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Sabir Shah
Monday, December 17, 2012
From Print Edition
 
 

 

LAHORE: Exactly 41 years ago on December 16, 1971 at 5:01pm local time and 6:01 West Pakistan time, an agreement called the “Instrument of Surrender” was signed at the Eastern Theatre of Dhaka’s Ramna Race Course by Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora of the Indian army and Lt Gen Amir Khan Niazi of the Pakistan Army to mark a formal end to the Indo-Pakistani war of 1971 and the formation of Bangladesh.

 

To the sheer delight of India and to the utter dismay of West Pakistan, the nine-month long independence war waged by the Mukti Bahini (Liberation forces of Bangladesh) and the complimenting 12-day assault of the Indian army had seen the two wings of Pakistan getting disintegrated from each other, just 24 years and four months after the country’s inception.

 

Also present on the eventful signing occasion were dejected Air Vice-Admiral Mohammad Shariff, Commander of the Pakistani Naval Eastern Command, disappointed Air Vice-Marshal Patrick Callaghan of the Pakistan Air Force’s Eastern Air Force Command, the delighted Lieutenant General Rafael Jacob, Chief of Staff of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command and the gleeful Vice Admiral RN Krishna, Commander of the India’s Eastern Navy Command.

 

December 16 of 1971, sadly remembered as the day witnessing the “Fall of Dhaka,” had witnessed General Niazi surrendering with some 90,000 Pakistani soldiers and government functionaries, the largest number of Prisoners of War (POWs) since World War II.

 

Some historians think the POW figure was 45,000 plus.

 

History reveals that soon after independence in August 1947, certain political quarters in East Pakistan, chiefly Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman’s Awami League, had started contending that since their population was 55 percent as compared to 45 percent in the western part of the country, therefore, the federal capital should have been in Dhaka and not Karachi.

 

Feeling deprived and under visible Indian influence, the estranged Awami League had constantly resented that although a large sum of foreign exchange was earned from the sale of jute cultivated in the eastern wing, the people at the helm of affairs in Karachi were spending this money for defence purposes at will. Sheikh Mujeeb and his followers kept complaining about key jobs going to people residing in West Pakistan and that injustice was being meted out to the citizens of east Pakistan.

 

Sheikh Mujeeb then came up with his famous six points, focusing primarily on provincial autonomy and the financial independence of east Pakistan. He was arrested in April 1966, but was released within days. In June 1966, he was rearrested and imprisoned till February 1969.

 

The then Chief Martial Law Administrator General Yahya Khan announced that the general elections would be held on October 5, 1970, but the ballot exercise was postponed till December 1970 due to devastating floods in East Pakistan. And, as history shows, these polls had proved the last nail in the coffin. Sheikh Mujeeb’s Awami League swept the polls by winning 167 seats, the highest number in East Pakistan and overall.

 

In West Pakistan, the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto-led Pakistan People’s Party had managed to secure 85 seats only.

 

Confrontation started between Sheikh Mujeeb and Bhutto. The rift kept on widening and Mujeebur Rehman launched a non-cooperation movement. The civil administration was totally paralysed.

 

All government departments, factories and educational institutions etc were closed.

 

Sheikh Mujeeb then asked the public not to pay any taxes and the transport system came to a grinding halt. All official activities between both the wings hence ceased. The Awami League had gone on to set up a parallel government and its militant wing — the notorious Mukti Bahini — incited people to violence.

 

General Yahya then decided to convene the National Assembly in March 1971, but Sheikh Mujeeb stood form and unmoved from his contention.

 

On March 23, the Republic Day of Pakistan was highlighted by a great massacre in East Pakistan and the Awami League made Bangladeshi flags flutter throughout this troubled arm of Pakistan. On March 27, 1971, General Yahya Khan resorted to the use of force to restore law and order amidst mounting Indian propaganda on the sufferings of Bengalis. Consequently, India launched a military offensive on East Pakistan on November 22, 1971 and joined hands with Mukti Bahini against the Pakistani forces stationed there.

 

Sophisticated Soviet technology was used by the Indian army and the inevitable happened. Pakistan got dissected.

 

In his book “Chehray aur Mohray,” eminent author Masud Mufti had described how a group of Bengali youth had removed Pakistan’s flag from the Radio Pakistan building and replaced it with the Bangladeshi one, soon after the Fall of Dhaka. By the way, the Justice Hamoodur Rehman Commission report, which contains a detailed account of the causes of the 1971 tragedy and the people responsible for the disaster, still remains a mystery — though the internet is littered with a lot of its excerpts.