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Bhutto arrives to subvert talks and force military action

DHAKA, March 19, 2015(BSS) - Chairman of Pakistan People's Party (PPP), second largest party in the Pakistan National Assembly, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto arrived in Dhaka on March 21, 1971, apparently for talks with Bangabandhu and Yahya to "finalize" arrangements for a peaceful transfer of power to the people's representatives of Pakistan.

Bangabandhu had told Yahya that Bhutto would subvert whatever progress that had been made during the talks but Yahya insisted that if Bhutto remained out of the deal he would undermine any agreement reached as Bhutto had considerable followings in West Pakistan.

Knowing full well the consequences of Bhutto's' participation, Bangabandhu took an "outside chance" for a peaceful transfer of power which also meant peacefully achieving the right of self-determination of Bangladesh.

That the Father of the Nation was fully aware of the implications of the talks is evident from the book "The Generals in Politics "by Air Marshal Asghar Khan. He recalls:

"I arrived in Dhaka on March 3, 1971 for talks with Mujib. Mujib received me at his house, cordially. After some small talk we shifted to the topic of the day: the prevailing political crisis in Pakistan.

I told him of my talks with President Yahya Khan on March 1, (1971) and that he had encouraged me to find a peaceful solution, if I could, to the crisis that had emerged following the announcement of the president to postpone the National Assembly session scheduled for March 3, 1971".

Accordingly he had flown to Karachi, the next day, to talk to Bhutto but he declined to meet Khan.

Undaunted, Khan flew to Dhaka and met Bangabandhu.

As he says"I asked him, why he had declined the president's invitation for "constitutional talks" in Islamabad to which he said that he was busy "drafting the constitution".

When I asked him: What now?

Mujib replied "Yahya will come to Dhaka and we will have talks. There will be some progress. After that Yahya's advisor, M M Ahmed will come and talks will get paralyzed".

After that? I (Asghar) asked.

Bhutto will arrive and the talks will break down," he (Bangabandhu) said.

What happens then? He (Asghar Khan) queried.

There will be a military crackdown, (Bangabandhu) Mujib said.

And what will you do? I (Asghar) went on.

I will be arrested, (Bangabandhu) Mujib replied.

Why don't you try to escape? I (Khan) said.

I can't. If I flee, they will kill my people, on the plea of looking for me. Besides, why should I escape? After all I'm the leader of the majority (parliamentary) party of Pakistan, "(Bangabandhu) Mujib explained?

I was surprised to see things unfold exactly as the man (Mujib) had predicted," Asghar Khan observes, almost unbelievingly.

He adds "In hindsight, I think, it was a good thing that he did not take my advice and travel to Islamabad for talks. In 1958 during the run-up to the general elections (of January 1959. It was never held as Awami league was expected to win it hands-down). Hossain Shaheed Suhrawardy, then the leader of Awami League and possible prime minister, was shot at Lyallpur while addressing a public meeting. Mujib probably had that in mind when he refused to go to Islamabad at the height of an induced political crisis".

Asghar Khan, despite being former military personnel, was a conscientious man. He was adopted by Amnesty International (AI), way back in the '70s as a "prisoner of conscience."

He was also the first Pakistani-born chief of staff of the Pakistan air Force and as such he was quite a legend in his country enjoying great social respect. In the late-60s after retirement he went into politics and spearheaded the democratic movement in what was then West Pakistan in 1968 and secured the release of Bhutto.

The next year, he founded the Justice Party which was later renamed Tehrek-i-Ishtiqlal (Movement for the Nation) soon after to give it a national flavor. Although the party did not do well in the 1970 election but Khan's stature remained untainted.

In later elections, however, his party emerged as a major force in Pakistan politics. He was also instrumental in the movement to overthrow Bhutto in 1977 following the flawed polls that year.

Meanwhile, in Dhaka's president guest house, Bhutto joined the talks with Bangabandhu and Yahya. Every time Bangabandhu proposed a constructive formula Bhutto stalled it on the plea of "thinking over it'.

Reports said that Bangabandhu spent several hours talking to Bhutto, individually, too, as they strolled on the lush lawn of the House or sometimes on the far side of the verandah. Yahya would crane his neck, sometime, to overhear but to no effect.

Evidently, Bangabandhu was talking to the Master Devil for a peaceful transition, which he always knew was elusive.

Bhutto had lodged at the nearby Hotel Inter-Continental where thousands of angry demonstrators hurled abuse at him every time he was seen. But Bhutto remained undaunted and hypocritical.

He told pressmen he was all for the rights of Bangla Desh but then he had to think of Pakistan Desh, as well!