Remembering East Pakistan

539

Raza Muhammad Khan

TO usher in democracy, Pakistan permitted the Awami League (AL) of Mujib to contest elections in Dec 1970, on the basis of his Six Points, four of which were unmistakably secessionist. It won an absolute majority of 160 NA seats, all from East Pakistan (EP), including many through intimidation, while Bhutto’s PPP won only 81 seats, in West Pakistan. Mujib claimed formation of the government, but the Six Points were a hindrance in his way. The government endeavoured to convince Bhutto and Mujib to work out a power sharing formula, within a united Pakistan, but in vain. Fearing the consequences of the AL’s majority and the ramification of the Six Points, Bhutto sought postponement of the NA session and famously threatened to “break the legs” of any one who dared to attend it.
On 14 Mar 1971, he delivered his notorious “Idhar ham Udhar tum” (we here, you there) speech at Karachi, leading to violent protests in EP and forcing deferment of the assembly session, to calm the tension. But when a final meeting between the two on 21 Mar at Dhaka failed to resolve the discord, Mujib declared independence on 23 Mar, following which, many Bengali army and paramilitary units, comprising thousands of soldiers revolted. Consequently, the Pakistan Army launched an operation in EP, to prevent the break-up of the country and to safeguard the life and property of the people. When Mujib was arrested for rebellion, India took full advantage of the deteriorating situation. Indian state sponsored terrorists, RAW operatives and its army, established hundreds of training camps for the Mukti rebels in the seven Indian States that bordered EP, for incursion, sabotage and demonization of our forces. Before invading Pakistan, India signed a ‘Friendship Treaty’ with the (former) Soviet Union and in September, both Brezhnev and Kosygin personally assured Indira Gandhi at Moscow of their military and diplomatic support during a war with Pakistan. Thus, in October, the Indian Army commenced deep intrusions inside EP, with the help of the Mukti Bahini terrorists which was reported by the New York Times but denied by India. But in the first week of December 71, India recognized Bangladesh and attacked EP.
By this time, Bengalis were committing ‘xenophobic violence against non-Bengalis, — West Pakistanis and mainly Urdu-speaking people with shocking bestiality’ as noted by Dr Sarmila Bose, of the Oxford University — in the: ‘Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War’. On 21 Nov, the Eid Day, Indian forces, supported by 200000 rebels, encircled and attacked EP on 20 fronts. At the time, India enjoyed 8:1superiority in army, 11:1 in air force and 12:1 in the Navy in EP. Due to blockade of our sea ports in EP and denial of over flight rights over India, reinforcements from West were blocked. Some EP officers fought the Indians alongside their comrades from the West, while others deserted and disclosed our defensive plans to the Indians. As Indian invasion progressed, the Soviet Union provided it bulk of its wherewithal, while Pakistan remained under US embargo for military purchases.
To this must be added the fact that Pakistani troops had been exhausted by continuous flood relief operations in and incessant counter insurgency operations, for the previous eight months in EP. As fighting raged in EP, a riposte through an offensive from West Pakistan was contemplated but postponed, in the hope of intervention by the UN. Finally on 3 Dec, Pakistan partially opened up the Western front to relieve pressure in the East. But on 6 Dec the US introduced Resolution 3020 in the UNSC, calling for a cease-fire and the withdrawal of forces to their original positions but the Soviet Union vetoed it and Britain too conveyed its ‘neutrality’ to the US. As the Soviet Union threatened to veto all such resolutions in the UNSC, Resolution 2793, was passed by the UN General Assembly the next day, calling for a ceasefire that was accepted by us but rejected and violated with impunity by India. By 12 Dec, Pakistan was poised to launch a major ground and air offensive inside India, with its reserves in the West, to stabilize the Eastern theatre. However this didn’t materialize, as the situation in the East had deteriorated fast and Pakistan continued to pin its hopes on intervention by the ‘international community’. This was indeed a costly miscalculation. Pakistani Eastern Command (EC) was outnumbered, perilously outstretched, isolated from the West, divided by mammoth EP Rivers, threatened by rebels in rear areas and Indian forces in the front, but it fought on.
At this point, the Governor of EP, Mr A.M. Malik sent an urgent telegram to the President, warning that ‘millions of non-Bengalis await death’ and urged for ‘a peaceful transfer of power’. Thus, the EC surrendered on 16 Dec, though it could carry on the fight for some more time. Approximately 6000 soldiers that included 360 officers sacrificed their life in pitched battles to defend EP against Indian and rebel attacks. The bravery and spirit of these troops won many accolades from the Indian commanders whom they battled despite heavy odds. On 16 Dec, 26,000 soldiers surrendered grudgingly, to fight another day, and were taken prisoners, along with many civilians. Indian losses in EP were substantial but are wrapped in mystery. Terming other figures as ‘gigantic rumours, Sarmila Bose’s has put the Bengali casualties between 50,000 and 100,000.Veteran Bengali journalist Nirmal Sen wrote that among those killed by the Bengali terrorists, 100,000 were Bihari patriots.
Conclusions from this tragedy are: We lost EP due to the politician’s lust for absolute power, economic disparity between Pakistan’s two wings and errors of judgement; however, Indian aggression was the dominant dynamic of our country’s dismemberment. Hopefully we have also learnt never to rely on others for defence, always to be mindful of Indian machinations and finally, never to forget our history, lest our geography is altered again.
— The writer, a retired Lt Gen, is former President of National Defence University, Islamabad.