Bhutto and the Division of Pakistan
The separation of East Pakistan was a huge setback to Pakistan. By 1970, sentiments for national unity had weakened in East Pakistan to the extent that constant conflicts between the two wings dramatically erupted into mass civil disorder. This tragically resulted in the brutal and violent amputation of Pakistan’s eastern wing. The physical separation of a thousand miles between the two wings without a common border, and being surrounded by Indian Territory and influences led to constant political economic and social conflicts between the two wings; embittering relations bringing the country on the verge of collapse.
Bangladesh became an independent country after the dismemberment of United Pakistan and there were many factors responsible for the division. Generally it is being argued that there were two main factors one Army factor and the other Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto factor which finally led to the partition of the country. But Bhutto factor is being regarded as the most vital and decisive factor in the division. The only hope left for East Pakistani’s was the result of general election of 1970. Earlier the elections were postponed from October to December due to heavy floods that caused immense destruction and havoc in East Pakistan. The sheer enormity of the disaster attracted worldwide attention. This gave Mujib a golden opportunity to have an international audience for his anti-west Pakistani’s feelings, which he accused of brutal callousness. The Awami League gained much sympathy and benefit out of this suffering, and Mujib and his people were portrayed on the international scene as victims of West Pakistan’s indifference. In the general elections Awami League achieved an overwhelming victory. They captured 167 seats, the highest number in East Pakistan and overall. In the West the Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party had won 87 seats. Therefore in accordance with the theory and practice of parliamentary government, the Mujib and his Awami League had the legitimate right of forming a government and framing a constitution. Neither the Army nor Bhutto could dispute Mujib’s claim, but they were not prepared to accept East Pakistani’s rule. Amidst plans and counter plans, Yahya Kahn made his visit to Dhaka and reiterated that he was keen to transfer power to elected representatives and that he will convene the National Assembly as early as possible. He further said that “Sheikh Mujibur Rehman would be the Prime Minister of Pakistan”, but three days later he explicitly accepted the ‘’Two Majority Parties theory”---the Awami League in East Pakistan and the Pakistan People’s Party in West Pakistan propounded by Bhutto. Meanwhile Bhutto also announced that his party (Pakistan Peoples’ Party) would boycott the Parliamentary session and that there could be a revolution in West Pakistan if his party was not involved. Yahya khan became a pawn in the hands of Bhutto and supported him and thus, nullified the genuine and constitutional right of Mujibur Rehman to form the government at centre. It was Bhutto’s non-cooperative attitude which prevented Yahya Khan to convene National Assembly and he was demanding the power without having won the elections. It was again Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who claimed and stated that the position of the Prime Minster should not go automatically to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and the issue should be resolved through compromise on the basis of power sharing agreement. There was no genuineness in the demands of Bhutto for forming the government with Awami League but still Mujib was ready to have a dialogue with the People’s Party. Bhutto apparently did not mind sacrificing the country's tenuous unity on the altar of his own ambition. It should be noted that a majority of the political parties of West Pakistan did not support Bhutto’s obstructionist stand against the Awami league. The other parties of West Pakistan supported Mujib’s demand that the election results be respected and power be handed over to the Awami league. The prominent of these regional parties were Punjab Pakistan Front and the West Pakistan Unit of Jamiat-ul- Ulema-e Pakistan. By being stubborn to hold power and deny the same to Mujib, Bhutto might have been a ‘far sighted’ politician because later, as time would tell us, his daughter would become the PM of Pakistan and his son-in-law Asif Zardari would hold the Presidency of Pakistan, thereby, laying the foundation for a political dynasty in the country. Yahya Khan realized his mistake in handling the situation constitutionally, but it was too late for him to stop the division. According to General Yahiya’s statement published in the daily Nawa-i-Waqt, Lahore, on December 28, 1978, the responsibility for the separation of East Pakistan rested solely with Bhutto. He was responsible for not allowing the National Assembly to meet at Dacca, as he publicly said he would break the legs of anyone from West Pakistan if he dared to go to Dacca, to attend a meeting of the National assembly. General Pervez Musharraf in his book In the Line of Fire also blames Bhutto for the whole fiasco and further writes; "I broke down and cried. All my brave soldiers cried with me. It remains most sad and most painful day of my life”.
Therefore in concluding remarks we can say that Bhutto was the main character in the dismemberment of united Pakistan. It was because of his stubborn attitude which prevented the democratic process to take its own constitutional course and thus destroyed the march of the country towards better and prosperous future. The dream of united Pakistan got shattered and the dream of independent Bangladesh came true and saw the light of the time.
Research Scholar, Department of Political Science
University of Kashmir