Public Record Office


REF: FCO 37/466


Sir J. Johnston


Recent Events in West Pakistan




To assess the significance of recent events in Pakistan, including the student demonstrations, the arrest of Z.A. Bhutto, and the emergence of Air Marshal Asghar Khan as a declared critic of the regime and a possible opponent to President Ayub in the presidential elections of 1970.




2. There have been three distinct aspects in recent developments. It is not yet clear, how far these are interrelated. The first, the student disturbances, caused the regime to tighten up its controls. The second, the arrest of Z.A. Bhutto, although it was on the cards for some time, was merely a manifestation of the use of these controls. The subsequent emergence of Air Marshal Asghar Khan as a declared political opponent might, but probably will not, endanger the stability of Ayub's regime; but it is not inconceivable that he will establish himself as a credible alternative President, or successor to Ayub.




3. Recently there have been a number of disturbances in West Pakistan resulting in the death of at least three people and culminating in the arrest of former Foreign Minister Z.A. Bhutto (now leader of the opposition People's Party). A note on these disturbances (drawn from a report by the High Commission) is attached to this submission. Following this, has come the entry into politics of the still young Air Marshal Asghar Khan, formerly Chief of Air Staff (until 1965) and then Managing Director, Pakistan International Airlines until his resignation (or perhaps retirement) some months ago.


4. The significance of the student riots lies mainly in the fact that these were the worst disturbances the present regime had faced in West Pakistan since Ayub seized power in 1958. Whilst the regime has learned to live with the problem of uneasy relations with the East wing, it has not previously been confronted in the West wing with disturbances on this scale. Nevertheless, the government still disposes of

considerable means of coercion, such as the police, army and civil administration, and of persuasion (viz. the Basic Democrats.) Given these powerful instruments it should be able to contain the situation. The government are unlikely to hesitate to use all the means at their disposal to quell any possible recurrence of these events; accordingly, for the near future at least, and provided the Army remains loyal, we see little chance of the regime being undermined or overthrown by internal dissension.


5. The long anticipated arrest of Mr. Bhutto indicates the readiness of the Pakistan authorities to use the power at their disposal to ensure civil peace, and to silence effective critics. Our mission in Rawalpindi had, before the arrest, reported that the progress Mr. Bhutto was making in gaining popular support was worrying the government. It is possible that Mr. Bhutto welcomes the martyrdom of political imprisonment; and possible also this might ultimately prove disadvantageous to the Ayub regime. It has not so far sparked off any major new disturbances in West Pakistan.


6. The emergence of Air Marshal Asghar Khan as a political opponent to President Ayub is an important new factor but not one necessarily connected with the previous events, bar, of course, the question of timing. Air Marshal Asghar Khan is widely recognised as a man of character, experience and potential leadership. He is widely popular in West Pakistan, partly because of his leadership of the P.A.F. in the 1965 War. His comparative youth (47 years) when he resigned from his government posts earlier this year, led to speculation as to whether he might enter politics.


7. He has timed his movement well as regards maximum public impact. He has been contributing a number of thoughtful articles to the "Pakistan Times" in recent weeks, and chose the time (17 November) and place (Lahore) to capitalise from recent events. His opposition to the regime has naturally led to him associating with Bhutto and other opposition leaders, but we have no evidence of any definite political connection so far.


8. The significance of Asghar Khan's move is that it poses for the first time since 1958 (and disregarding Miss Jinnah's attempt on the presidency in 1965), the possibility of a genuine alternative to Ayub within the existing constitution. The old political parties have been in such disarray that they were not a credible alternative - nor was Bhutto because, despite his demagogic appeal, he still has no sufficient political poise. But Asghar Khan, especially if he keeps himself aloof from the other political parties, while doing enough to obtain their support, does seem to have sufficient appeal to be looked on as credible presidential material for the 1970 elections. If a "constitutional" campaign develops, he probably will not be elected in 1970 because of the regime's control of the electoral machine, but he would certainly establish himself as a potential successor to Ayub. (Sir C. Pickard suggests that it is not inconceivable that Asghar Khan's emergence has the tacit approval of the regime).


9. The alternative course of events would of course be that the Army might switch allegiance from Ayub Khan to Asghar Khan. This would at once produce a revolutionary, as opposed to an evolutionary situation, even though the "revolution" might be bloodless. But it is the sort of development of which one would certainly get no warning. All one can say is that there have so far been no indications of Asghar Khan being a welcome leader to his contemporaries in the Armed Services. and that they might well be jealous of him and therefore stick to Ayub.


(A.A. Duff)
21 November, 1968




Mr. O' I,eary


Given the hectic rush over the past few weeks. I have now attempted to pull together the various reports that have come in on the disturbances and Pakistan internal affairs in general. We have not really had time to give due consideration to all these reports. You should therefore see the file in general and in particular folios 17, 24, 26, 27, despatch at -/25.


2. At-/17 is Halliley's very interesting letter of 13 November on the North West Frontier [see Doc. 10.6]. This marked more or less the beginning of the political disturbances in West Pakistan and the assassination attempt (?) on Ayub. It is significant that it all seemed to begin in the north - the area of the Pakhtunistan and the Anti-One-Unit disputes. Halliley is of the opinion (unlike Sir C. Pickard) that the Frontier is in a state of "marked disenchantment" with the Ayub regime. As evidence he points to the prevalent corruption, smuggling, economic neglect, etc. If, furthermore, Wall Khan and his National Awami Party were as popular in the North West Frontier as Halliley says they were, there would seem little doubt as to why Ayub had him imprisoned. From this letter and the draft despatch (at -/18), it seems that Halliley is far less sanguine than Sir Cyril Pickard about the significance of these disturbances, although in paragraph 9 of his letter he does try to put the situation into perhaps a more realistic perspective by saying that despite this considerable unrest, so far it lies within the capacity of the Government to handle.


3. At-/24 is Halliley's letter of 20 November about the Agartala trial [see Doc. 10.8]. The fact that the trial continues at all is a festering reminder to East and West Pakistan of the opposition that exists in the east wing to Ayub's regime. The fact that the hearing on the legality of the Tribunal is due on 10 December will serve, no doubt, to keep the pot on the boll. When one couples this with the reported emergence of former Chief Justice S.M. Murshed of East Pakistan one can see that opposition in East Pakistan is continually being brought to the public's notice. I would disagree with Halliley's conclusion in paragraph 5 of his letter that the Government might try to drag out the trial as long as possible - this might well happen, but surely it would be to the regime's disadvantage to have something like this hanging over them at the time of the elections in 1969-70"


4. The significance of Justice Murshed's emergence would seem to me to lie in the fact that he may give his support to Asghar Khan. This, coupled with the fact that he is a highly respected figure, could, of course, provide Asghar with just that support he needs in East Pakistan to complement what present backing he may have in the west wing.


5. The Canadian telegram at -/26 and Brig. Millar's letter at -/27 [see Doc. 10.7] together give more description of the actual disturbances before Bhutto's arrest. The Canadian telegram airs for the first time (to my knowledge at least) the idea, in paragraph 3, that Bhutto might only be detained long enough to constitutionally disqualify him from participating in the Presidential elections. I personally do not believe this to be the case it would take a very confident Ayub to have a manlike Bhutto left free and untnuzzled whilst the Presidential elections were taking place. Brig. Millar's letter makes the point that a number of disturbances were directed at Armed Forces personnel. This might, of course, have a counter-productive result (from the point of view of the demonstrators) in that the Armed forces will be driven to unite even more closely with Ayub.


6. What, then, are we to conclude from this? I would think that if Asghar Khan can harness the pent-up frustrations of the dissident students and protesters, and the intellectual backing of the lawyers in both the east and west wings of the country, he could well have a formidable electoral coalition with which to threaten Ayub in the coming elections. In terms of power, however, as long as the Armed Forces remain loyal to Ayub -- and I believe this to be the case at present -- and as long as the rural community back Ayub in the elections, then his position still remains very strong. But, nevertheless, he has not had to face such a battering for a very long time.


(J.L. Jones)
28 November, 1968