Public Record Office


REF: FCO 37/466


British High Commission,


13 November, 1968


A.A. Duff, Esq., CMG, DSO, DSC,

South Asia Department,



Dear Tony,


I attached a copy of a draft despatch on the recent disturbances in West Pakistan.


2. The High Commissioner, who is on tour, has not yet seen it and may very well wish to make some alterations. Nevertheless, in view of the imminence of the Secretary of State's visit, Dick Stratton and I feel that you will wish to have something of the kind as early as possible.


(A.A. Halliley)







16 November, 1968

The Right Honourable

Michael Stewart, M.P.,

etc., etc., etc.



Disturbances in West Pakistan


1. I have the honour to report that demonstrations by students, joined later by others, occurred in Rawalpindi from 7 to 10 November. The death of a student as a result of police firing led to a wave of sympathetic demonstrations, often violent in character, in many places in West Pakistan. On 10 November President Ayub, addressing a large public meeting in Peshawar, was reportedly fired at by a student. On 13 November Mr. Z.A. Bhutto, Mr. Wali Khan and certain other

opposition politicians were arrested under Section 32 of the Defence of Pakistan Rules. In the relative calm which has now ensued I have the honour to submit an account of these disturbances (an outline of which I attach at Annex for ease of reference), together with some observations on the present position of Mr. Zulfiqar All Bhutto, whose name, rightly or wrongly, is closely linked in the public mind with the events of the past few days.


The background


2. There is a good deal of combustible material lying around in West Pakistan. Student demonstrations were held in Karachi in October and again in early November to draw attention to local educational grievances. They took an ugly turn and places of higher education, other than the University, were closed. There has also been trouble in the University at Hyderabad. There were disorders involving teargassing and police lath] charges in some of the Frontier towns visited by Mr. Bhutto during his tour of the region in late October and early November. Students in particular were thus in a mood to take to the streets should an excuse present itself.


Rawalpindi 7-11 November


3. The occasion came in Rawalpindi on 7 November. A party of students from the Gordon College (the oldest institution of higher education in the town and affiliated to the University of the Punjab) recently had an outing to Landi Kotal (beyond the Khyber Pass near the Afghan border). As is customary they there bought smuggled goods unobtainable elsewhere in Pakistan but these were later impounded by the Customs authorities. Aggrieved at this "discriminatory" treatment the students organized a strike in Gordon College on 7 November and marched in procession that morning to the office of the Deputy Commissioner to seek redress. The D.C. however was unsympathetic and at about noon they repaired to the Inter-Continental Hotel at which Mr. Bhutto, then on his way by road from Peshawar, was scheduled to spend the next two nights. Mr. Bhutto has a considerable following among students in the West Wing and the Gordon College party planned to give him a welcome and incidentally seek his help over what they considered to be a grievance against the authorities. At this stage they were exuberant but harmless.


4. Meanwhile a separate welcome party was despatched to meet Mr. Bhutto on the Grand Trunk Road at the north western limit of the town and here they were joined by students from the neighbouring Polytechnic. The gathering, which was quiet to begin with, would not disperse when ordered to do so by the police. The latter then charged with lathis and later opened fire, killing one Polytechnic student. From this point the situation rapidly deteriorated.


5. When the news of the firing reached Rawalpindi students, later joined by other elements, they resorted to violence in the Cantonment and Saddar area. Public

service vehicles were stoned and set on fire, traffic lights smashed and government cars stoned and destroyed. Plate glass windows in the Inter-Continental hotel and the Government-sponsored Pakistan Bookshop were broken.


6. After a lull during the night of 7-8 November and the following morning (apart from some minor demonstrations, well shepherded by the police, in Islamabad) there was a recrudescence of disturbances in Rawalpindi from about 1230 hours 8 November. This centred mainly on the area near Gordon College in the Saddar and in the neighbouring Satellite Town. There was further damage to property, the targets for the most part being either Government-owned or in some way identifiable with the administration. Troops were called in and a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed on the affected areas of the town. The victim of the previous day's firing was buried at his home in Pindi Gheb, some 70 miles from the capital, so that Rawalpindi was spared the further tension which would have been the inevitable result of a local funeral.


7. The following morning (Saturday, 9 November) a large crowd gathered in the troubled Murree Road area when Mr. Bhutto was due to leave by train for Lahore. Two persons were killed as a result of firing by the security forces. After this however the disturbances gradually subsided in Rawalpindi. The following day the curfew was partially relaxed and troops returned to barracks. The curfew was lifted altogether on Monday 11 November.


8. Official casualty figure (over and above the three persons killed in police firing) for Rawalpindi since 7 November are five injured and in hospital. Judging by eyewitness accounts these are almost certainly an understatement. In addition one Assistant Superintendent of Police was seriously injured and nine constables were hurt. Vehicles of some diplomatic missions were damaged (notably the Turkish Ambassador's and the Iranian Minister-Counsellor cars). Among these a High Commission bus and land-rover, caught in a riot area, were damaged by stones and one of our local drivers was manhandled. Otherwise there was no damage to British lives or property, nor were there any reports of mobs showing xenophobic tendencies.


Sympathetic disturbances in West Pakistan 8-10 November


9. Meanwhile demonstrations in sympathy for the Rawalpindi student killed on 7 November took place at a number of places in West Pakistan. These were fairly harmless on 8 November but on the following day reports were coming in that a considerable number of towns in the Punjab, Sind and the old Frontier Province were experiencing disturbances with varying degrees of violence. In Karachi where purely local issues were already the cause of student unrest the Rawalpindi incidents exacerbated the situation. Public property has been damaged there and schools and colleges and the University are all closed. In Lahore rioting began on 8 November and continued on 9 November especially in the railway station area. where crowds gathered to meet Mr. Bhutto on his arrival from Rawalpindi. Educational institutions in Lahore are also closed. Similar disturbances took place

on either or both days in Peshawar, Nowshera, Mardan, Charsadda, Abbottabad, Dera Ismail Khan, Lyallpur, Sialkot, Kohat, Sukkur, Sargodha, Gujranwala, Bahawalpur and other places in West Pakistan.


Peshawar 10 November


10. On Sunday 10 November President Ayub addressed an open-air meeting in Peshawar officially estimated to number 200,000 people. The greater proportion of these had been brought into the town from outlying districts by the authorities, who are reported to have used 1500 trucks and 4 special trains for the purpose. During a speech of welcome by the Vice-President of the West Pakistan Muslim League a young man in the audience fired two rounds from a pistol at a range of 25 yards from the dais. Neither bullet - if bullet there was - hit anybody on the large platform crowded with some fifty or so top brass. The official report has it that this was an attempted assassination: I will only say that I find the incident curious and that my puzzlement is shared by many Pakistanis. Such deplorable marksmanship might have been the result of a jogged elbow in the crowd; or it may have been simply a case of firing in the air, as is customary among Pathans, in a display of tactless enthusiasm; not a few Pakistanis incline to the view that the whole thing was a plot designed to win sympathy for the President and discredit the opposition. At all events the President behaved with commendable coolness, stepping immediately to the (bullet-proof) lectern to delivery his 35 minute address.


11. The dispersal of the audience to their homes coincided with further disturbances on 10 November in towns of the Northern Punjab and Frontier region. Among others, Mardan, Charsadda, Campbellpur and Nowshera were scenes of violence with crowds shouting anti-Ayub slogans and stoning vehicles and trains. Police firing at Nowshera resulted in one death. At Charsadda a mob ransacked the office of a sugar mill (a reflection of public feeling which blames the Government for the current sugar shortage).

12. By Monday 11 November the disturbances appeared to have subsided though tension remained in Lahore and Karachi.


Mr. Bhutto


13. 1 turn now to a consideration of Mr. Z.A. Bhutto in the events so far described and who, with Mr. Wali Khan (President, National Awami Party, Pro-Moscow group) and certain other opposition politicians, was arrested on 13 November under Section 32 of the Defence of Pakistan Rules. It is not too much to say that Mr. Bhutto's political standing has been transformed during the last few weeks, particularly as a result of tours of the Frontier which began on 28 October. This is partly the Government's own fault. In a speech at Hyderabad on 21 September Bhutto made a personal attack on the President which appear to have needled the regime. A somewhat ponderous and unedifying attack was launched on Bhutto first by Governor Musa and then by a number of the party faithful, the statements being dutifully recorded in the Press Trust newspapers. To an impartial observer Bhutto seemed to come off the better in the public wrangle that developed during October. Bhutto then set off for his Frontier tour, receiving a tremendous welcome wherever he went from crowds who defied Section 144 of the Criminal code (which, when imposed, makes illegal the gathering in a public place of more than five people and forbids the carrying of any kind of offensive weapon) and the threat of lathi charges, tear gas or bloodshed.


14. What are the reasons for this success? In my despatch of 10 July on the internal politics of Pakistan I set out reasons for the reputation and political following that Mr. Bhutto then enjoyed. These advantages were enhanced by the success he had achieved and the publicity he had received in his October exchanges with the regime. He came to Peshawar, it was said, "as a man with a halo". (As far away as Khanewal, 30 miles ENE of Multan, a group of teachers told me last week "Bhutto is our hero" and went on to talk of a bloody confrontation with India.) The current political mood of the Frontier region is such that any person of note who is prepared to denounce the regime in public is assured of a following. In short, it was a situation which might have been hand-tailored for Bhutto: the latter, with his shrewd political sense and instinctive sense of catching the mood of his audience, exploited it to the full. He played on the emotions of the crowds in Peshawar, Kohat, Dera Ismail Khan and Charsadda by simply denouncing the regime and few of his hearers paused to subject his outpourings to anything approaching a cool analysis.


15. Having become in the public estimation the champion of the neglected Frontier region, Bhutto moved on to Rawalpindi and the Punjab where his student supporters and other representatives of "the defenceless masses" had taken to the streets and were being "victimized by the brutal forces" of the Government.


16. The arrest of Mr. Bhutto opens a new chapter. It is clear that Mr. Bhutto's progress worried the Government. Mr. Bhutto himself I believe, welcomes the martyrdom of political imprisonment; he has seen what this can do in the case of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who as a result of imprisonment and the much publicised Agartala trial has become something approaching a public hero in East Bengal. Cooler heads in the Governments are probably aware of this. But the regime saw fit to launch such a propaganda campaign against Bhutto, accusing him of every political crime in the calendar from near-treason down, that they lost all room formanoeuvre. The Government publicly laid the blame for the disturbances Z Bhutto's door. Bhutto responded by refusing to appeal to the students for calm saying "they are fighting and I am with them". In the circumstances the Government had little option but to arrest him, though the results of this course: on the political life of the country are unpredictable.


17. East Pakistan has long-standing grievances sharpened by the Agartala conspiracy Trial, against the Centre, but the Government, believing itself secure in its power­base in the West, has learned to live with the problem of uneasy relations wit;: the East. But now the Government is faced by disorders which are directed, not against a specific act of policy such as its action in signing the Tashkent Agreement, but against its policies overall and, indeed, its very existence; this is something which, on this scale, has not happened since the regime assumed power in 1958. The Government of course disposes of considerable forces - the civil service, the Basic Democrats, the police and finally the army - wherewith it can contain the situation. But a second eruption (now, with Bhutto's arrest, a more likely possibility) would weaken its position and the Government must therefore move decisively to prevent a recurrence.


18. The authorities are faced with a difficult task of reconciliation and of building bridges between the rulers and the ruled; the arrest of Mr. Bhutto may well prejudice this. Even without this added complication it is a role for which the regime is ill-equipped since the Pakistan Muslim League is singularly lacking in the grass roots contacts which ought to have warned the Government in good time of the growing discontent which led to the disturbances and which are now essential if there is to be an effective reconciliation between the regime and its aggrieved opponents in the Province. I am told that the President left officials of the Pakistan Muslim League in no doubts of his displeasure at the time of the Rawalpindi disturbances and I think we can look forward to a shake-up in the organisation and working of the party.


19. In all this, as in so much else, the capacity of President Ayub himself for sanity and balanced judgement is an important counterpoise to the often rash and muddled thinking of many of his lieutenants, some of whom are already implying doubts as to whether the 1969-70 elections can take place in a political climate in which the opposition do not, as they say, "stick to the rules". I cannot but feel that in the President lies the best hope for Pakistan and for British interests here, and I am not persuaded that this position in the country as a whole, which is still 80% rural, has been so eroded by the urban disorders I have described in this despatch as to cast doubt on the outcome of the elections in 1969-70.


20. I am sending copies of this despatch to the High Commissioner in New Delhi and to Her Majesty's Ambassador in Kabul.


I have the honour to be,


Your obedient Ser-vant.





Source: The British Papers – Secret and Confidential India.Pakistan.Bangladesh Documents 1958-1969, Oxford University Press, p. 734-739.