‘Bhutto and the breakup of Pakistan’


A misperception that just stuck

Since 1971, it has become quite customary in Pakistan to discuss the breakup of the country in every December. Often the debate revolves around the three leading characters: Yahya, Mujib and Bhutto. However, the one who has received the harshest criticism for various reasons has been Bhutto and that is why it is important to know his version of why and how the separation took place. There is plethora of available literature but the most valuable recent addition has been the memoirs of Mohammed Yunus, who served as the Director General of the Middle Eastern and African Affairs in Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in that capacity recorded the version of the East Pakistan tragedy given by Bhutto in the aftermath, during the course of his first round of flying visits to the ten most important Muslim heads of state in the Mideast and North Africa.

Though on assuming power, Yahya had announced that he had no “political ambitions” and after his first broadcast to the nation “sat down holding his head in dismay and woefully remarked: what should we do now”, on tasting the brew of power, he tried to hang on as the president after the general elections by playing one party against the other, asking Mujib, “Let us get together and crush Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)” because of its radical programme, while simultaneously seeking Bhutto’s cooperation by branding Mujib a “secessionist”. To manipulate the post-election formation of government, he expected 10-12 political parties to emerge with substantial representation and therefore allowed one whole year for the election campaigns during which he just sat back and did nothing to stop the ensuing acrimony and hatred. Subsequent to the launching of the military operation on 25 March, 1971, in East Pakistan, he dubbed both the PPP and the Awami League as ‘menace’ to be dealt with and even distributed money among the hardliners in the PPP to split the party.

It is wrong to assume that Bhutto was anti-Bengali because he admitted before Gaddafi of Libya that they made the greatest sacrifices for the cause of Pakistan. That is why he was quite sympathetic towards the Six Points of the Awami League because he felt that to a common Bengali these Points meant an end to exploitation and progress but for the extremists this programme became a vehicle for secession. He tried to impress this fact upon Yahya, who retorted that “he had been given to understand by the industrialists that Mujibur Rahman would compromise”. Bhutto informed King Faisal of Saudi Arabia that he had told Mujib that PPP was willing to “make compromises but the Six Points meant the end of Pakistan”; Mujib being intoxicated by victory was not willing to compromise. Moreover, throughout the election campaign, he had taken a hard line against West Pakistan and any subsequent softness meant his political hara-kiri. There was a deadlock because the West Pakistanis looked upon the acceptance of the Six Points as capitulation to the Bengali separatism.

Mujib’s plan was to insist on the early holding of the National Assembly session because with his majority, he could have the constitution of his liking framed and if Yahya resorted to veto, which he could as per the Legal Framework Order (LFO), then he planned to turn the National Assembly into the Constituent Assembly and “adopt the constitution and march on the Government House in Dhaka”. Those who blame Bhutto for the breakup of the country should remember that he was the one who came up with different proposals to break the deadlock. Had the constitution been not formed within the stipulated 120 days by the Assembly, Yahya could dissolve it and call for re-election, thus using a convenient ruse to prolong his rule and at the same time pin the blame on the politicians. To avoid this, Bhutto proposed that either the session be postponed or the period for constitution-making be extended to more than 120-day limit. He suggested this with two objectives: one, to gain more time to soften Sheikh Mujib’s stiff stance on the Six Points; and two, to level public opinion in West Pakistan as far closer to the acceptance of these Points as he could and thus break the impasse. Bhutto’s proposal was not unreasonable keeping in view the fact that the first constitution was formed in eight years and the second by Ayub had taken four years.

Yahya paid no heed to this idea and ordered a military operation in East Pakistan. Again, those who blame Bhutto for supporting it do not take full cognizance of the facts. It is important to remember that neither Yahya took the PPP into confidence before launching the operation nor Bhutto had ever suggested it to the military regime. In fact, his stance after the operation is muddled through to exonerate Yahya and portray him as a ‘power-hungry’ politician, who was not interested in keeping the unity of the country. This is because three points are totally ignored with regard to Bhutto’s standpoint on the military operation: first, after the military operation had been undertaken, he demanded that it should be restricted only to the outright secessionists to save the integrity of the state. Two, that pure and simple military operation could not succeed on its own without some kind of political action to win the hearts of the people. Three, he and his party repeatedly protested against the excesses of the operation.

As situation continued to deteriorate, Bhutto is on the record to have warned in two public meetings — one in Karachi on 11 September and the other in Multan on 8 October — that the integrity of the country was at stake, at which Yahya called him and told to be not “so pessimistic” because his regime “would not allow the dismemberment of Pakistan”. As Yahya had virtually divorced any meaningful political option and intended to pursue the military solution, Bhutto left the country in disgust.

With the advantage of hindsight, one may ask that as the Awami League had won the majority, why was power not handed over to it and that was the responsibility of President General Yahya Khan and not any politician. Moreover, were the Six Points — the bone of contention — so ‘sacred’ for Mujib and so ‘sacrilegious’ for Yahya, Bhutto and the West Pakistanis that the integrity of the country was put at stake rather than reaching a pragmatic solution? Today, the Pakistani print and electronic media is full of remorseful people, who insist that power should have been transferred to the Bengalis. Ironically, these very (West) Pakistanis were the ones, with a few exceptions, who actually built up the public pressure that didn’t leave much room for the politicians to maneuver. By a strange coincidence, both the wings had entered a dead-end street from which they could not come out.

The writer is an academic and journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]


  1. .
    Bangladesh was not created in one day …
    Bhutto or Yahya, we are only talking about lesser evil or greater evil …
    And, "Bhutto in the aftermath", I am sure, did not give up on trying to put the best face on his share of things …
    You would see the same thing from Musharaff in Balouch context …

  2. Even after 42 years, the people in general do not understand the political acumen of Mr Bhutto. He was the one who could save the country at that time. Bhutto's views were not accepted by the than government, media and people in this part of the country. It is the mindset and nature of our people. Blame yourself.

    • you sound very stupid. Bhutto did 100% right during that crisis. He shud be credited for saving WestPakistan. Why??? Because If Mujib was transferred power solely, by his sheer majority, he cud frame Dastoor on 6 points which wud not only result in separation of EastPakistan but also dismemberment of WestPakistan into 4 regions. Let admit that Bhutto being the most genius politician realized this danger and he opposed Mujib framing contsitun single-handedly.

  3. The author cleverly refrained from mentioning the Six Points to make the readers to accept his point of view.

    • Mr. Well Wisher go and read Mujib Six points on google one by one and discuss with me one by one if you r so fond of that. Six pts were totally a separatist scheme. Mujib did not want to give tax collection powers to federal govt and without tax collection he wud reduce federal govt to zero.

  4. The writer very convieniently forgot that it was Bhutto who coined the Phrase
    "Idhar Ham Udhar Tum", and he also forgot to mention that it was Bhutto who said that he will break the legs of any NA member who will go to Dhaka to attend the National Assembly and not to mention that it was Bhutto who said Thanks God Pakisan has been saved after military operation started in East Pakisan. All what I have mentioned can be found in the archives of Jang and Morning New.

    • Molvi Irshad sahib. you r duffer like all molvies. Athar Abbas, the Editor of daily Express has mentioned several times that he fabricated this headline in his newspaper daily Azad during 1971. The very next day he also published denial by Bhutto with the headline, " Idher Na Udher Aik Pakistan". It is hypocritical not to mention this. Transferring power to Mujib exclusively wud result in dismemberment of WestPakistan as well alonwith EastPak.

      • And you will also claim that Bhutto never threatned to break the legs if any one of the NA memeber from Punjab, Sind, Frontier or Balochistan or that Pakistan have been saved comment as and when the Army action was starting in East Pakistan. One more point, A few weeks after the elections, Gen. Yahya Khan along with some senior military generals huddled up with Bhutto in his hometown Larkana. I believe that in that meeting the army and Bhutto finally agreed on how to deal with the East Pakistan and the Mujib problem. It was not in their interests to see Mujib as the PM and soon after those meetings, Bhutto took a belligerent stand against Mujib and eventually went on to tell National Assembly members to not to show up for the assembly meeting in Dhaka or their legs would be broken.

        • "And you will also claim that Bhutto never threatned to break the legs if any one of the NA memeber from Punjab, Sind, Frontier or Balochistan "
          Your above comments just show the inability of your mind to grasp the complexity of EastPakistan crisis. You drop at a few persons. Then u refer to one statement. Mujib had a six pts separation agneda and army cud not transfer power unless he guarranted that he wud not make DASTOOR e Pakistan on six pts which cud result in breakup of WestPakistan as well.

          • Let us be very clear about one thing. When the elcetions were being fought, Mujib's 6 point agenda was very well known to the whole world, his elections were fought on that agenda, the Army knew that. If this was such a bad formula and was supposed to be detrimental to the existence of Pakistan then the election should not have taken place on the 6 points basis. One more thing which most of the which people keep in mind is most of the reporters and wirters kept on refering the four federating uints as West Pakistan. There was no such thing as West Pakistan, One unit was dissolved and the elections were fought not on the basis of West Pakistan and East Pakisan, but on the basis on East Pakistan, Sindh, Balochistan, Frontier and Punjab.

            The moral of the story is that the Army, the Establishment from Punjab the Peoples Party were not willing to give up the power to the to the legitimate winners of the most free and fair election in the history of Pakistan.

            We as a nation will never learn any lessons from our actions unless we recognize that we usurped the legitimate rights of the poeple of East Pakistan.

          • So you want to say that the Pakistan Army had such a good grasp of the situtation of that time that they started to kill its own people and then ended up with the same resolutioin as if they had given power to Mujib minus the death of hundreds and thousands of its own innocent poeple.

        • i agree with you. The tragedy of East Pakistan is behind us. Every body has an opinion. The writer of this column is a apologist for Bhutto. If elections were called and it was dubbed fair, we should have also accepted the results. Let us not cry over the split milk. The agenda of Mujib was obvious from the beginning but still we never gave him the benefit of doubt. History is always written by the victors. One swallow does not make a summer–one speech does not make politics. The context rather than the text matters. ZAB and Mujib both were ambitious and between them they destroyed Pakistan and we the victims are writing the story todat. Let us draw a line after so many years.

      • Truth whoever you are, you could be anything but “Truth”. You don’t even have the etiquettes of discussion. You are using foul language in a discussion which is among, if not highly intellectual, at least we are some gentry. Is this the polite way to say “Molvi Irshad sahib. you r duffer like all molvies”. I don’t know who is Mr. Irsahd, but I respect him as a member of this forum. As a matter of fact I will pay respect to you also although I have totally different opinion than yours. We are adults, we should pay respect to each other instead of behaving like brats.
        You say that he did not say “udhar tum idhar hum”. Look, I heard it by my own ears, because I was present in that gathering at Nishtar Park, Karachi. And one more thing when he called and asked the public “Bangla Daish Manzoor”, all the public present there waved their hands and said “Na-manzoor” and I was one of those to say that, but he very cleverly said “OK, OK, agar tum ko manzoor to theek hay”. I don’t know how far would you defend him and why?

    • Read Mujib six points on google according to point # 2, Federal Govt wud have been given no tax collection powers at all. Just guess the status of Federal Govt without no tax collection power. It wud be begging money from provinces for defence and other govt expenses. Provinces wud hv denied. Result: dismemberment. Bhutto saved WestPakistan from Mujib clever scheme which was actually supported by Indian legal minds secretly in 1966

  5. Just watch Bhutto's speech to Bengali and make your own opinion. Mister author please watch this video..Bhutto – Apko meri baat manjoor hai? People says- No.Bhutto- Manjoor nahi to jahnnoom me jao, jahnnom me jao..SUWAR KE BACHHO JAHNNUM ME JAO……..Do you think that Bhutto was not responsible for Bengali seccession ? and why would prous muslims with own language and rich culture would stay with Bhutto's pakistan? . .http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SpKR0-Ye1-Q

    • "Manjoor nahi to jahnnoom me jao, jahnnom me jao..SUWAR KE BACHHO JAHNNUM ME JAO…."
      Just listen all the speech attentively and then put up ur senseless comments. Bhutto was trying to convince the people in support of Bengalies and wanted to see them reason. But people did not get his point and in utter disappointment he spoke those words.

    • My advice to u is Just listen that speech of Bhutto attentively and them put up ur nonsense(whatever) here He uttered those words in dismay when he cud not convince his people in support of keeping up relation with muslim Bengali brothers.

  6. I watched it .. cant believe leader of a country can use this language… only Pakistanis can do it…. Bangadesh to bach gia..lekin Bhuuuto ka Pakistan jahnnum me zaroor ja raha hai…

  7. What does it make sense on COMPROMISES.? Power should had been handed over to Mujib immediately after elections, instead of dramatizing the situation by the dramatists and they have seen the result in the shape of disintegration of Pakistan. So these dramatists are the culprits to break the unity.

    • You r a totally dull man. If power had been transferred to him, he wud hv made a DASTOOR based on his six points which were totally against a federal Pakistan. West Pakistan wud hv been divided into 4 parts as result and u wud not be writting ur stupid comments here. Remember Sheikh Mujib had been in contact with Indians from 1966.

  8. Your mental approach is zero as well as your mental growth. I watched that speech a thousand times, and just let your sleeping brain think about the context Bhutto is talking about

    • Absolutely rubbish and complete non sense,,,, Bhutto was traitor and his all Generations to come ….and deserve what his son in law is doing , killing both his son and daughter..

  9. Without being personal i saw the events unfold and the birth of a new state become a fact. It was caesarian section carried out by India. I was plus thirty at that time. How many of my respected commenators were old enough to understand the developments at that time?

    • .
      I had a driving license at that time …
      You are right: India carried the C-section which probably saved a life (or two?) …
      The lady was already pregnant and in labor – she had to give birth …

    • .
      One can talk about Mujib's six point plan (and how bad it was) etc. but here is some data from " Reports of the Advisory Panels for the Fourth Five Year Plan 1970–75, Vol. I, published by the planning commission of Pakistan.":
      Spending in West —- Spending in East
      Plan year : millions of. Rs.
      .1950-55 : 11,290 —– 5,240
      .1955-60 : 16,550 —– 5,240
      .1960-65 : 33,550 —– 14,040
      .1965-70 : 51,950 —– 21,410
      . Total: 113,340 —- 45,930
      And then, response to (or lack of …) 1970's cyclone ("Bhola") …
      . You can believe it by watching what's happening in West itself (as we speak) …
      The list goes on and other ladies getting pregnant …

      • .
        Does not even include 95% of under the radar military expenditure went to the West (the nuclear effort itself was, my guess, over $1 billion by 1970) …

    • .
      The seed was sowed long time ago …
      1948 – Jinnah's declaration in Dacca of "Urdu and Urdu only" was a direct hit …
      Then that February 21, 1952 ("Language Martyrs' Day") …
      Things could only go down-hill …
      Mark my word: "the martial race" still didn't learn …

      • "1948 – Jinnah's declaration in Dacca of "Urdu and Urdu only" was a direct hit …"

        Bravo! No one can deny it started the Language Movement which led to 1952 and led eventually to 1971…What is fascinating is Jinnah making that statement at a time like that so what followed would have been no surprise and VERY MUCH PREDICTABLE for I am sure Jinnah was well aware of how the brits had used language to divide the people of India…..so it was a very hot button issue at the time and what Jinnah did was put petrol on the sparks that had been lit…..

        Roots of language controversy can be traced back to the support of the non-Bengali leaders of All-India Muslim League (AIML), who wanted to make Urdu as the ‘Lingua Franca’ of Pakistan. History has preserved several events in this context. The Central Parliamentary Board of AIML prepared a 14-points Manifesto in June 1936 for the "protection and promotion of Urdu language and script." Another 25-points program was also designed for "setting out the special needs of Bengal" in 1936 by the same board. The board did not feel any need of adopting the Bengali language and script as Urdu-speaking leaders and their Bengali collaborators of Bengal Provincial Muslim League (BPML) supported the idea that "Urdu should be the official language of Bengali Muslims"(Manik, 2003, April). However, there were other Bengali scholars who resisted this idea. ….

  10. The writer of this column needs to read Asghar Khan's, ‘We’ve Learnt Nothing from History’-
    Page 35 – After the elections, and after having visited Dhaka to meet Mujib, Bhutto invited Yahya khan and his close advisors, Generals Hamid and Peerzada to Larkana as his guests. They stayed there for a few days and were entertained lavishly. If a holiday and relaxation had been the only purpose, perhaps the results would not have been as disastrous for Pakistan as they turned out to be. Unfortunately, fateful decisions were taken and it was agreed in principle that force would be used in East Pakistan.
    Asghar Khan says Mujib saw this visit as a conspiracy against him and hardened his position.

    Page 35/36 – In one of my conversations with Yahya khan in the middle of 1970, he told me that in a meeting a few days earlier, Bhutto had suggested to him that he should forget about the elections. Yahya khan said that Bhutto had told him that Yahya khan, the soldier, and Bhutto, the politician, would make a very good team, and this team could run the country together. Yahya khan further told me that he had replied to Bhutto that this made some sense and asked him as to what was it he proposed to do about East Pakistan. Bhutto had replied, “East Pakistan is no problem. We will have to kill some 20,000 people there and all will be well'.

    Page 60 – Bhutto told me that he was sure that if I joined him, and we both set off from Karachi, he to Dadu and Larkana, and I to Hyderabad and Nawabshah, meeting at Sukkur, and then again forking out in different directions and meeting in Multan, then to Lahore and so on, by the time we reached Rawalpindi Yahya khan would be at the railway station to receive us. We can then rule together, he had said. I had asked what his program would be after he had been installed in power. He had laughed at this enquiry and replied,”The program is to rule. The people are stupid and I know how to fool them. I will have the ‘danda’ in my hand and no one will be able to remove us for twenty years”.

    • I have not read Asghar khan but agree with the comments. One has only to study Bhutto's character to understand him. Read his biography. He entered politics under Gem .Iskander Mirza, matured under Ayub whom he deserted when the going got tough and later on fooled Yahya and finally had fatal attractions for Zia whom he almost fooled. The man was charismatic but flowed. His burning ambition was to become the leader of Pakistan—come what may come. People and Generals did not matter–only his ambition. The end justified the means. Why did he not release the Hammdoon Rapport( excuse my ? misnomer.). It did not spare him so why not hide it in his own house. Let facts speak for themselves.

  11. So what I have been writing about the conspiracy between the Army and Peoples Party to break up Pakistan rather then trasfer to the elected people is correct. Unless we acknowdlege this, we will be discussing the break of Pakistan couple of years from now in the same newspaper.

    • .
      It's a case of being 'over-smart' not 'conspiracy' …
      The 'foreseeable end-result', I would like to agree with you …

      • Or they could be dumb ass not realizing how the aggrieved people of East Pakistan will react with their treacherous action.

  12. I dont know where the writer got his theory but it is luddite and severely lacking in facts.

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