Interviewer: In Karachi we met a women who told us that 21 members of her family were prisoners of war in India; and that, 20 of them were civilians. This is not generally understood in the Western world. So we interviewed her and that film is already in the United States. I think what they do with all of the films we make is to hold them after the elections so that they do not get lost in the election coverage.
President: Yes. The prisoners include civilians, and many are young children.
Interviewer: It is an incredible situation when one thinks about it?
President: They are not just a few. The military prisoners of war are about 70,000 and the rest, just over, 20,000 of them are civilians including civil servants and journalists. Did the lady speak to you in Urdu?
Interviewer: She spoke our language. She spoke excellent English, a very impressive woman and she talked about her family.
President: Was she the wife of a civil servant or a businessman?
Interviewer: She was the wife of a businessman and they had been living in Dacca. Her brother-in law is a Major in your Army. Somehow the brother-in-law was taken prisoner with 20 members of the family, including her mother, father and children.
President: There are many hard cases.
Interviewer: Mr. President, you came to power with the first democratically based Government in Pakistan after two military dictatorships. Of course, you were expected to be a miracle worker. What is happening now? Is Pakistan becoming impatient with slower working of the system of democracy?
President: I would not think so. We have made considerable progress in the last 10 months. There were many ups and downs, and dislocations but these were inherent in the situation. Now, we have progressed quite rapidly and have arrived at a constitutional settlement. All the parties represented in the National Assembly have unanimously agreed to the samples of the constitution. On the basis of these principles, we will frame a constitution: And as a result, democracy, will take firmer roots in Pakistan. Of course, at the moment it is a small and delicate plant but its roots are spreading out quite satisfactorily.
Interviewer: One of the great problems facing you, of course, it the economic situation of your country. You have said that you want to move the country towards socialism. But it is not clear to me what kind of socialism you mean. Does that mean nationalizing all the industries, Sir?
President: Not at all. We have nationalized some of the heavy industries, heavy from our point of view not heavy when compared with your industries or with the industries of Europe. In the beginning the industrialists were a little wary. They thought we would sweep the floor clean and nationalize everything. We have seen that happen in other countries. Taking into account their experiences we want to progress gradually towards the goal of socialism, we went to consolidate our gains before moving to the next phase. This is now quite clear to the people, as much as to the entrepreneurs. Already economic activity in the private sector is picking up. We have given assurances to the private sector that for our present tenure of the office we do not propose to take any further steps towards nationalization unless, of course, something unusual of extraordinary takes place sabotage or something of that nature. The result is that the people are again getting active, the industrialists are applying for sanctions for new industries, and they can have them for units stipulated in the investment schedule. We have nationalized some industries but we hope to maintain equilibrium and a balance between the competing interest for the private sector.
Interviewer: I have talked with some American businessman here in Pakistan. They are still a little worried. They wonder what is going to happen to them. You call the present stage an intermediary stage. Are their companies or some of them eventually going to be nationalized?
President: As for foreign investment we have made our position abundantly clear. We do not intend to touch foreign investment, and I have told investors in our country that if they are worried they can get into partnership with foreign investors. There are reasons for giving protection to foreign investment. We need foreign investment. I do not have to make out a case for that and there is no intention on our part to touch any firm or foreign investment, which we would sanction in Pakistan.
Interviewer: Were some kind of special circumstances surrounding the nationalization of the American life Insurance Company?
President: our election manifesto calls for the nationalization of insurance companies. We have, however, made it quite clear that we will pay adequate compensation. Now this is in accordance with the terms and conditions of the United States investment, which have been approved by Congress. We are going to implement the conditions imposed by Congress in these matters.
Interviewer: You are quoted as saying, Mr. President, that you personally favor recognizing Bangladesh. Is that true?
President: I have said this for a long time. It is not a question only of my personal wishes. It is in the interest of our people as a whole that recognition should be given at the appropriate time. I have pleaded for time because it is undoubtedly an issue affecting the sentiments of our people, and naturally so. A part of the country has been separated, people feel strongly about it. But taking the objective realities into account sooner or later we will have to reckon with the reality of Bangladesh, ugly or pleasant. In my judgment the sooner we do this, the easier it will be for us to restore our links and contacts with that part of the subcontinent, which till recently was a part of our country.
Interviewer: What kind of time plan do you see, Sir?
President: Originally I had thought that, by now, we would get this matter over with. But things do not move according to a fixed mechanism. The dynamics of politics involve many factors. Yes, many interests are involved. Things get out of hand, they get topsy-turvy, so, I cannot say exactly when. I hope I could have a meeting with Mr. Mujib-ur-Rahman soon, and once we meet, the picture will be a little clearer. I can then go to the people, and the National Assembly and make some tours of the country as well to explain to our people the necessity of recognition. But, some new elements keep arising. Certainly I have to take into account what Mr. Mujib-ur-Rahman has said. He has said that he is going to hold elections, and if he holds elections, we would not negotiate with a lame duck government. It will be difficult for us to take up such vital issues with a government, which is on the anvil of elections. These factors are outside my control.
Interviewer: And has Sheikh Mujib indicated that he would meet with you?’
President: He has imposed conditions, which we do not consider to be reasonable. They might be reasonable to him. But we do not think that they are reasonable conditions. He has asked for prior recognition so that we can meet on the basis of equality. For that matter, Malta and the United States are equally sovereign States. President Nixon went to China without according recognition to the People’s Republics of China. I do not think that any such consideration came in the way of the meeting. So, we recognize the equality of our friend. I would say, he is superior and we are inferior because he has got a larger population and we have got a smaller population. But we cannot just recognize a fail accompli without negotiations, without a package arrangement. The purpose of the meeting is to work out the recognition and the modalities that would follow to clear all outstanding issues.
Interviewer: Mr. President, you have over ninety thousand prisoners of war in camps in India or perhaps two hundred thousand. Nobody really seems to know. Bengalis here in Pakistan want to go to their homes in Bangladesh. Then here are Pakistanis in Bangladesh, who want to come here. So here in this subcontinent there are perhaps half a million displaced persons. How can you break this circle?
President: Well, one opening appears to be the Simla Accord and the follow-up of the Simla Accord provided that there will be withdrawal of forces. Originally, the withdrawals were scheduled to take place on the 3rd of September, and then we were stuck up. So I sent a delegation to Delhi and it was decided in Delhi that by the 15th of September the withdrawal have not yet taken place. If withdrawals had taken place, an opening would have been made for other developments. The ice has to be broken. Perhaps it will be broken when the withdrawals take place or when Mr. Mujib-ur-Rahman chooses to meet me. As I have told you, I am prepared to meet him at any time and any place, without any condition.
Interviewer: What are the conditions for the return of the 90,000 Pakistanis held in India?
President: The Indians are giving weird legal interpretation to their holding on to the prisoners. They say that the Pakistani prisoners of war surrendered to a joint command of India and Mukti Bahini: and, therefore, Mr. Mujib-ur-Rahman holds a veto power on the issue of their release, even if India wants to release them. We are not pressing the point at this stage because I believe we should proceed on the basis of first things first. We want withdrawals to be effected. Once withdrawals are affected we will vigorously take up the question of our prisoners of war. There are the Geneva Conventions and established norms of international conduct known to the whole world. Now, we hope that with the Vietnam War coming to an end, your own boys would be coming back to your country, which will be a salutary development. We hope that an international climate can be created for the release of our prisoners of war.
Interviewer: Are you holding the Bengalis in Pakistan as a political card to play?
President: It is hardly a political card. The Bengalis are free to go about, they are moving about, they are not in concentration camps, as has been alleged.
Interviewer: No. I have seen…
President: They are getting their salaries but of course they are not getting full salaries because they are not working and we are a poor country. Economically we cannot afford to give so many people salaries when they are not working. There has been some cut in their salaries but nevertheless they are free to move about.
Interviewer: Some who were not civil servants, however, are getting nothing at all and they find it difficult: of course, there is a certain feeling against them, and some of them who are simply poor are living in misery. Why don’t you send them back?
President: Yes. I can consider these matters once things start moving. I have no intention of unnecessarily keeping these poor people here. I sympathize with them. They are living in pitiable conditions. But we are a poor country. It is not the poor Bengalis alone who are living in pitiable conditions; there are other people also whose conditions are fairly miserable. It is the question of unemployment, the problem of a backward society. And that’s why we want to industrialize: that’s why we want to get things moving economically. We have poverty in the subcontinent and one of the worst forms of poverty that exists anywhere in the world. If affects other people as well, not just the poor Bengalis. There are unemployed Pakistanis who are equally destitute.
Interviewer: I have talked to Pakistanis who appreciate the fact that the United States favored your country in the war with India and yet I am disappointed because there are some among them who say if the United States had stood by us we would and have lost. How do you feel?
President: I am glad you asked this question. I don’t know when you are going to show this film to your audience, but, I want to make it abundantly clear-clear beyond all doubt – that the Government of President Nixon did not assist and help Pakistan out of subjective considerations. The Government of the United States took a position of principles. My country was subjected to a naked and brute aggression by India, supported by a treaty, which it had concluded a few months earlier with a great power. India violated all the norms of International relations known to mankind. India violated the norms of international relations as evolved since the San Francisco Conference: in such a situation the administration of President Nixon took a moral position took a position consistent with the high traditions of the United States and its people. Your country would not have been great if it had not upheld internationally recognized principles. I cannot understand this confused thinking in a part of the United States itself as if, President Nixon’s administration helped Pakistan against India. This is not the position. A great power or for that matter any country does not take any subjective or romantic position of helping one against the other. It takes a position on principles and we appreciate the fact that President Nixon was strong enough, bold enough and courageous enough to take a position on principles.
Interviewer: The feeling in the United States is against army in what now is Bangladesh?
President: Those reports were excesses in themselves. I know Mr. Mujib-ur-Rahman’s favorite theme song is that three million people had died. Well, this is not true. Of course, we would not condone the death of even one person. I had protested against some of the things that were being done. Not only I, but many people in this part of the country had protested. But, you know, in war, and this was a civil war, unfortunate things do happen. People get out of control. This has happened all over the world, and in civil wars more than in any other war. Nevertheless, the reports were grossly exaggerated. In any case when decisions are taken they are taken on the calculation of hard realities and emotional elements are not injected into such decisions. Be that, as it may, the fact in the last analysis remains that an aggression was committed against Pakistan. It was interference in our internal affairs- and a brute interference too.
Interviewer: Mr. President, how do you see the future relations of your country with its neighbors: with China, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan?
President: As far as China is concerned, we have good relations, extremely cordial relations. Over a period of time, these relations have been consolidated. The relationship is based on confidence and mutual trust because we have seen China has been a good neighbor and has been helpful to Pakistan in many ways. We envisage future development of our good relations with that country but without getting involved in the quarrels of the summit. We have no intention to get involved in those matters. As far as Afghanistan is concerned it is our neighbor, neighbor to the North. We have many common links with Afghanistan, and we hope to foster these links and increase them. With East Pakistan or Bangladesh or Muslim Bengal, once recognition takes place, we will do everything in our power to atone for the past and to develop positive relations. Relations with India are more complicated. They arise not only out of the legacies of the past, but because we have the fundamental dispute over Jammu and Kashmir with India. We will do everything in our power to resolve it on the basis of principles. But this can be done only if India comes to grips with us in a meaningful bilateral dialogue, and makes up her mind that it is about time that the dispute is resolved. Disputes all over the world are getting resolved; disputes that came before Kashmir and after Kashmir, but we are stuck up with this dispute. So, on a realistic, basis if India undertakes negotiations with us, after the withdrawal of forces and after the return of the prisoners of war, we are prepared to enter into a dialogue with India indeed. We cannot do this before the return of the prisoners of war because it will give the impression that there is duress in the negotiations. This is how I see the future. It can be very bright and it can be more productive to our people who have suffered for so long as a result of the tension and conflicts in the subcontinent. We can put our resources together to improve the lot of the common man but, of course, we must retain our separate identity. We cannot allow our identity to be merged with that of others. There is, therefore, no question of having con-federal arrangements. But as good neighbors we can live and steadily improve our relations as well as the living conditions of our people.
Interviewer: Mr. President how do you see your own future? Taking over the country after the last war and picking up the pieces is a thankless job. Your Minister for Labor has called the wave of strikes in the industrial areas a revolt against the Government. How serious are these problems? Are they a threat to you?
President: I do not think so. The labor problem is settling down as far as the whole country is concerned. It is mainly confined to Karachi where the labor is concentrated. It is heterogeneous labor. People from all over the country gather in Karachi far away from their homes. So these are not only economic problems but social problems as well; the problems of making a home, of settling down to different conditions. It will take a little longer time for the problems of Karachi to be resolved. But I am quite satisfied with the progress we have made. We have overcome many difficulties. The previous Governments had put aside all the controversial issues. They did not even touch them. They did not touch the question of the constitution, the question of autonomy, the language problem and a host of other sensitive issues. They kept these asides and by doing that by procrastinating over the settlement of these issues, they made them much worse. All these accumulated problems fell on our shoulders. We have to take the decisions. Most of the unpleasant decisions were very hard decisions and have been taken. We now look forward to the period of genuine consolidation.
Interviewer: Can a democracy deal with problems like that – the emotional and traditional problems – better than dictatorship?
President: The only way to deal with these problems, we have seen through our experience over the last 25 years or the last 15 years, is that people alone are the final arbiters and they alone can decide. The Junta sitting far away in its ivory tower cannot take decisions and when it takes decisions, such decisions are not accepted by the people. I believe only a democracy can settle these issues.
Interviewer: Thank you very much Mr. President.