Asif Haroon Raja |
The Pakistan that was achieved with so much of blood and tears; was split in two on the fateful day of December 16, 1971. Even after the passage of 47 years, the traumatic experience still haunts us and cannot be washed away from the memories of those who witnessed the tragic break up. After the truncation of Pakistan, the new leadership desperately needed a scapegoat to defuse the temper of the nation; having lost the war on the eastern front, the army was put in the woods. The Hamoodur Commission Report (HCR) with a mandate limited to the military’s role in East Pakistan, influenced by the domestic environment as well as the poisonous propaganda launched by the western and Indian print and electronic media; put blame on General Yahya Khan and Lt General AAK Niazi for the debacle.
However, the Commission despite harshly bashing the army also concluded that the tragedy was a result of the cumulative follies of our leaders in the earlier 23 years and the ferment that was simmering in the minds of the Bengalis led to such an impasse. While the politicians failed to maintain unity among the diversified communities, the media failed to counter the international propaganda campaign. Diplomats failed to defend and present Pakistan’s case before the world – as a victim of a pre-planned international conspiracy. The military failed to protect the ideological and territorial frontiers against internal and external enemies. Unfortunately, the government officials posted in East Pakistan, mostly Urdu speaking and Punjabis, instead of performing their duties as public servants, behaved like demi-gods and made little effort to address the grievances of East Bengal.
The Pakistan army is once again being demonised. No effort has been made to build a narrative to defeat Indo-Afghan-US narrative projecting Pakistan as a terror abetting state and the real terrorists as victims of terrorism.
Having suffered for nearly two hundred years at the hands of British-Hindu combo, the Bengalis were in the forefront of the Pakistan movement and were the first to respond to Quaid-e-Azam’s call for Pakistan. However, this love and commitment to Pakistan underwent a radical change in two decades after the birth of Pakistan and their affections shifted to their erstwhile tormentors. This is where the tragedy gets compounded. The Bengalis had great hopes from Pakistan and dreamt of a prosperous tomorrow; not realizing that economics works on hard facts, not on emotional outbursts. They expected economic miracles, which never materialized due to extreme backwardness of East Pakistan, natural calamities, east-west misgivings, divergent perceptions, and above all the Hindu propaganda launched at the roots of the new generation – the primary and secondary school level.
The deep-rooted antagonism between the Muslims of East Bengal and the caste Hindus of Bengal has washed away and replaced with misgivings and hatred between the Muslims of the two wings of Pakistan. This astonishing change in the perceptions of East Bengal Muslims came about as a result of well thought out subversion conducted by the Indian psychological operators, duly reinforced by agencies of other regional countries. Bengalis grew up in a culture of misgivings, mistrust, violence and hate and swayed by Indian brainwashing and there was an oft-repeated theme talking of exploitation by Pakistan’s western wing. Whilst power resided in the hands of Bengalis (Nazimuddin, Bogra, Suhrawardy and Iskandar Mirza from 1951 to 1958), they grieved over the language issue, economic deprivation, illiteracy, poverty and power-sharing based on population.
However, it was the haughty attitude of the West Pakistan officials which offended the Bengali Muslims and made them bitter. The affluent Hindu community in East Pakistan, particularly 90 percent of teachers and professors, fueled resentment and converted Muslim Bengali bitterness into hatred. After the military operation in March 1971, about 8-10 million Bengalis, 80% of which were Hindus fled to India. They were housed in 330 refugee camps and from within them the Indian military trained the rebel force to launch a nine month long insurgency. India sowed the seeds of subversion within East Pakistan and self-serving politicians of West Pakistan nurtured the crop. Propaganda was expounded about the exploitation and treatment of East Pakistan as a colony by West Pakistan.
Bengalis started viewing Indians as their saviors against their “West Pakistani masters”. This is where they blundered and showed political unawareness. Economic iniquities in East Pakistan were considerably reduced during Ayub Khan’s golden economic rule, however, issues of power deprivation saw them resorting to violent strikes and vandalism. Lawlessness created by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in East Pakistan and by Z.A. Bhutto in West Pakistan forced Ayub Khan to resign and hand over power to General Yahya Khan. Although the latter did his best to assuage the hurt feelings of the Bengalis by doling out political concessions and addressing economic inequities, by that time it was too late as Mujib swayed the Bengalis to break away from Pakistan and accept India, from whose shackles freedom was achieved, as a saviour and a mentor.
The government officials posted in East Pakistan, mostly Urdu speaking and Punjabis, instead of performing their duties as public servants, behaved like demi-gods and made little effort to address the grievances of East Bengal.
In the final act of the gory drama, the ill-fated leadership of General Yahya Khan from March 1969 to December 1971 could not save the ship from sinking. Politically naïve Yahya Khan dreamed of another 5 years of presidency, if not more. Truculent Mujib craved for wresting power on his terms, on the basis of victory in the polls. Bhutto hungered for half of the cake without qualifying for it. The duo remained fixated in their respective orbits and maintained an uncompromising stance till the end. Yahya performed poorly as a referee between the two rival contenders of power. Despite knowing Mujib’s past track record connected with Agartala conspiracy, he acted too softly with him and ignored his wrongdoings and his willful defiance of the Legal Framework Order. He was allowed to base his election manifesto on his highly controversial six points, which bordered on secession.
Appeasement instead of firmness by Yahya and the administrators in the eastern wing were at the cost of ensuring free and fair elections. While the masses in East Pakistan were terrorized during the yearlong election campaign, widescale unfair means were employed on the polling day by the ruffians of Awami League to turn the tide in its favor. The militancy of the Awami League climaxed after it won a dubious landslide victory in the December 1970 polls. The obduracy of Bhutto to share power at all costs, intransigence of Mujib to shun all moves for conciliation, cavalier attitude of Yahya Khan and his colleagues and Yahya’s fatal decision to postpone the National Assembly session at Dacca on 1 March 1971 without taking Mujib into confidence, resulted in the otherwise avoidable carnage of human beings.
By the middle of March 1971, a civil disobedience movement was in full swing and a parallel government had come into existence. The militant Bengalis egged on by Mujib and carried away by Bengali nationalism hacked to death 150,000 non-Bengalis and pro-Pakistan Bengalis and raped West Pakistani girls and women in hundreds. According to Qutbuddin Aziz in his book “Blood and Tears”, the figure of those killed ranges between 100,000 to 500,000. The Marauders, who indulged in pillage, plunder and slaughter, were no more than few hundred. The massacre of non-Bengalis caused the initial exodus to India. The second spree of a massacre of non-Bengalis took place in November-December 1971.
Those who physically saw the savagery of Bengali extremists shudder to recollect the horrifying scenes and feel mystified as to how a Muslim could indulge in such barbarities against another Muslim. They also are still resentful and befuddled as to why the government and the army remained indifferent for 25 days when East Pakistan was burning and why our media didn’t counter Indian and the Swadhin Bangla Betar clandestine radio propaganda and why was it prevented from highlighting the atrocities of Bengalis against non-Bengalis. The world was kept ignorant of the mass killings of pro-Pakistan Bengalis, Biharis and West Pakistanis. Biharis had been disarmed. All the West Pakistan political parties except PPP and Qayyum Khan League supported Mujib.
Bengalis started viewing Indians as their saviors against their “West Pakistani masters”. This is where they blundered and showed political unawareness.
After the failure of parleys from 15-24 March in Dacca due to Mujib’s intransigence and refusal to accept any formula within the framework of a united Pakistan, Operation Searchlight was launched on the night of 25 March to stop the bloodshed and re-establish the writ of the government. The 35 jilted foreign journalists who had been ousted from Dacca on 27 March by Lt General Tikka Khan; because of their biased reporting of the cyclone in October 1970 and hushing off 1-25 March mayhem of Bengalis, teamed up with Indian media at Calcutta and launched a full-throttled propaganda to demonize the army and project them as human eating monsters and rapists.
The crackdown ignited the powder keg and demand for provincial autonomy suddenly transformed into a secessionist movement leading to separation. Failure of Pakistan’s publicity wing to counter the vile propaganda undermined the faith of Pakistani soldiers in the cause they were fighting for and also contributed towards intensification of Bengali nationalism and hatred against the army. Once India applied the military instrument with preponderance of ground, air and naval power against a highly marooned Pakistani force with only 45,000 armed forces soldiers and paramilitary forces (23,500 of which were regular soldiers); the end was a foregone conclusion.
The sinking could have been delayed by Lt. General AAK Niazi but not prevented. It was too late. It must not be forgotten that Pakistani troops in East Pakistan fought under extremely adverse conditions, which have few parallels in the history of warfare; confined to their barracks from 3-25 March 1971 and helpless on the atrocities committed against non-Bengalis and pro-Pakistan elements by the Awami League militants and rogue elements. Isolated army pickets were attacked and men in uniform were ruthlessly killed. As the Bengali nationalism peaked, many West Pakistani officers, men and their families serving in East Bengal Regiments and East Pakistan Rifles were brutally hacked to death. Under such volatile conditions, they started the onerous task of disarming the Bengali regular troops, paramilitary forces and civil police and also tried to re-establish the writ of the government. All this was done with a meagre force of 12,000 troops (14 Division).
Once reinforcements arrived in April, they recaptured all the towns taken over by the rebels and Indian soldiers (disguised as Mukti Bahini). They also got embroiled in quelling the insurgency waged by the Mukti Bahini that had been duly trained, equipped and aided by India in 59 camps. Reinforcements rushed in from West Pakistan in the last week of March/first week of April 1971 (depleted two divisions) were neither in possession of tanks; medium artillery, heavy weapons, nor acclimatized or trained to fight guerrilla warfare in riverine terrain. After quelling the insurgency in record time of a little over one month, they had to suffer the rigors of monsoon under insecure battle conditions with no rest or respite. They also remained involved in restoring the rail, road and river communication means and putting the administrative machinery back on the rail while maintaining law and order.
The world was kept ignorant of the mass killings of pro-Pakistan Bengalis, Biharis and West Pakistanis. Biharis had been disarmed. All the West Pakistan political parties except PPP and Qayyum Khan League supported Mujib.
During this perilous process, many lives were lost and many got maimed for life owing to clashes with the rebels, mines and booby traps planted for them. After September 1971, they got distributed in penny packets to guard the frontiers. By November 1971, casualties in counterinsurgency operations steadily mounted. 237 officers, 136 JCOs and 3,559 other ranks embraced martyrdom and few thousands got wounded. By the time the Indian forces intervened on 21 November, the troops were thoroughly fatigued and suffered from innumerable operational, administrative and technical handicaps. The troops knew that they were surrounded on all sides and no help could reach them from West Pakistan. They were fighting outnumbered and outgunned.
Fighting the enemy in front and the Mukti Bahini hiding behind every bush made the entire rear area insecure and facilitated forward movement of Indian forces. At the time of surrender, the defenders of Khulna, Rajshahi, Nator, Dinajpur, Ranpur, Joyedpur, Bogra, Sylhet, Myanmati and Chittagong were still putting up stiff resistance. They may have continued to fight had the senior leadership not caved in and decided to give up. Thousands of brave officers and men, were killed while fighting for a united Pakistan. All those who survived had to undergo the rigours of imprisonment in Indian camps and separation from their families for 2.5 years. It will be unfair not to make a mention of the sacrifices rendered by the Biharis and pro-Pakistan Bengalis who stood beside the Pakistan security forces and fought the rebels tenaciously till the very end.
Had the Polish resolution or the Anglo-French resolution been accepted by Bhutto, a face-saving UN resolution of ceasefire and honorable return of armed forces and civilians to West Pakistan, and possibly some kind of political settlement like confederation with East Pakistan could have been obtained. General Yahya can be blamed for his political naiveté and his unintended blunders; Lt General Tikka may be made accountable for using excessive force on 25 March; Lt General Niazi could be held responsible for his moral failings and his juvenility in operational strategy and for having capitulated under pressure. The three can, however, not be declared as conspirators of Pakistan’s breakup. They all strove to keep Pakistan united.
The same cannot be true for Mujib and Bhutto. Both deliberately worked towards its dismemberment into two parts and didn’t rest till it was finally broken. Mujib’s crime is more in degree, since he elicited India’s support to accomplish his dream. The incumbent prime minister of India Narendra Modi on his visit to Dhaka in 2015, announced that India helped in the creation of Bangladesh and he was among the freedom fighters. Asoka Raina in his book ‘Inside RAW-The Story of India’s Secret Service’, has given details of the Indian plan to dismember Pakistan. Likewise, Brig. Jagdev Singh in his book ‘Dismemberment of Pakistan, and Rafiqul Islam in his book ‘Tale of Millions’ have also shed light on the plan hatched by India and Awami League.
As the Bengali nationalism peaked, many West Pakistani officers, men and their families serving in East Bengal Regiments and East Pakistan Rifles were brutally hacked to death.
We drew an iron curtain on the 1971 debacle and didn’t deem it fit to divulge the contents of Hamoodur Commission Report for 30 years. However, its publication has not cleared many lingering doubts and has made the Pakistani nation more befuddled rather than wiser. Many of those who were responsible for the catastrophe were exonerated and in some cases rewarded. It took us 20 years to come out of our shell and start discussing the 1971 War in open. By that time, Indian and western authors had written hundreds of books and flooded the world market with their jaundiced version. Other than glorifying the Indian victory, the Pakistan army operating in the country’s eastern wing was projected as butchers, having killed 3 million Bengalis and having raped 300,000 Bengali women.
The excesses committed by Bengalis were washed out. Some like me who dared to reveal the whole truth was never encouraged. It encouraged Bangladesh to demand an apology from Pakistan for the ‘war crimes’ committed and to pay reparations. It emboldened Hasina Wajed to carry out war crime trials of aged Bengalis and non-Bengalis who had been enrolled as Mujahids, Razaqars and members of Al-Shams and AlBadr (mostly Biharis and Jamaat-i-Islami members) in 1971. All were dubbed as collaborators and to this day have not been given Bangladesh nationality and are leading a miserable life and some have been hanged to death.
While we seem to have learnt no lesson from the 1971 debacle, it is even more tragic that all this time we have turned our faces from the realities of history and have taken no step to redeem our honour. India above all is constantly scheming to encircle, discredit and isolate Pakistan. It is using similar subversive tactics, as in erstwhile East Pakistan, to brainwash and mislead Balochis, Sindhis, Muhajirs, Pashtuns, Seraikis and Gilgitis to further fragment Pakistan. The Pakistan army is once again being demonised. No effort has been made to build a narrative to defeat Indo-Afghan-US narrative projecting Pakistan as a terror abetting state and the real terrorists as victims of terrorism.
All our guns of hatred are pointing inwards and not towards our real enemies. Pakistan is confronted with grave external and internal threats, as well as hybrid war which has polarized the society and political forces and tensed civil-military relations. Notwithstanding our noble intentions to achieve peace with India, or to befriend Bangladesh, our wishes must not be at the cost of our core national interests, dignity and honour.
The writer is a retired Brigadier, war veteran, defence and security analyst, author of five books which include ‘Maarka Hilli’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’ and ‘Roots of 1971 Tragedy’. His next book ‘East Pakistan Crisis: Battle of Hilli’ is under publication. He is Vice Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, and Director Measac Research Centre. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily relfect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.