Monday, July 07, 2008

Lesson for Pakistan from the Debacle in East Pakistan in 1971

Photo: At the fag end of collapse Pakistan army, dreaded Islamist Al-Badr's death squad responsible for murders of scores of Bangla-speaking intellectuals


IT IS indeed amazing that every section of Pakistani public opinion has embraced the Indian version of the events of 1971. It is commonly believed that Pakistan could have been saved if Yahya Khan had handed over power to Sheikh Mujib after the 1971 Elections. That is a lie. The truth is that Yahya Khan did ask him to form the government and even publicly announced that Sheikh Mujib would be the next Prime Minister. But Sheikh Mujib double-crossed him. He was keeping all his options until he got the 'green light' from India.

Dr Mu'min Chowdhury, from East Pakistan, in his chapter titled 'The creation of Bangladesh' in the Book - Authentic Voices of South Asia - writes on page 245:

"Mujib had told foreign press reporters that his announcement of the 7th(March 1971) would be equivalent to (declaration of) Independence (UDI). ...Yahya Khan sent a message to Mujib not to take hasty decision and told him he had a scheme in mind that would more than satisfy his Six Points. Next day, Farland (US Ambassador in Pakistan) saw Mujib and pressed him into talks with Yahya Khan. ... Mujib's announcement of the 7th stopped short of UDI; it left its imminent possibility dangling...

"Other than Yahya Khan's overtures and (Ambassador) Farland's efforts, Mujib had a more compelling reason to play for time: he was yet to get confirmation that all the preparations across the border had been completed. On 6 March he sent Tajuddin to see the Indian Deputy High Commissioner, K.C. Senegupta. Unable to confirm (that India was ready and willing to invades), he dashed to Delhi. Separately, Mujib also wrote to Indian parliamentarian Samar Guha to obtain the confirmation. On 10th March he sent three UK Awami Leaguers to meet the Indian High Commissioner (in London). On the 12th Appa Pant brought the needed reply. Senegupta also brought back the confirmation on the 17th. Remarkably, on the same day the Indian Ambassador briefed the US Secretary of State that 'Indian policy was to stay out of East Pakistan'.

"Within a week of or so of the Pakistan Army's crackdown (on 25th March) Field Marshal Manekshaw got instructions from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to prepare for an all out war on behalf of Bangladesh. Only on Manekshaw's advice did she agree to wait until the winter."

The lesson to be learnt from the fiasco of 1971 is that 'insurrection' is rarely decisive by itself; it paves the way for foreign invasion. Even Sheikh Mujib knew that. He kept his option to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan open until he was assured that India would invade at the proper time. Becoming the Prime Minister of Pakistan was his second option, which he declined when he was assured that India would invade East Pakistan.

The insurrection in Baluchistan or the NWFP can be contained, negotiated out of, and even defeated if India, America and Afghanistan can be prevented from intervention. Since Afghanistan is an occupied country, the USA would be giving the green light for an invasion. Neither India nor America would be dissuaded by show of weakness or bravado (like that of Yahya Khan); these are the two sides of the same coin called 'fear and appeasement'. They would be dissuaded by Pakistan's civil and military leadership showing competence in handling the affairs of the state - in effective use of the media, the military and mediation. #

Usman Khalid is Director London Institute of South Asia