When it comes to the issue of the fall of Dhaka in 1971, you will find two types of people. The first type will explain how it all came about due to the nefarious designs and ill intentions of the Indian army and the Indian government. The other type will point out the continuous exploitation of the East wing, lack of leadership shown by Yahya Khan, arrogance of Bhutto and stubbornness of Mujeeb as the reasons for the break-up of the country.
However, I find these justifications to be over-simplified. Thus, I decided to look for the answers myself. I went through numerous research papers, articles and books but could not come to a concrete conclusion. Different people interpret same events in different manners making it all the more confusing for the readers. I guess that is the beauty and tragedy of history – you can mould it in any shape you want.
Nonetheless, my search for answers helped me come across some very interesting events that give a new perspective to the war. Although I cannot vouch for the credibility of each and every incident or statement mentioned below, I can assure the readers that they have been cited numerous times by some of the most famous writers and historians.
Following are two incidents associated with Yahya Khan, former President of Pakistan and Commander-in-chief of the armed forces while the war of 1971 was ongoing.
“One example of Yahya’s cavorting was on the eve of Pakistan’s defeat in Dhaka. Just before Pakistan’s surrender, Yahya threw a party in his newly constructed house in Peshawar. One of the invitees was Mrs. Shamim, popularly known as ‘Black Pearl’, a Bengali Beauty who was Yahya’s latest partner. As the party progressed, it got increasingly nude. When everyone was drunk and naked, except for Maj. Gen. Ishaque, Yahya’s military secretary, ‘Black Pearl’ wanted to go home. Yahya insisted that he would personally drive her home, with both of them stark naked. General Ishaque could not save Pakistan, but he did manage to knock enough sense into the sizzled head of a fun-loving president to put him back into his pants. Thus coincided the housewarming of the President’s House with the surrender in East Pakistan.” (Hassan Abbas, Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism)
“A day after the war began; Brigadier Gul Mawaz went to see Yahya, his close friend. He found him and Hameed, his chief of staff, inebriated… While they were talking, Yahya received a call from Japan from Noor Jehan, the famous Pakistan singer. After telling the brigadier who the call was from, Yahya asked her to sing him a song.”(Hassan Abbas, Pakistan’s Drift into Extremism)
The following did not happen during the 1971 war, nevertheless, it is a telling revelation that describes the character of a person who was supposed to lead the country and protect its borders and sovereignty.
“Yahya’s cavorting on one occasion caused a major protocol issue with the Shah of Iran who was on a state visit to Pakistan. The Shah was getting late for his departure but Yahya would not come out of his bedroom. Finally, his close friend Akleem Akhtar aka ‘General Rani’ was persuaded to enter the bedroom and get him out. When she did, she found him in a bed with a famous female singer. She helped the President dress and brought him out.”(Owen Bennet Jones, Pakistam: Eye of the Storm)
After the war, a commission was set up under Justice Hamoodur Rahman to determine the causes of the loss. When Yahya appeared before the commission and was asked about his affairs with numerous women his reply was, “I never called any one of them; their husbands brought them to me. How is that my fault?”
Khadim Hussain Raja in his book, A Stranger in My Own Country, writes about two shocking incidents about General A.A.K. Niazi, the famous general who surrendered in Dhaka. These two incidents are described by Tilak Devasher in his second book, Pakistan at The Helm, in the following words:
“Niazi’s attitude is best summed up in two incidents. In a meeting of officers soon after his arrival (in East Pakistan as the commander of forces in the Eastern wing after Tikka Khan), Niazi became abusive. Breaking into Urdu, he said: ‘Main is qaum ki nasal badal doonga. Yeh mujhay kya samjhtey hain. [I will change the race of this nation. What do they think of me] He threatened that he would let his soldiers loose on the Bengali womenfolk. Niazi’s traits were also revealed by his telling comments to the outgoing GOC, 14 Division, who had gone to brief Niazi. Instead of listening to the briefing, Niazi put his hand on Raja’s shoulder and said Ýaar, ladai ki fikr na hi karo, wo to hum kar lenge. Abhi to mujhe Bengali Girlfriends ke phone numbers de do.’[Don’t worry about the war, we’ll manage that. For now, just give me the phone numbers of your Bengali girlfriends.]
According to one source, by the time Bhutto had gone to attend UN session in December 1971, he had already made up his mind to let Dhaka fall and take over the rest of what is left of Pakistan. Yahya wanted to accept the Polish resolution. Due to the critical situation in East Pakistan, Yahya decided to give verbal instructions to Bhutto in New York to accept the resolution. Bhutto could not be found.
Later, when Yahya finally got a hold of Bhutto on the phone, he told him that the Polish resolution was suitable and ‘we should accept it’. Bhutto replied, ‘I can’t hear you.’’ What? What?’ The operator in New York finally intervened and said, I can hear him fine to which Bhutto replied, ‘Shut up.’
The purpose of this article is not to place blame on anyone for the loss of the war. It only intends to remind people (especially policy makers) that the breakup of our country was not just because of the short sighted policies or the use of force. It was also not only because of the Indian involvement. It had very much to do with our attitude towards the Bengalis and East Pakistan as a whole.
Think for a moment that everything mentioned above is entirely true and accurate and then think of thousands of lives lost in that war and the tragedy of separation that followed.