After Bhutto’s arrival in Islamabad on December 20, 1971, Pakistan People’s Party leaders Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Dr Mubashar Hassan, J A Rahim and Mumtaz Ali Bhutto arrived at the President’s House. From here Bhutto was driven to Punjab House for immediate consultations with the party stalwarts. Priorities were set to undertake various tasks that were immediately needed to streamline the social order and economic regime.
The Presidential staff was directed to get the President’s House vacated as soon as possible. Bhutto ordered that Yahya be put under house arrest and the military decorations conferred on him be withdrawn; he was also denied military benefits and government pension. General Gul Hassan was asked to take over as Commander-in-Chief.
After checking his initial notes, at 10.30pm Bhutto appeared on radio and television and in his first address to the nation he outlined the difficulties through which Pakistan was passing and made a firm pledge to take the country out of the prevailing crisis. In his maiden speech he touched all national issues and expressed his resolute will to overcome the hurdles.
He said: “I have come in at a decisive moment in the history of Pakistan. We are facing the worst crisis in our country’s life, a deadly crisis. We have to pick up pieces, very small pieces; but we will make a new Pakistan… I need your cooperation, I am not a magician, I am a fallible individual and without your cooperation, I simply cannot succeed.”
Touching the humiliating defeat, he said: “In the first instance let me tell you, I wish I were not alive today … I never knew that I would live to see the day when Mr Jagjiwan Ram, the Defence Minister of India, would be saying what he is saying. But Mr Jagjiwan Ram should know that this is not the end of the world. This is the beginning and he should not gloat over temporary military victory.”
He was aware of the people’s feelings on the issue of POWs, and assured them that “… I have just taken over, but I will see that there is an honourable return to normal conditions and that you are not humiliated. I appeal to my young friends in the armed forces. I appeal to the jawans that we will redeem this day.”
He spoke to the labourers and peasants — his main constituency — and expressed his full confidence, “for economic and social justice I will move as fast as necessary to see the burden of the common man lifted. I will move as fast as necessary to see the disparities removed.”
As the martial law administrator, he promised that martial law would not continue for a second more than needed. However, he did not make any reference of Bangladesh crisis vis-à-vis his role.
For running the day-to-day affairs he immediately appointed a small cabinet and removed the military governors. Mr Ghulam Mustafa Khar, his trusted friend for quite some time and old member of the party was appointed as Governor of Punjab, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, whom he called his ‘talented cousin’ as Governor of Sindh, Mr Hayat Mohammad Sherpao and Sardar Ghaus Bakhsh Raisani as governors of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (then NWFP) and Balochistan, respectively. In his small cabinet he tried to keep as many ideological figures and founding fathers of the party as possible.
His small cabinet comprised: Mian Mahmood Ali Kasuri (law and parliamentary affairs), Justice (Retd) Faizullah Kundi (establishment), Dr Mubashar Hassan (finance, economic affairs and development), J A Rahim (presidential affairs, culture, planning), Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi (political affairs, communication and natural resources), Malik Mairaj Khalid (food, agriculture and underdeveloped areas), Mohammad Hanif (labour, works and local bodies), Abdul Hafiz Pirzada (education, information and broadcasting), Shaikh Mohammad Rashid (social welfare, family planning), Raja Tridev Roy, the only politician from the former East Pakistan (minority affairs). He kept the departments of foreign affairs, defence and interior with him.
Bhutto’s political opponents or those who contested against him during the 1970 elections and those who had used derogatory language during the electioneering became fearful that Bhutto may resort to reprisals, but through emissaries Bhutto denied any intention of retaliation. His first priority was to revamp the economy, restore confidence among people, normalisation of relationship with Shaikh Mujib, getting Pakistan’s prisoners of war released and Pakistan’s lost land vacated. These were challenging tasks.
Back in Dhaka, the people engaged in jubilation, as the Bangladesh government-in-exile which was till then in Kolkata (Calcutta), finally made its appearance in Dhaka on December 22. It immediately took account of the economy and sought foreign assistance but pledged that US aid would not be welcome. However, they wanted Shaikh Mujib to be with them before any important decision was taken. As the Bangladesh government-in-exile arrived at Dhaka, Bhutto announced in Islamabad that Mujib would be removed from isolatory confinement to house arrest for final release.