Fall of Dhaka 1971
Bangladesh is a state in an ancient land. It has been described by an American political scientist as “a country challenged by contradictions”. It is neither a distinct geographical entity, nor a well-defined historical unit. Nevertheless, it is the homeland of one of the largest nation in the world whose gropings for a political identity were protracted, intense and agonizing. The key to these apparent contradictions lies in her history.
Historically, the word Bangladesh is derived from the cognate “Vanga” which was first mentioned in the Hindu scripture Aitareya Aranyaka (composed between 500 B C and 500 A D). It is derived from:-
- The Tibetan word “Bans” which implies “wet and moist”. According to this interpretation, Bangladesh literally refers to a wetland.
- Bodo (aborigines of Assam) words “Bang” and “la” which connote “wide plains.”
I have divided the history of Bengal in the three periods:-
- Ancient Bengal (326 B.C. to 1204 A.D.)
- Mediaeval Bengal (1204 to 1757)
- British Rule in Bengal (1757 to 1947)
Political Dynamics in Ancient Bengal (326 B.C. TO 1204 A.D.)
The earliest historical reference to organized political life in the Bangladesh region is usually traced to the writings on Alexander’s invasion of India in 326 B.C. The evidence from various sources refers to the rise and fall of a large number of principalities in the region. There are two schools of opinion regarding the political evolution of ancient Bengal:-
- According to one school, the Bangladesh region in the ancient period was an integral part of mighty empires in north India. These historians maintain Gangaridai and Prasioi empires were succeeded by the Mauryas (4th to 2nd century B.C.), the Guptas (4th-5th century A.D.), the empire of Sasanka (7th century A.D.), the Pala Empire (750-1162 A.D.), and the Senas (1162-1223 A.D.).
- The revisionist historians maintain that epigraphic evidence suggests that only some of the areas, which now constitute Bangladesh, were occasionally incorporated in the larger empires of South Asia. In their view, political fragmentation and not empire was the historical destiny of Bangladesh region in the ancient times. Inscriptions attest to the existence of a succession of independent kingdoms in southern and eastern Bengal. These local kingdoms included the realms of Vainyagupta (6th century), the Faridpur kings (6th century), the Bhadra dynasty (circa 600-650 A D), Khadaga dynasty (circa 650-700 AD), Natha and Rata dynasty (750-800 A D), the rulers of Harikela (circa 800-900), Chandra dynasty (circa 900-1045 A D), Varman dynasty (circa 1080-1150 A D), and Pattikera dynasty (circa 1000-1100 A D).
The weakness of social, political and economic institutions provided a suitable environment for freedom of religion. Throughout history, small kingdoms blossomed and withered like wild flowers in this region.
Contribution of Bangladesh to Ancient Civilization
Bangladesh is the frontier of South Asian civilization. It is the natural bridge between South and South East Asia. Because of its location, Bangladesh was the intermediary in trade and commerce between the South Asian sub-continent and the Far East. Bangladesh region also played a seminal role in disseminating her beliefs, art and architecture in the wider world of Asia. Ancient Bangladesh also witnessed the flowering of temple, stupas and monastic architecture as well as Buddhist art and sculpture.
Evolution of Mediaeval Bengal (1204-1757)
The Middle age in Bengal coincided with the Muslim rule. Out of about 550 years of Muslim rule, Bengal was effectively ruled by Delhi-based all India empires for only about two hundred years. For about 350 years Bengal remained virtually independent. The Muslim rule in Bengal is usually divided into three phases:-
The Glory that was Mediaeval Bengal
The Bangladesh region reached the peak of economic affluence during the mediaeval period. It was known as one of the most prosperous lands in the world. The Moorish traveler Ibn-e-Batuta who visited Bengal in the fourteenth century described Bengal as the wealthiest and cheapest land of the world and states that it was known as “a hell full of bounties”.
Because of its fertile land and abundance of seasonal rainfall, Bengal was a full of agricultural products. Famines and scarcity were virtually unknown as compared to other areas of Asia. Bengal was the focal point of free trade in the Indian Ocean since the 14th century. It was the virtual storehouse of silk and cotton not only of India and neighboring countries but also of Europe. The Dhaka region used to produce the finest cotton in the world. A very large quantity of cotton cloth was produced in different areas of Bengal. Bangladesh also had extensive export of silk clothes. The Bangladesh region was also one of the largest producers of sugar. The sugar from this region used to be exported to other parts of South Asia and the Middle East.
British Rule in Bangladesh (1757-1947)
The greatest discontinuity in the history of Bengal region occurred on June 23, 1757 when the East India Company – a mercantile company of England became the virtual ruler of Bengal by defeating Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah through conspiracy. Territorial rule by a trading company resulted in the commercialization of power. It had never suffered from a system, which touched their trades, their occupations, their lives so closely. The plunder of Bengal directly contributed to the industrial revolution in England. The capital collected in Bengal was invested in British industries. Lack of capital and fall of demand, on the other hand, resulted in de-industrialization in the Bangladesh region. In the long run, the British rule in South Asia contributed to transformation of the traditional society in various ways:-
- The introduction of British law, a modern bureaucracy, new modes of communication, the English language and a modern education system, and the opening of the local market to international trade opened new horizons for development in various spheres of life.
- It also created a universal empire that brought different areas of the sub-continent closer to each other.
- The city-based Hindu middle classes became the fiery champions of all-India based nationalism.
- The British rule brought to surface the rivalry between the Hindus and Muslims, which lay dormant during the five hundred years of Muslim rule.
- The rivalry between Muslim and Hindus first surfaced in the political arena, when the British partitioned the province of Bengal in 1905 for administrative reasons. The Hindus viewed it as a sinister design to weaken Bengal, which was the vanguard of struggle for independence. The partition of Bengal ultimately turned out to be a defeat for all. The partition was annulled in 1911.
To the Muslims, the annulment of the partition was a major disappointment. It virtually shook their faith in the British rulers. The communal problem was not unique to Bengal; it became the main issue in all India politics.
The Road to Pakistan
The Pakistan Resolution of 1940 at Lahore was the outcome of the political confrontation between Hindus and Muslims. The Lahore Resolution demanded that geographically contiguous units “be demarcated into regions which should be constituted with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary so that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority should be grouped to constitute “Independent States” in which the constitutional units be autonomous and sovereign”.
The vernacular Muslim elites in Bengal maintained that from the constitutional point of view, the Lahore Resolution asserted that South Asia consisted of many nations and not of two nations. It was, in effect, a blueprint for the balkanization of South Asia and not merely for its partition into two units and that the Lahore Resolution was legally a charter for a Muslim dominated independent and sovereign Bengal. The partition of the South Asian sub-continent into two independent states in 1947 was a defeat for the British policy.
Political Background (1947-1970)
Transition to Nationhood (1947-58)
Pakistan was born in bloodshed and came into existence on August 15, 1947, confronted by seemingly insurmountable problems.
- The rehabilitation of 12 million people involved in the mass transfer of population between the two countries.
- Pakistan’s boundaries were established hastily and
- The minimal requirements of a working central government were missing.
- Until 1947 the East Wing of Pakistan, had been heavily dependent on Hindu management. After partition people from West Pakistan took their place.
- After partition, Muslim banking shifted from Bombay to Karachi.
- Much of the investment in East Pakistan came from West Pakistani banks. Because of this the Bengalis found themselves excluded from the managerial level and from skilled labor and West Pakistanis tended to favor Urdu-speaking Biharis.
- Pakistan had a severe shortage of trained administrative personnel. The Muslim Bengalis didn’t have any past administrative experience because of which high-level posts in Dhaka, were usually filled by West Pakistanis or by refugees from India who had adopted Pakistani citizenship.
- One of the most divisive issues was the question of what the official language of the new state was to be. Every province was upset that their language will be a second-class language. In East Pakistan, the dissatisfaction quickly turned to violence. The Bengalis constituted a majority (an estimated 54 percent) of Pakistan’s entire population. In 1954, the National Assembly designated “Urdu and Bengali and such other languages as may be declared” to be the official languages of Pakistan.
The government machinery established at independence was similar to the viceregal system that had prevailed in the pre-independence period. When Quaid-e-Azam died in September 1948, the seat of power shifted from the governor general to the Prime Minister, Liaquat Ali Khan. After the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan on October 16, 1951, Pakistan faced an unstable period that would be resolved by military and civil service intervention in political affairs. The Constituent Assembly was an ineffective body, which took almost nine years to draft a constitution, which for all practical purposes was never put into effect.
A conservative Bengali, Governor General Khwaja Nazimuddin, succeeded Liaquat Ali Khan as Prime Minister. Former finance minister Ghulam Mohammad, a Punjabi career civil servant, became governor general.
In 1953 Ghulam Mohammad dismissed Prime Minister Nazimuddin, established martial law in Punjab, and imposed governor’s rule (direct rule by the central government) in East Pakistan.
In 1954 He appointed his own “cabinet of talents.” Mohammad Ali Bogra, another conservative Bengali and previously Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, was named prime minister. Also In East Pakistan, the Muslim League was overwhelmingly defeated in the provincial assembly elections by the United Front coalition of Bengali regional parties anchored by Fazlul Haq’s, Krishak Sramik, Samajbadi Dal (Peasants and Workers Socialist Party) and the Awami League (People’s League) led by Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy. Rejection of West Pakistan’s dominance and the desire for Bengali provincial autonomy were the main ingredients of the coalition’s twenty-one-point platform.
In September-October 1954 Prime Minister Bogra tried to limit the powers of Governor General Ghulam Mohammad. The governor general, however, enlisted the tacit support of the army and civil service, dissolved the Constituent Assembly, and then formed a new cabinet. Bogra, a man without a personal following, remained Prime Minister but without effective power. General Sikander Mirza, who had been a soldier and civil servant, became minister of the interior; General Mohammad Ayub Khan, the army commander, became minister of defense; and Choudhry Mohammad Ali, former head of the civil service, remained minister of finance.
In September, 1955 Bogra fell in August and was replaced by Choudhry; Ghulam Mohammad, plagued by poor health, was succeeded as governor general in by Mirza.
In 1956 the four provinces of West Pakistan were amalgamated into one administrative unit. Provisions were made for an Islamic state as embodied in its Directive of Principles of State Policy, which defined methods of promoting Islamic morality. The national parliament was to comprise one house of 300 members with equal representation from both the west and east wings.
In September, 1956 Awami League’s Suhrawardy succeeded Choudhry as Prime Minister in and formed a coalition cabinet. He failed to secure significant support from West Pakistani power brokers. Suhrawardy’s thirteen months in office came to an end after he took a strong position against abrogation of the existing “One Unit” government for all of West Pakistan.
In 1957 the president used his considerable influence to out Suhrawardy from the office of Prime Minister. The drift toward economic decline and political chaos continued.
From 1954 to Ayub’s assumption of power in 1958, the Krishak Sramik and the Awami League waged a ceaseless battle for control of East Pakistan’s provincial government.
The Revolution of Ayub Khan (1958-66)
Because of the ongoing condition on October 7, 1958, Mirza issued a proclamation that abolished political parties, abrogated the two-year -old constitution, and placed the country under martial law. On October 27, he swore in a twelve-member cabinet that included four generals in ministerial positions and the eight civilians. Until 1962, martial law continued and Ayub purged a number of politicians and civil servants from the government and replaced them with army officers.
The new constitution promulgated by Ayub in March 1962 has following features:-
- All executive authority of the republic lies with the president.
- As chief executive, the president could appoint ministers without approval by the legislature.
- There was no provision for a Prime Minister.
- There was a provision for a National Assembly and two provincial assemblies, whose members were to be chosen by the “Basic Democrats.
- Pakistan was declared a republic (without being specifically an Islamic republic) but, in deference to the religious scholars.
- The president was required to be a Muslim, and no law could be passed that was contrary to the tenets of Islam.
The 1962 constitution made few concessions to Bengalis. Throughout the Ayub years, East Pakistan and West Pakistan grew farther apart. The death of the Awami League’s Suhrawardy in 1963 gave the mercurial Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the leadership of East Pakistan’s dominant party. Mujib, who as early as 1956 had advocated the “liberation” of East Pakistan and had been jailed in 1958 during the military coup, quickly and successfully brought the issue of East Pakistan’s movement for autonomy to the forefront of the nation’s politics. During the years between 1960 and 1965:-
- The annual rate of growth of the gross domestic product per capita was 4.4 percent in West Pakistan versus a poor 2.6 percent in East Pakistan.
- Bengali politicians complained that much of Pakistan’s export earnings were generated in East Pakistan by the export of Bengali jute and tea.
- As late as 1960, approximately 70 percent of Pakistan’s export earnings originated in the East Wing.
- By the mid-1960s, the East Wing was accounting for less than 60 percent of the nation’s export earnings, and by the time of Bangladesh’s independence in 1971, this percentage had dipped below 50 percent. Mujib demanded in 1966 that separate foreign exchange accounts be kept and that separate trade offices be opened overseas. Also West Pakistan was benefiting from Ayub’s “Decade of Progress,” with its successful “green revolution” in wheat, and from the expansion of markets for West Pakistani textiles, while the East Pakistani standard of living remained at an abysmally low level. Bengalis were also upset that West Pakistan, because it was the seat of government, was the major beneficiary of foreign aid.
Emerging Discontent (1966-70)
In 1966 Mujib announced his controversial six-point political and economic program for East Pakistani provincial autonomy. He demanded:-
- The government be federal and parliamentary in nature, its members to be elected with legislative representation on the basis of population.
- The federal government have principal responsibility for foreign affairs and defense only
- Each wing have its own currency and separate fiscal accounts
- Taxation would occur at the provincial level, with a federal government funded by constitutionally guaranteed grants
- Each federal unit could control its own earning of foreign exchange; and
- Each unit could raise its own militia or paramilitary forces.
Mujib’s six points ran directly counter to President Ayub’s plan for greater national integration.
In January 1968 the government arrested Mujib.
On 1968 Ayub suffered a number of setbacks in. His health was poor, and he was almost assassinated at a ceremony marking ten years of his rule.
On February 21, 1969, Ayub announced that he would not run in the next presidential election in 1970. A state of near anarchy reigned with protests and strikes throughout the country.
On March 25,1969, Ayub resigned and handed over the administration to the commander in chief, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan. Yahya announced that he considered himself to be a transitional leader whose task would be to restore order and to conduct free elections for a new constituent assembly, which would then draft a new constitution.
On August 1969 Appointment of a largely civilian cabinet.
On November 12, 1970, a cyclone devastated an area of almost 8,000 square kilometers of East Pakistan’s mid-coastal lowlands and its outlying islands in the Bay of Bengal.
On December 7, 1970 Yahya announced plans for a national election. The elections were the first in the history of Pakistan in which voters were able to elect members of the National Assembly directly. In the election that followed, the Awami League won a triumphant victory. The misfortune however was that the Awami League did not won a single seat in West Pakistan. Similarly, the Pakistan People’s Party did not have a single seat in eastern wing. At the Bengal Assembly elections, the results were as follows:
At the National Assembly elections, the Awami emerged as the majority party, as the table shows:
The Awami League’s electoral victory promised it control of the government, with Mujib as the country’s prime minister, but the inaugural assembly never met.
Political Events of 1971
The military, bureaucracy, and business, all West Pakistani-dominated, were shocked at the results because they faced the prospect that the central government’s power would be passed away to the Bengalis, if the Awami League were allowed to shape the constitution and form a government. The results of the election gave the Awami League the possibility of framing the constitution according to its 6-point program. The election put the Pakistani ruling elite in such a position that, if it allowed the democratic process to continue, then it would be unable to stop the Awami League from framing a constitution that would protect the Bengali interests.
The month of December passed and yet there was no sign of the calling of the assembly.
On the 3rd of January 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called a mammoth public meeting in which he administered an oath to the persons who had been elected to the national and provincial assemblies by which they swore allegiance to the party’s programme for provincial autonomy. Between the election results and this meeting apparently no effort was made by General Yahya khan to bring the leaders together for consultations, though later when he made such efforts the Sheikh adopted hard attitude.
By and large most of the parties in the west did openly oppose the six points programme. It has been alleged that Pakistan people’s party alone did not. On the 7th of January 1971 with this background General Yahya went to East Pakistan. The evidence suggest that at this stage the presidential team did not have a copy of the six points programme and no serious efforts were done to convince Sheikh on his six points. Accordingly the meeting was held. Mujib presented his six pints and asked General Yahya: –
“Sir you know what the six points programme is, please tell me what objections you have to this programme.”
General Yahya said that he himself had nothing against the programme but the west Pakistanis does have some problems. However, the meeting ended with the reference from General Yahya to the Sheikh as his future prime minister.
From Dacca the president came to Karachi and on 17th January 1971 went o Larkana to pay a visit to Mr. Bhutto. After this visit Mr. Bhutto went with some other members of his party to Dacca where he met the Sheikh on the 27th of January 1971. Mr. Bhutto returned from Dacca really having failed in his mission.
Mr. Bhutto met General Yahya at Rawalpindi on the 11th February 1971, and reported to him the result of the discussions After this meeting, General Yahya announced that the assembly will met on the 3rd of march 1971.
On the 15th of February, Mr. Bhutto called a press conference in Peshawar and said that the date has come as total surprise to him. On the 21st February, a convention of the party took an oath to abide by the party decision not to attend the assembly on the 3rd of March 1971.
On the 22nd of February 1971, the president convened a meeting of the governors and martial law administrators at, which were present also, some high ranking military and civilian officers. He gave a review of current situation and the stand of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. It is also a fact that the president took the decision to postpone the national assembly as early as the 22nd February.
On the 1st of March General Yahya announced the postponement of the national assembly meeting. The East Pakistanis reacted violently to the postponement and the immediate results were the violent demonstrations and disturbances in Dacca. The army was called to cope with this situation. Also, on that day Yahya named General Tikka Khan, as East Pakistan’s military governor.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the 7th of March 1971 announced a weeklong programme to continue non-cooperation movement starting on March 2nd.
General Yahya reached Dacca on 15th march and met Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the same date. The proposals of Sheikh were:-
- Martial Law is lifted.
- National Assembly will start functioning both as a Constituent assembly and the legislature.
- Power transferred both at national and provincial levels.
The second and third rounds were held on the 17th and 21st of March 1971 respectively. Mr. Bhutto on an invitation from Dacca on the 19th reached Dacca on the afternoon of the 21st and met the president. The next three days were occupied with discussions of president aides with the Pakistan People’s Party and the Awami League separately.
On the 23rd March 1971, General Yahya summoned a conference of the leaders at Dacca for the 10th. Again, Mujib refused to attend and there after General Yahya fixed the 25th for the meeting of the assembly. Bengalis following Mujib’s lead defiantly celebrated “Resistance Day” in East Pakistan instead of the traditional all-Pakistan “Republic Day.” The new flag of Bangladesh was hoisted on all government and private buildings.
On the 24th and 25th march, Mr. Bhutto met the president to discuss the proposals of Awami League. On the evening of the 25th the Pakistan’s People’s Party was informed about the final proposals of Awami League. At about midnight between the 25th and 26th Dacca was awakened to the nose of gunfire; military crackdown has started. General Yahya had already left Dacca.
On the 28th June 1971, General Yahya made a broad cast to the nation again in which he spoke with sorrow of the recent happenings and emphasized once again that his aim had been to restore democracy in the country.
Unfortunately due to the preplanned rebellious act of the Awami League situation as existed immediately after the military action was as follows:-
- Major portion of the territory of East Pakistan was in rebels hands.
- Civil servants were also actively associated with Awami League. A large fled to India or had left their work place.
- Communications had been badly disrupted due to sabotage by the rebels.
- Educational Institutions were the main centers of agitation and resistance.
- It was difficult to apply normal laws of the country.
The military aspect of the Indo-Pakistan war is naturally the most important part of my report.
THE Military Concept of National Defence
In the war Directive No 4 issued by Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan on 9th August 1967 the National Aim is:-
“To preserve national security, integrity and the sovereignty of Pakistan, while promoting prosperity and well being of its people so as to enable the country to find an honorable place on the comity of nations. Within the context of this main aim and without prejudice to it, continue efforts to secure the rights of self determination for the people of Kashmir.”
The directive lays down that the mission of the armed forces would be:-
“On commencement of hostilities or as soon as favorable conditions are created or offered, offensive operations will be undertaken to capture and hold as much enemy territory as possible whilst containing and neutralizing the enemy forces elsewhere by all means at our disposal in the west. In the East contain and neutralize as many enemy troops as possible, inflicting maximum casualties without running the risk of annihilation.”
Since the commencement of the political crises and the military action in East Pakistan in March 1971, certain significant changes had taken place:-
- India had entered into a military alliance with the Soviet Union, thus ensuring substantial supplies of sophisticated weapons in all fields, and decisively tilting the military balance against Pakistan.
- The prolonged military action in East Pakistan had completely alienated the local population, with the result that the Pakistan army was faced not only with external aggression, but also with the constant threat of internal subversion.
- India has openly started training forty to fifty thousand guerillas for infiltration into East Pakistan.
- By the month of October and November 1971, India had concentrated on the border of East Pakistan a force equivalent to nearly twelve divisions.
- The declare objective of India at this juncture was the establishment of Bangladesh by overrunning the capturing part, if not the whole of East Pakistan.
- The Pakistan Army was stretched in penny-pockets all along the East Pakistan border wit India.
In view of these facts and circumstances, the concept that “the defence of East Pakistan lies in West Pakistan” needed a serious fresh look by those responsible for the formulation of our defence policy. The first important task was to hold out in East Pakistan as long as possible so as to enable International community to intervene effectively. General Yahya and most of his commanders are of the view that allocation of more forces to East Pakistan could not have produced any different results, as East Pakistan could not be held in any case.
The area was divided into three sectors namely-
- Eastern sector consisting of Narsinghdi- Ghorosal- Demra- Narayanganj.
- Northern Sector comprised of area Kaliakair- Rajendrapur- Joydevpur- Tunji
- Western Sector consisted of Damrai- Savar- Mirpur
The southern sector lying between Padma and Buri Ganga was left unprotected because natural obstacles covered that area.
The Formulation of Defence Plans
The original mission allotted to the commander, Eastern wing Lt-Gen Niazi were to:-
- Restore Government authority in East Pakistan.
- Fight Insurgency.
- Ensure that no chunk of territory is taken over by the rebels where they can form the government of Bangladesh.
- Seal the Borders.
- Protect the loyal civilian population.
- Keep the river and land communications open for commercial, administrative and military purposes.
- Defence East Pakistan against external aggression.
- Keep regular troops in certain designated towns and defend them as fortresses or strong points.
- Keep the maximum number of enemy forces involved in East Pakistan and not allow them to be shifted to face West Pakistan.
The Indian strategy was directed mainly towards capturing a sizable portion or chunk of territory either in north Bengal or in the chittagong division to establish Bangladesh but the alternative possibility of India resorting to a Knock out Blow to East Pakistan by the quick capture of Dacca was not ruled out. The concept of fortresses was planned. A fortresses is a place well defended, equipped and manned in strength to hold out all costs and, if necessary to withstand even a fairly long siege, but this concept in not an accepted strategy in military doctrines. The main objective of this strategy was to keep the enemy forces involved in as large portion as possible so that he may not be able to extricate any force to radically alter the position on West Pakistan border. As many as 25 fortresses and 9 strong points were planned. They were mainly built-up areas. They were to be stocked with ammunition and rations for 30 days. This concept can be successful if following conditions are fulfilled:-
- Both the local commander in charge of the fortress and the superior commander in charge of the over all operations must have adequate reserves at their disposal. The first to harass the enemy by passing the fortress or to give the support to other fortress and the second commander to come to the relief of the fortress.
- The fortress must be located so as to be able to mutually support each other.
- The population in the area in fortress is located is not hostile.
Unfortunately none of these conditions were fulfilled in East Pakistan. In these circumstances I am unable to agree that the plan was at all suited to serve the purpose it was intended to achieve. The planning was hopelessly defective and there was no plan at all for the defence of Dhaka. The responsibility of this failure lay not on eastern commander but also on GHQ that failed to direct the commander.
The Evaluation of the Indian Threat
The high command in West Pakistan blundered in making any proper evaluation of the enemy threat and so was Eastern command. The thinking of eastern command too was that India would have avoided overt aggression until provided with an excuse for doing so by opening of second front in West Pakistan. In such event main Battle would be fought in West and the eastern command was never have been called to fight a major war. Eastern command was prepared for defence against insurgency and not against the regular troops. Eastern command thought that the deployment of troops on the forward positions would prevent the enemy to come to Dacca. Because of this thinking no thought was given to utilize the troops that might come from forward divisions for defence of Dacca.
What I think is that to ignore the existence of such intentions was not only shutting his eyes to reality but is a very high degree of negligence and if there was any defectiveness in the eastern commander planning then GHQ should have noticed and replaced him with some other more competent person.
The State of Preparedness of the Armed Forces
Before the 25th March 1971, the Eastern theatre, although designated as the eastern command and placed under a corps commander of the rank of Lt.General, was garrisoned with only one division but hurriedly the strength was raised to 3 divisions. The position of troops before the 25th March 1971 was as follows:-
- Headquarter Eastern Command.
- 14 division headquarters.
- 4 brigade headquarters.
- 12 infantry battalions.
- One armoured regiment
- One commando battalion of two companies.
- 5 artillery regiments.
- One light anti-aircraft regiment.
- 2 mortar batteries.
- One squadron PAF.
- Services 80 to 90 percent East Pakistanis
Lt-Gen bitterly complained that till the end, neither formation had its complete organic artillery of its own and how can one expect an ill equipped and ill-clothed army to win a war. So far as the air force was concerned, it had only one squadron of 16, F-86 planes and only one operational airfield with one low looking radar. So far as navy was concerned, it started out with four gunboats and a destroyer.
To this inadequacies must be added the fact that the troops had been continuously involved in counter insurgency operations for early 8 months not along borders where the Indians were continuously shelling but also behind wee Mukti Bahini and Indian trained guerillas. The evidence shows that the forces were showing signs of fatigue and also discipline was becoming difficult to maintain.
In this state of affair, I fell that it would be no exaggeration to say that so far as the army was concerned, it was, by no means, in a state of preparedness to fight an all-out war with Indian troops.
Indian Involvement Before 20th November
The Indian involvement was there right from the beginning, it appears that after the Indians succeeded in utilizing the refugee problem, to turn international opinion against Pakistan, they got down to the task of planning more effective involvement. They started the reorganization of defected East Pakistan units and the training of guerilla force, called Mukti Bahini.
Evidence suggests that Indian activities were intensified from 9th October 1971, when they started intervening directly. They started accordingly, with shelling and then on 27th October even experimented with chemical warfare. By 3rd November 1971, the Indian intention of escalating the war became clearly evident from the attacks o the border outposts by regular troops and rebels. From the above the Indians intentions have been clearly established but the eastern command was still persisted o the view that the Indians would not have started the war in east Pakistan if the second front had not been opened in west Pakistan on the 3rd December, 1971.
Events in East Pakistan from 20th November to 3rd December 1971
General Niazi has persistly maintained that till 3rd December they were fighting an undeclared war. They were coming in deep. Following are the events of this period:-
On the 14th of November 1971 Indian troops had begun to advance into the Chittagong area.
On the 19th November 1971 the eastern command made an alteration in their existing plans by creating an adhoc division under Maj.-Gen. M. Rahim khan called the 30-A. The area from comilla, downwards to Chittagong, including the Chittagong Hill tracts was made the area of responsibility of this new division. The Indian regular troops advanced on Mohammadpur and Saldanadi BOPs and overran them.
On the night 19/20 November 1971 the Indians launched their attack, through Boyra Salient, first in the area of responsibility of Brig Hayat and captured the border outposts of shahzadpur, Maslia and Charabari.
On 21 November the enemy invaded Atgram border outposts and Zakiganj in the sylhet sector at about 3 am and both these positions were lost. On 21-22 November 1971 Pachagarh was attacked and out-flanked and the Indians advanced towards Thakurgaon, which was contacted on 24th November 1971.
From the 23rd to 27th November 1971 the enemy tried to push forward wherever a gap was noticed or positions appeared to be lightly held. Amar Khana and BaraKhata had to be vacated by 23rd November 1971. Jibanagar was attacked on 25th with the support of artillery and tank fire. The company placed there, abandoned its position without offering any resistance. The attack on the Dangpragur came on the 25th of November. New battalions arrived in Dacca between 25th and 27th November 1971.
In the area Feni, Laksham, Comilla however, the enemy after taking the Belonia salient moved only cautiously and on 24th November, one Sikh and BSF battalion was reported to be concentrated against Chaudagram. On 25th November, however the Indian shelled Feni town causing considerable civil casualties.
On 29th November, the enemy heli landed approximately a battalion of troops north of Rangamati in the Chittagong hill tracts. On the 30th November 1971 Uthali was taken and Darsana was completely encircled. Large columns of enemy moved about three miles into Pakistan territory and then a regiment launched an attack. By 2nd December 1971 Kot Chandpur was threatened. The main attack on Chaudagram was launched on the night of 3/4th December 1971.
It is interesting that the eastern commander said the planning was to stop the enemy at the approaches of Dacca but for that also he made no arrangements. No positions were prepared, no troops allocated, no instructions given to anyone to man any particular position. It was only when our enemy was well in and our own troops were falling back that desperate efforts began to be made to get troops for this purpose. But then it was too late.
Allout War from 3rd December 1971
On 3rd December, 1971 at 5 Pm our air force made, what has been described as its pre-emptive strike on the forward airbases of India located at Srinager, Pathankot, Adampur, Amritsar, Halwara, Sirsa and Ambala and what unfortunate effects it produced in the western theatre, but now how far it is true that if the second front was not opened, the war in West Pakistan would not have been escalated.
The Indians started an all-out war on 20th November 1971 using their own air force where necessary. The consequences of opening second front were:-
- Indian stepped up their Air activity and bombed and rocketed the Dacca Airfield to make our own air force ineffective.
- The Indian eastern fleet, which was already positioned in the Bay of Bengal, blockaded the port of Chittagong as also provided facility to the Indians to bomb Chittagong by their carrier based planed from the sea side.
Therefore I think that eastern command has a misconception that if he second front had not been opened it can control the enemy on the borders in spite of its own deficiencies. The threat to Dacca materialized from 3rd and 4th December 1971 when the Mukti Bahini activities were suddenly stepped up and the Indian air force commenced bombardment. Some of the events after 3rd December 1971 were:-
- The Indian Army launched an attack on 4th December 1971 from the flank on Darsana through which the railway line also passes and it was situated on a vital line of communication. The defensive position prepared at Bakshiganj also fell on the evening of 4th December 1971. On the 3rd/4th December the main offensive of the army was launched in comilla-Noakhali area against chaudagram. On the 4th/5th December the enemy launched a heavy attack on the southern side of Akhaura and partially overran it. The Indians attacked Munshi Ganj and captured it.
- On the 6th December the enemy reached Mudafarganj and finding it vacant occupied the defensive positions prepared by our own troops. On the 5th and 6th December the eastern command thought that nothing can stop the enemy to enter Jessore so they decided to abandon Jessore and go towards Khulna. Also the enemy started moving towards Comilla from the northeast and on the 7th December encircled the garrison of comilla and also captured the southern tip of Lalmai. The Afridi task force also fell back on Jhenida between 6th and 7th December 1971 and started withdrawing under the heavy pressure from the enemy.
- On the 7th of December the enemy entered in Jessore and found it empty and also occupied Jhenida and sent the brigade towards Maghura and Kushtia. But it suffered a lot. The enemy attacked Haluaghat and our troops fell back to Phulpur Ferry on 7th December 1971. Similarly our troops because of immense pressure fell back to Jamalpur on 7/8th December 1971. The Sylhet fortress was itself attacked on the 7th December but our forces pushed back the attack.
- By the 8th or 9th the Brigade succeeded in organizing the troops and those who had exfilterated from the defensive line. On the 8th the enemy after cutting the Bogra Rangpur road moved towards Ghora Ghat. The enemy captured Palasbari and increased its pressures towards Bogra by 9th December 1971. The troops were concentrated at Mymensingh, which was also developed as a fortress but on 10th December the whole brigade was ordered to withdraw and take up defensive positions on the Gorai Hillocks in the north west of Dacca. The position was so desperate that on 15th December they were again moved to Tungi.
- The divisional headquarters was shifted from Bogra back to Natore on 11th December 1971. The enemy forces that had captured Daudkandi, by 10th December 1971 landed a battalion in area east of Sitalakhya opposite Demra. On the 11th December 1971 another battalion was Para-landed near Tangail and also our troops fell back to Hemu and pull back to Sylhet. Also the second surrender of the war took place on the 11th December 1971 in the Comilla-Laksham-Chittagong Area.
- On the 15th of December the enemy outflanked the 107 brigade’s Khulan defences. Also the enemy launched its troops to cross Madhumati but cease-fire was ordered. The orders for surrendering came on 16th December 1971 and On the 17th December 1971 General Niazi himself surrendered at a disgraceful ceremony held at the Dacca Race Course the same day.
- All these events show that there was not an organized and planned defence plans. The misconception of the commander eastern command that India will not launch an all-out war in East Pakistan proved a wrong judgment. Although there was shortage of resources but those available were not utilized properly. It was a surprise that the major fortresses were abandoned without a fight. There was no clear plan for the defence of Dacca.
Also I think that although the surrender in East Pakistan was due to the ill planning of eastern command but it was the duty of the army general headquarters that if the commander eastern wing was not working properly then they take steps to correct him.
The Role of the Navy in East Pakistan
The Province of East Pakistan was surrounded on three sides by India, but on one side was open to the sea. Until June 1971 the highest naval officer posted in East Pakistan was a commodore. In June 1971 however a naval headquarter was setup and Rear Admiral M.Sharif appointed to the newly created post. For the smooth conduct of the operations the naval forces were divided into three main sectors namely:-
- An officer of commodore rank based at Chittagong and called commodore Chittagong was made responsible for the eastern sector and was to meet the demands of 14th division and Chittagong brigade.
- The flag officer commanding East Pakistan with HQ at Dacca controlled the central sector directly and catered for the requirements of the 16th division and 39 (adhoc) division.
- Commanding officer PNS Taimur based at Khulna was responsible for eastern sector and was to cater for the needs of the 9th division.
The mission assigned to navy was “to defend East Pakistan against any external and riverine naval threats and support army’s eastern command in their operations.” The actual tasks assigned were as follows: –
- Patrolling of sea and riverine areas.
- Assisting the army and providing naval gunfire support where needed.
- Assisting the army to move troops and stores by sea or by river.
- Ground defence of naval installations and vital port facilities.
- Keeping the ports of Chittagong and Chulna functioning.
- Ensuring safe movements for all riverine traffic throughout East Pakistan.
There was definitely the hand of navy in what happened in East Pakistan. From the evidence it is clear that the navy prepared the denial plans of the important installations and other vital places. It is also important that Admiral Sharif himself said that he had two denial plans.
Surrender in East Pakistan
In this section I will examine how the situation developed from the beginning of the war, i-e 21st November 1971 till the surrender. It is from 6th December onwards that messages started coming in from Dacca depicting an increasingly grim military situation. The Governor of East Pakistan, Dr. Malik sent a number of messages to the president informing him about the situation. Following are the messages signaled:-
On the 7th of December the governor said that food, supplies, fuel and oil are running short and even Dacca will be without food after 7 days. Law and order situation is very tense and thousands of people have lost their lives. He said that we need help in 48 hours otherwise if no help is expected I advise you to negotiate so that people life’s can be saved. If the help is coming then we will fight.
In the signal of 9th December the Governor made some proposals, which would result in the termination of hostilities on the eastern front. In reply to this signal president gave the Governor the permission to take decisions that can save the civilians and forces from destruction on his behalf. Clearly Governor will take the decisions and president will approve all his decisions. By this time Mr. Bhutto had left for the United States although he arrived in New York on the 10th of December. The evidence also suggest that before the arrival of Mr. Bhutto the Assistant Secretary General was informed about this development.
On the 10th of December the governor informed the president that he is in pursuance of the authority given to him. He also informed him that he has written a note to the Assistant secretary General, Mr. Paul Mark Henry after your approval. In this note the Governor said “it was never the intention of armed forces to involve them in all-out war in East Pakistan and the government of Pakistan always wanted to decide the issue by political means. The armed forces have fought heroically but in order to save the lives of people I make following proposals:-
- The issue must be solved through political settlement.
- The People of East Pakistan demand immediate vacation of their land by the Indian forces.
- The United Nations arrange for a peaceful transfer of Power and request immediate ceasefire, repatriation of the armed forces of Pakistan to West Pakistan, repatriation of West Pakistan personnel desirous of returning to West Pakistan, the safety of all persons settled in East Pakistan since 1947 and guarantee of no reprisals against any person in East Pakistan.
He also made it clear that no surrender will be considered if this proposal is not accepted. According to him General Niazi was consulted.” It had an adverse effect on our position at the United Nations. What was actually proposed was certainly not as bad and it would have occurred if Dacca surrendered before the pass of the resolution.
On the same day the president send a message to the Governor in which he reacted adversely to the proposal. He said that your proposal suggested the acceptance of an independent East Pakistan but the situation requires a limited action by you. The president authorized the Governor to issue another draft in which he make following proposals: immediate ceasefire, guarantee of the safety of all persons settled in East Pakistan since 1947, guarantee of no reprisals against any person in East Pakistan, safety of all armed forces personnel in East Pakistan and no question of surrender of armed forces will arise. He also said that the question of transfer of power and political solution would be tackled at national level. The General spoke of political question after the ceasefire and withdrawal of all troops.
On 14th December 1971 General Niazi was urged to hold on a little longer with the hope that ceasefire resolution would soon be passed by the United Nations. On the same date another message was sent ordering the General to take necessary steps to stop the fighting. In the meantime General Manek Shaw of Indian army in a broadcast message demanded surrender and offered certain terms. Before the midnight between 15th and 16th General Hamid presumably with the approval of General Yahya sent a message to General Niazi recommending him to accept the terms offered by Indian General.
On the other side the permanent representative of Pakistan to the United Nations, Mr. Agha Shahi and Mr. Bhutto believed that a few hours further resistance would have yielded favorable results.
Another aspect is that the on the 10th December 1971 feeling worried the various secretaries urged president to invoke Chinese and American help but the president said that he had taken necessary steps and Russia would ensure the end of hostilities if Pakistan agree to:-
- An immediate ceasefire.
- The withdrawal of troops.
- Political talks with the Awami League.
In a broad cast made on 16th December 1971 General Yahya said that the defeat in eastern theatre is by no means an end to the war. Also he said that this would not mean perpetuation of Martial law in the west and that the plan for transfer of power would proceed unimpeded.
I now examine that whether General Niazi was justified in accepting the surrender. The evidence indicates although he could not hold for a very longer period, nevertheless the things had not come to a pass where he had no other alternative. The nearest Indian troops were at that time 16/17 miles away. There were about 24,000 troops available in Dacca. Among them roughly 16,500 were combat troops and in the light of the statement of Gen Niazi that Dacca would fall over his own dead body the question arises whether they could not have held longer. The question depends on the assessment that for how long the General was ordered to hold. The delegation at the Security Council said that few hours would have made the difference. I think that General Niazi could with some effort although at the cost of some life had held out. After he formally surrendered and ordered all troops to capitulate his orders were generally obeyed. Resistance continued in many areas and some successful efforts were made to escape. Many officers declined to obey although they were legally bound. In taking the action General Niazi was the judge of his own propriety.
On the other hand, General Yahya cannot claim that he did not have all the relevant information. He was being urged from New York to ensure continued resistance for a little more time. If indeed militarily the General was of the opinion that Dacca cannot be held he could have come to the opinion a week earlier because for a commander of General Yahya’s experience armed with full knowledge, it was not difficult to anticipate. He refused to accept political settlement with the Awami League when a country like Russia was offering peace on those terms. So what indeed made him to even advise General Niazi to surrender? The inference that is virtually forced upon us is that having seen that under no circumstances he could continue the power in East Pakistan, he was making a last bid to keep himself in power in West Pakistan. Even on the 16th he was ready to promulgate a constitution, the prominent feature of which was the perpetuation of his own power. Therefore I think that General Yahya allowed the country to blunder into war from which no good result could be expected and that General Niazi decision to surrender was not the results of orders, which he felt, he must obey but of his own volition.
Some of the immediate consequences, which ensued from Lt-Gen. Niazi’s decision to surrender, are explained below.
Surrender by Subordinate Formations
Whereas a public surrender ceremony was held at Dacca, and all the forces at that place surrendered under the supervision of the headquarters, eastern command, the divisions and brigades in the rest of the province had been ordered by Lt-Gen Niazi to contact their Indian counterparts for deciding the procedure for surrender. Mercifully, public ceremonies were not held at other places and the surrender by all the formations was completed on 16th and 17th December 1971, by mutual arrangements with the Indians. In some places commanders and staff officers managed with the assistance of Indian troops to extricate the detached civil armed forces personnel and loyal East Pakistanis. Personal weapons were allowed to be retained for the first day or two, mainly because the Indians could not guarantee protection against attacks by Mukti Bahinis and also because they had no arrangements for immediate collection of the weapons.
Violence by Mukti Bahini After Surrender
Despite the assurances given by the chief of staff of the Indian army and the terms of surrender the killing of loyal East Pakistani population, West Pakistanis civilians and civil armed forces enrolled from East Pakistan, by the Mukti Bahini started in East Pakistan soon after surrender. In Dacca there were public executions of Razakars and others by Muktis of which documentary evidence exists in the accounts dispatched by foreign correspondents. There is no doubt that these terrible events could have been prevented if the Indian army was so minded.
Attitude and Conduct of The Indians in East Pakistan
Indian officers and men on their first contact with the Pakistan armed personnel showed regard and respect but their attitude hardened within two days of the surrender after the Pakistanis had parted with their personal weapons and Indians became abrupt and insulting. This attitude was a result of specific instructions from Indian high command to humiliate Pakistani army in the eyes of East Pakistanis and the Pakistani officers in the eyes of their own men. The loot was partly planned and organized for the benefit of Indian industrialists who wanted to acquire jute machinery installed in East Pakistan since 1947.
Removal of Personnel from East Pakiatan
The operations for removing the prisoners of war from East Pakistan to Indian camps started almost immediately after surrender. Most of the POWs believed at the time that their stay in India would be short but the Indian government had no such intention to permit early repatriation. The senior commanders and staff officers were immediately separated from the troops and flown out of East Pakistan. The senior officers were interrogated by the Indian intelligence staff several times to gain knowledge about our organization, equipment and tactics as well as our future war potential. Most of the officers seem to have talked openly. Our intelligence staff was specially subjected to grueling examination and even tortured as a result of which the intelligence system of the Pakistan army may be assumed to have been seriously compromised.
Treatment in India
The treatment meted out to our prisoners of war was typical of a bitterly hostile enemy whose enmity with Pakistan did not terminate with the fall of East Pakistan and the cessation of hostilities on the western front. The following measures were adopted by the Indians to damage the future of what remained of Pakistan:-
- Creating parochial feelings particularly between the Pathans and Punjabis who form the main components of the armed forces.
- Encouraging the inter-district feelings wherever existing.
- Humiliating the officers as a class in the eyes of JCOs and men and encouraging the idea that our armed forces were poorly led particularly at the higher command.
- Inculcating doubt in the future viability of Pakistan.
- Casting aspersions on the present political leadership of Pakistan and encouraging the idea that NAP provided the best solution to the problems of the subcontinent.
- Undermining the martial spirit of the Pakistani people and projecting the idea that the victorious Hindu has proved that he is as good, if not better soldier than the Muslim.
- Projecting India as a new super military power with which Pakistan cannot hope to compete suggesting that it would be best for the latter to submit.
The Indians did their best in these designs but being not so well versed in the techniques of subversion and due to the lack of proper organization and trained staff I feel they failed to achieve their aim.
Lt-Gen. Niazi’s Attempts to Inflene Evidence
The General officers were detained at Jabbalpur in Central India but in the final stage of their detention most of the Brigadiers were also brought there from other camps. On the request from Lt-Gen Niazi the barrier between the two portions of the camp was lifted. It is alleged that the former commander eastern command tried to influence his subordinate commanders to adopt a uniform version of the war in East Pakistan with a promise to cover his drawbacks and failings in the war. They were advised not to be “too honest” in writing their accounts on arrival in Pakistan. Lt-Gen. Niazi denied having made such attempts.
Most of the POWs were repatriated to Pakistan during the period of January to March 1974 after spending more than two years in the Indian Camps. The Pakistan government, the armed forces, television and press gave them a good reception and the honor, as they are a victorious force. Such actions can have serious repercussions on the future of the nation in general and armed forced in particular.
Quantification of Losses Suffered
With the surrender of our armed forces in East Pakistan the country stood dismembered and the nation humiliated. The image of the Pakistan army as a brave and excellent fighting force stood shattered. These losses cannot be assessed in material terms. It is fact that large quantities of military hardware and precious stores and equipment fell to the Indians after the war. These included aircraft, rivercraft, tanks, guns, signal equipment, vehicles, arms and ammunition as well as fuels and supplies. Civilian installations like radio stations jetties, port installations, ferries and ships partly damaged by enemy air action also fell into her hand. It has been estimated that the stores and equipment, which fell to the enemy at the time of the surrender far, exceeded the amount expended by the Pakistan armed forces during the war in East Pakistan.
In this there I have tried to show some facts throughout the history of Pakistan. The province of Bengal had a greater population than all the other provinces of Pakistan combined, as the following table shows:
East Pakistan was the world’s largest producer of raw jute (a fiber), which was Pakistan’s main foreign exchange earner. The foreign trade statistics in its first decade for Pakistan were as follows:
In financial year 1948-49, the allocation for provincial development expenditure was as the following table indicates:
The Basic Principle Committee (BPC) of the National Constitutional Assembly published its report in February 1950. It called for the reorganization of Pakistan’s provinces into two units: West Pakistan and East Pakistan. The legislature was to have two houses. In the upper house there would be equal numbers of members from the two constituting units, while the Lower House would be elected on the basis of population. Initially, it did not specify the number of seats in the houses. Later, the proposed distribution of seats were as follows:
The upper house was to be indirectly elected. The governmental mechanism would be a combination of presidential and parliamentary systems, with a substantial executive power and the choice of selecting the Prime Minister being retained with the President. The following tables reveal the distribution of civilian and military posts on the basis of nationalities.
The following table provides a breakdown of the development expenditure of the two wings.
The center’s development expenditure was concentrated on the further advancing of economic infrastructure of West Pakistan. The table below demonstrates the increase in the disparity of Per Capita Income between the two wings:
Economic Exploitation: 1948-1971
- From 1948-60 East Pakistan’s export earnings had been 70%, but its share of import earnings was only 25%.
- A sizable net transfer of resources had taken place from East to West Pakistan. The report states that, if allowance is made for the under valuation of foreign exchange in terms of Pakistan’s domestic currency, the total transfer from East to West Pakistan over the period 1948/49-1968/69 was Rs 31,000,000,000 [1971 terms]. Using the then exchange rate of Rs 11.90 to the dollar, this worked out to 2.6 thousand million dollars in 1971 terms.
- In 1948 there were 11 textile mills in the East and only 9 in the West.
- In 1971 there were 26 in the East as opposed to 150 in the West.
- East Pakistan’s economy transformed from a surplus one to a deficit one.
In the end of the report this is the summary of conclusions on the causes of surrender of East Pakistan. I think that the defeat suffered by the armed forces of Pakistan was not merely the result of military factors alone but had been brought about as the cumulative result of political, international, moral and military factors.
- The direct and devastating effects of political situation during the military regime itself were the prolonged involvement of army in counter insurgency measures throughout the province and forces deployment along the borders. Due to these factors the army was fighting a losing battle from the very start.
- The major role in the 1971 disaster had been that of the ground forces and the strategic concept required revision in the light of the situation but the army high command did not carried out the in-depth analysis.
- The planning was hopelessly defective and there was no plan for some important areas like Dacca.
- There was no order to surrender but that in view of the desperate picture painted by the commander eastern command the higher authorities only gave him permission to surrender.
- The responsibility of these failures lies with the commander eastern command the GHQ cannot escape its responsibility as the plan had been approved by it. It was also the responsibility of the GHQ to correct the mistakes of the eastern command.
- There was a lack of moral character and courage in the senior army commanders.
The surrender in East Pakistan has indeed been a tragic blow to the nation. By the act of surrender the image of Pakistan army as an efficient and excellent fighting force stood shattered. The situation that resulted in the movement for independence was also responsible i-e the economic exploitation of East Pakistan in the hands of West. I can only hope that the nation has learnt the necessary lessons from these tragic events.