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March 1971 Diary: Negotiating from strength

  • Published at 12:00 am March 23rd, 2021
File photo of Prof Rehman Sobhan - Mahmud Hossain Opu
File photo of Prof Rehman Sobhan Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

This extract is part of a series that will run until March 25, in which we reproduce Rehman Sobhan’s contemporaneous account of the events of the momentous month of March 1971. This was first published in the final issue of the Forum magazine on March 20, 1971. The Forum offices were closed and the magazine shut down by the Pakistan Army on March 26

In this period the economy continued to remain precariously poised between standstill and revival. A consolidated decree of regulations issued by the Awami League on March 15 carried on the task of selective revival of the administration and full revival of the economy. 

The assertion of control over Bangla Desh was carried a step further by extending the no-tax campaign into one of collecting taxes for the “Government of Bangla Desh.” 

All central provincial and local taxes were designated for payment into special accounts to be opened by the only two banks with their headquarters in Bangla Desh, and the State Bank of Pakistan and Treasury remained immobilized. Pending export bills were also designated to these two banks for negotiation. 

State Bank and all commercial banks continued to function at the direction of the Awami League. This did not prevent the run on banks from continuing but there were some signs of the situation improving as more relaxation on the controls over banks was permitted.

All this is not to suggest that this extraordinary metamorphosis of the movement from non-cooperation to people’s raj was not causing some problems. 

The banking system began to acquire a lopsided appearance as local banks gained deposits at the expense of non-local banks. Their principals, in turn, in Karachi, seemed to be reluctant to respond to their local office’s calls for transfer of funds, so that the local State Bank was forced into the role of lender of the last resort to non-local banks to enable them to meet the run on their deposits. 

Also Read - March 1971 Diary: From non-cooperation to People’s Raj

The phenomenon was one of neurosis without any immediate foundation in fact, and corrective measures were being supplied through call lending by the local banks to those who were facing a run. Thus, the possibly inspired fear that non-local banks would close their doors did not have any real basis at all.

Once this awareness sinks in there is some prospect of a restoration of normalcy within the banking system notwithstanding motivated attempts to build up emotions in favour of local banks. 

On the industrial front, however, uncertainties kept production low and lowered efficiency. This again reflected the contradictions between non-cooperation and people’s raj. Party exhortations to now resume work with redoubled vigour for the cause of Bangla Desh had as yet not got through to the work floor. 

Apart from the absence of any operational machinery to translate party directives into specifics, workers are sceptical about a system where the prosperity of Bangla Desh is co-terminous with the prosperity of their factory owner. 

Whilst this unique situation continued to pose new problems every day, the one certainty remained the irrevocable break-down of Islamabad’s authority over the affairs of Bangla Desh. 

With each day and directive, this authority has receded, and today any attempt to restore it will appear to the people as being little different from a British effort to reoccupy the sub-continent. 

In this context, the sole power of the Islamabad regime appears to be its capacity to inflict death on the people and to attempt to precipitate economic chaos as is evident by the diversion of food ships from Chittagong to Karachi. 

The question may therefore well be asked as to why they find themselves in this untenable position where their only option to coming to terms with Sheikh Mujib’s demands is to unleash genocide.  

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