Interviewer: Once the prisoners are back, why should you care so much for the claims Mujib makes. He makes claims, you consider them ridiculous, you don’t want them, there is no reason for you to pay heed.
President: But for one thing, there is an international factor. Foreign debts are involved. Secondly, a simple answer is that we want good relations with them and we don’t want to enter into a new controversy. There should be no new cause for bad blood.
Interviewer: Another reason which one gathers why you want to meet him was to make a last desperate attempt to get some kind of constitutional, perhaps if not constitutional some kind of unity so that you can preserve at least the form of unity, a former Pakistan.
President: I know how events have moved in the subcontinent and I am not ignorant of historical factors. I know, at the moment, this is only a cynical formality. But at the same time I am equally convinced that sooner or later, and sooner than most people think, some kind of association will again emerge between the two entities-Pakistan and Bangladesh. I do not mean in the form of a federation, I do not say in the form of a confederation. But it will be a relationship, which the great powers call a special relationship. Now, how that takes shape I can’t anticipate precisely. But, I know certainly, I am quite confident that it will happen. That is why the sooner we recognize the cruel reality, the present reality the quicker will that day come.
Interviewer: You said cynical formality; I cannot make what you meant by cynical formality.
President: We have to go through the process. In the future, not distant but near, if we behave sensibly and do the right things, some atonement some moral and political compensation will make my work easier. I am sure this will induce a form of association, not in constitutional terms, but in other ways, for example, through trade concessions, not needing visas between the two and various other measures. I can think of so many methods as a starting point for the special association. Although Mr. Mujib-ur-Rahman will, of course, denounce it but after the elections which he is having, he will move in that direction.
Interviewer: I want to know whether these elections might push him to hold the trials and once the trials start what you think will happen here. You said that that will be a point of no return. Do you think Punjab will rise and there will be demonstrations?
President: No, not that kind. It will be a psychological point of no return.
Interviewer: it seems he knows that. He has not started the trials, and yet when one talks to him he seems completely adamant in going about the trials.
President: He is a prisoner of his own complexes.
Interviewer: But you are hopeful that you might get round this trials’ problem. You are not going to the question of recognition here and he …….(interruption)
President: Exactly, I do not see why people abroad are doubtful about our earnestness regarding the recognition of Bangladesh. I would not be making speeches in Lyallpur and addressing the hard core of opposition to recognition, if I was not interested in recognition. It would be political suicide for a person to preach what in inverted commas is unpopular publicly. But the timing must be left to us. We cannot be badgered on this. I will have to be convinced that I have brought public opinion round to the point of recognition.
Interviewer: And in this campaign, which you mentioned today, you referred to the Opposition parties not inside the party or else inside the party?
President: here are the parties, which were defeated in last elections. They want something to rehabilitate themselves. They want to pick on any plug and they think this is the best one. If they want to play decent politics, I am prepared for that- a dialogue, a discussion and fair debate. But if they start saying Islam is in danger, the two-nation theory is going to be exploded and we will see rivers of blood, then they are asking for extra-legal methods of handling the problem. Then they will be paid back in their own coin. I am convinced that recognition is in the interest of Pakistan. There is no other way of forging links with Bengal. If they can show me better links, as I have said this afternoon, I am prepared to listen to them.
Interviewer: Now this has been a big thing, your border with India. I come from Delhi where I am stationed normally. They give this impression that Pakistani side strangely changed position at the last minute. I have learnt already here this does not seem to be the case.
President: This is entirely incorrect. I have said that Pakistan being the smaller country, we cannot simply abandon the path of principle because then the whole physical weight of the bigger party comes to bear on the problem. Sympathy and support externally and mobilization internally can only be on the lines of a principle; and the principle here is that the Simla Agreement refers to where the armies stood on the 17th of December. We stood there much before the 17th of December. Now if you want to change that for some reason, and we know the reason, in that case find a new principle which should be that you give us quid pro quo and vacate some area along that whole long line, in exchange fro this. Then we can go back to our people and say all right if we had to give up some territory where we were before the 17th of December, Indians gave us something where they were before the 17th of December.
Interviewer: But have you any firm indication up-till now about what sort of meeting they want to have?
President: If you go back to India, you can tell some of them, look, for God’s sake, be a little reasonable. Therefore, let us lay off this hook and get on with the progress. Today, to us our relations with India, from the narrow point of view, have significance more immediate than that of Bangladesh, which is a distance of 1,000 miles away. India is our immediate neighbor physically, and so it is essential that we get moving with the withdrawals and then we can have the second meeting with Mrs. Gandhi and make further progress.
Interviewer: There was time when they were saying-Swaran Singh told me a few months ago that they were not interested in another Summit in advance of recognition of Bangladesh. I think they may be waiting for that.
President: There are many advantages, both to them and to us, for a meeting before that. I don’t see why they are sensitive to restoring diplomatic relations. The explanation that Mrs. Gandhi gave in today’s Dawn does not convince me. Diplomats have a role to play in assessing the situation, in evaluating the internal conditions and also in maintaining liaison.
Interviewer: In fact it will be you who wish to have diplomatic relations because they are holding the prisoners?
President: I took our man to Simla, the man I wanted to appoint in Delhi, I took him to Simla.
Interviewer: I do not quite know why they have opposed it?
President: Some kind of positive contribution can be made by the international Press on this question.
Interviewer: If there is a summit meeting, obviously the first thing you want to raise is the prisoners. Do you think that in case Sheikh Mujib manages to shelve the trials until after his elections, which is also a possibility, there will still be the threat that Indians cannot release all the prisoners? Would you be interested in a partial release?
President: Substantial release. If he judges a particular case as one to be kept aside for the guillotine, he may do so. But there will be retaliation. I am prepared to discuss, without recognition, exchange of substantial number of prisoners of war with the Bengalis from here.
Interviewer: I see that will be a part of the truce.
President: Yes, why should it be a one-way traffic? Of course, prisoners of war should be returned, according to Geneva Conventions and Resolution 307 unconditionally. But if Mujib wants some benefit out of it, we will let him have it. But I cannot say if it will be productive.
Interviewer: Prisoners will be sent from India to here, Bengalis going to Bangladesh. As regards Biharis you are not interested in taking them?
President: It is not a question of being interested. I have the greatest sympathy for them. It is a big human problem. But you must appreciate our difficulties. In the last 25 years, we have almost been killed by being compassionate. We have had millions of refugees. Mine is a Government dedicated to improving the people’s lot. We want to clear the slums, we want to clear the shantytowns, we want to bring employment to our people, and hardly do we get moving when we get snowed under. In any case, primarily and morally, the Biharis are Mujib’s responsibility. They had made such a contribution to the growth of East Pakistan and its economy. To them East Pakistan is Pakistan. They are poor people, they have left their villages, and the world to them is their villages. They are uprooted like that just because Bengalis don’t like them or Mujib-ur-Rahman does not like them. It is not fair to them.
Interviewer: Would you say that in the last few months you have been subject to a certain vacillation or hesitation that where you should go now between China and United States?
President: No, there is no incompatibility between our relations with each of them. In any case, it is easier now. In 1962 or 1963 when I was foreign Minister and in 1965, we managed to hold on to our foreign policy by having good relations with the United States. Now the task is infinitely easier. I see no incompatibility between our good, friendly and normal relations with China and equally good relations with the United States.
Interviewer: Have you given much thought as to what might happen at the end of the Vietnam War, which is in sight in the way that American might have a new set of global fiends. Perhaps it might give more importance to Pakistan than ever.
President: I don’t know whether the Americans will do that. They have to determine their own foreign policy. I am sure they have determined it already. They have many alternatives; they have many plans, post-war plans. Obviously they are not going to leave Asia, lock, stock and barren. It would be native to think so and in new role, in a good role they would be welcome.
Interviewer: Why do you say in the new role?
President: A new role means a role not of conflict in Vietnam. You see after France came back to South East Asia in a new role, and not as an adversary, she was welcome to Vietnam. They policy of De Gaulle on Vietnam gave an importance to France back in Vietnam. In that new role I am sure, United States would be welcome to Asia. It is Asia’s interest that the United States also has an interest in Asia. I said this soon after the downfall of Ayub and at that time I was taken to task by some of our red-hot friends. But now even Premier Chou En-lai has said it in this way, you know, that once the war in Vietnam is over, China and the United States can follow a good, correct policy. The Pacific washes both the shores of China and the United States. So I am sure they have a big role to play. As far as Pakistan is concerned, we have to see, we have to watch, we have to wait because, somehow or the other, Pakistan has not been lucky. India was regarded as more important in the past. For a variety of reasons we have heard, and which you know, it is said that Bangladesh suddenly has acquired more importance than Pakistan. Of course, without being Chauvinistic – we have had enough of Chauvinism – I am quite confident that if you see me in this room five years from today, you will find that you are visiting the most important country in the subcontinent in terms of its growth, in terms of its economic progress, in terms of its vitality. At one time we were accused of being the most unnatural state in the world or at least in the subcontinent. Today, at least in the subcontinent, we are the most natural state.
Interviewer: Why, how do you mean?
President: As far as Bangladesh is concerned, they have Bengal on the other side. That equation has yet to be sorted out. As far as India is concerned she too might have many Bangladesh behind the bushes in her own country. But once we have resolved our basic problems here, the constitutional problem and one or two others connected with it, and we get moving and work hard-we are a hard-working people, we are not frightened of work, our people are enthusiastic and courageous and who can ignore the forces of the North on the subcontinent?
Interviewer: Forces of the North?
President: North, Northwest in the subcontinent.
Interviewer: You mean, as it was in the past they played a key-role in India.
President: Yes, this region played a key-role, and this I am not saying in terms of conflict. France and Germany both are becoming powerful, both are improving their economy, their technology; that does not mean that conflict is involved. We don’t want war with India. We want to live in peace, if possible perpetual peace. We had enough of conflict here. But this does not mean that we should remain poor and dispossessed in order to show that we want to live in peace. And secondly, after what happened to us last year, I think it is the moral duty of the leadership of Pakistan to vindicate national honor. I know that has been misunderstood in India as meaning that we might go to war. No, vindication can come in the way that when you come to the subcontinent, you see the difference here, in the per capita income, in the progress of the people, in the lives of the people, in the discipline, in the way the country is progressing, I am quite confident if we get over these two or three problems, we will have a place in the sun. The importance of Pakistan is intrinsic and inherent. This was unfortunately distorted by a regime of myopic, uninformed individuals. We will put it right.
Interviewer: If the West were to come to the war and the things you don’t manage with Bangladesh or India and a sort of conflict arises, this is on the back of my mind, would you see in China or would you see in America perhaps the more promising ally?
President: No, I am not thinking in terms of conflict. I can assure you that as long as I am the President of this country of if the constitution goes through, If I am Prime Minister of this country, there will not be a conflict in the subcontinent, of Pakistan’s making. If a conflict is thrust on us, that is a different matter and we will be ready to meet it. But we will not promote conflict. Our policy of the future is a vision of peace and accommodation based on principles. I am not thinking in those terms. But if that situation arises, I cannot say what China will do. But with the United States across the seven seas and having new thoughts on what is neo-colonialism and what is activism, with the balance of payments position, with the internal problems on which they have to concentrate more after Vietnam, I think our eyes will have to gaze again across Karakoram. For that reason, among others, our policy of friendship with China is immutable and uncompromising.
Interviewer: This Constitutional Accord I must say seems to me the most hopeful thing that has happened in this country since you took over. Do you agree with that?
President: It has been a good achievement for the country.
Interviewer: There are of course people raising doubts about this two-third majority before the Prime Minister can be removed. Is it something, which was at the insistence of NAP or yourself?
President: We had proposed a provision, which Mujib ahs got in his draft. If a member of the party once votes against the party on a motion of non-confidence, he will have to vacate his seat and get re-elected. But now if Mujib-ur-Rahman in Bangladesh is doing that to ensure stability in his parliamentary system after laying claim that Bengalis are politically more conscious that West Pakistanis and if he finds it necessary, how much more must I think it necessary here that there must be, at least for the present, some built-in democratic device to hold the constitution together, to preserve democracy. If, on the other hand, we let it be free-for-all constitution, I will only be contributing to the forces of chaos coming in again. We have had enough of that. Prudence requires that there must be some temporary adjustment. After fifteen years have passed, institutions will stabilize because we are building the country anew. So I don’t think that it is unpalatable or undemocratic or an oppressive provision in the constitution.
Interviewer: The only economic crisis you have been through, India has the same problems, seems to be the crisis of production that the investment is not going into the industry, industrialists are being scared of or being discouraged and so on. Do you think after all you have the socialist regime, which discourages business to some extent? Do you want to get some sort of understanding with the industrialists and have you managed to do so in the last few months?
President: To the extent that we have laid down the guidelines. We have given them, so to speak, I don’t want to use a big word, a charter that for the next five years we don’t intend to nationalize any further or take any other steps that might be considered against them. 80 per cent of industry is still in their hands. We are prepared to give them encouragements and other inducements and incentives within the framework of our objectives. Now they should settle down and start contributing to the economy.
Interviewer: Is there any sign that they are doing so already?
President: I think so, yes, they have started. I don’t know how long you will be here.
Interviewer: This time on a week’s visit.
President: But I think you will find that the picture is not as bleak as it was last year.
Interviewer: Yes, I have already heard that. You have still got a very strong left wing; I mean extreme left wing elements in your party, which is urging you to take more and more steps.
President: No, I have made it quite clear. If I was going to be at their mercy, then I don’t think that I do credit to my country. I will not be at any one’s mercy. I won’t be dictated like that by any elements. I will, in my good judgment, consider what is right for the country and proceed on that basis.
Interviewer: At your Party’s convention on 30th November, obviously, there are some groups that intend to voice protest against…
President: It is a happy thing. I would be sad if it was going to be a dumb affair.
Interviewer: Talking to some of the critics, not only the extreme critics but more moderate critics, inside your party and among journalists, one trace I do find is that the people who give you credit for all the right objectives, they are disgusted of your style of Government. They find that somehow you use ruthless methods, not so much you but people around you.
President: No, no, I have taken full responsibility for the actions of my government. I am not going to be like Ayub Khan doing all the nasty things and then put them on his Governor. That is not right; it does not do a man any good to pass on the buck. I am fully in charge of the situation. As far as my Government and Chief Ministers are concerned, 4 and 5 times a day I telephone them and I am all the time aware of what is happening. Now, the point here is this. As I said today in my speech, if they want to play above board and if these people want to indulge in true democratic opposition, I would be the happiest man in the world. But if they threaten every now and then the government with movements, with revolutions with scenes of blood, if they say that the streets of Karachi are red, then we will meet them with blood.
Interviewer: Who said that?
President: Many of them. They make all kinds of seditious speeches, and if they expect that I am sitting in Westminster, well I am not sitting in Westminster. I am sitting in Pakistan, and I know how our politics goes. I am not happy when some of these people have to be sent behind the bars or some such thing like that. But you see, to expect in our conditions a kind of politics of lavender and lace, it is being unrealistic. But at the same time, I would not like to take any ruthless measures. However, if ruthless measures are required, I have no hesitation in taking them. I am not a half-measure man. Democracy wants us to play the democratic game. But if you want to talk about democracy and to undemocratic things, then I am not going to give you that benefit.
Interviewer: So it is only against undemocratic people. I heard, for example, I have no means of checking it; Kasuri resigned and so immediately there was some kind of case against him.
President: No, Kasuri has been doing silly things but not undemocratic things. I can’t vouchsafe for the courage of the man. He went and applied for bail before arrest. I told him we have no intention of arresting him. We don’t want to arrest him. But if they whimsically get bail before arrest, I can’t help it. But we are not going to arrest him and we did not arrest him. And Altaf Gauhar, on whom you wrote so much, is not a journalist. He was a civil servant. He went to Dawn to find a cover for his misdeeds. Now, some of the things have come out in his trial, the kind of activities he was indulging in. All of them have not come out because of security being involved. Some of them have been given to the Judges in Camera.
Interviewer: Basically he is considered dangerous to the State at the moment.
President: He is not a danger to the State, but his activities were prejudicial to the State. If you put your hands into the fire, those hands will be brunt. He is not a threat, he is not a menace, he has got no consistency, but he goes about trying to engineer plots and things like that, which we can handle easily. But the fact is that it is illegal, it is against the law for a man to indulge in gunpowder plots. For this reason he was arrested. Actually he sent me apologies without my asking for it, three apologies one after the other. I was thinking of releasing him because he is inconsequential. But then he said that those apologies were extracted. Some one said they will go to the Court of Law. If the Court had released him well and good. But I knew the overwhelming evidence was against him.
Interviewer: They are still trying to decide?
President: If they release him, heavens will not fall.
Interviewer: He will not be arrested again?
President: No, why should he? You must also appreciate my difficulties. My main problem is to get the colonial mentality out of our people. They still, somehow or the other, are not free in that sense, and I must knock that out of them first. They get easily elated and easily depressed. Gloom overtakes them and they say the economy is battered and they lose control of their nerves, and in that situation, normal procedures would be almost impossible. Looking back on the 20th of December, and the year that we have had, really I don’t know how we have gone through this nightmare. It has been nothing short of a nightmare. But the one thing of which I am certain is the will to survive, the people’s faith that has been manifested. And, secondly, hard work has taken a heavy toll from me. It has been really hard work, right down the line.
Interviewer: And there has been no let-up.
President: I feel some sort of satisfaction. Things are setting down. Who knows there might be an explosion somewhere, at any time? We are prepared for it. But, you know, just this tour of six days, following on almost marathon, nocturnal meetings, is not a simple task. But the driving force, the engine behind it, is that something has to be done. We cannot make a laughing stock of ourselves. We cannot after 1,000 years of living with the Indians in the subcontinent make them smile and say, here lies the carcass.
Interviewer: I must say there has been tremendous appreciation about you and I have been since long time talking to your bitter critics and they all finish up by saying there is nobody else, he is doing better than.
President: I don’t think they have been complimentary. I would not mind if somebody else were there. It would be a little help if we had someone else there. He would either be in Government or he would form a constructive opposition. I will be happy if there is someone else. But the position that we have inherited was worse than Poland faced. Germany, of course, suffered a lot in the war and the United States came in a big way to help the rehabilitation of Western Europe. Britain won the war. So if the British were without sugar and without bread, nevertheless, they had the satisfaction of having won the war. Here you lose and don’t get anything. People say, what the hell, the war is over, to hell with it.
Interviewer: Do you think that when you say that you want peace with Indians and I think your sincerity is generally accepted by Mrs. Gandhi and everyone, are you really carrying the people with you on that, I mean, apart from the Bangladesh issue, on the question of India. I do occasionally meet the people here who say, oh, we fought all the time?
President: let them fight after I am gone. You know during the war in 1971, when Yahya Khan was in power, I found a perceptible change in the people’s thinking and I seized it. For one thing I new that if there were to be a war we would lose, not because of Indian’s predominant military power but because Yahya had all over him a bunch of fools. They were ignorant generals who ruled by day and night both, they did not know what was happening, and they were incompetent people. So I made a statement. I was the big confrontation man, associated with thousand year’s war. I said, we don’t want war and I think the Indians don’t want war, and I am sure we can settle our disputes. But when I met Yahya Khan he said, oh, what have you said? I said, look, we are to lose. You have made it inevitable.