Public Record Office
President Ayub has taken a number of steps to placate students and his political opponents; but these have come too late to be regarded as other than concessions wrung from him by force. (Paragraph 1-2).
2. Continuing differences within the ranks of the Opposition seem to place him tactically in a strong position (paragraphs 3-5) but this overlooks the recent emergence principally in East Pakistan of a radical left, consisting of students, urban proletariat and peasants who are settling the pace though they await experienced political leadership (paragraph 6-7).
3. The President has several courses open to him. A tough policy, with a readiness to revert to Martial Law if need be, would not be likely to be successful for long. (Paragraphs 8-9).
4. President Ayub may believe a sensible solution is possible: or his concessions are made in the light of short term considerations only; or he seeks a new basis on which a successor regime can be established.
British High Commission,
The Right Honourable
Michael Stewart, C.H., M.P.,
etc., etc., etc.,
In paragraph 18 of my despatch No. 8
(a) He has asked Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, the Convener of the Democratic: Action
Committee to invite on his behalf political leaders to meet him for consultations
(b) For some weeks now the Press has shown signs of a more liberal approach. More space is given to the opposition and criticism of some aspects of the regime is now tolerated;
(c) The President may have tried to give the Pakistan Muslim League a new image. It is common knowledge that he has been far from satisfied with its performance. Some organisational changes are under way and the Dacca meeting of the League Council produced some interesting resolutions which, had they been implemented a year ago, would have made a significant and beneficial impact.
(d) On corruption some legislation has been passed which nibbles at the edges of the problem. It may be that it is beyond the power of the regime (many of whose members are in any case themselves deeply involved) to get to the heart of the matter.
2. But the plain truth is that these steps have come too late
to raise the President's stock. By making far-reaching concessions to students,
at the turn of the year the President clearly hoped to separate the volatile
student element from the wider political opposition and thereby weaken the latter: but in this he was disappointed. Indeed,
the President's placatory measures of recent weeks across the board, coming as
they do after a prolonged period of public protest, and often accompanied by
violence, are inevitably regarded as concessions wrung by force from a
dictator. The same can be said of his reported intention soon to lift the State
3. Where, then, does the President now stand and what courses are now open to him?
4. The Opposition,
even the eight parties which have formed the D.A.C., are
far from being agreed as to whether or not to accept the President's
invitation. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman
(Awami League) now under trial in the Agartala Conspiracy case being tried before a Special
5. At this level
therefore the President's opponents may not appear to offer much of a threat.
Indeed their internal divisions are such as might cause the
6. But this quick
reading the political barometer overlooks at least one factor which has made
itself felt in recent weeks in
7. It is true that
the development of a radical left has not gone as far in
Courses open to the President
8. In the light of these factors I believe that the President has the following courses of action open to him:
(a) If the conference takes place and the opposition leaders remain united he could accept their demands. These are likely to be the D.A.C. eight points as set out in my telegram to London No. 39 of 9 January. In practical terms they would result in elections based on adult franchise to a parliament with a responsible Cabinet, leaving the President (for the time being at least) to be elected on the present basis;
(b) He could win time by playing on the latent internal divisions among the negotiating parties. If the latter do not come to the conference table he can appeal over their heads to the country, presenting himself as a reasonable man who has demonstrated his sincerity and who has already made substantial concessions, but whose efforts to consult with his critics failed because they could not agree among themselves. He might then feel himself to be in a position to deal firmly with his opponents;
(e) If the conference took place and opposition leaders there failed to preserve a united front he could adopt the same line.
Courses (b) and (c), however, ignore the fact that, though
some may have a local following, the established opposition political figure do
not represent the broad mass of the people, especially in
(d) If opposition leaders remained united and presented demands to which he could not agree he might decide (though with even less prospect of success) to resort to a tough policy.
(e) Alternatively he could throw in his hand, refuse to continue the dialogue and leave the country (I do not believe this latter alternative to be in character).
9. A "tough" policy inevitably connotes a readiness to revert to Martial Law if need be. The President may have this in mind but for the following reasons I doubt whether it would be successful in the long run:
(b) On the face of it there would be greater chances of
(i) Its officers, especially the more junior grades, tend to come from a lower social stratum than the old officer cadre and may therefore identify more closely with the opponents of the regime;
(ii) While a predominantly Pathan-Punjabi army might have few qualms about being tough with Bengalis, Baluchis or Sindhis they would be likely to hesitate before firing on their own kith and kin in Peshawar, Rawalpindi, Lahore and the neighbouring countryside - regions where serious trouble is to be expected if experience over recent weeks is any guide;
(iv) Martial Law succeeded in 1958 because it answered the needs of the masses who welcomed this deliverance from the politicians of whom they were tired. Today public feeling is directed against the regime itself and to declare martial law in order to support that regime would be regarded by the broad mass of the people as a major act of repression.
I fear, therefore, that even if the army responds in the first
instance to the President's call it will engender further public hostility
towards the regime. I believe it will be unequal to the task in
10. It is difficult
at this stage to be precise about the President's motives in offering the
concessions already made and in his apparent readiness to consider others. He
may genuinely believe that he will be able to negotiate a sensible solution
agreeable to all the parties concerned. It may equally be the case that he is
being driven to offer too much too late without serious thought for the future
beyond immediate political survival. On the other hand his policy may be an
indication that in the last resort he wishes to withdraw (whether physically
from the country or to a constitutional position such as that of a
non-executive President). He may have concluded that there can be no successor
to himself under the present constitutional
arrangements who would be acceptable to the country as a whole. He may,
therefore, be prepared to go to any lengths to find a new basis on which a
successor government could be established; and that only he could steer through
such far-reaching constitutional changes. Even so, I should expect
inter-provincial stresses to create great difficulties. These difficulties may
be temporarily solved but the economic and political cohesion of
11. I am sending
copies of this despatch to the High Commissioner in
I have the honour
Your obedient Servant
Source: The British Papers – Secret and
Confidential India.Pakistan.Bangladesh Documents