East Pakistan to BD: Lesser told chronicles
THE years 1968-71, were most poignant in our history due to treasonous politics, disunity and tribulation, particularly in East Pakistan (EP).
In 1968, sedition cases were filed for Agartala Conspiracy, against Mujib and associates, who had met and sought assistance of Indian officials at Agartala, to break Pakistan.
In response, the Awami League (AL) mobs burnt buildings where case files were stored and where government lawyers resided. Hundreds of state functionaries, including security agencies, were also attacked and injured.
Under pressure and insistence of most Pakistani politicians, the government buckled and withdrew the cases in 1969; which emboldened Mujib, to triumphantly declare and propagate his six demands; four of which were unmistakably secessionist.
(In February 2011, an accused of the Agartala case, and a lawmaker, Shawkat Ali, confessed in Bangladesh Parliament that ‘the case was not false … charges… were all true’).
After elections in 1970, the AL emerged as the largest party in EP but with no seat from West Pakistan and the PPP in second position, without a seat in EP.
Due to this dilemma, along with the refusal of Mujib and Bhutto to share power, the National Assembly couldn’t meet for government formation.
Consequently, Mujib declared independence of EP in March 71. This invoked his arrest and military action in EP, which led to insurgency and mutiny by Bengali forces and civil services.
This situation was fully exploited by India which provided training and assistance to mutineers, infiltrated thousands of Indian terrorists and enforced sea and air blockade of EP, to exacerbate the chaos.
However, Pakistani forces restored 80% normalcy by August, but now, India signed a Treaty with the (former) Soviet Union that bound them to assist each other in war. This abruptly and decisively turned the tide of events in EP, in favour of India.
Hereafter, she received massive military aid, unconditional political and economic backing and categorical diplomatic Soviet support.
Consequently, India invaded EP on 21 Nov 1971, the Eid Day, with 400000 soldiers, supported by 200000 armed rebels.
At the time, India enjoyed 8:1 superiority in army, over 14:1 in air force and 12:1 in the Navy, while reinforcement and communications from West Pakistan were severed.
(Later, referring to this precarious environment, the Indian Commander in EP, Gen Jagjit Singh, observed: “Even Napoleon couldn’t have avoided a defeat”.)However, the politicians couldn’t care less.
The preceding realities are fairly well-known and documented.
The less or-known dynamics are: First; While the Indo-Soviet Treaty was impelled by Pakistan-US coalition and cooperation (SEATO, CENTO, U2 episode, facilitation of Nixon’s rapprochement with China in August 71), however, ironically, at this crucial time, the US had imposed military sanctions against its ally, Pakistan for self-defensive actions, which it termed ‘violations of human rights’ in EP.
Second; When our UN envoy Agha Shahi, was questioned why Pakistan had failed to report Indian aggression in EP at UN, even 13 days after occurrence, he referred to remarks of Vice Premier-designate, Bhutto: “Let us not be in a hurry to go to the Security Council”.
This delay significantly facilitated the aggressor, while we wasted crucial time for international intercession.
When on 3 December, Pakistan responded with limited military action in the West, ironically, it was India that complained first about it at the UN.
Third; between 6-9 Dec, many draft resolutions proposed by the US at the UNSC, for ceasefire and withdrawal of forces to their own territories were vetoed by the Soviet Union, which was expected.
However, our fantasy ‘allies’ France (CENTO) and the UK (CENTO and SEATO) also abstained from voting.
The matter was then referred on 9 December, to the UN General Assembly, which adopted Resolution 2793(xxvi) with overwhelming majority.
When Pakistan accepted it while India did not, the issue went back to the UNSC on 13 Dec to compel India to accept it, but in vain, due to Soviet opposition (Britain and France abstained again).
Fourth; By 12 Dec, Pakistan was poised to launch a major counter offensive inside India, from the West, to force recoil on Indian forces in EP.
However this couldn’t materialize, as the US had ‘advised’ Pakistan against conflict ‘escalation’ and we had pinned (false) hopes on UN actions.
Fifth; On 14 Dec, Poland suggested another resolution at UNSC that envisaged transfer of power in EP to AL, followed by ceasefire and withdrawal of forces.
When the government consulted Bhutto on this, (who was now present at the UN as Foreign Minister), he was non-committal.
Later, after justly denouncing the UNSC, the French, UK, France and the Soviet Union, he walked out of the UN meeting, saying: ‘I will not be party to –surrender of part of my country’.
By 15 December, out of 10 major cities in EP, only Jessore, a small township had been overrun, but the Bengali Governor of EP, Mr Malik had resigned with his cabinet, warning the federal government, that ‘millions of non-Bengalis await death’ unless power is transferred peacefully.
On 16 December, Indian FM announced acceptance of ceasefire but he had lied, as that day, the Indian Army had doubled the tempo of its operations to threaten Dacca, through air-land operations from areas controlled by rebels, while we had accepted UN mandated ceasefire. (11 PAF aircraft in EP were earlier neutralized by 176 Indian airplanes).
Thereafter, ceasefire violations and political machinations by India continued, till the fall of Dhaka, where ceasefire was perfidiously converted to surrender on directions from Indian PM.
Later, the Indian Eastern Army Chief, General Jacob noted that he ‘was aghast to see the heading – of the document which read ‘Instrument of Surrender’… instead of ceasefire.
Here the key question to ponder is: What motivated politicos at the time, to shield Mujib from prosecution and accept his secessionist manifesto, leading to Pakistan’s disintegration? The primary lesson learnt is obvious: If we forget our history, our geography will change.
—The writer is the former President of NDU.