US Invades Pakistan- Bangladesh Created - History

US Invades Pakistan- Bangladesh Created - History


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In December 1970, elections were held in Pakistan. In Eastern Pakistan, the Awami League led by Mujibur Rahman won 160 out of 162 seats in the Parliament. The Awami League demanded complete internal autonomy for East Pakistan. Pakistani leader, Ali Bhutto, refused this demand. The Pakistani government resorted to violence to suppress the Awamis and hundreds of thousands were slaughtered. The Awami leadership fled to India along with millions of refugees and declared the independent state of Bangladesh.

The Indians gave the declaration full support and helped to equip a guerrilla army. Pakistan reacted by launching a surprise attack on Indian air bases. The attack failed and India responded with a full-scale attack on East Pakistan, routing the Pakistani army. Pakistan was forced to accept the creation of a separate state of Bangladesh in the former Eastern province of Pakistan.


Post-partition difficulties Edit

Bengali Language Movement Edit

One of the most divisive issues confronting Pakistan in its infancy was the question of what the official language of the new state was to be. Mohammad Ali Jinnah yielded to the demands of refugees from the Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, who insisted that Urdu be Pakistan's official language. Speakers of the languages of West Pakistan (Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushtu, and Baluchi) were upset that their languages were given second-class status. In East Pakistan, the dissatisfaction quickly turned to violence. The Bengalis of East Pakistan constituted a majority (an estimated 54%) of Pakistan's entire population. Their language, Bengali, like Urdu, belongs to the Indo-Aryan language family, but the two languages have different scripts and literary traditions. [2]

Jinnah visited East Pakistan on only one occasion after independence, shortly before his death in 1948. [2] Speaking in Dhaka to a throng of over 300,000 on March 21, 1948, he announced that, "Without one state language, no nation can remain tied up solidly together and function." [3] [4] Jinnah's views were not accepted by most East Pakistanis. On February 21, 1952, a demonstration was carried out in Dhaka in which students demanded equal status for Bengali. The police reacted by firing on the crowd and killing many students, most of whom remain unidentified to this day. (A memorial, the Shaheed Minar, was built later to commemorate the martyrs of the language movement.) Two years after the incident, Bengali agitation effectively forced the National Assembly to designate "Urdu and Bengali and such other languages as may be declared" to be the official languages of Pakistan. [2]

Jinnah and Liaquat Edit

What kept the new country together was the vision and forceful personality of the founders of Pakistan: Jinnah, the governor general popularly known as the Quaid i Azam (Supreme Leader) and Liaquat Ali Khan (1895–1951), the first prime minister, popularly known as the Quaid i Millet (Leader of the Community). The government machinery established at independence was similar to the viceregal system that had prevailed in the pre-independence period and placed no formal limitations on Jinnah's constitutional powers. In the 1970s in Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the independence movement of Bangladesh from Pakistan, would enjoy much of the same prestige and exemption from the normal rule of law. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has often been criticized in many quarters of being autocratic. [2]

When Jinnah died in September 1948, the seat of power shifted from the governor general to the prime minister, Liaquat. Liaquat had extensive experience in politics and enjoyed as a refugee from India the additional benefit of not being too closely identified with any one province of Pakistan. A moderate, Liaquat subscribed to the ideals of a parliamentary, democratic, and secular state. Out of necessity he considered the wishes of the country's religious spokesmen who championed the cause of Pakistan as an Islamic state. He was seeking a balance of Islam against secularism for a new constitution when he was assassinated on October 16, 1951, by fanatics opposed to Liaquat's refusal to wage war against India. With both Jinnah and Liaquat gone, Pakistan faced an unstable period that would be resolved by military and civil service intervention in political affairs. The first few turbulent years after independence thus defined the enduring politico-military culture of Pakistan. [2]

The inability of the politicians to provide a stable government was largely a result of their mutual suspicions. Loyalties tended to be personal, ethnic, and provincial rather than national and issue oriented. Provincialism was openly expressed in the deliberations of the Constituent Assembly. In the Constituent Assembly, frequent arguments voiced the fear that the West Pakistani province of Punjab would dominate the nation. An ineffective body, the Constituent Assembly took almost nine years to draft a constitution, which for all practical purposes was never put into effect. [2]

Khwaja Nazimuddin and Ghulam Mohammad Edit

Liaquat was succeeded as prime minister by a conservative Bengali, Governor General Khwaja Nazimuddin. Former finance minister Ghulam Mohammad, a Punjabi career civil servant, became governor general. Ghulam Mohammad was dissatisfied with Nazimuddin's inability to deal with Bengali agitation for provincial autonomy and worked to expand his own power base. East Pakistan favored a high degree of autonomy, with the central government controlling little more than foreign affairs, defense, communications, and currency. In 1953, Ghulam Mohammad dismissed Prime Minister Nazimuddin, established martial law in Punjab, and imposed governor's rule (direct rule by the central government) in East Pakistan. In 1954, he appointed his own "cabinet of talents". Mohammad Ali Bogra, another conservative Bengali and previously Pakistan's ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, was named prime minister. [2]

During September and October 1954 a chain of events culminated in a confrontation between the governor general and the prime minister. Prime Minister Bogra tried to limit the powers of Governor General Ghulam Mohammad through hastily adopted amendments to the de facto constitution, the Government of India Act of 1935. The governor general, however, enlisted the tacit support of the army and civil service, dissolved the Constituent Assembly, and then formed a new cabinet. Bogra, a man without a personal following, remained prime minister but without effective power. General Iskander Mirza, who had been a soldier and civil servant, became minister of the interior General Muhammad Ayub Khan, the army commander, became minister of defence and Chaudhry Muhammad Ali, former head of the civil service, remained minister of finance. The main objective of the new government was to end disruptive provincial politics and to provide the country with a new constitution. The Federal Court, however, declared that a new Constituent Assembly must be called. Ghulam Mohammad was unable to circumvent the order, and the new Constituent Assembly, elected by the provincial assemblies, met for the first time in July 1955. Bogra, who had little support in the new assembly, fell in August and was replaced by Choudhry Ghulam Mohammad, plagued by poor health, was succeeded as governor general in September 1955 by Mirza. [2]

Second Constituent Assembly Edit

The second Constituent Assembly differed in composition from the first. In East Pakistan, the Muslim League had been overwhelmingly defeated in the 1954 provincial assembly elections by the United Front coalition of Bengali regional parties anchored by A. K. Fazlul Huq's Krishak Sramik Samajbadi Dal (Peasants and Workers Socialist Party) and the Awami League (People's League) led by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. Rejection of West Pakistan's dominance over East Pakistan and the desire for Bengali provincial autonomy were the main ingredients of the coalition's twenty-one-point platform. The East Pakistani election and the coalition's victory proved pyrrhic Bengali factionalism surfaced soon after the election and the United Front fell apart. From 1954 to Ayub's assumption of power in 1958, the Krishak Sramik and the Awami League waged a ceaseless battle for control of East Pakistan's provincial government. [2]

Prime Minister Choudhry induced the politicians to agree on a constitution in 1956. In order to establish a better balance between the west and east wings, the four provinces of West Pakistan were amalgamated into one administrative unit. The 1956 constitution made provisions for an Islamic state as embodied in its Directive of Principles of State Policy, which defined methods of promoting Islamic morality. The national parliament was to comprise one house of 300 members with equal representation from both the west and east wings. [2]

The Awami League's Suhrawardy succeeded Choudhry as prime minister in September 1956 and formed a coalition cabinet. He, like other Bengali politicians, was chosen by the central government to serve as a symbol of unity, but he failed to secure significant support from West Pakistani power brokers. Although he had a good reputation in East Pakistan and was respected for his pre-partition association with Mohandas K. Gandhi, his strenuous efforts to gain greater provincial autonomy for East Pakistan and a larger share of development funds for it were not well received in West Pakistan. Suhrawardy's thirteen months in office came to an end after he took a strong position against abrogation of the existing "One Unit" government for all of West Pakistan in favor of separate local governments for Sind, Punjab, Baluchistan, and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He thus lost much support from West Pakistan's provincial politicians. He also used emergency powers to prevent the formation of a Muslim League provincial government in West Pakistan, thereby losing much Punjabi backing. Moreover, his open advocacy of votes of confidence from the Constituent Assembly as the proper means of forming governments aroused the suspicions of President Mirza. In 1957 the president used his considerable influence to oust Suhrawardy from the office of prime minister. The drift toward economic decline and political chaos continued. [2]

On October 7, 1958, Iskander Mirza issued a proclamation that abolished political parties, abrogated the two-year-old constitution, and placed the country under martial law. Mirza announced that martial law would be a temporary measure lasting only until a new constitution was drafted. On October 27, he swore in a twelve-member cabinet that included Ayub Khan as prime minister and three other generals in ministerial positions. Included among the eight civilians was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a former university lecturer. On the same day, the general exiled Mirza to London because "the armed services and the people demanded a clean break with the past." Until 1962, martial law continued and Ayub purged a number of politicians and civil servants from the government and replaced them with army officers. Ayub called his regime a "revolution to clean up the mess of black marketing and corruption." [5]

The new constitution promulgated by Ayub in March 1962 vested all executive authority of the republic in the president. As chief executive, the president could appoint ministers without approval by the legislature. There was no provision for a prime minister. There was a provision for a National Assembly and two provincial assemblies, whose members were to be chosen by the "Basic Democrats"—80,000 voters organized into a five-tier hierarchy, with each tier electing officials to the next tier. Pakistan was declared a republic (without being specifically an Islamic republic) but, in deference to the ulamas (religious scholars), the president was required to be a Muslim, and no law could be passed that was contrary to the tenets of Islam. [5]

The 1962 constitution made few concessions to Bengalis. It was, instead, a document that buttressed centralized government under the guise of "basic democracies" programs, gave legal support to martial law, and turned parliamentary bodies into forums for debate. Throughout the Ayub years, East Pakistan and West Pakistan grew farther apart. The death of the Awami League's Suhrawardy in 1963 gave the mercurial Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (commonly known as Mujib) the leadership of East Pakistan's dominant party. Mujib, who as early as 1956 had advocated the "liberation" of East Pakistan and had been jailed in 1958 during the military coup, quickly and successfully brought the issue of East Pakistan's movement for autonomy to the forefront of the nation's politics. [5]

During the years between 1960 and 1965, the annual rate of growth of the gross domestic product per capita was 4.4% in West Pakistan versus just 2.6% in East Pakistan. Furthermore, Bengali politicians pushing for more autonomy complained that much of Pakistan's export earnings were generated in East Pakistan by the export of Bengali jute and tea. As late as 1960, approximately 70% of Pakistan's export earnings originated in the East Wing, although this percentage declined as international demand for jute dwindled. By the mid-1960s, the East Wing was accounting for less than 60% of the nation's export earnings, and by the time of Bangladesh's independence in 1971, this percentage had dipped below 50%. Mujib demanded in 1966 that separate foreign exchange accounts be kept and that separate trade offices be opened overseas. By the mid-1960s, West Pakistan was benefiting from Ayub's "Decade of Progress," with its successful "green revolution" in wheat, and from the expansion of markets for West Pakistani textiles, while the East Pakistani standard of living remained at an abysmally low level. Bengalis were also upset that West Pakistan, because it was the seat of government, was the major beneficiary of foreign aid. [5]

At a 1966 Lahore conference of both the eastern and the western chapters of the Awami League, Mujib announced his six-point political and economic program (on 5 February) for East Pakistani provincial autonomy. He demanded that the government be federal and parliamentary in nature, its members to be elected by universal adult suffrage with legislative on the basis of population that the federal government have principal responsibility for foreign policy and defense only that each wing have its own currency and separate fiscal accounts that taxation would occur at the provincial level, with a federal government funded by constitutionally guaranteed grants that each federal unit could control its own earning of foreign exchange and that each unit could raise its own militia or paramilitary forces. [6]

Mujib's six points ran directly counter to President Ayub's plan for greater national integration. Ayub's anxieties were shared by many West Pakistanis, who feared that Mujib's plan would divide Pakistan by encouraging ethnic and linguistic cleavages in West Pakistan, and would leave East Pakistan, with its Bengali ethnic and linguistic unity, by far the most populous and powerful of the federating units. Ayub interpreted Mujib's demands as tantamount to a call for independence. After pro-Mujib supporters rioted in a general strike in Dhaka, the government arrested Mujib in January 1968. [6]

Ayub suffered a number of setbacks in 1968. His health was poor, and he was almost assassinated at a ceremony marking ten years of his rule. Riots followed, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was arrested as the instigator. At Dhaka a tribunal that inquired into the activities of the already-interned Mujib was arousing strong popular resentment against Ayub. A conference of opposition leaders and the cancellation of the state of emergency (in effect since 1965) came too late to conciliate the opposition. On February 21, 1969, Ayub announced that he would not run in the next presidential election in 1970. A state of near anarchy reigned with protests and strikes throughout the country. The police appeared helpless to control the mob violence, and the military stood aloof. At length, on March 25 Ayub resigned and handed over the administration to the commander in chief, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan. Once again the country was placed under martial law.

General Yahya assumed the titles of Chief Martial Law Administrator and President. He announced that he considered himself to be a transitional leader whose task would be to restore order and to conduct free elections for a new constituent assembly, which would then draft a new constitution. He appointed a largely civilian cabinet in August 1969 in preparation for the election, which was scheduled to take place in December 1970. Yahya moved with dispatch to settle two contentious issues by decree: the unpopular "One Unit" of West Pakistan, which was created as a condition for the 1956 constitution, was ended and East Pakistan was awarded 162 seats out of the 300-member National Assembly.

On November 12, 1970, a Bhola cyclone devastated an area of almost 8,000 square kilometres (3,100 sq mi) of East Pakistan's mid-coastal lowlands and its outlying islands in the Bay of Bengal. As many as 250,000 lives were lost. Two days after the cyclone hit, Yahya arrived in Dhaka after a trip to Beijing, but he left a day later. His seeming indifference to the plight of Bengali victims caused a great deal of animosity. Opposition newspapers in Dhaka accused the Pakistani government of impeding the efforts of international relief agencies and of "gross neglect, callous inattention, and bitter indifference." Mujib, who had been released from prison, lamented that "West Pakistan has a bumper wheat crop, but the first shipment of food grain to reach us is from abroad" and "that the textile merchants have not given a yard of cloth for our shrouds." "We have a large army," Mujib continued," but it is left to the British Marines to bury our dead." He added, "the feeling now pervades. every village, home, and slum that we must rule ourselves. We must make the decisions that matter. We will no longer suffer arbitrary rule by bureaucrats, capitalists, and feudal interests of West Pakistan." [6]

Yahya had announced plans for the December 7 national election, and urged voters to elect candidates who were committed to the integrity and unity of Pakistan. The elections were the first in the history of Pakistan in which voters were able to elect members of the National Assembly directly. In a convincing demonstration of Bengali dissatisfaction with the West Pakistani regime, the Awami League won all but two of the 169 seats allotted East Pakistan in the National Assembly. Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party came in a poor second nationally, winning 81 out of the 138 West Pakistani seats in the National Assembly. The Awami League's electoral victory promised it control of the government, with Mujib as the country's prime minister, but the inaugural assembly never met. [6]

The number of West Pakistani troops entering East Pakistan had increased sharply in the preceding weeks, climbing from a pre-crisis level of 25,000 to about 60,000, bringing the army close to a state of readiness. As tensions rose, however, Yahya continued negotiations with Mujib, flying to Dhaka in mid-March. Talks between Yahya and Muhib were joined by Bhutto but soon collapsed, and on March 23, Bengalis following Mujib's lead defiantly celebrated "Resistance Day" in East Pakistan instead of the traditional all-Pakistan "Republic Day". Yahya decided to "solve" the problem of East Pakistan by repression. On the evening of March 25 he flew back to Islamabad. The military crackdown in East Pakistan began that same night. [6]

On March 25, the Pakistan Army launched, Operation Searchlight, a campaign calculated to intimidate the Bengalis into submission. Within hours a wholesale attack had commenced in Dhaka, with the heaviest casualties concentrated on the University of Dhaka and the Hindu area of the old town. The Pakistan Army came with hit lists and systematically killed several hundred Bengalis. Mujib was captured and flown to West Pakistan for incarceration. [7]

To conceal what they were doing, the Pakistan Army corralled the corps of foreign journalists at the International Hotel in Dhaka, seized their notes, and expelled them the next day. Simon Dring, a reporter for The Daily Telegraph who escaped the censor net, estimated that three battalions of troops—one armored, one artillery, and one infantry—had attacked the virtually defenseless city. [8] Various informants, including missionaries and foreign journalists who clandestinely returned to East Pakistan during the war, estimated that by March 28 the loss of life reached 15,000. By the end of summer as many as 300,000 people were thought to have lost their lives. Anthony Mascarenhas in Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood estimates that during the entire nine-month liberation struggle more than one million Bengalis may have died at the hands of the Pakistan Army. [7]

The West Pakistani press waged a vigorous but ultimately futile campaign to counteract newspaper and radio accounts of atrocities. One paper, the Morning News, even editorialized that the armed forces were saving East Pakistanis from eventual Hindu enslavement. The civil war was played down by the government-controlled press as a minor insurrection quickly being brought under control. [7]

After the tragic events of March, India became vocal in its condemnation of Pakistan. An immense flood of East Pakistani refugees, between 8 and 10 million according to various estimates, fled across the border into the Indian state of West Bengal. In April, an Indian parliamentary resolution demanded that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi supply aid to the rebels in East Pakistan. Mr. K.C. Pant, being the state minister for Home Affairs was assigned the responsibility of handling the situation of refugees in West Bengal. Upon Mr. Pant's recommendation She complied but declined to recognize the provisional government of independent Bangladesh. [7]

A propaganda war between Pakistan and India ensued in which Yahya threatened war against India if that country made an attempt to seize any part of Pakistan. Yahya also asserted that Pakistan could count on its American and Chinese friends. At the same time, Pakistan tried to ease the situation in the East Wing. Belatedly, it replaced Tikka, whose military tactics had caused such havoc and human loss of life, with the more restrained Lieutenant General A.A.K. Niazi. A moderate Bengali, Abdul Malik, was installed as the civilian governor of East Pakistan. These belated gestures of appeasement did not yield results or change world opinion. [7]

On December 4, 1971, the Indian Army, far superior in numbers and equipment to that of Pakistan, executed a three-pronged pincer movement on Dhaka launched from the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, and Tripura, taking only 12 days to defeat the 90,000 Pakistani defenders. The Pakistan Army was weakened by having to operate so far away from its source of supply. The Indian Army, on the other hand, was aided by East Pakistan's Mukti Bahini (Liberation Force), the freedom fighters who managed to keep the Pakistan Army at bay in many areas. On 16 December 1971, the Pakistan army wing in East Pakistan led by Niazi surrendered and Bangladesh was liberated. This day is celebrated in Bangladesh as "Victory Day" with more emphasis than Independence Day (26 March 1971). [7]


The Genocide the U.S. Can’t Remember, But Bangladesh Can’t Forget

“Our government has failed to denounce the suppression of democracy. Our government has failed to denounce atrocities… Our government has evidenced what many will consider moral bankruptcy.” – Archer Blood, American diplomat, April 6, 1971.

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Blood wrote this dispatch two weeks into the bloody massacre that would lead to the birth of Bangladesh. Unlike the Rwandan genocide, or the Holocaust, or the killing that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia, the genocide in Bangladesh that ended 45 years ago this week has largely slipped out of public awareness—even though the upper estimate for the death toll is 3 million. With the ongoing debate over how or even if America should assist Syria and those trapped in Aleppo, understanding how the U.S. has responded to genocides in the past is more crucial than ever.

In 1947, the partition of British India split the subcontinent into the independent nations of India and Pakistan, each a home for their respective religious majorities, the Hindus and the Muslims. But the unwieldy logistics of this divide meant Pakistan included two chunks of land separated by more than 1,000 miles of Indian territory.

The geographic distance between West and East Pakistan was mirrored by their economic and political separation. With most of the ruling elite having immigrated westward from India, West Pakistan was chosen as the nation’s political center. Between 1947 and 1970, East Pakistan (which would eventually become Bangladesh) received only 25 percent of the country’s industrial investments and 30 percent of its imports, despite producing 59 percent of the country’s exports. West Pakistani elites saw their eastern countrymen as culturally and ethnically inferior, and an attempt to make Urdu the national language (less than 10 percent of the population in East Pakistan had a working knowledge of Urdu) was seen as further proof that East Pakistan's interests would be ignored by the government. Making matters worse, the powerful Bhola Cyclone hit East Bangladesh in November of 1970, killing 300,000 people. Despite having more resources at their disposal, West Pakistan offered a sluggish response to the disaster.

As French journalist Paul Dreyfus said of the situation, “Over the years, West Pakistan behaved like a poorly raised, egotistical guest, devouring the best dishes and leaving nothing but scraps and leftovers for East Pakistan.”

In 1970, West Pakistan announced the country would hold an election for its first general elections since the country gained independence. Like other Pakistani leaders before him, West Pakistan’s chief martial law administrator and president, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, placed limits on the freedoms of voters, indicating that the integrity of the country of Pakistan was more important than the election outcomes. This practice of “Basic Democracy” had been used in the past to provide the appearance of democracy while still leaving the military in true control.

In this election, 138 seats would go to West Pakistan representatives and 162 to the more populous East Pakistan (which had about 20 million more inhabitants). While West Pakistan’s votes were split between different parties, an overwhelming majority of votes in East Pakistan went to the Awami League led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who campaigned on a platform of Bengali autonomy.

Shocked by the results and what they meant for the stability of the country, Yahya Khan delayed calling the first meeting of the assembly and instituted martial law. Riots and strikes erupted across East Pakistan, with Mujibur announcing the start of a civil disobedience movement in front of a crowd of 50,000 on March 7, 1971. A last ditch effort to avert war occurred in Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan, from March 16 to 24. Mujibur and Khan met, discussed the issues, and seemingly reached an agreement—but on the night of March 25, Mujibur was arrested and 60-80,000 West Pakistani soldiers, who had been infiltrating East Pakistan for several months, began what would be known as Operation Searchlight, the massacre of Bengali civilians by Pakistani soldiers.

Estimates for the total number of deaths range from 500,000 to over 3 million, with the death toll having become politicized over the years, says Lisa Curtis, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.

“Regardless of what the number is, clearly massive atrocities took place against the Bengali people,” Curtis says. “I think we have to say that the atrocities committed by the Pakistan military far outstripped what we saw from the other side.”

The '3 million' figure came from the Soviet newspaper, Pravda, reported investigative journalist David Bergman in a New York Times op-ed, and it has been used to create a national narrative about Bangladesh and its formation that allows the government to extend its judicial power.  

By halfway through the nine-month genocide, the U.S Central Intelligence Agency gave a conservative estimate of 200,000 Bangladeshis murdered. There was violence on all sides, with some fighting between Bengali factions (whose goals for independence or unity with West Pakistan differed), but it seems clear that Pakistani soldiers perpetrated most of the brutal attacks, many wielding weapons supplied by the U.S., since Pakistan was considered an American ally. In May 1971, 1.5 million refugees sought asylum in India by November 1971 that number had risen to nearly 10 million. When Australian doctor Geoffrey Davis was brought to Dhaka by the United Nations to assist with late-term abortions of raped women, at the end of the war, he believed the estimated figure for the number of Bengali women who were raped�,000 to 400,000—was probably too low.

All the while, tensions were gradually increasing between Pakistan and India, with both sides calling in reserve troops to prepare for a possible conflict along the Pakistan-Indian border. The massacre in Bangladesh came to an abrupt end when West Pakistan declared war on India in early December. By December 16, India forced Pakistan into unconditional surrender, and 90,000 Pakistani soldiers became prisoners of war. Bangladesh had achieved its independence—but at an incredibly high cost.

The world at large was well aware of the violence happening in Bangladesh throughout Operation Searchlight. Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi termed the attack “genocide” as early as March 31 of that year. Blood, the American consul-general in Dhaka, and Kenneth Keating, the U.S. ambassador to India, both called on President Nixon to discontinue their support of the Pakistani regime. Both diplomats were ignored and Blood was recalled.

Overshadowing the genocide were the ongoing tensions of the Cold War. Nixon and his national security advisor, Henry Kissinger, considered Pakistan a close ally in the region. The U.S. provided weapons, and used Pakistan as a gateway to open diplomatic relations with China.

Further complicating matters was India’s closeness with the Soviet Union. In August 1971 the two countries signed the “Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation” that seemed to indicate India would be relinquishing its role as a neutral bystander in the Cold War. Nixon and Kissinger were both terrified about the possibility of India intensifying their relationship with the U.S.S.R. and not overly concerned about Pakistan’s military action in Bangladesh—or the reaction of Americans who read about it.

“Biafra [another genocidal war in Nigeria] stirred up a few Catholics,” Nixon was recorded saying. “But you know, I think Biafra stirred people up more than Pakistan, because Pakistan, they’re just a bunch of brown goddamn Muslims.”

As political scientist Gary J. Bass writes, “Above all, Bangladesh’s experience shows the primacy of international security over justice.”

Despite gaining their independence, Bangladesh has struggled to overcome its bloody history. Although the current prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, has instituted an International War Crimes Tribunal, the process has specifically targeted Hasina’s political opposition, says the Heritage Foundation’s Lisa Curtis.

In addition to highlighting how one country has struggled to come to terms with its past, Curtis says the Bangladesh genocide should be further studied to help understand how the U.S. deals with massive atrocities happening abroad.

“How do we look at these from both a U.S. values perspective, but also a national interests perspective?” Curtis says. “And where do those values and national interests combine to merit a stronger response?”

The answer to that question, it often seems, is only clear in retrospect, when no more action can be taken. 

Editor's note, December 22, 2016: This article originally misstated the date of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's rally calling for civil disobedience. It was March 7, 1971, not March 4. The error has been fixed. 


  • Border battles between India and Pakistan erupt into full-scale war when India invades East Pakistan ( Now Bangladesh ) in support of the independence movement

NASA’s Apollo 14 mission to the Moon was launched on January 31st. This was the third successful manned mission to the Moon and the crew consisted of Commander Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa (Command Module Pilot), and Edgar Mitchell (Lunar Module Pilot). There were some issues with docking the modules, that were overcome after several attempts. Once they arrived on the Moon, Shepard became the fifth person to walk on the Moon and the first to try golfing on the surface after he attached a golf club head onto a lunar tool and attempted a few swings. The crew made it safely back to Earth on February 9th after nine days and brought back over 90 pounds of lunar rocks and samples to be examined.


Fifty Years of the Cyclone That Triggered a Civil War and Created Bangladesh

It was the Pakistan central government's half-hearted attempt at relief and rehabilitation in what was then East Pakistan that strengthened the liberation effort in Bangladesh.

The Bhola Cyclone over the Bay of Bengal. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Hook si dil mein uthi raat ke sannate mein
Aur phir dard ki lehron mein kaheen doob gai
Aasmaan jis pe fida tha voh zameen dob gayi

(‘A sort of pain rose in the silence of the night
And then it sunk somewhere within the waves of pain
The earth to which the sky was devoted sank, never to rise again’)

From Sailaab Ke Baad (‘After the Deluge’) by Ghulam Muhammad Qasir

The 1970 Bhola cyclone was a devastating tropical cyclone that struck then-East Pakistan and present-day Bangladesh, along with India’s West Bengal on November 11, 1970, 50 years ago today.

It remains the deadliest tropical cyclone and natural disasters ever recorded. At least 5,00,000 people lost their lives, primarily due to the storm surge that flooded much of the low-lying islands of the Ganges delta. This was the sixth cyclonic storm of the 1970 North Indian Ocean cyclone season, and also the season’s strongest.

The cyclone formed over the central Bay of Bengal on November 8, and traveled northward, intensifying as it did. It reached its peak with winds of 185 km per hour on November 10, and made landfall on the coast of what is now Bangladesh on the following afternoon.

Many offshore islands were devastated. Villages were wiped out and crops were destroyed. In the most severely affected upazila, Tazumuddin, over 45% of the population of 1,67,000 died.

The Pakistani government, led by junta leader General Yahya Khan, was criticised for its delayed handling of the relief operations following the storm, both by local political leaders in East Pakistan and international media. During the election that took place a month later, the opposition Awami League gained a landslide victory in the province, and continuing unrest between East Pakistan and the central Pakistan government triggered the Bangladesh Liberation War, which led to widespread atrocities and eventually concluded with the creation of the country of Bangladesh.

The extent of the cyclone’s destruction was unparalleled. The slums of Noakhali lay desolate for miles, corpses lay scattered unburied and uncovered everywhere. Those who survived this tragedy were worse than dead, many died of starvation.

Humans and natural calamities

The history of human struggle against natural calamities goes back a long time. Yet progress of science and technology has made the impossible possible, the mysteries of seven skies have been revealed and we are more prepared to deal with natural calamities than ever before. Thus the question as to what the government had done to protect vulnerable coastal areas of East Pakistan was a legitimate one.

The 1970 Bhola cyclone track. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Pakistan Press International (PPI) had reported at that time that due to the sudden termination of the traditional method of announcement of danger by the Meteorological Department via Radio Pakistan the people of coastal areas and coastal islands had no idea of the severity of the danger.

The leader of the National Awami Party Maulana Abdul Hamid Bhashani had said this alone was indication enough that the government did not take necessary measures to save people from the cyclone.

Whatever hope people had that Pakistan would wake up to the damage done and attempt to rectify it were quashed when it turned out that the powers that be were happy to limit its efforts to just relief activities. Was the objective merely to number the corpses, and not to save human lives, was the question on the ground.

It was not impossible to benefit from the measures for prevention of these calamities which had been adopted in other countries, especially in China, given that the country had always been a friendly neighbour.

General Yahya Khan gave the nation the news in a press conference that the central government had approved an expanded plan for long-term construction of the areas affected by the cyclone and for permanent settlement of their inhabitants. Rs 86 crore would be spent on this project, he said. He also revealed that the project had been presented before the World Bank, which had made a definite promise of aid. General Khan also said that he was very seriously thinking over why he should not hand over this project to the army which “would accomplish this task with honesty and diligence.”

General Yahya Khan with American President Richard Nixon. Photo: By Oliver F. Atkins, Public Domain

On accusations of negligence, General Khan said, “I accept the objections. People have a right to object.” But he also said that it was wrong to take “political benefit” out of this tragedy.

The details of the project for reconstruction of the affected areas were kept a secret. Government officials handled it and there was no intervention by representatives from East Pakistan or those from the affected areas in the preparation of this plan.

As for the competence and dutifulness of these government officials, the President himself did not appear to be satisfied with it otherwise he would not have said that he was seriously thinking about handing this work over to the army.

Was it not possible to consult political leaders, social workers, medics, engineers and teachers of East Pakistan? These people were much more informed of the local conditions than government officials. Perhaps the expenses could have been reduced as well.

As far as handing over this work to the army was concerned, no patriotic Pakistani could have denied that the Pakistani army had accomplished great things in the past but it was also true that the reconstruction and settlement of the affected areas was such a huge task that one group alone could not complete it. For this, the practical cooperation of the whole nation was needed.

If memory serves correctly, there also used to be a Flood Commission in Pakistan in those days. The members of this Commission had also visited China and many other countries, where these calamities had been overcome. Their reports too must have reached the eyes of the authorities. Now it is absurd to ask why those reports were not acted upon at that time but if they contained a few recommendations for public cooperation, it would have been suitable to reflect upon them. After all, it was with public cooperation that China was able to redirect its errant rivers and tackle floods.

A 1931 flood in China’s Hankow.

The gulf of suspicion and mistrust between the bureaucracy and the people their action affected became wider with time. Neither was any project successful or satisfactory and nor could it hope to be, without the cooperation of the people.

President Yahya Khan used to say in those days that he was not hungry for political power but wanted to transfer the law and order of the country to representatives chosen by people. In this situation, it was indeed necessary to consult the authentic representatives of the people most affected.

At that time many people – and not just the leftists – had proposed that an empowered joint committee of political leaders, social workers, engineers, teachers, doctors, students, journalists and labour and peasant leaders of various schools of thought be made.

This committee would also include representatives of the army and government. Had the government wanted this project to be successful, it would have composed such a joint committee at the national level. Instead what resulted was a garbled attempt at relief and rehabilitation, mired by corruption.

It is also hard to disagree with what the President had said then, on the fact that the destructions in East Pakistan should not be used as “political football.” But in this respect one is forced to reflect in hindsight upon the news of little-known activities of a few foreign powers. These were published in the newspapers of those days and created great apprehension.

In addition to the engagements of the then US ambassador to Pakistan, political leaders of East Pakistan also objected to the presence of British forces. The Dhaka newspaper Azad revealed at the time that the American government was ready to give aid for the control of floods and cyclones and other development projects but was desirous of establishing a naval base at Chittagong in lieu of it.

The feeling in Pakistan at that time regarding US imperialism was that every single particle of the land of Pakistan was sacred and that Pakistani people would starve but they would not sell their freedom and security to America at any price.

However all of this came to naught as the Awami League, headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, swept up a landslide victory in the national elections on December 7, 1970, largely in part due to the dissatisfaction over relief efforts by the national government. The elections for nine national assembly and eighteen provincial assembly seats had had to be postponed until January 18, 1971 as a result of the storm.

The government’s handling of the relief efforts helped exacerbate the bitterness felt in then-East Pakistan, swelling the resistance movement there. Funds trickled very slowly and transport was slow in bringing supplies to devastated regions. As tensions increased, by March 1971, foreign personnel evacuated because of fears of violence.

The situation developed into the Bangladesh Liberation War, widened into the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 in December and concluded with the creation of Bangladesh. A natural event had helped to trigger a civil war.

Meanwhile it was left to Ghulam Muhammad Qasir, the 29-year-old Pashtun Urdu poet from a sleepy backwater of Dera Ismail Khan to pen a dirge for the hapless victims of Noah’s Flood.

Maut voh Nooh ka toofaan hai ke jis ke aage
Zeest kohsaar ki choti ke sivaa kuch bhi nahi
Khamushi goonje toa phir saut-o-sadaa kuch bhi nahi
Zeest ki jins-e-garaan maut ki tehveel mein hai
Lashkar-e-umar-e-ravaan rahguzar-e-Neel mein hai

(‘Death is that Noah’s flood before which
Life is nothing but a mountain peak
If silence echoes, nothing are the sound and the shriek
The costly article of life is in death’s custody
Within the Nile’s pathway lies the passing life’s army’)


Bangladesh independence day 16th December

16th December is the day of Bangladesh independence. We fought for economic release in 19

Bangladesh independence day 16th December

71. Our freedom will be able to raise our heads high in the worlds financially. Victory Day reminds us of the history of our independence movement. Six-point program-based autonomy movement was very dynamic and public support from the very beginning — the six-point Bengali heart formed in such a way that one nation, one country, one leader is a movement. In today’s Victory Day, these history reminds us that the democracy limits the line. We could have given the status of the practice of democracy! Has the condition of our country increased in the country? It did not get.

We have an independent judiciary department. The government has given the judiciary an opportunity to work independently. Now the need of the bench is to establish eligibility and transparency. Judgmentlessness to Come Out. The court will have to come forward to prove that the rule of law is equally and acceptable to all.


COLD WAR TIMELINE: PAKISTAN

Given the death of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, yesterday, it’s safe to say that Pakistan will be in the headlines for days to come. A Cold War timeline gives us a quick picture of Pakistan’s — often stormy — relationship with the US.

1945: PAKISTAN was an idea, not a state. The original idea of a Pakistani state revolved around creating a homeland for Indian Muslims where they would not be dominated by the Hindu majority in a “one-man-one-vote” democracy. The assumption was that if Pakistan were to become a state, both Pakistan and India would remain dependent on Britain.

1947: Jinnah, the leading figure in the Pakistan movement, and Mohammed Iqbal, a poet-philosopher whose ideas underpinned the Pakistan movement, argued that the Islamic nature of a new Pakistan would enhance the defense of the South Asia subcontinent.

1947: Pakistan became a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations and, thus, a Cold War ally of the United States.

1954: Pakistan and Iraq signed mutual cooperation agreements with Turkey (a NATO) member.

1954: Pakistan signed a Mutual Defense Agreement with the US.

1955: Britain and Iran entered into security arrangements, and the ‘Middle East Defence Organization’, popularly known as the ‘Baghdad Pact’, was formed. It was loosely modeled on NATO. The US never became a full member. (The Baghdad Pact later became known as CENTO).

1955 (February): Pakistan became a member of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), also called the Manila Pact. Like CENTO, it was designed to be a regional NATO that would block communist advances in Southeast Asia.

1958: The name of the Baghdad Pact was formally changed to the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) after the Iraqi monarchy was overthrown. CENTO had little formal structure but it dd give the US and Britain access to facilities in Pakistan such as an airbase outside of Peshawar from which U-2 intelligence flights over the Soviet Union were launched.

1965: Indo-Pakistani War. The US suspended the arms shipments to Pakistan that the country had received in return for its membership in SEATO and CENTO. The US also suspended arms shipments to India. The embargo remained in place during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and was not lifted until 1975.

1971 (July): Pakistan facilitated a secret visit by US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger to Beijing. This visit led to a de facto US-China alignment directed against the Soviet Union. Pakistan took full credit for making this breakthrough possible. Some say that this signaled the beginning of the end of the Cold War because the communist movement was now seen as having a crack. From now on, the US made a distinction between major Communist powers that were friendly (China), and those that were antagonistic (the Soviet Union).

1971: Pakistan descended into civil war after East Pakistan demanded autonomy and, later, independence. India invaded East Pakistan in support of its people after millions of civilians fled to India. At the end of 1971, Pakistan was partitioned and Bangladesh was created out of East Pakistan. The Bangladesh movement received widespread public support in the US, as did India’s military intervention. But the US government supported Pakistan, valuing the alliance over human rights violations by the Pakistani army and good relations with India.

1971: After the war, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto becomes president of Pakistan. He believed that Pakistan had been deceived and betrayed by the US, and embarked on a policy that would lesson Pakistan’s dependence on the US.

  • He moved to bolster Pakistan’s Islamic identity, creating new and strong ties with Saudi Arabia, Iran, and other Islamic states.
  • Pakistan became a key member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), a group that had been founded in 1969.
  • He stressed Pakistan’s non-aligned and ‘developing’ credentials. He called his new policy ‘bilateralism’, implying neutrality in the Cold War.
  • He withdrew Pakistan from SEATO and military links with the West declined.
  • When CENTO was disbanded following the fall of the Shah of Iran in early 1979, Pakistan became a member of the nonaligned movement.

1974: India conducted a ‘peaceful nuclear explosion’ or weapons test. Pakistan reversed its past policy and initiated a secret nuclear weapons program in response.

1970s (late): Nuclear issues became the sticking point of Pakistan’s relations with its former Western allies, especially the US. Cold War alliances became formally defunct.

1977 (June): SEATO was dissolved.

1979: CENTO is dissolved after the Iranian Revolution. It had never been a militarily effective organization.

[SEATO like CENTO had regional and non-regional members. France, the US, and Britain were members, as were New Zealand and Australia. Regional states included Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan. SEATO was never formally involved in the Vietnam War, in part because of Pakistan’s objection.]

1979 (December): The Soviets invaded Afghanistan. This revived the close relationship between Pakistan and the US.

1980s (early): Pakistan strategists concluded that with a bomb they could provoke and probe India without fear of escalating to a nuclear conflict or large-scale war.

1981: Ronald Reagan offered to provide $3.2 billion to Pakistan over a period of 6 years, to be equally divided between economic and military assistance.

1985: The US Congress passed the Pressler Amendment which required the president to certify to Congress on an annual basis that Pakistan did not possess a nuclear weapon. Otherwise, assistance to Pakistan would be cut off. For several years, President Reagan and President H.W. Bush provided the certification required for a waiver.

1986: The US announced a second package of assistance of over $4.0 billion. 57% of this amount was for economic assistance.

1989: The US ended assistance to Pakistan. With the withdrawal of the Soviets from Afghanistan and the end of the Cold War, the US discovered that it can no longer certify the absence of nuclear weapons.

1989-2001: Pakistan’s nuclear program remains the core issue in its relations with the US.

2001: The 9/11 attacks lead to a revival of the US-Pakistan alliance. The George W. Bush administration very quickly eliminates many sanctions against Pakistan. Washington declares Pakistan to be a ‘major non-NATO ally’, entitling it to buy certain military equipment at reduced prices. Pakistan serves as a support base for the US war against Afghanistan, and as a partner in tracking down al-Queda and Taliban leaders. A massive military and economic assistance program for Pakistan is initiated in return.

2008: The US Congress accuses Pakistan of not pulling its weight in combating radical extremism in Afghanistan and in Pakistan itself.

2011 (May 1): Osama bin Laden, the force behind the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center in September 2001, is killed in Abbotabad, Pakistan, by US Navy SEALS.

If you enjoyed this article about Pakistan during the Cold War, you may want to look at some related posts. Just click on the links below.


Post-partition and conflict over Kashmir

The death of Muhammed Ali Jinnah in 1948, the conflict with India over the Princely State of Kashmir (which both countries claimed at independence), as well as ethnic and religious differences within Pakistan itself, all combined to stymie early attempts to agree on a constitution and an effectively functioning civil administration.

This failure paved the way for a military takeover of the government in 1958 and later on, a civil war in 1971. This saw the division of the country and the creation of the separate state of Bangladesh. Ever since then, military rule has been more often than not the order of the day in both countries.

India has maintained remarkable cohesion since independence, especially considering it is nearly the size of Europe.

At independence, in India and in Pakistan, civil unrest as well as ethnic and religious discord threatened the stability of the new country. However, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on 30 January 1948 by a Hindu fanatic strengthened the hand of secularists within the government.

Indian politicians ratified a constitution, which led to the first democratic elections in 1951. This made India the world's largest democracy and consolidated governmental authority over the entire subcontinent.

However, major tensions have persisted among both Muslim and Sikh communities, which suffered most from the violence and land loss resulting from partition. These tensions erupted most seriously in the 1980s in a violent campaign for the creation of a separate Sikh state which led ultimately to the assassination of Indira Gandhi.

Renewed victimisation of Muslims has also occurred, notably with the destruction of the Muslim shrine at Ayodhya in 1992 and anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat in 2004. With such notable exceptions, however, India has maintained a remarkable level of cohesion since independence, especially if one considers that it is a country nearly the size of Europe.

For both India and Pakistan, the most singular conflict unresolved since partition has concerned the former Princely State of Kashmir, whose fate was left undetermined at the time the British left. Lying as it did on the border, Kashmir was claimed by both countries, which have been to war over this region on numerous occasions.

The conflict has wasted thousands of lives and millions of dollars, but is closer to a solution now than at any time since independence. If achieved, it might finally bring to fruition the dreams of Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Mahatma Gandhi and once more set an example for post-colonial societies elsewhere in Africa, Asia and the Middle East to imitate and follow.


Herald Magazine

A visit to Dhaka can be an overwhelming experience — not just because of the traffic, pollution, congestion or humidity, but also due to its history. As a Pakistani, I felt remorse, guilt and shame every time I walked into the corridors of Dhaka University. The names of the students, intellectuals and teachers, who died as a result of Pakistani military actions in March to December 1971, are prominently displayed. A number of other historical sites are also located on the campus or situated close by.

Shaheed Minar, the memorial for those who lost their lives in the language riots of February 21, 1952 – remembered in Bangladesh as Ekushey and celebrated by the United Nations as World’s Mother Language Day – and Bangla Academy, established in the wake of the rise of the Bengali Language Movement in the 1950s, are part of the university campus. Opposite Bangla Academy is the famous Ramna Race Course (now called Suhrawardy Udyan) where Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made his famous speech on March 7, 1971, which ended with these ominous words: “The struggle this time is for our freedom. The struggle this time is for our independence”. The surrender ceremony of the Pakistani military also took place here on December 16, 1971.

Adjacent to Suhrawardy Udyan is another building which has become largely irrelevant for most Bangladeshis. Generally referred to as the Mausoleum of Three Leaders, this multi-arched structure built in the 1960s is the resting place of three Bengali politicians: Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (1892-1963), A K Fazlul Haq (1873-1962), and Khawaja Nazimuddin (1894-1964). Suhrawardy and Nazimuddin served as prime ministers of Pakistan in the 1950s and Haq was one of the movers of the Lahore Resolution of March 1940, later renamed as Pakistan Resolution. The lack of interest in this mausoleum is reflective of the general apathy among Bangladeshis towards pre-1971 history.

Since 1971, anything honouring the founding figures of Pakistan have been renamed or removed. Jinnah, too, has not been accorded any respect because he had declared Urdu the official language of Pakistan while addressing a gathering in Dhaka in 1948. Post-1971, Jinnah College became Titumir College and Jinnah Avenue became Bangabandhu Avenue (Bangabandhu meaning ‘a friend of Bengal’ was a title given to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1969 after he was released from prison, following his arrest and trial for what is known as the Agartala Conspiracy Case). The vast area which now houses several government buildings – including the national parliament – was developed during the 1960s and was originally named Ayub Nagar after Ayub Khan. It is now called Sher-e-Banglanagar to honour Haq.

These changes are symptomatic of a selective historical narrative that leaves out many developments that took place between 1947 and 1971 but do not help explain how and why the need to turn East Pakistan into an independent state became urgent and unavoidable. These changes include most of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s political career during that period. Like Suhrawardy and Haq – and, indeed, many other prominent politicians in East Pakistan – he was not always the separatist nationalist he is projected to be in both Pakistan and Bangladesh. During the 1960s, his Awami League was an active participant in mainstream Pakistani politics as part of the opposition alliance against Ayub Khan. He had also worked as a political lieutenant to Suhrawardy in the first decade and a half of united Pakistan and was a prominent participant in Fatima Jinnah’s presidential campaign in 1965. Even his famous six-point charter of demands was first presented in Lahore in 1966 at a meeting organised by the opposition parties.

It can be argued that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman took centre stage in East Pakistan’s politics only during the mid 1960s, when the three towering figures of the region’s politics – Suhrawardy, Haq and Nazimuddin – died in quick succession, leaving a huge political void. He seemed to be aware that, on his own, he would find it difficult to fill that gap and, therefore, requested Justice (retd) Muhammad Ibrahim to take up the reigns of the Awami League. Ibrahim retired as a judge of the high court’s Dhaka bench in the 1950s and later served as law minister under Ayub Khan from 1958 to 1962. He made several entries in his diary, which he wrote between 1960 and 1966, about Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s repeated offers to him to lead his party.

There were at least 3,000 trained personnel of the three forces who switched loyalties and joined the rebel ranks. The renegades from the security forces mostly fled to India where they joined the Mukti Bahini.

Although he had joined Ayub Khan’s military government, Ibrahim was a staunch Bengali nationalist. Ayub Khan disliked him immensely and bypassed him completely while drafting the 1962 Constitution. Not only did Ibrahim frequently voice his concerns in cabinet meetings about the injustices meted out to East Pakistan but also suggested remedies. One of these remedies bore close resemblance to a demand later made by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in his six points: create separate currencies for West Pakistan and East Pakistan. The idea – also known as the “two economy thesis” – was, in fact, first floated when Pakistani economists met in Dhaka to discuss the first five-year plan. As recorded by Bangladeshi academic Rounaq Jahan in her 1972 book Pakistan: Failure in National Integration, Bengali economists were cognisant of the historical roots of underdevelopment in East Pakistan and did not entirely blame the central government for their region’s poverty and backwardness. They simply demanded that East Pakistan be given preferential treatment in social and economic development, treating it as a special economic unit distinct from West Pakistan. Their demand, however, fell on deaf ears.

Ibrahim blamed the Punjabi bureaucracy for this indifference and predicted the break-up of Pakistan because of the intransigence and greed of Punjabi bureaucrats. “The Punjabis want to rule Pakistan and they think that they have a right to do so,” he wrote in his diary. He also recalled telling a friend in 1947 that, “Punjabis are Pakistan’s Jhopar Kural (an axe used for felling a clump of bamboos)”. What he meant was that Punjabis would cut down the roots of the newly set up country.

In a lecture I delivered at Dhaka University, I made a passing reference to Chaudhry Rahmat Ali. From the audience’s response, I could gather that they did not know him. When I asked the students whether they knew about him, they all said no. This says a lot about the course the study of history has taken in Bangladesh since 1971: most pre-1947 political developments are not considered relevant. This explains why the likes of Ali do not figure prominently in the historical narrative of Bangladesh, even though Bangladeshi nationalists could have used his story to strengthen their claim to independent nationhood. After all, the word ‘Pakistan’ as coined by him did not have any reference to Bengal. Similarly, because of a general lack of interest in the Pakistan Movement in Bangladesh, Bangladeshi historians barely notice that the Lahore Resolution demanded multiple “states”, rather than a single country, for the Muslims of India.

Bangladesh’s official and popular historical narrative refuses to take a long view of Bengali identity formation during the colonial period, in general, and the contribution made therein by the Pakistan Movement in the 1940s, in particular. This has created confusion in Bangladesh about whether the people of the country are Bengalis or Bangladeshis. Pakistanis, too, have a poor understanding of Bangladesh’s history. They simply look at the country as a product of an Indian conspiracy. The full extent of Bengali identity formation in the British colonial period and the developments which took place after 1947, resulting in the alienation of East Pakistan, are lost upon them. This is because books on the history and politics of Bangladesh are hard to obtain in Pakistan. Publishers in Pakistan have mostly shown interest in reprinting and translating books which support Pakistan’s version of the 1971 war rather than the ones that look at the fateful events of that year in their complete historical context.

In order to have a fuller picture, it is essential to go through such works as Sufia Ahmed’s Muslim Community in Bengal, 1884-1912 and Rafiuddin Ahmed’s The Bengal Muslims, 1871-1906. These writers have traced the history of various developments during the late 19th century, when a distinct Muslim identity was taking shape in Bengal. Two of the best books to have come out in recent years covering this subject are Neilesh Bose’s Recasting the Region: Language, Culture and Islam in Colonial Bengal and Taj ul-Islam Hashmi’s Peasant Utopia: The Communalization of Class Politics in East Bengal, 1920-1947. Bose has been able to build upon earlier works and also explore extensive new material from political archives and cultural productions to find the link between Bengali Muslim identity and the popularity of the idea of Pakistan in Bengal. In the rural hinterland of East Bengal – that was both undeveloped and snubbed by Calcutta-dominated Bengali Hindu elite – Pakistan was a utopian land for Bengali peasants.

But the euphoria around the Pakistan Movement dissipated as quickly as it had come about. The frustration and disappointment with Pakistan developed almost immediately after 1947, as is documented by Ahmed Kamal in his book State Against the Nation: Decline of the Muslim League in Pre-Independence Bangladesh. Kamal’s book suggests that the provincial assembly elections held in East Pakistan in 1954 largely sealed the fate of Pakistan — much before the general elections of 1970, which are usually credited or blamed for the creation of Bangladesh. The Muslim League suffered a massive drubbing in those polls and could win only less than a dozen seats in an assembly of 309 seats. The Jugto Front or the United Front, comprising almost all the parties in East Pakistan except the Muslim League, won a whopping 223 seats. Yet, the central government dismissed the United Front’s provincial government only a few weeks after it came to power. The central government also made attempts to create fissures in the ranks of the United Front so that its majority in the provincial assembly could be whittled down.

Books on the history and politics of Bangladesh are hard to obtain in Pakistan. Publishers have mostly shown interest in reprinting and translating books which support Pakistan’s version of the 1971 war.

A historical narrative that covers all these complex subjects will bring a nuanced understanding of the creation of Bangladesh. There is no doubt that 1971 will always remain the most important time as far as Bangladesh’s history is concerned but, on its own, it will never be able to explain the origins of Bengali Muslim identity in the region. It was the evolution of this identity which led the Muslims in East Bengal to demand, and have, a homeland for themselves, separate from Hindu-dominated West Bengal — initially as part of a united Pakistan and, since 1971, as an independent state of their own.

Like all other nation states, Bangladesh has been struggling to construct, and impose, a single national historical narrative. But even in a state like Bangladesh, where ethnic and linguistic variations are few – if any – the process of identity formation remains contested. This explains why, in a state created on the basis of regional autonomy and cultural and linguistic rights, the tribes living in Chittagong Hill Tracts objected to the constitution adopted in 1972 which called the citizens of the country as Bengalis. As quoted by the academic Jahan in an edited volume, Bangladesh: Promise and Performance, Manabendranath Larma, representing the people of Chittagong Hill Tracts, instead suggested the citizens of the new state be called Bangladeshis.

But this suggestion only half-addressed the problem. While being Bangladeshi, as opposed to being Bengali alone, allowed non-Bengali citizens to feel included in the national fold, it led to a differentiation between Bangladeshi Bengalis – who were mostly Muslim – and Indian Bengalis – who were mostly Hindus – thereby creating a de facto religious divide between the two. This differentiation contradicted Bangladesh’s constitution which, in its original version, had declared nationalism, democracy, socialism and secularism as its guiding principles. The constitution has been rewritten repeatedly since then and secularism has been replaced with “absolute truth and faith in Almighty Allah”. Yet, Bangladesh’s quest for a unique identity which emphasises its Bengali origins without compromising its political sovereignty continues.

One interesting manifestation of this quest is the use of Urdu words in Bangladesh. During the 1970 election campaign, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman used to raise the ‘Joy Bangla’ (‘Long live Bengal’) slogan. At a ceremony to administer oath to the Awami League’s parliamentarians on January 3, 1971, he ended the event with two slogans: ‘Joy Bangla’ and ‘Joy Pakistan’. On the other hand, as reported by Khan Md Lutfor Rahman in Nation Building Problems in Bangladesh: A Socio-Economic-Political Perspective, when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was killed along with almost all of his family on August 15, 1975, Khondaker Mushtaq Ahmad – the puppet president installed by the military – ended his radio speech with, “Bangladesh Zindabad”.

The use of ‘zindabad’ was clearly meant to send a positive signal to Pakistan which was promptly reciprocated by despatching a shipment of food grains to help the famine-stricken Bangladesh — a humanitarian crisis which has played a significant role in building up public resentment against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s totalitarian rule. Though this does not mean that Urdu has, since then, become acceptable in Bangladesh, the use of the word ‘zindabad’ indicated a major policy change in the cultural politics of Bangladesh and had an impact on its domestic and foreign policy orientations as well — moving away from secular nationalism and India but tilting towards religion and Pakistan.

Regardless of the difference in orientation, both the language-inspired Bangladeshi nationalism and its religion-driven alternative do not regard hundreds of thousands of Biharis living in Bangladesh as legitimate citizens of the state. The forefathers of these Biharis had migrated to East Pakistan in 1947 from the Indian state of Bihar and they come from an ethnic and linguistic stock different from that of Bengalis. Even though most of them want to become Bangladeshi citizens, they still live in squalid camps as “stranded Pakistanis”. There are 400,000 to 500,000 of them living in makeshift settlements in Dhaka and other Bangladeshi cities. “I wouldn’t advise you to go to these camps”, said a cab driver to me. “They will recognise that you are from Pakistan and may get aggressive. They will say you guys are having so much fun there and we are suffering here because of you.”

These Biharis are essentially stateless people as neither Pakistan nor Bangladesh is willing to accept them as citizens. Earlier this year, the Foreign Office in Islamabad told the Supreme Court that Pakistan had already resettled about 170,000 Biharis within Pakistani territory and those still living in Bangladesh were no longer Pakistan’s responsibility. In Bangladesh, they are not even eligible for citizenship despite the fact that they were living in the country when it became an independent state. Even though a vast majority of those living in the camps were born in or after the 1990s – or, at the least, after 1971 – they are still seen as traitors who collaborated with Pakistan’s security forces against the local people. “They were razakars (volunteers). They were involved in the genocide [of the local people]. We cannot forget that,” a professor in Dhaka told me.

Possessing no identity documents, the Biharis are largely confined to heavily overpopulated ghettos where they receive education and health facilities through non-governmental organisations and aid workers. Their presence manifests a contradiction inherent in every nation state: that it has the impulse to minoritise some segment of the population on some basis. There will always be communities within nation states which are not ‘French enough’ because they don’t give up the hijab or tweet the hashtag Je Suis Charlie.

I happened to be in Dhaka at a time when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on an official visit there. The people I spoke to – and I make no claims of having met a large number of people from different sections of the society – were being critical, albeit cautiously, of their own government for having signed agreements which promoted Indian interests at the expense of Bangladesh. India, for instance, managed to get official Bangladeshi approval for a transit route through Bangladeshi territory to create a direct connection between the Indian mainland and the seven north-eastern states squeezed between Bangladesh on the West and Burma on the east. Bangladeshis were shocked that India had got what it wanted without having to give anything in return. They had expected some development on the long-standing issue of water sharing – especially the use of the Teesta river – and the construction of dams by India.

India also finally ratified a border agreement which Bangladesh had ratified in 1974. The ratification will lead to land swaps at a number of small enclaves stranded on the wrong side of the border between the two countries but, as many Bangladeshis pointed out to me, it does not address the killing of Bangladeshi civilians by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF).

It may look like a long shot but the truth is that the Bangladeshi’s hatred for the BSF helped me understand the idea of Pakistan. This idea has come to exemplify different things to different people in South Asia, depending on their differing contexts. Crowds waving Pakistani flags in Kashmir do not do so because they deem Kashmir as the unfinished agenda of Partition but because they live as a persecuted community. For them, Pakistan signifies the will to power of a community that has established its own sovereign political authority which employs overt symbols, notions and laws representing its religion. The idea of Pakistan for Kashmiris, therefore, is akin to freedom from oppression or freedom from being relegated to a minority.

Crowds waving Pakistani flags in Kashmir do not do so because they deem Kashmir as the unfinished adgenda of Partition but because they live as a persecuted community.

In Bangladesh’s case, the idea of Pakistan resides in the desire to be on par with India. This parity was central to Muslim politics, including those in Bengal, during the decades preceding Partition. The All-India Muslim League and its leaders – especially Jinnah – argued at the time that Muslims in India needed to be treated as a special minority and, therefore, must be entitled to disproportionate representation, especially in the central legislature and constitution-making bodies. The Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 offered exactly this kind of parity by allowing provinces to come together into geographically contiguous units, which would then join an all-India federation as regions with considerable financial, economic and political autonomy. The two proposed Muslim-majority units, Jinnah expected, would enable Muslims to achieve parity with the rest of India as far as the protection of their economic, political and cultural rights was concerned.

How is this idea of parity relevant to Bangladesh today? To find a detailed answer, one may have to look into the history of the relationship between East Bengal and West Bengal before Partition, East Pakistan and India between 1947 and 1971, and Bangladesh and India since 1971. At the surface level, however, most Bangladeshis talk about military parity. “Prior to 1971, if BSF killed one [Pakistani], East Pakistan Rifles would kill two [Indians] in retaliation,” is how one Bangladeshi put it. He then complained that Bangladesh could no longer afford to do that. “Look at the situation now. Indian BSF kills dozens of innocent Bangladeshis everyday on our borders and we are so helpless about it.”

Such will to power – the ability to respond to an act of aggression – was a strong factor in the movement for Pakistan and it continues to shape the idea of Pakistan for both Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis. Even certain sections of the Muslim population in India share this idea. When Nurul Islam – a Harvard-trained economist who had served in key government positions in Pakistan during the 1950s and the 1960s – went into exile in Calcutta in 1971, he found his Bengali Muslim host opposing the cause of an independent Bangladesh. In his book, Making of a Nation, Bangladesh: An Economist’s Tale, Islam recorded his host as saying that a “strong and united Pakistan was a balancing factor against India and provided some constraint on India’s discriminatory, if not outrightly hostile, treatment of the Muslims”. He also suggested that the “Muslims in the East should have settled their differences with Pakistan peacefully, without destroying its integrity”. Indian nationalist politicians, such as Nehru, and historians, such as Bipan Chandra and Mushirul Hasan, dismiss this idea of parity either as communalist or false consciousness. They fail to understand that it was, and continues to be, popular. There has to be some rational explanation for it.

The popularity of the idea of parity, however, does not make it right. It is inherently confrontationist because it is premised on the equality of response the two sides can give to each other in economic, political, cultural and, most importantly, military terms. It also has the tendency to create a fascist sense of supremacy and the desire to wipe the other out of existence. As we see around us, this idea of parity is shaping the worldview of Pakistan’s burgeoning urban middle class which champions conservative and orthodox social practices, hates India (and Hindus) and glorifies military power. Those seeking parity with India in military terms also fail to understand its implications: a state with stunted political structures and limited economic resource base investing disproportionately in military expenditure to compete with a state six times its size, and with far bigger economic resources, will end up having its military as an overdeveloped institution. The necessary corollaries of this will be jingoistic rhetoric dominating the public sphere and endemic system failures in the political arena.

The controversy about India’s involvement in the 1971 war resurfaced while I was still in Dhaka. This happened because of Modi’s statement glorifying the role played by India in the liberation of Bangladesh. The Foreign Office in Islamabad responded by calling his statement an official admission by New Delhi of its guilt in bringing about the dismemberment of Pakistan in violation of the United Nations charter. This response not only lacked context, it also exhibited a woeful disregard for history.

While the rest of the world is already aware, the majority of Pakistanis must also be apprised of the events which culminated in Bangladesh’s independence. Most importantly, Pakistanis should know that the conflict in 1971 was the climax of a long struggle by the people of East Pakistan for acquiring autonomy through political means. It was only after the military operation of March 1971 that radical, pro-independence militant elements acquired widespread popular support in East Pakistan. It is also about time that Pakistanis acknowledge the terrible crimes committed by Pakistani administrative and security institutions in East Pakistan. To cite just one example, scores of Bengali intellectuals, journalists and student activists were brutally killed on the night of March 25, 1971, during a military operation inside Dhaka University’s Jagannath Hall. The hostel was targeted because most of the boarders there were Hindus.

The resentment over the operation was so pervasive that the military found its own personnel seething with anger. Soon, East Pakistanis working with the police, East Pakistan Rifles and even the Pakistan Army started deserting their jobs. According to one estimate, there were at least 3,000 trained personnel of the three forces who switched loyalties and joined the rebel ranks. The renegades from the security forces mostly fled to India where they joined the Mukti Bahini under the military command of Colonel Osmani and the likes of Major Ziaur Rahman, who later became the president of Bangladesh. According to Colonel Osmani, as quoted by Bangladeshi economist, diplomat, and minister A M A Muhith in his book Bangladesh: Emergence of a Nation: “If the Pakistanis had only limited their action against selected politicians, Bengalis in the army and the police force might have stayed neutral. It was only when information got around that the Pakistan Army was out to kill Bengali intellectuals and servicemen as well that we revolted to a man.”

There is no doubt that 1971 will always remain the most important time as far as Bangladesh’s history is concerned but, on its own, it will never be able to explain the origins of Bengali Muslim identity in the region.

The desertions were not limited to the security forces. When a government of Bangladesh in exile was set up in April 1971, the entire Pakistani mission in Calcutta switched loyalties and supported the government in exile. This was a huge embarrassment for the government of Pakistan, which responded by becoming more suspicious of its Bengali diplomats around the globe who, nonetheless, continued to quit the comforts of a diplomatic life to make their contribution to what they saw as a war of liberation.

From March 1971 onwards, the conflict in East Pakistan became a civil war in which the rebels enjoyed massive popular support. The means employed by Pakistani authorities to crush the rebellion during this period became extremely brutal. About 10 million people from East Pakistan had to flee their homes and seek refuge in India. Thousands of Bengali women were raped. Immediately after the war, international medical agencies rushed to Bangladesh to help with abortions. Others helped by offering to adopt children born out of this traumatic experience. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of people died due to the combined impact of military operation, migration and war.

The government of Bangladesh insists the death toll was close to three million and calls it genocide. While this is considered an exaggeration by most independent observers, what is unfortunate is the way the figure is disputed by revisionist historians and their eager supporters in Pakistan — as if bringing the number down to under a million would make it more justifiable or explicable. They also try to shift the focus by highlighting the atrocities committed by the Mukti Bahini against Biharis during 1971 and even afterwards. There is no denying that killings, torture, plunder and sexual crimes were committed against Biharis but that does not become a balancing factor. I do not have to recall crimes against Biharis in order to exonerate myself of what Pakistani forces did to Bengalis.

Those indulging in such tricks must remember that Bangladeshis need closure for what happened to them during their war of liberation. By trying the members of pro-Pakistani militias such as al Badr and al Shams for war crimes, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina Wajed is playing politics rather than working for a closure. This is why these trials create more conflict and polarisation in Bangladeshi society. Bangladesh will not be able to get closure without our help.

Pakistan formally issued a half-hearted apology in the past but it does not mean anything. The official Pakistani policy since the issuing of that apology is to refer to the past as a closed transaction, urging everyone to move forward. But forgetting the past and moving forward is not a solution in this particular case since it involves large-scale death and suffering remembered as a lived experience by millions in Bangladesh. It cannot be forgotten, though its emotional and psychological scars can be healed if ordinary Pakistanis are proactive.

For that to materialise, we need to know the details of what happened to the people of East Pakistan — especially during March 1971 and December 1971. It won’t take much to empathise with them and feel their agony and pain. As a starting point, as suggested by Salil Tripathi, the Indian journalist who has recently written The Colonel Who Would Not Repent: The Bangladesh War and its Unquiet Legacy, let us petition for a memorial to be built in Pakistan to honour all those who died or suffered during 1971. Germany has done this for the victims of the Holocaust and the United States has done the same for those who died in the Vietnam War. Why can’t we?

This article was originally published in the Herald's September 2015 issue. To read more, subscribe to the Herald in print.

The writer is an assistant professor of history at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.


Why Was Bangladesh Created?

Bangladesh was created in December, 1971 when the former East Pakistan was separated from Pakistan. In fact such major incidents do not take place all of a sudden. There is a long story of dissatisfactions and grievances which continued growing for a long period. Same happened in case of the separation of East Pakistan. Main 2 causes are as follows:

1. East Pakistan was at a distance of 1600Kms from the West Pakistan with a large hostile Indian territory in between, had East Pakistan been contiguous to West Pakistan the separation would never have taken place.

2. Political grievances were the most important reason. The area had the larger population by 54% but the political powers were in the hands of West Wing Politicians. They had the grievance of under-representation. They demanded more seats in the Central Assembly and more participation in the local and Federal cabinets as they were more in the population. The political reason also consisted of the disunity among the Ministers and Political representatives. If Bangladesh had not been separated, there must have always been fights among Muslims and Hindus on account of more territories and more Participation.

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