Dam project, which involved removal of mountainous structures of Pharaoh’s times to higher elevation. Egypt was by no means more endowed with technological knowledge nor did it have more developed economy or industry than Pakistan did. Egypt, however, had Nasser and the political will. Pakistan lacked both.