Archive for December, 2015

1971 War – For the Pak Punjabi the Pak Bengali was a Non entity …

Posted on December 8, 2015. Filed under: Indian Thought, Uncategorized |

This review of a recent book by the erudite and balanced Hamid Hussein gives out the fundamental reasons for the defeat of Pakistan in the 1971 War –  and lays them down in Pakistan’s history from 1906 to 1971. 

In late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries important Muslim leaders advocated division of India on the basis of separate Muslim identity. The prejudice against Bengali Muslims was so prevalent and widespread, that nobody cared about them and did not consider them as part of Indian Muslim community. In fifty years, about 15 such schemes were proposed but not even a single one mentioned Bengal or Bengali Muslims. Sir Muhammad Iqbal who proposed the idea of Pakistan in his famous Allahabad address in 1930 did not include Bengali Muslims in his scheme. Chaudhry Rehmat Ali who coined the word ‘ Pakistan ‘ for his new country did not bother to fit the majority population of future Pakistan in his name. Generally speaking, Muslims of northern India considered themselves superior and more pure blood and despised Bengali Muslims, which they seem to equate more with Hindus rather than accepting them as brothers in faith. The Bengali leader, Fazlul Haq who presented the Pakistan Resolution in 1940 was forced to resign from Muslim League in September 1941. The Muslim League leadership never trusted Hussain Shaheed Suharwardy, who was the elected Chief Minister of United Bengal . He was not given a seat at Working Committee of All India Muslim League.

In 1947, when the new state of Pakistan emerged, there was a very unique and difficult dilemma facing the new nation. More than 1000 miles of hostile territory of India separated the two wings. East Pakistan contained more than half of the population but only one-sixth of the land. In Eastern wing, population was more homogenous ethnically and linguistically while Western wing had five clearly diverse groups (Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluch, Pushtuns and newly immigrated Muslims from India called Muhajirs). In eastern wing, the non-Muslim population was 23% while in western wing only 3 . Peasant proprietors dominated agriculture sector in Bengal compared to large feudal estates in West Pakistan . Bengalis were the most politically conscious group of Pakistan . In addition, there was a long tradition of strong leftist presence in Bengal . Literacy rate was 30% in East compared to 20% in West Pakistan . In 1950, East Bengal Provincial legislature passed a landmark bill called East Bengal State Land Acquisition and Tenancy Act of 1950. This law abolished the permanent settlement, which ended the Zamindari system that supported the landed elite. The land holding was limited to 100 Bighas (about 33 acres) which affected both Hindu and Muslim landlords. In my view this little known single piece of legislation was a crucial factor which would impact the future course of relationship between the two wings. This law rang the alarm bells in West Pakistani ruling elite, which was dominated by the landed aristocracy.

The Punjabi Governor of East Pakistan, Sir Firoz Khan Noon described the Bengali voice of dissent as a conspiracy of ‘clever politicians and disruptionists from within the Muslim community and caste Hindus and communists from Calcutta as well as from outside Pakistan ‘. This was in 1950s and look at the statements about Baluchs today. Read the following sentences written in Intelligence Bureau (IB) report dated July 1961 about the feelings of Bengali population:   ‘The people in this province will not be satisfied unless the Constitution ensures them in reality equal and effective participation in the management of the affairs of the country, equal share of development resources and, in particular, full control over the administration of this province. The intelligentsia would also like to see a directive principle in the Constitution to increase speedily East Pakistan’s share in the defense services as well as equal representation of East Pakistanis in the central service’.  A mid-level police official of IB was more farsighted than the rulers of the country

Army was in full control of the country from 1958 right up to the day of surrender in 1971.  If there was a trap, it was weaved meticulously by army leadership. Just as a backgrounder of the saga to highlight how domestic and international factors coalesced in the context of East Pakistan. A complex set of factors including domestic, personal and class interests, regional and international interests came into play which impacted the nascent democratic process of the new nation. The Muslim League leadership in East Pakistan consisted of landed elite and cosmopolitans from Calcutta . Later, vernacular leadership (Fazlul Haq and Maulana Abdul Hameed Bhashani) based on support from rural masses came to limelight. 1954 provincial elections were a watershed in the history of Pakistan . The United Front (consisting of Fazlul Haq’s Krishak Sramik Party and Suharwardy’s Awami League) swept the elections. United Front won 223 of the 237 Muslim seats and had many allies among the 72 non-Muslim elected members. Muslim League was wiped out of the East Bengal during this election. West Pakistani ruling elite’s apprehensions about the new Bengali leadership were re-enforced by the international politics and Pakistan ‘s attempts to join U.S. sponsored military pacts against the Communism. When the defense treaty with United States was announced in February 1954, there was a general protest in East Bengal . Several demonstrations were held and newly elected assembly members signed a protest statement. This signature proved to be the death sentence of the provincial assembly. The ruling group in Karachi (Governor General Ghulam Muhammad, C-in-C General Ayub Khan and Defence Secretary Sikander Mirza) saw this situation as a grave threat to their vision for the country and future relationship with US, which would be a foundation stone of this policy. They concluded that to show to Washington that Pakistan was a serious ally and in full control of its house, East Pakistan ‘s political process had to be checked. On May 19, 1954 , the mutual defense agreement was signed in Karachi between US and Pakistan and eleven days later, Governor General dismissed East Bengal Provincial Assembly on the flimsy charge that Fazlul Haq had uttered separatist words to Indian media. One day before the dismissal of the assembly, Pakistani Prime Minister while confiding with the US Charge, told him that Governor rule was planned for East Pakistan to route the communists. He revealed that the matter was not even discussed with the cabinet or Chief Ministers as information may be leaked to Peking and Moscow via Fazlul Haq. The plan was not for a short- term scuttling of the political process but a long-term as General Ayub Khan confided with US ambassador that, ‘it would be necessary to keep military rule in effect in East Pakistan for a considerable length of time’. Remember this he was saying in 1954, four years before the 1958 coup.  Pakistani decision makers always feel more at home with foreigners rather than with their fellow countrymen. Those who want a good dose should read Wiki Leaks cables of Pakistani civil and military leaders.

To my knowledge, no one has looked at the contribution of defense policy towards Bengali alienation.  Pakistan adopted the most preposterous defense concept and publicly announced it stating that ‘the defense of East Pakistan lay in West Pakistan. All defense resources were concentrated in West Pakistan calling it the heartland. Bengalis surrounded on three sides by hostile India were told that in case of war, West Pakistan will try to conquer as much Indian territory on western border and India allowed to walk over East Pakistan.  Then at negotiation table Pakistan would be able to extract concessions and get East Pakistani land back.  I don’t know whether many Pakistani know the facts that for the first few years after independence, Pakistan allotted a grand total of two infantry battalions (8/12 FFR and 2/8 Punjab Regiment) for the defense of whole East Pakistan.  It was not until 1950 that two infantry brigades were provided for East Pakistan. No armored regiment was thought worthy to be sent there.  Pakistan Air Force stationed its sole permanent fighter jet squadron in East Pakistan in 1962. In military matters, it is normal to allocate resources depending on threat perception.  However, citizens of a part of the country cannot be simply told that they are dispensable.  One cannot call one region heart and soul of the country worth defending while another region as periphery and not worth defending. Even if military policy dictates such a course then two elements are essential; first the ‘periphery’ population’s representatives are involved in decision making process and second armed forces should have adequate representation from the ‘periphery’ population.  This reassures them that they are equal citizens and following an agreed policy which may have some risks involved for their lands.  In my view 1965 war convinced even otherwise patriotic Bengalis that their future was not with united Pakistan.  They saw that country’s leadership had embarked on a major conflict with a larger India for few lakh Kashmiris and endangered the survival of half of the country’s Bengali population. To add insult to injury no one had the courtesy even to ask for Bengali opinion as they were not in the decision making process. Bengalis had no interest in Pakistan’s major quarrel with India over Kashmir.

“Great blunders are often made up small errors ala thick ropes made of slender threads  =   Victor Hugo in his Les Miserables

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