VICTORY OF BANGLADESH, AS OBSERVED FROM PAKISTAN
We were in Karachi when Liberation War was taking place in Bangladesh. While we missed many historical events at home, we were able to observe many others that had taken place around us in West Pakistan. We, however, got all information of the war in Bangladesh through foreign news media. It is difficult to express how the Bengali community residing in Pakistan was inspired by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s speech on March 7, 1971.
I had a Pathan colleague at the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC). Unlike other Pakistanis, he was very sympathetic to the Bengalees. After having listened to the speech of Bangabandhu, he told me, ‘I didn’t understand a single word of his speech but I found it so inspiring that my blood began to boil!’ If the speech could agitate even a Pakistani’s blood, think how the Bengalees had responded to it! After March 7, Bangabandhu became the de facto undisputed leader of Bangladesh. The entire administration in Bangladesh, except that of the cantonment, followed his instructions word by word.
While on December 3, 1971, Pakistan attacked India in a desperate move hoping that international pressure would be built up to bring about a political solution to the conflict, India gave a counter-attack by air, land and sea so severely that, in the following morning, we discovered the sky of Karachi overcast with black smoke coming out of oil storage tanks that were hit by the Indian bombers.
During the initial period of attack, we slept on the ground floor of our house beneath the staircase for our safety. During the day, we often watched dogfights between the Pakistani and the Indian fighter planes from our rooftop. The local Pakistanis used to shout ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is Great) welcoming the downfall of any plane. Ironically most of the planes that fell on the ground belonged to them! The Pakistanis were so frightened by the severity of the Indian attack that one of my Pakistani office attendants once told me, ‘Sir, this war must come to an end soon, whatever be the outcome!’
In Bangladesh, the Pakistani air force was totally destroyed within a couple of days after the first attack. The Indian navy blockaded all fresh military supplies from Pakistan. With no air support and no fresh supplies, the Pakistani forces in Bangladesh realised they had been fighting a losing war. With the full cooperation and active support of the local population, it was easy for the Mukti Bahini and the Indian forces to advance very fast toward Dhaka. The Pakistan occupation forces were virtually on toes to save their lives. When on December 16, 1971, the Pakistani forces surrendered to the joint command, Bangladesh stepped its first as a free and independent nation.
It is worth mentioning here that Pakistan’s entire information media were kept under strict control of the government during the war. Most of the people of Pakistan were kept in the dark about what was actually happening in Bangladesh. They hardly knew about the genocide that had taken place here. Absurd stories were floating in air to make people believe that Bangladesh had been inhabited by Hindus — the Indian agents. It was strange that some Pakistanis believed Tajuddin Ahmad to be an Indian agent and a Major in the Indian army. He was sneaked into Bangladesh by India to break up Pakistan. We also heard absurd stories of ‘heavenly’ warriors draped in white robes and riding on white horses descending from the sky to assist the Pakistani army! The news of the surrender of the Pakistani forces in Bangladesh was broadcast by electronic media in Pakistan in this way— ‘The fighting in East Pakistan has ceased following an agreement between the local commanders in East Pakistan.’ The bitter truth was never told to the people.
Just before the surrender, we suddenly found our Pakistani colleagues in a very happy mood one morning. They were telling each other, ‘Aahgia! Aahgia! (They have come!) Thanks to Almighty, Pakistan is saved.’ At that time, negotiations for surrender of the Pakistan army were in progress in Dhaka. We could not understand exactly what had saved Pakistan at that time. So, I asked my Pakistani colleague, ‘What has happened?’ ‘Don’t you know?’ He asked me back with a surprise. I admitted my ignorance. He replied very enthusiastically, ‘The seventh fleet has arrived in the Bay of Bengal. Alhamdulillah, Pakistan is saved.’ I only said, ‘Oh.’ They were under the impression that the seventh fleet came to aid the Pakistan army.
During the war, the Indian army advanced substantially in the western front and occupied some strategic territories in Pakistan. If they would advance further, they would have easily cut off the supply routes to Islamabad and Lahore. There were strong rumours that India was advancing inside Pakistan in order to force President Yahya Khan to surrender. To save Pakistan from such an eventuality, the United States of America sent its seventh fleet to the Bay of Bengal. India declared a ceasefire soon after the surrender of the Pakistani command in Bangladesh indicating that it had no such intention.
We received the news of our victory in Bangladesh with a mixed feeling of joy and concern. The victory was like a dream came true. This feeling of joy was accompanied by a concern for our personal safety and our future. We were completely cut off from Bangladesh. We did not know when and how we would return to our homeland. It could take months, years, even decades. We did not know how the government of Pakistan would treat us.
In addition, our lives became risky being surrounded by Pakistanis, particularly the refugees from India. We apprehended that riots could flare up against the Bengalees at any time, particularly when many wounded Pakistanis, both military and civilians, were returning from Bangladesh. The civilians were mostly the Urdu speaking migrants from India who settled in former East Pakistan after the partition of India and sided with the Pakistani forces during the war. As a result, some Bengalees were reported to have been attacked in Karachi, Rawalpindi and some other places. I must mention here that we were treated very well by our colleagues in PAEC and our neighbours in Karachi. They were very friendly and sympathetic to us both during and after the war.
Luckily, there was a change of government in Pakistan. Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) replaced Yahya Khan as Pakistan’s President. His party obtained majority of seats from West Pakistan in the National Assembly in 1970 general election. He blamed Yahya Khan for the defeat of the Pakistan army even though he could not evade his playing a dirty role against Bangabandhu and Bangladesh in collusion with Yahya Khan before the war. As Pakistan was ruled by a military junta before and during the war, its people hardly had any role in the break-up of the country.
Under pressure from the international community, Bhutto released Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman from custody. These factors helped to improve the position of the Bengalees in Pakistan to some extent. Bhutto, a shrewd politician, did not take any unilateral decision to release Bangabandhu. He thought it would be wise to take the approval of the people before his release. He called on a huge public meeting in Karachi and staged a drama. I was listening to his speech from my house that was being broadcast live by Radio Pakistan. He told the audience India had sent Hindu administrators to ‘East Pakistan’ (Bangladesh was not recognised by Pakistan by that time) to rule their Muslim brethren. He sought permission from the audience to ‘send Bangabandhu to Dhaka so that he could take over the administration there.’ The crowd shouted, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ Soon Bangabandhu was flown to London by a special flight. He returned Dhaka on January 10, 1972, and accorded a historic welcome by the people of Bangladesh. On January 12, 1972, he swore in as the prime minister.
Like most of the Bengalees stranded in Pakistan, I returned to Bangladesh with my family through Afghanistan and India. The journey was tedious and risky. The Pathans, the Baluch and the Sindhis were relatively friendly to the Bengalees. Some of them helped the Bengalees flee from Pakistan. The rest of the Bengalees were officially repatriated to Bangladesh after our return. It was so nice to be back to independent Bangladesh and reunited with our family members and friends.r
The writer is a former Chief Engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and author of ‘A Passage to Freedom’
DECEMBER 17, 2014