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Did Gen Yahya’s appeasement of Mujib lead to fall of East Pakistan?

Brigadier (r) Asif Haroon Raja comprehensively addresses the causes of fall of Dhaka. In this OpEd, he inspects Gen. Yahya dealing of Mujibur Rehman and more.

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“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it”. George Santayana

The 1971 War fought between the two arch rivals India and Pakistan fifty years ago is an account of painful memories for Pakistanis particularly those who were in former East Pakistan (EP). Severance of the eastern limb of Pakistan was a great national tragedy the anguish of which is still felt by the veterans and the patriotic Bengalis and Biharis and the civilians who had witnessed and undergone the whole trauma. With so many facts hidden under the massive Indo-Western propaganda having now surfaced, it can be surmised that Pakistan was made the victim of a methodically planned conspiracy.

Besides India and the rebels of EP, the USSR, USA, UK, Israel and Afghanistan had supported the Bengali rebels instigated by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his cohorts. The whole world, including Pakistan’s close friends quietly and helplessly watched the agonizing dismemberment process from 25 March to 16 Dec 1971.

Background History

After the unjust Boundary Award by Radcliffe at the behest of Mountbatten in which half of Punjab and Bengal including Calcutta were awarded to India, India was partitioned and Pakistan came into being on 14 August 1947. The British allowed India to annex all the 565 Princely States including two-thirds Kashmir which was annexed in Oct 1947. The Muslim League (ML) under the sagacious and resolute leadership of Quaid-e-Azam MA Jinnah translated the feelings of the Indian Muslims into a political reality. Although a moth-eaten and truncated Pakistan, it was the largest Muslim nation in the world.

Read more: WHO KILLED BENGALI INTELLECTUALS IN 1971?

The Muslims of Bihar adjacent to East Bengal didn’t want to be part of Hindu dominated West Bengal and opted to move to Muslim majority East Bengal. Compared with Muslim Bengalis, they were fair colored, educated, skilled and talented due to which they managed to monopolize the public sectors, banking and railways. It caused resentment to the original inhabitants. There was better understanding between Hindu and Muslim Bengalis. The phenomenon was similar to Karachi where the Muhajirs were initially welcomed by the Sindhis but gradually they harbored ill-feelings against them on account of taking control over all the public offices and business etc. the Sindhis happily co-existed with Hindus.

India didn’t reconcile with Pakistan’s Existence

Bharat detested the two-nation theory and didn’t reconcile to the birth of Pakistan, which also became an eyesore for the former USSR and Israel since it was created on the basis of Islam. In order to disprove this theory, and to undo Pakistan step by step, India made plans soon after the partition to subvert the minds of Bengalis EP and sever the eastern wing from the concept of Pakistan.

EP was chosen as the initial objective due to its vulnerability of being 1000 miles away from West Pakistan (WP), surrounded by Indian Territory from three sides, heavy cultural influence of West Bengal, and differences of dress, diet, habits and culture of Bengalis from WP. 13 million Hindu Bengalis in EP had been directed by Nehru to stay put so that their insidious influence could be best utilized to subvert the minds of Muslim Bengalis against non-Bengalis and Biharis.

Read more: The tragedy of East Pakistan: Operation searchlight, myth or reality?

In a matter of 23 years, the Muslim Bengalis that were in the forefront of Pakistan movement were led astray and were filled with so much of hatred against WP that they opted to gain independence. They accepted India as their mentor and savior from whose shackles freedom was achieved after so much agony and labor.

Subversion of EP

The audiences selected by the Indian psychological operators in EP to subvert their minds were the youth, politicians, Awami League (AL), education curriculum, religious moorings, art & culture, stage dramas & theatres, print media, TV & radio, writers, journalists & intellectuals, non-Bengali  heavy civil administration. Secularism was promoted and religion downplayed. Language issue was fomented, history of Bengal was distorted to paint Muslim rule in India in poor light. Hindu festivals were celebrated, school textbooks were printed in Bengali in Calcutta Press. 90% of school teachers and professors were Hindu Bengalis who sowed the seeds of hatred among the students. Dacca University became the stronghold of AL where its militant wing was first created. ML was discredited.

So powerful was the influence of Indian psychological operators that the coercive rule of the Hindu Mahajans and landlords who had reduced East Bengal Muslims into serfs in the latter half of 18th century after the battle of Plassey in 1757 was forgotten and ‘hate everything non-Bengali’ phobia was accepted. It is an irony of fate that the very people who were in the vanguard of the Pakistan Movement took up arms to destroy the country they had helped to create.

Simmering in EP

In EP, the Biharis governed by a superiority complex lived in separate colonies and got closer with WP bureaucrats (mostly Urdu speaking) due to which the desired integration between the two communities didn’t  develop. Likewise the ML governments and the ten years of Ayub Khan’s military rule didn’t pay any intention towards socially integrating the two wings on ideological grounds.

Gulf between the Bengalis and Biharis and between the two wings were widened by the AL under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Maulana Bhashani, well-heeled Hindu Bengalis and India’s intelligence agencies. These elements together with Hindu teachers and professors injected hatred into the minds of the Bengalis against non-Bengalis and portrayed India as a well-wisher under a calculated program plotted by India.

Read more: The tragedy of East Pakistan: Sowing of Discord

Bengali nationalism was stirred up on the basis of socio-economic grievances and domination of Punjab. Maximum provincial autonomy for EP was underlined as a panacea. Nationalism heightened during the 1952 language riots followed by defeat of the ML at the hands of Jugto Front led by Fazlul Haq in 1954 provincial elections. Thereafter, ML never regained balance and became dependent upon the bureaucracy and the military to stay in power.

One-Unit Scheme

Merger of provinces and six States of WP into a single province in 1954 was motivated by the fear of Bengal’s domination over Punjab. The One-Unit scheme put aside the question of autonomy. Under the parity formula, the country got a constitution in 1956 after a labor of nine years. However, it was never put into practice due to President Iskandar Mirza’s disdain for democracy and parliamentary system. As such, the One-Unit rather than integrating the two wings caused greater polarization and mistrust. Palace intrigues of Ghulam Muhammad followed by Iskandar Mirza and failure of political institutions to build a stable political system led to military intervention in politics in 1958.

Ayub Khan’s Military Rule

After the abrogation of 1956, dissolution of assemblies and imposition of martial law by President Mirza on Oct 7, 1958, power was wrested by Gen Ayub Khan on Oct 28. Apart from initiating a host of reforms and introducing the Basic Democrats system, he framed a new constitution envisaging a presidential form of government in 1962.

Death of Suhrawardy in 1963, the last bridge between the two wings, gave the reins of AL to Sheikh Mujib who started playing on the theme of inter-wing disparity. No effort was made to put the record straight that in 1947, Bengal was the poorest province of India, and EP most underdeveloped part of Bengal.

Read more: The tragedy of East Pakistan: Killing fields of Bengal

In 1962, Sheikh Mujib had written a letter to the Indian Prime Minister Pandit Nehru requesting assistance for an armed insurrection in East Pakistan (The American Papers – Secret and Confidential India. Pakistan. Bangladesh Documents 1965-1973, The University Press, pp. 243-244). He followed this up by taking a delegation to Agartala in 1963. The details of his involvement with India can be seen in Asoka Raina’s book, Inside RAW: The Story of India’s Secret Service, p. 48.

After Effects of 1965 War

The 1965 War in which Pakistan gained an edge over India, bred insecurity in the minds of people of EP. A willful propaganda was launched that if the security of EP rested on Chinese deterrence, why should its people contribute towards the defence budget. It was propagated that WP was prospering on account of foreign currency earned from export of jute produced in EP, and the latter had become a colony of WP. The Bengali leaders ignored the massive reforms and uplift programs initiated by Ayub Khan in the EP.

Sheikh Mujib ranted grievances and espoused his six-points to emancipate the deprivations of Bengalis. It became the rallying cry of Bengali nationalism, but in reality it was a doctrine of secession. ZA Bhutto after creating PPP in 1967 falsely accused his mentor Ayub Khan of selling Kashmir by signing the Tashkent Declaration which he himself had drafted and raised the slogan of Roti, Kapra, Makan to alleviate the poverty of the masses in WP. The two demagogues never clashed with each other since their objective was to oust Ayub Khan. They launched politics of violence in the two provinces duly bolstered by India, which gave rise to provincialism and secessionist tendencies. Ayub’s reforms to narrow down east-west inequities were drowned in the sea of negative propaganda.

Agartala Conspiracy

In 1968, Sheikh Mujib was arrested on charges of conspiracy along with 34 other civil and military bureaucrats and put on trial. His trial made him a hero in the eyes of the Bengalis instead of a traitor. This was a time of political unrest in the country that was being exploited by politicians including Maulana Bhashani, Bhutto and Air Marshal Asghar Khan to dislodge Ayub Khan. They mounted a campaign for Mujib’s release without giving it much thought that he was conspiring with India to break up Pakistan. Student’s agitation in WP had become volatile. Under intense pressure, Ayub withdrew the case against Mujib and released him.

Crucial RTC

Bhutto stayed away from critical negotiations between Ayub Khan and the opposition leaders in Feb 1969 during which Ayub had accepted all their demands except for six-points and repeal of One-Unit. Bhutto was responsible for the failure of the Round Table Conference (RTC) on March 10-12 by boycotting it. He maintained secret links with Gen Yahya Khan and other conspiring senior army officers wanting to depose Ayub Khan and hand over power to Yahya Khan.

Transfer of Power to Gen Yahya Khan

Fast deteriorating internal disorder forced Ayub Khan to resign and give the reins of power to Gen Yahya Khan on 25 March 1969. He abrogated the 1962 Constitution, declared martial law and ran the country on a Legal Framework Order. The changeover and the newcomer’s inclination to appease the Bengalis at all cost provided a golden opportunity to India to put its plan of subversion of EP and its detachment from Pakistan into action.

Policy of Appeasement

Being politically naïve, Yahya Khan first step was to announce his intentions to hold general elections on 5 Oct 1970 on the basis of adult franchise with a view to pacify the politicians. Turning a blind eye to the past records of Bhutto and Mujib he opted to befriend them. He pandered to each and every legal and illegal demand of Mujib since he wanted to keep him happy. He undid One-Unit Scheme and divided WP into four provinces while keeping EP intact. Doing away with the parity formula left him with no munition to bargain with Mujib over the issue of autonomy. He replaced separate electorates with joint electorates to enable AL in EP and the PPP in Sindh to garner Hindu votes. 10 East Bengal Regiments (EBR) with 100% Bengalis were raised. Political prisoners were released and cases against criminals withdrawn.

Ignoring the warnings about sinister intentions of Mujib, Yahya kept doling out political concessions to the Bengalis, thereby guaranteeing their victory in the elections. He however, remained under the delusion that the outcome of elections will be a split mandate.

Read more: The tragedy of East Pakistan: 50 years later

Yahya also lent receptive ears to the counsels of scheming Bhutto and mistook him to be his sincere political adviser. The then governor of EP Admiral Ahsan opined that it may have been because Mujib had promised to retain Yahya as the president and Bhutto had no objections. The two ambitious and wily politicians made him play into their hands.

Dr. Kamal Hossain, constitutional advisor to Mujib recorded in his book, (Bangladesh: Quest for Freedom and Justice p. 89) ‘Therefore it was decided that the position to be taken should not be an explicit declaration of independence. In order to exert pressure on Yahya, specific demands should be made and the movement sustained in support of these demands, with independence as its ultimate goal’.

The writer is Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, international columnist, author of five books, sixth book under publication, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. asifharoonraja@gmail.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 

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