11.51 PRESIDENT YAHYA'S TALKS AND SUBSEQUENT POLITICKING

 

 

Public Record Office

 

REF: FCO 37/472

 

British High Commission,
Rawalpindi

1/54

13 May, 1969

 

Miss J.M.H. Walker,

South Asian Department,

F.C.O.

 

Dear Miss Walker,

 

 

PRESIDENT YAHYA'S TALKS AND SUBSEQUENT POLITICKING

 

In paragraph 2 of my letter 1/54 and 1/59 of 29 April, I promised a report in due course on the progress of President Yahya's tour, and the talks he had with politicians. You will have seen Dacca telegram 279 of 2 May to us, repeated to London, which gives Hamidul Haq Choudhury's views and a generally gloomy impression both of Mujib's position and of the East Pakistan political situation. This letter is to sum up the talks, and to recount some of the activity now taking place in various political groups.

 

2. On his return here on 2 May, President Yahya said his talks had been "inconclusive;" he would probably need another round of them. The politicians "were not clear, and I am not clear;" anyway he had still not seen all of them (e.g. Asghar Khan and Wall Khan). The politicians accepted the need for ground rules for political activity but were unclear about what they should be. In answer to a question, Yahya said that the resumption of full normal political life would be permitted "only when there was a proper climate," which there was not as yet. Meanwhile his first priority was still to clear up the administration. Earlier, after the Dacca part of his tour, Yahya had said that all the East Pakistan leaders he had met were convinced "that the integrity of Pakistan and the glory of Islam should be maintained" and that within such a framework it should not be difficult to frame a new constitution. It is worth noting that while Yahya did see Mujib, both Bhashani and Muzzaffar Ahmed (Wall­NAP) declined invitations, Bhashani on half-genuine health grounds.

 

3. On the information we have from Dacca and Lahore, and from my own meetings with Daultana and Shaukat Hyat in Lahore recently, it seems that Yahya made a mostly good impression on the politicians he met, listening and learning, and impressing with his apparent honesty and integrity. Shaukat Hyat suggested to me

that Yahya was planning the composition of electoral rolls soon, and the holding of elections before the end of the year, still under the umbrella of Martial Law, and still with equal representation in the Assembly for the two wings. He claimed that Mujib would accept this, together with a complicated voting procedure for setting up a new constitution, as long as elections did come quickly. Roy Fox reports from Dacca that Mujib himself has implied knowledge, without giving evidence, that there will be elections within a year. But on the evidence currently available, this must be seen as little more than wishful thinking: Yahya's own expressed view that the talks were "inconclusive" is probably more reliable. And for an indication of Mujib's present position, you will have seen Fox's letter 1i34 of 25 April.

 

4. Although political parties' meetings, even meetings of their councils and working committees, are still banned, the last two-three weeks have seen many discussions between the leaders of a number of the parties, with some mergers and new groupings possible. President Yahya was asked at Karachi on 29 April whether he proposed to limit the number of parties; he said that it was not for him to guide the parties, but "I think there are too many, don't you?" Some, at least, are taking that hint.

 

5. A grouping of the three small, conservative parties, the Nasrullah Khan Awami League with the Niaam-i-Islam and the National Democratic Front has been the most frequently rumoured, and this now seems almost certain to be formed, and called the Pakistan Democratic Party. It has at times seemed possible that Wall Khan's NAP and/or Asghar Khan's Justice Party might join this group, but does not seem so at the moment.

 

6. The Pakistan Democratic Party is, however, unlikely to amount to much. The possibility of a new formation of the various Muslim Leagues is much more important: the attraction of the name "Muslim League" and the continuing need for landed, propertied and traditional interests to be represented remains (see my March note on political parties).

 

7. The Muslim League pattern is complicated, to say the least. 'There is:

 

(i) the Pakistani Muslim League in which the several months-old split between the East Pakistan groups of Monem Khan (who has now returned to Dacca, having stayed safe in West Pakistan for two months) and the "rebels", led by Wahid Uzzaman and Kazi Kader and (formerly at least) Sabur Khan, is still apparent. Disputes include the alleged illegal amendment of the party's constitution; the whereabouts of Rs. 7,500,000 which Uqaili, while Finance Minister, is said to have collected from Karachi industrialists for party funds: and the disposal in general of the party's central fund, which is said to be Rs. 35,000,000 (over £3 million). Ex-President Ayub is still the President of the PML.

 

(ii) The Council Muslim League of Daultana and Shaukat Hyat.

 

(iii) the Quaid-i-Azam Muslim League which Khan Abdul Qaiyum Khan formed just before Martial Law.

 

(iv) a number of individuals, some nominally in the PML, some not, but mainly 'old' politicians who mostly had relatively little to do with the last few years of Ayub"s regime, though some remained influential in their areas. One key figure here is the Raja Saheb of Mahmudabad, a long-time associate of Jinnah, once Treasurer of the All-India Muslim League and now Director of the Islamic Research Centre in London; others are Hassan Mahmud, once Chief Minister of Bahawalpur: his Sindhi relative, the Pir of Pagaro: and another `old* Muslim Leaguer Chaudhri Khaliquzzaman.

 

8. Between all these groups and people, manoeuvreings are taking place aimed at the creation of a single united Muslim League. Qaiyum Khan appears to have taken the major initiative in this. The Raja Saheb has just spent three weeks hack in Pakistan, mainly in political discussions (much with Qaiyum), towards the same end; he is a highly-respected man, but has apparently declined to head any united party. Hassan Mahmud is linked with these two also, and with the "rebel" group of the PML. Qaiyum and others have held talks with Daultana, (though Qaiyum and Daultana are personally on bad terms), but it seems that Daultana is determined for the moment to stay away from any link with them. Shaukat Hyat, Daultana's close associate, told me he envisaged a united Muslim League forming, but clearly he was thinking in terms of their CML as its core. It is impossible to predict how all this will work out in detail, but a 'new' and politically strong Muslim League could well be the result.

 

9. Asghar Khan, for a while thought likely to link his Justice Party with the small right-wing parties (see para. 5) is now touring the country with yet another re­entrant to politics, Ataur Rehman Khan, a former Chief Minister of East Pakistan (S.M. Murshed has hinted to Fox that Ataur and Asghar might be possible associates - though with Murshed as leader -- see Fox's letter 1/34 of 25 April). They have had talks with Wali Khan in Peshawar, but whether this indicates that these three will join together cannot be said. Their moves seem quite separate from the Muslim League moves.

 

10. The manoeuvreings of faction look impossibly complicated, often little motivated by principle and full of people recently almost unheard of. Mergers, splits, new parties are very much the stuff of Pakistani party politics. But these developments do indicate a jockeying for position ready for open party politics whenever they are permitted again, and may, one hopes, lead to a genuine reduction in the number of parties. Qaiyum himself has said he would like to see only three parties in Pakistan; though a Pathan, he has also spoken out for a strong centre in any new constitution.

 

11. -two further points:

 

(i) Nasrullah Khan, interviewed in a Lahore weekly, blamed Mujib for the failure of the March Round Table Conference, referring to him, by implication, as a "separatist fascist." He also asserted that Mujib had submitted to Ayub proposals for the move of the capital and the H.Q's of all the services to East Pakistan, together with other extreme separatist points. Nasrullah's view is

some confirmation of that in the High Commissioner"s despatch 1/59 of 2 April.

 

(ii) Although the foreign exchange deadline is still two days away, there have already been some arrests and convictions, under ordinary laws, for foreign exchange violations. Large fines and small sentences were imposed. Those convicted were middling businessmen. However, a Karachi rumour is that the "20 families" have an unwritten agreement jointly to save themselves by having none declare any illegal foreign exchange at all.

 

12. I am sending copies of this letter to Karachi, Lahore, Dacca, Miss Stephenson (I.R.D.), and Cashmore (Research Department).

 

Yours sincerely,

 

(R.F.W. Skilbeck)

 

 

 

 

Source: The British Papers – Secret and Confidential India.Pakistan.Bangladesh Documents 1959-1969, Oxford University Press. P. 920-928