The Left in Pakistan - 10
By Dr S. Akhtar Ehtisham
Indra had apparently decided to solve the Pakistan “problem” once and for all. She had held her hand when told that China would defend West Pakistan if attacked and the USA would not rush to her assistance as it did in 1961 when Chinese troops had walked across the border.
Indra had neutralized the threat of all out Chinese intervention by the disinterred and freshly signed thirty years treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union. Soviets had wanted it and a draft had been ready since 1969, but Indians had demurred. China could not take on Russia.
Nixon and Kissinger could not countenance complete annihilation of Pakistan. India would become too powerful. They needed a counter poise and exerted tremendous pressure on Indra to keep her from over running West Pakistan too. But why would she listen to them? She could have neutralized any overt threat from them by the simple expedient of offering Russians access to a warm water seaport.
Bhutto had taken over a country universally despised for the genocide in East Pakistan. Its people were groaning under the twin burdens of low esteem and terrible guilt complex. 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. The government of BD was demanding the surrender of the army chief of Pakistan, plus scores of army men from among the POWs.
Indra had not shown her hand. No body knew if she would have any qualms in sending the men to BD for the trials. If push came to shove Pakistan would have had to give up the chief.
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. Hitler’s entourage were hanged and awarded long jail terms for lesser crimes. Astute observers speculated that she did not want Pakistan army cleaned of bad blood. If she had deliberately planned to undermine the country she went about it in no uncertain manner.
On my return to England, I found Pakistanis in the depth of despair. Some religious, older East Pakistanis joined in grieving over a lost dream. Even the jingoist immigrants from the martial race were subdued.
Once he had all the levers of power securely in his hands, Bhutto negotiated skillfully for release of the POWs, and return of the Pakistan territory, India had captured. Indra received him graciously, as befitted a magnanimous victor. The only concession he made was to agree that Kashmir dispute was a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan, and not an international issue as had been hitherto accepted by the world bodies. International intervention had failed to produce any solution any way.
Indra did not humiliate him to the extent that he would lose all credibility in residual Pakistan. He could be replaced by a bunch of raving fanatics. She wanted a stable though weak state at her border. India was obliged to feed 90,000 POWs and keeping them secure. It was not an inconsiderable consideration. But when all is said and done, Indra behaved like a statesman, stateswoman if you will.
Mujib was still in a prison in West Pakistan. Bhutto grandiloquently declared that if Mujeeb agreed to a reunified Pakistan, he would order the latter’s release from the jail and hand over reins of power to him as the Prime Minister of All Pakistan. Wali Khan, a veteran politician, scion of the famous Khan family of NWFP, offered to visit Mujeeb in jail and convince him to take over from Bhutto. I am paraphrasing an article by Wali Khan that I read in a Pakistani magazine that Bhutto thanked the Khan for the offer, but the next thing he heard was that Mujib was put on a special and secret PIA flight early one morning to London!! Wali Khan claimed that Bhutto was so scared that Mujib would accept the offer, and displace him that he lost no time in sending the man away.
Mujib was lodged in a suite of rooms at the Claridge Hotel assigned to heads of state. The suite was immediately swamped by well-wishers, inundated by phone calls from BD, Indra Gandhi and the British PM Edward Heath, among scores of other callers. Mujib’s suite soon became the nerve center of the BD government. He wanted to rest for a few days after nine months of solitary confinement.
Anthony Mascarenhas in his book “Bangladesh, A Legacy of Blood” claims that Mujib had made a deal with Bhutto to maintain some kind of link with Pakistan. His comrades in arms were not prepared to countenance any linkage with the erstwhile parent country.
Mujib had been kept in a cell without any radio, TV or newspapers, and was not even allowed to talk to his jailers. He was unaware of the genocide perpetrated by the Pakistan Army. The truth would not sink in till he reached Dhaka. He had to forego the little time off he needed for recuperation. A virtual insurgency had developed among the different factions in the government being run in his name in BD.
After the surrender of the Pakistan Army to the Indian forces, Mujib’s assistants returned in triumph to the Independent state of Bangladesh, and installed themselves as the provisional government of the republic. A definitive establishment would have to await Mujib’s return. They behaved as all revolutionary governments do; sought revenge, put opponents in jail, conducted kangaroo court trials, appropriated property, businesses, and even houses of their opponents. Urdu-speaking people became the special targets.
The situation was saved from degenerating into mass starvation, rampant epidemics, and enormous loss of life by the unprecedented scale of international help, and by the logistic support provided by the Indian army.
About half a million Urdu-speaking persons had been left stranded. They were herded, for security, into hastily erected refugee camps. They were legally Pakistani citizens, and did not want to relinquish the citizenship. BD did not want them, though at one point an offer to grant citizenship to those born in Bengal was made. It was not taken up. Pakistan did not want to accept them either. They became stateless - South Asian equivalent of Palestinian refugees. They did not even have the consolation of being able to put the blame on “the infidel”. Their fellow Muslims -Pakistanis and Bangladeshis - had turned away from them.