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Saturday, September 10, 2011

PAKISTAN: Time For Forgiveness

Since the end of the Indo-Pakistani war a year and a half ago, the countries of the subcontinent have been locked in a frosty stalemate of mutual recriminations. Caught in the diplomatic freeze are hundreds of thousands of refugees and prisoners of war. Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto last week moved decisively to thaw relations. 

In an emotional post-midnight session of the National Assembly, Bhutto argued that it was time for "mutual forgiveness and understanding" to govern relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh, formerly Pakistan's eastern wing. "We want to meet one another; we want to embrace one another; we want to shed tears over one another, over what has happened in the past," he declared. The Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution authorizing recognition of Bangladesh as an independent country. 

Bhutto said that he would not use the authority immediately, but it obviously paves the way for a compromise by the subcontinent's three antagonists. Bangladesh wants recognition in order to obtain United Nations membership this fall. Pakistan is anxious for the repatriation of its 90,000 prisoners of war still in India—and India is almost as anxious to get rid of them. 

It was agreed last week that the repatriation of prisoners will be discussed by Pakistan and India in high-level talks next week. At the same time, the fate of some 200,000 Bengalis who have been held hostage in Pakistan since the war and want to return to Bangladesh will be negotiated along with the disposition of about 250,000 Biharis in Bangladesh who want to go to Pakistan. Bhutto told TIME that Dacca's intention to try 195 P.O.W.s was still "the main hurdle" to successful negotiations. 

He backed down, however, on his earlier refusal to allow the Biharis to be repatriated to Pakistan. "There's no problem of repatriation of Bengalis from here," he said. "And there's no problem to negotiate the future of the unfortunate [Biharis] who are now known by the generic name of non-Bengalis. But we cannot open the floodgates and say send as many as you want." Matching Bhutto's softening positions, India released 438 P.O.W.s on medical grounds and Pakistan freed 479 Bengalis. 

On the eve of what was to have been a six-day state visit to the U.S. this week (now postponed until September because of President Nixon's illness), the American-educated Pakistani President, 45, discussed the troubled subcontinent with TIME Correspondent William Stewart at the presidential mountaintop retreat at Murree in the hills above Rawalpindi. "As Bhutto walked in, smiling, confident and modishly dressed in a blue striped suit with a figured tie, his personal gunman quietly withdrew," cabled Stewart. "During the next hour and a half, he displayed all the animation, emotion and sly intelligence that has baffled India's leaders since he became President of Pakistan. Later we were joined by his wife and three of his four children, including a son who is home for the summer from Harvard and a daughter who just graduated cum laude from Radcliffe. Both majored in government." 

On Pakistan since the war: "We have all the problems that plague an underdeveloped country. We've been broken in half, but by the end of the decade we hope with hard work and effort we can again show that this is really the most prosperous part of the subcontinent. Labor and education reforms have been far-reaching, land reforms have been good, but I would have taken the knife much deeper had I inherited normal or relatively normal conditions." 

On the Bengalis held in Pakistan: "They get newspapers, they get the radio, they get books, and they get allowances. But I am sorry to say that they have been segregated. I use the word sorry sincerely. I didn't like to do it, but [Bangladesh Prime Minister] Mujibur Rahman's chauvinistic policies drove me to this painful decision." 

On relations with India: "I'm not obsessed with some kind of hatred for them. On the contrary, as I said to Mrs. Gandhi at the Simla conference last summer, ours is a thousand-year-old conflict between the Hindus and the Moslems, now personified in the state of India and the state of Pakistan. And I told her it would be such a great achievement, greater than all of the d├ętentes that are being arrived at in the West, if we could now find a modus vivendi." 

On the U.S.-China rapprochement: "I have had umpteen discussions with Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai and have always told them about the necessity of relations with the U.S. 'Look,' I said, 'the waters wash both your shores and you must enter into a dialogue.' " 

On relations with the U.S.: "We've had a long, traditional, historical friendship with the U.S. There was a bad period. You had some obsession about China. Now so many fundamental things have taken place between the great powers. [When I visit Washington] I am not going to beg for food. I'm going to discuss our relationship in its totality. I want to hear America's views on our mutual obligations, on the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. We are not one of those countries that are ashamed of their relations with you. We are proud of ours and would like to further consolidate them."