Bhutto’s Diplomatic Coup

Javid Ali Khan was involved in the immense organizing effort that went into the 1974 OIC Summit held in Lahore

Bhutto’s Diplomatic Coup
In the opinion of many – including this author – Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s greatest achievement was the holding of the Islamic Summit, attended by 42 delegations in Lahore, from the 22nd to the 24th of February 1974. It was held under the auspices of the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Countries), the chairman of which was King Faisal of Suadi Arabia. Mr. Bhutto was made co-Chairman and given full authority to organize, prepare the agenda and deliver the opening address as well as the final closing summing up. Attended by 24 Heads of State, most of whom were icons of the time, with their delegations and 18 other Heads of Government and/or foreign ministers, it was a brilliant example of organization, coordination, administration and protocol that ensured it went off smoothly, beautifully synchronized without a glitch.

Having been involved in it, one feels like crying when these days we see our present PM making a speech – in China, I think – with a huge sign behind him saying “BEGGING” instead of “BEIJING”! Seeing that, one would rightly think that today, we would have difficulty organizing a single state visit – let alone 42 simultaneously!

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto personally ensured that he was ready to receive the most important guests arriving by air - in this case, King Faisal

Some of the big names that attended included: King Faisal (Saudi Arabia), Muammar Gaddafi (Libya), Anwar Sadaat (Egypt), Hafez al Assad (father of Syria’s strongman Bashar), Houari Boumedienne (Algeria), King Hassan I (Morocco), King Hussain (Jordan), Shaikh Zayed al Nahyan (Abu Dhabi) as well as the rulers of Dubai & the other Emirates, and of Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. The first eight were all renowned names and well respected all over the world. The turnout from Africa was also amazing : Chad, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda were represented. In the last case, that of Uganda, Idi Amin insisted on coming as he was a Muslim and Head of State – even if his country was predominantly Christian. He also brought along his toddler son in his very small delegation, who our media nicknamed ‘Piddi’ Amin. He was one of the leaders very popular with our public – the other two being King Faisal and Gaddafi. The last of the three, Gaddafi, cut a most striking figure –  youthfully handsome, quite self-conscious and charismatic, very smart in his Colonel’s uniform, playing to the crowds and people around him and drinking in the affection and popularity being showered upon him by our people in abundance. He was waving to the crowds and acting very much the prima donna or superstar. King Faisal, on the other hand, presented the image of being old, dignified and quite reserved. He would at best respond to our salams by just lowering or blinking his eyes a little.

As stated above, even the meticulous organizing of a single state visit is a difficult task. Here in this same country we organisd 42 state visits simultaneously – 24 of which were for Kings/Heads of State, with all the accompanying protocol, army march past, police motorcade, security and attendants. It started with coordinating the arrivals of their respective planes to land at Lahore Airport, one after the other, every half hour. This was done so that they could be given all the paraphernalia of a state visit arrival, complete with the presence of an army parade and march past with both national anthems played and an inspection of the guard of honour. The dignitaries’ planes were arriving in Karachi in a constant stream and were diverted from there to some other airport near Lahore, mostly Rawalpindi but also Hyderabad, Bahawalpur and Multan. Or they were asked to disembark in Karachi and rest in the VVIP Room for a while until further instructed to proceed to Lahore.

King Faisal of Saudi Arabia (left) and Houari Boumediene of Algeria (right) arrive in Lahore, received by PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

At Lahore airport, Mr. Bhutto, accompanied by the President of Pakistan Afzal Ilahi Choudhry, personally recieved the guests, went through all the motions of a State arrival, taking the salute of the marchpast, inspecting the guard etc and seeing the illustrious guests off to their limousines. Then they rested for 10 minutes and were back to repeat the procedure for another Head of State. This was done continously for 12 hours, with a plane landing every half hour. Kudos to the stamina of these two gentlemen. But everyone was fired up at the time and working extraordinary hours without rest, round the clock.

To give an example, we the lateral entrants to the Foreign Office, who were at that time in the Senior Staff Administrative College in Lahore getting training, were assembled to be briefed and told what our duties were and how to deliver them  best. After the instructions, the then Chief of Protocol, the late Anwar Saeed, a Naval Commander seconded to the Foreign Office, asked for a volunteer. He warned us that it would be a most difficult, almost superhuman task, so we ought to think carefully before volunteering. The assignment was for a single person with a good memory, who could stay awake for 24 hours to coordinate the arrivals of the planes. He would have 4 or 6 phones with hot lines to all the airports and would divert the arriving planes to various airports according to the importance of the delegation. He would have to remember which plane was sitting where and then order them to Lahore when told. It had to be one man so that all the information was with him. With two or more, there could have been miscommunication and confusion.

Syria's Hafez al-Assad is greeted by ZAB on arrival

One feels like crying when these days we see our PM making a speech with a huge sign behind him saying “BEGGING” instead of “BEIJING”! One would rightly think that today, we would have difficulty organizing a single state visit – let alone 42 simultaneously!

The minute he explained all this, my best mate in the Foreign Office, the late and very much missed Shahid Rahman, got up and said “I will do it.” As we all got up, I asked, “Partner, how will you manage it?” He replied “You just watch me, partner!”

He was given a small room in the Chief Secretary’s office and started early morning, a day before the summit. In the evening I started to get urgent messages to contact Shahid Rahman ASAP. On my way to inspect the villa for the dignitary who I had been asigned to look after, I dropped in at the Chief Secretary’s office. In between phone calls Shahid said< “Partner, if I am going to last the night, I am going to need a bottle of brandy to keep me awake. You have to arrange it somehow.” Most people would take brandy to go to sleep but Shahid Rahman was born different. I took it out of the quota allotted to us for our guests and accounted for it in writing as “for coordinating the arrival of planes”. To Shahid’s credit not a single error occurred in the coordination. And that was my small contribution to the correct and synchronized landing of the arriving dignitaries’ planes!

But to return to the reception of the dignitaries, after 12 hours of receiving the guests, mostly spent on one’s feet, the President at least could retire for a long, well earned rest. But the amazingly untiring Mr. Bhutto was busy meeting, lobbying and politicking. The President, Afzal Ilahi Choudhry, was a simple Godfearing lawyer from Gujranwala, a PPP man totally in awe of his “boss” Mr. Bhutto. As he was the Head of State, protocol-wise it was the President who was to step forward to recieve the incoming Head of State. But he just could not bring himself to walk ahead of the “boss” and kept one step behind him. It was amusing to watch Mr. Bhutto put a hand on the small of his back and push him forward. This kept happening all day.
After 12 hours of receiving guests, mostly spent on one’s feet, the President could retire for a long, well earned rest. But the amazingly untiring Mr. Bhutto was busy meeting, lobbying and politicking

Colonel Gaddafi of Libya was at the peak of his magnetism as far as the crowds in Pakistan were concerned

Uganda's Idi Amin was among the more memorable foreign leaders to attend the 1974 summit in Pakistan

Until midnight, Mr. Bhutto was out and about: meeting the important guests, charming them and thanking them each personally. However, one crucial absence was that of a newly created Muslim state – and one of the five largest Muslim nations – Bangladesh. Mujibur Rahman was refusing to attend the summit until Pakistan officially recognized Bangladesh. But it was a very tricky situation. Public opinion was still very antagonistic to Mujib and Bangladesh. Especially in Punjab, he was being held partially responsible for the incarceration of the 98,000 Pakistani soldiers in the camps in India and not using his influence on Indira Gandhi to get them  repatriated.

To just get up and recognise Bangladesh would possibly result in violent protests and demonstrations – if not worse – all over the country. It would take away the attention and all the goodwill created by holding the summit.

But Bhutto was also under the obligation of a promise made the previous year to recognize Bangladesh, about which we will talk in detail in the second part of this series of articles. This, along with how he managed to get Mujib to attend without formal recognition – and in doing so, the exemplary diplomatic skills and personal charm that he demonstrated.

(to be continued)