108. Telegram 1389 From the Embassy in Pakistan to the Department of State1 2

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  • Internal Political Developments: Central Government Actions in Baluchistan and Frontier
Summary: Bhutto has seized opportunity presented by Iraqi Embassy arms discovery to topple opposition governments in Baluchistan and frontier through constitutional means. His actions may well signify end of his government’s experiment with democracy. Whether that will entail more serious consequences for Pakistan depends on reaction from National Awami Party over next several days. End summary.
In fast-moving political developments of last 4 hours, (a) Bhutto has removed governors of Baluchistan and NWFP, dismissed Baluchistan Council of Ministers and imposed President’s rule in that province; (b) National Awami Party/Jamiatul-Ulema-i-Islami (NAP-JUI) ministry in North West Frontier province has announced mass resignations in protest against central government actions; (c) People’s Party (PPP) governor of Sind has [Page 2] resigned and been replaced by Begum Liaquat Ali Khan; (d) GOP has re-arrested independent Karachi English Daily Dawn editor Gauhar, arrested an estimated 46 members of National Awami Party in Punjab plus NAP member of Frontier Assembly, retired General Jilani.
In letters of dismissal to NAP governors in Frontier and Baluchistan (Islamabad 1308) no reference was made to Iraqi Embassy arms cache discovery. Nor was there any reference to Iraqi arms in proclamation imposing presidential rule in Baluchistan. Justification for dismissal of provincial government was instead based on Lasbela disturbances which were described as resulting in loss of life and property on massive scale. (According to ConGen Karachi 206, clashes between tribal factions in Lasbela had in fact diminished by February 14. Army Chief of Staff General Tikka Khan stated February 15 following quick visit to Lasbela that only 8 to 10 persons had died in disturbances.) Under interim constitution President can assume direct control under Article 14 over provincial government if President “is satisfied that a situation has arisen in which the government of a province cannot be carried on in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.”) Article 136 regarding distribution provinces and federal legislative rights was cited in proclamation rather that Article 134, probably erroneously, suggesting that proclamation was drawn up hurriedly.
Under interim constitution executive authority in province is exercised by governor who inter alia has right to porogue or dissolve Provincial Assembly. NAP/JUI coalition control, 12 of 21 seats in Baluchistan Assembly. Difficult to see how Governor Akbar Bugti can form provincial government even after passage of new constitution unless GOP can break JUI away from present coalition or induce defections from NAP. However, should Bugti dissolve assembly and call fresh elections, presumably GOP could and would rig elections to ensure same majority.
In Frontier, NAP/JUI is more vulnerarle. Two parties together control 19 of 42 provincial assembly seats with swing votes controlled by newly appointed Governor Khattak, who claims approximately 10 seats for his united front. Would appear that Khattak could form provincial government. However, at last report NAP/JUI provincial ministry was still considering whether or not to follow through on resignations after appeal by Governor Khattak for them to retain their portfolios.
In initial reaction to Bhutto’s coup, NAP President Wali Khan told public meeting in Peshawar Feb 15 that since Bhutto did not accept “our constitutional governments then would not accept his government.” He added, however, that he still planned to attend National Assembly session scheduled to begin in Islamabad February 17 to consider constitution. (National Assembly Secretariat informs us that assembly still scheduled to re-convene tomorrow.) Meanwhile Pushtun students’ federation has called for a three-day strike in Peshawar to protest central government actions. Initial reports from Peshawar Feb 16 indicate strike so far has failed.
Situation remains fluid. Consul Peshawar will be reporting in septel on February 14–15 events that province. ConGen Karachi will also report septels on developments/reactions in Sind and Baluchistan while ConGen Lahore will report Punjab reaction.
Although current drama probably for from being played out, some initial Embassy views may be worth recording. Discovery of arms in Iraqi Embassy provided unique opportunity to Bhutto to move against his chief political opposition. National Awami Party popularly believed to be pro-Russian and prone to secession. As result, was not difficult for GOP to count effective propaganda campaign linking NAP with Iraqi arms and charging party with plotting subversion. Bhutto then seized opportunity to overturn both NAP provincial governments. Although each action taken [Page 4] has had legal basis, together they suggest that end of democratic experiment in Pakistan under regime may be at hand. Bhutto has shown that he is prepared to tolerate at most token opposition. However, he will probably retain facade of democracy, i.e., national and provincial legislatures whether these events portend more serious consequences for Pakistan’s future remains uncertain. National Awami Party’s reaction in Baluchistan and Frontier during next several days will demonstrate whether Bhutto’s political gamble has succeeded or not.
  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Files 1970–73, Political & Defense, POL 23–8 PAK. Confidential; Priority. It was repeated pPriority to Kabul, Karachi, and Lahore, and to New Delhi and Tehran. On February 14, Bhutto sent a letter to Nixon requesting U.S. aid to combat what he believed to be Soviet attempts to subvert Pakistan. (Ibid., POL PAK–US)
  2. The Embassy reported that Prime Minister Bhutto apparently had used the Iraqi arms smuggling controversy as an opportunity to purge opposition governments in Baluchistan and on the frontier through constitutional means; however, the Embassy also speculated that the move may signal the “end of his government’s experiment with democracy.”