Propaganda of genocide and rapes in Bangladesh
Asif Haroon Raja
After the demise of Quaid-e-Azam and Liaquat Ali Khan, regionalism raised its ugly head in smaller provinces particularly in East Pakistan where India started a whispering campaign to poison the minds of the youth and seculars against West Pakistan. India exploited the cultural affinity between East and West Bengal by underplaying Allama Iqbal and promoting poetry of Tagore. Since over 90% posts of teachers and professors were held by Hindus, they played a key role in subverting the minds of students and making them hate West Pakistanis. History books of the subcontinent were distorted to paint Muslim rulers in poor light and ancient Hindu rule glamorised. Their hatred against Hindus was gradually mellowed and converted into amiability. Cultural programs and stage dramas enacted by Hindus helped in bringing a change in the mindset of the Muslim Bengalis. Bengali nationalism was stirred by agitating language issue. Politics of agitation was introduced through frequent strikes and mob violence.
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who had nurtured the dream of independent Bengal from early days came into prominence in East Pakistan during the language riots in 1948. He again took an active part in 1952 language riots. His rebellious stance against West Pakistan Establishment made him popular among Bengalis. He joined Awami League (AL) as a disciple of Suhrawardy. After the death of Suhrawardy in 1964, he maintained his pro-India stance and went astray.
He and his henchmen got in touch with Indian intelligence agencies and during one of the meetings in Agartala, finalised the plan to detach East Pakistan from rest of Pakistan. Under the garb of remedying political and economic grievances of East Pakistan, he formulated six points formula and fanned Bengali nationalism. The unearthing of Agartala conspiracy case in 1968 turned the secessionist into a hero in the eyes of Bengalis. Indian media was instrumental in lionising Mujib.
Breakup of One-Unit Scheme, one-man-one-vote and change of separate electorate to joint electorate by Gen Yahya Khan so as to appease the agitating Bengalis gave the AL electoral victory in a platter. Year-long election campaign allowed Mujib to use high-handed tactics to not only intimidate the people of East Pakistan but also inflame Bengali nationalism. Indian media and secular Bengali intellectuals presented West Pakistan as a villain and publicized Mujib’s six point program as a panacea for all the problems of East Pakistan, which in actuality amounted to secession. All criminal and illegal acts of AL thugs were ignored under the policy of appeasement.
After sweeping the elections through massive rigging, Mujib and his henchmen became more arrogant and uncompromising. They stubbornly maintained that new constitution will be framed strictly in accordance with six points and refused to accommodate viewpoint of second largest party PPP. The situation became uncontrollable in Dacca on 1 March after Yahya unwisely postponed inaugural session scheduled in Dacca on 3 March on the insistence of Bhutto and hawkish Generals. It sparked horrible conflagration and let loose genie of Bengali nationalism. On late evening of 2 March, Army was called in aid of civil power to control the situation at the request of Mujib. Bengali officers conveyed to Mujib that troops were under order not to open fire unless physically assaulted. Accordingly, Mujib directed his militants to fearlessly violate curfew.
On the afternoon of 3 March, Mujib demanded immediate return of troops to barracks and to hand over security of Dacca to him, or else his men would resist them. He also demanded cessation of flow of reinforcement from West Pakistan and disarming of non-Bengalis. Eastern Command Commander Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub capitulated to his wrongful demands, which was a blunder. Gen Gul Hassan said that to allow Mujib to restore calm was ‘somewhat like leaving a virgin in the care of a habitual rapist’.
A state within state was created and Bengalis took orders from Mujib only. Everywhere the chanting of ‘Joi Bangla’ could be heard. New Bangladesh flag was hoisted. Mujib’s hostile tantrums amounted to virtual independence. In order to provoke Gen Yahya to use force and thus give an excuse to start a popular civil war aided by India, a planned massacre of non-Bengalis including Biharis and pro-government Bengalis and rape of West Pakistani girls was unleashed. Their properties were torched and valuables looted. The madness continued till 25 March filling the roads and streets of Dacca and other major towns with blood. Stench of the dead bodies littered on the roads unattended became unbearable and it became difficult to breathe. Over 100,000 people, mostly Biharis were hacked to death. Stories of ‘torture to death’ are too horrifying and blood curdling to narrate and have been narrated in hundreds of books.
Non-Bengali and loyal elements butchery continued with unabated venom. None came to the rescue of the hounded. They were baffled and found themselves at the mercy of hounding wolves. They had no weapons to fend for themselves and no place to hide and as such got slaughtered like sheep. Even our media was blanked on the ill-conceived ground that broadcasting of atrocities would evoke a severe backlash against Bengalis in West Pakistan. The biased western media team located in Dacca turned a blind eye to the carnage of non-Bengalis. It also turned a blind eye to India’s meddling and induction of 90,000 Indian soldiers in West Bengal in March 1971.
The troops confined to barracks in Dacca, Sylhet, Saidpur, Khulna, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Jessore, Khulna and Chittagong kept hearing the savageries committed on men in uniform and their families with impotent rage. It had become extremely difficult for those living inside cantonment areas to procure fresh food items from markets. Deprived of electric and water supply, conservancy and other essential services for three weeks, Pak troops were virtually living on tinned rations while the children remained deprived of milk. PAF special transport aircraft from West Pakistan provided essential supplies. Attacks on Army pickets were stepped up and the Army jeered at. Soldiers were spat upon and called Yahya dogs.
Sizeable number of men in Khaki and their families particularly those serving in East Pakistan Rifles (EPR) and East Pakistan Civil Armed Forces were hacked to death. By such acts, the Army was being deliberately provoked to lose patience and to take punitive action. This would have given Mujib and his henchmen a weapon to whip up anti-Army emotions thereby dubbing the Army as an occupation Army. It would have paved the way for civil war thereby fulfilling the requirement of India.
Yahya’s regime was subjected to extreme criticism for its procrastinating attitude and its passivity to confront Bengali defiance against the state. All those who mattered in West Pakistan and pro-Pakistan Bengalis exerted extreme pressure on President Yahya to take punitive action against the dissidents. Even Bhutto prodded him to use full force regardless of casualties before it was too late. But Yahya had already made too many mistakes by granting unreasonable concessions to Mujib and in the process had badly messed up things.
During the ten-day negotiations in Dacca in March 1971, Yahya team trying to find a way out of impasse remained totally defensive and apologetic and had no card to play. They kept giving in and got nothing in return. No political leader including Bhutto could soften up Mujib. The Mujib led team on the other hand maintained a highly belligerent and uncompromising posture. It was amply clear that AL simply didn’t want a constitutional agreement conducive to the retention of national identity. His mentors had briefed him not to agree on any point or concession offered at any cost. He was told to force Yahya to use force so that India could convince the world that it was Pakistan Army that had first denied them their constitutional right to takeover power and had now opted to crush them under their boots. Under the circumstances, AL would have a convincing case to pick up arms in defence and also gain sympathy of the world. Military action would pave the way for India to organize a civil war in East Pakistan leading towards secession.
Matiur Rahman in his book ‘Bangladesh Today’ writes, ‘It was indeed most mind boggling to note that while Yahya Khan and his team persistently offered power to Mujib, the latter constantly hedged, refused to agree to any settlement, shifted his position from six points and refused to accept any formula within the framework of a united Pakistan’. Mujib had made up his mind to part ways and that too through violent means.
It was on the evening of 24 March 1971 when Yahya got convinced that Mujib didn’t want anything short of confederation that he gave green signal to Gen Tikka Khan to save the federation. Orders to unit commanders were passed verbally on the morning of 25th March. The toughest challenge was in Dacca where the outcome of crackdown would have decided the fate of East Pakistan. The city and its suburbs housed heaviest concentration of armed rebels followed by Chittagong. As per foreign press reports, there were 200,000 weapons with the militants in East Pakistan.
Despite extremely heavy odds, the troops numbering 12000 went into action and by early morning of 26th, Dacca was cleared of miscreants and in next few days all other critical towns were also taken over since the rebels had fled. Reinforcement from West Pakistan were rushed in only when it was found that EBR, EPR and Police had also rebelled and rebellion had got transformed into a well-planned civil war supported by India.
When the prejudiced foreign journalists were ousted from Dacca by Gen Tikka, the jilted journalists got settled in Calcutta and played into the hands of Indian media. Indo-western media cooked up fabricated stories of all kinds of atrocities and quoted highly bloated figures of those killed in Army action on 25thMarch and subsequently. There were reports published in foreign newspapers of razing of whole villages and machine-gunning all the inhabitants. Rapes were also drummed up. Idea was to demonize Pak Army and paint the soldiers as human eating monsters and rapists. So-called genocide drummed up by Indian media was magnified by western media. AL propaganda machinery added fuel to fire by churning out series of horror stories of killings and rapes.
All this was done to smoke-screen the large-scale atrocities committed by AL urchins and anti-social elements. What was termed as genocide during week-long disturbances all over the province, in actuality only 172 persons lost lives while 358 got injured! The next round of killings and rapes was undertaken by Mukti Bahini after 23 November 1971, later joined by Indian forces. Raping of Bengali girls and women at a mass scale was undertaken by Indian Army and BSF soldiers in the refugee camps in India during their confinement period of over nine months.
Interestingly, figures of three million Bengalis and raping of 300,000 women by Pak soldiers in East Pakistan were never mentioned throughout the civil war and Indo-Pak war. These figures were first uttered by Sheikh Mujib after he was released from prison in West Pakistan in January 1972. In my next write up, I will try to dispel the myth of these incredible figures.
It is ironic that today the AL led government at the behest of India is demanding apology from Pakistan for the so-called war crimes, and is convicting aged Jamaat-e-Islami members through Kangaroo courts, who had played their honorable part to save their motherland, but is completely ignoring the barbarities of its own members against Biharis and West Pakistanis and their collaboration with hostile India.
Can we notice the footsteps of India in Balochistan and in Karachi where quite a few similarities with former East Pakistan crisis can be discerned? Will the final battle be fought in Karachi as I had stated in one of my articles in 2008? Are we alive to the two brewing lavas which are primed to burst? The only thing which probably has frustrated the designs of our adversaries is that the Army kept itself aloof. Hence the story of ‘genocide’ couldn’t be played. ‘Missing persons’ story played up in Balochistan didn’t prove so tantalizing to evoke an international outcry, particularly when ground checks negated the stance of propagandists.
The writer is a retired Brig, a defence analyst and a columnist. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org