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Bangladesh: Why Nawaz Sharif has a poor understanding of history

Bangladesh

K. Hussan Zia |

In his op-ed piece, ‘24 years of exploitation created Bangladesh’ in The Daily Times of 17th January Mr. Babar Ayaz defends Mr. Nawaz Sharif’s claim that Shaikh Mujib-ur-Rahman was obliged to start the separation movement because of the ‘follies of West Pakistan leadership’. 

He claims, that in the first place Nawaz Sharif is not a historian and secondly, Mujib-ur-Rahman never publicly called for East Pakistan to be separated. Mr. Babar Ayaz also states that ‘liberation movement was supported by the Indian government because they finally had a chance to show the world the Two Nation Theory’s fragility’. No one goes to war to disprove a theory.

The theory in question is nowhere mentioned in the Lahore Resolution, which based the demand solely on the principle of numerical majority. If there was such a theory it stands to reason that it would have failed only if East Pakistan had rejoined India. He has also tried to suggest language was an issue because Jinnah felt Urdu should be the official language. Jinnah was only expressing his opinion, which is the right of every citizen.

East Pakistan Rifles and the police that in all outnumbered West Pakistani troops by a ratio of ten to one to mutiny. This is what precipitated the army action and not the desire to forcibly subjugate East Pakistan, as alleged by many of Pakistan’s detractors.

This was never passed into law as such. Both Urdu and Bengali were made the official languages of Pakistan in the first constitution passed by the National Assembly. Mr. Babur Ayaz calls the formation of One Unit a ‘perfidious idea’ that took away the Bengali majority in the National Assembly forgetting that in effect it equated the province of East Pakistan to rest of the four provinces combined.

The constitution was never forced on East Pakistan but was passed with their agreement in a joint vote. The roots of Bangladesh lay elsewhere. After the 1945-46 election, Mr. Suhrawardy tried to work for independent Bengal in collusion with the Bengal Congress Party but the Congress leaders in Delhi showed no interest. Later Mountbatten told Jinnah that Suhrawardy was asking for British help for an independent united Bengal and asked for his views.

Read more: Has anyone been held accountable for the catastrophe that created Bangladesh

Jinnah replied, ‘I should be delighted. What is the use of Bengal without Calcutta; they had much better remain united and independent; I am sure they would be on friendly terms with us‘ (Transfer of Power Documents 1942 – 47, vol. X, p. 452). Mountbatten did not want to get involved and later said that East Bengal was ‘likely to be a great embarrassment to Pakistan and bound to sooner or later rejoin India’ (Transfer of Power Documents, vol. XI, p. 3).

That is why he never included it in his election manifesto. Instead he put forward his six points that in effect would have meant the end of Pakistan. Later in his negotiations with Yahya Khan.

Suhrawardy’s commitment to the idea of Pakistan was never exclusive. He did not come to Pakistan until March 1948 and remained in India in the hope there might be a future for him there. He was a Bengali nationalist first and last. What prevented him from calling for separation subsequently was, according to his own admission was the fear that if East Bengal were not part of Pakistan, India would occupy it through ‘police action’ on some pretext or the other, as she did with Hyderabad. 

Although they constituted three-quarters of the population of Bengal very few Muslims found admission in professional colleges and institutions under the British. Between 1858 and 1878, only 57 out of 3,100 graduates of Calcutta University were Muslims. Out of the 160 Fellows at Calcutta University in 1918 only seven were Muslims. The university senate and syndicate did not even have one Muslim member. The situation was not much different at Dacca University. In 1937, of the ninety students that received B.Sc. degrees only seventeen were Muslims.

It was the same for the Masters programme, which had eighteen Muslims out of a total of one hundred and eight. As a consequence of this disparity 75 percent of the teachers in the schools and an even greater percentage of professors in the colleges in East Bengal were Hindus. They had not favored the division of Bengal and its separation from India.

Read more: Bangladesh vs Pakistan: What is Hasina’s Real Problem?

It was only natural for them to emphasize and promote the ideal of Bengali nationalism and not the concept of a united Pakistan dominated by Muslims. Ultimately it may have been the greatest single factor that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Bengalis were grossly under-represented both in the civil service of Pakistan as well as the army at the time of independence.

A surviving participant in the conspiracy confessed to the parliament that the charges read out to them at the Agartala case trial were accurate, stating that they formed a Shangram Parishad under Sheikh Mujib for the secession of East Pakistan.

The British as a policy did not recruit Bengalis in the army in particular. As a result, very few were to be found in the higher ranks. Those that were, were almost all Hindus. The imbalance in the services in Pakistan was neither deliberate nor the result of some conspiracy but part of the historical legacy. The situation was just as bad, if not worse in the economic field. Under the British rule virtually all the capital had been in the hands of Hindus who invested it in parts of Bengal, mostly around Calcutta that were given to India.

There were hardly any roads, railway lines or other infrastructure and only limited raw materials in the rural areas that became East Pakistan. Power generation capacity was very small and dependent on expensive imported fuel. The topography and climate made construction much more costly. Above all, there was hardly any managerial talent or trained manpower.

Investment in Pakistan was initially made by either the foreign companies or privately by local entrepreneurs. They invested where capital and recurring costs were less, thereby maximising profit and minimising risk. Since conditions and climate for investment were much more conducive in West Pakistan, particularly in and around Karachi, capital gravitated to it. This was the harsh reality. Having to start from such a low base it required time, patience and hard work for East Pakistan to catch up. There was no quick fix.

Read more: ‘Let Us Bury the Past, Not the Future’: Pakistan and Bangladesh

As West Pakistan grew faster and richer it gave rise to frustration, suspicion and anger among the Bengalis. This was exploited by Mujib-ur-Rahman and his cohorts who pursued a very narrow agenda with little regard for the future and nation as a whole. As a consequence India now totally dominates and strictly controls Bangladesh’s freedom of action both internally and externally. 

Investment in Pakistan was initially made by either the foreign companies or privately by local entrepreneurs. They invested where capital and recurring costs were less, thereby maximising profit and minimising risk.

As early as in 1962 Mujib-ur-Rahman wrote a letter to Pundit Nehru in which he proposed declaring independence and staging a rebellion with Indian help in the month of February in 1963 (http://www.tripurainfo.com/Info/ArchiveD.aspx?WhatId=86). When Nehru failed to respond he contacted the chief minister of Tripura state and went across to see him with the same proposal who took it to Pundit Nehru.  (‘Agartala mamla Sheikh Mujib o Banglar Bidroho, Appendix 7, by Faiz Ahmed as reproduced by Badruddin Qamar in, ‘The Liberation of Bangladesh‘, Vol. 2, page 137).

On 22nd February 2011 the anniversary of withdrawal of Pakistan armed forces from Bangladesh, Deputy Speaker of Bangladesh Parliament Shawkat Ali, a surviving participant in the conspiracy confessed to the parliament that the charges read out to them at the Agartala case trial were accurate, stating that they formed a Shangram Parishad under Sheikh Mujib for the secession of East Pakistan (‘Agartala Conspiracy Case Was Not FalseBDNews24.com. 23 February 2011).

Read more: “Heroes” of 1971: Bloodthirsty Video Game Killing Pakistani Soldiers Goes Viral…

The Indian Government became more actively involved with Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman and the movement for the separation of East Pakistan even before the formation of their foreign intelligence service, Research and Analysis Wing as part of the Indian Intelligence Bureau in 1968 (Inside RAW: The Story of India’s Secret Service, (Vikas, New Delhi, 1981, p. 48). The plot to assassinate President Ayub while on a flight from Dacca to Chittagong conceived by Mujib-ur-Rahman to ignite an armed revolution using weapons smuggled from India was a part of it (The American Papers – Secret and Confidential India.Pakistan.Bangladesh Documents 1965-1973. The University Press Limited. p. 243-244).

Ultimately it may have been the greatest single factor that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Bengalis were grossly under-represented both in the civil service of Pakistan as well as the army at the time of independence.

Mujib-ur-Rahman, his cohorts and supporters knew that the people of East Pakistan never wanted and will not vote for separation. That is why he never included it in his election manifesto. Instead he put forward his six points that in effect would have meant the end of Pakistan. Later in his negotiations with Yahya Khan every time an agreement appeared close he upped the ante and asked for more. In the end he simply refused to negotiate and signaled for the Bengali army units, East Pakistan Rifles and the police that in all outnumbered West Pakistani troops by a ratio of ten to one to mutiny. This is what precipitated the army action and not the desire to forcibly subjugate East Pakistan, as alleged by many of Pakistan’s detractors.

Read more: Pope arrives in Bangladesh after controversial Myanmar visit

For anyone interested in political developments that culminated in the rupture two excellent sources of information are (Last Days of United Pakistan, by G. W Chaudhury, O.U Press) and (Memoirs and Reflections of a Pakistani Diplomat, by Sultan Mohammed Khan). The former had been a minister and advisor to Yahya Khan and the latter was Secretary, Foreign Affairs in that period. Brigadier Karrar Ali Agha’s book (Witness to Carnage 1971) gives a vivid account of what actually transpired on the ground in East Pakistan in 1971.

The writer is the author of ‘Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis’ and Muslims and the West: A Muslim Perspective’. The views expressed in this article are authors own and do necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Pakistani Punjabise are to be blamed for the separation of East Pakistan as they treated , Mohajir, Sindhis, Pathans, and Ballochise with such prejudice that not even Hinduse would treat Muslims like that. Punjabise have taken control of Arm Forces, Politics, the money is only spent in Punjab as if Punjab is the real Pakistan and they treat others with ruthlessness.

  2. I agree with the analysis of Hussain Zia as to the real intentions of SHEIKH MUJIB.No patriot would be audacious enough to seek Indian help in 1962 and 1963, not to forget AGARTALA in 1967. For a further in depth study of what really happened in East Bengal readers are invited to read my book A SEARCH FOR PAKISTAN- WHAT HAPPENED AND WHY, published by USHBA books in 2015.

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