President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto warned that any trial of our prisoners of war will seriously jeopardize the search for peace in the subcontinent so successfully initiated by the Simla Agreement.
He was being interviewed by Mr. William M. Stewart, Correspondent TIMES (news magazine).
He said the India-Bangladesh proposal of April 17, was merely a shift in the shape neon. The threatened illegal trials of our POWs are contrary to the Geneva Conventions and the UN resolutions. Apart from the legal consideration, the President said, the object was to try and bury the hatchet to improve relations, to turn from the past and to allow understanding to replace rancor. Trial of our POWs would rip open the wounds, which are in the process of healing. “They would foul up the atmosphere so badly that we would not be able to hold back the forces bent on ravage,” he said.
Asked about Mr. Mujib’s claim that he had his own realities in the sense that his people demanded trial of Pakistani POWs, the President said, these were tailored realities and there was no demand for such a trial, what to speak of a pressing demand. Only a limited circle of people wanted this circus to take place. He said every precedent that Mr. Mujib quoted was a false precedent. Even if it were an accurate precedent neither the Nuremberg Trials nor the Tokyo Trials had done any good to what is called civilization or to human content. One would not come across any knowledgeable jurist who would commend or uphold them. The only crime they had committed was to lose the war. In our case the only crime that we had committed was not to lose a war but a civil war and that also because of foreign intervention. The onus, therefore, lay somewhere else.
The President, in answer to another question, said there was no problem of repatriation of Bengalis from Pakistan, and there should be no problem in negotiating the future of the unfortunate people who are now known by the generic name of non-Bengalis. However, the President emphasized, “We cannot open the floodgates, and say, send as many as you want, because you want to create a racial state. “ Pakistan could not agree to that. The Biharis had lived in East Pakistan now called Bangladesh for twenty-five to twenty-six or twenty-seven years. They and their children had grown up there. One could not see why these unfortunate people who had made a contribution to the economy of the country, and were industrious and hard working should be uprooted from there”.
There were many Indian Muslims who were vigorous in their support of Pakistan before partition but once Pakistan came into being they said India was their home. He said if there is no duress, no discrimination, and if option was exercised under climate of relative calm Pakistan is prepared to consider it. She is prepared to discuss the issue in that climate. But, President Bhutto asked, “Is it our legacy that Pakistan be flooded by refugees? “In 1947, we had millions of them, again following the Kashmir War so many poured in and many more came when there was the second Kashmir War. From India, the refugees keep coming. He said Pakistan was not being inhuman or callous but the question the world conscience must answer is: “Were the people of this region fated to live a life plagued by scarcity, disease, squalor and crises of identity.”
He called upon the world to recall Pakistan’s initiative and gestures of peace. Last year Pakistan offered 100,00 tons of rice to Bangladesh but Mr. Mujib-ur-Rahman shunned that offer. Earlier on, before the issues hardened, it offered to send him the civilian and military personnel only to be shunned. He said he had taken a risk, a gamble by releasing Mr. Mujib-ur-Rahman, hoping that better sense would prevail and he would fulfill his oath to meet and thrash out all the issues. It was the repercussion of the failure of these peace initiatives and the looming threat of war trials, which drove him to the painful decision of segregating the Bengali residents of Pakistan, he said. However, he clarified, that they had merely been segregated and not put in concentration camps as the rumor went. They were staying there with their families. They got newspapers, radios, books, allowances but “with sincere sorrow”, I say, “they had been segregated.”
Peace and progress, he said, must come to this unfortunate region and to its suffering populace. He said the conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims now personified in the States of India and Pakistan was the oldest conflict ever and hence required patience and a will to resolve. There should be no foot-dragging as there was by India on the question of line of control and the Indian leaders must respond positively to Pakistan’s repeatedly extended invitation for exchange of visits to defuse the tension in the area. He said within the context of Simla or outside it, India and Pakistan must enter into a dialogue. “I told her,” (Mrs. Gandhi), he said that ‘it would be a much greater achievement if we could now find a modus vivendi.
Replying to a question the President said the greatest problem his Government faced is to restore a feeling of national identity, a feeling of national pride for a defeated nation. He said there is a great deal of propaganda against Pakistan both before and after the partition. With that backdrop, when this nation had to face a disaster unmatched in modern history, the morale of its people was completely shattered. The situation was made more complex as the forces of history, prejudice, conflict, suspicion, pride and vanity all worked in it. The question of a raison deter, of identity became acute. He said that is the biggest task that this government is accomplishing.
Next, the President said, was the question of the revival of economy. The deficit financing by the previous Governments, the extent of debts, the fall of 40 to 50 per cant in production and the absence of raw material had brought the economy to a grinding halt. There were strikes everywhere and the law and order situation had deteriorated to the last, he said. He said his Government had to take the painful decision of devaluing the rupee and as a result the prices rose.
Prices further rose when his Government pumped money into the economy to start works program, roads and other things, and that made the problem all the more difficult. However, he said, now the economy is picking up. Exports had gone up more that the combined earnings of Pakistan. Industrial production and gone up by about 40 per cent. Employment was also rising. “And all these things have been done in a period of one year-and-a-half”, he said.
The president said Pakistan had, historically, five of the most difficult provinces of the subcontinent. The peoples of these provinces are more individualistic, society is more tribal, every individual wanted to exercise a veto; every individual wants an ideal situation. There is a question of give and take, of consensus, which was rarely to be found, he said. Therefore, the adoption of a unanimous constitution points to the generation of a national cohesiveness is essential for survival.
He said his Government had introduced reforms in every sector and he would have done much more had he inherited normal or relatively normal conditions. However, he hopped that with the consolidation, reforms with greater consequences would be introduced.
He described his ensuing visit to the United States as an attempt to review the historical and traditional relationship between the two countries against the background of kaleidoscopic changes in the world relations. How would the US use her own interest in the subcontinent? What did she think of her interest in the Indian Ocean, in the Persian Gulf and in the Middle East? The answer to all these questions, he said, is of vital importance to Pakistan. Pakistan is not one of those countries who are ashamed to say that they are proud of their relations with the US, he said, and we want to further cement and consolidate a relationship which despite some ups and downs had endured.