December Special

Reality Check: 1971 Saga

An elaborate analysis of the malicious propaganda and myths centred on the 1971 debacle that are refuted by numerous facts. Moreover, the friendly ties shared by both countries paint a picture contrary to that presented by India.


“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

–George Orwell


The 1971 War is one of the most misreported and hence misunderstood conflicts in history. The manipulative propaganda, divorced from reality, has been generated by hatemongers over the decades to malign Pakistan and undermine its ties with Bangladesh. The ill-founded smear campaign based on several myths attached with the debacle of 1971, when juxtaposed with facts, stands exposed. In order to carry out a reality check, sifting facts from fiction is necessary. A dispassionate analysis of the 1971 debacle in the light of facts reveals that the malicious myths built around this historical development are baseless and misleading. Some of the common misperceptions are addressed in the ensuing paragraphs.
East Pakistan was Ignored/Exploited by the Centre. Economic disparity between East and West Pakistan was a historical legacy. As Rome was not built in a day, the historical economic deprivation of East Pakistan could not have been eliminated in a short span of time. Moreover, nature, in the shape of annual cyclones and foods, also had not been friendly in the case of East Pakistan, neither could the food supply in East Pakistan recover from the famine of 1943. Efforts for industrialisation, development of infrastructure/airline, ports, oil fields/refineries and hydroelectric projects etc., show that significant attention was paid to East Pakistan’s progress post-independence. At the time of the partition of British India, East Bengal had a plantation economy. Accordingly, the Chittagong Tea Auction Center was established in 1949. In 1947, West Bengal was a more developed region which had gone to India. The development of jute industry in East Pakistan was solely due to West Pakistan’s investment in the industry. By 1950s, East Bengal surpassed West Bengal in terms of having the largest jute industries in the world. Bengalis were employed in large, capital-intensive jute mills set up by the West Pakistani industrialists. Crescent, Ispahani, and Adamjee Jute Mills had collectively employed 26,000 workers. Investments were encouraged in East Pakistan by the Central Government through the Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC), Pakistan Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation (PICIC) and Industrial Development Bank of Pakistan (IDBP). Similarly, the East Pakistan Stock Exchange Association was established in 1954. Many modern leading companies of Bangladesh were born during the East Pakistan period. Orient Airways, founded in British Bengal, launched the vital air link between East and West Pakistan that later evolved into Pakistan International Airlines, whose first chairman was East Pakistan-based industrialist, Mirza Ahmad Ispahani. Natural gas was discovered in the Northeastern part of East Pakistan in 1955 and the industrial use of natural gas began in 1959; Shell Oil Company and Pakistan Petroleum tapped 7 gas fields in the 1960s. The industrial seaport city of Chittagong hosted the headquarters of Burmah Eastern and Pakistan National Oil. Iran assisted in establishing the Eastern Refinery in Chittagong. The Comilla Model of the Pakistan Academy for Rural Development (present-day Bangladesh Academy for Rural Development), was conceived by Akhtar Hameed Khan and replicated in many developing countries. During President Ayub’s industrialisation period half of the cabinet members, including many secretaries, were from East Pakistan. Development of the Chittagong Port, Chandraghona Paper Mills, railway, road, airline and river networks all took place with the help of the Central Government. In 1965, the Kaptai Dam hydroelectric project was implemented. Moreover, besides other cities, the metropolis of Dacca witnessed significant urban growth/development.


Ever since the separation, no malicious campaign has ever run in Pakistan to belittle or disregard Bangladesh at any forum, rather it is considered as a brotherly Muslim sovereign state.   



West Pakistan Imposed Urdu as the National Language. Urdu, being the lingua franca, was a unifying factor for the Muslims of the subcontinent and it played a vital role in invigorating the Pakistan Movement. It was understood throughout the country and, therefore, it was quite logical that Urdu would be the national language of Pakistan. Urdu was not the main language of any of the four regions of West Pakistan. Bengali was a regional language like Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Brahvi and Balochi, etc. Moreover, establishing Urdu as the national language did not, at all, mean that the regional languages would cease to exist or flourish. 
Genocide of Three Million Bengalis. The figure of 3 million Bengalis killed is an arbitrary one given out by the Indians without any empirical data to prove it. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced this figure after he returned to Bangladesh after nine months of confinement in West Pakistan; the figure is widely used by journalists and in academia without any verification. The Guardian exposed the gaps between the claimed and actual figures in a report of June 1972, named The Missing Millions. Renowned author Sarmila Bose in her book, Dead Reckoning – a long overdue dispassionate study of the 1971 war, after carrying out a case-by-case arithmetic study – concludes that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died in 1971. Describing 3 million figure as a “gigantic rumour,” she says it is “not based on any accounting or survey on ground.” Bose also elaborates that, “in the ethnic violence unleashed in the name of Bengali nationalism, non-Bengali men, women and children were slaughtered.” While she argued that the political killings by Pakistan Army did not constitute genocide, the indiscriminate massacre of the Biharis certainly fell in that category. Moreover, she logically nullifies the bogus claims of sexual abuse by Pakistan Army. She exclaimed: “How can it be possible that 34,000 Pakistan Army soldiers facing Indian Army and Mukti Bahini could rape two lac Bengali women”. Even the immediate government of Awami League, after the creation of Bangladesh, failed to prove its own generated myth of 3 million. Mujib formed an inquiry committee in January 1972 to meet the figure of 3 million, but failed, as the committee came with a figure of 56,753 and the report never got published. Likewise, only 72,000 families came forward when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman announced a compensation scheme for the victims of the war including the bogus claims. Even the Editor of The Daily Morning Sun, Dacca, Noor-ul-Islam wrote: “To kill 3 million people in 3 months, 11,000 were to be killed daily!” Dr. Abdul Mumin Chowdhury, a Bengali Journalist, in his book Behind the Myth of Three Million rejected the allegations by giving valid attestations and evidences. The argument used to back the claim of genocide is that hundreds of mass graves were found in Bangladesh. It is true that mass graves were found in Bangladesh, but the presence of bodies in mass graves doesn’t mean that those people were targeted by Pakistan Army. Sarmila Bose argues that “Claims of the dead in various incidents wildly exceed anything that can be reasonably supported by evidence on the ground – ‘killing fields’ and ‘mass graves’ were claimed to be everywhere, but none was forensically exhumed and examined in a transparent manner.”


Even after seceding from Pakistan, the Muslims in Bangladesh don’t consider themselves similar to Hindus. Furthermore, the biggest evidence in support of the theory is the chain of events triggered in India after Modi came to power. Muslims are being persecuted and further pushed against the wall. 


Pakistan Army was Solely Responsible for all the Violence. Chaos and mayhem in East Pakistan was deliberately created by Mukti Bahini to facilitate the Indian interference. Even before Operation Searchlight, thousands of horrifying cases of loot, arson, rapes, and massacres by the Mukti Bahinis were reported. The entire violence was targeted at non-Bengalis (particularly Biharis). By late 1970, Mukti Bahini had begun undertaking subversive activities targeting power plants, railways, industries, bridges, fuel depots, looting banks, raiding warehouses, mining ships and killing non-Bengalis. Brigadier Devinder Singh, Staff Officer to General Manekshaw, in his book Soldiering with Dignity wrote, “We prepared Mukti Bahini. Some of them were clad in Pakistan Army uniform and were tasked to loot and rape in East Pakistan.” After Operation Searchlight, non-Bengalis were taken to buildings to be burnt alive in thousands and guillotined in jute mills, turning the river waters red and choked with gruesome human corpses. As per the 1951 census, there were 671,000 Biharis in East Pakistan and up to 20% of the entire Bihari population was massacred by the Mukti Bahini.  According to Yasmin Saikia’s Women, War and the Making of Bangladesh, thousands of Bihari women were raped and tortured by the Mukti Bahini. More than 20,000 Biharis were massacred by the Bengalis in Khulna Jute Mills alone. The Mukti Bahini killed from 100,000 Biharis (according to Chronology for Biharis in Bangladesh by Refwond) to 150,000 Biharis (according to the Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict). Qutubuddin Aziz, in Blood and Tears, has documented 170 eyewitness accounts of ‘atrocities committed on the Biharis and other non-Bengalis,’ covering ‘110 places where slaughter of innocents took place.’ According to Lawrence Lifschultz, South Asian correspondent for Far Eastern Economic Review, Mukti Bahini leader, Abdul Kader Siddiqui, “personally bayoneted” non-Bengalis to death and the entire incident was filmed by foreign film crews whom Siddiqui had invited to witness the spectacle.


One Mukti Bahini Sector Commander, Kazi Nuruzzam, writes: “Having received training, political commandos found it embarrassing to identify themselves as products of Indian authorities. So they gave themselves the name of Bangladesh Liberation Force.”


93,000 Pakistani Soldiers Surrendered. The number of soldiers is exaggerated and false. The actual number was 34,000 troops, 11,000 police, rangers, scouts and militia. This made the total number of combatants to 45,000.  Clearly, the figure of 93,000 as conjured by the Indians including women, children, civilian administration officials and staff; the number of non-combatant army personnel, nurses, doctors, barbers, cooks and shoemakers, is unfounded. Moreover, Pakistan Army fought valiantly in rough and tough conditions as acknowledged by the adversary. The logistical problems faced by West Pakistan, separated from East Pakistan by over 1200 miles of territory of hostile India, also need due consideration.
Indian Intervention Was on Humanitarian Grounds, Not Planned, but Spontaneous. It was not a humanitarian intervention; it was a vicious, planned attack on Pakistan’s territorial integrity. These plans were made with the consent of the Awami League leadership in an infamous meeting that came to be known as the Agartala Conspiracy. Indian intervention was egotistical and by no means humanitarian, to accomplish the creation of the vassal state of Bangladesh and grant India hegemony in the region. The Awami League leadership and Mukti Bahinis were mere pawns in India’s grand plan. During 1971, even before direct military intervention, Mukti Bahini was being provided military, logistical and economic support by India. Once a journalist asked Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw – COAS from 1969 to 1973 – what would have happened if he had gone to Pakistan at the time of partition. Manekshaw replied, “Pakistan would’ve won in 1971”, indicating the dominating role played by the Indian Army. After the war, despite several requests from the newly-formed Bangladeshi government, Indian military establishment was delaying its troops’ withdrawal from the newly-created country. This caused serious bitterness between India and Bangladesh that later led to the killing of Mujib by the Bangladeshi Army personnel, who considered Mujib an Indian puppet. Pakistani forces were continuously ambushed by Indian forces and Mukti Bahinis internally while Tibetan guerrilla force raised by RAW was constantly attacking the border outposts. Indian artillery was also used extensively in support of rebel operations in East Pakistan. Moreover, Indian military forces, including tanks and air power on many occasions, were also used to back up the Mukti Bahini. Additionally, to increase the lethal capabilities of Mukti Bahini, India equipped them with Italian howitzers, Dakota DC-3 aircraft, Otter DHC-3 fighter planes and Allouette helicopters (Italian howitzers used by the Mukti Bahini are now preserved at the Bangladesh Military Museum in Dhaka). According to Archer Blood, an American career diplomat who served as the last U.S. Consul General to Dhaka, “Indian soil was made available for training camps, hospitals and supply depots for the Mukti Bahini and they had a safe haven to which they could retire for rest, food, medical supplies and weapons.” Mukti Bahini guerillas, along with RAW operatives and regulars from the Indian Army, operated from training camps in the Indian states of West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura. In Nagaland, Indian Armed Forces established a jungle airstrip for Mukti Bahini from where pilots trained by the Indian Air Force conducted sorties by Otter DHC-3 aircraft. India’s Eastern Command trained more than 400 naval commandos and frogmen to drown vessels in Chittagong, Chandpur and Narayanganj. In Dehradun, Major-General Oban “selected the best personnel from Mukti Bahini” and gave them political and military training. One Mukti Bahini Sector Commander, Kazi Nuruzzam, writes: “Having received training, political commandos found it embarrassing to identify themselves as products of Indian authorities. So they gave themselves the name of Bangladesh Liberation Force.” India violated numerous international conventions in a bid to disintegrate Pakistan in 1971. Ever since, India’s hostility and Awami League’s jingoism has impeded the development of cordial relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh.


Mukti Bahini guerillas, along with RAW operatives and regulars from the Indian Army, operated from training camps in the Indian states of West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura. In Nagaland, Indian Armed Forces established a jungle airstrip for Mukti Bahini from where pilots trained by the Indian Air Force conducted sorties by Otter DHC-3 aircraft. 


Creation of Bangladesh is a Negation of Two Nation Theory. Pakistan was not divided on religious lines, but the debacle was a result of political differences – exploited by a visible foreign hand. Moreover, negation of the Two Nation Theory would mean that after seceding from Pakistan, Bangladesh had to merge with India as was in the pre-partition era, which it did not. The Two Nation Theory meant that Hindus and Muslims are two different nations. Even after seceding from Pakistan, the Muslims in Bangladesh don’t consider themselves similar to Hindus. Furthermore, the biggest evidence in support of the theory is the chain of events triggered in India after Modi came to power. Muslims are being persecuted and further pushed against the wall. Several actions such as the abrogation of Article 370, construction of Ram Mandir, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA)/National Register for Citizens (NRC), have been instrumental in making Indian Muslims second class citizens. Even pro-Indian Kashmiri leaders (Muftis and Abdullah) are questioning the decision of their forefathers to stay within the Union of India. Modi, inspired by RSS and its toxic Hindutva ideology, has successfully proven the Two Nation Theory. The words of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah that, “Muslims who are opposing Pakistan will spend the rest of their lives proving loyalty to India,” stand vindicated.


Brigadier Devinder Singh, Staff Officer to General Manekshaw, in his book Soldiering with Dignity wrote, “We prepared Mukti Bahini. Some of them were clad in Pakistan Army uniform and were tasked to loot and rape in East Pakistan.” 


Biharis were Abandoned by Pakistan. Biharis, as a distinct ethnic group, are the ones who faced most of the brutal brunt of the 1971 episode of East Pakistan. Biharis supported the territorial integrity of Pakistan in 1971. Quite a few of them succeeded in reaching Pakistan between 1972 to 1980 and with a majority settled at Karachi. They are loyal and patriotic citizens who volunteered to enroll in the Armed Forces and fight for the defence of the motherland. 1965 war hero, Air Commodore M. M. Alam (SJ), and the hero of Operation Swift Retort, Squadron Leader Hassan Siddiqui, are Biharis. The community firmly believes in the Two Nation Theory. From 1947 to 1971, these Biharis became bonafide Pakistani citizens whose status never changed, therefore their legal status is exactly the same as other Pakistani citizens.
Hatred between Pakistanis and Bengalis. There is not a vestige of hostility against the Bengalis amongst Pakistanis. From random literature to textbooks, there is no denouncing material against the Bengalis. The separation of East and West Pakistan is largely remembered as a painful national tragedy warranting soul searching and self-accountability. Ever since the separation, no malicious campaign has ever run in Pakistan to belittle or disregard Bangladesh at any forum, rather it is considered as a brotherly Muslim sovereign state.   
Factually speaking, there is adequate space for conciliation and cordiality between Pakistan and Bangladesh based on mutual respect, trust and interest. It’s better for the two countries to candidly revisit/forget the unpleasant past and look towards a shared prosperous future in the dawning era of geoeconomics and regional integration.



 

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