The 1965 War and After

Tufail Abbas

The 1965 war between Pakistan and India weakened the foundations of Ayub’s dictatorship, and the Declaration at Tashkent confirmed this. Apart from being a USSR-brokered peace agreement between India and Pakistan in 1966, it is still not known what exactly that Declaration contained; what we do know is that Bhutto had made this the basis of a big uproar against Ayub. Many in the country thought that because Bhutto himself had a role in this diplomatic agreement, then perhaps he would reveal the secret. But he never did, and we never did find out in what exact way had Ayub betrayed die country at Tashkent It is rumoured that in his last days Ayub used to say that God would settle the accounts with Bhutto on the day of judgment.

The mystery remains as to how Bhutto, who used to respect Ayub like a father, came to be such a crusader against him. In earlier days, Bhutto titled him Salahuddin Ayubi; what had caused this tension? He also called Ayub Pakistan’s Lenin, and had gone begging for votes on his behalf against Fatima Jinnah. And wasn’t it the same Ayub who had, after removing Iskander Mirza from power, retained only Bhutto (then a minister in Mirza’s cabinet) for his own cabinet and introduced him into die world as his Foreign Minister? How did this relation turn sour? How come the battle for power ended only with Ayub’s complete eradication? Official sources and other people said that at one point Ayub wanted to remove Bhutto from his government, and Bhutto was to settle for nothing less than Ayub vacating his seat for him. The sequence of events suggests to me that the 1965 war was part of Bhutto’s strategy. He used his office to map out a strategy on Kashmir, to bring it to the attention of various people in power, and perhaps even to ensure that for optimal effect, some meddling indie territory would not devolve into a full-scale war with India. However, that was not to be the case.

In fact, in October 1964, after its second defeat at the hands of China, die Indian army was shaken up. The Prime Minister of India, Lai Bahadur Shastri, had challenged Pakistan to a war at any moment. At the intervention of the British government, the exchange of fire in Rann of Kutch did stop, but the Indian army still went ahead to cancel the leave of all its soldiers and was on alert Pakistan retaliated, and this brought both armies to die precipice of conflict It felt like they could be war at any moment Pakistan moved its front from Sind and Punjab to Kashmir. Naming it “Operation Gibraltar,” Pakistan sent its commandos into Kashmir and other areas of the state. Taking advantage of the shelling in the border areas of Gujarat, it then embarked on “Operation Grand Slam,” capturing Chhimm and Jodian. In this way, the operations in Kashmir transformed into a full-scale war. The then East Pakistan had been saved by China’s threat to India, and thus the focus of this war remained the Western front Had China not pre-empted that by threatening India, and had India attacked Pakistan on that front, the results of 1971 would have already been obtained in 1965.

The War and the Airline

Prior to the 1965 war between Pakistan and India, Nur Khan returned to the Air Force as its head, as he had hoped. After his departure, the former head of the Pakistan Air Force, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, came to PIA as its Chairman. Energised by this change, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) began to strengthen its ranks within the organization and its activists in PIA repeatedly disrupted our union meetings. In earlier times, when we had just formed the Orient Airways Employees Union, they had shown the same aggressive behaviour. I have no qualm in characterizing their attitude as thoroughly and consistently one of enmity towards labour, JI has been the biggest class rival to the working class. Opposing progressive labour politics has afforded that party the sole raison d’être and any legitimacy it has had on the national level in the over-wrought reactionary scenario of Pakistani politics, and continues to play that dirty role to this day. In PIA, they had one and only one purpose: to throw the workers’ movement off-track and distract it from its class character and commitments, by the use of gangster-like destructive tactics.

In one such provoked confrontation, some of the workers of Jamaat-e-Islami sustained some injuries, and they approached the new leader of PIA. Asghar Khan called me in and, in a departure from his usual amiable tone asked what all this was. I replied that those folks had tried to disrupt union elections. He suggested that in that case perhaps the management should organize the elections. I said that while on principle this would be wrong, we would agree to the management supervising and executing the elections in the remaining shops if that put him at ease. I also added that if, in the remaining shops, the JI procured a majority and emerged victorious, the rest of us would resign. He agreed. By then, only a few shops had voted, and about 150 representatives were yet to be elected. Jamaat-e-Islami fielded its representatives and candidates against each of ours for every single seat of the shop and working committee. Only one JI sympathizer was victorious.

In discussing employee demands with Asghar Khan, things did not always go smoothly. I impressed on him that no amount of positive attitude toward us overwrote the real imperative to solve workers’ problems—and that the seemingly supportive stance was not actually translating into real cooperation, which was making our constituency uneasy. He understood the fragility of the situation and he did try his best to improve the conditions.

On the basis of the role of PIA in the 1965 war (it being under the watch of the ministry of defence, and the only mode of connection between East and West Pakistan during troubles with India), and our performance, the mutual warmth and respect between Asghar Khan and myself increased. Once in casual conversation, the topic of travelling abroad came up. He said immediately, “Where would you want to go?” I replied, “China.” A few days later, he called me into his office and suggested that I could go to China in October for the celebration of the Cultural Revolution. This visit would be an official one, since we had PIA staff posted in China. I started preparing. The air links between China and Pakistan had been established under Nur Khan, and he, too, had wanted to send me over there on the inaugural flight as union president. But the CID did not allow. Perhaps the CID was not aware of this in advance of this trip, or they would have done their best to stop me again. The director of the Intelligence Bureau, Awan, was close to Asghar Khan, and perhaps it was because the Air Marshal acted independently and firmly that this trip became a reality.

Only in China

I flew from Karachi for China on 26 September 1966. I was told that the PIA District Manager in Shanghai, Qamruzzaman, would take care of the arrangements for my stay. It is worth mentioning here that Qamruzzaman was ideologically completely opposed to us, from way back when we were students. He had been brought into PIA on the special request of President Ayub. It was hard for me to fathom what he would have in store for me in China.

The flight that I boarded was going to Shanghai because there was neither a direct flight to Peking nor did PIA have an office there. The flight captain was Salehji; we spoke a bit on the way and he was the first person in whom I sensed an opposition to China. Then he said that Qamruzzaman worked for CIA. I kept quiet This was indeed a rumour I had heard before, but it was truly odd to hear this from Salehji, since there was such a tidbit in circulation about him as well! When we got off at Shanghai Airport, Qamruzzaman was indeed there and I was relieved to see him—until I found out that he was leaving on the flight back home on the very plane on which I had arrived. I asked him what would become of me, to which he replied that I could always attend the celebration in Shanghai if I wasn’t able to go to Peking. I was livid at this contrived nonchalance, but remained silent. When he heard that the captain was Salehji, he immediately said that he was a CIA guy. What a circus: one US secret service agent flagging the other!

Luckily, it so happened that a guy from the accounts department, my friend Dayyan Khan was posted in Shanghai and the flight operations were run by Usman Khan. This was a bit comforting. I stayed in Shanghai with my friend Dayyan. He contacted the Chinese officials who were connected with PIA, and introduced me to them by making reference of the union. They said that going from Shanghai to Peking was impossible at this time, because that has to be arranged much in advance. Before my departure, I had put in a request to the Chinese consulate so that the officials in China would know and there would be no confusion. Initially the officials in Shanghai did not pay much attention and their attitude was cold, to say the least. But it changed suddenly and markedly, once they got the assurance from Peking. All the arrangements to go to Peking were made swiftly, and I proceeded to a celebration of the Cultural Revolution as an official invitee of the government of China.

I reached Peking on September 28, and was received by some officials. One gentleman from the Chinese Civil Aviation accompanied me. I stayed at a hotel where I had various meetings with Party officials especially attuned to affairs of the international labour movement. On Thursday, September 29, 66 guests were invited to a reception at the Great Hall of the Peoples. This was a historic and memorable occasion. Here, representatives of the ruling party welcomed foreign delegations. There was an official Pakistani government delegation led by the Governor of East Pakistan, Munam Khan. I was not attached to them and had met some members of that delegation at another event. I was seated at a table with the Albanian Minister of Transport. Not much was said beyond pleasantries. There were toasts to Pak-China friendship and to global peace. The government of China, however, took very good care of me, and three different people were appointed as my guides and navigators.

I was in China for 17 days. During this time, the relevant officials and I had really fruitful discussions on various topics of mutual interest. My knowledge increased manifold. This was the era of the Cultural Revolution. President Liu Shaoqi was the target of an oppositional movement, to the extent that even books written by him were banned. I had many questions to ask and clarifications to seek. I brought those to my Chinese interlocutors, and exchanged thoughts on them, even when it was necessary to write in order to communicate. For instance, I was curious to know why all governments in Pakistan were deemed good by the Chinese, regardless of their politics or ideology. While it was fine to have friendly relations, why did China have to recognize and support governments that stood for the exploiting classes? In my view, it was crucial to acknowledge and analyse the character of such governments across the globe and maybe this would help the people in China themselves learn something about what not to do. For instance, Peking Review, a weekly magazine, which was seen as a mirror of internationalist thought, often published opinions on Indian and Pakistani governments that were quite asymmetric, even though the origins, affiliations, and sympathies, of the two governments were not quite that different. The publication never reported on anything bad in Pakistan, and went out of its way to affirm whichever government was in power—to the extent of praising Ayub’s Basic Democracy notion. I noted that when the Indo-China friendship was in its heyday, there was no analysis of any of the reactionary governments of India either. But, as soon as there was a border conflict between the two countries, it was as Peking Review suddenly woke up to the reactionary, feudalistic, and capitalistic nature of the Indian Government No such “opportune” critique of the Pakistani government was ever forthcoming, though, even in times of martial law or military dictatorship or when other reactionary forces took power. To this, the Chinese officials responded and said that China’s friendships are guided by the five principles. That was quite an admission! I was assured, however, that regardless of its relation with the governments, China’s “real” sympathies lay with the progressive forces within those countries.

I suggested that a good model for the Peking Review was the paper published from Bucharest, For Lasting Peace, For People s Democracy. I hadn’t heard of this paper until 1954, when it reported to the world all the arrests of Pakistani progressives. I told the Chinese of how my comrades and I had been targeted and persecuted by almost every successive government, and how our friend Hassan Nasir met his end, and asked why none of this ever appeared in the Peking Review? I was also curious about the relations between Indonesia and China, specifically between President Sukarno and the Chinese government, with the Indonesian revolutionary party characterizing Sukarno as the son of Indonesia. I asked how come he had earned their support, when he was no communist. While I found the Indonesians clearly perpetrating a kind of revisionism, I was surprised that Peking Review characterized Sukarno and the party as revolutionary and lauded the relations between China and the Indonesian President. I did not agree with this analysis, because when Indonesia came under military dictatorship, and countless were killed, then the Review had published a scathing review of the mistakes of the Revolutionary Party of Indonesia. I had learnt a lot from that review and used it pedagogically with fellow workers, also reprinting it in Manshoor. Similarly, on tire issue of the Cultural Revolution I found it worth asking how come that the writings of Liu Shaoqi which were considered very accurate and useful in understanding foreign relations and international affairs, were damned as revisionist overnight When I raised these issues, my interlocutors didn’t say much. Some kind of loss in translation this was!

The concept of the “third world” that emerged in global discourse courtesy of China had been stuck in my throat for quite a while. Marshal Tito of Yugoslavia had earlier come up with the notion of the “non-aligned world,” and had received flak from Peking Review (and I was in agreement with their assessment of Tito in these articles). But at the same time I didn’t see much of a difference between the non-aligned world and the third world, except that the former was created by Tito and the latter by Chairman Mao. In my view, the leaders and the ruling classes of the “third world” were still under the influence of the superpowers in one way or the other and didn’t merit being considered independent political actors within self-contained national entities. On this issue as well, I failed to get a satisfying response from my Chinese friends.

Now that I was witnessing the Cultural Revolution with my own eyes, my mind got a bit tangled up about many things. While I raised many issues mentioned above, with mixed responses, there were many impressions that I did not share with my hosts. One jarring image was the kind of personality worship of Chairman Mao which left me very confused. I had a great deal of affection for Mao and his ideas had affected me immensely at that moment, as they emerged as the horizon of international revolution. However, the people’s treatment of him in China recalled for me recitations and hymns at religious ceremonies in Pakistan and India, and left me a bit uncomfortable. On 1 October 1966, I witnessed and participated in a rally of 2.5 million people on the streets. I was tired of standing since 10 am and I had a paper with me with Mao’s picture on it. I decided to put it on the ground and sit on it, but because it had the photo of Mao on it, I feared that my move might be construed as blasphemous. My guide understood my hesitation and made the first move, putting the paper down on which I then sat

Then there was the Red Guard, about a million members just from Peking city (there were many more from other parts of the country who had come for the celebration). This was mightily impressive. The platform on which Chairman Mao stood was just a few steps above where I was, and many leaders of the Chinese Communist Party were also standing next to him. I had a good view. An ocean of youth were in formation right in front of me, paying honours to Chairman Mao, and chanting slogans. The thunder of the claps resounded, and Mao responded to the cheers by waving the red book. Next to him, Lin Biao and Zhou En Lai were also waving the red book—and they had been standing next to Mao unmoved since 10 o’clock in the morning. At about 2 pm, some of these people left the scene for a break. The moment Mao walked off the stage, the Red Guard stopped doing what they were doing. Despite being asked to continue their guard of honour and their parade, no one was ready to move even an inch. The authorities made some announcement, and the crowd was still. The moment Mao returned to the platform, the guard stirred, started to cheer, and moved to join the rest of their companions. This scene and the discipline of such a big crowd was really something to witness. In this rally of some millions of young men and women, there was no pushing, shoving, or wanting to leave the other behind.

This scene left a deep impression on my heart and mind. While this popular support for the leader was heart-warming, it raised questions as to the nature of this devotion, and the level of agreement and passion across the party high command. As for as the slogans and cheers were concerned, most of them were about Mao’s personality, but how great could a personality be who was comfortable with all this? All of this seemed really fetishistic and unscientific to me. Everyone wielding “the red book” in this manner afforded it a magical and redemptive power, and while none of the rallying youth were wanting to leave each other behind, it was clear that all the officials standing on the platform with Mao were competing with each other on how vigorously they could wave the red book. I didn’t leave with a favourable view of the inner workings of the party; instead, it bespoke some actual problems within its function, or else why this turn to this unscientific fetishistic attitude and this personality cult?!

When I returned from China and related these things to my comrades in the movement, some of them certainly didn’t take well to it, because they weren’t willing to accept anything that would question Chairman Mao. I tried to explain to him that it wasn’t about opposing or supporting Mao, but a kind of impartial analysis of the scene and the political culture. Whether ironic or tragic, these instincts and fears that I had slowly came true and were borne out by history: such as Lin Biao’s attempt to escape in a plane that was thwarted by a missile that killed him, and then the conflicts between Mao and Zhou En Lai. After Mao’s death, the situation that prevailed was even more painful because his successor Hua Kuo-Feng soon found himself in the court of the Shah of Iran and accepted Tito as his mentor, in exactly the same way as Khrushchev had done. In my opinion, the story met its end therewith—this wasn’t any more about ideological argument or degrees of materialist analysis. Later events proved that the Communist Party of China also fell victim to revisionism. Whatever is happening in China today proves that even further.

It is important to mention here that during the days of our alliance with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (more to come on that in detail), and when the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) had not yet come to power, I did have some political disagreements with him which would feature him saying something like, “How strange are you, this isn’t what Mao or Zhou En Lai say!” I would respond that while I did follow them, I also fortunately had my own independent analysis and was free to disagree with them or anyone else. And this was from the period of 1968-1972 when I was actually very devoted to Mao.

All said and done, this journey was a really crucial turning point for my life, and things changed drastically after that. As a result of my talks, China was informed of the progressive movement’s circumstances in Pakistan. Years later, they would cite this as a reason for placing the photo of this ordinary worker in the Great Hall of the Peoples. The story goes as follows: My friend Khaqan Abbasi who was earlier the Deputy Managing Director of PIA and then a minister in Zia-ul-Haq’s Cabinet, was travelling with Zia in China and touring the Peoples’ Hall. Coming across my photo, Zia asked, “Who is this Pakistani?” Abbasi said, “This is my friend Tufail Abbas.” When Abbasi told me this, I replied to him how come his government remains friends with China and turns away from those Pakistanis who might be friends with them! He laughed and said, “Because the Pope is more important than Rome.”

I was grateful to Asghar Khan for enabling this crucial life-changing visit to China. When I thanked him upon return, he asked if there was somewhere else I wanted to go. He had the Soviet Union in mind. I said, “Sir, why would I want to go there, it is fast moving towards oblivion.” He agreed with me. I asked him how come he went to China and didn’t see the pictures of the Revolution there. He said that he had gone only for a few days and didn’t get a chance. “Perhaps if there’s another occasion, I will make sure to see them.” The Chinese government had done a really excellent job of putting together a pictorial history of the Communist Party and the Revolution, which is still inscribed on my mind.

Soon after this trip, in May 1967, the Arab-Israel war began. In this war, the roles of the US and USSR were on full display. On this occasion, under the leadership of workers, we held a demonstration in favour of the Palestinian struggle, in which Qaumi Mazdoor Mahaz (QMM) and National Students Federation (NSF) participated wholeheartedly. Some Palestinian students led the procession. Suddenly, the police charged at us with batons. I tried to explain to the DSP Ahmed Sadiq and the Deputy Commissioner of Karachi that all the demonstrators were peaceful. But l was caught in the baton charge from all sides. I got a good beating, and was taken to a police car parked near Ampi’s. When some workers and students found out, they charged toward the vehicle and freed me from the clutches of the police. That night at about three o’clock, the police accosted me at my home, arrested me, and locked me up at the Clifton police station. The next day, lawyers were unable to get me released on bail. The police eventually brought about 15 charges against me.

The very moment that things had gotten out of control at the march, National Awami Party’s acting secretary-general Major Ishaq Ahmed, our collaborator for the event, was also present. When he saw me being beaten up, he quietly left the scene, even though he was a lawyer and could have approached the policemen in that capacity. I was really disappointed at this, but it helped me put together a clearer analytical picture. I was badly hurt, and the police had to take me to the hospital for treatment, where I stayed for a month. Initially, I was placed in the General Ward and then moved to a room where I remained in shackles. When I was released from the hospital, all allegations were withdrawn and I was free again.

From: ‘Struggle for Freedom after Freedom, Memoirs of a Life in the Pakistani Labour Movement’. Translated from the Urdu by Asma Abbas.

Click here to return to the October 2019 index.