The events which unfolded on 16th December 1971 were composed of a mixture of reasons which led to the darkest period in Pakistan’s short history. A central theme to the fall of Dhaka had been the display of elitism by West Pakistan and their gross negligence in addressing concerns of their Eastern-wing constituents. Indeed this may be true, but protagonists have used the events of Dhaka as a character assessment of Pakistan and the alleged treatment of its minority groups.
Unfortunately, these half-baked truths are yet to be proven and defy the ideological foundations of Pakistan, which is rooted in the oneness of Islam. Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister of India at the time, knew all too well about the power of this ideologue, boasting upon the fall of Dhaka that she had drowned the two-nation theory in the Bay of Bengal.The undoing of Pakistan’s united Muslim ideology spread across two wings, centered around two men engaged in a power struggle, where their actions created an everlasting division. The first is Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), and the second is Mujibur Rehman.
Read more: The tragedy of East Pakistan: 50 years later
ZAB’s greed had disillusioned him as he lost all sense of rationalization
As a result, he could not accept the 1970 elections as a stalemate and enter into a rightful power-sharing agreement with Mujibur Rahman. After all, ZAB had waited in the wings for many years, first under General Ayub Khan and then briefly under General Yahya Khan, to finally make his mark in the fractious waters of Pakistani politics. ZAB’s power-hungry persona is often the sole element political pundits focus on, but the conversation rarely extends to Mujibur Rahman and his treachery in colluding with India.
See, the rise of Mujibur Rehman, the infiltration of the Mukti Bahini, and the subsequent civil unrest that followed culminating with the fall of Dhaka did not occur overnight. The process of engineering a separatist movement by India began as early as 1962. There is even an exact date when Mujibur Rehman betrayed Pakistan and slept with the enemy on the night of 24/25th December 1962. Here he approached Sashanka S. Banerjee, who became the designated handler appointed by R&AW Chief Ram Nath Kao to help betray the country, which freed him from the shackles of British Colonialism.
It is an understatement to call Mujibur Rehman a ‘selected’ person of interest by R&AW, primarily due to his low-level anti-state activities when advocating for the Bengali cause. Until 1962, his two main achievements were General Secretary of the Awami Muslim League from 1954 to 1966 and two very brief stints in actual politics. Mujib’s first exposure was as a Minister for Agriculture and Forests in the East Bengal Provincial Assembly of 1954, only for the Government to dissolve within two weeks of forming. His second venture into politics was elected to the Provincial Cabinet of Ataur Rahman Khan in 1956, only to resign by 1957.
Hence why it is intriguing that R&AW would invest in such an insignificant figure as early as 1962 as this was two years before he would support Fatima Jinnah in the 1964 elections, three years before the War of 1965 with India and four years before he became the President of the Awami League in 1966; and presented his infamous Six-point agenda for Bengali autonomy. Nevertheless, his desperation for power was to such an extent where was willing to sell his soul when he asked Pundit Nehru for India’s unconditional support in creating Bangladesh. He wanted this to happen as early as 1st February 1963 or as late as 1st March 1963 by setting up a Government in exile based in London. A kind reminder that he only met his R&AW handler a few months before on the 24/25th December 1962.
Looking at the Agartala Conspiracy Case
The weeks that ensued led him to India’s North East Tripura State in Agartala and became known as the “Agartala Conspiracy Case”. On his return, ISI’s Lt.Col Shamsul Alam intercepted him as the Intelligence Agency became aware of his illicit meeting with Tripura State’s Chief Minister Sachin Singh. The meeting was more pleading with India’s establishment to bring Nehru to a negotiable understanding and support Mujibur Rehman’s nefarious designs. However, Nehru stated that the “international situation was neither propitious nor opportune” for Bangladesh to become independent, but India was willing to provide “multi-tiered moral, political and material support.
The Agartala Conspiracy Case is aptly used to characterize Mujibur Rehman’s struggle against Pakistan by presenting the episode as the State overarching with its powers against ordinary citizens. His ideological hatred for Pakistan is evident in the number of times he got arrested for anti-state activities. For example, when he was 28 years old, he was arrested for being a public nuisance twice in 1948 when the Urdu language was declared the national language for the Dominion of Pakistan. He was (again) detained twice in 1949 and kicked out from the University of Dhaka, dropping out of Law.
He was then jailed for two years in 1950, arrested again in 1954, jailed for 14 months in 1958, jailed again for six months in 1962, charged with sedition, and sentenced for one year in 1965. He was then arrested eight times for anti-state rhetoric in 1966, arrested again for conspiring against the State of Pakistan in 1968 and then lastly in 1971, when he announced the secession from Pakistan with the creation of Bangladesh due to the military support given by India.
The provocative nature of Mujibur Rehman was calculated with precision and designed to invoke a reaction by the State. He would use this to victimize himself and symbolize his treatment by West Pakistan and its crackdown as a symbolic treatment of the entire Bengali population. Therefore, Nehru’s instructions to Mujib were to formulate the basis of separation strategically whilst plausibly denying any wrongdoing. In essence, the ground conditions needed to be curated where the political environment would allow India to intervene and gain the international community’s direct support for Bangladesh’s separation.
However, treachery begets treachery and the Bengalis whom Mujibur Rehman betrayed Pakistan for ended up claiming not only his life but assassinating his entire family, making his international community’s direct support a deceitful journey coming to a full circle.
The writer is a Defence and Political Analyst with a Masters in International Relations from Deakin University, Australia. He specialises in Asia-Pacific Regional Dynamics and Conflict & Security studies. Sameed Basha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed by the writers do not necessarily represent Global Village Space’s editorial policy.