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February 10, 2011

RTCs proved ‘deadly’ options for Ayub, Yahya and Musharraf

 
February 10, 2011

LAHORE: Now that President Zardari has extended invitation to all political parties for his proposed round table conference, he should keep an eye on history which suggests that the idea of convening such moots had proved counterproductive for at least three of his predecessors-Messrs Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan and Pervez Musharraf.
While Ayub Khan had to resign within days of convening a round table conference in February 1969, Presidents Yahya Khan and Pervez Musharraf could last only nine months and a fortnight respectively, after they too had come up with similar suggestions to sit with country’s politicians on a ‘round table’ towards the fag end of their tenures.
While Yahya had proposed one such session in March 1971 just a few months before handing over power to Bhutto, Musharraf had floated a similar suggestion in August 2008, a fortnight before tendering his resignation.
In other words, both Army generals had failed to weather the storms that were threatening their existence on the throne. President Yahya’s offer to hold a round table in Dhaka on March 10, 1971, to soothe the Bengali feelings was summarily turned down by Sheikh Mujeebur Rahman as a “cruel joke.”
Musharraf could hardly get time to renew his August 2008 offer, as he had to resign during the third week of the same month. Due to announce the date of his round table conference, should all concerned formally consent to participate, President Zardari will thus be organizing a session similar to the one that Ayub Khan had arranged at Rawalpindi in February 1969, shortly before his unceremonious exit on March 25 of the same year.
Ayub Khan had called the Rawalpindi round table conference in a bid to ‘befriend’ his political opponents and hence stem the rioting against his government. Realizing the strength of the Bengali movement for self-determination in the late 1960s, Ayub Khan had to agree to cool down the political environment by accepting some demands of his

adversaries.
Ayub’s conference was held shortly after Sheikh Mujeeb of the Awami League had announced that the principle of parity between the two provinces (East and West Pakistan) was no longer acceptable to his fellow Bengalis.
A year before this moot was convened by Ayub Khan, his government had framed the infamous Agartala Conspiracy case against Sheikh Mujeeb and 22 other Bengalis on January 20, 1968.
Mujeeb and Company was accused of a conspiracy for secession with Indian support. In July 1968, proceedings of the Agartala Conspiracy case were initiated in Dhaka and Mujeeb was perceived as a hero in East Pakistan.
In November 1968, the killing of a student in Rawalpindi at the hands of the police and then the death of another Bengali hero Sergeant Zahur-ul-Haq (one of the accused in Agartala Conspiracy case) under military custody in Dhaka on February 15, 1969, had triggered a series of strong protests against Ayub in both East and West Pakistan.
The two incidents had actually aggravated bitterness against Ayub’s regime. As certain West Pakistani leaders had demanded the release of Sheikh Mujeeb, so that he could participate in Ayub Khan’s round table conference, the Agartala case was hence revoked under political pressure.
This was the time when Zulfikar Bhutto was traveling throughout the country, delivering speeches against Ayub’s regime and laying the foundation of Pakistan People’s Party. His activists were staging large protests and strikes, increasing pressure on Ayub to resign. Bhutto’s arrest on November 12, 1968 then sparked greater political unrest.
After his release, Bhutto also attended Ayub’s round table conference, along with Sheikh Mujeeb, though some accounts suggest that the People’s Party Chairman had resorted to a boycott in the middle of the session.
However, this conference had ended up without yielding any positive results for Ayub, who had to relinquish charge, paving way for General Yahya Khan to assume power as country’s Chief Martial Law Administrator and impose the second martial law.
Interestingly, the three pre-partition round table conferences held at London between 1930 and 1932 were quite a success, as they had provided a platform to the Indian political parties to voice their demands for a dominion status in the country where they were functioning under the British Rule.
The London round table conferences were a series of meetings called by the British government to consider the future constitution of India. These moots had resulted from a review of the Government of India Act of 1919, undertaken in 1927 by the Simon Commission, whose report was published in 1930.
In history, King Arthur used to sit around his famed round table along with his knights during the late 5th and early 6th centuries, though President Zardari will be sitting with his worst political critics and foes during the moot he intends to host. As its name suggests, everyone who used to congregate around King Arthur’s famed round table, had equal status.

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