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ZA. Bhutto was aware of the consequences of incidents such as the language riots. His fears were not unfounded, confirmed by the reports from the intelligence agencies, which painted a very gloomy picture. A wedge had been created by the interested elements that wanted to lead the simple-hearted people by playing with their sentiments and had been partly successful in achieving this.

He remembered the first seed of division created in 1969 by Nawab Muzaffar Hussain of Hyderabad who formed the Sindh Muhajir Punjabi Pathan Mahaz, which claimed to bring the three ethnic groups settled in Sindh — Muhajir, Punjabi and Pathan — on one platform and wage struggle for their rights. But it failed miserably in its objective, only to create an ethnic divide. Bhutto had spearheaded a struggle against Ayub Khan, but was able to preserve some of its results sociologically and otherwise. Three years later, he was deeply upset by the magnitude of linguistic riots that had engulfed the whole of Sindh.

Without losing time, he met his party men and opposition leaders, exchanged views about what could be done and which elements were really behind this gruesome act. The leaders told him that although the Act precisely meant the promotion of Sindhi language “without prejudice to the use of Urdu” which enjoyed the status of the national language, it was his responsibility to restore peace in the province. Maulana Maudoodi, chief of Jamaat-i-Islami told Bhutto that Sindh was in flames, which could be a disaster worse than the loss of Bangladesh.

Expanding upon the issue on the floor of the National Assembly in the midst of rioting Bhutto said that it was not a Muhajir or a Sindhi being killed on the streets but they were all Pakistanis. Recalling the newspaper display of the news item about “burying Urdu” he swore that the Language Bill would not bury Urdu as it was the national language but it would lift up Sindhi to official provincial language position.

In his speech he, as usual, recalled the historical records, and said, “What else can I do to show you that I am a Pakistani? … From the age of 15 … I have given my blood and sweat for this country… How else can I show that I am a Pakistani? … By killing all the people in Sind(h)? By obliterating the culture of Sind(h)? .. We have given our lands; we have given our homes; we have given our lives … to people from all parts, to the Pathans, Punjabis, to the Muhajirs living in Sind(h) … What else can we do to show our loyalty, our love and our respect for Pakistan and for our Muhajir brothers?”

On July 16, 1972, Bhutto addressed the nation. Sindh was still burning; he appealed for calm and peace. He told the people that he had toiled to bring democracy and stability to Pakistan, but admitted that it was the failure of the provincial administration. On that day he directed the Sindh government to draft an ordinance amending the previous Act on Sindhi language, titled Sind (Teaching, Promotion and Use of Sindhi Language) Act, 1972, and add a phrase that includes the word Urdu. As the direction was being carried out Bhutto decided to go to the people and tell them the essence of the act.

To accomplish his most arduous task, a distressed, saddened and frustrated Bhutto undertook a frantic tour of Sindh, meeting every person who mattered. He met Muhajirs, Pathans, Punjabis, Sindhis, government officials and people of learning. During the tour, the Sindh governor was asked to promulgate an ordinance titled Sindh Ordinance XI 1972, amending the previous Sindhi Language Bill, which had been turned into an Act after the assent of the governor.

Bhutto had asked to promulgate the required ordinance which was obediently done but it had little effect on the law and order situation. A notification was issued by the Sindh government on July 22, 1972, which outlined the amendment to be carried out to accommodate Urdu language in the Language Act. It was called Sind (Teaching, Promotion and Use of Sindhi Language Act (Application) Ordinance, 1972. It added many clarifications about the basis of the language. It allayed the doubts in the minds of many residents of Sindh that they could be discriminated against on the basis of the Language Act.

Fearing that the issue could blow up, Bhutto stationed at Karachi and did not move till the amended bill was presented before the Sindh Assembly which passed it on Nov 17, 1972. The Sindh governor assented on Dec 8, 1972, and it finally became an act that was supposed to bring the two linguistic communities closer who had fought over some unrealistic bitterness presumptions created by vested interests.