Fall of Dhaka, 16 Dec 1971, is not unfamiliar to people but it also has so many secrets, false accusations, and facts that are unknown to masses. Even though Bangladesh got its identity decades ago, we still wonder what went wrong and why. What were the factors behind the fall of East Pakistan and what could have been done to prevent it? Or it was the only right thing to do.
Distance does not matter if the relationship has a strong base. However, if close proximity and interference are wrecking a relation, we must try to abolish the facade of loyalty and love and should work things out. Even if it means separation for that particular time period, The distance may eliminate the toxic nature of that bond in the long run.
Fall of Dhaka was not just a day but it took years of blunders, distrust, and doubts to make Dhaka fall. In 1947 Pakistan had a severe shortage of experienced administration officers. The East Pakistani Bengalis didn’t have any kind of administrative experience. This led to the postings of West Pakistani administrative personals on high-level posts in Dhaka.
Not only that both wings of Pakistan were quite different from each other. their culture, norms, dresses, and even languages were also totally different. This thing had created a rift between the two wings from the start. Furthermore, the first protest from East Pakistan was in regard to Urdu as the official language of the country.
The conflict accelerated quickly as each province was upset that their own language will be the secondary language. However, the protests in east Pakistan turned violent. The Bengali community were in majority with 54% of the total population in both wings so, in 1954, the National Assembly declared Urdu and Bengali to be the official languages of Pakistan.
In 1956 the four provinces of West Pakistan were dissolved into one administrative unit. The national parliament was to comprise one house of 300 members with equal representation from both the west and east wings. However, one administrative unit created more misunderstandings among both wings.
Ayub Khan’s Reign
Gen. Mohammad Ayub Khan’s assumption of power in 1958 drove the Krishak Sramik Party and the Awami League to wage a perpetual battle for the control of East Pakistan’s government. The struggle was long started since 1954.
Because of the ongoing condition on October 7, 1958, President Iskander Mirza placed the country under martial law. He made General Ayub as its chief martial law administrator (CMLA) to enforce the martial law in both wings of Pakistan. Martial law continued until 1962, and Ayub replaced a number of government officials and replaced them with military officers.
The 1962 constitution made few concessions to Bengalis. However, During Ayub’s reign, both wings grew farther apart. The impulsive Sheikh Mujibur Rahman started leading the Awami League after the death of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy in 1963.
Meanwhile, west Pakistan received major foreign aid as it was the government’s seat. Furthermore, the economic and financial discrimination become more prominent during Ayub’s reign.
SIX point movement
Amid all the chaos In 1966 Mujib activated the 6-point plan titled Our Charter of Survival at a national conference of opposition political parties at Lahore. He demanded:-
- The Constitution should provide for a Federation of Pakistan in its true sense based on the Lahore Resolution, and the parliamentary form of government with supremacy of a Legislature directly elected on the basis of universal adult franchise.
- The federal government should deal with only two subjects: Defence and Foreign Affairs, and all other residual subjects should be vested in the federating states.
- Two separate, but freely convertible currencies for two wings should be introduced; or if this is not feasible, there should be one currency for the whole country, but effective constitutional provisions should be introduced to stop the flight of capital from East to West Pakistan. Furthermore, a separate Banking Reserve should be established and separate fiscal and monetary policy be adopted for East Pakistan.
- The power of taxation and revenue collection should be vested in the federating units and the federal center would have no such power. The federation would be entitled to a share in the state taxes to meet its expenditures.
- There should be two separate accounts for the foreign exchange earnings of the two wings; the foreign exchange requirements of the federal government should be met by the two wings equally or in a ratio to be fixed; indigenous products should move free of duty between the two wings, and the constitution should empower the units to establish trade links with foreign countries.
- East Pakistan should have a separate military or paramilitary force, and Navy headquarters should be in East Pakistan
AYUB TO YAHYA
Meanwhile, in 1969 strong anti-Ayub demonstration sparked in all over the country that called for his resignation. During these protests, many demonstrators also called derogatory names to Ayub that eventually prompted him to hand over power to Gen. Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan
On December 7, 1970, Yahya announced the idea of the national election. Awami Muslim League took an undoubtful victory. However, it failed to win any seat in West Pakistan. Similarly, the Pakistan People’s Party did not win any seat in east Pakistan.
The results were quite shocking for the west Pakistani institutes as in the west wing people were afraid. They came face to face with the prospect that Bengalis will take over the central government. The did not want to allow the Awami League to shape the constitution and form a government.
There was also the possibility of the implication of the Six-Point Movement upon the constitution that was to protect the Bengalis interests. West Pakistani authority did not have any intention to call on the National Assembly meeting any soon.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called a mammoth public meeting on the 3rd of January 1971, dishearted by the delayed procedure. He administered the oaths to the elected persons. Gen. Yahya Khan did not put much effort into meditating between leaders of different parties. Moreover, Sheikh did not budge when he tried to make such efforts later.
NATIONAL ASSEMBLY MEETING
General Yahya holds meetings with both party leaders. After the meeting with Bhutto on 11 February 1971, he announced the hold of the National Assembly meeting on the 3rd of March 1971. Bhutto called a press conference telling that it totally came as a surprise.
Later on, Bhutto announced that he and his party will not attend the meeting on 3rd March. Gen Yahya felt the pressure and at the 11th hour postponed the National Assembly meeting. This sparked violent demonstrations in East Pakistan and disturbances in Dakha. Gen Yahya named General Tikka Khan as East Pakistan’s military governor and called the army to cope with the violent situation in Dhaka.
FAKE HEADLINE LED TO WAR
Amid all the political and economic chaos. on March 15, 1971, AZAD a west Pakistan’s newspaper reported PPP’s Zulfikar Ali Bhutto allegedly stated: “Udher Tum, Idher Hum” (you there, We here). The headline inclined towards the ideology that both parties should govern their own areas. However, Bhutto never uttered the statement but was poetically quoted by then journalist Syed Abbas Athar. Albeit, Athar admitted it later that it was his own creative thinking that he put that headline forward and Bhutto never said those words.
General Yahya summoned a number of meetings and on 23rd of March 1971, he again called a leaders’ conference. Mujib refused to attend and Bengalis following Mujib’s lead disregardfully celebrated “Resistance Day” in East Pakistan. Even though it was the traditional all-Pakistan “Republic Day.” Furthermore, all government and private buildings in East Pakistan observed the hoisting of Bangladesh’s flag.
Failed meetings and conferences further deteriorated the situation. Due to the preplanned rebellious act of Mujib and his party, the government initiated a military crackdown. Rebels sabotaged the communications to disrupt it badly. These rebels were later called as Mukti Bahini.
Mukti Bahini was the guerilla resistance movement and were the rebellious military troops trained in India and had the support of India. The Mukti Bahini fought with East command of the army and sabotage various communication and mobility resources of West Pakistan. Mukti Bahini created the image that west Pakistan was responsible for all criminal and war offenses.
There is no denying that India was involved in the conspiracy and successfully played its cards. after turning the international opinion against Pakistan, they started helping Mukti Bahini at the forefront.
India intensified its activities from 9th October 1971 and started intervening directly. The intention of India of escalating the war was very much open when it started attacking borders with the Indian Army and Mukti Bahini.
General Niazi has persistently maintained that till 3rd December they were fighting an undeclared war. He said that the planning was to stop the enemy at the approaches of Dakha. However, he did not make such arrangements nor created any plan. He only called for help[ when it was too late and the enemy was well in.
The rebels and Indian trooped got back to back victories and there was also a shortage of daily commodities in Dhaka. Observing the situation, the President allowed the governor of East Pakistan Dr. Malik to decide what he thinks of right.
The governor of the east wing wrote a letter to Assistant Secretary-General, Mr. Paul Mark Henry. In the note, the Governor mentioned that war was never intentional. Moreover, he stated that the government of Pakistan always wanted to decide the issue by political means. The armed forces have fought heroically but in order to save the lives of people, he made a few proposals.
However, the president was not happy with regards to the draft. He directed the governor to create another draft in which he proposed
- an immediate ceasefire
- The guarantees of the safety of all persons settled in East Pakistan since 1947
- Guarantee of no reprisals against any person in East Pakistan
- Safety of all armed forces personnel in East Pakistan
- No question of surrender of armed forces will arise
- The question of the transfer of power and a political solution would be tackled at the national level.
The government directed Gen. Niazi to hold a little longer until the resolution’s approval in the United Nations. Meanwhile, India demanded the surrender in returns of few terms. Before midnight between 15th and 16th, General Yahya allegedly directed General Niazi to accept the terms offered by India.
repercussion of Surrender
East command surrendered in a shameful public ceremony and all the forces surrendered under the supervision of the headquarters. Lt-Gen Niazi directed other forces to contact their Indian counterparts for deciding the procedure for surrender.
Mukti Bahini’s violence
Despite the contract, Mukti Bahini started mass killings of the loyal East Pakistani population. The rebels guerrillas would kill the west Pakistani civilians and army officials from East Pakistan. They were filmed and recorded while killing non-Bengalis by many foreign correspondents.
They will conduct public executions of Razakars and others in Dhaka of which documentary evidence exists. Many would witness the mass killings, rapes and lynching of kids.Sarmila Bose talked about her book and explored history. She stated that “Part of the answer lies also in that the book corrects some of the absurd exaggerations about the army’s actions with which Bangladeshi nationalists had happily embellished their stories of “villainous” Pakistanis for all these years.’ She argued further that “But an important reason for falsely claiming that the book exonerates the military is to distract attention from the fact that it also chronicles the brutalities by their own side, committed in the name of Bengali nationalism.”