by Asif Haroon Raja
Once the Army of British East India Company under Lord Clive defeated Siraj ud Daula in the battle of Plassey in 1757 with the help of infamous Mir Jaffar, the British in collusion with the Hindus oppressed the Muslim Bengalis and in a matter of 50 years they converted the entire class of their nobility into serfs and upgraded the Hindus from serfs to masters. Bengal which was the richest province of united India under the Mughals was plundered with both hands.
After the 1757 war of independence, the British declared the Bengalis as a non-martial race and undependable and banned Bengal Army. It was owing to the extreme oppression of the British-Hindu combine that the Muslim Bengalis were in the forefront in the Pakistan movement. By the time Pakistan came into being in 1947, East Bengal had become the poorest of all particularly when Calcutta, which was the capital and lifeline of united Bengal became part of West Bengal.
India worked upon people of East Bengal since 1948 with the aim of poisoning the minds of Bengalis against people of West Pakistan through a coordinated subversion plan. Well knowing the geographic vulnerability of East Pakistan which was surrounded by India from three sides and sea on the 4th side, deprived of land contiguity with western wing of Pakistan, and above all customs and traditions of people of East Bengal being similar to Hindu dominated West Bengal, India marked it as the first target of subversion. It took the Indian psychological operators 23 years to completely alienate the Bengalis from the concept of united Pakistan and inculcate the idea of independent Bangladesh.
In this regard. The Hindu teachers and professors who were in great majority (90%), as well as the prosperous and influential Bengali Hindu community (23% of total population) played a key role in subverting the minds of the Bengali youth and the seculars. Bengali intellectuals and Awami League under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman did the rest to make the Bengalis hate West Pakistan, particularly Punjab, Army and bureacracy. Major plank of the psychological war revolved around socio-politico-economic grievances and that West Pakistan was prospering at the cost of East Pakistan by making use of foreign exchange earned through export of jute.
Mujibur Rahman was cultivated by Indian intelligence agencies in early 1950s and was instigated to spearhead the 1953 language controversy. He took the road towards secession after his meeting with Indian officials at Agartala in 1963, from where he was flown to New Delhi to hold a meeting with Nehru and he agreed to become a pawn of India.
Mujib came into prominence in 1964 after the death of Suhrawardy particularly after his blistering complaints that East Pakistan had been left defenseless in 1965 war. He then started propagating his six-point plan that was crafted by India and resorted to politics of violence and hatred. Red Mulla Bhashani also pursued similar politics of agitation. Indian media glamorized Mujib and his six points and painted Pakistan in black.
RAW was established in 1968 to launch the final phase with the help of Mukti Bahini (Bengali rebels). Calling off the treason case initiated against Mujib and his henchmen in 1968 was the first victory of the secessionists. Their second success was when Ayub Khan was forced to resign and hand over power to Gen Yahya Khan in March 1969. The situation arose because of ZA Bhutto’s uncompromising attitude in the Round Table Conference even after Ayub Khan agreed to all the demands of the opposition. Chaos created by Bhutto and Mujib in both the provinces was foreign funded and inspired to get rid of Ayub Khan.
Gen Yahya Khan was neither professionally weak nor corrupt but had the weakness of wine and women and was politically immature. He kept appeasing Mujib and naively thought that Bhutto was his friend. Yahya Khan strengthened the position of Mujib by abrogating the 1962 Constitution and running the country on Legal Framework Order (LFO), dissolving One Unit, and doing away with parity formula. For elections, he allowed joint electorate and one-man-one vote. These conciliatory concessions ensured Awami League’s grand electoral victory at the outset.
During the yearlong election campaign, Mujib was allowed to run his election campaign on his six-points, which was a certificate to secession and contrary to LFO. It enabled Mujib to fan Bengali nationalism as well as terrorise those Bengalis not subscribing to his policies. These factors together with massive pre-poll and during polls rigging enabled Awami League to win 98% seats in East Pakistan. PPP under Bhutto gained majority in West Pakistan. Hungering for power, Mujib wanted the whole cake while Bhutto craved for half of it. Extreme intransigence of the two belligerents brought Pakistan to an impasse and made Yahya helpless. At the urging of Bhutto, Yahya postponed the session of Constituent Assembly due on 01 March 1971.
All hell broke out in East Pakistan after this announcement. Under the guidance of RAW, the Awami League goons massacred 150,000 Non-Bengalis and pro-Pakistan Bengalis, raped non-Bengali girls/women, and burnt their property within three weeks. The victims were killed in most cruel and horrifying manner. Wide scale massacre occurred since the troops had been interned in the barracks on night of 2/3 March on the express wish made by Mujib to the Governor. Savageries were purposely committed to draw a permanent cleavage between Bengalis and non-Bengalis. Another reason of inhuman brutality was to provoke Yahya Khan and force him to use force so that it could be exploited to win the sympathies of the world.
While air service between the two wings had already been dislocated by India in January 1971, postal/telephone/telegraph services were also cut and TV/radio stations taken over. East Pakistanis stopped paying taxes. A state within state was created and all orders of the state were defied. Pak media and politicians led by Bhutto kept prodding and ridiculing Yahya to respond and save Pakistan. Ironically, own media maintained silence over the barbarities of Awami League thugs on the thoughtless plea that it would evoke a reaction against Bengalis in West Pakistan, as had happened in 1947. International media teams based in Dacca also remained mum.
Yahya Khan with his team sat with Mujib and his team for two weeks and agreed to all his demands but the other side had made up their mind to break away from Pakistan and refused to reconcile. Left with no choice, Yahya was compelled to order a military operation on the night of 25 March to save non-Bengalis/pro-Pakistan Bengalis from getting butchered and to put sense into the minds of secessionists. Had the operation not been launched the Bengali rebels aided by nine East Bengal Regiments, East Pakistan Rifles and Police under the guidance of retired Col Osmani would have launched their made-in-India battle plan on the morning of 26 March against the lone infantry division, locked up in barracks in various garrisons, and massacred the whole lot. Bhutto stated while leaving Dacca, ‘Thank God, Pakistan has been saved”.
Indian media spread so much of fear into the minds of Bengalis that a very large number ran helter-skelter to India where they were welcomed in already prepared refugee camps. Majority were Hindu Bengalis who should have logically shifted in 1947. Indian Army/BSF/RAW trained and equipped Mukti Bahini and several other Bahinis from within the refugees in 59 training camps in Assam, Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya and West Bengal in India and triggered a province wide insurgency. Often, Indian soldiers dressed in civvies accompanied the rebels.
Indo-Western-Israeli media jointly demonized Pak Army and glamorised the Bengali rebels. Pak soldiers were portrayed as blood sucking monsters and rapists and concocted stories were circulated under a well calculated propaganda plan. Refugee issue was also blown up.
All reconciliatory attempts made by Pakistan were rejected by India and neither the refugees nor the Awami League leaders in exile were allowed to return. Indira Gandhi and her ministers visited world capitals to convince the world leaders that Pakistan was entirely to be blamed for not handing over power to Mujib who had won landslide victory in elections. Pak military was blamed for committing a genocide against Bengalis fighting a liberation war. Indian leaders cried that the refugee burden was unbearable for India. Main purpose of propaganda war was to justify military action of India.
In the meanwhile, Gen SAM Manekshaw was given a go-ahead by Indira Gandhi in April 1971 to launch an offensive and annex East Pakistan. He wanted six months preparation time which was granted. Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty inked in August sealed the fate of Pakistan. USSR fulfilled all the defence needs of Indian military. On the request of Maj Gen Jacob, a Jew, Israeli military fine-tuned the three directional operational plan of India’s Eastern Command.
After nine months insurgency, Indian military jumped in to deliver the sledge hammer. Aided with preponderance of manpower, weaponry air and naval power as well as full support of former USSR, Indian Army launched a preliminary offensive on 21 November and made bridgeheads at 23 places along northern, western and eastern border. Notwithstanding that the penetrations were contained, for unexplained reasons Pakistan didn’t take up the matter with the UN to declare India as an aggressor.
On 3 December, when PAF undertook air raids against Indian airbases, India declared Pakistan as an aggressor and launched an all-out offensive from three directions against East Pakistan with 10 divisions supported by armour, air power and 150,000 Mukti Bahini against overly fatigued and marooned 45000 regular/paramilitary forces spread thinly in penny packets to defend 2545 miles long border and cut off from the world. Bengalis provided intelligence of each and every trench/minefield, gaps and helped in disrupting rear areas/supply lines to allow the pincers to rush forward towards Dacca with ease. The Mukti Bahini once again unleashed their atrocities against pro-Pakistan elements in the captured towns.
Despite extreme odds the soldiers kept fighting with whatever means they had and so did the Razaqars (pro-Pakistan Bengalis, Biharis) till the very end. Except for Jessore and Mymensingh, all other cities that had been converted into fortresses were intact and the defenders had the will to carry on fighting. My unit 4FF of which I was a part, had made history at Hilli by repulsing repeated attacks of 2 Mountain Division aided by preponderance of armour, artillery and air support and not losing an inch of territory in the 19 days grilling battle. Ultimately the enemy had to give up and change their direction.
On the morning of 16 December, units in the field were initially told that ceasefire had come into effect but later on they learnt the shattering news that the Eastern Command had agreed to surrender and were told to lay down arms. Gen AAK Niazi who had sent a request for ceasefire agreed to surrender only when Gen Manekshaw assured that safety of Pak military and paramilitary forces would be assured.
The writer is a war veteran, retired Brig, defence analyst, columnist, author of five books, director Measac Research Centre, Director Board of Governors Thinkers Forum Pakistan. He delivers lectures and participates in TV talk shows. email@example.com
Brig. General Asif Haroon Raja is on the board of advisors for Opinion Maker. He holds an MSc war studies degree. A second-generation officer, he fought the epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war,
He served as Directing Staff Command & Staff College, Defence Attaché Egypt, and Sudan and Dean of Corps of Military Attaches in Cairo. He commanded the heaviest brigade in Kashmir. He is tri-lingual and speaks English, Pashto, and Punjabi fluently.
Currently, he is a defense analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defense, and political matters for numerous international/national publications. He is chairman at the Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre, & Member CWC PESS & Veterans Think Tank
He is also the author of many books; ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, and Roots of 1971 Tragedy’. His latest book is ‘Tangled knot of Kashmir : Indo-Pakistan antagonism: vol. 1 and vol. 2″