But who was at fault?
The fall of Dhaka may have occurred on December 16, 1971, but factors leading to it date far back.
The creation of Pakistan came about under extraneous circumstances. The departure of the British from the Indian subcontinent had become imminent after they suffered the economic ravages of WW II while the “Quit India” movement spearheaded by Hindus became louder reaching a deafening crescendo.
Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the undisputed leader of the Indian Muslims, was caught in a major dilemma. Initially a strong proponent of united independent India, he soon realised that for the Muslims of the subcontinent, freedom would only mean a change of masters. Hindus would replace the British and seek vengeance from the Muslims for having subjugated them to centuries of Muslim rule. The other factor, unknown to all apart from his devoted sister Fatima Jinnah and his personal physician, was that the Quaid was suffering from a terminal disease and the clock was ticking fast. If the secret of the Quaid’s serious illness had leaked out, the British and Hindus would only have delayed the process of independence till the Quaid’s demise and there would have been no Pakistan. Thus the Quaid was constrained to accept what many critics label as a “moth eaten Pakistan”.
The biggest flaw in the partition plan was accepting the two wings of an independent Pakistan separated by a thousand miles of hostile Indian territory, devoid of even a narrow corridor linking them. An aspect, which proved critical when India surreptitiously stopped over-flight rights to Pakistani aircrafts just prior to the 1971 Pak-India War, barring West Pakistan from transferring logistic supplies to its beleaguered Eastern wing, but that comes later.
Certain decisions taken by the now terminally ill Quaid—in the last throes of his life—because he had burnt the candle at both ends to gain Pakistan’s independence, maybe faulty. The selection of Urdu as the national language sowed the initials seeds of discord because the Bengalis wanted recognition of their language too. Consequential language riots claimed numerous precious Bengali lives, around whose mausoleum (Shaheed Minar) later generation of Bengali freedom fighters would rally around. Simultaneously, the national leadership’s obsession with ‘parity’ between the two wings (to offset the east’s numerical advantage) not only delayed the formation of Pakistan’s constitution but also widened the chasm of divide. An arrogant superiority complex by West Pakistani officials towards their East Pakistani counterparts only vitiated relations. Cultural, linguistic, ethnic and mental disparity between the inhabitants of the two wings pushed them further apart.
Two facets acted as catalysts in expediting the final split. Firstly, the genuine grievances of the East Pakistanis were exploited by India in deepening the wounds and spreading rancour and acrimony. Secondly, certain West Pakistani politicians, faced with the possibility of an East Pakistan-led leadership ruling Pakistan—as a result of the relatively free and fair 1970 elections—blocked the military government’s handing over power to the victors of the polls, forcing East Pakistan to declare its independence as Bangladesh.
Partings are always difficult, but between East and West Pakistan, where Bengalis were patriotic nationalists to the core, were the forerunners of the Pakistan Movement and it must have been extremely painful to defy the very principles and values diehard East Pakistani leaders had aspired to uphold.
Hindsight is 20/20 but if good sense had prevailed with the West Pakistani leadership and the East Pakistanis, being volatile and emotional in nature, had not allowed their grievances to be exploited by the bloodthirsty Indians, the outcome would not have been gory. An amicable solution could have been reached sans the carnage of which both sides accuse each other of.
Since Bangladesh itself was not allowed to prosper and set itself on the path of progress by its neighbour India which, in the garb of supporting the cause of the liberation of Bangladesh, actually wanted to dismember Pakistan. India later supported strife, coup d’états and bloody revolutions since it demanded its pound of flesh for its purported role in the war of liberation, plotting to install a puppet government at Dhaka, which would dance to the tunes of its Indian masters, a fact corroborated by Narendra Modi recently.
Meanwhile, counter coups passed the baton albeit reluctantly to progressive Bangladeshi leaders, who wanted to bury the hatchet with Pakistan and move on. Such a state of affairs was loath to India which desired an unstable Bangladesh with a government visibly and concertedly hostile to Pakistan. In a bloody revolution, the founder of Bangladesh was assassinated along with his whole family apart from two daughters, who were abroad. His elder daughter Sheikh Hasina Wajid was brought back in 1981 and nurtured to toe the Indian line. Her first stint as Prime Minister (1996-2001) was uneventful since she proved inefficient and inept. Groomed by her puppeteers, she was finally unleashed in 2009 to become the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Her stint was marred by a revolt of the Bangladesh Rifles which was countered with brute force, and charges of acute corruption and poor governance yet she won the next term in 2014, unopposed because the opposition boycotted the elections.
This drama was allegedly choreographed by India since now Hasina was playing ball despite accusations of corruption and misgovernance. She boycotted commercial, diplomatic and social moots with Pakistan, taking the plea that Pakistan must apologise for its alleged war crimes including genocide of three million Bengalis and the rape of thousands of Bengali women. To pour salt into the wounds, Sheikh Hasina levelled charges of treason against the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami for supporting the cause of united Pakistan during the 1971 war. Four leaders have been sent to the gallows by kangaroo courts and numerous others are on the death row despite calls by international jurists condemning the derision of justice.
Note: The veracity of the charges of genocide and rape against the state of Pakistan and its Army will be examined in the next part of this article in the coming week.
[…] on the events leading to the independence of Bangladesh in 1971. The first column is available here. As with the first column, and is Mr. Hali’s habit, he tends to mar his columns with conspiracy […]
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