Undiminished Scars of 1971 Tragedy
“Refusal to learn from history is not unique to a particular ruler: It is a general failing of governments and people”. George Hegel
Asif Haroon Raja
UN Resolutions vetoed by USSR
After 4 Dec, all the resolutions moved in the UNSC were vetoed by the Soviet Union. On 8 Dec, Bhutto as Vice PM had been sent to New York to find a diplomatic solution to the East Pakistan (EP) crisis by arranging a ceasefire. He took a circuitous route and reached there in 3 days. He chose a leisurely course and took things lightly when EP was falling. On 14th December Poland presented a draft resolution that obviously had the backing of the USSR. It called for the transfer of power to the elected representatives, followed by a ceasefire, withdrawal of forces and later evacuation of Pakistani forces.
On 15 Dec, Bhutto made an emotional speech that was hardly relevant and then rejected the Polish resolution in a theatrical fashion, tore his notes and walked out of the meeting in a huff. Lt Gen Jacob stated later on that passage of the Polish resolution would have been disastrous for India and that it was Bhutto who saved the day for India. (Lt Gen Joseph Jacob, Surrender at Dacca, p 146).
Indian Eastern Command intercepted the flurry of confusing signals transmitted between GHQ and Dacca from Dec 7 onwards and directed Commander Communication Zone, Maj Gen Nagra on 15 Dec to race for Dacca and pull a fast one on Gen Niazi that the game was over. All the major Indian formations were behind the rivers. Not a single Pakistani formations/units fighting the war had capitulated.
Nature had given Gen Niazi a chance to stand up to the threat and enter his name in the golden Islamic history as a real tiger. He chose to give up under the plea of saving the lives of thousands of soldiers. Maj Gen Tajammul Hussain, my Brigade Commander on the Hilli front, who had given me a smashing war report, wrote is his book, “The Story of My Struggle, 1991, p 159, “Niazi was basically not a coward but he was made a coward by the cowards around him”.
No results could be achieved by the counter offensive launched on the western front where a ceasefire came into place.
“No General can vindicate his loss claiming that he was compelled against his better judgment to execute an order that led to the defeat”. Field Marshal Von Manstein
After the surrender, 35000 Pak Army all ranks and non-combatants serving in units and HQs, 13000 EPCAF and Police personnel and 48000 non-Bengali civilians including their families were taken into safe custody of the Indian Army and later shifted to already established PoW camps in India. The Biharis were left to fend for themselves. Gen AA K Niazi and his negotiating team didn’t insist on including them in the repatriation list. They were left at the mercy of marauding Mukti, Qadri, Mujib and several other Bahinis who massacred them brutally and raped their women.
The occupying Indian Army made no effort to stop the bloodshed since they were busy in looting, in carnival pleasures and nocturnal merrymaking. Hundreds of mass graves were dug to dump their bodies. The dried wells were filled with their dead bodies. Brutalities of the MBs were lumped on Pak Army.
10% Bengalis wanted independence
According to Professor G.W Choudhury, a Bengali member of Yahya’s cabinet and a fellow of Columbia University writes in his book, (The Last Days of United Pakistan, Oxford University Press, p. 167),
‘The vast majority of the Bengali Muslims were not prepared to see Pakistan dismembered and their homeland become again a target of domination by the ‘Bhadralok (elite) from Calcutta. They were interested in having genuine regional autonomy. In fact, their basic demand was for the improvement of their economic lot. Mujib captured their imagination because he promised them a ‘golden Bengal’ if they would only vote for his six points —‘
The bizarre figures of 3 million Bengalis killed and 300,000 women raped by Pak Army in 9 months were dispelled by several western and Bengali authors including Sharmila Bose in her book ‘Dead Reckoning. She said that during her ground investigations, despite her best efforts she couldn’t get any evidence that soldiers of Pak Army had targeted Bengali women and children.
In her view the highly exaggerated figures were given to arouse the sentiments of the public. She also negated the story of mass killings of students in Dacca University saying her probe revealed that all schools, colleges and university were closed and no one was living in the university hostel except for AL militants who had stacked big dumps of arms and ammunition and used to impart military training to the students.
R.J. Rummel in his book ‘Death by Government’, writes about the atrocities committed by militant Bengalis against on-Bengalis:
“In the whole of EP, non-Bengalis were attacked and were subjected to torture and ethnic cleansing. Thousands of Muslim families were wholly eliminated; women were raped and their breasts were cut with specially carved knives. The children of the victim women were also not spared. Thousands of surviving children had to live a torturous life. In Chittagong, Khulna, and Jessore, dead bodies of 20,000 Biharis were discovered. A cautions guess gives a figure of 2.50 lacs non-Bengalis killed at the hands of MB”.
Between 1972 and 1974, Indian military and civil writers with the assistance provided by the Indian government published 270 books on the 1971 War and this trend continued over the years. The purpose was to justify Indian military’s intervention into EP, hide their crimes against humanity and build a narrative to prove that the myths of slaughter of 3 million Bengalis and rapes of 300,000 Bengali women by the Pak Army were true, and that the numbers pitched against Indian Army were 93000.
Sustained Indo, Russian, Western propaganda together with publication of large numbers of books by Indian, western and Bengali authors helped India in portraying the Pak Army soldiers as bloodthirsty monsters and rapists and in convincing the world that Gen Yahya Khan’s regime and Pak Army were responsible for the dismemberment of united Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh (BD).
Their false narrative gained authenticity since Pakistan first remained mum over the slaughter of Biharis and non-Bengalis in March 1971, fearing that disclosure of the news would result in a backlash in West Pakistan (WP). After the surrender, Pakistan again chose to remain tightlipped till the leakage of Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report in 2001. Our silence helped India to convert their lies into truth. Our muteness and absence of authentic information gave rise to speculation, fabrication and distortion of facts by vested interests.
Looting by Indian Army
Soon after the creation of BD, the Indian Army went on a looting spree like hungry parasites. They took away war munitions, heavy guns, army vehicles, private cars of West Pakistanis, household items including bathroom fittings, fridges, ceiling fans, TVs, radios, electronic items, factories machinery, food grains, jute, yarn, canned food etc. Trains and thousands of trucks were looted and it was estimated that the loot was valued $ 2.2 billion. (Martin Woolla cott. The Guardian, Jan 22, 1972).
Others who wrote in detail about the plunder were Sunil Gangapadhyay in his novel Purbha Pashchin, Maj MA Jalil MB 9 Sector Comd in his book (Araksmita Swadhinata-e-Paradhinata), Maj Shawkat Ali, MB 5 Sector Comd, Zainal Abedin in his book Rape of Bangladesh, J.N. Dixit in his book Liberation of Bengal: Indo-Bangladesh Relations.
In the truncated Pakistan, Lt Gen Gul Hassan and Air Marshal Rahim Khan forced Gen Yahya to resign and Bhutto sitting in New York was given a call to come and take over the reins of power. After taking over, Bhutto wore three hats of President, CMLA and Chief of Armed Forces. Yahya was interned and a probe under chief justice Hamoodur Rahman ordered the mandate of which was confined to the military debacle in EP, making the postmortem controversial.
Mujib was released from jail on 8 Jan 1972 and sent to Dacca. Lt Gen Gul Hassan was appointed COAS but he and Air Marshal Rahim were sacked four months later on charges that they had Bonaparte tendencies. Superseded Lt Gen Tikka Khan replaced Gul. After fascist rule of Bhutto, he was ousted by Gen Ziaul Haq in a military coup in July 1977 and Bhutto was hanged to death on 4 April 1979.
After General Zia’s death in a C-130 crash in Aug 1988, Benazir Bhutto was elected, but the ten-year democratic era saw power changing between the PPP and the PML-N under Nawaz Sharif four times. Gen Musharraf’s 9-year rule couldn’t upturn the economic fortunes of the country. Thereon, the 5-year each rule of PPP under Zardari and of PML-N under Nawaz dipped all the economic indicators of the country and exacerbated moral and social issues. So far the incumbent PTI regime has been unable to cure the diseases of Pakistan and the economy is declining and provincialism has gained ground.
In Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujib carried out witch-hunting of Bihars and patriotic Bengalis favoring One-Pakistan, and sought trial of 195 WP officers in alleged war crimes. He could survive for a few years only and on Aug 15, 1975, he along with 22 other family members were killed in a military coup led by Maj Farooq and Maj Rashid. Khondkar Mushtaq after remaining in the president’s chair for two months was deposed in another coup on Nov 3, 1975 which brought Brig Khalid Musharraf to power. After 4 days, he was toppled in a military coup and Maj Gen Ziaur Rahman was chosen to lead the country.
After ruling for six years, he was assassinated and Gen Hussain Ershad ruled the roost till he was defeated by Mrs. Khalida Zia in elections in 1991. In the 1997 elections, Sheikh Hasina Wajid won and ruled for the next five years. She sentenced 15 army officers to death in Nov 1998. After another stint of Khalida, Hasina again came to power in 2008. She is still in the chair and has made impressive socio-economic improvements.
To be continued
The writer is Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, international columnist, author of five books, sixth book under publication, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. [email protected]
Brig. General Asif Haroon Raja a Member Board of Advisors Opinion Maker is Staff College and Armed Forces WarCoursequalified holds MSc war studies degree; a second generation officer, he fought the epic battle of Hilli in northwest East Bengal during 1971 war, in which Maj M. Akram received Nishan-e-Haider posthumously.
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 lingual and speaks English, Pashto and Punjabi fluently.
He is author of books titled ‘Battle of Hilli’, ‘1948, 1965 & 1971 Kashmir Battles and Freedom Struggle’, ‘Muhammad bin Qasim to Gen Musharraf’, Roots of 1971 Tragedy’; has written a number of motivational pamphlets. Draft of his next book ‘Tangled Knot of Kashmir’ is ready.
He is a defense analyst and columnist and writes articles on security, defense and political matters for numerous international/national publications.