ZAB: poet, revolutionary, patriot
I am told of a recent discussion on the breakup of Pakistan in 1971 and that blasted Polish resolution on the brassiest of our TV channels that keeps tagging on its name to everything it puts out. It seems the channel is not quite sure it exists and, by repeating its name every three minutes, it wants to be reassured that it does exist. Such a state of mind is beyond repair, as is the reincarnated Howard Hughes who owns it all. Is it only a matter of time before he stops clipping his nails and trimming his hair?
One of the participants, Begum Akhtar Suleman, who has brought no credit to the great man whose daughter she is, kept accusing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of having divided the country so that he could become Prime Minister. Then, as was to be expected of such martial law mushrooms, she said that had Bhutto not rejected the resolution moved in the Security Council on 15 December, 1971, by Poland, a Soviet satellite and a member of the Warsaw Pact, Pakistan would not have been dismembered and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman would have become Prime Minister of a united Pakistan
I have just about had it with that Polish resolution, having lost count of the times I have written about it, but this urban myth refuses to die. And then there are always Akhtar Sulemans to keep such ignorance in circulation. The Polish resolution has been used to malign Zulfikar Ali Bhutto; added to which is that other urban legend: the Idhar hum Udhar tum , words never uttered by Bhutto, but words that keep getting attributed to him so that he can be held responsible for the dismemberment of Pakistan. While I have no illusions that my writing one more time on this will make the two myths disappear, it is still something that needs to be done every now and then so that ZAB is at least not attacked for things he did not do.
I am reminded of the Tunisian receptionist at a hotel in Cannes where I once stayed in 1988. The receptionist said that to him, Pakistan only meant Ali Bhutto. What, he said, was indelibly imprinted on his mind was Ali Bhutto tearing up a bunch of papers and storming out of the Security Council. That was ‘un moment inoubliable’ – an unforgettable moment – he added, quite emotionally. If you ask anyone in Pakistan, what Bhutto tore up, you would be told, “Why, the Polish resolution.” Actually, what ZAB tore up were his notes and some papers on which he had been doodling (Iftikhar Ali, then the APP correspondent at the UN picked them up, examined them carefully and put them back before rushing out after ZAB).
Now the facts. On 15 December, 1971, the UN Security Council met at Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s request. Two draft resolutions had been submitted to it on the same day, an Anglo-French resolution that called for cessation of hostilities, the urgent conclusion of a comprehensive political settlement and the appointment by the Secretary General of a Special Representative to “lend its good offices, in particular, for the solution of the humanitarian problems.”
And then there was the Polish resolution, which laid down that in the eastern theatre of conflict, power will be “peacefully transferred to the representatives of the people, lawfully elected in December 1970” – namely the Awami League. It also called for the immediate beginning of the process of power transfer, the cessation of military actions in all the areas with an initial ceasefire starting for a period of 72 hours. It went on to demand that after the immediate commencement of the initial period of ceasefire, the Pakistan armed forces should “start withdrawal to the pre-set locations” in East Pakistan “with a view to evacuation from the eastern theatre of conflict.” It went on to call for the entire West Pakistan civilian personnel and other persons willing to return to West Pakistan, as well as the entire East Pakistan civilian personnel and other persons in West Pakistan willing to return home, to be given an opportunity to do so under the supervision of the United Nations, with guarantees by all appropriate authorities concerned that nobody would be subjected to repression. It said, “As soon as within the period of 72 hours the withdrawal of the Pakistan troops and their concentration for that purpose will have started, the ceasefire will become permanent. The Indian armed forces will be withdrawn from East Pakistan. Such withdrawal of troops will begin upon consultations with newly established authorities organised as a result of the transfer of power to the lawfully elected representatives of the people.” Thereafter, India and Pakistan were to begin negotiations for the “speediest possible implementation of this principle in the Western theatre of military operations.”
If any resolution should have been accepted by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, it should have been the one moved by Britain and France. By 15 December, in any case, no resolution had any bearing on the ground situation. The decision to surrender had already been taken by Yahya and under Indian bayonets and Soviet blessings, East Pakistan had become Bangladesh. ZAB’s move was brilliant. It was the only way for a defeated and humiliated Pakistan to retrieve what it could of its national honour. The Polish resolution was an unvarnished demand form the Soviet Union, tabled through its satellite, Poland, for the immediate transfer of power to the Awami League. The next day, Gen Niazi surrendered with great aplomb at the Paltan Maidan, as if he were inspecting a guard of honour. While the Polish resolution required civilian personnel in East Pakistan and their counterparts in the West to be repatriated, it said nothing about the Pakistan army, which was required to lay down its arms and withdraw to “pre-set locations with a view to evacuation from the eastern theatre of conflict.” It was not clear where it was going to be evacuated to. How could Bhutto accept this resolution?
On 15 December, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, looking grim, entered the Security Council to make his unforgettable speech, “I have not come here to accept abject surrender. If the Security Council wants me to be a party to the legalisation of abject surrender, then I say that under no circumstances shall it be so. The United Nations resembles those fashion houses which hide ugly realities by draping ungainly figures in alluring apparel. The Permanent Representative of the Soviet Union talked about realities. Mr Permanent Representative, look at this reality. I know that you are the representative of a great country. You behave like one. The way you throw out your chest, the way you thump the table, you do not talk like Comrade Malik, you talk like Czar Malik. I see that you are smiling, well, I am not because my heart is bleeding. I am leaving your Security Council. I find it disgraceful to my person and to my country to remain here a moment longer than necessary. I am not boycotting. Impose any decision, have a treaty worse than the Treaty of Versailles, legalise aggression, legalise occupation, legalise everything that has been illegal up to 15 December, 1971. I will not be a party to it. We will fight; we will go back and fight. My country beckons me. Why should I be a party to the ignominious surrender of a part of my country? You can take your Security Council. Here you are! I am going.”
That was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto: poet, revolutionary, patriot.