Fall of Dhaka- The Unlearnt Lessons

Like every year December 16th came and went, with the customary superficial discourses on the most tragic event to befall our country. Fall of Dhaka is an abject lesson in the dire consequences of strategic decisions being made based on flawed, if not outright biased and discriminatory, premises.

Likewise , instead of analyzing the events and understanding the root causes of this tragedy, we have adopted a simple self serving theory which apportions blame mostly on everyone else but ourselves. The theory revolves around ungrateful Bengalis, propaganda spouting Hindu teachers,

treacherous Mujib Ur Rehman, power hungry ZAB, an inebriate Yahya Khan and devious Indians (specifically Hindus). What are conveniently and quietly ignored are the roles of Army and Bureaucracy, and then the vast difference in the cultures and psyches of the two people, which we never managed to bridge, hoping instead that a common religion would somehow hold the two wings together. The second common fallacy is to view it solely in terms of a military defeat. While we did get soundly beaten, it was more of an end result of a war already lost on the ideological front … The first chink in the relationships appeared with the issue of the official language. Urdu was declared as the sole national language. This had very severe repercussions in East Pakistan where the Bangla language was almost like a living being, to be cherished or nurtured. Language riots took place in the early 1950’s and eventually Bangla was declared the second official language. Unfortunately the bitterness generated created permanent suspicion in the Bengali mind about the Western wing’s designs regarding subjugation of their culture. Subsequently while a significant reason for the alienation of the Bengalis was rooted in the perceived exploitation of the resources of their land by the then West Pakistani’s, an equally important irritant was the second class citizens status accorded to them by the Bureaucracy and the Army. The bureaucracy , specially members of the then Central Superior Services , treated East Pakistan as a colony , with no solid efforts being made to induct a reasonable number of Bengali’s in the upper tiers. The attitude of the army was equally bad – branding Bengalis as a non martial race, only bare minimum units were raised comprising of native East Pakistanis … While the first policy denied Bengalis a fair share of the privileges associated with the very powerful civil services, the second left East Pakistan’s without any defense mechanism against external aggression. This became apparent during the 1965 war, where East Pakistan was left on its own – and it was a minor miracle that India did not open that front. The role of these two , post 1970 elections was even more negative, and dealt a final blow to the efforts to keep both the wings united as one country. The bureaucracy , terrified of being answerable to a Bengali dominated government, and with the aim of retaining some of its influence, pushed for the formation of a coalition government – a largely illogical demand as the Awami League had won a clear majority in the legislative assembly! The Army’s actions had an even more drastic impact on peacemaking efforts. It first launched an ill thought out cleanup operation, in which a large number of civilians were also killed. It then refused, by backing Yahya Khan, to transfer power to the Awami League. ZAB, to his eternal discredit, only exploited this situation… It’s not commonly known that Mujib Ur Rahman was taken into custody after the above cleanup action and remained so during the duration of the war. From the Bengali’s side the hostilities

were actually directed by the government in exile, based in India, which was boosted by the strong support of the local population… That demonstrated the depth of desire of the general populace in East Pakistan to separate from the Western part, and to carve out a homeland for themselves based on Bengali identity … While the role India played in the whole episode was very negative, but then it was very natural. We had, by that time, fought three wars with them, and a united Pakistan was a bigger threat to them then two separate countries. No blame can be apportioned on a state if it takes advantage of a situation to protect its national interest. Means, fair or foul, are of no consequence in such matters… Before we start blaming Mujib Ur Rehman for being the main culprit behind this tragedy, it would be instructive to look at the offer he made in terms of his famous “six points”, which would have guaranteed the existence of a united Pakistan … The point’s related to (1) universal adult franchise (2) only “Defense” and “Foreign Affairs” to be with the center (3) two separate currencies (4) taxation and revenue collection with respective wings (5) Economic, fiscal and legal reforms , and (6) a militia or paramilitary force for East Pakistan… These points were first presented in February, 1966 at a convention of opposition parties held, ironically, at Lahore. In hindsight, and as should have been apparent to all unbiased individuals at that time, this was the most practical arrangement and virtually the last chance for the federation to survive , in any shape or form. What was the reaction of our establishment? There was a hysteric outbreak, with Mujib Ur Rehman being branded a traitor and an agent of Indians! The full force of propaganda was unleashed with these six points branded as a death knell for the unity of the country … Mujib had always participated in the main stream Pakistan politics, working for the presidential campaign of Fatima Jinnah. He was actually arrested weeks before the presidential election and jailed for a year. In addition to this he had wholeheartedly supported West Pakistan during 1965 war. All in all he was considered quite a moderate Bengali leader … At the beginning of 1968 he was accused of colluding with India, and a case registered against him known as the Agartala conspiracy case. This lead to demonstrations all over East Pakistan. Eventually the government had to cave into the pressure and release him. The treatment meted out to Mujib by the West Pakistan establishment created hatred among vast majority of East Pakistani’s against West Pakistani’s in general …

What followed, post 1970 elections and non recognition of the results, was a natural consequence of decades of hatred pent up in the Bengalis. While the savagery which took place against members of the Pakistan armed forces is deplorable, the causes were entirely self generated. The lessons we need to learn by heart are that religion, while a strong binding force, cannot suffice to hold a pluralistic nation together. Various ethnic components have to be treated in a fair and dignified manner, and their cultures and traditions respected. Secondly throwing money at the problem also does not help. The amount of investment in East Pakistan, though not equal to that in West Pakistan, raised its economic conditions significantly when compared to that existing at independence in 1947. This did not however appease the hurt sentiments of the Bengali’s. The way we are handling Baluchistan and our Western frontiers currently, and have dealt with Sindhis in the past, has created stress points across the fabric of our society. We need to understand that there are genuine grievances and then some perceptions of unfairness which have to be addressed fairly and in an transparent manner. Using brute force may provide temporary respite, but in the long run it will destroy the foundations of our nation. If we try to tailor our national strategies around the dictates of foreign powers we will have bigger disasters on our hands … The one redeeming feature of the current situation is that the democratic process, with all its imperfections inherent in the Pakistani version, is moving along. This is the most critical nation building process of all. This needs to be sustained at all costs, irrespective of what our establishment or so called intellectual elites may suggest. Couple this with a fairly independent judiciary, and one of the freest media anywhere in the world, and hope springs anew. However, the present overly centralized federal structure of governance needs to be replaced with one where most of the powers need to be delegated to the federating units. This should considerably lower the resentment the provinces , other than Punjab, hold towards the federal government. As one great leader observed almost a century and a half ago, “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. Thus was it then and thus it is now …