53. Telegram From the Consulate General in Karachi to the Department of State1

1184. From the Ambassador. Subj: President Yahyaʼs Observations on Pakistan Political Situation. Ref: State 084783.2

I met President Yahya Khan at Presidentʼs house in Karachi, Saturday, May 22 at 1830 to present him President Nixonʼs letter of May 7.3 During hour and half conversation which ensued I discussed with Yahya, among other subjects which are reported by septel,4 the political situation within Pakistan and his plans with regard thereto.
I stated that President Nixon sincerely welcomed the opportunity he had had last October to discuss Pakistanʼs political future with Yahya. He was deeply interested in hearing how Yahya planned to reach accommodation with the people and political leaders of East Pakistan. The USG believed that peaceful political accommodation was necessary to permit the people of Pakistan to turn their attention to rehabilitation, reconstruction and economic development and also to avoid the dangers of escalation and internationalization of the East Pak situation. I stated that, as a friend of Pakistan, the USG was willing to be of assistance in facilitating such an accommodation.
Speaking frankly, I said the first necessity was to stop the shooting and to start the rebuilding. The Embassyʼs impression of East Pakistan suggested that perhaps the most serious problem was a pervasive sense of fear. This had many causes and I saw no advantage to be gained in pointing the finger of blame at anyone. But as long as deep tensions persisted between Bengali Muslims, Biharis, Hindus and West Paks, I could see little ground for optimism that real normalcy would return. Little hope politically because of the fact that what leadership there is is afraid to come out into the open; and economically the laborers are staying away from their jobs. Unless public confidence was restored, the prospects for either political accommodation or economic development seemed dim.
I said my government had observed with interest the outcome of a political settlement which was sketched to us by Mr. M.M. Ahmad and Foreign Secretary Sultan Khan; of greater continuing interest, however, is how he (Yahya) gauged the prospects for success of this approach. Also, it was noted that to date very few Awami Leaguers had associated themselves with the government side. Also in question was how the GOP would deal with Sheikh Mujib; that would have an effect on the governmentʼs efforts to gain support of former Awami Leaguers and on the prospects for accommodation with the East. I asked who could fill gap in early political accommodation in Mujibʼs absence. I then posed to Yahya the question that if the majority of Awami Leaguers proved unwilling to join, where would Yahya turn next?
In West Pakistan, I stated that there was current interest in how Bhutto and his Peoplesʼ Party figure in the MLAʼs political equation. Recalling that he, the President, had indicated his desire to proceed as quickly as possible toward some form of civilian representative government, I asked him what sort of time frame did he have in mind.
President Yahya said that he, too, had welcomed the opportunity last October to discuss the problems of Pakistan with President Nixon. He indicated that he could find no fault with the USGʼs belief that peaceful political accommodation was essential, not only to rehabilitation, reconstruction and economic development in East Pakistan [Page 134] but to West Pakistan as well. Yahya continued by saying that by this he was affirming his belief that the future of the wings were intertwined with the whole. He added that he was gratified the USG was willing to be of assistance in facilitating such accommodation. (I rather anticipated that he might ask me precisely how USG intended to facilitate such an accommodation, but this was passed over without question.)
Interspersed throughout this portion of the conversation, President Yahya repeatedly attempted to defend the action of the GOP in “putting down an overt secessionist movement.” And I with equal persistence tried to stop him by pointing out as I had done earlier, that judgment of the events of the past would rest with the historians; rather, my governmentʼs interest lay in the present and in the future and was directed to the needs of the people of Pakistan and the assistance which the United States could bring thereto. Yahya reiterated with emphasis that law and order was the first prerequisite to the reinstitution of a peaceful political accommodation; that rebuilding had to begin with a prompt cessation soonest of military action; and, that this was his objective. He acknowledged my thesis that fear had to be dispelled and public confidence restored. He was optimistic that this could be accomplished within a time frame of several months which would allow both for political accommodation and economic rehabilitation.
In answer to my observations and my stated interest in knowing more detailed aspects of how and when political accommodation could be accomplished, Yahya said he intended to go to the people via radio and television sometime next month. He said that he would use these media for the purpose of explaining in detail his plans for reinstitution of his efforts to transfer power and to remove the military apparatus as the dominant force in the national life of Pakistan. Yahya noted that his reported conversations with me should have by this time conveyed his overwhelming desire, at long last, to allow the politicians of Pakistan to worry with the multitudinous problems which beset his nation. He opined that the house he was building for himself in the cantonment in Peshawar was daily looking more attractive.
When pressed as to the how and when, President Yahya said it was his plan to hold a by-election in East Pakistan for those provincial and National Assembly seats, and those seats only, which were vacated by Awami Leaguers who had departed East Pakistan for India and elsewhere in the cause of Bangla Desh, or who had committed capital crimes during the period leading up to and subsequent to the secession attempt. Of the number of seats which would be vacated, President Yahya said he felt that no more than six or seven percent would be involved, and that it would be relatively a simple matter to hold an election for these few seats. He reaffirmed the fact that while the Awami League had been outlawed, the individuals had been elected [Page 135] individually and that their election, subject to the foregoing, would be recognized. President Yahya added that the election in West Pakistan would stand in toto.
When I mentioned again the fact that few Awami Leaguers had come over to the government position, Yahya said that he was most certainly not desirous of setting up a “pseudo slate” or finding a number of quislings to give form rather than substance to the reinstitution of political accommodation. Acknowledging that but a few names had yet appeared in the press, President Yahya said that a “substantial number” had privately already indicated their desire to join with the GOPʼs efforts to formulate what amounted to a six-point program for East Pakistan which would give to the people of the east wing the benefits of the program sans secession. Yahya said that fact had not been publicized for the simple reason that too many names appearing too soon might be judged to have been solicited under duress and that this would be detrimental; hence, his government believes that these names should be disclosed over an appropriate interim.
As to the time frame he invisioned, President Yahya said that it was his hope that the bi-elections in East Pakistan could be held in the early fall and that provincial assemblies, East and West, could meet thereafter. This could be followed by the National Assembly meeting. It was my impression from the foregoing conversation that President Yahya had determined a time frame for at least some degree of transfer of power and that he had intended to publicly commit himself to this in his forthcoming broadcast to the nation.
After several abortive attempts I reintroduced the question of how the GOP would deal with Sheik Mujib. President Yahya said that as far as he was concerned Sheik Mujib had committed a capital crime and would be tried in a duly constitutional court, and he would be given a fair and impartial trial. After noting that in the Presidentʼs last address to the people of Pakistan it appeared to me as a lawyer that Sheik Mujib had already been prejudged, and that a change of venue was impossible, I emphasized the fact that the GOP might well weigh world opinion vis-à-vis the severity of the sentence since Sheikh Sheik Mujib had a great deal international sympathy attaining. Yahya reply was noncommittal but not necessarily negative. He indicated that he would think about it.
In concluding the discussion of the political situation, I mentioned the references in President Nixonʼs letter to opposition in some U.S. public and Congressional circles concerning continuing aid to Pakistan under present circumstances. I stressed that public opinion played a large role in generating pressure on the USG and had been extremely critical of the GOP. I emphasized my view that a genuine GOP effort to establish civilian government, to restore more normal [Page 136] conditions and reach an accommodation with the people of East Pakistan as well as acceptance of UN humanitarian aid for the East should have a very beneficial impact on U.S. public opinion. In this regard, I observed that the governmentʼs decision to send groups of journalists to the East was a helpful beginning.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, POL 27 INDIA–PAK. Secret; Priority; Exdis. Repeated to Calcutta, Dacca, Islamabad, Lahore, New Delhi, and Kabul.
  2. Document 49.
  3. Document 41.
  4. Farlandʼs discussion with Yahya about economic assistance to Pakistan and humanitarian assistance to East Pakistan was reported in telegrams 1183 and 1185 from Islamabad, respectively, both May 22. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, AID (US) PAK and SOC 10 PAK)