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Bhutto and the Polish Resolution

12 December, 2016

By Col. Riaz Jafri (Retd)


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Many may have seen Pakistani TV channels occasionally showing Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was representing Pakistan as its nominated Foreign Minister, tearing and throwing away some papers in rage and walking out of the UN Security Council.                                                                               
Well … well … the papers were the Polish Resolution and it was 15th of  December 1971 when the 71 war between India and Pakistan was in its most crucial stage and for Pakistan every day – nay – every moment mattered incalculably. 

Events leading to the Polish Resolution were that after months of shelling at East Pakistan borders, sending infiltrators and assisting the Bengali Mukti Bahini, Indian armed forces crossed the international borders in the Eastern Sector on Eid ul Fitr day -  the 22 November 1971.  On 3rd December armed hostilities broke out on the Western Front also. As full-fledged India and Pakistan War started the matter came before the UN Security Council.

On 4 December 1971 Pakistan’s representative Agha Shahi argued that Pakistan’s internal crisis was outside the ambit of the Security Council who could deal only with international peace and not the internal peace of a member state.

The Soviet delegate held Pakistan Military responsible for the situation and proposed that the so-called Bangladesh government, formed in exile on Indian territory, be also given a hearing in the Council, which was vetoed by China.

A deadlock resulted in the Security Council when the Soviets too vetoed resolutions moved by the United States and China calling for “immediate cessation of hostilities and withdrawal of troops from each other’s territory”

 In the meantime, the situation in East Pakistan had become very critical. But most surprisingly while the matter of life and death for Pakistan was being discussed and negotiated by the world powers at the UN, Bhutto who had arrived there on 11th Dec 1971 stayed away for full three days from the UNSC debates resting in his Waldorf Astoria hotel suite ‘indisposed’ due to common cold! .

On 15 December 1971, Poland sponsored a draft resolution that had the Soviet support.  It provided for the release of Sheikh Mujib-ur Rehman and transfer of power to the elected representatives under his leadership in East Pakistan, cessation of military actions in all the areas, initial and then permanent ceasefire, withdrawal of the Pakistan armed forces to the preset locations in the eastern theatre, evacuation of Pakistani nationals and armed forces from there and the withdrawal of the Indian armed forces from the eastern theatre in consultation with the newly established authority.

Since for all practical purposes, Pakistan’s acceptance of the Polish Resolution would have meant that it had agreed to the secession of East Pakistan, Bhutto declined to take upon himself the responsibility of conceding defeat there and walked out of the Security Council.

A little closer look at the Polish Resolution would, however, show that it favoured Pakistan to quite some extent.  Though the acceptance of the Polish Resolution would not have prevented the dismemberment of Pakistan, which in any case was a matter of forgone conclusion yet,  its implementation would have averted the sad and stigmatic episode of Pakistan armed forces’ surrender in East Pakistan and becoming Prisoners of War. It provided for:

1.A Cease-Fire and immediate mutual withdrawal before the capture of Dacca.

2.This would have deprived India of the clear victory it sought.

3.A quick return of the Pakistan Army under UN arrangements, would have greatly complicated India's capacity to assist the Awami league in establishing a stable and moderate regime in East Pakistan.

4.As once both Indian & Pakistani forces returned by virtue of the resolution the conglomeration of Mukti-Bahini forces would have commenced their 'own civil war for power', in race to control the new country.

5.This was a no-win situation for India as that would have forced India to restore the strategic points in the Pakistani side of cease-fire line in Kashmir, that the Indians had seized at some cost in the 1971 war.

6.To add further to above, Indra Gandhi knew that behind the Polish Resolution, really stood the Soviets, and in principle New Dehli had reluctantly conceded that it had no options but to accept the resolution that had been approved unanimously.

However, ZAB in  his quite lengthy and forceful speech and probably driven by his some hidden inner desire stalked out of Assembly saying, “Finally, I am not a rat. I have never ratted in my life. I have faced assassination attempts, I have faced imprisonments. I have always confronted crises. Today I am not ratting, but I am leaving your Security Council. I find it disgraceful to my person and to my country to remain here a moment longer than is necessary. I am not boycotting. Impose any decision, have a treaty worse than the Treaty of Versailles, legalise aggression, legalise occupation, legalise everything that has been illegal upto 15 December 1971. I will not be a party to it. We will fight; we will go back and fight. My country beckons me. Why should I waste my time here in the Security Council? I will not be a party to the ignominious surrender of a part of my country. You can take your Security Council. Here you are. (Ripping papers) I am going.”

Next day the 16 December 1971 East Pakistan was lost for ever.

Reflecting in the wisdom of the hindsight of 45 years one is at times compelled to ponder over some of the insolvable quizzes, like :

·Why did Bhutto evade the UNSC debates from 11 Dec till 14 Dec 1971 on the pretext of suffering from the common cold?  

·Was he filibursting and gaining time to make the position of the Pak armed forces untenable and wanted them to surrender?  In this context  a page from  Mr.  Sultan Muhammad Khan’s book 'Memories & Reflections'. pages-385-386, who was the foreign secretary in January 1970 and handled Pakistan's foreign relations during the civil war in East Pakistan is quite revealing, He says, “The no less important apprehension that two or three army divisions with their formations and arms intact, returning to West Pakistan with a stigma of failure, would be a serious threat to the military and emerging political leadership. Questions would be raised by them to determine and assign responsibility for the political and military failure in East Pakistan. Things could take an unpredictable course and emergence of a new military leadership which would put an end to the prospect of civil rul! e, was a distinct possibility''. To conclude: Had the Army come back, as stated in the remarks above, Yahya & his team, as well ZAB would have been jointly tried by an Army commission, and their fates sealed, a coup was definitely expected”.

·And then look at the Justice Hamood ur Rehman Commission appointed by him and the mandate given to it, “To inquire into and find out the circumstances in which the Commander Eastern command surrendered and the members of the Armed Forces of Pakistan under his command laid down their arms and a cease-fire was ordered along the borders of West Pakistan and India and along the cease-fire line in the State of Jammu and Kashmir."   What could a commission entrusted with such a task (purely military in nature) do except find faults and blame the army for the debacle ?!

·Why was the Commission not given the task, “To enquire into the circumstances which led to the cessation of East Pakistan from Pakistan”.  The outcome report would have been quite different.

·And the million dollar question; “Would Mujib ur Rehman have proved to be a loyal and patriotic PM had Bhutto agreed to his becoming the PM of united Pakistan as was announced by President  Yahya Khan?

I leave these afterthoughts for the readers to decide for themselves.

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