A leaf from history: The option of recognising Bangladesh
In February 1972, his second month in power, Z. A. Bhutto seemed overburdened with a huge agenda. He was prepared to undertake the responsibilities that were more important such as framing of a constitution for the ‘New Pakistan’, lifting of martial law, trying to bring back some 93,000 Prisoners of War (POWs), and settle the political issues with Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (NWFP) leadership.
He was aware of the mounting pressure from all political leaders, except his party members, for lifting martial law and establishing democratic institutions. He knew that delay in accomplishing this task could bring difficult days for his government which was still in infancy. Some leaders even demanded holding of new elections as, according to them, the government was without a mandate; they argued that the older constitution belonged to the old Pakistan that included East Pakistan which was no more part of the remaining Pakistan.
To hold the opposition in their seats, on February 10, 1972, he announced that the elections to the newly-constituted local bodies would be held on March 15 and the provincial assemblies would be convened on March 23. The opposition was not prepared to sit idle on this pledge; it wanted a complete schedule of a constitution framed by the new National Assembly based on realities.
The issue of holding of fresh elections to the new national and provincial assemblies was important but more important was building relations with the world community as after the arrival of Mujibur Rahman at Dhaka, many nations had begun to recognise Bangladesh. This began with India, which recognised it when the Bangladesh government was in exile; later Britain and other countries followed. Bhutto had announced that Pakistan would sever ties with any state which recognised Bangladesh. As the UK recognised Bangladesh, Bhutto took Pakistan out of the Commonwealth on January 30, 1972. Muslim countries, showing their attachment with Pakistan, upheld its decision; China and the US did not immediately recognise Bangladesh. The decision to pull out of the Commonwealth had a deep bearing on Pakistan’s ties with other nations, not only politically but economically too.
Before parting ways with the Commonwealth, Bhutto embarked on visits to Islamic countries, beginning with Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria from January 24 to 28, followed by China from January 31 to February 2, where, in a joint statement, both the countries criticised India for holding POWs for political gain.
For Pakistan the issue of recognition of Bangladesh was very crucial as both Bangladesh and India had linked the release of POWs with it. Bhutto viewed with concern the official visit of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to Bangladesh on February 19, where she had discussed many mutual and international issues with Mujib. Here India promised to hand over those 2,000 POWs including General Niazi, who Bangladesh wanted to try for war crimes committed between March 25, 1971 and December 16, 1971. While Indian troops were still in Bangladesh, she and Mujib signed a 25-year agreement of friendship and cooperation underlining that no discussion on the release of Pakistani POWs could take place until it recognised Bangladesh and settle some related issues. Besides, Indira agreed to recall Indian troops on March 17, which it did.
Before severing ties with the Commonwealth, Bhutto also visited China, Pakistan’s great friend and ally, in February 1972. The Chinese leadership remembered its role in bringing the US closer to it, and responded in the most cordial manner. The Shanghai communiqué expressed total commitment to territorial integrity of Pakistan. More important was the use of Chinese veto in the Security Council to keep Bangladesh out of the United Nations; China also did not establish diplomatic ties with Bangladesh till October 1975, one year after Pakistan did. Attempts by Shaikh Mujib to establish ties with China in 1973 and 1974 were not accepted by China. Similarly, China did not accept exchange of diplomats with India until diplomatic ties between India and Pakistan were restored in July 1976.
A couple of weeks later, Mujib headed for Soviet Union on March 1, 1972, and held discussions on, among other issue, the return of Pakistani POWs and signed an agreement of cooperation.
Bhutto kept a keen eye on what these two meetings were aimed at. As Pakistan suffered from the fallout of severing ties with the countries that extended recognition to Bangladesh, Bhutto flew to Moscow at the end of March, met Premier Kosygin and signed a five-year treaty opening Pakistan’s trade channels that had been closed after the Dhaka debacle, but linking it with the improvement in ties between Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.
Still far away from the goal, these were some attempts that could lead to what the New Pakistan aimed at.