The Left in Pakistan - 8
By Dr. S. Akhtar Ehtisham
Yahya postponed the parliamentary session for an indefinite period of time. Mujib permitted his minions to take over the administration.
When Yahya announced another date, Bhutto threatened to personally break the legs of any members of his party, who would go to Dhaka for the opening session of the parliament.
Houses and businesses of Urdu-speaking immigrants were looted with impunity. Scores were killed; women kidnapped and raped while the administration and law enforcement agencies now firmly under the control of the nationalists, looked on.
The massive air and sea transfer of troops to East Pakistan was a logistic challenge in itself. They were further hampered by the fact that India had banned over flight of its territory, on the pretext that two Pakistani agents had hijacked an Indian civilian plane to Lahore [i].
When the Army high command felt that they had adequate forces to cow down the populace, they swooped down like birds of prey. The army was not averse to it but the Governor of East Pakistan and Chief of the Navy, Admiral Ahsan [ii], intervened. He had maintained correct relations with Mujib and managed to reach a compromise.
Army high command had taken care to post Bengali officers away from the capital. They spread out arresting and torturing people en route to cities nearby and did it at the slightest pretext, even without one. Other units tried to emulate the performance of the central command. But being thin on the ground, and with a belligerent Bengali soldiery watching them vigilantly, they had to wait for reinforcements.
As soon as he heard of the army action in Dhaka, Army Col Zia ur Rahman [iii], one of the few senior Bengali officers in Pakistan army, then stationed in Chittagong, declared independence of Bangladesh (BD) from the local radio station.
Awami League High command, with the blessings, diplomatic and material support of the Indian Government, set up the Government of Bangladesh in exile in Dehli.
Nixon leaned towards Pakistan. He, along with Kissinger, was mindful of the faithful satellite status of the country. They were appreciative of the China opening Pakistan had facilitated. Human rights were not a relevant concern. The army, not familiar with lanes and byways of towns and villages, were frequently ambushed. Reprisals were brutal. The Pakistan army did not invent collective punishment, but their application of it would place them among the worst practitioners of the atrocity.
There was a veritable avalanche of refugees across the border. Pakistan claimed that the fleeing mass of humanity were Hindus who had never reconciled to partition.
Yahya, with the full support of the brass, replaced the comparatively mild, multilingual and academically inclined DCMLA Lt General Yakub Khan [iv], with General Tikka Khan[v], who on arrival at Dhaka Airport declared that he was interested in the land, not the people. Another of his infamous proclamations was that ”we will change their race”. I watched both statements on British TV.
Urdu-speaking immigrants and members of Islamist parties served as a willing fifth column for the army.
After ”pacifying” the cities, army personnel spread through the countryside.
If the army had not been so ham-handed they might still have got away with their pacification campaign. Several million refugees had sought shelter in Indian Bengal and had been accommodated in hastily created tent cities.
[i] It was to turn out later that the hijackers were Indian agents, and the incident was a diabolical measure to cook an excuse to harass Pakistan. A much longer and circuitous route had to be used. Pakistani naval ships also had to steer clear of Indian territorial waters. Both in the air and on the sea, they had to detour to Sri Lanka, which leaned to Pakistan as they had their own problems with the hegemonistic ambitions of India and with their Tamil minority. Tamils were vestiges of Indian colonizers and wanted to secede from the Sinhalese majority in the south. The former were Hindus, the latter Buddhists. The sizable Muslim population, naturally, supported the Sinhalese.
[ii] Ahsan was a man of impeccable credentials and high integrity. He hailed from a highly respected family of Hyderabad Deccan, had been an aide to Jinnah himself and was a man of unusual political acumen. He told the marauders that the people were still citizens of Pakistan. Eighty-five percent were brothers in faith, and under his protection. He would not countenance pulverization of whole localities. Army was in no mood to listen. He called Yahya and luckily finding him not totally inebriated, prevailed upon him to let him find a less traumatic way out.