11.46 ROY FOX'S DESPATCH REGARDING TALKS WITH ABDUS SALAM, EDITOR OF PAKISTAN OBSERVER

 

 

Public Record Office

 

REF: FCO 37/471

 

British High Commission,
Dacca.

(1/34)

22 April, 1969

 

His Excellency

Sir Cyril Pickard, KCMG,

Rawalpindi.

 

Abdus Salam,, Editor of Pakistan Observer, called at my invitation for a talk on Wednesday, 16 April.

2. I asked him what he thought of the present situation and whether he was expecting trouble. He said that before it happened the introduction of Martial Law was said to be likely to bring about secession. It could still do so but the people were still recovering from the initial shock and really waiting to see what President Yahya was proposing to do. He, himself, was in a confused state of mind and he just did not know what would happen. He thought we should be able to see things more clearly in about a month's time.

3. On the food situation he agreed that there had been some black spots and Mujib may well have been right in saying that there were near famine conditions in some areas. The introduction of more grains and opening of the distribution lines, however, seem to have alleviated extreme hardship.

4. Abdus Salam naturally agreed that Martial Law had solved nothing at all. Indeed it was regarded as an occupation of East Pakistan by West Pakistanis and it could not continue indefinitely. But while he had no confidence on soldiers to solve, or even begin to solve, economic problems, he was in the dilemma of not wanting civilians to be used by the Martial Law Administration because of his fear that if this were to happen, Martial Law would possibly continue for much longer than was desirable. Such a move could, of course, have the seeds of its own destruction because such civilians might well be regarded as a type of quisling and there might be reactions against them. As far as Yahya was concerned, he had talked to him in Rawalpindi and was prepared to believe that he was proceeding cautiously, not really at the moment knowing what he wanted to do and how to do it.

5. Salam thought Bhashani's influence had developed to some extent in the towns while it was, of course, quite strong in the countryside. He agreed that Bhashani was not a real Communist but said that some of his men, particularly intelligent and active Hindus, some of whom had recently been released from gaol, were indeed

dyed-in-the-wool Communists. They would certainly be a strong force to be reckoned with if the economic situation deteriorated.

6. He dismissed Jamaat and Nizam as being of little importance and went on to confess his misgivings about Mujib. He has known him for a long time, he lives near to him and they often talk but he has found it extremely difficult to get him to take any notice. He said Mujib was surrounded too much by the goonda type of urchins and youngsters and Abdus Salam doubted whether enough good advice was getting through. He said Mujib had always been volatile and difficult to advise, and while he was doing his best he did not really feel he was getting very far with Mujib. He went on to say in confidence that Mujib's attack on his return to Dacca from the R.T.C. against Hamidul Haq Chowdhury and Abdus Salam Khan had so antagonised these two that there was no hope whatever of any rapprochement. It was indeed utterly regrettable that Mujib should have behaved in this way for Chowdhury could help him a lot and Abdus Salam Khan was the Advocate who had defended Mujib in the Agartala Conspiracy case at no cost whatever.

7. Abdus Salam at the same time could see no likelihood of the old forces of the Centre getting together and producing a satisfactory socio-economic programme. Nasrullah and Asghar Khan had been over this week but he could not see any useful coalition cmcrging.

8. Thus he had nothing but hope to live on at the moment, and he could only hope that whatever the political outcome, the economic situation would improve. He was frightened that the arresting of some political leaders in the countryside might cause some of their associated workers to go underground as a result of which work on crops might be marginally affected. And overall was the awareness that so much had to be done to provide employment, improved agricultural methods, improved education and so on.

9. G.M. and Hanif Adamjee, Shamsh Lakha of I.P.S. (Fancy organisation) and ]sky and Alijoon Ispahani have all called on me in last few days.

10. Shamsh Lakha, taking the Aga Khan line, said they were still continuing to do all they could to develop industry although I suspect they have pulled their horns in somewhat for the present. He talked of the necessity to give the worker a better deal before it was too late. lie denied rumours of the arrest of Amirali Fancy and said he had suffered his sixth heart attack. He was going to Europe to convalesce and a new Aga Khan representative would be appointed.

11. The Ispahanis were disappointing. They were obsessed with the fear of being nationalised and clearly were hoping that Martial Law would be followed by another Ayub type regime. They saw no hope of any effective political grouping and did not have any confidence in Mujib. They were criticised to me not long ago by the Home Secretary who said he found during his spell in Chittagong that they were inefficient and had little foresight. Today they were not at all impressive.

12. The Adamjees are restless and unhappy. G.M. said again he saw no secure future. He could see political chaos during the forthcoming democratic elections. He could not see a national leader and did not believe Mujib or his programme would be acceptable to West Pakistanis. The Six-Point Awami League programme had everyone

in industry worried. He thought secession was almost inevitable as does Hanif and many others with whom I have recently spoken. Then Bengalis might well turn against non Bengalis, especially Adamjees, Ispahanis, etc. There could he nationalisation and a keeping of top jobs and best contracts for Bengalis.

13. In these circumstances what was the point in staying in East Pakistan. He could be happier in West Pakistan or London. There came a point in life where one had to balance profit against mental agony; and profits were no longer sure as wages went up. In reply to my question he thought his sons and nephews would be better out of East Pakistan also. He said he saw no point in taking on any new projects or in further expansion. The animus would only increase against his family if he did so.

14. Hanif was little more cheerful. He did not think Martial Law could hold the people down and forecast trouble this year. He more or less admitted they had given Mujib a sizeable sum of money but he did not really trust him and could have no real confidence. The rumour of Amirali's arrest seemed to affect him at a dinner on Sunday night; he relapsed into a sort of nervous brooding. I should imagine the Martial Law anticorruption activities must give them food for thought.

15. The more buoyant mood since 25 March seems to have collapsed in G.M. especially. The regime of the House of Adamjee in East Pakistan could possibly be at the beginning of the end. 'The next few months will be crucial.

16. 1 am enclosed an extra copy of this letter.

 

(Roy Fox)

 

 

 

Source: The British Papers Secret and Confidential India.Pakistan.Bangladesh Documents 1959-1969, Oxford University Press. P. 878-880