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Spy files: CIA discussed possibility of Bhutto's downfall in 1975

January 31, 2017

The following is an excerpt from a declassified document released online by America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as part of a searchable database on its website Reading Room. Declassified documents were previously only available to the public at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

In a memorandum titled 'Prospects for Pakistan' and published on May 30, 1975, the CIA discussed the likely scenario which could lead to a resurgence of political instability in Pakistan. A major talking point was the sudden assassination or the removal of then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Likely developments after Bhutto's demise or removal from power were predicted as a prolonged struggle for power in Islamabad, an upsurge in unrest in the frontier areas and a likely take over of the government by the armed forces.

The CIA analysis gave reasons for Bhutto's possible removal and stated that "Bhutto's penchant for using repressive tactics against his opponents could backfire".

"Strong opposition could flare up over a number of issues, and the armed forces could grow tired of helping Bhutto fight his political battles," added the CIA memo.

The memorandum elaborated further on the political landscape and said no other politician in Pakistan enjoys such widespread support, but it also criticised Bhutto for not preparing a likely successor.

"In such a situation, the armed forces might well decide to resume control over the government. They would not necessarily find it easy, however, to restore stability."

The memorandum, however, predicted rightly that the political climate in Pakistan will remain stable for the next two years till 1977. The military coup against Bhutto's government and his subsequent arrest by the army took place on July 5, 1977, a little over two years after the memo was drafted.

"Internally, Pakistan probably will remain stable during the next two years."

Regarding external threats faced by Pakistan during the time period mentioned, the CIA said that no major threat to Pakistan's security or integrity was foreseen.

It shed light on likely Indian and Afghan courses of action, if internal pressure in those countries increased, and said the countries could adopt more aggressive policies towards Pakistan.


The above mentioned document is part of a database of 930,000 previously-confidential files released by the CIA on January 17, 2017. The CIA had disseminated historical declassified documents to its CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) since 1999.

To view Dawn.com's compilation of extracts from the declassified CIA documents, click here.