Why the Bengali Muslims opted for Independence?

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Part I
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

WE all remembered ‘Fall of Dhaka’ last week (16th December). There is no two opinions that we lost war with India in 1971 and yet to this day volumes are being churned out that irrespective that Quaid’s Pakistan was dismembered, it is being insisted that no fault was committed by the military leadership for creation of conditions for the break up, fratricidal civil war in the majority province, alleged genocide of Pakistani citizens in thousands besides en masse rape of women.

It is very intriguing as to why the Bengali Muslims opted for Independence with so much of bloodshed when their fore fathers were the real founders of Pakistan while those who unleashed brutal military action in East Pakistan had nothing to do with the struggle for Pakistan, I am sure readers who know history would not challenge the veracity of this statement.

I am not a defence expert to comment on the professional conduct of 1971 war by the military. However, my knowledge of history and Pakistani politics from its inception is good enough to put political currents and cross-currents in their correct perspective. Militarily I look for facts in men in uniform who either fought in the war, had seen the fronts or those who carry weight and reputation of honesty and objectivity in their professional views how the war was conducted.

On top of the list of such eminent military men were late Air Marshal Asghar Khan and Air Marshal Nur Khan. They minced no words in putting on record their serious reservations on the conduct of 1971 war as well as 1965. Both questioned the professionalism of our generals who plunged us into war without realising what would be the consequences.  Asghar Khan had repeatedly charged that both the wars were initiated by the generals to satiate their lust for power and to deny the masses their democratic right to elect a government of their choice. Much similar were views of Nur Khan. Both agreed that there was as well no coordination among the three forces in planning and execution of the war in1971.

The two belonged to much smaller air force than the army. However, performance of the air force was overwhelmingly astounding. Those of my age would still remember dog fights of our heroes like M.M. Alam. As regards war in East Pakistan, culpability in genocide, professional faults in the conduct of war-I have banked on the findings of serving Army Officers. Brigadier Siddiq Salik’s book ”Witness to Surrender” is considered as singular professional indictment of army generals who were responsible for the most deplorable conduct of war and defeat. Incidentally Salik was Colonel then, he became a PoW in 1971. He continued to be in the army after his repatriation from PoW Camp until he died in the crash along with General Ziaul Haq in August 1988.

The then DG ISPR Brigadier A.R. Siddiqui in his authentic personal account while serving in East Pakistan in his book “East Pakistan: The Endgame” has talked extensively about the March 71 operation described by ARS as”suicidal attack which was to lead, over nine long months, to the collapse of military strength and civil society in the region.” Independent reviewers of his book say that ARS as Chief of ISPR and press advisor to the President and Chief Martial Law Administrator (General Yahya Khan) was in a position to observe and comment on the day to day development of the whole tragedy.

I would like to refer here to an article “In respect 71”   by Brigadier ® Javed Hussain (Sitara-e-Imtiaz)–a pioneering commando officer who was responsible for initial structuring of the SSG in Pakistan much before General Pervez Musharraf joined in.  According to him “by not respecting the verdict of the people in the 1970 elections and by launching the Pakistan army against its own people in East Pakistan, the military leadership had created a crisis of frightening magnitude. Once the political option was discarded by them, they should have foreseen that in the foreseeable future, war with India would be an inevitable consequence of their decision to solve a political problem by military means. Consequently, their focus should have been on the defence of Dhaka (the focal point of strategy for both the armies), and timely offensive action in the west. They did neither…..

“A strategic offensive in late September/early October 1971in Ravi-Chenab corridor in conjunction with an offensive against Akhnur-Jammu, would have severed Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) from the Indian mainland as the Indian forces had not yet fully occupied their battle locations. By doing so, they stood a good chance of taking Kashmir and salvaging East Pakistan. By not acting in time, they stood no chance at all. They let this opportunity pass, and with it, let East Pakistan and Kashmir pass into history.”

It is a considered opinion among defence experts that Pakistan had enough man power and gun powder to defend Dhaka for a month in case of encirclement by the Indians”. And it was reassuring when Gen ‘Tiger’ Niazi  to declare that Indian tanks would only cross into Dhaka over his chest. “In the event, when Pakistan’s Eastern Command surrendered to India’s Eastern Command, the Pakistan army lost its honour on the battlefield, honour that can be regained only on the battlefield.” Attempts like Kargil were made ending in exercise in futility (Read Nasim Zehra’s colossal book “From Kargil to the Coup”).

I faintly remember nearer to birth of Pakistan Sheikh Mujibur Rehman bi-cycling with the Pakistani flag on his bike to Delhi as a volunteer at the All-India Muslim League session. I often wonder why fall of Dhaka happened when such deep was the commitment of the founder of Bangladesh, to Quaid’s Pakistan. Please remember that Muslim Bengali leaders Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Khawaja Nazimuddin, A.K.M. Fazlul Haq, Maulana Akram Khan and Maulana Bhashani were among the front rankers in All-India Muslim League hierarchy where as from West Pakistani provinces especially Punjab, none had that stature as they were late comers to jump on the band wagon when Pakistan had became inevitable.

(To be continued)

(Author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)