The Left in Pakistan – 9
By Dr. S. Akhtar Ehtisham
Bath, NY


The Indian Prime Minister Indra Gandhi was the daughter of the first Prime Minister of India, Pundit Nehru. The latter was an idealist and one of the founding fathers of Independent India. Undivided India was an article of faith for him and other leaders of independence movement.

Indra Gandhi skillfully presented India’s case, dwelling rather more on human misery of unprecedented scale than on the crushing economic burden of having to look after millions of refugees.

Pakistan , ruled by an unelected, brutal and dissolute General, sent a foreign office bureaucrat who had difficulty getting an appointment with mid-level officials.

On return from a highly successful tour, Indra renewed her ultimatum to Pakistan.

Admiral Ahsan, the Governor dealt with civilian administration. Ahsan renewed his offer to mediate. He could work out an arrangement under which Pakistan Army could get out intact, without being humiliated. Pakistan would become a confederation. It would keep the country in one piece. The international community supported the plan. India fell in line, though reluctantly. They would lose the opportunity to undo Pakistan. 

The military cabal vetoed the proposal.  Bhutto endorsed the veto.

Pakistani generals, in total denial of reality [i] , deluded themselves into thinking that by initiating a conflict on the western border they would get international intervention-cease fire, etc. Bhutto had lavished compliments on them for coming up with this brilliant idea.

Indian Government gave a final ultimatum to Pakistan to withdraw her forces from East Bengal voluntarily and immediately. The ultimatum was rejected by Pakistan.

Indian army went into action on its border with East Pakistan. Pakistani army withdrew, after a token resistance to “defensible” strong points. But they destroyed all infrastructure, crops, boats, cars, buses, bridges, public buildings, industrial plants, schools and hospitals. It was a campaign of wanton and malicious vengeance. The butcher had already run away, leaving a hapless General Niazi to hold the crumbling fort (It is hardly credible but according Akbar S. Ahmad, a senior Pakistani civil servant at the time, when he visited the military HQ in Dacca, he was told of a Niazi plan. He did not what it was and said. Niazi frowned at him as one would to a very poorly informed person. He was told by an aide that the plan was to win a corridor from Dacca through India to Lahore).

At this point Yahya decided to open hostilities on the western border. Pakistan air force planes bombed some Indian airports. They actually went as far as Agra right in the belly of India. The hoped and prayed for international intervention that did not materialize.

Lahore was within easy grasp of India. All their army had to do was to walk in. Nixon-Kissinger warned India off West Pakistan. Nixon announced that he had ordered the USA Pacific fleet to move towards East Pakistan. It was a shot across Indra’s sails. It worked or as some would have it she had other ideas [ii] . Only the Chinese government, in an eerie replay of a similar claim during 1965 India-Pakistan war, accused the Indian border forces of abducting a few cows and goats. They could not do any more. India, as on the previous occasion, hastily offered immediate restitution.

Pakistan army’s resistance crumbled in the East and the West. On the eastern side they would soon abandon even the pretence of putting up a fight. Many senior officers fled in helicopters pushing women and children off the planes*. (US forces were to emulate Pakistanis in their flight from Vietnam, except that American service men pushed Vietnamese and not their own country women and children off the steps of the plane). But the day before surrender, they rounded up and shot in cold blood, all the educated people they could lay their hands on in Dhaka [iii] .

Mukti Bahini guerillas would have torn all 90,000 Pakistani military and civilian personnel and family members to shreds. But the Indian army expeditiously threw a protective cordon around them and hastily moved them to POW camps in India.

Parvez Hoodbhoy-Zia’s generation is everywhere today in Pakistan. A moderate Muslim majority country has become one where the majority of citizens want Islam to play a key role in politics. The effects of indoctrination are clearly visible. Even as the sharia-seeking Taliban were busy blowing up girls and boys schools (over 950, to date), a survey by World Public Opinion.Org in 2008 found that 54% of Pakistanis wanted strict application of sharia while 25% wanted it in some more dilute form. Totaling 79%, this was the largest percentage in the four countries surveyed ( Morocco, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia).

Bhutto had taken over a country universally despised for the genocide in East Pakistan. He faced immense problems. India had captured large swathes of territory in the west too. 90,000 of his countrymen, soldiers, their kin and civil servants with their families, were in India.

All Bhutto had in hand was Mujib in a Pakistani jail. He was certainly not in a position to touch the President of BD. Had he done so, Indra’s hand would have been forced. She would have had to attack West Pakistan, free Mujib and try Bhutto as a war criminal. Why Indra did not let the BD government conduct war crimes trials is a mystery.

I visited Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi a few months after the Pakistan army had surrendered in Dhaka. A state of total gloom pervaded the atmosphere. Even the elite were on the edge. They were still in complete denial.  Bhutto in their eyes was the savior.

I embarked on a twenty-four hour journey from Karachi to Lahore on a railway train. I have seen more cheerful funeral processions.

I was in Lahore on the day Bhutto addressed a public meeting as the president and chief martial law administrator of Pakistan [iv] . He had carted the whole diplomatic corps from Islamabad for the occasion and had ridden a carriage pulled by eight white horses, relic of the Raj, slowly through the streets of Lahore to the meeting ground. People did line the streets of the route. But they were not up to the effort to greet him with full-throated “Zindabad”, long live slogans.

Bhutto had one incontestable talent. He could put up a show. His detractors had called him a “Madari”, a juggler. He made a vehement speech interspersed with his antics. The only time the crowd responded lustily was when he swore an obscenity.

I next visited Rawalpindi, the seat of army GHQ.  This city was teeming with relatives and friends of POWs held in India. Few received any news through Red Cross and other such agencies. They openly castigated the senior army officers who had run away leaving their juniors to face the bloodthirsty Bengali freedom fighters.

The news that I was visiting from the UK spread soon and my host was swamped by requests to see me. They gave me letters to mail from London and requested me to call the Red Cross, UN and embassies in London. They were clutching at straws.

The Army had appointed Bhutto as the foreign minister, and sent him to NY to defend Pakistan’s case in the UN Security Council. His grandstanding did not do any good to any one except himself. He was playing to the domestic audience; he tore up the draft resolution demanding immediate ceasefire.

Before returning to Pakistan he quietly called on Nixon and his staff and the secretary of state and presumably obtained their clearance and blessings to supplant the army high command. Nothing would quite explain the arrogance with which he demanded and the ease with which the army high command complied with his demands. He was handed over total control of the Government. He styled himself Chief Martial Administrator-cum-President of the country.  He had driven into the President House in a plain car and driven out in a vehicle bedecked with national, presidential and CMLA flags.


[i]   A retired general who had consulted me as a patient in 1985 told me this. He had actually run the army as Yahya was drunk most of the time. 

Akbar S Ahmad claims that Niazi had “planned” to cut through India, capture Dehli and connect Dhaka with Lahore. Even for a Pakistan general this sounds too far-fetched. 

Pakistani officials had kept up the pretence that all was well till the end. Only a few days before the event the Pakistani High Commissioner, I remember his name yet, Lt General Yusuf Khan had been summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. Accosted by the press at his exit from what must have been a humiliating encounter, he brazenly and blithely announced that the situation in East Pakistan was under complete control. The minister of information under Sadaam was to do the same a day or so before US troops entered Baghdad. There must be a special school for sycophants.

[ii] Indra was believed to have rued the day she gave in to US demands to cease and desist from making short work of West Pakistan.  After all Israel had ignored all the calls for immediate ceasefire in 1967, till it had captured all of Sinai, Gaza strip, the West Bank of River Jordan and the Golan Heights.  In 1992 another equally plausible view was related to me. A retired Indian foreign service officer told me that Indra held her hand not because she was averse to defying Kissinger-Nixon, but because she was advised a) the Muslims already in India were problem enough. If she did away with West Pakistan too, the call to incorporate all of Pakistan into the Indian union would be irresistible. They would definitely hold the balance of power if another hundred million were added to their number. b) Long-term occupation was not sustainable militarily or financially. c) Once occupied even Muslim Bengalis would turn against them. d) East and West Bengal would have to be reunited. Indian West Bengal already had a Marxist government. Together they would become totally unmanageable. e) Sikhs in Indian East Punjab were already restive.  They had split up from the Hindu Punjabis on linguistic grounds. They were much closer to Muslim Punjabis in language, culture and even in belief system than they were to Hindu Punjabis.  Sikhs occupied officer ranks in the Indian Army out of all proportions to their percentage in the general populations; Muslim Punjabis comprised eighty percent of Pakistan Army. Sikh and Muslim Punjabi mixture would be too combustible and potent as well. f) The unkindest cut of all, that Indra wanted the remnant of Pakistanis to stew in their own juices, etc. Bantunization practiced on the Palestinians by the Israelis had not been a viable option then. This is admittedly, all speculative in nature, but makes a kind of sense.

[iii] In 1975, during a party in Brooklyn NY, a Bangladeshi academic broke down and cried piteously. His daughter, a fresh medical graduate, was put against the wall of her hospital and summarily executed. The day is still commemorated as a black day in BD.

[iv] To carry on the fiction of continuity Bhutto has insisted that he take over both offices.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
2004 . All Rights Reserved.