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A leaf from history: Bid to seek US support

December 02, 2012

Z.A. Bhutto was eager to visit the United States at the earliest opportunity. Although his previous visit, scheduled for July 20, 1973 was cancelled by President Nixon on the pretext of ill health, with the Delhi Accord on POWs in his hand, Bhutto was satisfied that he would be granted the favours he sought and perhaps some more. Finally, Bhutto was invited to be in Washington on Sept 18, 1973, to hold talks with President Nixon and meet US political figures and administration officials. The agenda was open but the general ground was the developments that had taken place since he took over.

Although President Nixon was still preoccupied with the Watergate scandal, he managed to arrange a warm welcome at the White House. In his welcome address, Nixon recalled his earlier visits to Pakistan in the capacity of vice president and also when he was out of office. About the US policy towards Pakistan, he said: “I can only say that it is a friendship that will continue in the years ahead. And I can add that the independence and integrity of Pakistan is a cornerstone of American foreign policy.”

Regarding the nature of future talks he hoped: “In our meetings we will, of course, discuss the bilateral issues in which we find ourselves on basic agreement. We will discuss what contribution we can make to an era of peace in the subcontinent, as well as in the balance of Asia, and I also trust that we will have the opportunity to get your views on world problems generally, because no country in the world can any longer be apart from the rest of the world.”

Bhutto appeared satisfied with the beginning of his expedition and praised the warmth shown by Nixon but wanted to remind Nixon of what he had done during the Pakistan-Bangladesh-India conflict and the role played by the US. He said: “At one time it was said that in the recent past your administration tilted towards Pakistan. That, Mr President, was a tilt for justice and a tilt for equity, which is a characteristic of your distinguished career as a statesman and a builder of peace.”

Being an official visit Bhutto busied himself in getting President Nixon’s “assurances” translated into action. Thus, the rest of the two days were spent meeting officials of the US administration and the important image-building segment — the media. On Sept 20, the last day of his stay, a joint statement was issued by the two leaders in which President Nixon assured Bhutto of strong US support for Pakistan’s independence and territorial integrity which he considered a guiding principle of American policy.

Although the Simla Accord and the Delhi Agreement on POWs had been signed by Pakistan laying down a mode of peaceful means to resolve outstanding issues, Bhutto wasted no time and addressed the United Nations General Assembly where he again talked of the Kashmir issue, once again drawing India into his visit and reinforcing his vision over the rightists back home.

When Bhutto came back from the US, he got involved in some domestic issues as usual. He knew that according to the Delhi Accord the first batch of POWs would be coming from India on Sept 28; he decided to receive them at the border. As he was going through the details of the occasion, he received reports that an attack had been made on Wali Khan’s life between Mardan and Swat. As the Pakhtun leader was heading towards Swat some unknown assailants fired on the vehicle killing his driver and a bodyguard. This was the third incident of its kind; however, Wali Khan remained unhurt. This created an uproar in the political circles and fingers were pointed towards the Federal Security Force (FSF), created by Bhutto. Fearing a backlash, Bhutto cancelled his tour of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa which was to commence in a few days. The tour was a part of his attempt to create a soft corner for Pakistan People’s Party there which was under the Governor’s rule at that time. Bhutto was sure that he could cool down the National Awami Party chief whenever he felt necessary. This made the situation murkier.

Now he took up the issue of recognising Bangladesh, which was the prerequisite for the normalisation of ties with Bangladesh and India. It occurred to Bhutto that the Islamic bloc could influence Bangladeshi leadership to release the 195 POWs which it wanted to try for war crimes. No one knows who sailed this idea but it sounded a positive development and it was hoped that it could provide the leverage needed for persuading Bangladesh. To make it a success, it was imperative to meet the heads of Muslim states. Without losing time Bhutto discussed the plan with his close aides who supported it and finally a temporary secretariat was established and the work began.