Z.A. Bhutto had gone to Simla with two purposes in mind: release of Prisoners of War (POWs) and return of Pakistani land occupied during the 1971 war. The two leaders — Bhutto and Indira — didn’t budge from their respective positions for four days.

Indira Gandhi set the condition that the Ceasefire Line should be accepted as the international border; however, Bhutto did not agree and said that he would be lynched if the same was accepted. Then Indira changed her stance and offered to declare the Ceasefire Line as the Line of Control (LoC). Bhutto accepted this proposal and the Kashmir problem would have been resolved if Bhutto had pushed the foreign policy forward to that end. However, the release of POWs was conditional to a consensus of three countries — India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. But since a direct link with Bangladesh had not been established, it required time and diplomacy.

Bhutto thought of using the influence of the Islamic bloc in the matter, besides taking lead in the Islamic countries. It is said that he had begun to think of convening a conference of Islamic heads of states the day he took oath as the President, as he cherished a desire to become an Islamic leader too. But he was too busy to push the idea for implementation.

A year earlier he had discussed it with some heads of states who had supported the idea. The logic behind holding a summit of Islamic countries was that the first Islamic summit was held five years ago in Rabat. Secondly, many countries which had gained independence from foreign domination were now striving to make their nations prosperous and independent in the real sense. Social and political differences also mattered, as many countries still followed the tribal and traditional customs.

Lahore was chosen as the venue and February 22-24, 1974, was fixed for the moot.  Arrangements had to be made very carefully, especially regarding security. Keeping in view the personal taste of the visiting dignitaries, appropriate arrangements were made. Special programmes for the guests were prepared by the culture departments at the centre and the provinces. Since the Saudi monarch was the chairman of the Islamic Conference, Bhutto was made co-chairman.

Shaikh Mujib was extended an invitation with the promise that on the eve of the Islamic summit Bangladesh would be recognised; he accepted the invitation. The Saudi monarch, Libya’s Qadhafi and UAE’s Shaikh Zaid bin Nahyan proved to be close allies for Bhutto. As promised, Bangladesh was accorded recognition on February 22, 1974.

In all, 24 heads of states attended while others were represented by their respective officials. Bhutto, in his address, outlined the problems faced by the Muslims all over the world, especially the Palestinians; he spoke about the mineral resources of the Islamic world, movements aimed at weakening the Islamic bloc and the general apathy of the Muslims.

He said: “This is our obligation not only to the people of Palestine and not merely to the cause of Islamic brotherhood but also to the larger cause of universal peace”. He pointed out that the sons and daughters of Palestine through their suffering, fortitude and the constancy of their commitment had earned recognition of their legitimate right to resolve the problem that had been festering so long. He recalled that the western powers, under the pressure of economic forces, had awakened to the urgency of a definite settlement but the mediatory processes could vanish if there were apathy towards the root of the problem and a compromise for a partial solution.

He also highlighted the power of oil and called upon the oil producing countries in the Third World to use it justifiably and promote cooperation with other countries for the promotion of trade and cooperation. He said that the Muslim countries could develop if they extend cooperation to each other.

He advised the summit that “Concrete measures have to be evolved, institutions established and mechanisms devised which could channel the resources, now commanded by the oil producing countries in such a way as to release them for their independence, on countries outside the Third World for their basic needs and services and also strengthen the Third World economically”. He also suggested that the time had come for the Islamic countries to translate the perception of Islamic royalty into reality.

After the session, a grand reception was hosted in honour of the dignitaries at the historical Shalimar Garden. It was a wonderful spectacle to see the elite of the Islamic world exchanging views with each other. For quite some time, the leaders engaged in informal discussions which helped understand the problems faced by the Muslims and many misgivings were removed.

It was a calculated move which highlighted the character and importance of Pakistan, but ironically it was not utilised in an appropriate manner.