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The tragedy of East Pakistan: Sowing of Discord

There is a school of thought that opines that East Pakistan was considered a burden from then onwards as they effectively displayed their democratic credentials & made it abundantly clear that they would never give in to dictatorial rule. By 1970 there was a strong existing perception that East Pakistan is a burden that is pulling down West Pakistan.

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16th of December 1971. A day of tragedy in the national conscience of Pakistan. The feeling of hopelessness, feeling of heart-wrenching pain, the feeling of wretchedness can only be felt not described. A part of Pakistan died that day. That was the day when Pakistan was dismembered. That was the day when we lost the Eastern wing of the country and Bangladesh was born. Waqt karta hai parwarish barson, hadsa ek dum nahin hota loosely translated this says Time is of the essence in nurturing, incidents do not happen overnight. The sowing of discord was sown years back and the wounds were left untreated. A civil disobedience movement erupted across East Pakistan demanding the convening of parliament.

When the time came it was given a helping hand to unravel rather than a hand to heal. Four phases can be identified in this process. The pre-election phase from the 50s to 70, then the election 1970, then the rebellion and the proxy war and then finally the capitulation and aftermath.

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

Let’s take an analytical look right from the beginning

The language riots were handled totally wrongly. Somehow the feedback was completely off the mark. The Bengalis were a different type of people with a very emotional outlook on their culture and language. They were nationalist Pakistanis even more than what went around in the western part of the country but there was no way in the world they could have been persuaded, goaded, bullied, or agreed to give up even a modicum of their culture and what to say of their language. Pakistan came into being based on the “two-nation theory” which had a fundamental pillar in religion and not based on language.

So, Bengali could have been agreed as the second language of the country without any hue and cry & creation of bad blood. The bureaucratic high-handedness which allowed martyrs to be born on 21st February 1952 when police fired upon the procession of students shows total ignorance of Bengali sentiments and total unawareness of consequences to follow. Once that happened the movement would have never gone back as the history of Bengal would have told us. The Pakistani establishment did not bother to study the local populace nor gave it any importance.

An east Bengal regiment was formed in 1948 but it remained just 5 battalions strong with no effort made to recruit the East Pakistanis into the army. The minimum height criteria were also a hindrance in getting Bengalis into the army and it was not relaxed for them. The bureaucracy was very suitable for the more educated. Bengalis but again no effort was made to encourage them to follow this career path. There were no efforts made to inter-transfer Bengalis into other provinces and or to encourage inter-provincial marriages which could have created mixed families and osmosis of culture creating diversity.

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

Important factors missing from East Pakistan

It seems unbelievable but till 1969 Pakistan Studies were not a part of the East Pakistan curriculum. The after-partition generation was brought up with just surface knowledge of how and why Pakistan was made. When efforts were made after that time to include Pakistan Studies for Bengali students it was already too late, the damage had been done. East Pakistani schools barring a few elite ones sang poet Golam Mostafa’s Pakistan zindabad in place of the national anthem while attending assemblies. On official channels, no efforts were made in creating East and west harmony.

Due to the crisis nature of our partition, a huge number of non-Bengalis who were nearer to the Eastern border in 1947 migrated to the safety of East Pakistan and were settled in different towns of East Pakistan. The government made the cardinal mistake of creating colonies for them in most of the towns and settling them there ensuring probably by their ignorance that they don’t integrate into the local population, fail to learn the local language and customs, culture and eating habits & remain separated always. It was almost as if they were proclaiming their superiority and difference right from day one. Unfortunately, when push came to shove these differences boomeranged to fatally damage Pakistan.

One of the most damaging differentiating factors was a completely different political mindset. While the western wing politics was made of King’s party, supine subservient waderas used to kowtow to the Britishers for Khan bahadur accolade with very little democratic base the Eastern part of the country had a total democratic base with people ready to fight for their democratic right. The big landed zamindars were rare in East Bengal and thus their interest was different.

Political parties in the western wing-like Pakistan People’s Party, Muslim League never tried to get a foothold in the Eastern wing. The original Muslim League was intact with reasonable support in the Eastern wing but on the western side, the Muslim League which played a role in creating Pakistan was a part of the past. In the 1965 election, this mindset divide really showed up when Bengalis, democratic by nature, were overwhelmingly in favor of Fatima Jinnah while the western wing was more subservient to the law of necessity and gave in to Ayub Khan.

Read more: Forks in the Road: The 1965 war’s impact on East Pakistan

Can that be a factor in the tragedy that befell East Pakistan?

There is a school of thought that opines that East Pakistan was considered a burden from then onwards as they effectively displayed their democratic credentials & made it abundantly clear that they would never give in to dictatorial rule. As a student of political history when I try to visualize the continuation of General Zia and General Musharraf rule for such a long time if East Pakistan was with us and I cannot. It seems bizarre, laughable, and out of this world scenario. The democratic-minded Bengalis would have not only talked the democratic path but would have walked the democratic path as well.

By 1970 there was a strong existing perception that East Pakistan is a burden that is pulling down West Pakistan. Militarily these two wings, dealt separately, were indefensible with thousands of miles of enemy country in between. Culturally they were diverse, economically East Pakistan was perceived as a drag with climatic disaster frequenting intervention from the western wing, language difference denied the two wings the bonding that should exist & develop within nation, politically the volatile democratic nature of East Pakistanis ensured that their rights with the rights of other parts of the country cannot be violated with impunity.

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

This perception was getting stronger and the strange inaction of the Pakistani establishment in face of clearly very interesting Indian separatist technique & infiltration into East Pakistan intelligentsia was unexplainable. Maybe the separation of East Pakistan was “fait accompli”? It was decided by both the parties reaching the same conclusion expecting different eventual outcomes. Who knows but hopefully the historians will decide?

The author has worked for Unilever for 25 years. He is a professional translator/interpreter of five languages and is also a certified computer trainer. He is currently living in Virginia, USA. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.