A major coastal cyclone struck East Pakistan in 12 November 1970, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced. Bengalis were outraged and unrest began because of what was considered the weak and ineffective response of the central government to the disaster. Public opinion and political parties in East Pakistan blamed the governing authorities as intentionally negligent. The West Pakistani politicians attacked the Awami League for allegedly using the crisis for political gain. The dissatisfaction led to divisions within the civil services, police and Pakistani Armed Forces.

 

In the Pakistani general elections held in 7 December 1970, the Awami League under Mujib's leadership won a massive majority in the provincial legislature, and all but two of East Pakistan's quota of seats in the new National Assembly, thus forming a clear majority.

The largest and most successful party in the western wing of the nation was the Pakistan Peoples Party headed by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He was completely opposed to Mujib's demand for greater autonomy. Bhutto threatened to boycott the assembly and oppose the government if Mujib was invited by Yahya Khan (then president of Pakistan) to form the next government and demanded inclusion of the PPP. Much of the Pakistani military and the Islamic political parties opposed Mujib's becoming Pakistan's prime minister. At the time neither Mujib nor the Awami League had explicitly advocated political independence for East Pakistan, but smaller nationalist groups were demanding independence for Bangladesh.

Bhutto feared civil war, and sent a secret message to Mujib and his inner circle to arrange a meeting with them. Hassan met with Mujib and persuaded him to form a coalition government with Bhutto. They decided that Bhutto would served as President, with Mujib as Prime minister. These developments took place secretly and none of the Pakistan Armed Forces personnel were kept informed. Meanwhile, Bhutto increased the pressure on Yahya Khan to take a stand on dissolving the government.