Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto used Pakistan's national day today to try once again to calm the deepening political crisis and unrest that have caused rioting, civil disobedience and bloodshed throughout the country since the March 7 general elections.
In a message to the nation, Bhutto said that the country had had enough experience of disorder and called upon Pakistanis to unite to make "dialogue triumph over difiance" to mend the rifts in the "nation's political fabric."
For the time being, however, defiance continues to triumph. Bhutto has failed in repeated attempts to create a political dialogue and compromise with the defeated Pakistan National Alliance, whose refusal to accept the results of the election on the ground that they were rigged precipitated the crisis.
The prime minister has sent the opposition three letters offering to negotiate and on Monday an Election Commission was given full powers to investigate election illegalities and to order new elections to constituencies where fraud was proved. It is understood that 24 out of the 200 seats in the National Assembly might be affected. Bhutto has also implied that the provincial elections, which the Alliance boycotted following the national elections, might be held again as part of a compromise.
But the feeling that the people's will has been thwarted in rigged elections continues to gain in the popular imagination and the recent events in India, where the Congress Party was upset in a free elections, will probably have an effect. The Alliance, which won only 36 out of 200 seats, is in no mood to compromise. Its leadership met yesterday and today in Lahore to consider Bhutto's most recent letter and their answer is expected to be no compromise unless completely new elections held for all seats.
Like Indira Gandhi in India Prime Minister Bhutto completely understimated the power of diverse and contradictory opposition parties to unite and mount an effective campaign. He called the nine parties that banded together to make up the National Alliance "nine cats tied together by their tails."
Like Gandhi, Bhutto partially lifted the emergency regulations to allow free-wheeling, no-holds-barred political campaign. In Pakistan as in India it soon became clear the ruling government was in trouble as the opposition gathered in unsuspected support.
Unlike India, however, Pakistan has no long tradition of free elections. This was only the third election since independence in 1947 and the first in which a ruling government sought a mandate at thepolls. But the public became fascinated at what soon became a very personal, mudraking campaign in which real issues took a back seat.
Although political observers here do not believe that Bhutto has yet lost control his loss in popularity is apparently greater than had been anticipated. Political observers doubt that he would agree to hold new elections for all seats in the present climate of unrest and antigovernment agitation. His Pakistan People's Party won 155 seats in the recent election. Whether he might have won anyway had there not been irregularities is now no longer relevant in today's heated political atmosphere.
The semi-official Pakistan Times, which often acts as the voice of government, warned in an editorial yesterday that if Bhutto latest offer of negotiations is not accepted the government will have no alternative but to press into service the state's coercive power to crush the elements igniting fires and putting in jeoparady the life and property of law-abiding citizens."
Yet, the government's attempts toward off trouble last Thursday night and Friday by arresting opposition leaders led to even greater disorder, including the worst riots that the traditionally troublesome city of Karachi has known in recent times. Most of the Alliance's national leadership was released on Sunday, but the opposition's leading personality, retired Air Marshal Asghar Khan, has refused to leave prison unless the government agrees to lift the state of emergency and unless all political detainess are released.
According to diplomatic sources, as many as 2,000 opposition party workers and organizers may have been arrested in recent weeks.
The opposition party members are refusing to take up their seats when the National Assembly convenes on March 26 and they are calling for a nationalwide general strike for the day.
Ironically, one of the excuses Bhutto has used since 1975 for not lifting the state of emergency was that he could not do so while a similar state of emergency was in effect in India - Pakistan's traditional enemy. India's state of emergency was lifted Monday following the defeat of Indira Gandhi.
Bhutto came to power following the disastrous war with India in 1971 in which rebellious East Pakistan became independent Bangladesh. Although he has done much to build up the nation's confidence, as well as Pakistan's international standing, it becoming rich at the public's expense and angry at the high handed ways in which officials acted.