Public Record Office


REF: FCO 37/468
Prospects in East Pakistan


The initial survey by the British Deputy High Commissioner in Dacca of the political scene in East Pakistan was completed in November, 1968. In it he argued economic and social conditions at the time made for a dangerous political situation. (Paragraphs 1-3).

2. In November President Ayub seemed firmly in the saddle and the political opposition ineffective. But Ayub is now ready to negotiate with the Opposition; this will inevitably affect inter-Wing relations, since there will be a growing need to conciliate the Bengalis. This will adversely affect both the economic climate (especially in the fields of investment and industrialisation) and standards of administration in East Pakistan. (Paragraphs 4-8).

3. There is danger to British economic and commercial interests. Moreover a revolutionary situation is likely to develop which would give opportunities to the Chinese and so increase the dangers to world peace. (Paragraphs 9-10).

4. Our economic stake is now more vulnerable but, more than any other country, we could exercise a stabilising and constructive influence in East Pakistan; for political and economic reasons can we afford to neglect the opportunity to do so? (Paragraph 11).




British High Commission,


19th of February, 1969



The Right Honourable

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


Prospects in East Pakistan




When Mr. Fox took over as Deputy High Commissioner in Dacca in September, I instructed him, especially since his previous experience in Pakistan had been largely with trade and economic matters, to give first priority in his first few months in Dacca to a survey of the political scene and to do his best to get on terms with the political leaders of East Bengal. In an election year it seemed to me imperative for him to do so since we would need constantly to be coming to judgement about political developments and their effect on our interests.

2. Mr. Fox completed his survey at the end of November. It was forwarded separately to your Department and was the subject of discussion during your visit to Dacca in December. I now have the honour to attempt an assessment of the significance of Mr. Fox's survey (of which I attach a copy for ease of reference) in the light of the political developments to which I referred in my despatch of the 12th of February.

3. Mr. Fox argues that progress in raising the standard of living of the people of East Pakistan has been painfully slow. Over recent years they have been exposed to the miseries of flood and hurricane and little has yet been done in the way of flood control to mitigate the effects of such calamities. Population still increases rapidly and there is not much optimism that their meagre diet will be significantly improved in the immediate future. Industrial progress is slow and capital is scarce. The East Pakistanis complain that East Pakistan does not receive its fair share of the nation's financial resources, and complaints about disparity and corruption are made with increasing bitterness. Mr. Fox argued last November with some pre-science that all the conditions designed to produce unrest and even revolt and riot were either present or not very far away; and that the situation was economically extremely difficult and, partly because of this, politically dangerous. He was concerned at the opportunities offered to Chinese influence, and concluded that if East Pakistan is to be saved from Communism there is little time in which to work.

4. Three months ago, however, President Ayub appeared to be firmly in the saddle despite the emergence of Mr. Bhutto as a political leader. Mr. Fox thought that it was difficult to believe that any coherent political opposition could rally to any specific focal point. Now, however, we have reached the point where the President has agreed to negotiate with the Democratic Action Committee (D.A.C.) on fundamental changes of the Constitution. Whatever the outcome, there will be drastic changes which cannot fail to affect the relations between the two wings of Pakistan.

5. I have submitted separately to your Department a paper on the Radical Left in Pakistani politics. The students in East Pakistan are now established as a political force, which may not remain coherent, but which cannot now be suppressed, except at the cost of an impossible strain on the fabric of Pakistan. If we reject the possibility that the present political agitation in East Pakistan could be contained for more than a short time by martial law and armed force, the only alternative is further action to meet the political aspirations of East Bengal. Whether the President achieves a compromise with the D.A.C. or not; whether the students accept such a compromise or not, inevitably we must expect to see policies in East Pakistan being increasingly determined by the necessity to conciliate Bengali opinion.

6. East Pakistan has to no small extent depended for the last two decades on West Pakistani expertise and West Pakistani capital - however inadequate it may have been. There is little evidence that sufficient East Pakistanis are yet capable administrators and managers; or that they can generate from their own resources the

capital necessary for their development. Nor do I believe that the substitution of one lot of political masters for another, or that changes among the administrators will of themselves solve the problem of corruption.

7. Whatever criticisms there may be of the present regime, as 1 pointed out in my despatch No. 2 of the 15th of March, 1967, they have had their successes in the field of food production and they have set up a comprehensive scheme for family planning. In the economic field, they have followed at least in the recent past sensible development policies. I see little prospect of any alternative regime in the immediate future following equally coherent and decisive policies. Although a more nationalist Bengali regime may be able to harness enthusiasm for social causes, I fear that there will be a deterioration of the administration, and it may well be that those who object to family planning will have greater scope. There have already been reports of mobs burning land records and attacking officers working in the thana headquarters. One circle officer was killed earlier this week. In fact, even if current developments lead to some alleviation of the short term political problem, the long term problems of East Pakistan are not likely to become less acute, and indeed will be exacerbated.

8. This is especially so in the field of investment and industrialisation. I would expect West Pakistan businessmen to make every effort to disinvest in East Pakistan - some have already begun the process. Foreign capital will certainly not be attracted. I do not doubt that the East Bengalis will nevertheless have no hesitation as to their own capacity to carry through a policy of nationalisation, which is included in the Eleven Points of the Students' Action Committee.

9. I shall be addressing you separately about the effect of these policies on British interests. Certainly there is a danger of banks being nationalised; British agency houses being squeezed out; tea estates being Bengalised; and remittances being stopped.

10. But more important than the immediate threat to our interests, is the danger of a deterioration of the whole fabric of East Pakistan life and its threat to the peace and stability in that part of the world. If no effective action is taken to increases and diversify food production, to limit population or to develop job opportunities for the increasing number of landless labourers moving into towns, an increasingly revolutionary situation will develop in which the Chinese will make full use of their opportunities. "This cannot fail to be related to developments in West Bengal and will lead to increasing dangers to world peace.

11. In this situation we, together with the Americans, will need to review our policies towards Pakistan as the political situation develops. Our economic stake in Pakistan is now much more vulnerable than before; and we must consider what policies to pursue in order to safeguard it. We probably have, more than any other country, opportunities of exercising a stabilising and constructive influence in East Pakistan, if we wish to do so. Such leaders as Nurul Amin, Justice Murshed and even Sheikh Mujibur Rahman are all in varying degrees likely to be responsive to our sympathetic handling. I would not despair of the possibility of getting on terms with other leaders who have not yet emerged. We shall need to consider whether, both for economic and political reasons, we can afford to neglect these opportunities.

12. 1 am sending copies of this despatch to Her Majesty's Ambassadors at Washington, Kabul and Tehran, Her Majesty's Charge d'Affaires at Peking, the High Commissioner at Delhi, and the Deputy High Commissioners at Karachi, Lahore and Dacca.


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. 793-796