Much maligned Gen Yahya Khan

yahayaAsif Haroon Raja

Although maligned by all and sundry, the fact is that all the bosses of Gen Yahya Khan in the Army gave him excellent reports and none doubted his military capabilities. Notwithstanding his failings, he was not corrupt and sincerely wanted to resolve the East Pakistan crisis to the best of his abilities. But he neither had political experience nor much understanding of political and constitutional problems. These shortcomings compelled him to heavily rely upon his advisers. Besides, circumstances and time were not in his favor and he had to preside over the breakup of Pakistan.

In order to appease the politicians of East Pakistan (EP) in particular, he scrapped the parity principle that had been worked out by Suhrawardy and adopted with the willing consent of both the wings. Break up of one-unit scheme, which was the popular demand of the smaller provinces and adoption of one-man-one-vote allowed East Pakistan, an edge over West Pakistan (WP) and victory of Awami League (AL) became a foregone conclusion. Had he not abolished the mechanism of separate electorate, the AL aided by Hindu votes could not have swept the polls and eliminated Muslim League and other like-minded parties owing to the deluge of Hindu votes. That way Pakistan could have been saved from disintegrating.

Yahya held the first ever general elections in December 1970. Neutralization of all other political parties in EP by AL hooligans using strong-arm tactics during the year-long election campaign followed by wholesale rigging during the casting and counting of votes, gave total victory to AL. Failure to install a proper monitoring system preferably by the Army and the judiciary gave false poll results. Bhutto was not justified in demanding postponement of inaugural session of national assembly on March 3, 1971 and insisting on a grand coalition with AL and insisting that constitution will not be framed without the concurrence of PPP. These demands led to an impasse.

Mujib’s unyielding stance on his six points and Bhutto’s refusal to attend the inaugural session at Dacca forced Yahya to commit the mistake of postponing the session. It sparked Bengali nationalism and hysteria in EP and became the first major cause which led towards division of united Pakistan. Yahya had agreed to all the six points of Mujib during parleys from 15 to 24 March, but the latter kept adding new points at the behest of India to fail the talks. Wali Khan and Bizenjo who were close to Mujib tried to persuade him to withdraw his proposals of separate constituent conventions and confederation but in vain. Yahya Khan was willing to consider Mujib’s revised formula dispassionately but the irreversible decision to establish Bangladesh had already been taken by AL.

The military crackdown in EP on March 25 was undertaken to stop the slaughter and rape of non-Bengalis and pro-government Bengalis undertaken by AL militants and to save the federation from breaking apart. While it achieved its short-term objectives, in reality it lost the first battle of united Pakistan. Thereon, it was a downhill journey. Had the military action not been undertaken, the AL with the help of East Bengal Regiments and East Pakistan Rifles and Police together with ex servicemen and armed infiltrators from India would have unleashed its battle plan which was to go into effect on the morning of 26 March to forcibly takeover EP.

Besides addressing political grievances, Yahya Khan went a step ahead of Ayub Khan to address inter-wing economic disparities and gave out categorical orders to narrow down the gap between the two wings. 52.5% resources were allotted to the eastern wing as against 47.5% to WP. Capital inflow in EP increased from 40 to 75%, while the investments grew from 39 to 54%. Rs. 231 crores was allocated for development in public sector as against Rs. 190 crores for WP. The development loans to EP that stood at Rs. 28.77 crore in 1957-58 increased to Rs. 210.41 crore in 1970-71, that is, an increase of 631%. WP received only Rs. 126.07 crore loans in that year. Grants in aid from the government to EP grew from Rs. 7140 crore in 1948-49 to 1958-9 to that of Rs. 293.89 during 1958-59 to 1970-71; that is, an increase of 312%. In case of western wing, the increase was only 202%.

By 1971, EP had 600 major industries. These included 77 jute mills, 4 paper mills, 2 paper-board/newsprint mills, 20 sugar mills, 42 cotton mills, one huge steel mill, a petroleum refinery, one oil refinery, 2 Rayon mills, about 30 match factories, several oil and vegetable ghee mills, two fertiliser factories, leather tanning factories and a cement plant.  Tea production had shot up considerably to the extent that EP met the needs of WP at a higher rate. EP became self-sufficient in sugar, fertiliser and tea and started exporting tea, jute items, tanned leather, paper and newsprint. Sugar production increased from 23000 tons to over one lakh tons in 1970. Out of 23 match factories in the country, 20 were in EP. Consequently, WP had become a captive market instead of EP.  In the field of education, there were five universities, three colleges and six schools of engineering, eight polytechnics, five colleges and several schools of medicine, dozens of hospitals and more than 200 degree colleges for arts and science. It had more than 3000 miles of metalled road and its power capacity exceeded 100,000 KW.

Two modern ports were built at Chittagong and Chalna. Besides, a welfare-oriented scheme was put into operation in EP in middle 1970 by virtue of which commercial banks provided loans to the depressed class. Head offices of the House Building Finance Corporation, Refugee Rehabilitation Finance Corporation and IDBP were shifted to Dacca in 1970. With this kind of development in all the fields at a massive scale, it was indeed preposterous on part of the vested groups within EP to sing the song of exploitation by WP. Having laid a sufficiently strong economic base, it would have achieved greater political strength with improved degree of provincial autonomy. By all standards, EP would have gained by keeping within the federation of Pakistan. Bangladesh’s prosperity owes a great deal to Ayub Khan’s reforms. Barring the hard core AL members, even to this day the people of Bangladesh hold Ayub Khan in high esteem.

The falsehood of the manipulated grievances was exposed within the first two years of creation of Bangladesh. The agonising truth dawned upon the people of Bangladesh that they had been cheated and duped by Mujib and AL. All the allegations that he and his henchmen had levelled so consistently and brazenly proved baseless. His tall promises of converting Bangladesh into Sonar Bangla after its detachment from Pakistan turned out to be illusory. The euphoria of the people of Bangladesh punctured like a pricked balloon within a year of independence and their disillusionment knew no bounds. Food and clothing was in very short supply and the inflation rate skyrocketed, while life and property of the people became insecure. They nostalgically yearned for the good old days when everything was available in abundance and now they had been reduced to poverty-stricken levels. The later events validated WP’s apprehensions; it was India that converted Bangladesh into its colony by subjugating its economy and culture. Matiur Rahman writes, “Mujib’s plea of taking up arms against the government in the face of intolerable political persecution and economic exploitation was an utter lie that has no parallel. A greater lie could not have been invented nor could a greater falsehood be imagined by anyone conversant with facts”.

The writer is a retired Brig; had taken part in epic battle of Hilli in former East Pakistan in 1971 war.

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