POLITICANS HAVE YET TO LEARN FROM THE PAST, WILL THEY?
Memories of 1971 debacle are too painful to be forgotten. The great tragedy of losing half of Pakistan did not happen in a day or in few months but the dismantling process commenced a little after partition. Leaders who came after Quaid-e-Azam and Liaquat Ali Khan preferred self over national interests and got busy in accumulating power and pelf and in the process tore Pakistan bit by bit. By the time Gen Yahya Khan came on the centre stage the ship had already started to sink. Notwithstanding self-serving role of our leaders, Pakistan got truncated because of the treacherous role of India and some other countries which supported the dismemberment plan.
India had chosen East Pakistan, situated 1000 miles away from western wing with no land linkage as its primary target for subversion to cut biggest Islamic state to size and to disprove two-nation theory. Indian agencies succeeded in creating disorder and political instability and germinating the idea that West Pakistan was prospering at the cost of East Pakistan. They inculcated immutable hatred in the minds of Bengalis against West Pakistanis and projected India as their real friend.
Eight months insurgency in East Pakistan in 1971 was full supported by Indian Army. Having failed to realise their objective through Mukti Bahini, Indian Army decided to step in at a time when small contingent of Pak Army had been exhausted and suffered from immense constraints. Fundamental causes of insurgency in East Pakistan were mainly political, economic and psycho-social in nature. Some major factors in this case are as given under: –
Representation in Government. Despite being in majority the Bengalis were under represented in the government, its representation in the central cabinet ranged from 25 to 27 percent and all senior position in civil service were occupied by West Pakistanis.
Linguistic Controversy. Bengali elite viewed that without acceptance of Bengali as a national language they would be handicapped as compared to West Pakistanis in their effort to obtain central government jobs and patronage.
Economic Grievances. Most vociferous complaint by the intellectuals and politicians of East Pakistan was the so called economic exploitation by West Pakistan.
Insurgency and Counter Insurgency.
Insurgency in East Pakistan was well planned and executed by Mukti Bahini. Active resistance started when Sheikh Mujibur Rehman called for civil disobedience movement on announcement of postponement of National Assembly Session on 1 March 1971. Later in retaliation to military action of Pakistan Army on 25 March, insurgents openly rejected the established authority of the state and a Bangladeshi government in exile was announced. In the opening offensive phase 30,000 trained Muktis were launched into East Pakistan with active support from India. This force swelled to 80,000 and later to 100,000 by October.
Counter Insurgency Operation. Pakistan Army thwarted the plan of open disobedience and launched a counter insurgency operation on 25 March. An attempt was made to solve a political problem with military muscle. The objectives set forth for the army’s operation were: –
Long Term Objectives: To seal off the borders; to create conditions for selecting a civilian set up; to regain the administration of the province; to accommodate non-radical elements of the elected representatives into a new political arrangement.
Immediate Objectives: Disarming all Bengali Troops; arresting all prominent Awami League leaders; imposing martial law strictly; controlling all airfields; securing Chittagong Naval Base; ensuring security; regaining control over Radio and TV stations.
During the insurgency in East Pakistan insurgents used both political resources and instruments of violence against the ruling authorities to accomplish their objectives. In the political resources conspiracy and internal warfare were employed. Terrorism, guerrilla warfare and conventional warfare were used by the insurgents. Emergence of Sheikh Mujib as a leader, external support from India and popular support became overriding strategic factors contributing towards success of insurgency. According to Mao Tse Tung, “the richest source of power to wage war lies in the masses of the people”. Native population identified itself spontaneously with the fortunes of the insurgents. Some of the major factors bearing upon the success of this insurgency were as under: –
a. Lack of Comprehension of the Situation. Pakistan Army tried to solve a political problem with military solution.
b. Lack of Intelligence. Due to lack of intelligence, initiative was passed to the insurgents and the Army became reactive in its response.
c. Lack of Exterior Manoeuvre. Exterior manoeuvre was most ineffective and badly handled. As a result, world opinion turned against Pakistan.
d. Lack of National Coordination. Coordination between political, administration, military, police and intelligence was missing and military action was not followed by a political solution.
e. Out side Support. Insurgents had access to safe havens in India and abundance of political and material support from India.
- Had Yahya Khan not abolished the mechanism of separate electorate, Awami League aided by Hindu votes could not have swept the polls and eliminated Muslim League and other like-minded parties owing to the deluge of Hindi votes. That way, Pakistan could have been saved from disintegrating.
- Absence of 1956 and 1962 constitution became the chief cause for a political impasse after the elections. Crazy tug of war between Mujib and Bhutto was mainly on framing the new constitution and power sharing, which eventually broke the country.
- Mujib’s unyielding stance on his six points and Bhutto’s refusal to attend inaugural session of national assembly in Dacca on 3 March 1971 forced Yahya to commit fatal mistake of postponing the session without giving a fresh date. It led to anarchism and became the first major cause towards break up of united Pakistan.
- Military action on 25 March was launched to save the federation from breaking apart. While it achieved short term objectives, in actuality it lost the first battle of united Pakistan. Thereon, it was a downhill journey leading to dismemberment of the country.
- It was not March 25 action that sparked war of independence but cumulative follies of our leaders for past 24 years and ferment that was simmering in minds of Bengalis. Military crackdown provided the needed spark to the powder keg to explode and demand for provincial autonomy developed into a secessionist movement.
- Mujib and his henchmen in connivance with India had made the plan of secession much before and the 25 March military action came as a godsend opportunity to fulfil their dream.
- Signing of Indo-Russo Treaty in August and neutralisation of Chinese threat paved the way for India to exercise its military option. The world instead of condemning India for its blatant interference in internal affairs of Pakistan advised and pressurised Pakistan to opt for Indian dictated political solution.
- India found foreign media exceedingly credulous in accepting without verifying huge exaggerations that were affixed to the list of horror stories. Pakistan stood as a tyrant and human rights violator in the eyes of the world and India as the liberator.
- Our forces cut off from the world, heavily outnumbered and outgunned, fought under extreme adverse operational environments. None came to our rescue or stopped the unjust war. Fall of Dacca was a foregone outcome.
- The country split into two under the weight of social injustice, corruption and greed for power. Real issues were sidelined while non-issues like power-sharing, ethnic, sectarian and other matters of discord were encouraged. The break up of united Pakistan in 1971 was the major manifestation of the state’s failure in national integration.
In spite of great tragedy of 1971, sadly, there appears to be no grief, no acceptance of mistakes and no attempt to learn any lessons from history. Fissiparous tendencies fuelled by India are again rising. We are again treading on the same disastrous path.
Brig Asif Haroon Raja is a defence and security analyst. He is also a Member Board of Advisors, Opinion Maker. He has several books to his credit