military

The Fall Of Dhaka: Is it a Deliberate or a Blunder

By Nadar Shah Katawazai

(On Wednesday, 16th December 2020, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi lit the Swarnim Vijay Mashaal to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1971 Indo-Pak war. Here, The Viyug presents a special political commentary of the 1971 war).

With the triumph of Sheik Mujeebur Rahman in the first democratic General Election in December 1970, that swept late comrade Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, chairman of Pakistan People party with tough competition in East Pakistan. As a consequence, Sheikh Mujib’s party Awami League won with a majority of 162 out of 300 seats, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party won barely 88 seats. The Pakistan People’s Party failed to gain even a single seat in East Pakistan and similarly Awami league lost in West Pakistan. The outcome of the election was not acceptable to military leadership and as well as to Bhutto. After the clear victory, Mujeebur Rahman claimed the right to form a government and rule over the country. Although, the existing regime and leadership of West Pakistan refused to hand over the power to the Mujibur Rahman’s Party. The refusal to power transition created a political crisis and unrest among the masses of East Pakistan that subsequently led to enormous resistance and protests.

Document signed between India and Pakistan after Pakistan Army surrendering in 1971

The election results had created suspicion in the military and political arena. In 1966, Mujib introduced his six point’s political and economic agenda for East Pakistan. The agenda had the clause of provincial autonomy on its first top agenda which also created distress among the Leaders of West Pakistan. All the West Pakistanis had a vital concern of constitutional amendment in the power structure. If Awami League forms the central government that will amend the constitution, as well as power vested in Bengalis interests. The authority and privileges which were solely enjoyed by West Pakistan since the independence will face a pivotal shift towards East Pakistan after the formation of the new government. This transition of power was not in the general interests of West Pakistan that East should rule over the country.

The proximity of East Pakistan to India and linguistic differences were among other concerns for West Pakistan. The hegemonic Bengali language was not acceptable to West Pakistan which was predominantly Urdu speakers. West Pakistan was aware of the fact that Urdu as a national language was not favorable to the Bengali populations settled in the eastern part of Pakistan. The issue of a linguistic tussle has sowed the seeds of hatred among the inhabitants of both wings. The attitude of West Pakistan towards Bengalis was very arrogant such as the implementation of linguistics issue by imposition, isolated further the masses of both Wings.

The developmental process and resource distribution were remarkably slow in the Eastern part to compare to West Pakistan which was another indispensable factor for the fall of Dhaka. All the focus was on the development of West Pakistan because they were on the driving seat of government to administer state affairs and to enjoy the significant profiles. In bureaucracy and public service, the ratio of the Bengalis was not proportional. they were deprived of their due rights, basic needs and were not treated like the citizens of West Pakistan.

It was hard to think for Pakistan that one part of the territory could be isolated and the irony that 93 thousand Pakistani armies had to surrender to its Diehard rival India. India had never endorsed but tirelessly struggled for the independence of East Pakistan. India’s support for “Mukti Bahini” in terms of logistic and military training is not hidden from the world. India provided all kinds of support to Bengali rebels from financial, strategical to psychological. East Pakistan was not too much developed and prosperous like West Pakistan and India were pulling Bengali towards independence to conceive a separate state for themselves. India was unsatisfied with both the factions of Pakistan. 

When there remained no way to reach out from the deadlock with East, President Yahya khan met with Bhutto to decide the fate of the crisis after every failed attempt. The situation was out of control of the State and a crackdown began on Mujib and Awami League on the order of Yahya khan in East Pakistan. This crackdown pushed the country into chaos, and consequently, it expanded in the form of revolt.

General Niazi took command of East Pakistan to control the deteriorating situation and to ease the tension. Many Bengali fled to India where borders were open with a warm welcome to Bengalis. India trained rebels and migrants to prepare for war with Pakistan in the shape of a guerrilla force of Bengalis called the Mukti Bahini. The escalation increased between the East Pakistan armies with Mukti Bahini, which had the back-up of the Indian army. The surrender of the Pakistan army was a complete failure of the strategy to deal with the crisis. This was an embezzlement for Pakistan in the world and the liberation movement got international support.  There was no access to food supply and other logistics to Pakistani forces and no way to escape its forces from the clutches of the Indian army. On the other side, there was no support from the East wing. Eventually, General Niazi had to step down in front of the Indian military to handover the weapons of surrender. The surrender was celebrated by thousands of Bengalis since this cleared their victory of independent State for which they had been fighting for decades.

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The 1971 debacle was a misfortune for the Pakistan army and politicians not to accept the results of the election. The truth is that the worst atrocities and acrimony in history that the Pakistan army had done was unforgettable and unpardonable. In 1971, the situation was worse than ever in the absence of law and order. The situation was out of control in East Pakistan due to a political stalemate. Bengali and non-Bengalis were assassinated in huge numbers by mobsters across the country to amplify the turbulence. The women were abused, raped, brutally thrashed, and assassinated. The four prominent personalities who were responsible for the Fall of Dhaka, was Zulfiqar Bhutto, Sheik Mujeebur Rahman, General Yahya Khan, Ayub khan.

Eventually, what happened on 16th December 1971 everyone knows that the East wing was separated from the atrocities and cruelty of West Pakistan. The reluctance of the Pakistan army and politicians in the transition of authority to the Awami League led to the disintegration of Pakistan into two pieces. In the whole scenario, India played a decisive role; as the humanitarian protagonist for East Bengal and as the villain for West Pakistan. Although, this tragedy could be circumvented by political will through the power-sharing arrangement for an inclusive government. However, both sides showed no flexibility and were persistent with their non-collaborative policies.

About the Author

Nadir Shah is from Afghanistan and has a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and worked in the National Museum of Afghanistan for more than three years. He is currently doing an M.A in South Asian Studies (UMISARC department) at Pondicherry University, India. Nadir has written four articles which were published in the Afghanistan times newspaper and delivered more than 20 interviews to various TV channels during his job. He has attended many international conferences and national seminars abroad and inside the country.

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