Department of State





DATE: 7 November 1969


TO       : Department of' State



SUBJECT : Current Pakistani Scene - Comment

REF     : Rawalpindi 10738


The reftel summarized the Embassy assessment of the current Pakistani scene. This message provides a more detailed review of the Situation. The Submissions by the constituent posts follow in a separate airgram.


I. Yahya's MLA: Performance and Prospects


a. Domestic Political Issues


The Yahya regime has managed to keep a half step ahead of potentially explosive domestic troubles by pursuing a basically cautious approach. After an initial period of reform activity it is now responding to pressures rather than seeking to master events. It has been willing to act tough when necessary to put down disturbances, but has preferred to avoid confrontations by concessions. It has been able to defuse potential opposition by continuing a relaxed form of martial law and maintaining a slow hut, so far, steady pace toward the holding of general elections and the reestablishment of a democratic and civilian government.


While to date Yahya's public remarks on plans for resolving the constitutional and political impasse remain cryptic, he manages to say enough to convey the impression that he does not want to prolong martial law and wants to remove the military from direct political responsibility. According to a number of separate reports (see Dacca's 2875, Karachi's 2687 and 2798, and Rawalpindi's A-594) as well as rumors now circulating in Rawalpindi, it is expected that Yahya will make a major political statement shortly, possibly to announce an election date for choosing a constitutional assembly and the break up of One Unit in West Pakistan. Reports are not entirely clear how Yahya plans to deal with the election ground rules (population or parity) and the constitution-making process. It is thought he may later announce constitutional principles (possibly to be put to a referendum) and will leave the detailed drafting of a constitution to the elected assembly, which would have a limited term in office. There is talk that elections may come as early as April-May 1970.


b. Economic Issues


MLA performance in the economic field continues to be somewhat erratic, uncertain, and discouraging. There is much pulling and hauling within the government on the basic issues, i.e., the extent to which economic growth should be sacrificed in the interests of social welfare, and how far resources can be safely stretched or anticipated in implementing current and development budget and foreign exchange expenditure. Initially, the MLA moved hastily to raise very substantially minimum wage levels for unskilled laborers, and to publish a somewhat grandiose set of proposals for consideration in the education field. In the face of widespread criticism of both moves, however, further action has generally been delayed.


Policies in dealing with food grain problems have in some instances had erratic effects. In April, anticipating an overwhelming grain surplus in West Pakistan and observing a rising barrage of financial and economic policy advice, the government reduced the procurement and issue prices for wheat in West Pakistan by 12 per cent (from Rs. 17 to Rs. 15 per maund) to save the budget and reduce the expected inflationary impact of the projected surplus. Now, concerned to secure a major increase in the wheat crop next year and over the pressure from major farm interests, the support and issue prices of wheat have been restored to previous levels. As late as three to four months ago, still reflecting the expectations of surplus, many key GOP officials professed to see little or no need for PL 480 negotiations to supply East Pakistan's grain deficit needs. Since then rush moves have been made to arrange for urgent shipments in advance of negotiations for a PL 480 agreement.


During the first quarter of FY 1970 there has been an economic slowdown. While factors such as shortages of raw materials, labor troubles, etc., have played an important role, a major element in discouraging new investments has been concern about the political situation. Uncertainities that have worried investors have been the probable duration of MLA and the likely nature of any successor government. Exports have been off eight per cent and imports two per cent for the quarter, and significant declines have carried into October, on the basis of preliminary figures.


The perennial question of disparity between the two wings continues to plague the central government. Bengali accusations that the GOP is not doing enough to try to narrow the disparity are increasingly countered by privately expressed West Pak views that the deficiencies on the East Pakistani side play the greater role in hampering development-the chronically unfavorable weather, inefficiencies in the public sector, absence of an adequate entrepreneurial class, lack of investor interest, etc. Thus, indignation of the Bengalis over allegedly insufficient GOP interest clashes with West Pakistan feelings that Bengali demands are unreasonable.


There is a widespread belief-and one which hampers business decisions-that the economies of East and West Pakistan, whatever form the political settlement may take, will in the future become separate entities. While there are few indications that either the GOP or the political party leaders, including Mujib, are grappling with the implications of having twin economies, West Pakistan businessmen feel obliged to do so, and a large scale flight of capital out of the East Wing is reportedly underway.


2. Current Scene


a. Political


In East Pakistan, the scene continues to be dominated by the center-left Awami League of Mujibur Rahman with Maulana Bhashani's far left National Awami Party (Left) trailing well to the rear and other parties like the Pakistan Democratic Party lacking in appeal. Mujib has managed to maintain his popularity during the past six months. He is in effect uncrowned king of East Pakistan. The Awami League has also taken advantage of the current period to extend its organizational net throughout the rural areas of East Pakistan, and to strengthen the role of the pro-Awami League trade unions vis a vis those linked with the NAP(L). In the student field, the groups affiliated with the Awami League remain on top.


In contrast, the pro-Communist NAP(L) appears to be suffering at least a momentary setback although given the immensity of the economic problems of East Pakistan the ultimate threat from the far left remains great. Bhashani's recent mass rally proved a disappointment and the NAP(L) is now rent into (relatively) moderate, center and revolutionary "Naxalite" factions. Potential East Pakistan conservative or Third Force groups-those anti-Communists who dislike Mujib considers his Six Points Secessionist continue to lack broad based appeal and reportedly are not a major political factor.


In West Pakistan, by contrast, the party structure is splintered on a sub-regional basis with doubts now whether any party-Pakistan (Convention) Muslim League (PML), Council Muslim League (CML), PDP, National Awami Party (Requisionist) (NAP (R)), or Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-can honestly claim to have a provincial­wide following. In the former Frontier, Sind and Baluchistan provinces, anti-One Unit feelings predominate. The assumption that Yahya will shortly dismember West Pakistan has lowered the political temperature although the issue continues to have a high emotional content. In the Punjab, on the other hand, murmurings in favor of retention of One Unit are starting to be heard as a reaction is beginning to set in against what looks like a ganging up by East Pakistan and the former smaller West Pak provinces against the Punjabis.


While politicians disagree widely on the specifics of a possible constitutional solution and appear at complete loggerheads, they remain unified in wanting democratic elections as soon as possible and are probably willing, with the exception of the far left, to accept less than their public demands in return for elections. Recently consideration of constitutional issues-the question of East Pak autonomy and method of voting-has tended to be over-shadowed by the bitter struggle between rightists and leftists. As the heat of this battle has risen, extremists on the right and on the left appear to be forcing the centrists and moderates to choose sides. Tensions in the Islam versus Socialism controversy have reached the point that rumors are now circulating that militants on both sides are beginning to collect weapons for an eventual armed showdown.


b. Labor


While the qualified guarantee of the right to strike should win applause for MLA, the labor sector has become a highly troublesome one for the government during the past two months. The mood of labor has changed from initial approval after the release of Nur Khan's labor proposals. First disappointment set in as confusion arose over the policy's implementation and more recently outright defiance in a chronic wave of strikes. This situation has been aggravated by running contests between Communist and non-Communist linked unions and by pressure below from the workers for higher wages in response to rising prices,


c. Students


Paradoxically, the students, who have little sympathy with the MLA, remain for the moment relatively quiet. In East Pakistan a long holiday until Ramazan ends in mid­December has helped keep tempers cool following the near-collision in September. In West Pakistan, the campuses seem less concerned about the MLA than the Islam versus Socialism struggle. Student elections, originally slated for mid-fall, have placed the MLA in a quandary. If held, the elections may spark violence between the right and left. If the elections are not held, the students may move into active opposition against the MLA.


d. General Mood


i. West Pakistan


Despite tensions caused by anti-One Unit sentiments, the acrimonious Islam versus Socialism struggle and strike troubles, no direct challenge to the MLA appears imminent. The current problem is rather a psychological one. Political leaders and informed opinion now seem to lack confidence in the Yahya Government's capability of handling the situation, fear that events may again disrupt the electoral process and are skeptical that a democratically elected government will in fact be capable of restoring political stability and maintaining the pace of economic development. In short, while there is optimism that Yahya will hold elections and (in the NWFP, Sind and Baluchistan) dismember One Unit, there is a growing sense of malaise and pessimism about the longer-term prospects for Pakistan. Re East Pakistan, one also senses a growing undercurrent that beyond some intangible point the West Pak landlord-civil service-military elite might prefer to see the country split rather than submit to Bengali ascendancy.


ii. East Pakistan


When faced with an imminent crisis in September-October as a result of student protests, industrial strikes, and a potential food shortage, the MLA managed to finesse the situation by its conciliatory handling of the students, a firmer stand with the workers and rapid (if late) action on the food sector. However, when a mood of relative quiet appeared to be setting in, fresh troubles erupted in refugee-Bengali riots over the use of Urdu in the voter registration forms. The details of these latest troubles are not entirely clear, but events underscore the tenuous nature of MLA control in East Pakistan (see Dacca's 3104).


With major elements in the population-politicians, labor, business, and the students-unsympathetic, maintenance of the MLA (read West Pakistani domination) in East Pakistan seems dependent on the avoidance of major showdowns with the Bengalis and tangible progress toward free elections and the ending of martial law. Events of the past months have seen a further deterioration of the stature of MLA and a rise in separatist sentiments in East Pakistan where it is now apparent that the moods like bits of sand on the head of a pin can blow off in unpredictable directions with scant forewarning.






Source: The American Papers - Secret and Confidential India. Pakistan. Bangladesh Documents 1965- 1973, The University Press

    Limited, p. 293 - 297