Bhutto arrives in Dhaka to negotiate a settlement

Last updated: 5 October 2017 From the section 1971 Muktijuddho

On 27 January 1971 Bhutto visited Dhaka, his first since the General Election defeat, to work out a compromise with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The meeting between the two leaders was arranged by Ghulam Mustafa Khar, a 33-year-old close ally of Bhutto (whom Bhutto considered to be his 'son') and one of PPP's founding member who was also present during the Yahya-Bhutto meeting in Larkana.

  • Ghulam Mustafa Khar ()

Bhutto arrived with a large entourage of 15 political leaders for a series of meetings lasting three days.

During the meeting it was decided that if the currency was not separated efforts would be made to prevent flight of wealth from East Pakistan,every federating unit would get a fair share from export earnings, defence, foreign affairs and taxation departments would stay with centre and Yahya Khan would continue to act as president.

The talks mostly centred on Sheikh Mujib’s six-point plan and division of powers between the two wings, and finding an agreed format of the federal government. Bhutto wanted more talks to conclude outstanding issues, namely taxation, external trade and foreign aid. During the talks Sheikh Mujib termed the issue of keeping foreign trade and aid centred in West Pakistan as a "continuation of the East Pakistan’s exploitation" .

But the talks ultimately failed because for Sheikh Mujib and his party the Six-Point programme was not negotiable, whereas for Bhutto it was not acceptable in total.

Mr. Bhutto did not bring any concrete proposals of his own about the nature of the constitution. He and is advisors were mainly interested in discussing the implications of Six Points. Since their responses were essentially negative and they had no prepared brief of their own it was not possible for the talks to develop into serious negotiations where attempts could be made to bridge the gap between the two parties. It was evident that as yet Mr. Bhutto had no formal position of his own from which to negotiate.

Muktadhara website

After the talks, Bhutto said at a press conference that the talks had neither failed, nor had reached a deadlock. He said he had agreed to two points of the Awami League pertaining to the question of federation and the right of the provinces to maintain paramilitary forces and that, for the remaining points, he would have to consult his colleagues.

Bhutto provided a political cover for the military's rejection of the Six-Point plan - it became Bhutto's rejection rather than the military's, and this provided a legitimate pretext for dealing with East Pakistan. Bhutto played a central role in the successful war of manoeuvre that was unfolding. That success, however, was but a battle in a larger war of position that had already begun, and that Bhutto would eventually lose.

Brendan O'Leary, Ian S. Lustick & Thomas Callaghy, editors of "Right-sizing the State: The Politics of Moving Borders" (2001)

At this crucial moment, an unexpected incident took place, indirectly influencing the course of events and which was to later have substantial effect once war commenced.

Bhutto meets Pakistani hijackers of Indian plane

On 30 January 1971, an Indian Airline plane was hijacked by some pro-Pakistan Kashmiri militants to Lahore. Bhutto had exhibited his immaturity and anti-Indian stance which made him popular before the election by flying to Lahore from Dhaka to applaud the hijackers.

While the whole world condemned the hijacking, Bhutto said Pakistan was not responsible for the act since the hijackers were Kashmiris. This incident hardened India's attitude.

Nitish K. Sengupta, author of "Land of Two Rivers: A History of Bengal from the Mahabharata to Mujib" (2011)

The plane was blown up after two days.

In retaliation, India banned overflights by Pakistan planes over Indian airspace. This created great difficulty in communication between the eastern and western wings of Pakistan, as overnight air traffic between Dhaka and Rawalpindi had to be conducted by the long route via Colombo, Sri Lanka. On 3 February 1971, Sheikh Mujib condemned the blowing up of the Indian plane and called for a thorough probe. His reaction to the hijacking - which Pakistan later claimed was fake and inspired by Indian intelligent - was interpreted by the military junta as further confirmation of their belief that 'Sheikh Mujib was not entirely his own master and was following a course that had been charted out for him by New Delhi'.

Bhutto threatens to "break legs" of members as President Yahya announces National Assembly to sit in Dhaka on 3 March 1971

On 13 February 1971, General Yahya fixed 3 March 1971 for the National Assembly session to be held in Dhaka. Three days later, on 16 February 1971, Bhutto, at a press conference, expressed his party's decision to boycott the National Assembly unless it was given an understanding that there was scope for adjustment and compromise on the Six-Point Programme.

Bhutto refused to accept Sheikh Mujib's Six Points, quoting them to be 'unworkable for the whole of Pakistan'.

We cannot go there only to endorse a constitution already prepared by a party, and return humiliated... We have a duty to those millions who elected us.

Bhutto responding to President Yahya Khan that the New Assembly will meet in Dhaka on 3 March 1971

Bhutto's game plan was not to allow the National Assembly to convene, and hence prevent the formal honouring ceremony of an Awami League government.

It must be made clear that when the PPP left Dhaka there was no indication from their part that a deadlock had been reached with the Awami League. Rather they confirmed that all doors were open and that following a round of talks with the West Pakistani leaders the PPP would either have a second and more substantive round of talks with the Awami League or would meet in the National Assembly whose committees provided ample opportunity for detailed discussion on the constitution.

Mr. Bhutto's announcement to boycott the National Assembly, therefore, came as a complete surprise. The boycott decision was surprising because Mr. Bhutto had already been accommodated once by the President when he refused Sheikh Mujib's plea for an early session of the Assembly on the 15th of February and fixed it, in line with Mr. Bhutto's preference, for 3rd March.

Following his decision to boycott the Assembly, Mr. Bhutto Launched a campaign of intimidation against all other parties in West Pakistan to prevent them from attending the session. In this task there is evidence that Lt. General Umer, Chairman of the National Security Council and close associate of, with a view to strengthening Mr. Bhutto's hand, personally pressured various West Wing leaders not to attend the Assembly. In spite of this display of pressure tactics by Mr. Bhutto and Lt. General Umer, all members of the National Assembly from West Pakistan, except the PPP and the Muslim League (Qayyum), had booked their seats to East Pakistan, for the session on 3rd March.

Within the Muslim League (Qayyum) itself, half their members had booked their seats and there were signs of revolt within the PPP where many members were wanting to come to Dhaka.

Muktadhara website

At one point, he even openly threatened to break the legs of any member of his own party who dared to attend the inaugural session of the National Assembly of Pakistan.

I will break their legs...

Bhutto responding to being asked what he would do to those MP's who attended the first session of the assembly. He later retracted his words by saying he meant this in the political sense

Two Prime Ministers for one country: "Udhar tum - idhar hum"

Capitalizing on West Pakistan fears of East Pakistan separatism, Bhutto demanded that Sheikh Mujib form a coalition with his party. Instead of handing Sheikh Mujib the premiership as was his right, Bhutto proposed the idea of having two Prime Ministers, one for each wing.

If power is to be transferred to the people before a constitutional settlement, then it is only fair that in East Pakistan, it should go to the Awami League and in the West to the Pakistan People’s Party, because while the former is the majority party in that wing, we have been returned by the people of this side.

Bhutto recommends two Prime Ministers for Pakistan

Bhutto infamously remarked 'udhar tum - idhar hum' (you there, we here). However, this statement is wrongly attributed to him. These words were in fact the headline created for the Lahore Urdu daily newspaper Azad on 15 March 1971 by editor Abbas Athar who ran Bhutto's speech at a Nishtar Park, Karachi, meeting under this misleading headline.

Abbas Athar later explained that the headline encapsulated many meaning. For example, it was used to refer to the election victory ('you won there, I won here'), denote the distribution of power ('you are powerful there, I'm powerful here'), and other such observation.

Bhutto's proposal provoked outrage in the east wing, already suffocating under the other constitutional innovation, the "one unit scheme". Awami League viewed itself as a national party and insisted that it had no reason to bargain with PPP when it had a clear parliamentary majority. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman responded the next day by stating that the people of 'Bangla Desh' could no longer be suppressed.

The demand of Bhutto saheb [sir] is totally illogical. Power is to be handed over to the majority party, the Awami League. The power now lies with the people of East Bengal.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the new 'masters' of Pakistan

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman also started referring to the region as 'Bangla Desh' vis-a-vis 'Pakistan' in his public statements.

For the Pakistani generals the choice was between East Pakistan and Sindh. To allow Sheikh Mujib to rise to the helm - that is, pacify East Pakistan - must mean to deny Bhutto power - that is, inflame Sindh - and vice versa. And it was not possible to pacify both as East Pakistan's numerical strength would have placed Sheikh Mujib at the helm. Sindh would not make common cause with East Pakistan, and the political centre would not be allowed to accommodate both.

Bhutto resigned from Ayub Khan's government in 1966 over the Tashkent agreement. Having depicted the agreement as a sell-out he had assumed the posture of a champion of Pakistani nationalism. He used this to pressure the military, which had signed the agreement, not to sign another 'sell-out', with the Awami League now replacing the Indians.

The military would not be able to contend with two serious separatist movements at once, least of all because it would not have been able to protect both provinces from Indian intervention. The state would likely have responded more effectively to a Sindhi demand for secession had it ever been put forward. Indeed, had Sindh demanded separatism, it is conceivable that the political centre would have quickly contracted out of East Pakistan to crack down on Sindh. Bhutto understood this. To him, making common cause with East Pakistan would only help East Pakistani separatism. Helping the centre crack down on East Pakistan would help him and Sindh.

Brendan O'Leary, Ian S. Lustick & Thomas Callaghy, editros of "Right-sizing the State: The Politics of Moving Borders" (2001)

Both Awami League and Pakistan People's Party threatened to make governance difficult for General Yahya, if not impossible, were its claim to power not honoured.

At the moment, I shall not touch on the current constitutional crisis because I plan to make a detailed speech on this subject tomorrow. I would, however, not like you to raise slogans of Six Points Zindabad or Six Points Murdabad. I have often said in my speeches, ever since the Six Points were presented at the Lahore national conference of opposition parties in 1965 that these Points should be debated, but even at the National Confer­ence itself leaders from West Pakistan did not debate them. They rejected any political dialogue on the Six Points. On my part I had even advised Ayub Khan's Government to consider all points; twenty-two, eleven or six, and to hold political talks'. I had told them that any delay in considering these questions will further complicate the problem...The Six Points are the result of the exploitation of the people of East Pakistan. It would have been better if these Points had been debated when they were first raised.

In politics, time and circumstances must always be kept in view. Politics should be viewed in the context of external influences rather than internal considerations...The country is passing through a critical and dangerous crisis. There are people here who hold a monopoly on politics. It is they who have been opposing the Six Points.

When I went to East Pakistan, I told Sheikh Mujib that it was his Awami League that had been elected on Six Points, not the People's Party. I told him that we had been elected on the basis of our stand on revolution­ary changes in the economic system and on evolving an independent foreign policy, that we would try our utmost to co-operate with him and come as close to the Awami League as possible. However, there was a limit. If we went too far it would lead the country to disaster. It was no time for slogans. The need of the hour was to find a solution which should satisfy both our Bengali brothers and the people of West Pakistan. If all of us join hands there is no reason why we should not be able to find this solution.

Pakistan was not created for us to remain perpetually involved in a constitutional crisis. It is a pity that we have not been able to frame a consti­tution in 23 years. We cannot claim to have resolved our basic problems during this period. We have neither framed a constitution nor ended exploita­tion. Those who want to end exploitation are dubbed as infidels.

Since the Awami League calls the Six Points the basis of the constitution, no room is left for any compromise whatsoever on that stand. On top of it, a time limit of 120 days has been fixed for constitution-making. It would not be helpful if a deadlock was created in the Assembly on account of these two factors. Is it not better not to hold the National Assembly session until these problems are resolved outside the Assembly?

Sheikh Mujib quotes me as saying that if need be I would again go to Dhaka for talks. Well, I am prepared for two, three or even ten rounds of talks. I am prepared to go to Dhaka, to Chittagong. Or anywhere Sheikh Sahib wants me to go. There is still time for a rapprochement [reconciliation]. Had there been a clean slate, a clean paper, an unwritten document before us, we would certainly have participated in the Assembly. But now, as things stand today, if we attend the Assembly and there is a deadlock, what explanation will we have for the people of West Pakistan? You yourselves will criticize us for attending the Assembly in the absence of an understanding on Six Points. If the majority party frames a constitution, to the exclusion of our views, you will accuse us of betrayal.

The People's Party is on record as having recognized the fact that the people of East Pakistan have been exploited. It is enshrined in our manifesto. The poor are incapable of exploiting others. Both East and West Pakistan have been the victims of exploitation. If we have the same destiny, then why this rigidity in our stands? The interests of East Pakistan are ours also, be­cause East Pakistan is the majority province of our country. A great majority of Pakistanis live there. If they say "Joi Bangla" we also say "Joi Bangla," for that is a part of Pakistan. We have great respect for the people of East Pakistan just as we have for the people of the Punjab, NWFP, Baluchistan' and Sind. Their interests are our interests. But it is painful that slogans based on provincial prejudices are raised. Why do they not raise slogans for the whole of Pakistan?

We want a constitution, not a deadlock. We would have participated in the framing of the constitution had it not been already written on the basis of Six Points and had there been no limit of 120 days. It would have been another matter if this one were the first Constituent Assembly. But the mutual mistrust of the past 23 years coupled with the atmosphere in which the year­long electioneering was conducted has generated extremism. It has led to the Playing up of the Six Points. We won the elections on the basis of a new eco­nomic system and an independent foreign policy. They had the Six Points as their prime problem while economic deterioration and independent foreign Policy were the issues we raised. If we are to serve our country, our nation and our religion, we will have to strike off the shackles of exploitation. The success of the People's Party here and the Awami League there has been made possible by the people. Had we opposed the Six Points at the time of elec­tions, there would have been a confrontation and the country would have gone to pieces.

In both parts of the country only the people have emerged victorious. That is why we avoided a confrontation. In fact, we kept retreating. It is necessary for one of the two sides to do so in order to avoid a confrontation. We did not play up our differences. We went to East Pakistan to explain our stand. I met all political leaders in Lahore, Peshawar and Utmanzai.

I held conferences with my colleagues in Lahore, Multan and Karachi. We retreated so much that people began to ask what had happened to Bhutto. But it is regrettable that Sheikh Mujib remained rigid. Those politicians who had lost even their securities in the elections made a beeline for Dhaka. The Sheikh then thought that he had succeeded in his mission. The President of Pakistan went to Dhakaa and announced that Mujib would be the Prime Minis­ter of the country. Both said they had had satisfactory talks, so it was presumed that the constitution had virtually been framed. But we have a duty to those millions who elected us. Their views on the constitution have to be heard and taken into account before it is finalised. We shall try our best to live up to the expectations of the people.

Bhutto speaking on the deadlock on the Constitution at the Punjab University New Campus, Lahore, on 22 February 1971