Tashkent 1966 and its ramifications | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 16, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 16, 2013

Ground Realities

Tashkent 1966 and its ramifications

Indian Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Pakistan's President Mohammad Ayub Khan, after days of wrangling over the terms of a possible deal between them, signed the Tashkent Declaration late on January 10, 1966 in the capital of what was then the Soviet Socialist Republic of Uzbekistan. The agreement signalled a formal end to the atmosphere of conflict that had lingered between their two countries since the end of the seventeen-day war in September 1965.
In broad outline, of course, the declaration was not a game-changer. It did not cause Delhi and Islamabad to turn a new leaf in their relations and so move ahead toward changing the entire gamut of their ties. What it did do, however, was to have the armies of the two countries go back to the positions they had held before the outbreak of the conflict on September 6, 1965 and to have the Line of Control restored in Kashmir.
The war, precipitated by Pakistani action through such moves as Operation Gibraltar, aimed at promoting an uprising in Indian-administered Kashmir, resolved nothing. The anticipated uprising, something Ayub, his foreign minister Z.A. Bhutto and the Pakistan army were sure would come about, did not happen. Worse, a complacent Pakistan did not expect India to move so decisively against it in order to give Islamabad a taste of its own medicine. The decisive move was, of course, the march toward Lahore. Pakistan's soldiers then scrambled to prevent Lahore from falling into Indian hands.
The war would not end before September 23, by which time considerable debate on the conflict would take place at the United Nations Security Council. India, represented by External Affairs Minister Sardar Swaran Singh, presented its case before the global body. In Pakistan's instance, President Ayub Khan first despatched Law Minister S.M. Zafar to New York and, at a subsequent stage, Foreign Minister Bhutto. It was Bhutto's theatrics, coupled with his use of uncouth language against the Indians, which were more of a presence than any conscious demonstration of diplomatic finesse on his part.
The summit between the Indian and Pakistani leaders was brought about under Soviet aegis, but there was too pressure from the United States, Britain and the United Nations on Ayub and Shastri to arrive at a solution. Shortly after the agreement had been initialled, Shastri died in the early hours of January 11. A sleeping Bhutto was awakened by his foreign secretary Aziz Ahmed, who told him, "Sir, the bastard is dead." Bhutto's equally unsophisticated response was to ask Ahmed, "Which one?" For Pakistan's brash young foreign minister, both Ayub Khan and Shastri epitomised negativism. Besides, Bhutto was not exactly happy that the Tashkent Declaration had been signed. In the days leading up to the actual initialling of the agreement, he had been studiously ignored by Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, who made it obvious that they did not want him around when they met Ayub to thrash out problems that could arise on the way to a final deal.
In the aftermath of the Tashkent Declaration, politics would undergo sweeping changes in the Indian subcontinent, particularly in Pakistan. In India, following Shastri's death Home Minister Gulzarilal Nanda filled in as acting prime minister, until such time as the ruling Congress chose Indira Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru's daughter and information and broadcasting minister under Shastri, as the new prime minister. Mrs. Gandhi's election was but the first sign of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty eventually taking control of India. Today, despite the tenuous hold of the Congress on power, it is the present generation of the family, symbolised by Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, who hold sway in the country.
The ramifications of Tashkent were to be more severe in Pakistan. Almost immediately after Ayub and his delegation came back to Pakistan, Bhutto began to throw hints of a secret clause in the declaration the president had reached with Shastri. It was a lie, of course, but Bhutto was playing to the gallery. That was his way of keeping himself going after a war that was being blamed on the wrong advice he had given Ayub, to a point where Bhutto had told his leader that as Pakistan battled India, China would open a new front against India in the north.
Bhutto's grumbling finally led to Ayub Khan demanding that he either resign as foreign minister or go on leave. Bhutto had little choice. He went on leave in June 1966. A month later, under pressure from the president, he resigned and was replaced by attorney general Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada. More than a year later, in November 1967, Bhutto would form the Pakistan People's Party and launch an anti-Ayub crusade in West Pakistan. In November 1968, he would be placed under arrest under the Defence of Pakistan Rules.
The 1965 war demonstrated the inadequacy of national defence in East Pakistan, despite the glib assertions of West Pakistani politicians that the defence of the country's eastern province lay in its western part. Such territorial vulnerabilities were not lost on the general secretary of the East Pakistan Awami League, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who on February 5, 1966 publicly announced a Six-Point programme of regional autonomy at a news conference in Lahore. Ayub Khan's immediate response was to threaten Mujib and his party with the use of what the president called the language of weapons.
Not even the political opposition, of which the Awami League was an essential component, would see eye-to-eye with Mujib. His programme was dubbed as secessionist and therefore aimed at a break-up of Pakistan. Much of the West Pakistani component of the Awami League, led by Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, went its own way and soon petered out.
Mujib was arrested on May 8, 1966, along with some of his senior party colleagues. On June 7, the Awami League, through the efforts of Mizanur Rahman Chowdhury and Amena Begum, enforced a day-long general strike in East Pakistan as a way of emphasising the significance of the Six-Point programme.
The 1965 war left Ayub weakened in office. And Tashkent placed him under siege. The very political process he had put the lid on in 1958 came back to haunt him and eventually drive him from power in March 1969. It remains an irony that in throwing in the towel, Ayub violated his own constitution, foisted on Pakistan in 1962: he did not hand over power to the speaker of the national assembly, Abdul Jabbar Khan, but to the commander-in-chief of the army, General Yahya Khan. Pakistan went under a second martial law.
In less than three years, East Pakistan would have a rebirth, under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, as the independent People's Republic of Bangladesh. Whatever remained of Pakistan in the west would pass into the hands of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
E-mail: ahsan.syedbadrul@gmail.com

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