Dr. Kamal Hossain
Awami League won 167 out of 169 seats in the East in a house of 315. The overwhelmingly decisive election results, giving an absolute majority to Sheikh Mujib, was a clear verdict in favour of Sheikh Mujib, the Awami League and its Six-Point programme. This result clearly put Yahya's whole strategy in dire disarray. He had obviously banked upon fragmented representation in the East, so that he would be free to manipulate and maneuver. He was now confronted with an absolute majority. He thus found that the initiative had totally passed out of his hands and his power to manoeuvre was all but lost. He had counted on a fragmented representation from the East ; indeed, he was faced with a monolithic majority. That such were his calculations is not only an inference from circumstances but has been corroborated by West Pakistani leaders and by foreign leaders in whom Yahya confided.
In the elections in the West, Bhutto had emerged with 83 seats out of 131 with majorities only in the Provinces of Sind and Punjab. Bhutto's initial reaction to these results was revealing. His very first statement in the wake of elections was that no constitution could be made except with the agreement of the People's Party. He asserted that Sind and Punjab were "bastions of power." This was followed by the statement that "majority alone does not count in national politics." It was clear that he saw that the only way to contain the Bengali majority in the National Assembly was to confront it outside the Assembly. There he could supplement his strength from the one source upon which the ruling minority had always fallen back in order to deal with the Bengali majority, namely the army. It was the same pattern that had manifested itself throughout the 24 years of Pakistan. A minority unable to contain a majority within any democratically constituted representative institution had always fallen back upon military force. The Awami League had an absolute majority ; they could not concede the veto which Bhutto claimed. Yahya at this stage maintained an apparently conciliatory posture. It would seem that towards late December, the position might have been that Yahya would make his own independent and preliminary attempt to negotiate with the Awami League to press for modification of the Six-Point formula, so as to secure the interest of the ruling elite and of the army. If he would succed, then he, together perhaps with other (West Pakistani Politicians), might close ranks and Bhutto might find himself totally isolated.
While Yahya might have harboured such thoughts, Bhutto, it appeared, was busy with a section of the Generals. According to a version published by one of Yahya's advisers, Bhutto had an important ally, General Peerzada, the Principal Staff Officer of the President. It seems that General Gul Hassan and some others who survived the purge at the end of 1971 after Bhutto took over were part of this group. Their attitude at the time was significantly summed up by a general who after a sumptous dinner at Government House in Dacca is reported by another Pakistani Army Officer to have declared : "Don't worry. ..we will not allow these black bastards to rule over us"
Yahya come to Dacca in the middle of January. There was an initial meeting between Yahya and Sheikh Mujib at which meeting Yahya appeared to be maintaining an outwardly conciliatory posture but nonetheless sought clarifications about the Six-Point programme. This was obviously how he intended to open negotiations on the substance of Six-Points.
Yahya's adviser records that a detailed exercise had been done in Islamabad about the implications of Six-Points and indeed even a draft constitution had been prepared in December 1970. Therefore the request for explanation was, in fact, a polite invitation to negotiate on the substance of Six-Points. Sheikh Mujib and the Awami League were not prepared to enter into such negotiations. The elections had been declared a referendum on Six-Points by Mujib in June. The popular verdict was decisive. Sheikh Mujib had announced that Six-Points' was now the property of the people and that he had no authority to compromise on the substance of Six-Points. This position had been declared in the mammoth public meeting held in early January, when all Awami League members elected to the national and provincial assemblies had taken oath not to compromise on the Six-Points. Yahya met Sheikh Mujib along with his senior colleagues Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Mansoor Ali, Khandker Mushtaque Ahmed, and A H M Kamaruzzaman. They proceeded to explain the Six-Point programme. They sought to assure Yahya that the Six-Point scheme was workable and that it would be worked out so that the limited powers and functions that were left with the Centre could be discharged within the framework of constitutional provisions which would ensure the necessary resources to the centre for the purposes of its allocated functions. It was explained that constitutional provisions would ensure that foreign exchange and revenue resources needed by the Centre would be automatically received by the Centre which would thus not be at the mercy of the regions.
After this meeting, I was asked by Sheikh Mujib to meet Peerzada separately to explain the Six-Point programme. At this meeting, it was obvious that the main anxieties were with regard to the foreign exchange and revenue resources for the centre. Anxiety was also expressed about the control of foreign trade and aid by the regions. It was explained that constitutional provisions could ensure that a portion of the revenue and foreign exchange collected would be automatically appropriated by the Central Government : About foreign trade and aid, it was explained that negotiations on these matters would be considered by the regions, within the framework of the foreign policy of the country. It was also pointed out that conflict could not possibly take place since the Awami League would be in control of the Central Government as well as the Government in the East. Peerzada maintained a noncommittal position, but significantly he went on to say that Yahya had also to carry (West Pakistan) with him and therefore it would be desirable for Awami League to reach an agreement with Bhutto. He said that a constitution which supported the Awami League as well as People's Party would sail through the Assembly and accelerate the transfer of power. Pearzada's parting remarks indicated that Bhutto, Peerzada and at least a section of the army were in contact.
It is significant that straight from Dacca, Yahya flew straight to Larkana. Though it was described as a 'shooting' trip, some of the Generals, a fair part of the ruling junta, also flew into Larkana and an important meeting had taken place, confirmed by Bhutto in his Great Tragedy. There is little doubt that strategy was being evolved how to contain and frustrate the Bengali majority which had emerged in the elections. It was announced that Bhutto would be visiting Dacca shortly. Other West Pakistani leaders also began to come to Dacca-Nawab Akbar Khan Bughti, Moulana Noorani and Sardar Shaukat Hayat Khan.
Bhutto arrived in Dacca on 27 January. Several rounds of talks were held between Sheikh Mujib and Bhutto while separate parallel meetings were held between the Awami League team and the People's Party team consisting of J. Rahim, Sheikh Abdur Rashid, Hanif Ramay, Abdul Hafeez Pirzada and Rafi Raza. The Awami League team consisted of Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Mansoor Ali, Khandker Mushtaq Ahmed, A H M Kamruzzaman and myself. In the discussions between the teams, the Awami League members had thought that the discussions would focus on the substance of the six-point formula. The Awami League invited the People's Party leaders to state their objections against six-points. They were assured that detailed explanations would be presented on each of the points with a view to remove any misgivings they might have about them. The People's Party team, however, led by Rahim, instead of raising specific issues, launched into abstract discussions about the meaning of `socialism.' Rahim launched into an exposition of the need for a strong centre in order to build socialism.' In this context, he referred to the strong centre in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries as being essential for central planning. The Awami League members pointed out to him that such comparisons were not relevant. Instead, they pressed him specifically to turn to the six-point scheme. The recollection of this meeting is that there was a marked reluctance to engage in discussions on the specific issues raised by the six point scheme. Nor was any alternative constitutional scheme presented. The discussions therefore were totally unstructured and there was no real communication. I chided Hafiz Peerzada that as a lawyer he should appreciate the need to be more precise in discussions. He was urged to persuade his colleagues to proceed in discussions point by point and to specifically state their objections, so that specific replies could be given. He reacted by making a jocular remark that Rahim was an old man who had to be indulged and that they would be prepared for fuller discussion when they came to Dacca for a second round of talks in February. Bhutto's main concern, Sheikh Mujib, had requested to his colleagues as to whether he could be President, if he became Prime Minister ; and what other posts could be secured by him and his parts if they were to form a coalition.
At the conclusion of the January talks, Bhutto addressed a Press Conference in Dacca stating : "We have genuine difficulties and we need time at least up to the end of February to make a comment on it." He also stated that "it was not necessary to enter into the Constituent Assembly with an agreement on different issues because negotiations could continue even when the House was in session." It was significant that when asked whether the Awami League with its present absolute majority in the House was competent to frame a constitution, Bhutto said, "Legally speaking they can but the question has to be decided by the House as to whether the Constitution will be adopted by a simple majority or by two-third majority. Since the question of making a Constitution and our geographical position is peculiar, the majority adopting the Constitution should include the consensus."
At the time of leave-taking, Bhutto's delegation members indicated that they would return for consultations with their party colleagues in the different Provinces of West Pakistan and after such consultations they would return for further discussions with the Awami League in February, 1971.
The events of February 1971 and the postures which the People's Party began to strike made it clear that they were not working towards resumption of dialogue but towards precipitating a, crisis and ultimately, confrontation.
On 2nd February 1971, an interesting event took place. An Indian Airlines Plane was hijacked to Lahore by two young men describing themselves as Kashmiri Freedom Fighters. The reaction of Bhutto and his People's Party to this event was to lionise these young men. Bhutto himself garlanded them and they were taken in a triumphal procession through the streets of Lahore. This also provides an occasion for a diatribe by Bhutto against India.
I clearly remember the reaction of Sheikh Mujib and the Awami League. The blowing up of the hijacked plane, even more than the hijacking itself, gave rise to suspicion. The suspicion was that elements interested in averting transfer of power to elected representatives were bent on creating abnormal conditions. A statement was issued by Sheikh Mujib deploring the blowing up of the Plane stating:
Prompt and effective step by the authorities could have been taken to prevent its occurrence. It should have been realised that at this critical juncture in the nation's life, the creation of abnormal conditions can only serve the interest of saboteurs. I would urge the Government to hold an enquiry into this matter and to take effective measures to prevent interested quarters from exploiting the situation for their nefarious ends.
For some weeks the two young "commandos" continued to be lionised.
The People's party immediately mounted a campaign directed against Awami League for deploring the hijacking and the blowing up of the plane. The Awami League's office in Lahore was attacked. Indeed, it began to be said that the divergent reactions to the hijacking of the Awami League and the People's party showed up how difficult it might be to evolve a common foreign policy-this in context of the fact that foreign ' affairs under the Six-Point scheme was to be a Federal subject.
Reacting to the pressure that Awami League should make non specific comments on the hijacking, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman pointed out that this could hardly be expected when the Government had not taken any steps to brief him on Precisely what had happened, even though he was admittedly the leader of the majority party. An interesting foot note is provided by the fact that Alvie, the Additional Foreign Secretary appeared in Dacca on 1 March, 1971 and sought an appointment on 2 March, 1971 to brief Sheikh Mujib about the hijacking incident. Since 2 March marked the beginning of ‘Non Cooperation Movement', Alvie found that his mission had been overtaken by events.
An important consequence of the hijacking that India suspended all overflights over Indian territory by Pakistani aircraft. This meant that the only route by which aircraft could come from the West to the East was all the way around over the southern tip of the Indian Peninsula over Ceylon, thus almost trebling the distance and the travelling time. This also meant making a military solution in the East very much more expensive and difficult, should the junta be disposed to opt for this.
The abortive talks with Bhutto and the delay in convening of the Session of the National Assembly had begun to feed the fear that Yahya and the military junta might be seeking some pretext for not calling the National Assembly.
The suspension of the over flights did mean that troop movements, movements of arms and supplies to the military in the East would be impeded ; thus affecting their capabilities.
It can now be recorded that the possibility of a Declaration of Independence was actively considered by Sheikh Mujib in a close door meeting with main party leaders in early February 1971. The delay in the convening of the Assembly inevitably led Awami League to consider its own options. Declaration of Independence was seen as an option. Careful calculations had to be made of the magnitude of the military response to such a declaration and the capacity of the people to withstand such an onslaught and to overcome it. Some calculations were made of existing military strength. The suspension of the overflight and the difficulty this created for augmenting men and material was also taken into account.
I was asked to draw up a draft Declaration of Independence. The text used as a precedent was the American Declaration of Independence which recited the injustices perpetrated by the British Crown as justifying the act of declaring Independence. A draft was duly prepared and handed to Sheikh Mujib around February 10, which 1-:e then kept with him, Tajuddin had been associated in this drafting and he was also to outline the plan of action for implementing the decision to declare independence, should this course of action have to be adopted. The essentials of the plan, as discussed, were that massive popular demonstrations would be launched in the main cities. Hundreds of thousands of people would be out on the streets. While this would sufficiently distract the military, the main targets would be the Radio Station, the Secretariat and Governor's House, where the Governor should be prevailed upon to make an announcement formally transferring power to the elected representatives.
In the meantime, Awami League kept pressing for convening the National Assembly. In a joint meeting of all Awami League members elected to the National and Provincial Assemblies and members of its Working Committee was called on 13 February 1971, where "decisions would be taken on our future course of action." It was widely believed that this meeting on 13 February would be called upon to consider the option of Declaring Independence. I remember a Foreign diplomat asking him on the eve of this meeting "are you going to declare UDI at this meeting ?"
On the very morning when the joint meeting was to take place and the atmosphere was already one of rising anger at the delay in convening the National Assembly, Yahya announced that the meeting of the National Assembly would be held in Dacca on 3 March, 1971.
Bhutto's reaction to this announcement was to take a further step towards the crisis. In a statement in Peshawar on 15 February, 1971, he expressed his Party's inability to attend the National Assembly Session on 3 March in Dacca, in the absence of an understanding for 'compromise or adjustment' on the Six-Points. He further went on to say that his party-men would be in jeopardy in going to East Pakistan, stating that he could not be "a party in a position of double hostage because of Indian hostility and non-acceptance of the Six-Points. On, 16 February in Karachi, Bhutto stated that "his Party's decision not to attend the ensuing session of the National Assembly was unshakeable and irrevocable."
On 17 February, Bhutto stated in Karachi that "under present circumstances, it was pointless for the people's party to attend the ensuing National Assembly session. Bhutto said that his party had tried its best to work out some agreed settlement and understanding with Awami League but now "there is no room for further negotiations with the Awami League." Of the Six-Points of the Awami League, Bhutto stated that "the most difficult was the one pertaining to foreign trade and foreign aid."
Thus Bhutto's statement showed a clear hardening of his position and was in contrast to the statement made by him at the end of January in Dacca, when he had stated that further negotiations would be conducted with Awami League and that such negotiations could be held even within the National Assembly. Instead, there was now a refusal to come to the National Assembly and an assertion that there was no room for further negotiations with the Awami League.
The apprehension of the Bengalis that the position of the military junta or at least a section of the junta, was hardening and that Bhutto may be linked with them, was reflected in a question put to Bhutto by the Press which prompted Bhutto to deny that his party's decision not to attend the Assembly did not have any blessings from the present regime. He said that there was no question of any agreement "behind the scenes” between him and anybody else. That this apprehension, and the question put by the press, were well founded, appears from a recent account from one or Yahya's advisers, who writes that by the middle of February:
Bhutto, by this time, knew his bargaining strength, powerful members of the junta were with him rather than with Yahya. As pointed out earlier, Yahya had a free hand in formulating a scheme for the transfer of power and holding elections, but the junta adopted a policy of `wait and see'; if Yahya was successful in maintaining the unity of the country by whatever constitutional devices, well and good, but from late January when Yahya had his abortive talks with Mujib, the junta was not prepared to remain as a passive spectator of the political and Constitutional issues. From January, the process of decision-making changed.. .it is my assumption that in February, like Ahsan, Yahya might also have been replaced by Hamid; he would not perhaps have been unhappy to go, but for some reasons the junta had to carry on with Yahya, so Yahya continued to play his role on an untenable situation.
In the third week of February an atmosphere of crisis prevailed. Around 19 February, military movements were noticed in Dacca and a machine gun nest appeared in the mound in front of the National Assembly building in Dacca. This led Sheikh Mujib urgently to summon party leaders to a meeting to review this development. Some of the student leaders were also present at the meeting. I was present at this meeting, where reports were brought that a great deal of activity was noticed at the Cantonment and there was apprehension that some military action was in the offing. Faced with this situation, it was felt that no one should stay in his house that night and in the event of a military operation being launched, everyone was to Lave Dacca and to mobilise the people in the countryside;: to resist. No military operation, however, took place, but tension continued to mount.
On 21 February (Shaheed Day), the atmosphere was tense and emotionally charged. There was once again the expectation that at the meeting at Shaheed Minar, Sheikh Mujib might declare Independence. At that meeting, however, Sheikh Mujib stated that the Bangalee people were united and determined and that if their demands were not conceded then they would shed blood to realise their aspirations.
In the meantime, various delegations representing other West Pakistani parties were arriving in Dacca for discussions. The position taken by the Awami League in these discussions was that while they were committed to making a Constitution on the basis of Six-Points, they would certainly discuss all aspects of the draft with other political parties and seek to dispel any misgivings that they might have about the impact of the Six-Points scheme on the legitimate interests of the Punjab, Sind, NWFP and Baluchistan or the viability of the Federal Government. A major Press Statement was made by Sheikh Mujib on 24 February, in which the Awami League's position was clearly explained. It was believed that just about this time a crucial meeting of the junta was held. Yahya's adviser's report of this meeting is as follows :
After the fateful Larkana talks, the army junta met formally at Rawalpindi in mid-February to discuss the political situation. It was at this meeting that the junta decided to challenge Mujib if he persisted in his uncompromising attitude, but significantly it ignored Bhutto's provocative speeches. Bhutto was now regarded by the hawkish generals like Hamid, Omar and Gul Hasan, as well as by his trusted friend Peerzada, as the defender of the "national interests" of Pakistan, as interpreted by the ruling elite, It was at this meeting that the junta decided to dissolve the cabinet whose members had already expressed their desire to be relieved after the election. But at the cabinet meeting on December 8, 1970, Yahya decided to continue with it as some of its members were useful in acting as links with Mujib, while he needed the services of some others as long as constitutional dialogue persisted. But now Yahya's hold over the junta, which had never been absolute, was declining because of his failure to modify Mujib's policy. Both Ahsan and Yahya were discredited. Ahsan wonted to be relieved and the junta decided that he should be replaced by a hawk, Lieutenant General Tikka Khan. The cabinet was also dissolved on February 17, but within forty-eight hours Yahya invited some of its members, including myself, to continue as his advisers. Instead of a council ministers he wanted to have a council of advisers. (But the Bengali members of the proposed council-with one exception -- Ahsanul Huq, declined to continue any longer. Of the West Pakistan members of the cabinet, only Cornelius decided to stay).
The Awami League's Constitution Drafting Committee was working night and day to finalise the draft constitution bill and long meetings -ere being held to complete this task before 1 March. Yahya was expecting to reach Dacca on 1 March and we were told by Sheikh Mujib that an advance copy of the draft constitution 'was to be delivered to him on that date.
While the Constitution Drafting Committee was engaged in this task, a senior Bengali Government official brought a message that a decision had already been taken to postpone the National Assembly session. He advised that Sheikh Mujib should immediately see Governor Ahsan to remonstrate with him. Sheikh Mujib was informed of this and the same morning he met Ahsan who also appeared to be disturbed by this report. Sheikh Mujib informed Ahsan that such postponement would be seen by the Bengali people as a conspiracy to deprive them of their rights as a majority, and the situation would explode. Ahsan promised to convey this to Islamabad. Later he confirmed that he had conveyed this view but there was no change in the decision. Indeed, he said that he had on his own suggested that if there was to be a postponement, it should be for a specific number of days and not for an indefinite period. In a speech on 28 February, Sheikh Mujib said that if any individual member of the Assembly said any reasonable thing, it should be accepted. On that day, Bhutto, in a long statement stated that he had narrowed down his disagreement to foreign trade and foreign aid, and that he could not give in on foreign trade and aid. He concluded by saying that either the Assembly Session should be postponed or 120 day time limit for Constitution-making should be removed.
Yahya's adviser's account of the immediate background of the postponement shows that Bhutto was by now, working jointly in tending with
the military junta. His report states :
So Yahya continued to play his role in an untenable situation, Following Bhutto's threat, the National Assembly, which had been scheduled to meet on March 3, was postponed indefinitely. Yahya's announcement on March 1 on the postponement of the Assembly could not have been more provocative or tragic. When I asked him about it on March 5, he looked vacant and helpless ; I was convinced he had only been a signatory to it. Bhutto and Peerzada were reported to have drafted the statement. Yahya, unlike on previous occasions, did not broadcast it ; it was only read out over the radio.
Before Yahya left Rawalpindi for Karachi to persuade Bhutto to go to Dacca so that the National Assembly might not be postponed, he had already sent Peerzada, Ahsan and Yakub on the same mission to persuade Bhutto to attend the National Assembly. He gave Bhutto a solemn promise that if Mujib were to "thrust a Six-Point constitution" against the wishes of the majority of the West Pakistan members and if his constitutional draft would mean splitting the country, he would at once prorogue the assembly ; however nothing could satisfy Bhutto when it became evident that as a result of Bhutto's threat of boycotting the assembly, the majority of the West Pakistani Assembly members would not attend the session, Yahya decided to postpone the summoning of the assembly but he wanted to issue a statement which should cause the least provocation possible in East Pakistan. Though I was no longer a member of his Cabinet, Yahya asked me to prepare a statement in a conciliatory vein. I immediately began to draft the proposed statement, which ran as follows :
In view of the complete deadlock between the two principal parties representing East and West Pakistan respectively, I am constrained to postpone the meeting of the National Assembly on March 3, 1971. I would however wish to make it absolutely clear that the postponement will not exceed two or three weeks and during this short period, I shall make all endeavours to bring rapprochement between the elected representatives of the two regions of our country. As you will recall, I have often said in the past and I want to reaffirm that I have no desire to impose a constitution either on East or on West Pakistan against the wishes of the people. A true federal constitution, to which the political parties and my regime are all committed, cannot be framed without the consensus of various federating units. I shall be the happiest person when a consensus on a federal union is arrived at, and on my part I assure my nation that I shall spare no efforts to achieve this supreme goal.
I sincerely hope and appeal to my brethren in East Pakistan to appreciate the gravity of the situation and allow me this short period of two or three weeks to work for an agreed formula. Insha Allah (by the Grace of God) we shall overcome this difficulty. Let us remember Quaid-e-Azam's immortal saying "Pakistan has come to stay ;" let us all dedicate ourselves to the fulfillment of the desire of the Father of the Nation.
I personally handed over the draft of the statement at IsIamabad airport as Yahya was leaving for Karachi. He subsequently gave it to Peerzada, who, in alliance with Bhutto, torpedoed it, I still feel regret that I did not accompany Yahya to Karachi. My reluctance was due to the fact that I was no longer a member of the cabinet ; I also expressed my inability to accept his offer of being an "adviser." By accompanying Yahya to Karachi, I would have caused unnecessary speculation about my link's with Yahya. But I now realise that Yahya's great weakness was his fickle mindedness; he approved my draft " but in my absence, when Bhutto and Peerzada presented another draft, Yahya, true to his weak personality, accepted the provocative one. Though I cannot provide documentary evidence of this, I heard from the personal staff of the President, including the Military Secretary that Yahya was most reluctant to sign the statement prepared by Peerzada in collusion with Bhutto. But the pressures were strong and Yahya yielded.
Clear and unambiguous signals bad been conveyed to Yahya through Governor Ahsan that postponement of the Assembly would lead to a political explosion in the East. Ahsan confirmed that he had been transmitting these signals. On the night of February 28, there were still indications that Yahya might arrive in Dacca on March 1. The usual procedures which preceded the arrival of the president in Dacca were under way. The plane from Karachi which arrived on March 1, however, did not carry Yahya. A government official who travelled on that plane reported that the departure of that plane had been twice delayed in Karachi as it was expected that Yahya would avail of that flight. Ultimately he had decided to stay back. It was reported that there had been extensive discussions with Bhutto on that night.
The entire Constitution Drafting Committee of the Awami League was assembled in the party office to put the finishing touches on the draft constitution bill. The Committee was still working to a 1 March dateline, and had very nearly completed its work, when one of the party workers came in to report that an important Radio broadcast was to be made at 1 p. m. Work stopped and Sheikh Mujib and other party leaders then joined members of the Constitution Drafting Committee. A radio set was brought in order to enable them to hear the broadcast.
At 1305 hours the voice of a radio announcer read out the text of a statement ascribed to Yahya, The operative statement was that it had been decided to "postpone the summoning of the National Assembly to a later date." It was thus an indefinite postponement. The reason given was that an accepted consensus on the main provisions of the future Constitution had not been arrived at between political leaders. He referred to a political confrontation between the leaders of East Pakistan and those of the West and that "with so many representatives of the people of West Pakistan keeping away from the Assembly... if he were to go ahead with the inaugural session on the 3rd March, the Assembly itself could have disintegrated." It was further stated that 'it was imperative to give more time to the political leaders to arrive at a reasonable understanding on the issue of Constitution making and that as soon as the environment became conducive to constitution-making, a session of the Assembly would be called."
In other words, Yahya clearly signified that the ruling minority would have a veto on Constitution-making and indeed unless there was a prior understanding with them, the Assembly would not be convened. The Bengalis, despite being 'a majority in the Assembly, thus were to be reduced to impotence.
The reaction of those listening to this broadcast was one of total outrage. There could be no greater affront to the Bengali people than was contained in that brief statement. Indeed, it was evident within minutes that the sense of outrage that was felt by everyone in the party office was widely shared by the people. Government employees were walking out of the Secretariat and other Government offices ; banks, Insurance and other commercial concerns, were also emptying out., A cricket match had been on in the stadium. No sooner had the spectators heard of the radio announcement, they trooped out of the stadium. The students were already out in the streets in spontaneous demonstrations.
Sheikh Mujib, on hearing the broadcast, directed that all parliamentary members of the Awami League should assemble at Hotel Purbani at 3 p. m.; when he would address them on the future course of action.
There was no doubt that a decisive moment bad been reached in our history. It was clear that the ruling minority was not prepared to submit to the Bengali majority and had thrown down a challenge. They had a mechanised army equipped with tanks and supported by an Air Force. As against this, on the Bengali side, there was the near total unity of 75 million people, who reacted with a shared sense of outrage and a common determination not to submit. Yet they were unarmed and in any head-on confrontation it was clearly perceived that a huge price in human life would be exacted.
It was clear that there was only one course for the Bengalis--a reaction of defiance. Thus, the threat of confrontation was now imminent. It was not known whether the military onslaught might not begin that very day. By the time I reached the. Purbani Hotel, militant processions were seen advancing towards Purbani Hotel from different directions. The militance of the processions was evident from the fact that almost everyone had a bamboo or a stick in his hand and slogans were for 'Independence."
In the context the reaction of the people was not surprising. The high hopes aroused in them by the success of the mass upsurge of 1969 were dashed to the grounds, first, by the failure of the Round Table Conference, and then, by the imposition of the second martial law. It was again with a great deal of hope and a measure of bitterness against the central authority for its unsympathetic handling of the situation following the cyclone that they went to the polls and recorded their verdict. The protracted negotiations since the results of the elections were announced left them with little faith either in the goodwill of the military government or of its power-base in the Punjab. The announcement of the postponement of the National Assembly eroded their faith both in the constitutional process and in the unity of Pakistan. Their experience of 1969 had given them a self confidence and now they were determined to play a more active role in shaping the course of history. The goal thus set was independence and they demanded the politicians to lead them to this destination.
The Awami League Parliamentarians were already assembled by 3 p. m. Sheikh Mujib, flanked by party leaders, arrived at 3. 20 p. m. The atmosphere was tense. Hundreds of international pressmen were gathered outside. Sheikh Mujib declared :..."only for the sake of the minority party's disagreement the democratic process of Constitution-making has been obstructed and the National Assembly session has been postponed sine die. This is most unfortunate. As far as we are concerned, we are the representatives of the majority of the people and we cannot allow it to go unchallenged.
He announced a Non-Cooperation Movement. A programme of action was announced for the next six days. A total strike in Dacca on 2 March, a country-wide strike on 3 March and a public meeting on 7 March, 1971.
The initial challenge to the postponement of the National Assembly was, thus, presented in the form of a Non-Cooperation Movement. In essence, this meant that no Bengali should co-operate, in any way, with Yahya or the military. Sheikh Mujib's statement on 2 March, 1971 declared: "it is the sacred duty of each and every Bengali in every walk of life, including Government officials, not to co-operate with anti-people forces and indeed to do everything in their power to foil the conspiracy , against Bangladesh. It was also declared that "representatives-elected by the people are the only legitimate source of authority. All authorities are expected to take note of this fact."
The task of the coming days was to direct the Non-Cooperation Movement so that it could achieve its object of paralysing the administration but at the same time ensure that essential services and the economic life of the Eastern wing was not disrupted.
It was decided that directives should be issued centrally. Mr. Tajuddin, Amirul Islam and myself were entrusted with the task of drafting directives and issuing them after having these approved by Sheikh Mujib and party leaders.
The first directive issued on 2 March, called for a province-wide hartal from 3 to 6 March, 1971 from 6 a. m. to 2 p. m. in all spheres, including Government offices, Secretariat, High Court and other Courts. Some Government and autonomous corporations, like Post Offices, Railways and other communication services, transport (private and public), mills, factories, industrial and commercial establishments and markets. Exemptions were extended only to : ambulance, press cars, hospitals, medical shops. Electricity and water supply. The offices, the Courts, the industries, totally came to a halt.
Each evening the military declared a curfew which was systematically defied. The army opened fire on some of the defying crowds and a number of casualties took place. It appears, however, that General Yakub, the military commander, was pressing for reinforcements, as in his view, the forces available to him were not adequate to suppress with a popular movement which had acquired massive proportions. It is said that it was this military judgement which had led him not to take the Non-Cooperation Movement head on, but to await arrival of reinforcements. In any event, he was replaced in the first week of March by Gen. Tikka Khan, who had acquired a reputation for carrying on a ruthless operation against civilians in Baluchistan.
At a meeting organised by students on 3 March, Sheikh Mujib demanded that the military should be pulled back to the barracks and power should be handed to the elected representatives of the people. If the people were denied self rule and suppressed by force, the people would not hesitate to sacrifice their lives. He also called for launching a `no tax' campaign. ,
The same evening there was a radio announcement from Islamabad proposing a sort of round table conference of political leaders to be convened by Yahya in Dacca on March 10. The junta had begun to sense the magnitude of the movement which was underway. The call of around table conference seemed only a further provocation, since this would mean that a party enjoying the absolute majority in the National Assembly would have to sit at a round table conference with other leaders whose claims and credentials to be there at all would be highly questionable. In the meantime, curfews and firing upon unarmed civilians continued.
I remember the pressure for an immediate rejection by Sheikh Mujib to this radio announcement. There were one or two voices suggesting that this proposal may not be rejected immediately but that the situation may be observed before a response is given. Some others suggested that at least the response may be deferred till the following day. Sheikh Mujib, however, reflecting the prevailing mood, decided that an outright rejection should be announced immediately. I was asked to prepare a statement for immediate issuance and within minutes the invitation to a Conference was termed as `a cruel joke' and rejected. Attention, both inside and outside the country, was now rivetted to the meeting fixed for March 7. Foreign commentators had begun to predict that UDI would take place on March 7.
In the meantime, the Non-Cooperation Movement surged ahead. In view of the continued total compliance with the directive to continue the general strike, it soon became evident that in order to sustain a protracted movement, it would be necessary to ensure that essential services were maintained and certain essential economic activities were allowed to be continued, so that the people were saved from undergoing avoidable hardship. Since the Non-Cooperation Movement had started on 1 March, many government and non-government employees had not been able to draw their salaries. Many who had received salaries by cheques had not been able to encash them. People from all walks of life came forward actively to support the Non-Cooperation Movement, pointing out the problems which were being thrown up, and suggesting ingenious solutions to them.
In order to meet problems as they arose, further directives were issued on March 4. These directives had now to be in the form of positive instructions, that is, it not merely asking people to refrain from doing certain things but specifically directing them to do certain actions or carry out certain functions, in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Awami League. This was the first step towards the Awami League assuming the functions of a de facto Government in the Eastern wing. Thus, on March 4, specific directives were issued that government offices, where employees had not as yet been paid their salaries, should function between 2-30-p.m. and 4-30 p. m. only for the purpose of disbursing salaries. It was also directed that banks should function within the hours of 2-30 p.m. to 4-30 p.m. for the purpose of cash transactions within Bangladesh only in respect of salary cheques not exceeding 1500 rupees.
Since it was apprehended that opening of banks may lead to flight of funds to the West, it was specifically directed that no remittance should be effected outside Bangladesh and the State Bank was directed to take necessary action in this connection, The time was deliberately specified to be from 2-30 p.m. to 4-30 p.m., rather than in the morning, so that it would be clear to all that the offices were not opening in the normal course, but specifically under the directives of, and in accordance with the instructions issued by the Awami League. Further exemptions were issued to cover the cars of doctors, press cars, also fire services and local and trunk telephones within Bangladesh. These directives were strictly complied with and offices and banks functioned between 2-30 p.m. and 4-30 p.m. for the purpose. Further directives were issued to allow food, godowns to remain open beyond 4-30 p.m. if necessary to complete delivery.
Members of some Trade Unions reported that in some cases a cheque for a substantially larger amount than 1500 rupees was required to be drawn representing the total wage bill of all the workers in an establishment, who were then paid in cash. In order to meet these cases, directives to the banks were modified further to provide that a cheque for an amount higher than 1500 rupees may be drawn provided that the wage register showing the total amount to be drawn was produced along with the cheque. Indeed, since this also created administrative difficulties, it was in turn provided that such a cheque for an amount higher than 1500 rupees may be paid if it was certified by the trade unions of
the industrial establishments concerned.
On March 6, I was contacted by a group of Civil Servants, led by Sanaul Haque, saying that they had decided collectively to declare their support to Sheikh Mujib and would like to call on him to state that henceforward they would act upon the directives of the elected representatives. I arranged a meeting at which delegation of civil servants led by Sanaul Haque, formally declared their commitment to comply with the directives of the Awami League. Sheikh Mujib directed that they should liaise with me and that the three who had been entrusted with the task to preparing directives should meet daily with the civil servants. This became the nucleus of the administration which was to run affairs in the Eastern wing of the coming weeks.
On March 6, a meeting was called of the Working Committee members of the party at the residence of Sheikh Mujib to consider the position to be adopted at the public meeting on March 7. There were expectations inside the country that a declaration of Independence would be made on March 7. Indeed, the students and the younger elements strongly favoured such a declaration. In fact by March 7, there was little doubt among party members that Independence alone could be an acceptable goal. Anything less would not be acceptable to students, the younger elements and indeed large sections of politically conscious people. But the burden of responsibility still lay with Sheikh Mujib and the party in this matter. The full implications of making a declaration of Independence on March 7 had to be carefully weighed.
Unilateral Declaration of Independence would mean directly engaging the full force of the military. They would not only have found the pretext for using force but would hit out with everything they had in order to impose their will by force. Could an unarmed population absorb the shock of such an onslaught and emerge victorious ? What would be the reaction of the outside world ? Would Governments come forward to recognise independent Bangladesh ? Would an independent Bangladesh Government be able to hold out for long enough in the face of an organised military onslaught to obtain such recognition ? Apart from that, given the different global and regional interests of the powers, would they accord recognition and accept the emergence of an independent Bangladesh ? These were among the many questions to which anxious consideration was given. In the meeting Sheikh Mujib heard different opinions which were expressed by different members and reserved judgement. The whole range of views was expressed. While the meeting was in progress, Yahya came on the air and broadcast a statement. It was a particularly provocative statement and highly offensive to Bengali sentiment. It blamed Sheikh, Mujib and the Awami League for the prevailing situation. There was a menacing undertone from the statement.
While realising that an application of adequate force can effectively bring the situation under control, I have deliberately ordered the authorities in East Pakistan to use the absolute minimum force required to stop the law breakers from loot arson and murder…
"finally let 'me make it absolutely clear that no matter what happens, as long as I am in command of the Pakistani Army forces, I will ensure complete and absolute integrity of Pakistan. Let There be no doubt or mistake on this point. I have a duty towards millions of people of East and West Pakistan to preserve this country. They expect this from me and I shall not fail them. I will not allow a handful of people to destroy the homeland of millions of innocent Pakistanis. It is the duty of the Pakistan army forces to ensure this integrity, solidarity and security of Pakistan, a duty in which they have never failed.
Translated into less pompous language, the message was that Yahya believed that there was a millitary solution possible of the situation, and that he regarded himself as possessing both the authority and the capability to adopt any measure and to resort to any degree of force he considered necessary for the purpose of "protecting the integrity of Pakistan".
The threat contained in this message was clear. On the conclusion of this broadcast Sheikh Mujib directed that the meeting of the working committee members may be adjourned till late that evening and that in the meantime, he would decide on the line to be adopted the following day.
The burden of a decision rested squarely upon him. Sheikh Mujib asked the senior party leaders, M/s. Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, Khondaker Mushtaq Ahmed, Capt. Mansoor Ali, A H M. Kamaruzzaman, for consultations. I was also called to join them. The implications of making an explicit declaration of Independence were carefully weighed. The fact that such a declaration would provide the army the opportunity they were seeking for a military onslaught was clearly perceived. It was decided that such an opportunity should be denied to them. At the same time, the momentum of the movement must be maintained and pressure should be kept on Yahya to proceed to transfer power to the elected representatives of the people. It was calculated that if the tempo of the movement could be sustained and the unity of the people consolidated then it would become evident to Yahya and the military junta that use of military force could not result in their gaining any objective. It was therefore decided that the position to be taken should not be an explicit declaration of Independence. In order to exert pressure on Yahya specific demands would be made, and the movement would be sustained in support of these demands, with 'Independence' as its ultimate goal. These demands would include withdrawal of army to the barracks, stopping further movement of troops from West to the Eastern wing and an enquiry into the killings. Sheikh Mujib directed that the two major demands should be highlighted, namely the immediate withdrawal of Martial Law and immediate transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people.
I was asked to prepare the draft of a formal statement embodying this position, which would be released to the press after the public meeting of March 7. In view of the importance of the pronouncement it was decided that a written text should be kept ready to be released to the Press after Sheikh Mujib delivered his speech on March 7. A draft text was prepared by the same evening. The draft presented had included the point about termination of Martial Law and transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people and the last paragraph was as follows :
The objective of the present phase of the struggle is the immediate termination of Martial Law and the transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people. Till this objective is attained, our non-violent Non-Cooperation Movement must continue.
Sheikh Mujib directed that the text should be kept under the charge of Tajuddin and should be personally issued by him after making any amendments as may be necessary in the light of the speech as actually delivered.
The historic speech of March 7 lasted only 19 minutes. The operative sentence in that was : "Our struggle now is for independence, our struggle now is for freedom." Also the immediate termination of martial law and transfer of power to the elected representatives were put forward as specific demand. The written text which was released, was accordingly amended by Tajuddin to include these two points as specific demands. Thus, although independence was clearly set as the goal, Sheikh Mujib stopped just short of a formal declaration since it was clear that the army had been mobilised and had conspicuously taken up positions at different vantage points in the city in order immediately to strike, should such a declaration of independence be made. It may be mentioned that late the previous night (March 6) a Brigadier had called with a message from Yahya Khan, saying that he expected to come to Dacca soon and would hope to, arrive at a settlement which would satisfy the Bengalis. This was a curious communication and was seen as trying to soften the offence given by his radio broadcast and at the same time, trying to influence the position to be taken by Sheikh Mujib at the March 7 meeting. I was also seen as an attempt to create an alibi for himself ; thus, if a declaration of independence were made, Yahya could turn round to the world and say that he had offered to go to Dacca and reach a peaceful settlement but it was Sheikh Mujib who had declared UDI and precipitated the use of force. This was another consideration in Sheikh Mujib's holding back from a formal declaration on March 7.
A further programme of action for the following week was announced. The "no-tax" campaign was to continue. Further exemptions and specific directives were announced on March 7, and March 9, to allow essential economic activities to continue. It was directed that railways and ports may function, but railway workers and port workers were directed not to co-operate if railways or ports were used to mobilise forces for the purpose of coordinating repression against the people, The March 8 directives contained a number of specific directives to banks. These followed a round of meetings with Bengali bankers who reported numerous genuine difficulties which were being faced by parties. These new directives authorized banking transactions for purchase of industrial raw materials for running mills and also bona fide personal drawings of up to rupees 100000. In order to ensure that certain "essential" economic activities were maintained it was directed that relevant Government offices should remain open for purposes of supply of fertiliser and diesel to power pumps. It was also directed that food supplies, supply of coal to brick fields and distribution of jute and rice seeds should be maintained.
A further meeting with bankers and with A K N Ahmed, a senior Bengali state Bank official, who came from Karachi, was held in order to work out a series of directives ...
Yahya arrived in Dacca on March 15, Sheikh Mujib met him on the morning of March 16. The meeting lasted for about an hour. When Sheikh returned, he called the senior leaders. I was also called in. Indeed for the coming weeks this was the procedure where after every meeting with Yahya or his advisers, a meeting was held to review the discussions. Sheikh Mujib reported that Yahya had begun by offering explanations for his action in postponing the National Assembly. Sheikh Mujib had charged him with a serious lapse in failing to consult Sheikh Mujib, who was the leader of the majority party before taking such a decision. Yahya then stated that he would like to find a way out of the present situation, whereupon Sheikh had told him that in view of all that happened and the mood of the people, nothing short of acceptance of the demands raised by him on March 7, in particular immediate withdrawal of Martial Law, and transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people, would suffice. Yahya then said that he had been advised that there were legal difficulties in withdrawing martial law before a constitution was framed. Sheikh Mujib thereupon had said that he would ask his legal experts to meet Yahya's advisers to discuss this matter and convince them that no legal difficulty would arise.
Following this, Sheikh directed that I should meet Lt. Gen. Peerzada the same evening, to discuss this point about the supposed legal difficulty. I met Peerzada that evening, and availed of the opportunity to charge Peerzada that they had been guilty of gross impropriety in postponing the Assembly in the way in which it had been done and told him that this had been taken as an affront to the entire Bengali people. He appeared uncomfortable and defensive. He then came to the question of the demands for immediate withdrawal of Martial Law and transfer of power to the elected representatives. He argued that if Martial Law were withdrawn before any Constitution was framed, then there would be a legal vacuum. I immediately countered this argument by saying that during the interim period between the withdrawal of Martial Law and the adoption of a Constitution, an Interim Arrangement's Order ( in effect a provisional Constitution) could be in force and this could be promulgated by President/Chief Martial Law Administrator, by the same Order, which he revoked Martial Law. This argument was to feature prominently in the ensuing negotiations.
On the following morning, March 17, Sheikh Mujib met Yahya and reiterated his demand for withdrawal of Martial Law and transfer of power to elected representatives. Yahya again mentioned legal difficulties and stated that he has sent for Justice Cornelius, now his legal adviser, to consider these questions. A meeting between Yahya's advisers and the Awami league team was proposed. On the evening of 17 March, Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed and myself were deputed to sit in negotiations with Yahya's advisers namely, Peerzada, Cornelius and Col, Hassan (the Judge Advocate General). The meeting commenced with Peerzada observing that the discussions between Sheikh Mujib and Yahya that morning had proceeded on the basis that Yahya would make a Proclamation. He indicted certain basic elements which were to go into such a Proclamation had emerged from these discussions. According to him, Sheikh Mujib had proposed that a Constitution for the Eastern Wing should f-e drawn up b, the Members from the Eastern Wing separately and a Constitution for the Western Wing may be drawn up by the Members from the West and thereafter they should sit together to make a Constitution for Pakistan. It was also indicated that provision should be made for the East wing to enjoy autonomy on the basis of Six-Points. In the West, the Provinces would enjoy autonomy to the extent enjoyed by a Province under the 1962 Constitution, the additional powers to remain with the Centre. Cornelius suggested that such an Instrument-a Provisional Constitution-should be brought into force by a Resolution of the National Assembly. It was then suggested that it would be best before the drafting of the Instrument was taken in hand, for the advisers of both sides to sit in a plenary meeting with Sheikh Mujib and Yahya so that basic guidelines could be obtained from them.
It is not correct as stated in the Pakistan Government White Paper that on March 17, a Martial Law Regulation had already been drafted providing for setting up of Council of Ministers to aid and advise the Governors of the Provinces or that such a regulation had provided for the Martial Law to recede into the back-ground. The discussion, in fact, were exploratory and most of the time was spent in going over the ground relating to the question of legal vacuum which according to Cornelius and Peerzada would occur if Martial Law were to be revoked before a Constitution was adopted. The countar-argument was put that an Interim Arrangements Order could be brought into force by a Proclamation, which would provide the bridge between the withdrawal of Martial Law and the adoption of a Constitution.
It is now on record that following the meeting of March 17 Yahya Khan asked General Tikka Khan to "get ready" and, accordingly, on the morning of March 18, Major-Generals Khadim Husain, Raja and Rao Farman Ali prepared the blueprint for Operation Searchlight-the codename given to the plan for a military crackdown all over the province to be effective on March 25.
On the morning of 19 March, Sheikh Mujib had another meeting with Yahya and emphasized that the only solution was for withdrawal of Martial Law and transfer of power to the elected representatives. An Interim Arrangements Order could be in force during the interim period. Such an Order could be made by a Presidential Proclamation. The same evening Yahya's Advisers sat with the Awami League team.
It is not correct as the Pakistan Government White Paper states, that the President's team had provided a Martial Law regulation to meet the demands of the Awami League "as far as was legally possible." There was no indication of the existence of any such Martial Law Regulation having been drafted. Indeed, the following morning a good deal of time was taken up over the argument as to the legal vacuum and it was only, thereafter, that the question of drafting of any Instrument at all came up in the discussion.
On the morning of 20 March, Sheikh Mujib met Yahya. On this occasion Sheikh Mujib took with him Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, Capt. Mansoor Ali, Khandaker Mushtaq Ahmed, A. H. M. Kamaruzzaman and myself. On Yahya's side, Peerzada, Cornelius and Col. Hassan were present.
On the previous day, while army trucks dad been passing through Tongi, they had been attacked by the people, and an exchange of fire between the army and the people had taken place. Indeed, it was one of the first instances of the people having offered armed resistance to the military. The White Paper also reports that people had obstructed what the White Paper calls `the normal movement of army supplies by Pakistani Ship M.V. Swat', when to the Bangalees these `supplies' represented arms intended to massacre the people. The atmosphere was tense. In some excitement, Yahya said, although he had come to negotiate and that he had ordered the army to exercise restraint, he could not tolerate movement of 'military supplies' being obstructed by the Awami League. Sheikh Mujib also reacted strongly, saying that while negotiations were going on, it was expected that the army should remain in the barracks. Yahya countered by saying that even if they stayed in barracks, the movement of army supplies must continue. Sheikh Mujib then stated that the movement of such army personnel in trucks was a provocation to the people since earlier there had been so many incidents where innocent unarmed civilians had been fired upon by military personnel. Indeed, very near Jaydevpur where the latest encounter had taken place only a few days earlier, innocent young unarmed persons had been fired upon by army personnel killing some of them, so that the emotions of the local people had been aroused. Sheikh Mujib urged that, given the roused feelings of the people, the army should not offer provocations. He also said that you know if unarmed people kept being shot at, ultimately they may also be forced to take up arms to shoot back, therefore, it was desirable that there should be a political solution and no further bloodshed.
This strong statement by Sheikh Mujib seems to have had some effect on Yahya, who then reverted to the question of a political solution, by saying that he was a simple man and although he was ready in principle to accept Sheikh Mujib's demands, he had been told by this experts that the withdrawal of Martial Law before a Constitution came into force would create a legal vacuum. Cornelius picked up this point and read a short lecture on Constitution it Law and the need for there to bean ultimate source of authority in any legal system. I immediately countered by saying that there need be no such vacuum if an Instrument was promulgated by Yahya in the form of an Interim Arrangements Order which would be valid and remain in force till such time as the Constitution was adopted. Since arguments on this point tended to go on, I thought there might be a way out by suggesting that this point could be examined by a Constitutional expert, such as A K Brohi, whose views would be adopted by them. I knew that Brohi was in Dacca and was confident that his opinion would support the Awami League position, since it was legally sound. I also knew that Cornelius specially respected Brohi and was therefore likely to accept this suggestion. My assessment proved to be right, for Cornelius reacted by saying that such an opinion would ' be helpful. I undertook to obtain and forward such an opinion. Sheikh.
Mujib turned to Yahya and said that it was for experts to find a way to give effect to the political decision which they would arrive at. "If we agree to give the necessary directions it will be the duty of experts to give effect to them" he asserted.
It was then proposed that the basic points which were to be incorporated in the proposed document to be drawn up should be noted down. These were to be worked out in the draft proclamation :
a) Withdrawal of Martial law
b) Transfer of power to elected representatives
c) Enjoyment of greater autonomy by the Eastern Wing
(It was emphasized that this must be on the basis of the Six-Point scheme)
It was agreed that the President's Advisers would sit with the Awami League team the same evening to discuss how to give effect to this decision.
Yahya then raised the point that he thought that it would be necessary for him to consult West Pakistan leaders. Sheikh Mujib said that this was a matter for him and he was free to proceed as he wished. Yahya said that he considered it essential for him td seek concurrence of the West Pakistani political leaders as otherwise the responsibility would be too much for him. He also said that he wanted a signed letter from all the political leaders requesting him to make a Proclamation.
Yahya then said that he proposed to invite the West Pakistani Leaders, and in particular Bhutto. Sheikh Mujib said that the President was free to do so and that was a matter for him to decide. Sheikh Mujib, however, said that he would not directly meet Bhutto but that Yahya could meet him separately. This was in part an expression of resentment at the way in which Bhutto and his party had conducted themselves during and after the discussions held barely six weeks earlier. A more important reason was that Bhutto and Yahya were seen as basically representing the same interests, and, therefore, to allow them to negotiate separately would result in conceding to them a significant negotiating advantage.
I suggested that a working draft should be prepared by the government side, since they could draw upon the resources of the Law Ministry. It was suggested that the Legal Draftsmen of the Ministry of Law be sent for. A copy of the draft was to be sent to the Awami League team as son as it was ready.
On the morning of 21 March I was sent for by Sheikh Mujib. He and Tajuddin were in the midst of a discussion and he put to me a view that be had been giving thought to the matter of transfer of power and he thought that it would be expedient to Press for immediate transfer of Power only in the provinces Find that, given the mood of the Bangalee people, it would not be advisable for Awami League to be seen to take over power at the Centre. It seems there were several reasons which weighed with him in coming to this conclusion :
(l) The mood particularly among the students was that the people's movement should not be compromised and that Awami League should not for the sake of 'power' compromise on its demands. Taking power at Centre could well be projected as such a compromise. Indeed some of the student leaders who had met Sheikh Mujib earlier, made this point forcefully.
(2) Taking Power at the Centre in the absence of a Constitution would expose Awami League to the risk of being ineffective at the Centre and thus discrediting themselves even before the Constitution could be framed,
(3) Taking power in the Province only would be a formula whereby the Awami League could consolidate its Position in the East without assuming responsibility for the Centre, which responsibility it would find difficult to discharge having regard to the preponderance of the Punjabi bureaucracy and the army. .
(4) This would also enable Awami League an opportunity to muster the resources of the provincial Government, and in particular the police and the EPR, to face a situation of armed confrontation, the possibility of which had begun to loom large.
It appeared that Yahya might himself go along with this formula, since he could thereby retain his position at the Centre. Accordingly, Sheikh Mujib and Tajuddin sought an immediate meeting with Yahya. They told Yahya that in the present circumstances provision should only be made for transfer of power in the provinces.
In the meantime, an exhaustive written opinion was formulated and signed by Brohi. This was delivered to Col. Hassan. The Pakistan Government White Paper is therefore guilty of blatant falsehood in asserting that Awami League failed to produce a Constitutional Expert to support the point regarding the legal validity of the draft Proclamation.
On 21 March a draft Presidential Proclamation said to be prepared by Col. Hassan was ready and a person was sent to collect it. This draft was examined by the Awami League team. It had obviously been prepared hurriedly. Interestingly enough, it had provided for Members from the Eastern wing to sit as a separate committee to frame provideb for Members provisions relating to that wing and similarly for Members from the Western wing to sit as a separate committee. It provided that the proclamation of Martial Law would stand revoked from the day on which Ministers of the provincial governments took oath. Upon scrutiny of' this draft, the Awami League team found that the draft was incomplete in many respects and imprecise in a number of formulations. First of all, it was their view that the revocation should be more prompt and should not be a long-drawn. out process taking effect on the taking of oath by Provincial Ministers, a process which could be Protracted, given the fact that five provinces would be involved. It was felt that the proclamation should take effect more promptly. The Awami League team suggested a formula, whereby the Proclamation would take effect on appointment of Provincial Governors, or on expiry of 7 days from promulgation, whichever was earlier.
Bhutto, in the meantime, had arrived on the afternoon of 21 March. I remember when the revised draft was presented, Cornelius had been moved to say that this was indeed an improved and more complete draft. I immediately stated that this should not be described as the Awami League draft. The entire task of drafting should be regarded as a joint exercise. A clause by clause reading of the amended draft proclamation then began. Peerzada mentioned that he would be meeting Bhutto's advisers and had earlier indicated that a copy of the revised draft had been sent to Bhutto.
In Bhutto's own language the position on his arrival was as follows:
At 7.30 that evening I met President Yahya Khan, at President House. The President informed me of the series of meeting he had held with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from the 16 to the 20. In view of the headway made, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had addressed a Press Conference on the 18 in which he said that progress had been achieved. As a result, the experts of the Awami League and of the President also held discussions on the proposed Constitutional arrangements. The President proceeded to inform me about the proposal made by the Awami League leader.
The salient features of the proposal were that Martial Law be withdrawn immediately and power transferred in the five provinces without affecting a similar transfer in the Central
Government. According to this proposal the President would continue running the Central Government as was being done at the time or, if he so chose, with the assistance of advisers not drawn from the people's representatives. It was also proposed that the National Assembly be divided ab initio into two committees, one for West Pakistan comprised of the elected representatives from West Pakistan and the other for Bangladesh in Dacca. The committee would prepare their separate reports within a stipulated period and submit their proposals to the National Assembly. It would then be the task of the National Assembly to discuss and debate the proposals of both the committees and find out ways and means of living together. Under an interim arrangement, which was to be an amended form of the 1962 Constitution, East Pakistan would be given autonomy on the basis of Six Points and the Provinces of the West wing would have powers as provided in the 1962 Constitution, but would be free to work out their quantum of autonomy according to a mutually acceptable procedure, subject to the Paesident's approval. The entire scheme was to be published in the form of a Presidential Proclamation.
Bhutto then goes on to state that :
After narrating the proposal, Yahya told me (Bhutto) that he had made it clear to Sheikh Mujib that Yahya's concurrence to the proposal would be subject primarily to Bhutto's agreement, but that he (Yahya) would be more satisfied if the other leaders of West Pakistan would give their consent.
On the morning of 22 March, Sheikh Mujib called on Yahya to resume discussions while the written text of the draft proclamation was under discussion between the two teams. The White Paper's account that the President prevailed upon Bhutto himself to meet Sheikh Mujib is not true. Indeed, Sheikh Mujib, when he had gone for a meeting with Yahya, found Bhutto present and took the opportunity to draw him aside to have a few words with him. According to Sheikh Mujib he suggested to Bhutto that it would be better for them to talk outside in the verandah so that they may not be overheard. Bhutto's own account of this meeting is the following words :
On the morning of the 22nd I arrived at President House a few minutes before the appointed time. Mujibur Rahman arrived promptly at 11 0' clock. We greeted each other and exchanged a few formal words.
After that we were escorted to the President. Once again there were formal greetings....
Mujibur Rahman then turned to the President and asked him if he had given his final approval to the proposals of the Awami League. The President reminded him that it was necessary for me also to agree and for that reason I was present at the discussions. On that Mujibur Rahman remarked that the proposals had been communicated to the President and it was for the President to convince me, and went on to say that once Mr. Bhutto agreed in principle to the proposals, they could hold formal discussion, but until then the discussions were of an informal nature and on leaving the President he would tell the press that he had met the President and that Mr. Bhutto also happened to be present. The President replied that this was not good enough, but Mujibur Rahman remained adamant. ...
As we entered the Military Secretary's room on our way out, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman asked General Mohammed Umar, General Ishaque, the Military Secretary to the President and the President's Naval aide-de-camp who were sitting in the room, to leave as he wanted to talk to me. I was a little surprised by this sudden change of attitude on his part. He grasped me by the hand and made me sit next to him. He told me that the situation was very grave and that he needed my help to overcome it. At this point, thinking the room might be bugged, we walked out to the verandah towards the back of the house and sat in the portico behind the President's salon.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman repeated that he told me in the Military Secretary's room, and went on to say that things had now gone too far and there was no turning back. According to him the best way out was for me to agree to his proposals. He emphasized that there was no other alternative. He told me that he now realised that the People's Party was the only force in West Pakistan and the other politicians of West Pakistan were wasting his time. He volunteered the information that he had rebuked all of them except Khan Abdul Wali Khan, whose party -at least represented one province, when they called on him. He said that he was now convinced that it was essential for the two of us to agree. He told me I could do whatever I wanted in West Pakistan, and he would support me. In return I should leave East Pakistan alone, and assist him in ensuring that the Awami League's proposal materialised. He suggested that I should become the Prime Minister of West Pakistan and he would look after East Pakistan. According to him this was the only way out of the impasse. He cautioned me against the military and told me not to trust them : if they destroy him first, they would also destroy me. I replied that I would much rather be destroyed by the military than by history. He pressed me to give my consent to his proposal and to agree to the setting up ab initio of the two committees. ...
I told him that I would naturally give my most careful thought to his proposal and do everything possible to arrive at a fair settlement. However, whatever the final shape of the proposal, it should be passed by the National Assembly, if necessary in the form of a resolution authorising the issuing of the Presidential Proclamation. I further informed him that I was not prepared to give any letter in connection with proposals made outside the Assembly. ...
Mujibur Rahman rejected the idea of the Assembly meeting at all, even briefly. Whatever the nature of the arrangement he was now determined to have it concluded in full without the National Assembly sitting as an Assembly for the whole country. After expressing those views he got up to leave. I accompanied him to his car and we said goodbye to each other. This was my last meeting with the Awami League leader.
Bhutto's account confirms the basic position that was being maintained by Sheikh Mujib. The point, however, that is made about Bhutto's own insistence that the National Assembly must first meet and approve the inter arrangements though subsequently asserted, had not at this stage been present. For after this encounter between Sheikh Mujib and Bhutto, the impression conveyed both inside and outside was that there was the glimmering of a possibility of political settlement. Indeed, Sheikh Mujib in reporting to the Awami League team this encounter, said, he felt that Yahya and Bhutto may have realised that it was in their best interest to have a solution along with the lines that had been proposed.Their position at least in the Western wing was thus safeguarded. Yahya would remain president, Bhutto would get power in Punjab and Sind and since the Constitution for the Western wing would be made by a committee consisting of members from the west, Bhutto's party would in effect dominate that committee. I remember some foreign correspondents also saying that the 'two committees' approach may just be what Yahya and Bhutto wanted in order to secure their position in the west. The 22nd was a day of mild optimism as the hint of a possibility of a settlement appeared to be in sight.
In the evening of 22 March, the Awami League team went through the draft proclamation in my office, where Sheikh Mujib and other party leaders came and a careful reading was given to the entire draft since it seemed that such a draft may ultimately become a proclamation, Throughout the night of 22 March work went on to prepare a finished draft.
March 23 was an extraordinary day. This had previously been celebrated as 'Pakistan Day.' This was the day, however, when thousands of Bangladesh flags were on sale. I remember as I drove our of my office at 6 a. m. in the morning, with copies of the revised draft, I bought a Bangladesh flag at the Nawabpur railway crossing. I arrived at Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's house at about 7 in the morning with the revised draft. Soon many processions came there and hoisting of a Bangladesh flag in his house took place. Indeed, most of the houses and cars bore Bangladesh flags.
The Awami League team drove into president's house at 11-30 that morning with a Bangladesh flag on their car. The hostile reaction of military officers at president's House when they saw the flag was all too visible.
When the Awami League team entered, they were told that M M Ahmed and some other financial experts had been brought over by the Government to examine the implications of the financial and economic provisions. Indeed, M M Ahmed started by saying that he thought that the Six Point scheme could be given effect to with some minor practical adaptations. Peerzada proposed that M M Ahmed may sit with the Awami League financial experts and mentioned the name of Nurul Islam. Indeed, the Awami League financial experts, Nurul Islam, Anisur Rahman, Rehman Sobhan and others had been meeting daily at Nurul Islam's house and in fact, the financial and economic provisions in the Awami League revised draft had been votted by them. The Awami League team did not, however, wish to accept this proposal for a separate meeting between financial experts as it was seen as a time-killing manoeuvre. The Awami League team had begun to sense that Yahya's advisers were trying to prolong discussions on each clause and this was clearly seen as a dilatory tactic. In the evening sitting of 23 March, M. M. Ahmed produced a number of written slips by way of amendments and insertions to the draft. Even in respect of foreign trade and aid, M. M. Ahmed showed some flexibility. He said foreign trade could be left with the Eastern wing without any difficulty. About aid, he said the difficulty could be overcome if foreign policy aspects were left with the Centre. About the reconstruction of the State Bank, he said this also could be done and that in the interim period the Dacca branch of the State Bank could function as the Reserve Bank of Bangladesh. There could also be a bifurcation of the foreign exchange account the earnings generated by exports from the Eastern wing could be maintained in an account with the Dacca branch. Bifurcation of tax collection presented a more complex problem, and it was agreed that the Awami League team would present a practical scheme to deal with this matter in the interim phase.
The Awami League team itself left to join their economic experts who had been meeting continuously at Professor Nurul Islam's residence. The amendments prepared by M.M. Ahmed were discussed and carefully formulated provisions dealing with the collection, management of the foreign exchange current, as well as mode of dealing with foreign aid negotiations were prepared for presentation to the government side of the meeting later that evening.
On the evening of March 23, when the Awami League team returned to resume discussion on this economic provision, they learnt that Yahya had been away from President's House for the whole day. Indeed, Peerzada mentioned something about his being in the Cantonment and subsequent evidence was to show that March 23 had been the day when the 'Generals' had been meeting. Now we know for certain that
it was at this time that the plan for operation Searchlight was given final approval and that two of its authors personally undertook helicopter rides on 24 March to pass the instructions to Brigade commanders of their trust outside Dacca. The inference from these circumstances seems irresistible that the discussions which M.M. Ahmed was having with the Awami League team regarding financial and economic provisions were being prolonged by the government side merely to consume time and to provide a cover while real preparations were afoot in the Cantonment for implementation of a ‘military solution'. By the morning of 24 March, the Awami League team had concluded discussions of this economic provision and for all questional purposes a clause-by-clause reading of the entire draft Proclamation. When the Awami League team was leaving for the evening session on March 24, Sheikh Mujib indicated that for the name of the State, we should propose `Confederation of Pakistan'. He indicated that we should explain that this was necessary to meet the sentiments of the people. This proposal in part reflected the intensity of the popular sentiment for independence, here particularly as this was articulated by the young' militants who were in the vanguard of the mass movement which was surging ahead.
When this proposal was put to the government side, they strongly objected arguing that this represented a fundamental change in our stand. We argued that a change in the name did not amount to a fundamental change when all the substantive provisions remained intact, so that a limited but viable federal government had been adequately provided for. Cornelius seemed to appreciate the argument, but countered with the Proposal that perhaps the word "Union" could be taken as a substitute for "Confederation". The Awami League then reiterated its position, stating, however, that this point of difference related to a single word, and if the issue was not resolved, this matter could be resolved at the meeting of Sheikh Mujib and Yahya later, when the final draft was placed before them for their consideration.
The Awami League team could also sense that the situation outside was becoming very grave as the Army had moved to unload the M V Swat in Chittagong by using military force and hundreds of thousands of civilians were blocking their path in the road leading up to the Chittagong Port. Reports of military operations also came in from Rangpur.
Reports were also reaching Dacca that the army was preparing to launch an onslaught. It was therefore felt that the 24th evening meeting should be a conclusive one, where the discussion should be brought to a close as there was little point in further prolonging technical discussions.
In the evening, the reading of all the clauses and the schedules of the draft was concluded. I then asked Peerzada, with a note of urgency, as to when the draft could be finalised ? From the Awami League side it was proposed that I should sit with Cornelius that very night to finalise the draft, so that it could be put up before Sheikh Mujib an I Yahya the next morning. Cornelius was agreeable but Peerzada held him back, saying "No, we have some discussions this evening, you may meet tomorrow morning." When I suggested that a time may be fixed on the following day, Peerzada again intervened to say that this could be done over the telephone and that he would be contacted over the phone. Then Peerzada turned to me and said, "When do you think the Proclamation should be made ?", to which I replied that it should have been made the day before yesterday' and that the way things were going ( I had in mind the situation in Chittagong and Rangpur, where the army had fired on civilians and Bengali policemen) time may be running out. It was in this context that Tajuddin said that Awami League team thought that they had exhaustively discussed everything and there was nothing more to discuss. All that remained to be done was for a draft to be put before Sheikh Mujib and Yahya for their ultimate approval. Once approved, the Proclamation could be promulgated. This statement of Tajuddin has been sought to be misconstrued to make it appear that it was Awami League that broke off the negotiations. In fact, this was far from the truth. Since exhaustive discussions had taken place, what is required was finalisation of a draft to be put up before Sheikh Mujib and Yahya. I waited for a telephone call throughout the fateful 25th. This telephone call never came. Indeed, when I finally took leave of Sheikh Mujib at about 10.30 p m, on 25 March, Sheikh Mujib asked me whether I had received such a telephone call. I confirmed to him that I had not. An onslaught was launched by the army that night upon the Bangalee people, and the genocide and the bloodbath, the avoidance of which was the principal objective of holding the negotiations and seeking a negotiated political settlement, began.
Dr. Kamal Hossain
(Excerpt from "History of Bangladesh War of Independence: Documents, Vol-15", published by Ministry of Information, Government of the People's Republic Bangladesh.)