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A leaf from history: Yahya out, Bhutto in

Back in West Pakistan, on the evening of December 16, 1971, out of fear, I was waiting for some earthshaking news and hung on to my desk. A little after 04.00pm the teleprinter in the congested and somewhat clumsy newsroom of daily Ibrat, Hyderabad, clattered, sputtering the paper roll wildly and drawing my attention. As I leaned over the machine, the brief story had almost ended. It read: “Following an arrangement between the commanders of India and Pakistan, fighting has ceased in the Eastern theatre and the Indian troops have entered Dhaka.” It was later added by BBC that Indian army and Mukti Bahini had captured Dhaka.

For quite some time I stayed over the machine but then it went quiet. I began receiving telephone calls from frantic readers trying to learn what had happe ned — a majority of them dejected, the rest spoke as if they feared it.

More than half of the country had been lost.

For those who had seen Pakistan come into being, it was quite heartrending and awful; more painful for those simple-hearted listeners who lived constantly in the world of Radio Pakistan and PTV, listening to the engineered reports of APP, believing the words of General Niazi (Tiger), that the Indian tanks would have to roll over his body to enter Dhaka. The Indian tanks did roll but entered Dhaka without firing a bullet. Even Bhutto’s fuming speech at the Security Council and a boisterous departure from the discussion had become meaningless.

A little later General Yahya appeared on the national broadcasting network; in his address he did not mention the fall of Dhaka but said that Pakistan had suffered due to stoppage of the supplies. He said that any single incident could not be treated as defeat. The war was going on and we would inshaullah win. He told the people that the war would continue in fields and factories and victory would be ours. He announced that a new constitution would be promulgated on December 20, which would ensure more provincial autonomy for East Pakistan, a central government to keep Pakistan unified followed by establishment of provincial governments. He thanked China and the United States for their support.

The army officers at the GHQ were despondent and furious. Many had protested. An example in this regard could be cited of a few officers — Major General Shamim, Brigadier Iqbal Mehdi Shah and Farukh Bakht, along with three others — who were forcibly retired in August 1972, on charges of pushing the country into civil war two days before Bhutto assumed charge as President.

Yahya continued to work on his plan. He wanted to bring General Hamid as Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C.); however, the mood of officers was different, rather violent. On December 18, pressure mounted for his resignation. The general feeling was that the people would not accept any military leadership after the Dhaka debacle. Immediate replacement seemed to be Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was acceptable to many generals. Two generals, General Hamid and General Gul Hassan, were too active. Yahya wanted Gul Hassan to head the country and Hamid to head the country and Hamid to become C-in-C. Hamid wanted to discuss it with other officers. When the meeting took place the officers, especially the young ones, asked thorny questionswhich Generl Hamid could not answer. However General Gul Hasan continued his efforts to update Bhutto on the developments in GHQ and wanted to lead the country.

As all waited for Bhutto to come, he met Nixon and Kissinger on December 17. They discussed with him the new situation in Pakistan.

Bhutto briefed Nixon about the future policies if he had the chance of leading the remaining Pakistan. Nixon assured him all military and monetary support that Bhutto needed.

Bhutto contacted Pakistan on December 19 from Rome, where he was told to come back quickly. Yet on way he stayed at Tehran where he discussed the situation with the Shah of Iran. Here Air Marshal Rahim sent an aircraft to Tehran to ensure Bhutto’s safe return.

Bhutto landed at Islamabad on December 20, where Mustafa Khar was waiting to pick him up. General Gul Hassan and Rahim Khan were also there. From the airport Bhutto was driven straight away to the President’s House, where General Pirzada, General Hamid and Roedad Khan were waiting for him. Cabinet Secretary Ghulam Ishhaq Khan was strolling on the lawns, but he knew what was going on inside.

After a while Bhutto called Roedad and told him that he wanted to address the nation the same day, therefore he should jot down a few notes and see him later.

As other activities were becoming visible, Bhutto was been sworn in as President and Chief Martial Law Administrator — the first civilian Martial Law Administrator.