Untold History: A first-hand account of December 16, 1971 by Brigadier (R) Tariq Khalil
Dec 16th is a tragic day in the history of Pakistan, the darkest period ever since her birth. The tragedy can be attributed to three distinct factors i.e. political, socio religious polarization and Indian intrigues. The seeds of dissatisfaction were witnessed as early when Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah announced at Dhaka University that the language of the new born country will be Urdu.
There were strong protests from Bengali youth as East Pakistan was a majority province. After Quaid-e-Azam’s death, feudal politicians of West Pakistan did not agree to a constitution guarantying the rights to the Bengali portion of Pakistan. Bengal wanted to safeguard their rights as West Pakistan was situated a thousand miles away, separated by hostile India. This squabbling of politicians was the cause for the fall of number of governments till 1956 Marshal Law. Very respectable senior Bengali politicians who were in the vanguard of Pakistan movement, were branded traitors since they were asking their due rights. As early as 1950 Hussain Shaheed entry in Dhaka was banned who was the architect of Pakistan movement.
The lack of information, cloak of secrecy imposed during that period did not allow the people of West Pakistan to know the true picture. Failure of one unit after the demise of Ayub Khan military regime, under the new Marshal Law by Yahya Khan was a catalyst to generate lot of heat and culminated in a hype for provincialism.
It is an unfortunate chapter of history. Politicians of Pakistan did not realize the implications of what they were doing. It is now open secret, a large majority was mentally ready for the breakup. The launching of Peoples Party by Mr. Bhutto could only gain strength in West Pakistan. In the eastern part Awami League held sway over Bengali electorate which is educated and politically more conscious. Bengalis were in the vanguard of the Pakistan movement and so were their leaders. They were disillusioned finding them selves isolated by the West Pakistani political elite after the birth of Pakistan.
By 1970, it created a deep wedge and became impossible to bridge. On the economic front rightly or wrongly they believed that West Pakistan is eating away their share of resources. This perception was so engrained in the Bengalis mind that no logic could convince them otherwise. 1970’s elections were welcomed by people of erstwhile East Pakistan as a ray of hope Awami League was the most popular party in the East Pakistan. But the election of 1970, contrary to claims of fairness was also massively rigged by Awami League. Undersigned is a witness to this rigging in Noakhli District. The Polling Stations of the rural areas, where access was very difficult, virtually were in the control of the Awami League supporters. They just filled the boxes and administration could look at due to lack resources and inaccessibility in rural areas/small towns. Nevertheless, it was a sweeping mandate Awami League attained in election.
They were rightly in the frame of mind that Mujeeb ur Rehman will head the government and be the Prime Minister. The delaying tactics practiced by the military and Peoples Party at that time created deep rooted concerns in Bangal. They felt that they are being deprived off the rightful opportunity after winning the election. The sentiments continued to build up from October to March. During this period very strong fifth column supported by India was activated in erstwhile East Pakistan. Funds were injected and propaganda mills made people believe that at no cost West Pakistan is willing to honor electoral mandate handed over to Awami League. Underground activities were already gaining strength for a disobedience movement. Meanwhile, Awami League made inroads in the Bengali elements of army, air force and navy. They strongly felt that injustice is being perpetuated by the West Pakistan.
March 1st 1970, the parlays between Awami League, Mr. Bhutto and Yahya Khan failed. There was spontaneous reaction through out East Pakistan culminating in the civil disobedience and at places armed up rising. The non Bengali population in major cities of East Pakistan was isolated, the slaughter and torture was unprecedented in the subcontinent. The riots of 1947 pale in the face of these massacres carried out at Chittagong, Khulna and many other places. Meanwhile, small Pakistan army (only one division) was instructed not to intervene.
By 3rd week of March Awami League with support of so called Mukhti Bani operated Indian RAW (consisted also West Bengal Hindus) seized the control of all the cities accept the cantonments.
Indian military and intelligence officers were physically present in the border towns of East Pakistan. On the collapse of negotiation on March 25th, Pakistan army was ordered to restore the writ of the government. All hell broke out. What was by now under ground movement came in the open Many Awami League leaders managed to escape on the night of the 25th/26th and declared government in exile at Kolkata. Isolated Pakistani troops were massacred individually and collectively. There was a complete break down in the communications within East Pakistan.
There were only three brigades at time in East Pakistan. This small force was given a tall order to restore the writ of the government. By end of March 1971 two partial divisions and troops were air lifted from West Pakistan. They started arriving by March 29th to 30th. From March 25th to 30th, the sole responsibility to restore order was with 14th division. This small force of three brigades managed to restore some order. By 30th March reinforcement started coming in. Many brilliant officers were lost in this short span of seven days especially in during advance to Chittagong. It was generally propagated by India and exiled government of Bangladesh that West Pakistan Army carried out massacres. It is a greatest lie of 20th Century. As a matter of fact in places like Chittagong, Khulna, Comilla and many other where Pakistan army troops managed to seized control of the area, the places were filled up with slaughtered human beings by the Bengali troops and Mukhti Bani supported by India. It is very unfortunate that this reality was never revealed to the world. Many mass graves later recovered, were of non Bengali population killed and buried collectively. Same is the case in the allegation of rapes. Later, even a commission in Bangladesh found no substances in it.
From May 1st till June. Pakistan Army managed to establish Government Writ in the length and breadth of East Pakistan. Inspite of military command’s insistence, time was right for the political solution, failure of our own government on one side and Indian influence of Awami League in exile in Kolkata did not allow any political development which could result in a feasible solution to the problem. For Indians, Pakistan was politically polarized, socially fractured, militarily weakened by civil war and economically under pressure, was a chance of centuries. By August, Indian military buildup commenced on Pakistani borders and with that Mukhti Bani started raids in the villages and towns unleashing spree of killing and torture and then blaming West Pakistan army. Throughout, the period Pakistan completely failed in exterior maneuvers to tell the world what the real truth was. On the contrary Indian propaganda, was churning out lies after lies convincing world that millions have been killed by Pakistan army.
By September Indian large scale intrusions commenced in to Pakistan territory, Comilla and Jasur sectors. These were pushed back. By October the intensity of operations increased manifold especially in the Jasur Sector where large scale attacks were carried out by Indian Army.
The military strength of the troops in East Pakistan was only four partial divisions with light artillery. There was only one World War Two vintage tank light tank regiment. Air force was just a squadron concentrated at Dhaka. There were no logistics and engineering equipment. At the peak of the operations, in October, the strength of the Pakistan army did not exceed 22,000 combatants and logistic support personal. They were all completely fatigued in 9 months of Civil war. Against that Indian concentrated a force of complete Eastern command, three Corps Artilleries, major chunk of Air Force and full scale Naval blockade. When the war broke out is a history and needs immense space to describe. Ninety thousand POWs is a farce. Majority were civilians and their families.
To conclude, there were historical, political, economical and military blunders. No one segment of the society can be pardoned. Everyone played negative role in creating such a situation. It is pertinent to note that political leadership of India after 1965 war realized they can not defeat Pakistani army head on and thus seeds of internal subversion were sown which flourished within a span of five years. The disunity on Pakistan side opened the gates for them to get into the body politics of Pakistan. The fragmented, polarized polity of Pakistan and army, subjected to subversion was a weakest body which naturally met its fate. It is therefore, extremely important to understand in today’s scenario.
The unity of Pakistani nation is totally dependent on the sincerity of the political leaders allowing no role for internal subversion, religious, ethnic divides, corruption and governance. Continue perpetuation of economic disparities expose segments of society as easy prey to external subversion. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate we still have not learnt any lesson from the blunders of 1971 War, and a decade old war on terror.
The writer is a retired Brigadier of the Pakistan Army (SJ, SI (M), IS Bar) who participated in 1971 Civil and December War.