By the first week of July 1976, the opposition parties began to feel the heat of the PPP government’s election activity; the United Democratic Front (UDF) was still in a state of disorder, with every party trying to turn the situation into its own favour. The one-time eight-party alliance, the UDF, now only existed in the air, which suited PPP and its leaders. By the end of July, some movement was seen in the opposition parties’ camps but with little coordination.
Bhutto, however, left nothing to chance when it came to putting himself in the limelight. On July 24, 1976, the train service Samjhota Express was launched between Lahore and Amritsar, which was lauded by all segments of the population as it fulfilled a demand from people on both sides of the border. Bhutto listed the train service as his government’s achievement.
A week later, on July 31, the [Dr Abdul Qadeer] Khan Research Laboratories at Kahuta was founded, sending shockwaves not only across South Asia but the United States as well, which used all resources to bring Pakistan’s nuclear programme to a halt. This pushed the election campaign behind for the time being.
Bhutto got a heaven-sent chance to enhance his role. He began persuading the French president Georges Giscard d’Estaing to implement the deal he had signed with France on March 18, 1976 for the purchase of a nuclear reprocessing plant against stiff opposition from the US. Failing to convince Pakistan to give up the nuclear plant purchase, the US president Gerald Ford pushed France to cancel the fuel agreement. The world press was abuzz with strange reports which created anxiety not only in Pakistan but the whole world.
The US tried to persuade the Pakistani leadership through all means. Henry Kissinger, the US secretary of state, visited Pakistan in August 1976 when the PPP government was treading towards holding elections. On Aug 10, when Bhutto was in Lahore, Kissinger called on him at the Governor House and tried to dissuade him from acquiring the plant. During the meeting Kissinger expressed displeasure over Pakistan’s dealings with France.
Thirty years later, the memos about the meeting released by George Washington University’s National Security Archive, in May 2006, referred to Kissinger telling Bhutto that it was offensive to US intelligence when Bhutto insisted that Pakistan needed the reprocessing plant for its energy needs; Bhutto responded by demanding that the US should also not insist that Pakistan give up the reprocessing plant. Kissinger made it clear: “What concerns us is how the reprocessing facilities were used at a certain point.” At that stage Bhutto reiterated the assurances and safeguards for nuclear facilities, to which Kissinger said that he was concerned about “realities not words; safeguards deals were not enough because one side could break an agreement”. Bhutto reassured him that Pakistan would not explode a bomb but the memos with the archive show that Pakistan expressed the intention to continue its nuclear development programme. After the meeting Bhutto told the newsmen that he was satisfied with the talks.
The much talked about warning said to be given by Kissinger to Bhutto that the US would make a ‘horrible example’ of him over his refusal to give up the nuclear programme has not been confirmed by any independent source. However, in April 2010, Gerald Feuerstein, deputy chief of US mission in Islamabad, admitted that Bhutto had rejected Kissinger’s warning to disband Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Feuerstein was a witness to the Bhutto-Kissinger meeting in August 1976. In an interview with a Pakistani TV channel, he said that the US had been concerned over Bhutto’s nuclear plan to match India’s capabilities and sent Kissinger to warn the Pakistani leader. He said: “I was the protocol officer when Kissinger came to Pakistan and met Bhutto in Lahore. Kissinger came with a carrot and stick policy. The carrots were A-7 bombers, while the stick was not a direct threat, but since the US elections were near and the Democrats were set to win they wanted a tougher non-proliferation approach and might have made Pakistan an example. Pakistan did face sanctions,” Gerald said.
Bhutto played the meeting with Kissinger in a Tashkent-agreement style, wherein he allayed the public’s anxiety about the accord while the fact was that he had nothing to disclose. This time it worked well for Bhutto’s election campaign.
As the unannounced election campaign moved ahead, the mini cabinet began preparing a manifesto saying that all the goals had been achieved and new promises were made for the future. Rafi Raza the captain of the election team busied himself in sifting through the files and preparing the manifesto.