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The debacle in the East and the lessons forgotten

16th December is marked as the black day in the history of Pakistan. On this day Pakistan dismembered as East Pakistan became Bangladesh. It had been a tale of blunders and mismanagement by the then authorities of Pakistan coupled with the sheer opportunism from India that resulted in the Fall of East. 48 years have passed since the separation of East Pakistan but to date, the Humood ur-Rahman commission still has not been released in public. The report was supposed to fix responsibility on the people who were responsible for the fall of East Pakistan. India to date enjoys this day as a great victory as not only it managed to break Pakistan into two but also made 93,000 soldiers surrender. The role of Indian Army in this saga is not ignorable, but there were mistakes and the blunders committed by the West Pakistan too that were hated by the population of East Pakistan and finally it resulted in the fall of Dhaka. Wise nations always learn from the past mistakes so they should avoid suffering the same pain and loss again.

The Background

What led to the fall of Dhaka and was it only a conspiracy of the external forces? For the answer, one needs to go to the background of the chain of events that resulted in the East Pakistan debacle. Karachi was chosen as the capital of Pakistan by Muhamad Ali Jinnah and then in 1958, the garrison city of Rawalpindi was declared as a capital of Pakistan. In 1967 the then military dictator Ayub Khan declared Islamabad as the new capital of Pakistan. However, the population in East Pakistan thought that since they formed the 55 percent of the population it was their right and Dhaka should have given the status of the capital of the country.

Urdu was chosen as the national language of Pakistan. It was another reason that created rifts between the eastern and western wings as Bengalis felt that their mother tongue was deliberately ignored.

Bengalis were also not happy with the distribution of the resources. The foreign exchange for instance whose vast sum was earned from the sale of jute from East Pakistan was spent on defense expenditures to counter India in Kashmir. The Bengalis disagreed with the huge amount spent on defense and insisted that the foreign reserve generated should be spent on development projects like dams, eradicating poverty and literacy. The Bengalis were also of the view that the most white-collar jobs were taken by West Pakistanis.

In 1951 Awami League was formed which demanded the rights for the Bengalis. Shaikh Mujib ur-Rehman, who was the founder of AML and a Bengali nationalist, presented a six-point agenda before the authorities. His six-point agenda included the provincial autonomy for all the provinces. Ayub Khan after imposing the first martial law in the country announced a presidential election and Fatima Jinnah, the sister of the founding father of nation, contested against Ayub. Shaikh Mujeeb supported Fatima Jinnah. Ayub won the election with the might of the state machinery. In 1968 when agitation was launched against the then dictator Ayub Khan, Mujeeb participated in that movement and was arrested as a result. The movement resulted in the ouster of Ayub Khan’s regime and General Yahya Khan took charge as the new martial law administrator in 1969. Yahya was aware of the political instability in Pakistan and he announced General Elections in 1970 to transfer the power to the elected representatives.

The Elections

In 1970 first time in the history of Pakistan General Elections were held on the adult franchise on 7th of December 1970. Shaikh Mujeeb Ur Rahman’s Awami league swept the elections from East Pakistan by winning 160 national assembly seats out of total 162 in that part of the country. Pakistan People’s Party won 84 national assembly seats from West Pakistan.  The mandate was clear. Mujeeb had the majority and it was General Yahya’s prerogative to call him to form the government. However, it never happened. Mujeeb was accused of saying that no one could stop the creation of Bangladesh now. Though Mujeeb denied that and said that his statement was twisted by the media, no one believed him from West Pakistan. Yahya summoned the first session of the National Assembly but Bhutto stopped his members from participating.

As a result, Yahya canceled the first session. Yahya Khan and Bhutto went to Dhaka for negotiations with Mujeeb but failed to yield any result. The delay in calling the session of the assembly resulted in the mass agitations in East Pakistan and soon it turned into a civil war. A war in which Pakistan Army was pitted against its own people – the Bengali militant organization Mukti Bahni which was backed by India. The clash between Pakistan Army and Mukti Bahni resulted in the death of thousands of Bengalis. On 23 November 1971, the Indian Army conventionally penetrated into the eastern fronts and crossed East Pakistan’s borders to join Bengali nationalists. The conventional war was declared on 3rd of December between Pakistan and India, and on 16th of December Pakistani troops in East Pakistan surrendered to Indian Army. East Pakistan became Bangladesh. As a result, Yahya Khan was asked to resign and the power was transferred to Zulfiqar Bhutto in remaining Pakistan.

The lessons still not learned

The fall of Dhaka is a reminder that nations can never be forced to live with a particular state with the might of gun, but have we learned the lesson?  Still, we have chosen to remain in self-denial by not rectifying the mistakes. The history taught to the children in Pakistan is deprived of the actual facts and events that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Shaikh Mujeeb has been presented as a traitor in the textbooks while there is no mentioning of the factors and policies that created a sense of deprivation among the Bengalis and eventually paved the way for the separation of East Pakistan. None of the elected governments in Pakistan tried to ask the question about this blunder from the establishment and did not make any efforts to fix the responsibility on culprits. As a result, the culprits of the 71 debacle were not held responsible and punished? The role of Zulfiqar Bhutto who refused to accept the victory of Shaikh Mujeeb in East Pakistan is still not being discussed. Asking questions on these issues on the debacle of 1971 is still a crime and an act of treason.

The lesson from East Pakistan debacle was loud and clear and it was that the sates are run on the mandate given by the masses to the politicians and political parties and by the political parties not by the might alone. One hopes that one day a truth and reconciliation commission will be formed which eventually will fix the responsibility of this debacle on the responsible person and the authorities. After all, hiding facts and not learning from the mistakes in the name of patriotism is not going to help Pakistan to move in the right direction. Samuel Johnson said that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”. Instead of burying facts in the name of patriotism Pakistan needs to find the remedies for the errors it has made and it still is repeating again.


1 Comment

  1. Shohid Sadik December 17, 2020

    You are spreading false history. Awami Muslim Legue (AML) was formed in 1949.
    The founder was Mawlana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhasani (President) and Shamsul Alam (Secretary).

    The main cause of defeated is that
    1. Ignoring the election results of 1970.
    2. Yahiya had ignored the distance and presence of enemy state India in between west and east pakistan.


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