FALL OF EAST PAKISTN WAS NOT A MILITARY FAILURE BUT A POLITICAL ONE
The great national trauma of 16th December 1971, when Pakistan got dismembered and one half of its beautiful territory fell apart, cannot easily be obliterated from the collective memory of the nation. That part is now Bangladesh. The Balkanization of Pakistan was a great achievement for our eastern neighbour – Bharat, which quite surreptitiously exploited our internal civil war to rend asunder the unified Pakistan, which had the distinction of being the biggest Muslim country in the World and India, served as the midwife for the caesarian operation and birth of a country based on Bengali nationalism. But to India’s dismay, it did not relinquish its Muslims identity to merge with ‘West Bengal’ – a predominately Hindu dominated province of India. The Two Nation Theory was not drowned into the Bay of Bengal, contrary to the euphoric proclamation by the then Prime Minister of India – Indira Gandhi – who lost no opportunity to express her triumph at bifurcating Pakistan as an avenge for thousand years of Muslims rule over the subcontinent. That Pakistan was ‘cut to size’ was the title of the book, which appeared soon after Bangladesh came into being, sequel to the surrender of Pakistan’s Army in Paltan Maidan, the most humiliating episode in the history of Islamic battles.
The so called Tiger Niazi, did not prove equal to the task. His ‘generalship’ was not to the caliber of a theatre commander, who could steer a better strategy to prolong the war so that International interventions could have averted the stigma of ‘surrender’ and an amicable compromise could have been worked out. What was the fatal mistake that the Army true to the mandate initially had established ‘peace’ in every part of the former East Pakistan, and the opportunity should have been utilized for a political solution of the problem, which was essentially of our own making. Attributing blame to India or the former Soviet Union, which lent full support to India in the nefarious game of dismemberment of Pakistan is utterly useless. Vulnerabilities invite temptation to intervene. We did not gauge the exterior environment, which was not so favourable for us. Thoughtlessly, Army Action was launched, which was a blunder of great magnitude, which not only augmented the sense of alienation and hatred for West Pakistan, by our Bengali brothers, but also provided an opportunity to India, to infiltrate its forces inside Dhaka, against the international norms and conventions.
The external factors could not have come into operation, if West Pakistan leadership would have the requisite strategic vision, how to integrate a vas chunk of our Muslim brothers, in the former East Pakistan, to form a viable and much vibrant country, to be able to influence, the Middle East, Central Asian States, South Asia and the South East Asian countries. The importance of Pakistan‘s great strategic location, never dawned upon our myopic leaders, who lacked the statesmanship and above all the art of ‘good governance.’ That incompetence is endemic. The propensity for over centralization and one-man-rule, whether it be a military dictator or a civilian ruler hardly made any difference.
Seemingly at present we have a civilian political system, but it is a great aberration of the parliamentary democracy, where parliament enjoys only a ceremonial existence. Presidency enjoys the full power. The same one-man-show still lingers. The propensity to assume absolute power is the singular tragic trait of our national character. The democratic values are only talked about, for steering a political change, but soon a ruler assumes power, he defies all norms of democracy – explicit as well as implicit. Unless a nation internalizes them real democracy shall only be willow-the-wisp. Ours is essentially a dogmatic and authoritarian culture, a hang over the feudalistic mind-set, which creates impediments towards promotion of a viable democratic polity. It is not only those who possess vast chunks of land to be called feudal, but feudalistic traits are common features of our national personality, which reflects in our bureaucratic institutions, family and other organizational set-ups.
The people of Bangladesh are intrinsically anti-feudal in approach, contrary to the West Pakistan’s political leadership, which, by and large is ‘dominated by feudal military bureaucratic elites’ as rightly pointed out by Masqood Ali in his recent book from East Bengal to Bangladesh. The disgust against Pakistan’s military action was so profound that the author represses the objective reality that East Bengal, first was transformed into East Pakistan, prior to its becoming Bangladesh. This vital error in the title of the book is expressive of his antipathy towards Pakistan. Moreover, he does not dilate over external dimensions of the dismemberment.
The above author however is quite right in maintaining that “opposition to landlords was inbred in the Bengali Psyche.” They had done away with the Zamindari system in 1950, and the ceiling was fixed at 3.3 acres for individual holdings, whereas, in West Pakistan, the so called Reforms in 1959 was only an eye wash. The Commission for Reforms set the limits upto 500 acres of irrigated lands and 1000 acres for non-irrigated land, which was simply preposterous. Even India came heavily on the landlords, which did contribute to its relatively successful functioning of parliamentary system. In East Pakistan, leaders predominately from the middle class, was quite averse to military leadership and their frequent interventions in the political system, contributed to their will to separate from West Pakistan. One must give credit to the Bengalis that despite being larger in number, they had accepted quite gracefully the principle of parity, which if properly implemented would not have induced them to seek the division of Pakistan.
Many factors contributed to their sense of being discriminatively treated, for instance the transfer of capital from Karachi to Islamabad, reluctance to give Bengali language, the status that was given to Urdu and not granting Autonomy, which was the vital imperative to keep two wings going together for the furtherance and glory of Pakistan. The majority of Bengalis, never wanted separation, ironically, we made it impossible for them to remain united.
West Pakistan is undergoing the same trauma, in rural Sindh and Balochistan and facing insurgency in our tribal areas. These are outcomes of not integrating the nation into a cohesive force. I wish to convey my short interaction with late justice Hamoodur Rahman. That time Report on the military debacle of East Pakistan was not made known to the public, nor were his recommendations implemented, which would have set a proper precedence of accountability in the country. I asked him if he could identify one man responsible or the break-up of Pakistan, he answer was rather shocking and least expected. He named late General Azam Khan, who had served as Governor East Pakistan and later recalled by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. I said, he was quite popular among Bengalis. He said, “yes he did a good deal to gain cheep popularity but he practically ruined the unity of Pakistan, by bifurcating the communication, many institutions like PIDC etc and above all he made it mandatory that in federal civil services, Bengalis would serve only in East Pakistan and no Bengali would serve in West Pakistan. This, he said was major step towards the division of the country – the real genesis of “Udhar Tum and Idhar Ham.” The ‘son of the soil’ idea, he sowed with very ominous consequences while it was imperative to concede to autonomy, but to divide the communication and federal services, he thought, was a great disservice to the country.” I reflected on this idea, later and found that there was some kernel of truth in what he had said to me.
Shall we relinquish over centralized power orientation or witness more tragedies? The right decision may extricate us from the peril that is haunting us loud and clear.