By Asif Haroon Raja
Field Marshal Ayub Khan had tried hard to remove east-west inequities but 1965 war sabotaged his plans. Whatever moral failings and political naivety of Gen Yahya Khan, it cannot be denied that like Ayub, Yahya too was sincere in removing sense of deprivation of Bengalis.
In the 4th five-year development plan (1970-75), more resources were allocated to East Pakistan, i.e., 52.5% viz. 47.5% for West Pakistan. There was massive increase of net capital inflow into eastern wing, raising the level from 40 to 75%. To pacify Mujibur Rahman, Yahya dissolved one-unit and did away with parity formula. These two decisions gave distinct advantage to Awami League and assured its electoral victory.
He announced holding of first ever general elections on basis of adult franchise but allowed one year election campaign, facilitating Mujib to heighten hatred against West Pakistanis and instilling Bengali nationalism by using high-handed tactics. Yahya pandered to many illegitimate demands of Mujib under his policy of appeasement and ignored acts of defiance and terrorism which triggered Bengali nationalism to new heights and terrorised great majority into silence.
When Mujib led Awami League swept the polls in December 1970 elections, it caught Yahya in a logjam. While Mujib asserted that the new constitution should be framed by his party based on six points within national assembly, Bhutto wanting to share power maintained that it should be deliberated upon jointly outside the national assembly since PPP had emerged as the single largest winning party in western wing. Collision course adopted by two fire eating belligerents assumed a dangerous proportion and a showdown became inevitable. When all efforts made by Yahya to stave off constitutional impasse proved vain, he took the fatal decision of postponing inaugural session of newly elected national assembly due on March 3 without giving a fresh date.
Announcement made on 1 March set ablaze the festering volcano and signaled the beginning of disintegration of Pakistan.. 75 million Bengalis turned wild and itched to slit the throats of Pakistani troops and non-Bengalis residing in East Pakistan.. Quislings and fifth columnists instigated by RAW had a field day in indulging in rampant killings and destruction of property of non-Bengalis and Biharis. During the carnage and slaughter of over 100,000, troops remained confined to barracks from 4 March till 25 March on express wish of Mujib. Apart from remaining deprived of fresh rations, they had to bear with scathing criticism and insults. A parallel government had come into being and Awami League had prepared a battle plan to takeover the province by force on morning of 26 March in case of failure of political settlement on its terms.
Having explored all avenues to seek a compromise formula within the context of federation during parleys from 15-24 March, and finding Mujib unprepared to change his immutably inflexible stance, Yahya lost his cool. He had been constantly ridiculed for his vacillation and softness. He ordered Gen Tikka to launch Operation Searchlight on night 25 March 1971 and crush the province wide rebellion. Tikka had only one infantry division (15 battalions out of which 6 were 100% Bengali regiments) to take on the onerous job. Two additional divisions were flown in April without tanks, heavy weapons and medium artillery via Colombo.
Operation Searchlight led to civil war and drove the last nail in coffin of united Pakistan. Most Bengali soldiers in nine West Pakistan regiments of 14 Division, air force and navy, 3 out of 6 East Bengal Regiments (EBR), 16000 persons of East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) and 14000 police defected to India. Civilians, mostly Hindus panicked and fled to India where they were housed in already prepared refugee camps. Barring Mujib and Dr Kamal, rest of Awami League leaders escaped and formed government in exile in India. Only small segment of rightist parties, Biharis and Razakars backed the army and remained loyal till the end.
It was to the credit of Pak troops to have suppressed Indian supported insurgency in the face of heavy odds with remarkable efficiency and valor in record time that has no parallel. Military crackdown was hailed in West Pakistan by all and sundry including Bhutto. President was urged not to retrace steps till the genie of Bengali nationalism was bottled. Although the military succeeded in quelling the rebellion, retaking 6500 sq miles of territory and restoring normalcy by end May 1971, in actuality the regime had lost the battle for united Pakistan. Pacification measures undertaken failed because of Indian meddling.
Military instrument applied against rebels was no exception; nor was it more horrific or unjustifiable than responses of other governments. Only difference was that it was singled out by Indo-Russo-western media and portrayed as one of the most monstrous actions ever perpetrated by any regime. To demonize Pak soldiers fighting to safeguard motherland they were painted as human eating monsters and rapists.. Indira Gandhi gave a green signal to Indian Army under Gen Manekshaw in April to undertake offensive and dismember Pakistan. In addition to deserters from EBR, EPR, police and armed Bengalis (162000), students and Hindus (80,000) were imparted guerilla war training by Indian army in 59 training camps situated all along the border, equipped and launched as Mukti Bahini to dismember Pakistan. Indian soldiers disguised in the garb of Mukti Bahini (50,000) also joined the fray. While India and USSR were chief arms suppliers, Poland, Yugoslavia, Israel, CIA and US Congress too furnished arms to Bengali rebels. Insurgents got mixed up with local population and became faceless enemy. Several other resistance forces cropped up raising their strength to well over 287000. Washington kept mum over Indian cross border terrorism since detachment of East Pakistan was in its interest.
Indo-Soviet Treaty signed in August sealed the fate of united Pakistan. Before employing the military instrument, Indira Gandhi went on a whirlwind tour of world capitals to muster their support and isolate Pakistan. In spite of receiving huge funds for relief of refugees, she shed crocodile tears that refugee burden had become economically unbearable to sustain. She falsely blamed Pakistan for refusing to resolve refugee issue. In reality, she adopted an aggressive and uncompromising posture and turned down each and every proposal of Pakistan. When it became certain that Bengali resistance groups would be unable to create Bangladesh on their own, Indian armed forces comprising three Corps HQs, eight divisions, Communication Zone, three independent infantry brigades, six armored regiments, three independent tank squadrons, 32 BSF regiments (all told 400,000), four Mukti Bahini brigades, 46 artillery regiments, 24 mortar batteries, 4 ack ack regiments, 125,000 armed Bengalis, supported by eleven squadrons air force, naval aircraft carrier, eight destroyers, three landing ships, stepped in on 21 November (Eid day) to deliver the coup de grace.
On the eve of Indian offensive, Pakistani troops in East Pakistan were placed in no win position. There is no example in annals of military history in which any army was up against such heavy odds. Troops had fought counter insurgency operations in extremely hostile conditions without any rest and relief for eight months. They had no experience to fight Indian-Russian trained and supported rebels operating from safe sanctuaries and in a terrain laced with numerable rivers and water channels. Long monsoon had brought suffocating dampness and diseases, draining their energies. They were critically short of heavy weapons, equipment, tanks and medium and heavy artillery guns. Being under strength they had to guard 1400 miles long border and had to contend with hostile population and continuous acts of sabotage by rebels.
Cut off from the world and suffering from sense of isolation and helplessness, battle had been lost on diplomatic and psychological plane before it was joined. They faced the onslaught ten times superior in men and material with three under strength and ill-equipped divisions, one regiment of light tanks, six field artillery and medium regiments, 5 mortar batteries, one ack ack regiment, para-military forces (34000 regular troops and 13000 civil armed forces), one F-86 squadron and four naval gunboats. Given the odds, no army in the world could have done any better. War could have been prolonged by few weeks but situation was beyond redemption. Some of the battalions fought till the end with exceptional grit and valor. 4 FF of which I was a member did not lose an inch and beat back all the attacks. The Indian forces despite their overwhelming superiority could not have won if the people of East Pakistan supported the army or stayed neutral. Notwithstanding adverse geo-political environment, East Pakistan was lost because the county was internally polarized, externally isolated, politically fragile, militarily weak and professionally not well led.
India is once again aiming at creating a similar hopeless situation through subversion before applying the military instrument. In 1971, it was supported by Soviet Union; this time it has mustered the support of USA, Britain, Israel and Afghanistan. Pakistan on the other hand is friendless, politically and economically frail; its leadership discredited and bulk of army involved in counter insurgency operations. Only silver lining is that Pakistan is nuclear, armed forces are well integrated and well led to take on challenges squarely and nation is supportive of army. Besides, India is mired in insurgencies and separatist movements while USA is losing war on terror and its economy is fast melting. Some say that India and USA and not Pakistan would fragment.
Dying days of united Pakistan in 1970-71 | Asian Tribune