Question: Mr. President, that day, March 25, 1971, you were a leading political personality, the chief of the Pakistan People’s Party, without government responsibilities and on that fateful day, you were in Dacca and you left on the 26th. I would like your eye-witness account of that day when the guns began to shoot all over east Bengal. What did exactly happen? How and why did it happen?
President: Well, that’s a long story. Why it happened well, this question you can address to those who took the action, but I believe that they to the action thinking that political negotiations had broken down and there was no further possibility of political progress. I suppose under that assumption they struck. I was in East Pakistan at time to have political negotiations which the then president Yahya Khan was conducting with Mujibur Rahman and myself. We met for two days and we tried to come to a settlement but we could not make much progress. However, on the 25th night, we were in our hotel, the intercontinental and my party members were with me. We used to hold consultation, and late into the night, everyday. That was the routine. And we held these consultation in the hotel and I think we went to our rooms by 10.30 or 11 and I was about to retire, go to bed, when I was awakened by the sound of gunfire. My other colleagues who were on the same floor, also heard the fire and they came to my room. That was about 11.30 I think. We saw that action was being taken, but, of course, intercontinental Hotel—have you been there?—is there and you can see the skyline in the distance. On the road itself we did not see any activity. On 26th morning at 7 o’clock, we left Dacca and came back here.
Question: The Pakistani leadership in which you have always had a very prominent position is accused of having pursued towards East Pakistan a policy of exploitation. It seems to me that the most reliable sources—and I have checked official Pakistan sources—tend to deny this assumption. Can you tell us why this unfair policy was not ruled out when its consequences clearly appeared in the permanent unrest of the Eastern Wing?
President: Quite right. Again I would say this question should be addressed to those who ruled East Pakistan for so long. We always struggled for a better social and economic order, and not only we struggled, but we made many sacrifices. We always maintained that the social system as it was a ruthless form of exploitation. The system again we inherited. It was neo-colonial. I know some people do not like the use of this word but it does operate in practice. We inherited a neo-colonial system and there were many other factors responsible for the perpetuation of this system. It has not really ended yet. It will take us some time to root in out. Can’t be done in a day, but we have begun on the right lines. And if this had been done earlier, I am quite confident that the unity of the country would have been preserved. However, at the same time, although I admit that there was this exploitation and we have mentioned it in our party manifesto, but there is some kind of a polarization that does take place in a country. Northern Italy was accused of exploiting the South for a long time.
President: And you had to take some special measures to bring about relief and redress in the Southern part of Italy.
Question: When and how did you realize, Mr. President, that India and Pakistan were on a collision course as far as East Bengal was concerned?
President: Well, we have been on a collision course since the inception. From the beginning there has been a conflict and confrontation between India and Pakistan. But even before that, it was confrontation which led to the division of the subcontinent and since then we have had to face it in every facet of our life. But, of course, it was more concentrated in East Pakistan. Number of reasons, but then again, they took advantage of a number of our mistakes. If we had not committed the mistakes, they would not have been able to take the advantage.
Question: Last question. What is you opinion about the South Asian and international relationships taking place in the new framework of the subcontinent? In which direction will the South Asian and international balance be affected by the birth of the new Islamic Nation?
President: Well, that is difficult to reply now, especially today. We were in a state of flux, but now with the developments is Vietnam, we have almost fallen into the volcano. Heaven alone knows, what tomorrow might bring. We are facing a situation similar to what we saw during the Cuban crisis. It is a most unfortunate development.