The Left in Pakistan - 6
By Dr. S. Akhtar Ehtisham
East Pakistanis were never very worked up about Kashmir, which they correctly perceived as a lifeline for the out-sized army. The exorbitant expenditure on defense establishment benefited only those west Pakistanis whose relatives were members of the armed forces, and the contractors and suppliers at best. They felt that if Kashmir were ever to come into possession of Pakistan, its population would suffer the same fate they themselves and other second class citizens of the country did.
One sorry fallout of the war was that Pakistan had provided Indians with a good excuse to whittle away at Kashmir’s autonomy and added to the misery of its people who had kept their counsel through the duration of the war.
Another side effect, which was to have far reaching consequences, was that East Pakistanis loudly voiced the opinion that they had been left undefended, at the mercy of Indians. The fact is well documented that the two wings had lost all communication with each other for the duration of active hostilities[i]. They scorned the patently spurious thesis of Pak top brass that East Pakistan would be defended on the plains of West Pakistan.
What was perhaps worse was that the blunder gave a lease of life to the orthodoxy in the country.
UN Security Council assigned the role of mediator/arbitrator in the dispute to Kosygin, the Soviet PM. Pakistan should never have accepted him as a mediator as the country had always favored India. The fact that the USA had acquiesced to the proposal indicated that they did not care much for Pakistan either. Ayub had in fact demurred. Johnson, it is believed, told him to fall in line or else.
Kosygin coaxed, coerced and browbeat the two parties, Pakistan more often, to agree to and sign an agreement to return to pre-war borders.
There was nary a mention of a plebiscite to determine the preferences of Kashmiris for which purpose Pakistan had gone to war. Ayub returned empty handed. It was a clear victory for Indian diplomacy[ii].
Scattered riots followed the agreement signed in January 1966. Two students died as a result of police firing in Lahore.
The war was to lead to disastrous consequences for Pakistan. It shot two demagogues to prominence, Bhutto on the western side and Mujib in the Eastern wing. Bhutto was entirely a creation of Ayub. But that did not stop him from castigating his mentor. Mujib was handed a live and burning issue he could and did use to inflame public opinion in the Eastern Wing.
Bhutto resigned from office. Ayub dissuaded him. When he felt sure of his footing he sacked his foreign minister. Nobody paid any attention to Bhutto. He assiduously courted audiences. Public, when it did deign to react to his strident statements that Ayub had betrayed the trust, reminded him that he was fully a party to the cease-fire agreement, it was his job as foreign minister to advise the President on diplomatic tangles and till lately he had fawned on Ayub calling him uncle, etc.
He was still in his late-thirties. His one imaginative move as foreign minister had been the opening to China. But Ayub, to Bhutto’s consternation, had claimed all the credit for the diplomatic coup.
Finding no support at home Bhutto went to, what appeared to be a well-deserved oblivion in England. He was frequently seen drowning his sorrows in a bottle and exhorting any Pakistani who would listen to him to return with him to Pakistan to launch a revolution. Tariq Ali[iii] describes a meeting with him in Paris. Ali very sensibly and as matter o f principle, declined the invitation.
From the perspective of the integrity of the country, a somewhat different and worse situation obtained in East Pakistan. Mujib had been a bit more successful in exploiting the “abandonment” of Bengal.
Mujib had a track record as a student leader. He had been active in the language campaign. He had served as General Secretary of East Pakistan Awami League; but he had risen in the political arena as the field had been depleted due to depredations of the Ayub regime.
Ayub’s regime was tottering. The huge outlay of resources on the war had negated all the economic gains of the previous seven years. People wanted jobs, food and shelter, education, health care and clean water. The statement by an economist Mahbbob-ul-Haque, that twenty-two families owned all the wealth of the country was given wide currency.
Ayub resorted to desperate measures. His Government announced, with great fanfare, that they had unearthed a conspiracy against Pakistan. It incriminated a few junior Bengali officers in the army and the civil service and Mujib who was most probably attracted more by free whisky than any idea of a coup.
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.
[i] The two wings lost all channels of communication within an hour of the start of hostilities. Bhutto added injury to insult by saying that China had undertaken to defend East Pakistan.
[ii] India sent seasoned Foreign Service officials, accomplished politicians, intellectuals and academics to its embassies. It usually chose Muslims for Arab countries, luminaries of the left for socialist regimes and conservatives for capitalist societies. Pakistan’s feudal-military-bureaucratic dispensation did not even look into its puny stock of men and women of high caliber. It off-loaded retired Generals, political hacks, and nonentities. There were, of course, exceptions on both sides.
[iii] Tariq Ali- Street fighting years.