Breaking myths of 1971 Pak-India War
By S. M. Hali
Forty two years since the 1971 Pak-India War, it is time to rest some of its myths. It is believed that India machinated the war to avenge Pakistan’s adventurism in the pre-1965 War “Operation Gibraltar” and planned to sever East Pakistan, building on the grievances of the Bengalis. In fact India had been conspiring much before 1965. The surreptitious visit of Sheikh Mujib to Agartala on a Top Secret mission to meet Indian co-conspirators on 5 February, 1962 is corroborated by a diary note endorsed by Khowai SDO Smarajit Chakravarty: “Today at about 1300 hrs one Mr. Mujibur Rahaman, Amir Hussain & T Choudhury arrived through Asharambari. They have been sent to Teliamura under instruction from D.M”. This essential piece of evidence, the missing link in the Agartala Conspiracy case has belatedly been provided by Manas Pal, in his Op-Ed titled ‘A Diary Note on Mujibur Rahman’’, published in Agartala’s daily Bengal Newz of 5 November 2012, proving that India and the Sheikh had been planning the secession much earlier.
Another myth is that the Sheikh’s “Six-Point” program was negotiable but it was a virtual demand of independence. On its rejection by the government, on December 5, 1969 Mujib made a declaration at a public meeting held to observe the death anniversary of Suhrawardy that henceforth East Pakistan would be called “Bangladesh”.
Many analysts opine that since Mujib had won an overwhelming victory in the 1970 elections he should have been offered to form the government. On the contrary, witnesses state that Mujib had declared that rather than becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he “would prefer to be the father of a nation!” On March 7, 1971 Mujib called for independence and asked the people to launch a major campaign of civil disobedience, culminating in the emergence of Bangladesh.
Much has been made of the exodus of “ten million” Bengalis from East Pakistan. As a result of Indian media’s propaganda campaign, “The Beatles” singer George Harrison dedicated a concert to the Bangladesh movement at the behest of Hindu Bengali musician Ravi Shankar. On 23 June, 1971 the British government stopped all economic aid to Pakistan and permitted the establishment of a High Commission by “Bangladesh Government in exile” in London. As for the number of Bengali refugees, according to 2001 census 3,084,826 people came to India from Bangladesh while 1.5 million stayed back after Bangladesh became independent.
A major falsehood spread by India and later parroted by some Bangladeshis is that Pakistan Army carried out genocide of three million Bengalis. Pakistan Army may have carried out some atrocities but not to that extent. The total strength of Pakistan Army in East Pakistan was 40,000. It is not humanly possible for this number to commit that level of genocide as being accused. Independent sources also disprove the claim. Sharmila Bose in her book Dead Reckoning says “Many Bengalis—supposed to be fighting for freedom and dignity—committed appalling atrocities (against Biharis and West Pakistanis). And many Pakistani army officers, carrying out a military action against a political rebellion, turned out to be fine men doing their best to fight an unconventional war within the conventions of warfare…”
Dr. M. Abdul Mu’min Chowdhury, a Bengali nationalist who actively participated in the separatist cause, in his publication Behind the Myth of 3 Million, challenges the falsehood. Citing an extensive range of sources to show that what the Pakistani army was carrying out in East Pakistan was a limited counter-insurgency, not genocide, the scholar discloses that after the creation of Bangladesh, an announcement was made to pay Taka 2,000 to every family that suffered loss of life where upon only three hundred thousand families claimed such compensation. Had there been three million individuals dead, their families would have claimed for compensation.
Another tall tale is of 93,000 Pakistani Prisoners of War. There were only 40,000 armed forces personnel; the remaining comprised Pakistan government officials, pro-Pakistan citizens and post offices, railways and PIA officers and staff.
India has been taunting Pakistan for its defeat in the war, but the Indian Express of 1 February, 1972, reporting on a lunch reception by the Press Association in honour of the three Services Chiefs, quoted Indian Chief of Army Staff, General S. H. F. J. Manekshaw, who having paid tributes to the Indian Armed forces, stated: “. . . an impression has been created that the Pakistanis had not fought well. They fought extremely well, if they had not, India would not have suffered heavy casualties.”