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December 15, 2018

From Dhaka to fall of Dhaka

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December 15, 2018

December 16, 1971 is considered as the darkest day in our history. It is a colossal irony and tragedy that Pakistan got dismembered in Dhaka where All-India Muslim League — mother party of the Muslim freedom movement — was given birth by Bengali Muslim leaders (1906).

Unfortunately, our skins being so thick or perhaps because of the fact that not many in this part of Pakistan had supported creation of independent homeland since their preference was to bask under the Raj as such not many mourn nor regret break-up of the country. We don’t even look back in anger, our eyes have been dried of tears since the day our generals, their arms and men, gave in to the Indians without much of fight although our commander General ‘Tiger’ Niazi had promised that Indian tanks would only cross into Dhaka by rolling over his chest.

Establishment of Pakistan under the dynamic leadership of Jinnah Sahib was an astounding feat. In March 1940, Muslim League leadership put up its idea for self-governance for Muslims of India through a resolution that was moved by Shere Bengal Maulvi Fazlul Haq and seconded by Choudhri Khaliquzzaman, leader of UP Muslim League. Nearly after 31 years General Yaha Khan and coterie in power created conditions for the Bengali Muslims – 56 percent of our population — to raise the banner of freedom when the military regime refused to honour its pledge to hand over power to the majority party. The country that had come into existence through vote under the most democratic leader of his time got dismembered within the first quarter century of its inception because its Bonapartists could not see eye to eye with Quaid’s idea of a secular democratic social welfare state.

Many authentic accounts of 1971 war, role of the generals and politicians have been written. Here one would refer to a senior civil servant domiciled in West Pakistan and who served in East Pakistan in the 1950s and in the turbulent period of 1971, Hassan Zaheer, as a key bureaucrat, recalled in his book ‘The Separation of East Pakistan (OUP 2001) that how sense of deprivation among the people of East Pakistan got deepened because “the West Pakistan dominated ruling class of early Pakistan never really tried to understand the Bengali point of view.”

Pakistan’s main foreign exchange earner was jute known world over as golden fibre followed by tea. Both were mainly grown in East Pakistan and as such people felt justified in seeking a just share in foreign exchange earning. Their other major grievance was lack of proper representation of Bengalis in the military and bureaucracy despite the fact they were in majority. Bengalis used to allege that physical requirements for recruitment in the army were such that healthy but frail Bengalis had no scope for getting into services. Dismissal of Bengali Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin by the Punjabi governor general Ghulam Mohammad and subsequent packing up of Legislative Assemblies, chief ministers, rollback of democracy and imposition of martial law in October 1958 cast a pall of gloom over Bengali population since the majority in the forces was Punjabi. Shifting of federal capital from Karachi to Islamabad by Field Marshal Ayub Khan deepened sense of deprivation and ignited a strong nationalism among the Bengali population to assert their claim as majority.

Any Bengali demand for funds for development was treated with contempt by the West Pakistani ruling junta. When synthetic alternate to jute was invented, rulers in Islamabad started treating East Pakistan as a basket case. I recall former finance minister Syed Amjad Ali claiming boastfully in his pictorial book how he made funding impossible when his Prime Minister — one of the founders of Pakistan, Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy — sought federal funds to help a severally flood stricken East Pakistan for relief measures. I would not like here to refer to the controversy over making Urdu national language that caused much of ill will among the Bengalis. Had we stuck to Jinnah Sahib’s original declaration making Urdu the Lingua Franca (link language), I think things would have not taken such an ugly turn.

A book “Kissinger on Trial” recalls a hair raising account of how gory things had turned out to be in March in the then East Pakistan. In the words of an American diplomat at the US Consulate in Dhaka: “March 23 was also Pakistan Day, a not very happy coincidence. Mujib declared that Pakistan Day would be celebrated as Resistance Day in East Pakistan. Hundreds of the Bangla Desh flags were flying in Dhaka, including over Mujib’s house. The portrait of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was burned by demonstrators outside Mujib’s house, so was the Pakistan national flag.” Atmosphere had become bloody, life short, brutish and nasty.

It is an irony that our guilt of being silent spectators to the breakup of the country has shrouded our sins of omission and commission though obliquely a pen-pusher here or there, keeps warning us that situation in the residual Pakistan now too is as bad. We in the media then did not raise our voice and now again we are not putting the national affairs in their correct perspective.

No doubt we learnt a lesson from the tragedy of East Pakistan when we resolved the issue of provincial autonomy in 1973 Constitution and later after 2008 elections, consolidated the federation further by the 18th Amendment. However, when we the Amendment is described as bad as Mujib’s Six points, we feel that we have learnt no lesson. With every one on one page as is the popular official mantra these days, it is not a good omen.

(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist).