Khwaja Shahabuddin's speech on "Pakistan-Soviet Relations" at the Press Club of Dacca on the 15th of this month has caused me considerable amusement. The controversial and sensitive trail covered by this nation in the wake of Tashkent is a year in length and requires no startling revelations. Although the Government has been more conspicuous in covering the footprints left behind in the sands of the capital of Uzbekistan, the object of the venerable Information Minister's pathetically belated outburst is as clear as crystal.
The ring is being tightened round me. Senile and discarded politicians of my district are seeking to ingratiate themselves with the Government by unleashing against me vicious falsehoods which I shall separately answer at the district level. People of my district and my friends are facing a crescendo of difficulties. This mounting wave of harassment is not going to daunt me. I shall continue to face it with greater fortitude as I have done no wrong to my people. Khwaja Shahabuddin's statement is only another link in the chain of current events pitched in my direction.
For the present I think it appropriate to ignore the more mundane mischief and attend to questions of national importance. The Information Minister's speech at Dacca introduces a new element which has distinct national and international overtones. If Government, in its superior wisdom, has chosen to ignore the internal and external implications including the melancholy multitude of existing crises, and is anxious to rip open the carcass, I shall be the first to enter the field and Insha Allah the last to leave it.
If the Information Minister has at long last donned the armour of a Mark Antony and is in search of a Brutus, he will not find him in me as I have slabbed no Caesar. But if my role at Tashkent is to be brought to the altar, I will welcome it with open arms. On the Government's own
choosing, let us, therefore, peep into Pandora's Box as a prelude to opening it.
The topic of Khwaja Shahabuddin's speech at the Press Club of Dacca was "Pakistan-Soviet Relations', but it appears that the Information Minister was more obsessed by my role at Tashkent. Not an insignificant portion of his speech is devoted to a diabolical distortion of my participation at the Tashkent conference. Khwaja Shahabuddin entrenched and protected by the invincible shield of authority, has the freedom to break with impunity the norms of veracity applicable to ordinary mortals. He has the liberty to ravage the rules of propriety. The Information Minister's deplorable tirade, bad naturally been given extravagant prominence by that section of the Press which is no longer in a position to dance to the music of any other orchestra. The whole statement is full of pathos and is lamentable in purpose and taste.
Within the confines or the limitations applicable to ordinary citizens, I will, in the name of truth, endeavour to put forward my version. This must, however, be preceded by preambular remarks on Pakistan-Soviet relations as Mr. Shahabuddin has sought to directly link my role at Tashkent and my attitude to the Declaration to the whole gamut of Pakistan-Soviet relations. It thus becomes my responsibility to shed some light on this subject. Not in vainglory but because the Information Minister has left me with no choice.
Since authorship is a presumptuous word in a presidential system, let me declare meekly that I have held a pioneering position in the development of friendly relations between the Soviet Union and my country. The breakthrough in Pakistan-Soviet Union relations was made when as Minister for Fuel, Power and Natural Resources, I visited Moscow in December, 1960, to conclude an oil agreement with that country. This visit was undertaken in the shadow of the U-2 incident and during a period when Pakistan-Soviet relations had fallen into a tragic abyss. Those in Government at that time know, better than Khwaja Shahabuddin, the insuperable hurdles I had to surmount to write this first purposeful page in the chapter of Pakistan-Soviet relations.
The Information Minister has attached the highest importance to 1965. If that year is of primordial importance in Pakistan-Soviet relations, it must not escape the attention of the Information Minister that in that very year I made three separate visits to the Soviet Union and in January, 1965, held crucial discussions with Soviet leaders on the future course of Pakistan-Soviet relations. Actually, much before all these developments, as Commerce Minister, I had forcefully argued, at the very first re-evaluation of foreign policy made by the Martial Law government in 1958, on the need to improve relations with the Soviet Union, People's China and with nations of Asia and Africa. It has taken Mr. Shahabuddin nine long years to realise that our friendship with the East is not incompatible with our cordial relations with the West. This has caused me sufficient satisfaction.
What astonishes me, however, is the irresponsible and reckless tone of the Information Minister. If Khwaja Shahabuddin wants to take a perverse view of fairy tales, the people of Pakistan are capable of making an objective evaluation of my role in the development of Pakistan-Soviet relations. But I still fail to understand how my resistance to India's hostility and aggression on Pakistan and its immoral usurpation of Jammu and Kashmir can be construed as an effort to sour Pakistan's relations with the Soviet Union.
I now come to the macabre part of Mr. Shahabuddin's speech which defies description in its assault on propriety. There appear to be three ways of dealing with the thin fabric which the Information Minister has woven with half-truths and untruth:
a. To continue to maintain my silence and ignore this poisonous provocation which is bound to crumble in the parchment of history;
b. To take the Biblical attitude of an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and answer quotation for quotation and document for document;
c. To accept Khwaja Shahabuddin's challenge and to face him and or any of his colleagues assisted by their legion of advisers on any platform with the totality of material relevant to the Tashkent Declaration.
As the Information Minister's speech mentions "evidence" and speaks of "legal force" it would seem appropriate to take the final alternative for the determination of the true verdict. If this approach is to be chosen, issues would require to be framed and the following, among others, would be of relevance:
a. My assessment and evaluation of the Soviet invitation for a conference at Tashkent;
b. My role at Tashkent, my expressed views on the most important issues, particularly on India's efforts to wrench out a "no war" declaration on Jammu and Kashmir and if I were the principal negotiator;
c. Discussion with the Indian delegation in the first and only Ministerial level meeting held between the delegations of Pakistan and India at Tashkent;
d. My comments to the Soviet Foreign Minister when the draft of the declaration was delivered to me;
e. The instructions I gave to Pakistan's High Commissioner in India when I asked him to return the draft of the Declaration to the Indian delegation;
f. The number of meetings held between the leaders of the delegations without the assistance of advisers;
g. Evidence on the views exchanged at these meetings;
h. The discussions at the more important meetings between Pakistan and Soviet delegations;
i. If the Information Minister's contention that those delegates who disagreed with the Government should have issued public statements after the conference is a valid contention;
j. What led to my departure from the Cabinet? Should I really have left-after Tashkent and who could have benefited from such an action? Is it not national interest that should form the main consideration?
These are only some of the issues which require to be framed for a scientific analysis of events beginning from the cease-fire to the Tashkent Declaration and its aftermath. Unfortunately, Khwaja Shahabuddin has taken a superficial attitude on a question which strikes at the heart of history. Perhaps, he has done this in ignorance as throughout the conference he stood on the sidelines and was not really involved in the day-to-day evolution of events. So much so that on one occasion I was constrained to criticise him for remaining silent even on issues affecting his province on such matters as evictions and the waters problem. His Information Secretary, who maintains a copious diary, made a note of these remarks of mine.
The Information Minister has chosen to repeat what he claims to be my exact words. He has spoken the most atrocious lie by saying that he was all the time in "close touch" with me at Tashkent. Khwaja Shahabuddin should stop telling lies if he wants me to stop saying the truth. If these are to be the rules of the game, and if all the gladiators are to enter the arena, I should be permitted to quote the prominent personalities who attended the Tashkent conference not only from Pakistan but from the Soviet Union and India as well. I fail to understand how Khwaja Shahabuddin has - become the taperecorder of the conference when he was incapacitated and stretched out in bed with pneumonia or bronchitis which kept him behind in Tashkent when the rest of us left for Pakistan.
The Information Minister has said: "It may be said that my evidence in this matter has no legal force or that I may have formed a personal impression of Mr. Bhutto's reaction which was different from his real feelings. If documentary evidence is of relevance and we are in search of legal pronouncements, it would become unavoidable for the Government to place before the people of Pakistan each and every document pertinent to the determination of truth." I say let all the cards be placed on the table and let the nation determine. The nation will come to a finding on my attitude: "glum" or otherwise, depressed or jubilant, cross-legged or clapping only when the curtain is lifted and the drama brought to the screen.
Khwaja Shahabuddin has had to admit and contradict himself when he said that I did not join the dapping when the Declaration was being signed and also that I appeared "glum" when the cameras were facing me. Mr. Minister for Information, I looked glum and depressed not because I was suffering from pneumonia or bronchitis. Mr. Shahabuddin has said that the
agitation in Lahore and in certain parts of West Pakistan influenced my judgement. This is an unkind cut and not magnanimous. A person who had gone through the critical period of the war and interpreted the sublimest sentiments of his people could never have been unmindful of the feelings of his nation. How could I have spoken from my heart to fight for a thousand years if my people were in a mood to surrender?
Mr. Shahabuddin's remarks are most ungracious when he says that I was influenced by the wrath of the people against the Tashkent Declaration and on that account I tergiversated. If that were so, why was I glum and depressed at Tashkent, and why did I not join in the clapping, to use Khwaja Shahabuddin's own word? Khwaja Shahabuddin has asked why I did not resign at Tashkent if "my advice was ignored or if I was unhappy with the results." In asking this question
Mr. Shahabuddin seems to have forgotten that that was a time when only recently the Pakistan nation had concluded a heroic struggle against aggression and was passing through its most difficult and delicate test. In my judgement it would have been a catastrophe if I had taken a personal approach at the height of a national crisis and that also on the soil of a foreign country.
Khwaja Shahabuddin, apparently no longer a genuine respecter of truth, has stated that I continued in Government for nearly six months or more after the Tashkent Declaration to parade as a leader and hero of the youth. I would consider it the greatest privilege and honour to be the leader of the youth, and to set a new pattern with their support, but I have never sought to be a hero which, in a presidential system, is an act of suicide. I remained in Government because I wanted to put ointment on national wounds before making my departure to oblivion. I was not prepared to make convenient adjustments on fundamental issues and I knew that I had to go. Mr.
Shahabuddin would do well to ponder why I chose this path while he chose to stay.
Whether we like it or not Tashkent has left an unreadable mark on the face of Pakistan. The Declaration is germane to the future and is chained hand and foot, body and soul, 10 the September conflict. In the highest national interest I have thus far refrained from uttering a word on this delicate subject from the day I left office. I am now in a more independent position to speak on the subject. If this is one of the purposes of the Information Minister's statement, I am prepared to debate the issue threadbare with Khwaja Shahabuddin or any other Minister of Government. Let them all come together assisted by their entire paraphernalia. I will stand alone. Let the nation scrutinise and adjudicate.
Let then there be a full-fledged debate on the basis of equality without loaded dice. Lift the state of emergency and other legal impediments for the exposure of truth. Not only must the laws be made to stand aside for Government but also for me. Section 144 should be removed forthwith for the people to congregate and to hear each side throughout the length and breadth of the country and the discussions reported faithfully and fully in the Press and on Radio and Television. Lift the curtain of secrecy and let the light shine for the public to see more. Anything short of the conditions that expose the truth would be a travesty of the exercise. We are reckoning with the future of a hundred million people.
Mr. Minister for Information, either enter the field with your minions and face this humble individual with a relative equality of opportunity or stop playing marbles and pointing pierceless darts at ordinary citizens, circumscribed badly by a pyramid of punitive laws and by the high and oppressive wall of Section 144 and by a large portion of the Press which alas, has become the Marie Walewska of your Information Ministry.