EDITORIAL: Fifty-one years after the East Pakistan debacle, a state of denial still persists. In his farewell address at the GHQ, the then Army chief, Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, sought to “correct the record” by saying “first of all, the fall of East Pakistan was not a military but a political failure.

The number of fighting soldiers was not 92,000; it was only 34,000, the rest were from various government departments.” His clarification as to the number of troops is important. Considering that arrayed against the 34,000 troops in a hostile environment were some 200,000 trained Mukti Bahini fighters later joined by 250,000 Indian soldiers, it certainly was not a battlefield failure. But for the general to try and lay the entire blame for that tragic event — though without naming any names — at the door of the political class, in particular founding chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), is not the whole truth.

Speaking at a rally on Wednesday marking the founding day of his party, current PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, a grandson of ZAB, indirectly rejected Gen Bajwa’s assertions. The Dhaka debacle, he said, was in fact a ‘military failure’ that had brought a host of challenges for the Bhutto-led PPP.

Indeed, after that momentous disaster it was not easy to lift the morale of a crest-fallen nation, and bring back some 92,000 imprisoned Pakistanis, including soldiers and civilians, by striking a decent agreement with his Indian counterpart. But at issue is what led to, not what followed the violent secession of the country’s eastern wing.

Without a doubt, the seeds of discontent in the majority population East Pakistan were sown by discriminatory policies of Field Marshal Gen Ayub Khan’s decade of rule. The sense of alienation further aggravated under Gen Yahya Khan, the president and chief martial law administrator.

He would not transfer power to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, who had emerged victorious in the first-ever national elections in Pakistan, held in December of 1970. That caused an increasing unrest in East Pakistan, Sheikh’s home province. Nonetheless, West Pakistani politicians, especially PPP leader Bhutto, who had won majority votes from the western wing also played along.

The crunch time came in March of ’71 when Gen Yahya ordered a military crackdown. Bhutto supported military action, too, saying “God has saved Pakistan.” Instead a civil war broke out. Atrocities were committed by both sides. The end result was break-up of the country.

Unfortunately, there is still reluctance to face up to the uncomfortable truth. The Hamoodur Rehman Commission report, a judicial inquiry which assessed what went wrong and why in the erstwhile East Pakistan from 1947 to 1971, is yet to see the light of the day in Pakistan. It could help learn from the past mistakes; withholding the evidence of a disastrous historical experience is not in the interest of this country.

The fact that, at the time of break-up of the country, it was being governed under martial law and the army was the dominant political player with Mujibur Rahman in eastern and Bhutto in the western wings of the country cannot be disputed. So, even if Gen. Bajwa’s assessment of political failure is accepted then politicians alone cannot be held solely responsible for this profound tragedy.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


Comments are closed.

HashBrown® Dec 05, 2022 08:57am
Among the many tragic ironies surrounding the 1971 debacle, of course, is the fact that the Hamood-ur-Rehman commission is easily available for anybody to access online - further proof, to Pakistanis and the world at large, of how embarrassingly archaic and self-deluded the state machinery is in the degree of control it thinks it has over the country's citizenry.
thumb_up Recommended (0)