Public Record Office


REF: FCO 37/468



Pakistan: The internal situation


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,


12 February, 1969



The Right Honourable

Michael Stewart, C.H., M.P.,

etc., etc., etc.,



Pakistan: The internal situation


In paragraph 18 of my despatch No. 8 of 8 August 1966 I mentioned a number of steps that President Ayub should take in order to consolidate the authority of his regime whose outward appearance, at that time, of security with the support of the Civil Service and the Army concealed dangers which threatened his position. In my despatch of 16 November 1968 1 referred to the transformation of Mr. Bhutto's standing as a result of events during the autumn. I have the honour to report that President is now taking certain limited action in some of these fields. For instance:


(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 in Rawalpindi on 17 February. (The D.A.C. comprises eight opposition political parties, though Mr. Bhutto's Peoples Party and Maulana Bhashani's National Awami Party (Pro-Peking group) are outside it);


(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 of Emergency imposed during the September War of 1965.

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 Tribunal in Dacca, has demanded the dropping of the trial proceedings as the price of his presence at Rawalpindi. Not only does Sheikh Mujib's party have a considerable following in East Pakistan, but the proceedings of the Agartala trial have given wide publicity to his party's policy of seeking almost total autonomy for the East Wing and have given him a heroic status in the eyes of Bengalis. Again, within the D.A.C., the right-wing Jama'at-i-Islami consorts ill with the leftist N.A.P. (pro-Moscow) party of Mr. Wali Khan. Outside the D.A.C. the exclusion of the veteran Maulana Bhashani from the consultations would leave a potentially troublesome section of East Pakistani political life a free hand to denounce any agreement reached in Rawalpindi in its absence; yet Bhashani has insisted, however unrealistically, on the acceptance of his entire programme before the conference meets. Lastly there is Mr. Z.A. Bhutto, currently under house arrest but who, presumably, will be set free when the State of Emergency is lifted. The former Foreign Minister's views, personality and past association with the regime do not commend themselves to many among the older established opposition parties. But he already has a considerable following in West Pakistan chiefly but not entirely among students and other younger people and his adherents in the East Wing may well grow in number despite his West Pakistan origins.

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 Rawalpindi talks to prove abortive - assuming, that is, that they actually take place.

6. But this quick reading the political barometer overlooks at least one factor which has made itself felt in recent weeks in East Pakistan. I refer to the growth of a radical left comprising students, urban proletariat and peasantry. [We have already submitted to your Department a memorandum on the Radical Wing in East Pakistan politics in which the growth of this movement is discussed]. The driving force in the group is the student community which has its social and ideological links with the other two elements. It is centred in Dacca but is spreading into the countryside and other towns. At present it lacks the more mature political leadership which would be necessary to translate its programme into practical political action. However, as it stands its programme goes a good deal further than the demands at present published by the D.A.C. and the latter's leaders fear that this leaves them little room for manoeuvre at the conference table; they will have to be obdurate negotiators if they are not to be rejected, not only by the extremists among their own party followers, but also by East Pakistan students and their radical associates who will be unrepresented at Rawalpindi.

7. It is true that the development of a radical left has not gone as far in West Pakistan. Here the student population is more scattered and there is a certain amount of rivalry between Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar. Nor do I detect the same degree of fusion among the radical elements. In these circumstances it is difficult to forecast the implications for West Pakistan, as well as for Pakistan as a whole, of the radical movement in the East. Much will depend on who captures the leadership and the loyalty of the East Pakistan students and their allies. A Bhutto-Mujib (a fortiori a Bhutto-Mujib-Bhashani) alliance could harness the radical elements in both Wings and might be able to sweep the board. Indeed, there is evidence that the parties concerned have put out the appropriate feelers. Together they could force through new constitutional arrangements for the country which would not only spell the end of the regime in its present form (though perhaps temporarily leaving Ayub as Head of State to facilitate the implementation of the changes) but also so erode the constitutional relationship of the provinces (particularly East Pakistan where the present political discontent has heightened the sense of grievance felt by the East against the West Wing with the Centre as seriously to weaken the continued unity of the country.


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 East Pakistan.


(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:


(a) East Pakistan is too large and its inhabitants too -disaffected for its present garrison of one division to hold it down for any length of time. Reinforcement would have to be by sea and would take time;


(b) On the face of it there would be greater chances of success in West Pakistan. However, the army of today is not the army of the revolution of 1958:


(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;


(iii)The Punjab element, on which the Army so greatly depends, has not altogether forgiven the President for the "surrender" of the Tashkent Agreement.


(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 Bengal, while its use in West Pakistan would cause dangerous divisions in its ranks.

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 Pakistan in the longer-term may pose a greater problem.

11. I am sending copies of this despatch to the High Commissioner in New Delhi and to Her Majesty's Ambassadors in Kabul and Tehran.


I have the honour to be,
Your obedient Servant


C.A. Pickard



Source: The British Papers Secret and Confidential India.Pakistan.Bangladesh Documents 1959-1969, Oxford University Press. P. 785-789