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Pakistan Embassy London Fooled us! 1971 War

Dr Nadeem Haque, currently Vice Chancellor Pakistan Institute Development Economics (PIDE) and former Deputy Chairman Planning Commission shares his experience as a Pakistani student at the London School of Economics in 1971 when he and fellow Pakistanis heard the tragic news of the breakup of the country. Throughout the period until December 16, 1971 - he and fellow Pakistani students had been going to the Pakistani embassy in London for news of what was happening in Pakistan and they were being fed stories of how all was false propaganda by India and nothing was happening. This is the second interview in a series of discussions GVS conducted with those who had directly experienced the events up to the fall of Dhaka in December 1971 under the theme of "Fall of Dhaka: Reliving the Pain”.

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GVS: Where were you in 1971 and how did the news of military crackdown affect you?

Dr. Nadeem Haq: In 1970 October, I went to LSE. I was 19 or 20 years old. First of all, you must understand the background. I was totally unprepared, Pakistan had damaged me. This education system was pathetic. We didn’t know how to use the library. We didn’t know how to do research. So we went to LSE totally at sea there were no telephones there was no internet, nothing, we just happened to be there.

And at the same time, the Vietnam War was happening. The student protest movement was at its height; the hippie movement was beginning, everybody was dressed in crazy clothes. And you know, a bunch of us Pakistanis, straight cuts and looking like bloody fools, having straitlaced cut clothes stitched from Pakistan. Landed there, didn’t have a clue as to what England was. So we started figuring out things, acclimatizing.

Elections in Pakistan happened in December. We were all Bhutto flunkies because Bhutto was the rising sun. We had developed, adopted the left lingo; we had adopted Bhutto’s lingo, we had adopted ‘roti, kapra, makaan.’ And at the election, we were Bhutto fans, we were thinking Bhutto would come in.

We were also heavily West-Pakistani and heavily Punjabi, I’ll admit to that! I must say subconsciously never thought it out, but had a feeling for Bengalis, which is less than equal. We did think that they were kind of lesser in the world, you know, and let’s be fair about it.

When Bhutto lost the election, Mujeeb came in; we were totally divided. We thought no, Bhutto should get the thing [PM seat], Mujeeb shouldn’t, etc. I’m talking about the youth, the group that was there in LSE. In the debates that we had, we still wanted Bhutto to get it, and then things started moving.

Bhutto came back and said, “Tum udhr, Hum idhr” (You there, Us here). And things started unraveling. An intense debate that started amongst us, the Pakistani students out there, there must have been maybe all over London, they couldn’t be more than 50-60 Pakistani students, maybe 100. But they were there. And then there was obviously, the Indian students, they were in the majority.

And they were accusing us of inequality. Intellectually, we did accept; we did understand what was happening. But you know, the sense of patriotism, the sense that I must be loyal to my country. And you know, we kind of blamed the Bengalis. Again, I’m being very open with you. And I’m trying to recall that most of us felt that there was something wrong.

Read more: India created Pakistan & Pakistan created Bangladesh

GVS: Fake News vs. Real News

Dr. Nadeem Haq: March, when the operation started, the debate intensified because now fake media, fake news started coming in. The Pakistan press was saying that those Mukti Bahini rebels were coming in, and we’re taming the rebels. BBC was coming in saying that we had committed war crimes and that we had done this, we had done that. But our government was telling us something else.

We only saw the BBC News at night. And for Pakistani news, we had to go to the Embassy to get Pakistani news. And now and again, we could access some newspapers, but there was no other way, there was no Internet. So you could sometimes get some newspapers, but for newspapers, mostly you had to go to the Pakistan embassy to get, as they were not available in the library, even if they were, they came in much later.

But we used to go regularly to the [Pakistan] embassy to find out what was happening, and embassy would give a briefing. And the briefing was always no, don’t worry, nothing’s happening. You know, there’s a few rebels we’ll take care of them, BBC is exaggerating.

The University of London, its very active, there is a huge debate going on all the time, lots of society, lots of things happening, you know, notices are circulating, and you knew something was happening here, something happening there. So you go there, and you would pick up the debate.

And, you know, Indian students are obviously very anti-Pakistan. We were trying to put up a defense for Pakistan. But in the back of our mind, we felt something was wrong, I’ll be fair. Yeah, we’d have debates; they’d come and tell us this.

Read more: Hasina Sheikh’s Politics: Where the fantastic Fig of Three Million came from?

And we’d put our case forward, I don’t think there were any acrimonious or violent debates, but it was a big lively debate, where we were caught on the wrong side, because we were defending the Pakistan government. And we didn’t want to swallow; we didn’t want to believe that there was some atrocity going on in Bangladesh. We just didn’t want to believe it.

Come December, the war started. Obviously, all of us got more concerned. And obviously, we started going to the Embassy every day. Embassy briefings were given to us, and the briefing goes on, don’t worry about what BBC is saying, BBC is not correct. They’ve got it wrong.

I remember the day the fall of Dhaka happened, just a few days before, one or two days before, Jessore had fallen, which is the border town. And then the BBC kept showing us that there’s movement coming in; they had some footage. Again, it was not as if they had footage like today; they had footage, very little footage had to come in.

There was no internet. So they’d show us things, but we wouldn’t believe it. Because again, we go to the Embassy, and the Embassy would say no, this is all fake propaganda, fake news, Indians are feeding them, and this is happening.

Then one day, we saw on BBC Nine O’Clock News, which was our window to the world, because there was nothing else then. Nine o’clock news, we all gather in the common room because living in a hall of residence, we’d all gather in the common room, there’d be a huge rush. And some Indian would yell something, we’d yell something, Again it didn’t ever flare into anything.

The good thing was everybody behaved in a fairly civilized manner. Then, when the fall of Dhaka happened, we were in the common room, we saw Aurora coming in, and we saw Niazi saluting him, giving him his, you know, sword or what-ever, we saw all that happen. And I must confess, our jaws fell.

Read more: What happened to those who broke up Pakistan in 1971?

And there was a there was a depression amongst the Pakistani community for a year or two. And we realized that we were on the wrong side, and we realized that we had tried to defend an undefendable position. East-Pakistanis of course, they were offended.

And, of course, the distance between us and them grew, and grew very rapidly. And again, within reason, the camaraderie, and the association, that fell through, and there was a certain rightly so, they did have certain misgivings, and they did feel that we owed them something. And that lived on for a while.

GVS: Did West Pakistan exploit East Pakistan?

Dr. Nadeem Haq: Let me tell you another story on the place that I worked for PIDE, Pakistan Institute of Development Economics was set up in 1957. There were Pakistani economists on our side, sorry, I should say the West-Pakistanis, you know, we were never fond of studying, and our economists were not that good.

The Bengalis were the real economists. Bengalis had some good economists, and before you knew it, by the mid-60s, the Bengalis were dominating PIDE, Nurul Islam, an East Pakistani became the director, and the best Pakistani economists were Bengalis and they were sitting in PIDE.

Mahboob-Ul-Haq and his wife; his wife was Bengali, too. She was also at PIDE. She did this analysis of inequality in Pakistan where she developed a slogan 22 families; Mahboob-Ul-Haq who was in the planning commission popularized the slogan. So if you recall, I don’t know if you know this or not 22 families was a big slogan because Mahboob-Ul-Haq said that Pakistan is owned by 22 families.

Read more: From East Pakistan to Bangladesh: What went wrong?

Bhutto picked that up, and Bhutto talked about inequality and made socialism the slogan because he said, there was exploitation going on. Now the Bengalis at that time, they had been working on inequality. And they in PIDE did this analysis of regional inequality, in the late 60s, a lot of evidence that was put out by 1970.

Then the Bengalis said, this is unequal, PIDE should not be only in Karachi, because it was in Karachi at that time, that we want to take it to Dhaka too, so ten years it’ll be here [Karachi], ten years in Dhaka, so PIDE had gone to Dhaka, and the basis for this inequality debate was laid in PIDE, and it was well documented.

And when Dhaka fell, PIDE also died. So PIDE was then resurrected in Islamabad many years later. It came out of the ashes, but now the original PIDE resides in Dhaka, known as Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies.

Now go back a little, there is an intellectual backdrop to all this, the Harvard Advisory Group that came and taught us planning, and that told us that we should plan our economy, and the planning was going to be based on high rates of return, where do you get the best rates of return? How do you use your capital? The same thing that you’re doing in any business, any business needs to figure out how best to de-ploy capital and how best to make money.

Now, if anybody’s running a business, and they feel that the best thing is to make, for example, let’s say you’re running a food business, if chicken tikka sells, well, you start making more of it. If roti sells less, you start making less of it. Based on that planning, the government thought it knew how to do it, and Harvard advisory groups settled for that, that the best thing was to develop this side of the region before the East Pakistan region.

So that was convenient. So we began to develop industry and things here. Remember, because the way the partition happened, both sides were truncated, because the infrastructure was totally cut in the middle. So when the infrastructure had to be built, we decided to build this infrastructure here first [West Pakistan].

East Pakistan was, obviously because of the floods that hit them, slightly more costly. Then, of course, jute was the cash crop in those days and the foreign exchange spinner.  When the foreign exchange came in, we used it here. So there was a legitimate basis for their complaint.

Read more: Pakistan – Bangladesh diminishing hope for better ties?

But at the same time, as you see today, even after 70 years, we still don’t have the capacity to be able to negotiate settlements with minorities, even amongst ourselves. So it was the same thing then. And I think Bhutto, despite him being such a big intellect and such a big, charismatic figure, he couldn’t negotiate. And he was too power-hungry to be able to negotiate. And in the middle, the army also felt that the best way to do it was to force the issue.

GVS: Who is to blame?

Dr. Nadeem Haq: All of us are to blame. Bhutto is much to blame. But then again, the whole model of development is to blame, but even before that, I think the partition is to blame. I mean, this is artificial, 1000 miles of enemy territory, and you have two wings; I mean, that in itself was artificial.

If we had the capacity. And if we had statesmen, this thing should have been thought through very carefully. And there should have been a serious negotiation amongst the parties. But I’m sad to say we don’t even have that today. We don’t have statesmen who are capable of negotiating our problems.

We tend to sledgehammer our problems, and sledgehammers don’t work in human societies. As everybody knows, wars are not one through sledgehammers; wars eventually have to be negotiated. There’s no question of decimating the other side.

GVS: How do we move forward

Dr. Nadeem Haq: So there’s a lot of a lot of soul searching, a lot of looking inwards, a lot of redefining our culture; our culture is not a learning culture. Our culture is not hard work, culture. All these things have to be done. Bangladesh is doing well, but a friend of mine in the World Bank just wrote a very nice piece of work.

Read more: Fall of Dhaka 1971: Questioning the Iconic 3 million

Bangladesh, it’s not as if they’ve outstripped us. They’re still jogging alongside us. Maybe a little bit ahead. In this race, a little bit ahead, a little bit back doesn’t matter. It’s a big race among them in a globalized world, and all of us to have to catch up to the twenty-first century. I don’t think neither Bangladesh, nor us, nor even India, we have not caught up; China is outstripping all of us. U.S is way ahead in the game.