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How we lost half of Pakistan?

The absence of authentic information has given rise to speculation, fabrication and distortion of facts by vested interests. Unfortunately, due to limitations of space, only some of the less-known relevant details can be narrated here. The history of Pakistan as a country starts with the Lahore Resolution passed by the Muslim League in 1940.

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History is a verifiable record of events. It is not what we think we know but what actually happened. Fifty years have passed and we still have no clear idea of all the events preceding the inception of Pakistan and its subsequent bifurcation. The absence of authentic information has given rise to speculation, fabrication and distortion of facts by vested interests. Unfortunately, due to limitations of space, only some of the less-known relevant details can be narrated here.

The history of Pakistan as a country starts with the Lahore Resolution passed by the Muslim League in 1940. A few pseudo-historians and religious parties like Jamiat-ul-ulama-e-Hind, Jamaat-e-Islami, Khaksaars, Majlis-e-Ahrar, etc. have laid claims to the contrary that have no basis. In reality, all of them, along with the landed gentry who had benefited from the British rule and wanted it to continue, had bitterly opposed the proposition.

Read more: Forks in the Road: The fatal decision that precipitated a revolt in East Pakistan

The resolution did not mention the two-nation theory nor the name ‘Pakistan’ and only called for the grouping of geographically contiguous areas in the west and east of India where Muslims were in majority. It referred to only the territories occupied by the British and not the princely states nor any of the neighboring Muslim countries. It did not envisage the rule of Sharia nor the establishment of an Islamic state.

No constitutional arrangement was specified either

Paradoxically, the partition of India was first proposed by the Hindu leader Mr. Rajgopalacharya in 1944 but the idea was rejected by Congress claiming that it spoke for all of the Indians. (Liberty or Death by Patrick French, p. 187). The latter myth was exposed by the 1946 elections in which the Muslim League won every single Muslim seat in the Central Legislature from every corner of India while Congress and all of the Islamic religious parties failed to win in even one constituency.

Britain, bankrupted by five years of war, was in a tearing hurry to leave India. In the absence of any agreement between the two main parties, she decided to divide the country between the two and leave. At one stage, the Bengal Muslim League leader Mr. Suhrawardy on his own reached an agreement with the Congress leader K. S Roy to propose a united Bengal Free State that was rejected by both the British and the Congress Party (Transfer of Power Documents 1942 – 1947, Vol X, p. 452).

In 1962 Shaikh Mujib-ur-Rahman wrote a letter to the Indian Prime Minister Pundit 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. 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

Shaikh Mujib was arrested on charges of conspiracy along with 34 other mostly civil and military bureaucrats and put on trial. 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.

Read more: The Agartala conspiracy and the resultant deification of Sheikh Mujib in East Pakistan

The coterie of generals around Ayub were no different

Under intense pressure and unsure of the army’s position, Ayub withdrew the case against Mujib and released him. The latter put forward his six-point demand that amounted to the virtual separation of East Pakistan and dismantling of the rest of the country as well. The army chief Yahya Khan, who had not much idea of the issues involved and no plan of dealing with these, replaced Ayub. All he wanted was power for himself.

His first step was to undo West Pakistan and call an election to pacify the politicians. This was followed by one disastrous step after another. He wanted to keep Mujib happy at any cost. According to Admiral Ahsan, who was the governor of East Pakistan at the time, it may have been because Mujib had promised to retain Yahya as the president after the election (personal information). He seemed oblivious to the possibility that Mujib may be planning something quite different. The foreign minister of Iran Ardeshir Zahidi, after a meeting with Mujib in Dacca, flew to Islamabad to warn Yahya but to no avail (Memories and Reflections of a Pakistani Diplomat by Foreign Secretary Sultan M. Khan, London Centre for Pakistan Studies p. 288).

Despite similar warnings from different sources, Yahya persisted in trying to negotiate a deal with Mujib. It came to nothing. As Dr Kamal Hossain, constitutional advisor to Mujib records 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’.

Yahya seemed to have convinced himself that the Indians will not intervene militarily and that the Awami League will form the next government which will retain him as the president. When asked about Awami League’s contrary attitude, he invariably responded that the situation could always be redeemed using force which made little sense given the Indian preparations for war. It seems that Mujib too had not thought about what will happen to East Pakistan after it gained independence. Bhutto, on the other hand, knew what he wanted and may have encouraged Yahya to withhold invoking UN action when India started to intervene militarily in April 1971 (Memories and Reflections of a Pakistani Diplomat, p. 359).

Read more: Political differences; was this the only reason for the separation of East Pakistan?

About the actual situation in East Pakistan at the time, Professor G.W Choudhury, a Bengali member of Yahya’s cabinet and a fellow of Columbia University writes in his book, The Last Days of United Pakistan, Oxford University Press, (p. 167), ‘the vast majority of the Bengali Muslims were not prepared to see Pakistan dismembered and their homeland become again a target of domination by the ‘Bhadralok (elite) from Calcutta. They were interested in having genuine regional autonomy. In fact, their basic demand was for the improvement of their economic lot.

Mujib captured their imagination because he promised them a ‘golden Bengal’ if they would only vote for his six points — not because he favored splitting their cherished homeland into two parts and the setting up of a country whose geopolitical realities would make it a client-state of New Delhi. But who cared for the silent majority, either in East or West Pakistan? The fate of this country was in the hands of vested interest groups — the Western big business and senior civil servants, who had always dominated the political scene in Pakistan — and the two ambitious politicians’ (meaning Mujib and Bhutto).

What happened next?

According to Professor G.W Choudhury (p.168) included in the team that advised Mujib-ur-Rahman were ‘some foreign economists financed by the Ford Foundation (who) were the loudest in making extreme demands and they were, to a large extent, responsible for the failure of the Dacca dialogue’. In the Whitehouse tapes released in the mid-nineties, President Nixon has referred to the involvement of U.S diplomats in Pakistan who ignored his instruction and supported the separatists.

They were not alone by any means; all of the big powers were involved. The Soviet Union had concluded a defense agreement with India to forestall any intervention by China. When Pakistan’s ambassador in Moscow, Mr. Jamshed Marker raised the issue with the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister the latter answered, ‘The game is being played for high international stakes. It has nothing to do with you. You are the victim of an objective situation (Memories and Reflections of a Pakistani Diplomat).

Pakistan had been instrumental in arranging a secret mission by the US National Security Adviser Dr. Henry Kissinger to China in July 1971. He had stopped in Delhi where he found the Indians in a highly belligerent mood, getting ready to start a war with Pakistan. Foreign Secretary Sultan M. Khan had prepared a brief for Yahya Khan for his discussion with Kissinger in which he had suggested that Yahya may like to solicit US help in restraining India from attacking East Pakistan either to force its secession or outright annexation.

Read more: East Pakistan: A National Debacle Owned by None, Forgotten by All

Yahya told him this was an ‘extreme’ assessment that was not supported by the information he had gathered from ‘knowledgeable people with access to latest intelligence from India’. Apparently, the source of this information was the U.S Ambassador to Pakistan, Mr. Farland with whom Yahya conferred on a regular basis. No notes of these meetings were taken nor was the Foreign Office kept in the picture (Memoires and Reflections of a Pakistani Diplomat, p. 166).

What was the role of military power in this chaos?

Mr. Sultan M. Khan also notes that after the use of military power in East Pakistan on March 25th. 1971, the situation escalated out of Yahya Khan’s grasp and he could no longer control it. From then on he was merely reacting to the developing situation and had lost all initiative. I wish I knew what he had been promised by the U.S ambassador when he told him of being “led up the garden path” and about “promises which had not been kept”, (Ambassador) Farland avoided looking at him.’

After the attack by Pakistan across India’s western border a number of countries brought resolutions before the Security Council to end the fighting. These were all vetoed by the Soviet Union. On 14th December Poland presented a draft resolution that obviously had the backing of the USSR. It called for the transfer of power to the elected representatives, followed by a ceasefire, withdrawal of forces and later evacuation of Pakistani forces.
It was followed up by another resolution more or less along similar lines the next day. Bhutto made a speech that was hardly relevant and then rejected the resolution outright in a theatrical fashion. It remains enigmatic to this day why he did this? If Bhutto had some prior authorisation from Yahya Khan is not clear from Sultan Khan’s account but seems highly unlikely.

In the end, what was bound to happen, happened

Pakistan suffered a terrible defeat and India held more than ninety thousand mostly West Pakistani civilians, including women and children, as prisoners for more than two years. Among the many thoughts that come to mind, one wonders if all this was necessary and unavoidable. Why did we allow the situation to get to the point that provided India with the excuse to intervene militarily? If Mujib had been allowed to form a government in East Pakistan, would he have been able to run it successfully on his own, etc., etc? There are only questions and no answers.

What was left was a country of 65 million people that was both politically and economically viable. A string of self-appointed messiahs, some in uniform others not, laid successive claims to it in the name of socialism, Islam, democracy, ‘enlightened moderation, Rysat-e-Medina — you name it. Allegedly, one or two of them were installed by foreign powers with dubious intent and only did their bidding.

They had no idea about administering a modern state and were in it only for themselves. What is now left is a rubble heap of 225 mostly illiterate masses of humanity on the cusp of starvation. Cry the beloved country for those who will inherit this mess.


The writer is a retired naval officer and the author of ‘Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis’ and ‘East Pakistan Separation: Myth and Reality as well as some other books. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.