Undiminished Scars of 1971 Tragedy - Part 3


"Nothing in the world can take the place of perseverance. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost legendary. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Perseverance and determination alone are omnipotent." - Calvin Coolidge


Ayub Khan had taken productive initiatives to remove the grievances of EP and to a large extent had succeeded in alleviating their inequities. The 1965 War and Bhutto-Mujib politics of violence impeded his 1965-70 development plan. Yahya Khan’s 1970-75 development plan was also aimed at removing east-west disparities. What the two military dictators did for EP, no Bengali leader could do.  

Did Lt Gen Niazi agree to surrender due to his professional incompetence, lack of vision, and cowardice? Could he have prolonged the war and if so for how long?

Had part of forward troops succeeded in pulling back, could Dacca Bowl be defended by the disheveled bottled up troops, roads choked with traffic, no communications and articulation of command, no logistic system, air defence and protective bunkers, against massive air attacks and guerrilla attacks by variety of Mukti Bahinis (MBs), six East Bengal Regiments (EBR) together with the div size force of Maj Gen Nagra from the north, heli-borne/para droppings, and psy war urging the troops to surrender and go to West Pakistan, or die; and with the two major pincers from the West and the East still across Rivers Padma and Megna, entering Dacca in next 10 days if not earlier? While India could have covered up its slaughter, the thousands dying in the Dacca bowl would have been forgotten as others whose bodies lay buried in Bangladesh (BD).

Initially, the military dictates demanded an exaggerated defensive posture so as to seal the 4096 km long border, and prevent the Mukti Bahini (MB) assisted by Indian military to capture a chunk of land across the border and hoist a BD flag. The whole defensive plan was based on this assumption.

Once the Indian design was discerned in Oct-Nov, Gen Niazi should have promptly put the already conceived most dangerous hypothesis into operation in which a full-fledged Indian offensive was to be tackled. After 21 Nov attacks, he should have understood that territory had lost significance and it was the integrity of East Pakistan (EP) that had to be safeguarded and doctored his operational policy rather than sticking to pre-conceived fantasies.

"Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in." - Napoleon Bonaparte

Notwithstanding Niazi’s failure to comprehend the nature of threat and take timely measures to counter it, the Higher Command cannot escape its responsibility to correct Niazi’s mistakes. Or was there some truth that the EP was given up?

Concept of defence of EP resting on West Pakistan (WP) had strengthened the anxiety of people of Bengalis that EP was a dispensable commodity. Had a fresh division for EP been raised in time as asked by Lt Gen Yaqub, the need to airlift reinforcements from WP could be avoided.

Initial low force level in EP and hurried reinforcements from WP by milking the resources of formations/units, and then the Eastern Command draining the resources of 3 divisions already devoid of tank regiments, medium artillery regiments, heavy weapons, signal equipment to create ad hoc divisions weakened the defense structure in EP and the offensive punch in WP.

Except for 14 Division, no other formation was acclimatized and trained in EP to fight in tropical areas with 35 rivers and littered with rivulets. During the monsoons, troops contracted waterborne diseases. 14 Div also didn’t carry out any Corps/Div level exercise.

The right time to exercise the concept of defence of EP resting in WP was on 22 Nov by activating the western front in coordination with redeployment of forces in eastern theatre, and not on 3 Dec since by then the fate of EP had been sealed.              

Was it due to hunger for power of Bhutto, or Mujib’s act of treason that EP was cut off from the body of Pakistan? 

Was it due to naivety, lechery and flippancy of Gen Yahya that EP was lost? Why did he allow the situation to get to the point that provided India with an excuse to intervene militarily?

Was the choice of hardnose Gen Tikka and Gen Niazi correct? Both were not visionaries and were not humane and compassionate. Their selection meant that Yahya had given up finding a political solution and was not interested in nursing the wounds of Bengalis. He was extremely annoyed with Lt Gen Sahibzada for resigning under stress and demoted him. Man like Lt Gen Azam Khan was required to win the hearts and minds of Bengalis.   

If Mujib had been allowed to form a government in EP, would he have been able to run it successfully on his own. He couldn’t even manage his home ground. He along with his entire family less Hasina Wajid who was abroad were killed on 15 August 1975 by BD Army soldiers.

Bhutto had coaxed President Ayub to launch Operation Gibraltar in Occupied Kashmir in Aug 1965 with mala fide intentions to block the growing prosperity of Pakistan and to make the military leader unpopular. He didn’t help Ayub in the peaceful transfer of power to the political parties in March 1969. Instead of cooperating in transferring power to AL by attending the inaugural session on 03 March 1971, he persuaded Yahya to postpone it, and then prodded him to use military force against the AL, and he extolled the March 25 crackdown. Had he not torn up the Polish resolution, the armed forces personnel in EP would have returned home honorably and there was a good chance of a political settlement for a confederation.  

Notwithstanding the unenviable role of Yahya, Mujib, Bhutto and Niazi, who happened to be on the centre stage in 1971 and had wrecked the boat in the final moments, I feel the chipping of the foundations of Pakistan started soon after the Partition!

The pernicious role of the leaders after Quaid-e-Azam and Liaqat Ali, who failed to work out a strategy to integrate the two widely apart provinces, and allowed hatred among the Bengalis to well-up. The crucial formative years were wasted by selfish and myopic leaders who placed self before national interests.  

The problem of alienation of people of EP should be placed in a longer historical perspective and not just in the context of 1970-71. By 1970, the candle was at its fag end and tremulously flickering before dying out. The situation worsened to an extent that the leaders became totally helpless to stem the tide of disintegration.

East Pakistan was lost because the country was internally polarized, externally isolated, politically fragile, militarily weak and professionally not well led. Letting Sheikh Mujib off the hook in 1968 in spite of Ayub’s pleadings was a big mistake.

Yahya Khan could be blamed for his political juvenility, his love for wine and women, and his unintended blunders, which made the situation in EP explosive. Lt Gen Tikka Khan may be made accountable for using excessive force on 25 March that alienated the Bengalis. Lt Gen Niazi could be held responsible for his moral failings and his lack of vision to comprehend the magnitude of the military situation and take timely actions to restore the operational balance after 21 Nov, and for capitulating under pressure. None of the three can be declared traitors for having conspired to amputate Pakistan. They strove hard to keep Pakistan united. The same may not be true for Sheikh Mujib and ZA Bhutto since both assiduously worked towards breaking Pakistan into two parts and didn’t rest till it was broken.     

It is unfortunate that even after a lapse of 50 years, we have still not been able to determine the real causes and the ones responsible for the break-up. Although the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report gave an account of the EP tragedy and pinpointed the wrongdoers, the probe was politically motivated and was given a narrow scope to absolve Bhutto.

The military alone was not responsible for the separation of EP, but it was the cumulative result of psycho-socio-politico-economic factors. It was the combined act of many persons at various stages of our checkered history that led to the debacle. The Indian factor of course had played a significant role in keeping Pakistan at the edge of the precipice.

Tribute to the Brave Hearts

There can be no other example in military history where the relative strength of the opposing sides and operational environment were so grossly unmatched.

In Nov-Dec 1971, the battle casualty rate of Pak troops devoid of air cover, had surged to 100 a day and the injured were left to die due to non-availability of medical facilities. The units didn’t have an intelligence picture of the enemy and flanking units; they groped in the dark and faced attacks from front, rear and flanks.

Indian forces supported by air on the other hand were guided by the MB about deployments, heavy weapons, minefields and gaps to facilitate their outflanking movements. It was more of a one-sided exercise with troops for the Indian Army which had no fear of the unknown, and in no way can be termed as a military campaign leading to victory.

The troops, EPCAF and the Razakars fought lacs of rebels supported by Indian soldiers for nine months tenaciously to safeguard the motherland, suffered heavy casualties and got fatigued. The way the junior leaders and men of Pak Army fought the invading Indian forces with extraordinary grit and tenacity has few parallels in the annals of military history. They were the real firebrands and our assets. Had the ceasefire orders not been given, they would have continued to fight. They inflicted 15000 casualties upon Indian forces. Given the odds, no army in the world could have done any better. This contention was admitted by Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw in his interviews.

Post-1971 Challenges

After the emergence of Bangladesh (BD) in Jan 1972, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and other Awami League (AL) leaders admitted that they had contingency plans in case the Army decided to use force. (The Deliberate Debacle, by Dr. Safdar Mehmood, 1976, p 128-9). Three contingency battle plans had been made and according to Raina Asoka in his book ‘Inside RAW’, the rebels were given orders by Mujib to seize Dacca airport, Chittagong seaport, Dacca TV/Radio station, and other vital installations and surround all the cantonments on the morning of March 26, 1971 to undertake mass butchery of the Pak soldiers confined to barracks since March 4, 1971    

Misfortunes of Biharis/Patriots

The Mujib regime declared Biharis as collaborators and traitors and were deprived of their nationality. From that time onwards till today, they are living a wretched life as 2nd rated citizens in squalid camps.

1, 70,000 were approved for repatriation to Karachi, but only 140,000 or so could come. About 290, 000 are still languishing in camps in BD. About a dozen aged members of Al-Shams and al-Badar were tried by Kangaroo courts and executed a few years ago. This was in contravention of the Tripartite Agreement signed between BD, India and Pakistan. Following the Simla Agreement signed by Indira Gandhi and ZA Bhutto in 1972, the 93000 PoWs, both military and civilians returned to Pakistan by May 1974.  

Ongoing RAW’s Subversion

After its great success in East Pakistan (EP), RAW is following the same themes and techniques. It has made deep inroads in Pakistan and is leaving no stone unturned to incite dissension and animosity among different communities in Pakistan. India has succeeded in poisoning the minds of the Muhajirs, Sindhis, Balochis, Seraikis, Pashtuns, Punjabis and Gilgitis due to which regionalism has gained ground and ethnic tensions heightened. Today, the senior political leaders are playing Sindh, Jinnahpur, Baloch, Pakhtun and South Punjab cards. They are misusing the 18th Amendment in the Constitution which granted greater autonomy to the provinces.

Great victory miraculously won by the Afghan Taliban against the occupying western forces led by the USA has bolstered the spirits of the Tehreek Labaik Pakistan in Punjab and Far-Right in Pakistan as was discerned in the surprise victory of Fazlur Rahman led JUI in the KP. Demand for Islamic system in Pakistan is likely to grow since western modeled democracy and Anglo Saxon laws that are pro-rich have failed to alleviate poverty and improve the living conditions of the poor segment of the society.   

India driven by its hegemonic and expansionist designs maintained a belligerent stance against Pakistan. Both came close to another war during Indian military exercise Brass-tacks in 1986/87, 1990/91 on the Kashmir front, 1999 in Kargil, military standoff from Dec 2002 to Oct 2003, Dec 2008 to Jul 2009 standoff following Mumbai attacks, and 24-27 Feb 2019 flare-up. India forcibly annexed disputed Kashmir on Aug 5, 2019, kept it under lockdown and is changing its demography. It is also eyeing at Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan and is continuing to hatch conspiracies to unravel Pakistan. As a policy, Indian leaders and Indian media have resorted to lies and deceits and have indulged in fabrications, distortions and false flag operations.  

No Lessons Learnt

"Success does not consist in never making mistakes but in never making the same one a second time." - George Bernard Shaw

Unfortunately, after the painful experience of truncation of Pakistan, we seem to have learnt no lessons and are once again striding the dangerous path. Instead of making preparations to recapture the lost pride we seem to be fast losing our direction. The causation which led to the truncation of Pakistan in 1971 and the methodology adopted by our enemies to accentuate our vulnerabilities are unfolding in a similar fashion.

Sadly, there is no remorse, no acceptance of past mistakes, and no attempt to learn lessons from history. Very few talk of avenging the defeat. So far no bold step has been taken to liberate Occupied Kashmir which is our jugular vein. Instead, all our energies are being wasted in self-defeating infighting on religious and political grounds and in pursuit of selfish motives.

The shortcomings of our political and military leaders, bureaucrats and judges whose injurious decisions had led to the alienation of people of former EP have been pushed under the carpet. Making a cursory mention of blunders of the few amounts to doing injustice to history and leads to drawing wrong lessons. Our muted and apologetic stance encouraged BD to ask for an apology and war reparations from Pakistan and carry out war crimes trials.     

Pakistan is still struggling with problems of identity, ethnic integration, Secular-Islamic divide, religious divides, true democratic dispensation, corruption, nepotism, political polarization and lack of governance. There are too many cleavages in the society towards which no worthwhile effort has been made. Our enemies are gleefully watching our dismal plight and are waiting with bated breath to again trip us into a death trap.

It is high time that we identify the causes of regressive tendencies which have weakened our moral braces and lowered our values. There is a need to undertake measures to protect ourselves from evil influences and to strengthen our socio-ethnic-economic-ideological values and revive our pride and élan.

The bottlenecks that obstruct national integration must be identified for removal and full-scale reconciliation amongst the divides should be achieved. The dream of national cohesion can only come true if our leaders lead the nation by the example of clean and honorable conduct and fair dealings, and the judiciary dispenses equitable and speedy justice.

There are no quick-fix solutions to the chronic ailments. Adoption of hasty and slovenly methods to produce quick results or to throw blame on others would not fetch long term results. The whole exercise of cleansing has to be performed with precision, discretion and finesse.

While Pakistan has become a nuclear power with effective delivery means and has strong conventional strength, we need to improve our political ethics and moral turpitude, and our economy to make the country self-reliant so that Pakistan is never subjected to a disgrace as we suffered in 1971. The most honorable course, however, is to defeat our arch-enemy on the battlefield and redeem our national honor. 

Points to Ponder Over

"Spend eighty percent of your time focusing on the opportunities of tomorrow rather than the problems of yesterday." - Brian Tracy

Reasons behind sudden economic wonders achieved by Sheikh Hasina Wajid regime in BD are: The country has become a client state of India; shifting to secularism has pleased the West; BD is faced with no external threat except from the Islamists who have been suppressed. It has become a strategic compulsion for India to make BD a success story in order to vindicate its intervention in 1971, prevent another military coup or takeover by the Islamists, encourage separatists in Pakistan, and also to block BD-Pakistan rapprochement. If tomorrow Khalida Zia bounces back, or the Islamists seize power, the economic indicators of BD would crash.

India is engulfed in 21 separatist movements of which Kashmiris, Naxalites, Sikhs and Tamils movements have become existential threats. Its shining economy has nosedived and the GDP is in negative. Modi’s fascist and racist policies have alienated all the minorities in India and are pushing the country to the brink of a civil war. For the first time India is faced with a twin threat from China and Pakistan and a wobbly internal situation.

Challenges faced by Pakistan

"The best revenge is massive success." - Frank Sinatra

Pakistan faced the rebellious Bengalis, India and the USSR in 1971 and was friendless. After 9/11, Indo-US-West-Israel nexus ganged up to disintegrate nuclear Pakistan. Since then, the alliance is constantly trying to undo Pakistan using covert and overt means but have failed since militarily Pakistan has become vibrant and robust. Its nuclear deterrence is formidable and armed forces second to none. The army stands fully battle hardened due to its brilliant performance in the 18-year war on terror in which it had to fight the foreign paid and equipped proxies. While the ISI thwarted foreign conspiracies, the PAF gave a bloody nose to IAF in the air encounters on 27 Feb 2019 and is manufacturing its own jets. Pak Navy has become a formidable force to defend the 1300 km long coast.   

Resilience of the armed forces and the people, and harmony between civil-military relations have defeated the conspiracies of the enemies. Today, Pakistan and the emerging superpower China enjoy defence and strategic partnership with common external security threats. Both are exposing the ugly face of India.

Notwithstanding these positive signs, without a vibrant economy, the military alone will not be able to withstand the future threats. CPEC has the capacity to make Pakistan economically self-reliant, particularly after completion of special economic zones and 10 dams under construction, and with focus on exports, IT and digitalization. CPEC will also make China the leading economic power. The new National Security Policy (NSP) being citizens oriented with focus on geo-economics is likely to bring a revolutionary change in Pakistan’s economy which has all along been in crisis.

Hybrid war involving kinetic and non-kinetic forces launched by the Indo-US-West-Israel nexus is aimed at creating fissures in the society, subverting the minds of the youth and cloning their minds, inculcating doubts, misgivings and disillusionment, moving them away from religion and Jihad towards the life of fun and frolic, accentuating political polarization and stoking ethnic, sectarian and religious rifts, spoiling civil-military relations and degenerating the moral turpitude of the society to weaken our ideological foundations. This silent war is the most dangerous threat to the integrity of Pakistan which cannot be fought by the army alone.

To counter this deceptive war, there is a need for a consolidated home and improved morals and ethics. A comprehensive national action plan is needed to motivate the people, build character and sense of responsibility, inculcate simplicity, patriotism and love for the country and to strengthen their minds to withstand the deadly effects of subversion.

All this needs to be done at home and school levels. Uniformity of curriculum up to 5th grade in madrassas, government schools and private schools, and reading Quran with translation are steps in the right direction. Much can be achieved by adopting the golden principles of Islam which we have forsaken.

Somehow the newly formed NSP which is silent on the threat of subversion faced by the common man. To improve our economy, we have to win the battle of minds.    

"Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds." - Orison Swett Marden

The writer is a retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, international columnist, author of five books, sixth book under publication, Chairman Thinkers Forum Pakistan, Director Measac Research Centre. asifharoonraja@gmail.com   

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