9.39          THE POLITICAL SCENE IN EAST PAKISTAN: GROWING POPULARITY OF AWAMI LEAGUE

 

Public Record Office

 

REF: DO 196/319

THE POLITICAL SCENE

 

You are very much in touch with East Pakistan affairs. Copies of my last two fortnightly summaries attached for convenience of reference. The question of the day - is the autonomy movement going to flare up, die out, or smoulder? There are many component factors. The Presidential excesses of a few weeks ago still rankle. Intellectual circles, e.g. the University faculty, talk politics freely and have a marked tendency to resent the degree of Presidential control and the absence of any real form of consultation of the governed. It is exemplified for them in the continued presence of Dr. Ghani who is we judge now thoroughly hated in the University. (His appeal to the Supreme Court on the contempt case, to be heard in Dacca shortly, is awaited with gleeful interest). The Bengali language troubles have not recurred, but are only latent (the students, for once, seem to be doing some actual work). There is cynical disbelief that anyone will really do anything about the Hamoodur Rahman report. As regards India, the mood is one of bewilderment - what is the Government's post­Tashkent policy, and when are the things that concern East Pakistan, like communications and trade and use of waters, going to be discussed? With this is coupled increasing awareness amongst informed businessmen that if large-scale aid does not come with 3/4 months, business activity is really going to be affected. It generates resentment that control of policy on these issues rests elsewhere than in East Pakistan, and that no one can influence it. The opposition press is writing freely and quite well about the basic discontents of East Pakistan, and has - so far - not apparently been subjected to Government pressure. (But it fears the possible effect of a Government Advertising Corporation).

 

2. Against this background recent developments in the parties are as follows:

 

E.P.M.L.

Having a spasm of activity following the President's visit, and yet another enrolment campaign. No evidence that this is other than superficial.

 

Awami League

It is almost certainly building up its popular support following the Government's harassment of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

 

N.D.F.

Has re-established its constitution, with Central and Provincial committees, no doubt in an attempt to make itself look like a national party.

 

Has passed a very strong resolution demanding "transfer of power to the people". It includes all the usual points (as enumerated by the E.P.A.L!) about constitutional change, autonomy, federal system, the two-economy theory, defence self-sufficiency, independent foreign policy, end of the emergency etc., and two interesting ones - need for re-examination of "One Unit" in West Pakistan (also a move towards national status) and an economy giving access to the "economic advantages of socialism".

 

N.A.P.

Still divided, but now firmly on the "autonomy bandwagon", with anti-imperialism etc. thrown in for good measure.

 

Others

No change -- but no one denies the need for autonomy.

 

3. There is no more sign than there ever of the formation of a real opposition political grouping.

 

4. There is a new potential factor in the situation - food and prices. Drought has caused real damage; a poor boro crop and late sowings of the aus crop (cash crops (chiefly jute) will also be much affected). As a result of this and of decreasing imports, prices of essential commodities are rising. East Pakistan's agriculture always catches up on itself, but it may not be able to do so before August (the aus harvest) and the Government may be very hard put to it to maintain food supplies until then, and may ultimately find it even harder to control prices.

 

Outlook

 

5. Our American colleagues believe that trouble is on the way. They tell us that the pressures building up behind Sheikh Mujibur Rahman will enable him to call for and get civil disturbance. (They expect to come under attack themselves for promoting Bengali separatism). They tell us of contacts being made with them by all sorts of groups and individuals, including M.N.As and M.P.As who say that "Mujib is the man, and we are all waiting for the moment to change sides."

 

6. We remain sceptical. There is, unquestionably, profound and growing intellectual discontent - but it lacks a focus and it is confined to a tiny minority. There is bewilderment over foreign policy here, and a real wish for some coherence in Pakistan's relations with India - but the same comment applies. There is going to be a sharp fall off in business activity - but we have yet to meet a businessman who thinks he would do better under a different regime. We would accept that the major opposition parties, especially E.P.A.L., N.D.F., and N.A.P., are building up strength - but doing it in competition, not jointly. As we see it, Government could, and would, stamp ruthlessly and effectively on anything other than a mass uprising. We do not see a mass uprising over autonomy, Bengali language, or a downturn in business activity. The joker in the pack is food and prices; if there is real food shortage or price levels get out of hand, all perspectives would be altered. It must be the Government's main purpose to avoid this at present, and the next 3/4 months may be difficult for it.

5 May, 1966

 

 

 

Source: The British Papers – Secret and Confidential India.Pakistan.Bangladesh Documents 1958-1969, Oxford University Press, p. 522-523.