Despite Z. A. Bhutto’s attempts to dislodge the NAP-JUI coalition from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the chances of PPP-rule in the border provinces seemed bleak. The federal rule continued as Bhutto couldn’t find any chance of gaining a foothold there. The Greater Balochistan gambit did not work and the army action was being termed an attempt to prevent further breakup of Pakistan. Despite large-scale condemnation of the action and failure of the government to cool down the ‘rebels’ Bhutto seemed to leave the province to Gen Tikka Khan, his jawans and the air force.
After the deadline for depositing arms and surrendering before the authorities ended, Bhutto undertook a detailed tour of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in November 1973. Nobody knew the objectives of his visit but it was generally believed that Bhutto wanted to build friendship with the Pashtun population, whom he thought bore pro-India sympathies — a legacy of Khan Ghaffar Khan’s political philosophy. As a token of reconciliation Ghaffar Khan had ended his self-imposed exile in Afghanistan and had returned to Pakistan after Bhutto took over as President in 1972. After coming to Pakistan he supported Bhutto and alienated himself from the Pakhtunistan struggle saying that Pakhtuns had got their nation and the government and there was no demand for creating a homeland for Pakhtuns. Yet by the time Bhutto visited, KP Bacha Khan was confined to the administrative limits of Charsadda. This showed that Bhutto had not yet shown acceptance of Bacha Khan’s gesture.
Now Bhutto wanted to show that he had dropped his opposition to Ghaffar Khan’s family and Afghanistan for what he called “hostile attitude of the neighbouring country”.
He took a large team of aides along with Governor Aslam Khatak, the federal minister and his close friend Hayat Mohammad Khan Sherpao and others. For seven days he addressed public meetings in almost all important towns of KP. His main thrust was Afghanistan’s attitude towards Pakistan.
There had been a strong reason behind this. During his stopover at Rome in July 1973, Bhutto had received the news of the palatial coup in Afghanistan in which Sardar Daud Khan, first cousin of Afghan king Zahir Shah, had taken over and Zahir Shah had been safely flown to Rome. Daud, in his first speech proclaimed Afghanistan as a republic and denounced Pakistan claiming that it was the only country with which Afghanistan had a dispute.
Sardar Daud Khan was a brilliant person. He was a skilled student of politics. Educated in France, he had studied political history and had developed a leaning towards the left. He served in the Afghan army and for two years (1946-48) he served as defence minister and commander of central forces in Kabul. In 1953 he was appointed prime minister, during which time he undertook the Helmund Valley project, a symbol of social uplift. He also took commendable measures for the liberation of Afghan women living in a very conservative society. His leaning towards the then Soviet Union was known and was reflected in his decisions.
He believed in Pashtun reunification and wanted to create a new territory (Pakhtunistan) for Pashtuns carving out a large territory from Pakistan and merging it with Afghanistan. Because of this, Pakistan closed its border with Afghanistan in 1961 which was reopened two years later. However, Pakistan remained quite suspicious.
Conscious of Daud’s thinking, Bhutto had to be cautious. Back from Rome, he showed Pakistan’s displeasure by hitting at the Afghan Tansit Trade, which affected life in Afghanistan.
During his KP visit Bhutto decried Ghaffar Khan’s and Wali Khan’s Afghan connection, which affected the structure of the NAP and Pakistan. The Daud factor became another blow to the NAP.
During his KP visit, Bhutto spoke about the weak NAP policies and Afghan interference in Pakistan and KP affairs.
“Pakistan wants good and friendly relations with Afghanistan, but in no circumstances will we tolerate interference in our internal affairs,” said Bhutto, and added a word of warning that Pakistan was capable of paying back in the same coin, sending a strong message that Pakistan was much stronger than it was two years back, and would not allow its integrity to be touched by anyone.
The tirade against the NAP was not off the tangent in criticising its policy of seeking help from outside to translate its dream of Pakhtunistan into reality. Perhaps, it was the reaction of the NAP leaders’ rhetoric that gave Bhutto the feeling of having foreign ties.
Whether Bhutto was right in his actions or was in a mood to force the KP people to join the PPP, is a much debated question.
The fact is that Bhutto pushed the NAP to the wall, not for any fault of its own, but for his power- seeking ambition. In the years to follow it was proved that taking harsh action against the NAP was unjustified.