DECEMBER 16, 1971, the culmination of the events leading to the dismemberment of Pakistan had become possible because of three main factors. First, the then East Pakistanis’ perceptions and misperceptions developed over a period of 23 years life of united Pakistan about the supposed or actual injustices done to them by the then Pakistani governments. Second, the major mistake done by the then Pakistani government in 1971 and the runners up political party in 1971 general election, of not allowing the Awami League (the winner political party in the 1971 elections) to form the government. Third, India’s political and subversive role and its direct military intervention by attacking East Pakistan on 20 November 1971. The India’s role in dismembering Pakistan is discussed in detail.
Since India was against Pakistan’s creation in 1947, it was there between East and West Pakistan, (located 1000 kilometres away) to create misperceptions, and exploit those misperceptions to harm Pakistan’s integrity, at an opportune time. India played a major role in 23 years (from 1947 to 1971) in creating misperception among East Pakistanis by using its better propaganda machinery and East, Pakistan’s Hindu population, which was dominating in the teaching staff of East Pakistan’s educational institutions. India carried out propaganda that West Pakistan was given preference over East Pakistan in the socio-economic development and for representation in different services departments. Moreover, language barrier, and the lack of people to people contacts were also exploited to create misperception. It would have been better if Urdu was taught as a compulsory language in East Pakistan and Bengali in West Pakistan. In fact, the ground situation at that time supported the fact that there was not much difference in the development of both wings, although some issues were there, which could be addressed.
The major opportunity, which India got to exploit had occurred in the backdrop of 1971 general election, which had been won by the Awami League with the Pakistan Peoples Party emerging as the second largest political party in the election. After the election, while the Awami League considered its right to form the government, the Peoples Party leadership wanted some negotiated arrangement, since the Awami League had won an absolute majority in East Pakistan and the Peoples Party had attained an absolute majority in West Pakistan. Since the negotiations between the Awami League and the Peoples Party did not succeed, the Awami League voters of East Pakistan had got alienated and voices of separation of East Pakistan had started emerging. The Awami League mobs at that time started carrying out political violence and plundering. Hence, to restore law and order, military action was ordered in East Pakistan.
India exploited this situation by inciting and supporting the Awami League leaders and its activists to opt for separation from Pakistan. In this context, India carried out its self made propaganda that the Pakistan military was killing the people and burning their properties, thus making them flee to India to save them. In fact the Pakistan Army was acting with extreme caution just to restore law and order and gain more time for a political solution. As a result of India’s propaganda and incitement, many Awami League activists and Bengalis fled to India with their families and India made them hostage by putting them in well prepared barbed wired refugee camps, but pretending that they were being protected.
The refugees’ tempers against Pakistan were kept constantly high by making them listen concocted news through loudspeakers, as they were not allowed to keep radios to listen to the actual news. The male members in the camps were given guerrilla training and incited to launch a guerilla war to separate the Eastern wing from Pakistan. India sponsored the guerilla war for 9 months, and on 20 November 1971, along with guerillas, it launched a full scale offensive in East Pakistan. As a consequence, the Pakistan’s Eastern Command led by Gen. Niazi surrendered, the war ended and formation of Bangladesh was announced, although according to many observers, the Pakistani troops could still fight for months to buy time for a political solution.
In view of the above discussion, the tragedy of 16 December 1971 gives Pakistan following lessons for the future. Political differences among the provinces and political parties in the country should not be allowed to grow to the irreconcilable level, that the neighbouring enemy country gets an opportunity to exploit those to harm Pakistan’s integrity. The mutual cohesion among the provinces should be ensured by pursuing equitable socio-economic development strategies, removing language barriers and promoting people-to-people contacts. Pakistan should be made economically self reliant and militarily strong (thanks to Allah Almighty that Pakistan is now a nuclear power) to defend its integrity without any external assistance.
—The writer, retired Lt Col, is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.