The fall of Dhaka may have occurred on December 16, 1971, but factors leading to it date far back.
The creation of Pakistan came about under extraneous circumstances. The departure of the British from the Indian subcontinent had become imminent after they suffered the economic ravages of WW II while the “Quit India” movement spearheaded by Hindus became louder reaching a deafening crescendo.
Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the undisputed leader of the Indian Muslims, was caught in a major dilemma. Initially a strong proponent of united independent India, he soon realised that for the Muslims of the subcontinent, freedom would only mean a change of masters. Hindus would replace the British and seek vengeance from the Muslims for having subjugated them to centuries of Muslim rule. The other factor, unknown to all apart from his devoted sister Fatima Jinnah and his personal physician, was that the Quaid was suffering from a terminal disease and the clock was ticking fast. If the secret of the Quaid’s serious illness had leaked out, the British and Hindus would only have delayed the process of independence till the Quaid’s demise and there would have been no Pakistan. Thus the Quaid was constrained to accept what many critics label as a “moth eaten Pakistan”.
The biggest flaw in the partition plan was accepting the two wings of an independent Pakistan separated by a thousand miles of hostile Indian territory, devoid of even a narrow corridor linking them. An aspect, which proved critical when India surreptitiously stopped over-flight rights to Pakistani aircrafts just prior to the 1971 Pak-India War, barring West Pakistan from transferring logistic supplies to its beleaguered Eastern wing, but that comes later.
Certain decisions taken by the now terminally ill Quaid—in the last throes of his life—because he had burnt the candle at both ends to gain Pakistan’s independence, maybe faulty. The selection of Urdu as the national language sowed the initials seeds of discord because the Bengalis wanted recognition of their language too. Consequential language riots claimed numerous precious Bengali lives, around whose mausoleum (Shaheed Minar) later generation of Bengali freedom fighters would rally around. Simultaneously, the national leadership’s obsession with ‘parity’ between the two wings (to offset the east’s numerical advantage) not only delayed the formation of Pakistan’s constitution but also widened the chasm of divide. An arrogant superiority complex by West Pakistani officials towards their East Pakistani counterparts only vitiated relations. Cultural, linguistic, ethnic and mental disparity between the inhabitants of the two wings pushed them further apart.
Two facets acted as catalysts in expediting the final split. Firstly, the genuine grievances of the East Pakistanis were exploited by India in deepening the wounds and spreading rancour and acrimony. Secondly, certain West Pakistani politicians, faced with the possibility of an East Pakistan-led leadership ruling Pakistan—as a result of the relatively free and fair 1970 elections—blocked the military government’s handing over power to the victors of the polls, forcing East Pakistan to declare its independence as Bangladesh.
Partings are always difficult, but between East and West Pakistan, where Bengalis were patriotic nationalists to the core, were the forerunners of the Pakistan Movement and it must have been extremely painful to defy the very principles and values diehard East Pakistani leaders had aspired to uphold.
Hindsight is 20/20 but if good sense had prevailed with the West Pakistani leadership and the East Pakistanis, being volatile and emotional in nature, had not allowed their grievances to be exploited by the bloodthirsty Indians, the outcome would not have been gory. An amicable solution could have been reached sans the carnage of which both sides accuse each other of.
Since Bangladesh itself was not allowed to prosper and set itself on the path of progress by its neighbour India which, in the garb of supporting the cause of the liberation of Bangladesh, actually wanted to dismember Pakistan. India later supported strife, coup d’états and bloody revolutions since it demanded its pound of flesh for its purported role in the war of liberation, plotting to install a puppet government at Dhaka, which would dance to the tunes of its Indian masters, a fact corroborated by Narendra Modi recently.
Meanwhile, counter coups passed the baton albeit reluctantly to progressive Bangladeshi leaders, who wanted to bury the hatchet with Pakistan and move on. Such a state of affairs was loath to India which desired an unstable Bangladesh with a government visibly and concertedly hostile to Pakistan. In a bloody revolution, the founder of Bangladesh was assassinated along with his whole family apart from two daughters, who were abroad. His elder daughter Sheikh Hasina Wajid was brought back in 1981 and nurtured to toe the Indian line. Her first stint as Prime Minister (1996-2001) was uneventful since she proved inefficient and inept. Groomed by her puppeteers, she was finally unleashed in 2009 to become the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Her stint was marred by a revolt of the Bangladesh Rifles which was countered with brute force, and charges of acute corruption and poor governance yet she won the next term in 2014, unopposed because the opposition boycotted the elections.
This drama was allegedly choreographed by India since now Hasina was playing ball despite accusations of corruption and misgovernance. She boycotted commercial, diplomatic and social moots with Pakistan, taking the plea that Pakistan must apologise for its alleged war crimes including genocide of three million Bengalis and the rape of thousands of Bengali women. To pour salt into the wounds, Sheikh Hasina levelled charges of treason against the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami for supporting the cause of united Pakistan during the 1971 war. Four leaders have been sent to the gallows by kangaroo courts and numerous others are on the death row despite calls by international jurists condemning the derision of justice.
The inevitability of the creation of Bangladesh was a reality, which should have been accepted wholeheartedly by the secessionists as well as the people and leaders of West Pakistan. As discussed earlier, since the severance of ties was so bloody that good sense was occluded by vindictiveness. It is a fact of recorded history that both the secessionists and the Pakistan Army carried out excesses. The secessionists targeted the non-Bengali population and the West Pakistani civilians and Armed Forces personnel while the Army, in its frenzy of retaliation, carried out a bloody carnage. The figures for genocide and rape being quoted by both sides are a gross exaggeration; the claim of three million Bengalis being massacred by Pakistani troops in 1971 is farfetched. Declassified US reports, Indian and Pakistani military officers’ accounts, General Niazi’s memoirs and a number of published books and articles like Subversion in East Pakistan, by AMK Maswani and Sarmila Bose’s Dead Reckoning specify that both Pakistani forces and Bengali insurgents were responsible for cold-blooded genocide of civilians and their military counterparts. Yet, taking advantage of a pro-India government in Bangladesh, macabre forces are bent upon raking up old scars in order to humiliate Pakistan and appease India.
Historical facts recorded by neutral observers shed light on the facts. Former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Hamoodur Rehman’s article ‘Ideology of Pakistan’, published in Supreme Court’s journal section of the All Pakistan Legal Decisions (referred to by lawyers and courts of Pakistan as) i.e., PLD 1976 S.C. (Pak) Vol. XXXVIII, pages 215-226, not only provides a clue but also an insight into proper understanding and background. He writes that as far back as 14 July, 1971, Morning News, Karachi, carried the banner headline on the front page captioned, ‘India prepares blue print for war on Pakistan’ quoting late Mr Yehia Syed’s report from London. Yehia Syed’s article titled ‘India fought the war on her published plan’ also carried by Morning News, Karachi (4 March, 1972), mentions what was known as India’s Subramaniam Plan—no more a secret—details of which were released in advance in London, according to which it was then the most opportune time to launch an attack and like a ripe plum (referring to East Pakistan), it would fall into India’s lap.
The book The Role of Big Powers in the East Pakistan Crisis of 1971 by Bengali author Matiur Rahman, published by Dr Razia Rahman (65 Alfriston Road, London, SW11) and reviewed in The Muslim World League Journal, Makah Al-Mukarramah Vol. 12, No. 4 Rabi al Thani/January 1985 (page 64) is highly revealing. Two more books by the same author, Bangladesh Today-An Indictment and a Lament (1978 Edition) and Second Thoughts on Bangla Desh (1979 Edition) shed ample light on the subject. It is equally tragic that these erudite and established authors have also focused on the fact that the irate insurgents of Mukti Bahini, in a spate of fury, massacred Pakistani troops as well as non-Bengalis citizens and committed unspeakable acts like rape and mutilation of dead bodies.
Mr H N Akhtar in his article captioned ‘After the Cassandras have spoken’ regarding the tragedy of 1971 has referred to a book, Pakistan Cut to Size, which reveals that Pakistan had fallen victim to a Communist and Zionist-inspired conspiracy. The Jewish Chronicle, London, disclosed that Major General Jacob who was second in command of the Indian forces in East Pakistan was a Jew. He was related to the famous family of the late Dr I S Fox who was Chairman of the British Zionist Federation. The paper said that there were a number of Jewish officers in Indian armed forces, among the better known were Rear Admiral Benjamin Abraham Samson and Naval Judge Advocate Elliz Thirad.
It has been widely proliferated that Pakistan Army killed over three million people in military action, and they all were innocent civilians. This baseless Indian and Awami League propaganda has been belied by independent researchers like Sarmila Bose, in her book Dead Reckoning, quoting Home Ministry of Bangladesh in 1972 that there were reports of only about 2,000 complaints of deaths due to military actions while the Mukti Bahini slaughtered thousands of Pakistani troops and non-Bengali civilians.
Even the Sylhet born, educated in Dhaka and Exeter Universities, Sociology Professor, Dr Abdul Mu’min Chowdhury, a Bengali nationalist who actively participated in the separatist cause, came out with eye witness accounts. He states that the Pakistan Army carried out a limited counter-insurgency, not genocide in East Pakistan. Dr Chowdhury spoke out in 1996 to tell the true story of what went on during that war. In his book Behind the Myth of 3 Million he dispels many conjectural assumptions about Pakistani security forces’ action, stating that the allegations against Pakistan were entirely cooked up and the actual death toll was much lower than the falsely fabricated three million figure, and in order to arrive at this conclusion, Dr Chowdhury cites an extensive range of sources.
The sources maintain that the number of East Pakistanis who supported independence and were subsequently killed during the war was to glorify the movement against West Pakistan, but evidence points otherwise. The total strength of Pakistan Army was 40,000 in East Pakistan out of which 237 officers, 136 JCOs and 3,559 other ranks were killed and wounded in the counter insurgency operations between March-November 1971. It is not humanly possible to commit that level of genocide as being accused on Pakistan Army both for tactical and humanitarian reasons, the sources added. Even Colonel Akbar Hussain, a decorated ‘Mukti Juddha’ and Cabinet Member under both General Ziaur Rehman and Mrs Khaleda Zia told the National Assembly of Bangladesh during a debate on 15 June, 1993, that the Awami League had created the myth of ‘three million killed’.
Before we conclude, it is essential to examine the prevailing fable that Sheikh Mujib, despite securing maximum seats in the 1970 elections was denied power by conniving West Pakistani politicians. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto et al were ambitious but the truth can be gauged from the news report of APP correspondents interviewing Sheikh Mujib in Dhaka post elections, congratulating him on his victory. They inquired of the Sheikh’s future plans after he would assume the mantle of premiership of Pakistan. His response was that he would rather be the “Father of a Nation (Bangladesh)” than just a Prime Minister of Pakistan. The die had already been cast.
Let us also delve deeper into the myth of Awami League’s majority in the 1970 elections and its overwhelming representation of the Bengalis. Election Commission of Pakistan documents reveal that the voter turnout in East Pakistan was 56 percent while the disinterested electorate in East Pakistan comprised 44 percent. Of the overall votes cast in East Pakistan, Awami League actually received only 42 percent of the votes. The question therefore arises how could only a 42 percent mandate achieve independence without external (Indian) support? If this was not true and a sizable population of the Bengalis did not support the idea of secession, and continued to regard the Pakistan regime as the legitimate government, why would Sheikh Hasina Wajid’s government now be putting its own citizens to trial for “treason” and sending them to the gallows? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If the rebels were fighting for a ‘noble’ cause for freedom, then in the same vein, the cause of those Bengalis supporting the regime was equally ‘noble’ as it was to sustain the unity and integrity of Pakistan they had sworn allegiance to.
If anyone needs to be tried, it is India which had been planning the dismemberment of East Pakistan for ages. Indian secret agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) was created with the main task of destabilising Pakistan. The deliberate intervention of India in fomenting political trouble in Pakistan was in direct contravention to Article-4 of the UN Charter. Indira Gandhi had triumphantly claimed to have taken revenge for 700 years of Muslim rule and at the fall of Dhaka and declared “today we have sunk the Two Nation theory of Pakistan in the Bay of Bengal”. More evidence was provided by the confessional statement of Indian role in the mutilation of Pakistan by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Bangladesh in June 2015, which is self-indicting under international law. India had planned to exploit the discord between two wings, hence the drama of “Ganga” hijacking on 30 January, 1971, was orchestrated to ban Pakistan’s overflights and deny logistic support to the East from the West.
Indian intervention has been admitted by Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw in his memoirs. Manekshaw discloses regarding his meeting with India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in April 1971 when she divulged her intent of dismembering East Pakistan and asked Manekshaw for the impending invasion of East Pakistan. FM Manekshaw requested for 7-9 months preparation time which was granted by PM Indira Gandhi.
Just when Pakistan Army was on the verge of having controlled the armed insurgency by Bengali Mukti Bahini, being supported by India, the Indian armed forces initiated war in East Pakistan on 21 November, 1971, on the pretext of Bengali refugees crossing into India. If this principle is to be applied today by other states as well, should Pakistan invade Afghanistan or Europe overrun Syria?
Now let us look at some ground realities regarding Pak-Bangladesh relations. Pakistan and Bangladesh can either be friends or stay indifferent to each other. One thousand miles of hostile Indian territory still separates Pakistan and Bangladesh and it is not physically possible for Pakistan to interfere in Bangladesh affairs or vice versa. Bangladesh is enveloped by India which foments troubles like water issues, border skirmishes, smuggling, drug trafficking and numerous other problems. It would be prudent for Bangladesh to resolve its problems with India rather than act as a proxy for India and hurl insults and accusations at Pakistan, which tends to gain nothing from the instability of Bangladesh.
True that Pakistan bears some blame for pre-1971 atrocities and omissions but the grievances of economic poverty disparities, low representation of Bengalis in administration, industry and armed forces etc were related to inter-province disparities and were not peculiar to East Pakistan and persist even today.
Currently Pakistan has approximately two million illegal Bengalis on its soil but has never made them a scapegoat for the turmoil in Karachi or its war against terror while Bangladesh is busy profiling Pakistani visitors and workers and harassing them with a vengeance.
If the genocide claim is to be taken as correct then from 25 March to 16 December, 1971, (257 days), the causality rate on the average comes to 11,000 per day, which is highly questionable as no neutral source ever reported or confirmed the atrocities at this mass scale. Apparently, Sheikh Hasina Wajid has banned any discussion or questioning the Awami League version of the alleged genocide just as the Jews have barred any debate on the Jewish holocaust claims.
If Hasina ponders even for a moment, she should pragmatically take cognizance of the fact that no distinction can be made between the liberation fighters, innocent Bengalis, and how many were killed by the Indians, Mukti Bahini or Pakistanis. By persistently blackballing Pakistan, the atrocities will not go away as they were not one sided.
The time has come for both Pakistan and Bangladesh to do some soul searching and move forward. And that would be the best closure rather than continuing to rake old wounds.