Department of State

 

AIRGRAM

CONFIDENTIAL A-116

 

 

 

 

TO : DEPARTMENT OF STATE

INFO : DACCA, KARACHI, PESHAWAR, RAWALPINDI

FROM : AMCONGEN LAHORE

DATE : NOVEMBER 25, 1968

SUBJECT : REACTIONS TO BHUTTO'S ARREST AND ASGHAR KHAN'S ENTRY INTO POLITICS

REF : LAHORE'S 7317, 7341, 7345, 7350

 

 

SUMMARY

 

The events of the past two weeks-the outbreak of student violence, the presumed attempt on the President's life, the arrest of Bhutto and other political figures, and finally the dramatic statement on November 17 by Air Marshal Asghar Khan announcing his entry into politics, have had, if not an electrifying, at least an energizing, effect on Lahore political circles. In the view of many, the denouement of this chain of events which is yet to come, could have profound implications for the future of the Ayub regime, heretofore regarded as unshakeable, and for the opposition politicians, until now presumably doomed to continued wandering in the wilderness.

 

Various scenarios are described for the coming months-all perhaps stimulated by a measure of wishful thinking-but all reflecting the view that recent events have exposed wide chinks in the regime's armor, once thought to be impregnable.

 

We have recorded below under various headings some of the reactions which have been expressed either publicly or in private conversations with officers of the Consulate General in recent days.

 

On the Disorders.

 

Anti-regime opinion-and sonic neutral sentiment-rejects out of hand the

e Government's contention that opposition politicians were responsible for the recent disorders. They prefer to regard them as spontaneous manifestations of student and popular discontent over a variety of issues ranging from the mundane-university examination procedures and the high price of sugar-to more exalted political urges for greater freedom and political participation.

 


There is a wide consensus here that the situation in the frontier region continues to be particularly explosive and that Commerce Minister Nawabzada Abdul Ghafoor Khan Hot], is largely responsible for the unrest there. One version has it that he purchased the ministry with large bribes to Ayub's sons but has more than recouped his losses through his shady sugar dealings. There is also speculation that the disorders were even worse than acknowledged in the press and that there were many unreported deaths. (The fact that the disorders on display here in Lahore were relatively mild has not diminished the belief that they must have been much worse elsewhere.)

 

The Assassination Attempt

A rumor apparently widely circulated here is that the GOP stage-managed the firing in Peshawar on November 10 when President Ayub was on the platform. The motives ascribed to the regime for such a bizarre episode are somewhat vague, but generally revolve around the regime's desire to elicit sympathy for Ayub and to provide a justification for the subsequent arrests of Bhutto, Wali Khan, et al. Proponents of the "stage-managed" attempt theory cite as their "evidence" the fact that no one was hit and allege also that no bullets have been recovered.

Unlike the reaction of general relief when Ayub recovered from his illness earlier this year, there seems to be a mood of guarded disappointment that the attempt in Peshawar failed. A sick joke making the rounds has one man saying to a slightly deaf friend, "Bad show in Peshawar" and the friend replying "Yes, it was a bad shot." Interestingly, Ayub has now become a direct target for public abuse with students shouting "Ayub goonda," "Down with Ayub," etc. Posters have also begun to appear in Lahore directly attacking the President. Privately, many persons vilify Ayub for a variety of sins-most particularly his disloyalty to friends and supporters and the corruption of his family.

 

The Political Arrests

Reaction to the arrests of Bhutto, Wall Khan and other PPP and NAP leaders has been sharp but confined to easily contained demonstrations and predictable condemnatory statements from the opposition political parties. Privately many, particularly in the PDM coalition parties and in the NAP, have expressed regret that Bhutto had succeeded in establishing his credentials as a political martyr by goading the GOP into arresting him under the widely despised Defense of Pakistan Rules. For the few days between the arrests and Air Marshal Asghar Khan's political statement, the opposition parties were in an uncomfortable squeeze between their dislike and fear of Bhutto and the obvious political necessity of rallying to the side of the detenus. While Asghar Khan's move has not changed the pattern of protests against the arrests, it has provided an alternate focal point for the political outs and has taken some of the limelight away from Bhutto.

 

 

Source: The American Papers Secret and Confidential India.Pakistan. Bangladesh Documents 1965-1973, The University Press Limited, p.257-258