At the time of the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, Pakistan found itself quite alone. The Western powers were quick to recognize Bangladesh – as did most of the world, except for some Muslim countries which had been friendly to Pakistan.
India had been working hard to isolate Pakistan in the international community and to defend the Indian military intervention in support of the new country. Moreover, India was holding on to some 98,000 prisoners of war even after the war had ended. The Commonwealth countries also recognized and admitted Bangladesh into their ranks, prompting Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to react rashly by quitting the Commonwealth itself. This had the effect of further isolating Pakistan.
On a social level the concert held by the iconic Beatles in support of Bangladesh turned young Western opinion against Pakistan.
It was these unhealthy and messy conditions that Bhutto inherited. But arguably he was also partially responsible for them, due to his unrestrained ambition and ego. It was with this baggage that he went to Simla to meet Indira Gandhi to try and get the Pakistani prisoners released and the territory occupied by India in West Pakistan returned.
Indira Gandhi, from a position of strength, now really turned the screws on the dismal Pakistani delegation. She would not budge from her three main demands. First, to recognise the Ceasefire Line in Kashmir as an International border. Second, to merge Azad Kashmir into the main body of Pakistan and bury the Kashmir issue forever, not to be brought up at any international forum. And third and most important : recognise Bangladesh, which would mean accepting the complete defeat of Pakistan and the Two-Nation Theory. Only then would she release the Pakistani POWs and return the captured and occupied territory of what was West Pakistan.
Needless to say, the Pakistani delegation could not and would not accept these conditions. The Simla meeting was, therefore, a total failure. No joint statement or accord was released and the Pakistani delegation prepared to return emptyhanded.
It was then, at the very last minute, that Bhutto asked Indira for a one-on-one meeting – between only the two of them, behind closed doors. The two leaders were inside for an hour, and then a frowning Bhutto emerged and told the delegation to draw up a joint statement on all other matters like trade, cultural exchange etc. But to leave the main points out. The only one mentioned – and here he got a concession from Indira – was that the Ceasefire Line would henceforth be termed the “Line of Control” for each side and he gave the concession that the Kashmir issue would not be raised by Pakistan in international forums.
What had transpired inside came to light later. Bhutto told Indira that if he accepted her conditions, he would be publicly lynched when he returned to Pakistan. A vacuum would be created, an Army general would take over and start planning his revenge on India as well as the use of military force to release the prisoners. Did she really want that ? Or did she prefer to deal with a democratically elected politician and popular leader ? In the end he charmed her with his salesmanship and asked her to give him time, promising to recognize Bangladesh in his own way and time. He also got her to compromise on the Kashmir international border issue by calling it LOC rather than an international border. He also committed to giving Pakistani passports to Azad Kashmiris, thus ending the region’s independent status and making it part of Pakistan.
Bhutto also used the Islamic summit to deliver on his promise to Indira
Now what remained was for Bhutto to make good on his promise to recognize Bangladesh.
By convening the Islamic Summit in Lahore, Bhutto showed the world that Pakistan was not friendless, and in fact had rich and influential friends. In doing this, he was able to show that Pakistan retained significant international standing despite the debacle of 1971. He also used the Islamic summit to deliver on his promise to Indira. He persuaded Boumediene of Algeria and Hafez al-Assad of Syria, both well respected and charismatic leaders in the Third World, to fly to Dhaka and convince Mujibur Rahman to come to the summit on the assurance that not only would Bhutto recognize Bangladesh, he would also get all the other Muslim nations to recognise it as an independent country. These leaders left in the night, along with the ruler of Kuwait in his private special plane, and returned in the morning with Mujib in tow.
The summit had been proposed by the General Secretary of the OIC, Tunku Abdur Rahman, the ex-PM of Malaysia. So his successor, Tun Abdul Razzak, was an important participant and supporter. He was to address the summit as a keynote speaker. I was assigned to him as Protocol Officer and host on behalf of the Foreign Office and was to be with him 24 hours. He was also provided a Military Secretary and an ADC from the Pakistan Army, a privilege provided only to Heads of State. He was the only Head of Government to get the same honours.
The Foreign Office had requisitioned the large houses of big feudal landlords and industrialists along with their cars and servants for accomodation of the foreign guests. Junior delegations were put in hotels. The home owners, showing traditional Lahori hospitality, gladly gave up their houses for four days along with cars and servants. They felt honoured that royalty or a Head of State was a guest in their house and proud to be involved and participating in this historical event – even if indirectly.
Tun Abdul Razzak – himself an old, humble and modest man – was accompanied by his flamboyant, elegantly dressed and very rich young Foreign Minister, who hailed from a royal family and was a Tengku (Prince). Another aristocrat minister of his, a Datuk and reputedly one of the richest men in Malaysia, in whose private plane the entourage had arrived, was the third member of the delegation. The Prime Minister and Foreign Minister were accompanied by their wives. I think they were the only delegates privileged to do so.
On the way to the Assembly, Tun Razak informed me that he would not be attending the evening reception given by the citizens of Pakistan at the Shalimar Gardens
At the very first opportunity after his arrival, Tun Abdul Razzak informed me that he and his wife had brought gifts for Mr. and Mrs. Bhutto, which he wanted to present personally and privately. I conveyed this to Mr. Bhutto’s Military Secretary, Brigadier Imtiaz. The next morning I received a call from him that the Prime Minister had asked that if he were agreeable, Tun Abdul Razzak and his wife be brought to meet him in the afternoon at the Governor’s House. This was where Bhutto was staying on the way to the Assembly building for the evening session of the Summit conference (which commenced at 4.00 p.m.). That afternoon was the only time that Mr. Bhutto was free during the next three days. I put this to the honoured guest, who said he would be happy to do so. Accordingly, that day after the morning session of the conference and after lunch and the Tun’s short afternoon siesta, we set off at 3 p.m. for the Governor’s House to meet our Prime Minister, which allowed half an hour for the courtesy meeting before reaching the venue of the conference at around 4 p.m. The rest of the delegation was to proceed to the Assembly hall separately.
On the way Tun Abdul Razzak mentioned to me that he was grateful to Mr. Bhutto for finding the time to see him at such short notice, although he must be tied up and busy with so many honoured guests to look after. That feeling did not last long, because as we entered the portico at the rear of the Governor’s House where Mr. Bhutto was staying, I noticed that something was wrong. There were no sentrys, no uniformed military guards and not a person to be seen. Our car pulled up, but no ADC, no official or guard appeared to open our guest’s car door. I scampered out and opened it for him. As he got off, a dishevelled bearer appeared looking very puzzled. I asked him in Urdu where all the guards and sentries were and why Mr. Bhutto’s ADC was not there to open the car door. He replied that no one was there, not even Mr. Bhutto. They had all left in a hurry without lunch and had still not returned. I told him to rush and open the lounge and get some tea. Then I escorted the dignitaries inside.
Fortunately, I remembered that our Foreign Minister, Mr. Aziz Ahmed was also staying there, in one of the guest rooms. I sent one of the officers with us to go and get him. And I apologized to Tun Abdul Razzak, noting that it seemed that Mr. Bhutto had to go away urgently and our Foreign Minister had been deputed to meet him and was on his way.
Some five to ten minutes later, a frowning and unhappy-looking Aziz Ahmed appeared. He was also taking an afternoon nap and was rudely awakened to this unpleasant surprise. He tried to take control of the situation, apologizing profusely on behalf of Mr. Bhutto and saying he would be happy to accept the gifts on Mr. Bhutto’s behalf and pass them on to him. Tun Abdul Razzak patiently listened to everything Aziz Ahmed had to say. Then without making any comments to him, he asked me to pick up the gifts and take them back to the car. I was to take him to the Assembly, the venue of the conference, even if it was too early.
On the way to the Assembly, he informed me that he would not be attending the evening reception given by the citizens of Pakistan at the Shalimar Gardens for all the delegates. And that in fact, I should get his plane ready at the airport because he would like to leave that very evening after the session ended.