Divisive Psychological Operations-1971, East Pakistan

Indian psychological operations in 1971 were carried out on well identified fault lines between West and East Pakistan. Despite perception management efforts made by West Pakistan, they were not able to thoroughly counter and disseminate their narratives against the continuously churned out divisive propaganda of India.

Indian psychological operations in erstwhile East Pakistan are a mere manifestation of the German phrase, ‘Alter Wein in neuen Schalen’ (Old wine in a new bottle). They did not reinvent any new strategy, rather they resorted to an apt implementation of the oldest trick in the book. Divisive strategy has been employed by PsyOps operators across the globe to exploit the existing fault lines in a given society, create political divide and accentuate trust deficit with subsequent ends of orchestrating defiance. Its efficacy increases manifold especially in heterogeneous societies constituting diverse subcultures, ethnicities and languages. Incontrovertibly, an archetypal manifestation of inimical divisive psychological operations is the disintegration of Pakistan in 1971. It is indeed ironical that a country formed on the ideological moorings of enthusiastic Muslims of India could not sustain itself against the pulls and pushes of hostile propaganda campaign. Resultantly, just after 24 years of independence, the majority broke away from the minority/common ideology and carved out an independent state. Was Pakistan’s intelligentsia and people in the corridors of power too naïve to not identify a PsyOps campaign in the making? Was it really a case of facile naiveté or a laissez-faire? Were the contestants of power too mired in their political intrigues to look beyond the wall? Or is it that they intentionally turned a blind eye to what was cooking up in the perception domain of the masses since this subtle indoctrination and perception changing of the masses suited the two contestants in their power quest? Whatever was the reason for turning a blind eye, it gave the Indian PsyOps operators an open field to play with the unchecked collective perception of the masses to inject their venomous content of indoctrination without any concrete rebuttal from Pakistan’s side. Indeed, quite astutely, progressive divisive psychological themes were propagated to alter the cognitive domain of the Bengali masses, alter their perceptions about the Western morsel and eventually drifting them away from the unifying factor/ideology of Pakistan. It is a classic example as it was devised and orchestrated with such prowess that its dividends in the form of behavioral change were fetched within a decade.
This divisive campaign initially hinged on the creation of compradors (for political exploitation of the masses) and 5th columnists (sympathizers at key political positions). The aim was to undermine pluralism which seeks understanding across cultural and religious divides while keeping differences intact and promoting common understanding. After a requisite incubation period, the aforementioned primary target audience expanded their influence on to the masses, i.e., the secondary target audience, meanwhile foreign diplomatic, monetary and military support acted as an impetus. The dividends of this PsyOps campaign casted doubts on the ideology of Pakistan since the creation of Bangladesh was ascribed as ‘sinking the Two Nation Theory in the Bay of Bengal’. Immediately after the fall of Dhaka, Pakistan was subjected to another subtle Psychological divisive campaign, whose theme was, ‘Pakistan, the peeling, fragmenting palimpsest… a product of the dreaming mind’. Movements like Sindhudesh and Free Balochistan started gaining momentum after the fall of Dhaka. Apart from the tangible political, social and economic reasons, following inadequacies in the intangible domain further aggravated the effects of political, social and economic blunders in the Eastern morsel: 

▪ Unchecked divisive PsyOps from across the border via radio/printed literature and indoctrination through secular faculty members of universities/colleges and schools causing behavioral change in the masses – from subtle defiance to aux armes.
▪ Failure in carrying out cohesive PsyOps by Pakistan to bring masses back in the conduits of the national narrative.

PsyOps divisive strategy hinges on the Fresh Contact Theory, which professes that people are influenced by notable events that involve them actively in their youth. These experiences shape their perceptions and ideologies which they pass on to the next generations till these ideologies become obsolescent, if not obsolete. The masses are subjected to divisive contents that shape their perceptions and bring behavioral change, subsequently triggering defiance. This behavior of defiance eventually manifests itself in the form of events/protests either in favor of some cause or against it. In a nutshell, disseminated divisive content shapes perceptions, these shaped perceptions change behaviors – defiance or cooperation – which result in events – riots or civil disobedience – which in turn shape more perceptions and brings about more notable events. This vicious circle, on completing its first cycle, ends up with more prominent notable events, which shapes perceptions on a larger scale, triggers radical behavioral change to affect defiance. It even starts affecting the neutral majority which is at the verge of taking sides.

Disseminated divisive content shapes perceptions, these shaped perceptions change behaviors – defiance or cooperation – which result in events – riots or civil disobedience – which in turn shape more perceptions and brings about more notable events.

In the context of East Bengal, previous generations were influenced by notable events of Hindu domination: their struggle for the partition of Bengal from the Bhadralok (Hindu landlords) cartel, and their sacrifices for the attainment of Pakistan. Whereas subsequent generations were influenced by notable events (caused by divisive strategy) like language riots, disparity rhetoric and military crackdown (Operation Searchlight). In the context of the East Pakistan crisis, logical conclusion of the Fresh Contact Theory is that how these controversial notable events were created, which actively involved the youth and reshaped their ideology via a systematic and progressive divisive strategy. 
Nationalism based on the ideology of Pakistan and a common religion is the unifying factor. A divisive technique adopted by the antagonists was to negate this very unifying factor by creating divide, resentment and dissatisfaction, subsequently leading to behavior change (intermediate objective) of the divisive technique. In 1971, the divisive technique against Pakistan hinged on the following PsyOps themes:

▪ Parity system is depriving Bengalis of their de jure right of being in majority in the National Assembly.
▪  Erroneous interpretations of the Lahore Resolution, i.e., Lahore Resolution was about two independent Muslim states. 
▪  Rhetoric regarding the lack of political freedom and representation in the corridors of power owing to Ayub Khan’s system of ‘basic democracies’.
▪   Dissemination of secular literature of Tagore.
▪ Fanning subnationalism on grounds of common culture, language and folkways.    
▪ Allegation of atrocities committed by Pakistan Army, dubbing it as some foreign Army.
▪  Capitalizing on the language issue.
▪  Capitalizing on Bhola cyclone.
▪  East Pakistan was left undefended in the 1965 War.
▪  Revenue generated from the resources (patsun) of East Pakistan being spent on West Pakistan.
▪  Propaganda of East Pakistan as a ‘colony of West Pakistan’. For the people of East Bengal independence just meant a change of masters from white to brown.
▪  Economic disparity between the two wings:
▪  Low per capita income in East Pakistan.
▪  Less industrial growth.
▪  Lack of educational institutions.

Nationalism based on the ideology of Pakistan and a common religion is the unifying factor. A divisive technique adopted by the antagonists was to negate this very unifying factor by creating divide, resentment and dissatisfaction, subsequently leading to behavior change.

A progressive approach was adopted by India revolving around the divisive strategy. As a precursor to the conditioning of the masses, the unifying factor of Pakistan was identified. A country like Pakistan, which constitutes various subcultures, languages and ethnicities, the anchorage and mooring lies in the unifying factor of Pakistan’s ideology. It is the strength of Pakistan and, at the same time, becomes a vulnerability if the divisive strategy based on the rhetoric of asymmetric development/resource distribution; lack of representation in power corridors; absence of political freedom (in the form of martial laws which had been considered as the dominance of Punjab) is orchestrated. In the case of a united Pakistan, this anchorage of common ideology had its strengths and weaknesses (asymmetric population constituting seculars, rightists and subnationalists to whom ideology based on religion was not an appealing factor), opportunities and threats. India had been quite successful in her SWOT analysis of Pakistan and its unifying factor.

This led to the identification of existing fault lines in the Eastern morsel. The multilinguistic, multiethnic and multicultural society is not an impediment for national integrity and unity. No country in the world has symmetric culture, language and ethnicity yet many amongst them are resorting to the moorings of nationalism. The impediment comes when there are fault lines within any asymmetric society. In the case of the nascent United Pakistan, these fault lines existed and needed an incubation period to bring about symmetry in terms of education, development and power sharing formula. India had correctly identified these fault lines in nascent Pakistan. Bengal, separated by 1200 miles from the rest of the country, offered as an ideal target for divisive strategy. The fault lines which were exploited via divisive strategy were:

▪  More poverty in the Eastern morsel as compared to West Pakistan.
▪ More cultural and ethnic propensities in the masses of East Pakistan.
▪ Frequent calamities beyond the capability of nascent Pakistan to manage.
▪  Power struggle between the East and West.
▪  Ambiance of political distrust. 

For the success of any propaganda campaign, it is imperative to correctly identify the primary target audience (TA). It is a minority segment hailing from local intelligentsia, intellectuals and local influential segments of the society to which the divisive content is initially disseminated. It is a segment which has influence in a given society, not primarily in terms of legal power but in the cognitive domain of the masses. They have the capacity to mold perceptions and affect behavioral change in the masses. Once the indoctrination, based on divisive strategy, is spread to the primary TA, they subsequently propagate it to the masses owing to their intellectual credibility and influence. In the case of East Pakistan, India had identified the primary TA as following:

▪ Hindu Intelligentsia – referred to as the iron hand under the velvet glove by Lieutenant General A. A. K. Niazi in his book, The Betrayal of East Pakistan. This target segment was in control of the education system since many teachers/professors were Hindus. For the Hindu minority, living in a country formed on the basis of Islamic ideology was not an assuring sight. They anticipated that they could be marginalized in a Muslim country formed on Islamic ideology. Their interest laid in the creation of a country formed on common ethnicity, language and culture, and the creation of Bangladesh was naturally that country. This Hindu minority, owing to their interests, offered as an ideal TA for Indian PsyOps.
▪ Secular intellectuals/writers/educationists – During the partition of India the secular segment wanted an independent Bengal. Moreover, the secular minded segment was opposed to the concept of nationalism based on any religion, therefore it also qualified for being a primary TA.
▪  Political figures who had appetency for power (Agartala Conspiracy) like Mujibur Rehman. 
This led to the identification of the secondary TA, which were the general masses under the influence of the primary TA. In the case of East Pakistan, India had identified the following segments as the secondary TA:
▪  College and university students under the tutelage of indoctrinated faculty.
▪  Poor aggrieved Muslim masses in wards and cities other than Beharis and people having Islamic propensities like Jamat-e-Islami, less followers of Maulana Bhashani.
▪  Armed Forces personnel.
▪  Secular and Hindu masses.

A fantastic example of indoctrination of the secondary target audience is pertaining to the students of Dhaka University. In 1921, Makkah University, later to be known as Dhaka University, was created. The university was instrumental in disseminating Islamic values, and because of these Islamic values, Dhaka University was one of the biggest support bases of the demand for Pakistan. A. K. Fazlul Huq became President of the Bengal Muslim League in 1914 and in 1936 when Quaid-i-Azam visited Dhaka University in the context of upcoming Indian elections of 1937, Quaid-i-Azam was given a warm welcome by the students. But after 12 years, the same students of Dhaka University showed defiance to the state of Pakistan and played a vital role in the language protests of 1948. Later, after 16 years, students of Dhaka University were at the forefront in yet another act of defiance to the state by actively participating in the language riots of 1952. The same Dhaka University which was at the forefront for the creation of Pakistan had to became the target of Operation Searchlight because of being an insurgents den. What are the reasons that the same university which had significantly supported the creation of Pakistan played a pivotal role in the disintegration of the same country after 20 years? The reason for this paradigm shift was the subtle indoctrination of the students by secular and Hindu faculty members resorting to divisive PsyOps in the form of professing secular literature, subnationalism and blowing the trumpet of disparity and deprivation. 

The same Dhaka University which was at the forefront for the creation of Pakistan had to became the target of Operation Searchlight because of being an insurgents den. 

Divisive themes are the building blocks to stir defiance, and the case was no different in East Pakistan. Based on these themes, slogans were chiseled in line with the narrative of disparity and subnationalism.

“Pakistaner Shakal Bhasar Samamarjada Chai” (We want equal status of every language in Pakistan).
▪  “Chaler Badale Khud Khaichho, Chinir Badale Gur, Labaner Katha Naiba Ballam, Ebar Sare Charkotir Mukher Bhasa Kerenite Shahas Korona” (You offered us poor rice, substandard sugar, not to mention salt, and now you've come to snatch away the mother tongue of 45 million).
▪  “Joy Bangla”, which translates as ‘victory to Bengal’ or ‘hail Bengal’.
▪  Resources of East Pakistan belong to the Bengalis only.
▪  Mujib was accorded his famous title Bangabandhu (friend of Bengal).
▪  “Udher tum, idhar hum” (You are there, we are here) – Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

Subtle indoctrination was also carried out via writings of Sarat Chandra Chatterjee, Bankim Chander Banerjee and the legendary Rabindranath Tagore, triggering the separate Bengali identity. This content was disseminated through radio/print/media/interactions/educationists. These luminaries mainly projected Hindu and secular feelings which was then disseminated to Muslim students accentuating Bengali subnationalism.
In 1952, passports were introduced which hindered the movement of Bengalis from East Pakistan to Indian West Bengal. Bengalis of East Pakistan had their extended families in West Bengal. After the imposition of passports, the following theme was disseminated via the All India Radio Transmissions beamed towards East Bengal, ‘Why have we (Bengalis) been divided, we speak the same language, we use the same water of the Ganges. Tagore is our common Bengali poet’.
Printed literature from Calcutta also focused on the same divisive theme of subnationalism, common language and separate culture of the Bengali people.
In 1953, the removal of Khawaja Nazimuddin as Prime Minister by Governor-General Malik Ghulam Muhammad was capitalized in the divisive PsyOps themes, i.e., Removal of Bengali PM by West Pakistan’s President, despite the fact that his replacement, Muhammad Ali Bogra, was also a Bengali. Similarly, in 1957, the removal of Suhrawardy by President Iskander Mirza was also capitalized in the same tinge of divisive PsyOps strategy. Even after the 1965 War, antagonists propagated another divisive theme like:

▪ “East Pakistan was left undefended at the mercy of India”.
▪ “East Pakistan was saved by China”.

After the initial conditioning, subsequent aggressive divisive content was disseminated. On February 15, 1969, a Pakistani official on duty shot Sergeant Zahurul Haq – one of the arrested conspirators of Agartala Conspiracy – and killed him while he was attempting to escape. This incident was propagated and disseminated out of proportion to the extent that it triggered a behavioral change, i.e., angry mobs in vengeance created their own law and order situation and set the State Guest House and a few other government buildings (residential quarters) on fire, that included the residence of Chief Lawyer for the Government, who vacated secretly. By 1970, the divisive strategy had instilled a radical behavioral change in the masses, e.g., 2nd March protests by Awami League, 4th March Civil Disobedience Movement and the establishment of a de facto government by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
On November 11, 1970, one of the deadliest tropical cyclones hit East Pakistan. Around 500,000 people lost their lives in the storm. Violent winds up to 125 miles per hour hit hundreds of little islands in the deltaic region of Chittagong and Patuakhali, destroying property worth 4.5 billion dollars. Pakistan’s troops and aviation worked day and night to abate the suffering of the affected population. This calamity was again utilized to spread divisive themes to deepen the divide, such as, “It took British to pick up our bodies”

Divisive themes are the building blocks to stir defiance, and the case was no different in East Pakistan. Based on these themes, slogans were chiseled in line with the narrative of disparity and subnationalism.

The Western press, including Times of London, also disseminated divisive content rendering authenticity to the themes of compradors by criticizing Pakistan’s Government for its inability to abate the crisis situation. Themes were propagated along the lines of:

▪ Not much money had been spent in the Eastern morsel for the flood control bunds.
▪ Large amount was spent on Tarbela Dam in the Western part, which could have been spent on flood control bunds in East Pakistan. (Forgetting that such massive development programs, like Tarbela Dam, were financed by multinationals that conduct feasibility of the project based on ROI (Return on Investment).

In an overall scheme, visuals on divisive themes was also created. A minaret known as Shaheed Minar was constructed in memory of those who lost their lives during these riots. A Mother Language Day began to be celebrated year after year to commemorate the Language Movement. It was a symbolic reflection of the divisive strategy. “The world has been drenched with the blood of the martyrs” was written at the top of the monument. ‘In the memory of the martyrs. Long live state language Bangla’ was inscribed on another language martyr monument on the premises of Dhaka Medical College’s hostel. Similarly, Mujibur Rahman on landing in Islamabad, touched the road of Islamabad and said, “I smell the jute fields of Chittagong”.
In reality, there had been a complete failure of the state in disseminating cohesive themes in East Pakistan. Disparity between the two wings was there even before independence. British rulers had no strategic reasons for developing East Bengal. They concentrated on north-western India because of the threat to their empire from that direction. After independence, East Pakistan had seen much less development as compared to the rest of the Western morsel. This asymmetry even existed within the provinces of West Pakistan, like asymmetry existed between Lahore, Rawalpindi, Sialkot and the rest of Punjab. Similarly in Sindh, there was a vast difference in the context of development between Karachi, Hyderabad and the rest of Sindh. It was too much for nascent Pakistan to eradicate this asymmetry completely just within two decades of its inception. At the same time, at the state level there was a complete failure in the dissemination of information regarding the efforts made by the Central Government to bring East Pakistan in parity with the West. There could have been a comprehensive campaign to highlight the positive tangible steps taken by the government. There were no substantial cohesive narratives made for re-strengthening the ideology of Pakistan by incorporating religious scholars. Perception management of masses and information campaigns were completely left unattended. There was a lack of realization that in irregular warfare military expediency and reliance on kinetic prongs are detrimental since such conflicts which are political in precept are all about winning the population. Success was not about the number of Muktis killed, the real success criterion was how much proportion of the population the state had managed to bring on its side. And to meet this criterion, there was a dire need of effective and concerted psychological operations convincing the masses (from religious, economic, political and social aspects) that the survival of the people of this region was in a united Pakistan. It was imperative to devise themes to counter the disparity rhetoric and highlight the government’s efforts to erridicate disparity. Following are some of the statistics, reflecting the Central Government’s endeavours to reduce disparity. But ironically these positive steps were not properly disseminated to the masses for perception management: 

• East Pakistan was given Rs. 62,604 million against Rs. 45,383 million to West Pakistan during the period 1968-1970.1
• From one class-1 officer in 1947, the Bengali representation in superior services had reached the figure of 196 by July 1971, whereas Punjab had 199; Sindh 62; NWFP 40; and Balochistan, 6.2
• Similarly, the number of candidates who applied for commission in Pakistan Army was much lower in the case of East Pakistan. The average percentage of candidates recommended by ISSB was higher for East Pakistan than for West Pakistan.
• Some other efforts of the Central Government to eliminate disparity is reflected from the tables mentioned below:

Appallingly, these PsyOps did not end after the fall of Dhaka, rather they have increased manifold since then, not because our enemies have become wiser and resourceful, but because we still have not filled in the the fault lines. The fall of Dhaka advocates at the top of its pitch that forfeiture of political freedom of the masses in the form of martial laws or political experimentations, like basic democracy, ends up with dire consequences beyond any kinetic means to control. Moreover, it is not deprivation which triggers subnationalism, rather it is disparity (haves and have nots) which creates the divide. It’s the fault lines provided by any given state itself which are exploited by extra-state elements, especially when the given state is heterogeneous in nature. Similarly, no conflict can be won over without the support of the given population, and for winning the support continuous PsyOps are sine qua non.

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1 Kamal Matinuddin, Tragedy of Errors, p.104
2 Kamal Matinuddin, Tragedy of Errors, p.111


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