Reminiscences On Fall of Dhaka

16th December each year brings back painful and agonizingly bitter memories of the dismemberment of Pakistan. I was 19 years old and about to complete my Bachelors at the time. By then, I had become politically conscious and mature enough to understand the happenings in erstwhile East Pakistan.

My hometown Larkana had been politically alive due to political and personal rivalries of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Ayub Khuro. ZAB won with a landslide victory in the first ever general elections held under the Martial Law regime of General Yahya. After elections, the political scene focused on the formation of a new democratically elected government after the long spell of military rule. We were anxiously waiting for the Presidential Proclamation of the new Assembly.

In every nook and corner of streets, cafes and offices animated discussions were taking place. Politically Sindhi and Urdu speaking people had divergent political views. Majority of Muhajirs were aligned with Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and were influenced with newspapers and magazines subscribed to their views such as daily Jasarat, weekly Zindagi, Urdu and Sayyarah Digests.

Even before elections, Muhajirs were of the firm view that Mujib ur Rehman is a traitor and Awami League’s six points would result in the breaking of Pakistan. Despite the fact that their abhorrence for ZAB knew no bounds, they did not want Mujib to form the government.

We, the youth, were being transformed differently and our point of view was in direct conflict with our elders. When the parleys between Yahya, Mujib and Bhutto commenced, they were viewed with extraordinary enthusiasm. The nation was paralyzed; yet the talks between the stakeholders remained inconclusive. Soon it emerged that ZAB and Yahya collided with each other and it became obvious that power to the majority party will not be handed over.

At that crucial moment in our nation’s life, the greed and lust for power overwhelmed the political realities and niceties. In this backdrop of political wheeling and dealing, the government ordered army crackdown in East Pakistan. That turned out to be the last nail in the coffin. A mayhem descended on East Pakistan. Lynching became common. We in Larkana had access to national dailies, Radio Pakistan and BBC. TV was another five years away. By far, the majority of Sindhis wanted the power to be handed over to AL being the largest single party, the nationalist elements supported Mujeeb and his six points.

During those tumultuous moments, Bhutto invited Yahya to Larkana. Government College Larkana was quite far from my house but in those days we used to go to college by walking with other friends. In the morning, we took our usual route and when we reached near Al-Murtaza, the Bhuttos residence, we were signaled by a police cop (only one) on duty to stop.

Doors of Al Murtaza swung open and lo and behold we saw Yahya and Bhutto ready to get in a jeep waiting for them. I was standing on a footpath right in front of it and could clearly see both of them. That scene even after 48 years is deeply etched in my memory. Both Yahya and Bhutto were dressed in Cream-coloured bush coat and trouser. Both smilingly waved at us, boarded the jeep and zoomed past us. As far as I remember they both sat on front seats with Bhutto driving.

Those were the times when security arrangements were minimal; unlike today’s security details of the VIPs. It all had taken a few minutes without any pomp and show. Later that historic moments, captured by camera flashed in newspapers all over the world. We also came to know later that it was this fateful meeting in Larkana that sealed the fate of a peaceful solution and disrespect to the electoral mandate. Mujeeb was denied his legitimate right by the machinations of Yahya and Bhutto. Their lust and hunger for power led to the dismemberment of East Pakistan. In hindsight, I firmly believe that the polarization of nation that started in 1970 general elections has marred our national fabric and added to the miseries of people.

This polarization has seeped into our nation’s psyche to such an extent that now we cannot find even an easy solution to a minor problem without divided opinions and at times the issue turns into a major national crisis. I remember that after the debacle, an acrimonious debate as to whether Biharis should be repatriated to Pakistan on the premise that they are Pakistanis and sided with pro Pakistan elements were scorned at and their repatriation was opposed tooth and nail.

They were dubbed traitors on the premise that they betrayed the Bengalis in their struggle for independence. Rather than finding a plausible solution, the issue was not handled properly. Soon the slogan” Biharis Na Khappan”( Biharis no more welcome) started echoing.

Why did we so easily forget that the Biharis were the worst affected lot who lost their lives and worldly possessions only for the love for Pakistan? The root cause of the problems by Pakistan are an offshoot of our handling of East Pakistan crisis and Pakistan will remain hostage to the mishandled and missed opportunities.