I. The background
In 1971, a new Nation was born in South Asia. Awami League, an East Pakistan political party had demanded for more autonomy for geographically separated eastern wing of Pakistan. During 1969 to 1972 Martial law was in force in Pakistan under General Yahya Khan who belonged to West Pakistan. In the meantime, in 1970, a national election was held. Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib ur Rahman won a landslide victory. Out of the total of 313 seats, his party emerged victorious in 167 seats. Though he was the rightful contender for premiership, the nearest contender, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan People’s party who had only 81 seats to his credit put stumbling blocks in the way of forming a popular government under Mujib ur Rahman. It has to be noted that while Bhutto had only two-thirds majority from the province of Sind, Sheikh Mujib ur Rahman had won 268 seats out of the total 279 allotted for East Pakistan Provincial Assembly. Bhutto’s strange proposal was to have two Prime ministers, one for each wing of Pakistan. Further, Bhutto refused to accept 6-point Formula put forward by the Awami League. These included:
1. Federal government, Elected Parliament, universal adult franchise
2. Authority of central government to be limited in matters relating to defense and foreign affairs and the rest to be left to federating units
3. Two separate reserve banks& two freely convertible currencies for the two wings. In case of one currency for the whole country, effective provision to be made to put a stop to transfer of funds from East Pakistan to the Western wing.
4. Taxation and collection of revenue to be vested in the federating units
5. Two separate accounts for foreign exchange reserves for the two wings of Pakistan.
6. A separate militia or para – military force for East Pakistan.
As far back as24 March 1966, Field Marshal Mohamed Ayub Khan, the then President of Pakistan, had made it clear that the supporters of the ‘six points’ would be dealt with in the language of weapons. Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rahman who had announced this formula at a news conference in Lahore on 5-2-1966 was arrested in May 1966 . On 7th June 1966, there was a general strike in East Pakistan in support of the six point program. In 1968, a false case was charged known as ‘Agartala conspiracy case’. On February 22, 1969 this notorious case had to be withdrawn. At a massive rally in Dhakka, he was honored as Bangabandhu. The disregard and indifference of the government towards the people of East Pakistan became clear when the deadliest Bhola cyclone hit it claiming about half a million lives in 1970. The utter failure of Pak government and army in providing relief work estranged the people of East Pakistan to a point of no return. The people of East Pakistan felt that the income generated by them was spent fighting wars in Kashmir.
The original date of the 1970 election was fixed for October 5. President, Gen. A.M. Yahya Khan postponed it to December 7 in view of the unprecedented flood situation in East Pakistan! ‘The six Points’ became the manifesto of Awami League in the 1970 General Election. Though only 15 % of the population belonged to non- Muslims, the Muslims of East Pakistan were more liberal than their counterparts in West Pakistan where the minorities were around 3%. Bengalis belonging to all religions were very proud of their cultural tradition. Their love for the language of Bengali did not go well with the insistence of the Western wing in imposing Urdu as the Official language. No less a person than Mohammad Ali Jinnah had declared way back in 1948 that ‘Urdu and Urdu alone’ would be the only official language for all of Pakistan. Hence the opposition movement contained in it a very strong linguistic – cultural strain. The political work of rabid fundamentalist and Islamo-fascist forces added another lethal dimension questioning the existence of a unified Pakistan. The partition of India giving birth to the first modern nation founded on the basis of religion sought its legitimacy in the argument that Hindus and Muslims constituted two entirely different nations who cannot co-exist peacefully as one nation. Now the situation emerging within Pakistan brought forward another question. Aren’t ‘Bangla Desh’ and Pakistan two nations if the two nation theory is to be further reasoned to its logical conclusion? Though India after division had a Hindu majority, it chose to become a secular nation with a multi-religious population.
On 31, January 1952 an All Party Central Language Action Committee (Shorbodolio Kendrio Rashtrobhasha kormi Porishod )was formed which vehemently opposed the proposal to write Bengali Language in Arabic Script. The Porishod called for an all out protest including strikes and rallies. On 4 th February, the students insisted on the recognition of Bengali with its script and all. The government imposed Section 144, banning gatherings of more than four persons. The massive demonstration of 21 st February 1952 by the students of the University of Dhaka together with other political activists as well as students from colleges of the city and subsequent support from the entire populace had sent the clearest message that cultural domination will not be tolerated by the future generation of Bengalis . A number of students including Abdus Salam, Rafiq Uddin Ahmed, Abdul Barkat and Abdul Jabbar had lost their lives. The brutal shooting had killed several people including a nine year old boy. Exact casualty figures were censored by the Government. In 1952, about 54% of the Pakistani citizens were Bengalis. There was enough supporting reason for the idealism and sacrifice of the students.
In the 1954 elections, the Muslim League tasted its historic defeat. Learning its lesson, the Muslim League supported the resolution of the constituent Assembly in 1954 (7th May) when Bengali was granted official status and accordingly on 29th February 1956, Bengali had to be recognized as the second official language of Pakistan. Even afterwards, proponents of Urdu continued to create problems obstructing implementation of official status to Bengali.
Some senior Generals of Pakistan, who understood the significance of the massive demonstrations of 21stFebruary1971, took the fateful decision of eradicating the feeling of self respect by unleashing a campaign of concentrated and systematic genocide butchering male intellectuals and students. This was a military operation planned against civilians. It, in cold calculation, targeted to kill a smart percentage of the populace so that the scared survivors will remain under subservience forever. The plan was code- named ‘Operation Searchlight’. On 22 February 1971, in a meeting of Army Staff, Maj. Gen. Khadim Hussein Raza and Maj. Gen. Rao Farman Ali, drew up the plan. Lt. Gen. Shahabzada Yakub Khan and Vice Adm. Ahsan who expressed unwillingness were relieved of their duties. Lt. Gen. Tikka Khan was appointed as both the Governor and GOC of East Pakistan.
On March 1st, General Yahya Khan postponed National Assembly meeting. Mujib ur Rahman announced a non-violent non- co-operation movement. The next day students of Dhaka University, led by A.S.M. Abdur Rab hoisted the flag of ‘Independent Bangla Desh’ on the campus.
On March 3, 1971, President Yahya Khan, Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto and Mujib ur Rahman met at Dhaka to resolve the issue. But the talk failed. Mujib ur Rahman called for a nationwide strike.
On March 7, he put forward four more conditions to be met if National Assembly was to meet on March 25. These were:
1. Martial law to be lifted immediately.
2. All military personnel to be withdrawn immediately to their barracks.
3. An inquiry into the loss of life.
4. Immediate transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people before the assembly meeting of March 25.
This evidently sealed the final decision. He called upon the people to turn every house in to a fort of resistance. Without any ambiguity he expressed the decision: Freedom, Independence.
East Pakistani Judges refused to swear in General Tikka Khan as Governor. Workers and sailors refused to unload the ship of the Pakistan Navy in Chittagong. Bengali soldiers refused to obey commands marking a mutiny. Pakistani soldiers in civil uniform were flown in between March 10 and 13. Bengalis in military service were disarmed. Foreign journalists were deported. On March 25, 1971began the atrocities against humanity which has aptly been denounced as Genocide.
(to be continued)