East Pakistan tragedy of errors | By Tariq Aqil 

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East Pakistan tragedy of errors


PAKISTAN emerged on the map of the world as an independent country on 14 August 1947 but this new nation was a geographical anomaly because of the separation of the two wings by a distance of 1200 miles.

Quaid-i-Azam had asked for a land corridor to connect the two wings but his demand was rejected by the British Govt.

Apart from the physical separation people of the two wings had major differences of culture, language, traditions and history. The only common factor was the religion of Islam and fear of India.

Apart from language, traditions and customs the top leadership of West Pakistan was mainly semi-literate land lords while the Bengalis were led by middle class well educated lawyers, professors and retired officials.

In the second Constituent Assemble (1956-58) out of 40 members from West Pakistan 28 were land lords and East Pakistan was represented by 20 lawyers and 9 retired officials.

Not one of the Bengali members was a feudal lord. With such socio-economic differences, haughty attitude of the West Pakistani elite and a definite superiority complex in the civil and military leadership of West Pakistan it was almost impossible for leaders of both wings to come to an understanding of political and economic problems.

The very first factor to sow the seeds of divisions, mistrust and bitterness between the two wings was the language problem.

This controversy was ignited when in February 1948 a member of the Constituent Assembly Dhirendranath Dutt moved an amendment in the House that Bengali may also be made an official language. Assembly rules allowed the members to speak in Urdu or English.

This move created a rift and a gulf between the members and soon after the language issue became a widespread political movement.

Quid-i-Azam rushed to Dhaka and declared categorically that Urdu and only Urdu will be the national language.

In 1952 the central government tried to introduce Urdu script and in Feb 1952 Khwaja Nazimuddin the PM declared in Dhaka that Urdu shall be the only national language. This resulted in confrontation and violent agitation in the eastern wing.

Law and order broke down the army was called in and it was only in 1954 when the Constituent Assembly accepted the demand that Bengali will be one of the national languages that order and calm was restored in the country.

After the emotionally charged issue of language the second major cause of resentment was the economic front.

East Pakistan was criminally neglected by the powerful West Pakistani planners, politicians, bankers and the industrialist class.

The principal product of East Pakistan was jute which was the biggest foreign exchange earner for Pakistan and almost 80 percent of our foreign exchange came from the export of jute but all this was allocated to provide for the needs of industries in West Pakistan.

According to Govt. figures the total government sector development outlay between 1947-48 and 1959-60 amounted to Rs 2750 million in East Pakistan and Rs 8017 million in West Pakistan.

Headquarters of all the armed forces, along with the major Corporations such as WAPDA, PIA, Banks, major industries were all in West Pakistan.

People of East Pakistan were also demanding justice, fair-play and parity in the civil services and armed forces.

By 1964 there were only two Bengali officers who held the rank of Secretaries and in 1965 there was only one major general from East Pakistan.

The [in-]famous Agartala conspiracy case was brought to light in 1968 and about thirty five conspirators were charged with conspiracy and collusion with India but Mujib’s name was included fifteen days later and this created doubts about the veracity of the case.

The round table conference of combined opposition parties with Ayub Khan was held on 26 and 10 March 1969 and the conference failed to reach agreement to defuse the volatile political situation.

Ayub Khan resigned in disgrace and handed over the country to the army chief General Yahya Khan in contravention of his own Constitution of 1962.

Pakistan was once again in the grip of a military dictatorship under Martial Law.

The constitution was abrogated, one unit was scrapped, provinces restored and the first democratic elections were held in 1970.

The Awami League won a landslide victory bagging all but two of the seats from East Pakistan in the National Assembly.

It was now crystal clear that legally and constitutionally Mujibur Rehman had the right to form a government in the centre and in the province but this was denied by the powers that be.

Yahya Khan banned the Awami League imprisoned Mujib and many leaders of the Awami League crossed over to India.

“Operation Searchlight” was launched by the Army and this proved to be the last nail in the coffin of a united Pakistan.

Insurgency or the freedom movement for Bangladesh accelerated, the Mukti Bahini was created and on the 3rd of December Pakistan launched air strikes against India resulting in the war of 1971 culminating in the surrender of the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan and the bloody birth of Bangladesh.

—The writer is Professor of History.

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