Reflections on former East Pakistan

 Asif Haroon Rajabangladesh

Pakistan was brutally disfigured on the fateful day of December 16, 1971. The tragedy has left behind such deep scars on the psyche of the nation that its effects are felt even after lapse of over 41 years. No one doubts that Pakistan was made the victim of methodically planned international conspiracy. India and the Hindus residing in former East Pakistan sowed the seeds of destruction and the self serving Pakistani politicians nurtured the crop. The circumstances between 1948 and 1971 appearing on the political canvas of Pakistan placed a shallow political and military leadership in the saddle during the 1971 crisis, which could not save the sinking ship. While the sinking could be delayed, the final outcome was inevitable.

It was irony of fate that the very people who were in the vanguard of Pakistan movement took up arms to destroy the very country which they themselves had helped to create. The people of East Pakistan accepted India as a savior and a mentor from whose shackles freedom was achieved in August 1947 after such a long struggle. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman were the two principle characters who had played a definite role in adding fuel to the inferno of East Pakistan and ultimate dismantling of the country into two. The Army was pushed into the Bengal furnace to perform the final act of the gory drama. Under the overwhelming odds, no Army in the world could have done any better.

The ‘opportunity of the century’ that Subramanian arrogantly talked of in March 1971 to destroy India’s number one enemy, Pakistan did not just fell in India’s way by accident. The Indians had schemed and fervently worked for the attainment of their goal of breaking the myth of two-nation theory since 1947. India’s involvement in the Agartala conspiracy has now been proven without an iota of doubt. Kuldip Nayar in his book ‘Distant Neighbors’ revealed that India had chalked out a ’15-day plan to annex East Bengal’ soon after partition of India in 1947, and that the plan was implemented in 1971.

The nefarious Agartala plan to dismember Pakistan was accidentally found out in January 1968. The evil could have been nipped in the bud had the case been allowed to reach its logical conclusion and the accused persons punished on charges of treason. The politicians did no service to Pakistan by applying massive pressure on Ayub Khan to let off the accused involved in a plan of sedition and treachery.  Later on Brig Jagdev Singh in his book ‘Dismemberment of Pakistan, 1971 Indo-Pak War admitted that a conspiracy had been hatched in Agartala on July 12, 1967 to liberate East Bengal with Indian Army’s clandestine support and to establish Bangladesh.

Gen Yahya Khan could be blamed for his political naiveté and his unintended blunders, which made the climate in erstwhile East Pakistan explosive. Lt Gen Tikka Khan could be held accountable for using excessive force on March 25, 1971 that alienated the Bengalis. Likewise, Lt Gen AAK Niazi could be held responsible for his moral failings and lack of strategic vision and for capitulating under pressure. However, the three cannot be declared as conspirators for having schemed to dismember Pakistan. Till 15th December, Gen Niazi was in high spirit and never showed any sign of cowardice or lack of will to fight. They all strove to keep Pakistan united. The same may not be true for Mujibur Rahman and ZA Bhutto since both of them deliberately worked towards break up of Pakistan into two parts and did not rest till it was finally broken. Mujib’s crime in a sense is more in degree for having elicited India’s support to win independence. In his interview to David Frost in 1972, he proudly claimed that he had worked for the creation of Bangladesh from 1948 onwards.

A golden opportunity had been presented to Mujib to become PM of united Pakistan. By not opting for confederation, East Pakistan could still have enjoyed a much larger measure of autonomy it had ever tasted before. With such a heavy mandate, he could have done whatever he pleased during his five-year tenure. Who could have stopped him from amending the constitution further to suit his agenda? Example of 1973 constitution is a case in point. He could have redressed all the inequities and grievances of East Pakistan. Even he could implement his evil designs against West Pakistan if he had any. He could have moved the Naval HQ to Chittagong, transferred West Pakistan assets to East Pakistan, cut the Army to size, granted maximum autonomy to other provinces, or even drastically weakened the central government so as to make the unity of the country merely nominal.

Having sufficiently enfeebled the federation, he could then declare secession. One of the contingencies of Awami League’s battle plan clearly spelt out secession after removal of disparities between the two wings, that is, milking western wing to the maximum. But he blundered and took the joke of his six points too far and stubbornly insisted on formulating the new constitution on the basis of six-point formula and kept adding additional points to fail the talks. According to some analysts, East Pakistan tragedy was in a way a blessing in disguise to get a more homogenous and stronger Pakistan rather than witnessing the breakup of Pakistan into five parts at a later date.

East Pakistan remained politically active, economically weak and emotionally unstable throughout its 24 years of attachment with Pakistan. Politics of agitation pursued by Bengali political leaders together with perverse influence of India and affluent Hindu minority in East Pakistan and cultural affinity with West Bengal had a lot to do in keeping the province in a state of turmoil. Language issue was the first spark which vitiated east-west relations. Thereafter the lava kept simmering and started to boil during the country wide agitation against Field Marshal Ayub Khan in late 1968. The situation apparently cooled down after the changeover of leadership in March 1969, but in actuality it was an illusory calm and the bubbling lava erupted like a volcano on March 1, 1971. Despite the insurgency, Pakistan would not have dismembered if India had not intervened militarily. Had the local population remained friendly, or even neutral, the enemy in spite of overwhelming superiority could never have defeated Pak Army. The country split into two under the weight of social injustice, corruption and greed for power. Real issues were sidelined while non-issues like power sharing, ethnic, sectarian and other matters of discord were encouraged. The break-up of united Pakistan in 1971 was the first manifestation of the state’s failure in national integration.

East Pakistan received its initial labor pains in March 1971. The pains subsided considerably between May and September 1971 when Pakistan Army injected dozes of pacification. During the nine months of pregnancy that convoluted in the womb of East Pakistan, Pak Army tried its best to abort the illegitimate child of India. But the paramour prevented it and continued to give artificial respiration in its bid to prevent abortion of the child it had sought since 1947. Pak Army had almost succeeded in its ‘Operation Abortion’, when India jumped in with its surgical instruments in November 1971 to perform the caesarean operation upon the willing body of East Pakistan. Soviet Union ensured that the operation proceeded unhindered while some others gave moral support. After simulating three and a half weeks of intense labor pain, India with the help of others midwived the birth of Bangladesh on December 16, 1971.

The Bengalis had protested that they were left out in 1965 war and not given a chance to show their military muscle against the Indians. They had a golden chance to fight the Indians and defeat them on their soil in 1971 and thus prove to the world that they were no less a martial race. Alas! They frittered away the only chance that came their way. Their sacrifices made in the liberation war went in vain when India took all the credit and stood alone on the victory stand to receive the trophy and accolades. Independence was thus won with a pinch of salt. It didn’t take long for the Bengalis to realize that they had been duped. They took their revenge on August 15, 1975 by hacking to death Mujib and his entire family less Hasina Wajid who was fortunately abroad. Today well over 50% people of Bangladesh nostalgically remember united Pakistan and 70% hate India.

The writer is a retired Brig and a defence analyst. Email:

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