Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had the National Awami Party (NAP) leader Wali Khan and 51 other leaders arrested for “conspiring against the state” — these men were being tried for the killing of the PPP leader Hayat Mohammad Sherpao on Feb 8, 1975. The NAP was banned too; all its assets were confiscated. Since the arrested leaders were detained in Hyderabad, the case came to be known as the Hyderabad Conspiracy Case.
Judicial proceedings in the case were extremely sluggish, prompting many to question if there was any hope of a verdict being delivered in the near future. While political parties had been demanding that the tribunal be closed down and the incarcerated be released, Bhutto had taken a hard line against their release. Even two years later, when General Ziaul Haq visited a detained Bhutto in Murree on July 1977, he advised the General not to disband the tribunal or release the detained.
Those arrested included a smattering of nationalist and progressive elements: apart from Wali Khan, Khan Amirzadah Khan, Syed Kaswar Gardezi, Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, Nawab Khair Bakhsh Marri, Mir Gul Khan Nasir, Sardar Attaullah Khan Mengal, poet Habib Jalib and barrister Azizullah Shaikh; all found themselves behind bars.
To prove that the NAP was an anti-state party, Bhutto’s government had conducted raids at a number of colleges in the NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) , Punjab and Sindh to find evidence. The government also claimed that a huge cache of arms and ammunition had been seized from the Iraqi embassy in Islamabad. These arms, as claimed by the government, were to be used in a campaign for “independent Pakhtunistan” and “Greater Balochistan”.
PNA nears the end of its relevance as Wali Khan is set free
On Oct 30, 1975, the Supreme Court upheld the government’s ban on the NAP, saying that the party was indeed working for an independent Pakhtunistan and Greater Balochistan. Then came the Hyderabad Tribunal.
The trial began on May 10, 1976. The prosecution presented a list of 455 witnesses. From the case proceedings, it became evident that Bhutto wanted to prolong the case, as during the 18 months of trial, only 22 witnesses were presented. Wali Khan through various channels tried to assure Bhutto that he should act judiciously in the case.
Citing this dawdling pace, Wali Khan boycotted the case — addressing the tribunal chief, he wrote a caustic letter arguing that proceeding at this speed, it would take half-a-century to complete the case. He asked the tribunal to arrange for aab-i-hayat (water of life) for the detainees as well as for the tribunal chief and Bhutto, so that they may all be alive by the time the tribunal reached its verdict. Finally, Wali Khan withdrew from contesting the case.
“The underlying purpose of this step is to start a new chapter of life for national unity, based on a system of dialogue, love and Islamic traditions; and to forget the bitterness of the past for the wider interests of the country,” said Gen Zia. Many observers believed that perhaps the general was trying to gain the nationalists’ support to prolong his rule.
The year 1976 ended without any progress.
But the coup on July 5, 1977 brought a change. Gen Zia visited Hyderabad jail, met its inmates and acquired first-hand knowledge. The general also met with Khan Abdul Wali Khan and two Baloch leaders, Khair Bakhsh Marri and Attaullah Mengal.
Soon after, the tribunal accepted bail for 15 NAP leaders. As Mengal was suffering from heart ailment he was sent to the United States for treatment on state expense. Wali Khan was shifted to Combined Military Hospital, Rawalpindi. The other released leaders were sent to Peshawar.
Later, Wali Khan met Gen Zia in Rawalpindi, arguing that this was “politically-motivated case” by which Bhutto wanted to crush the nationalist leaders.
On Jan 1, 1978, Gen Zia drew the curtains on the tribunal. All persons were released through a general amnesty. “The underlying purpose of this step is to start a new chapter of life for national unity, based on a system of dialogue, love and Islamic traditions; and to forget the bitterness of the past for the wider interests of the country,” said Gen Zia. Many observers believed that perhaps the general was trying to gain the nationalists’ support to prolong his rule.
After Wali Khan’s release, he spoke to his party activists and journalists at Wali Bagh. Here, he proposed that a national conference be convened, which should be attended by all provincial leaders. These leaders could then pool proposed solutions about how best to resolve problems through negotiations. He emphasised that democracy could only be workable if all citizens were allowed to act freely. Pointing to Bhutto’s policies, he said democracy could only become functional when dissenting voices were heard and accommodated.
For the first time after Wali Khan had been set free, the Pakistan National Alliance held its meeting in Lahore on Dec 28. It was a happy surprise for all to find Wali Khan in their midst. But as the meeting began, differences among the alliance leaders appeared very clear.
Prof Ghafoor Ahmad was a member of the team that had called on Gen Zia on Dec 1. Reporting back to the alliance, he said that the general had given an indication that elections could be held by June next year.
It was also pointed out at the meeting that the PNA leaders were issuing conflicting statements. Nawabzada Nasrullah argued that the PNA’s opponents were taking advantage of differences within the alliance. Accountability was also put up for discussion and the participants began questioning who was to be held accountable.
The discussion was so heated that the meeting had to be postponed till the next day.
The next day, the alliance banned all constituent parties from directly speaking to the media. If there was a suggestion in any form, it was to be first brought before the general council and then released to the press. It also called upon the alliance parties not to squabble among them. Through a resolution, the PNA called upon the martial law authorities to expedite the accountability process, take measures to contain the rising prices and to plug corruption, which they said had increased out of proportion.
In response to the PNA decisions, Maulana Shah Noorani rejected changes in the PNA constitution and said that he had put the changes before JUP working committee. Later, Maulana Noorani, Maulana Abdus Sattar Niazi and Maulana Okarwi called on Gen Zia. They wanted the enforcement of Nizam-i-Mustafa.
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Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 3rd, 2014