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Decline and Fall of Ayub, Bhutto Connections-1

Syed Ehtisham

January 11th, 2017

 

 

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, led initially by students and industrial workers, had caught the imagination of the people. This was the last time people of the two wings were to unite on one platform.
In a desperate attempt to save his legacy, Ayub called a joint conference of government and opposition leaders. The talks broke down.
Ayub was failing so it was time for a resumption of political activities. National Awami Party (NAP) in alliance with leftist elements was expected to gain plurality in the NWFP. Baluchistan continued to remain firmly in the grip of tribal Sirdars, who aligned themselves with the highest bidder. At the time NAP had considerable support of the power brokers there. It was expected to do well in East Pakistan as well.
Agitation was resumed with renewed and ever greater vigor. Mujib drew ever-larger crowds. Bhutto drew large crowds in the Punjab. Sindhis sensing the prevailing wind, or perhaps yielding to chauvinistic sentiments, also started supporting him. He did develop some opportunistic following in the Frontier and Baluchistan provinces as well.
Ayub threw in the towel and flouting his own tailor made constitution which mandated that the speaker of the national assembly succeed him, or as some observers would have it, was forced by the top brass to hand over the Presidency to the army chief Yahya Khan, who re-imposed martial law and assumed the combined offices of the President and Chief Martial Law administrator (CMLA).
Yahya made the usual noises that he had agreed to take over the government to save the country from impending disaster, as was his bounden duty as a patriot and an officer, abrogated the constitution, and dissolved one unit. (1) He further promised to hold free and fair elections based on adult franchise, one-person one vote. People listened to him with scarcely disguised disbelief. It was déjà vu from Ayub’s first broadcast.
Calm was restored pretty soon. Politicians went about organizing their parties and gear them for an election campaign. People were cautiously hopeful. There was certainly no presentiment of impending doom.
Credit must be given where due. For all his faults, Yahya was, till then, the only ruler of Pakistan who kept his word to hold free and fair elections. He promulgated-necessary ordinances empowering the Census Board to prepare a voter list, the Election Commission to get ready for elections and lifted the freeze on political activities. He consulted leaders of political parties, exhorting them to assist and cooperate with the electoral machinery. In brief, he took all the correct and pertinent steps, including admonition to the police and bureaucrats to be impartial and to show no favor.
Political parties went into a frenzy of campaigning. Mujib offered his now famous or infamous, depending upon one’s point of view, six points which were a thinly disguised plan of con-federal government. Bhutto gave a catchy slogan of Roti, Kapra aur Makan, roughly translated bread, clothes and home. He also pledged nationalization of industries and radical land reforms.
After school and college education in Bombay, Bhutto had gone to Oxford in England for a law degree. He subsequently studied at the Berkeley Campus of the University of California and returned to Pakistan in the mid-1950s. He obtained an appointment as a lecturer at the law school in Karachi. Family money and connections helped him with a private office and a lucrative retainer ship with the family shipping business of Ardeshir Cowasjee, a well known columnist and activist, who belongs to a tiny but well-knit Parsi community in India and Pakistan. (2) The job of legal counsel to the shipping concern of Cowasjee family persuaded Iskander Mirza, the then President of Pakistan, to name him the leader of the country’s delegation to a maritime conference in Geneva.
Bhutto sent Mirza an absolutely slavish letter, difficult to emulate even in a country awash with toadies and sycophants, predicting that when history of Pakistan was written, the latter’s name will figure perhaps even more prominently than Jinnah’s!
In the NWFP, successors of the Khan Brothers had regained legitimacy. Before the advent of Martial law, the older brother popularly known as Dr. Khan Sahib had served as a Chief Minister of the unified province of West Pakistan, called one unit. They had joined National Awami party (NAP) led by Maulana Bhashani, also known as the Red Mullah because of his egalitarian-leftist views.
1 All the provinces of West Pakistan were merged into one unit to justify equal number of seats of the West and the East in the central assembly.
2 Iranians, who did not convert to Islam fled to India and are called Parsis, a distortion of the noun Farsi for Faras, another name for Iran. Koran, along with Christians, Jews and Sabians, calls them people of the book. Muslim men but not women may marry a person of the book without first converting them.
The Mullahs, frightened of secular Awami League and National Awami Party, had joined hands with the feudal elements, the army and bureaucrats, thus completing the evil Quad. (1) The establishment was confident that elections will result in a divided house, and Yahya acting as a referee, would be able to get Mujib or someone else to indulge in the usual horse-trading and cobble a coalition. Hankering after office, the members of the assembly will fall out with each other once again.
But it was not to be. East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, is a hurricane prone country. With the population explosion in the twentieth century, and non-development of energy resources, large swathes of the country had been deforested for fuel. Trees and vegetation underneath hold water and soil. It thus resulted in enormous erosion of soil, which ended up in rivers, severely restricting their capacity to hold water.
A particularly devastating storm hit the region just prior to the scheduled elections. Hurricanes (2) have a vastly different impact on a poor and densely populated region like Bengal than they do in an advanced country like the United States. They wreak havoc. A large majority of the people live in makeshift mud and clay huts. Weather forecasts are at best capricious. Even if they were reliable, people won’t have anywhere to escape to. The most common mode of transport is by boats, which along with whole villages, are swept away by a combination of wind and high tide. During the monsoons, people are reduced to plying boats on the roads in the capital city Dhaka and all the other major cities. The sea is dotted with hundreds of islands off shore, ranging in size from a few hundred square yards to several square miles on which millions live. They are, if anything, worse off than the mainlanders.
Maulana Bhashani demanded, and with good reason, that elections be postponed and the emergency be dealt with first. But Yahya was fantasizing about his place in history. Mujib had smelled the heady perfume of victory. Bhutto was confident that he would manage, with the connivance of the Army brass and a sizable victory in West Pakistan, to come out on top. Elections were not postponed. Bhashani boycotted them. The Awami league, without an effective competition from Bhashani’s NAP, found the arena uncontested. Under the system of the front runner taking all, Awami League won 160 seats out of 162 assigned to East Pakistan, and commanded absolute majority in a house of 310 members. He could, with the support of smaller parties in West Pakistan, even garner a two third majority in the house. That would enable them to pass any constitution they wanted.
1 I have borrowed this from Mao’s gang of four
2 I had written this before Katrina hit New Orleans.
 

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