Search This Blog

Monday, February 28, 2011

Bhutto & the Politics of 1969-1971: In Response to Mir Thebo's Note

By Harry Pasha
There is no documented record on Bhutto’s strategy in dealing with an antagonistic Ayub Khan and also keep good relations with the army after he left the Ayub cabinet in 1966.  Apparently, Bhutto had three immediate concerns:

1. He had to deal with the army. Bhutto never wanted to go up against the army but he wanted to oppose Ayub Khan. That required a deft handling of the situation.

2. He needed to create alliances that would propel him in the feudal political structure but would still keep him distinguished from the run-of-the-mill feudal politicians of the Muslim League sort.

3. He was not interested in East Pakistan but the quandary was that without East Pakistan, chances of his getting to the top were zero.

He went around the first two issues by launching a campaign against anybody related to Ayub except the army. He lashed out against the capitalists, the feudal structure, the bureaucracy, and the other supporting cast of Ayub Khan. He told the poor to drag the rich out of their homes and to exact the revenge of the centuries. He asked political novices, the vagabonds, and the anarchists to work for him in changing society. In feudal Sindh and in the southern Punjab, he was talking to prominent feudal families to support him. The Peoples Party was such a mishmash of unlikely alliances that nobody but Bhutto knew what the party actually stood for. Before the elections in 1970, Bhutto had created enough alliances to cause sufficient mayhem in society to alarm the establishment and to cause the elitist to hate him profoundly and without any reservation.
Z. A. Bhutto
East Pakistan was a sticky situation. Bhutto probably had visited East Pakistan only a few times in his entire political life. Neither did he have any sense of how to communicate with Bengalis. Despite his limited knowledge of East Pakistan, Bhutto correctly defined his political strategy after assessing the trends and the leadership that was emerging from East Pakistan at that time, and set up his game plan accordingly.
Sheikh Mujib
Around the time when Bhutto’s role in the Ayub regime was coming to an end, a thousand miles away Sheikh Mujib in East Pakistan was putting together his Six Points agenda for the future of Pakistan. The 1965 war had changed many perceptions, paradigms, and equilibrium in Pak politics. What Sheikh Mujib came up with was a clear-cut agenda for East Pakistan’s secession from Pakistan. His Six Points called for two currencies, two capitals, and two central banks. In essence, he was asking for two prime ministers, two presidents, and two armies. Astute political analysts, the army, and Bhutto correctly assessed Mujib’s ultimate goal. But having a program and implementing it are two different things. There were still strong pro Pakistan currents among Bengalis. The Bengali middle class was disgusted with the West Pakistan elite, but it was not apparent then that they were ready to break off. In the most likely scenario, Bhutto must have concluded that if Mujib did not succeed the first time, he would eventually get an independent East Pakistan in the next round. Bhutto was willing to wait it out so he concentrated on West Pakistan for his future political strategy.

1970 saw a volatile and feverish election campaign. Bhutto toiled hard for his votes in the deserts and plains of Sindh and Punjab. Sheikh Mujib, helped by nationalistic slogans and a natural disaster, swept the polls in East Pakistan. With two different parties claiming a majority in two separate parts of the country, the stage was set for a brutal contest for the ultimate prize of controlling Pakistan between the three players: the army, Sheikh Mujib, and Bhutto.

Bhutto, after having been ousted from the power in a palace power struggle just four years earlier, was knocking back with a mandate from two important provinces. It was time for him to play his cards diligently and with utmost shrewdness. Bhutto was ready for the game that would eventually make him the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Generals, Ayub Khan & Yahya Khan
During his election campaign and after it, Bhutto never criticized the army. His original focus was on Ayub Khan as an individual. Fact of the matter is he perhaps was working with Gen. Yahya Khan to launch a coup against Gen. Ayub after Gen. Yahya Khan was appointed COAS in 1967. Once Ayub Khan was removed; he focused on Wadera, Zamindar, landlords and capitalists. Bhutto was able to fool many both in the left and the right wing by his rhetoric but he understood correctly that without the army, he had no chance of getting power in Pakistan.

A few weeks after the elections, Gen. Yahya Khan along with some senior military generals huddled up with Bhutto in his hometown Larkana. I believe that in that meeting the army and Bhutto finally agreed on how to deal with the East Pakistan and the Mujib problem. It was not in their interests to see Mujib as the PM and soon after those meetings, Bhutto took a belligerent stand against Mujib and eventually went on to tell National Assembly members to not to show up for the assembly meeting in Dhaka or their legs would be broken. Then in a speech in Lahore, he came out with his famous declaration “Idhar hum, Udhar tum.” Within days, Gen. Yahya Khan postponed the assembly session in Dhaka causing a violent reaction there. It became clear to all that Bengalis would have a huge struggle ahead of them to control their destiny.
Pakistan military launched military operation, codenamed, "Operation Searchlight" on 25th March, 1971 in "East Pakistan" to crush Bengali nationalist movement. Hundreds of thousands of Bengalis were massacred in the operation.
Bhutto’s declaration of “Idhar hum, Udhar tum” was not some burst of emotions but a signal to the army that he would put his neck out for the army. It was also a signal to Mujib about what was to come next. Mujib got his cue and there never were any serious negotiations with the army. The Awami league leadership began to slip out to India and when finally the military action commenced, most of the Awami league leaders escaped arrest. Mujib was the only the major AL leader arrested by the army.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.