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March 1971 Diary: Negotiating from strength

  • Published at 12:00 am March 24th, 2021
web-pakistan surrender liberation war
Lt Gen Niazi signing the Instrument of Surrender under the gaze of Lt Gen Aurora . Standing immediately behind from L to R: Vice Admiral Krishnan, Air Marshal Dewan, Lt Gen Sagat Singh, Maj Gen JFR Jacob (with Flt Lt Krishnamurthy peering over his shoulder). Veteran newscaster, Surojit Sen of All India Radio, is seen holding a microphone on the right. Collected

This extract is the penultimate part of a series that concludes on 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 Forum magazine on March 20, 1971. The Forum offices were closed and the magazine shut down by the Pakistan army on March 26.

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.

The answer, as with most wars of aggression, appears to lie in miscalculation. Those who initiated confrontation by the postponement of the Assembly session believed that the public response would be small and localised and would succumb to a swift and effective application of force.

Mr. Bhutto is reported to have told visitors that such a form reaction to the agitation would soon bring the Awami League to their senses. No one dreamt that within 7 days not only would the people vigorously resist attempts at mass murder but would bring central authority to a complete standstill.

Perhaps no one even within the Awami League could have believed that non-cooperation could be so total as to place them in command of Bangla Desh within a week of their call for action.

The second miscalculation carne from the belief that Mujib would not gain sufficient command of the situation to bring the law and order situation under his control so quickly, so that even the excuse of wanton loot and mayhem, which was serving as a fig leaf for Operation Genocide, was not available to them.

Yahya’s report of loot and murder as the justification for killings had by March 6 ceased to bear any relation to reality. The calm which prevails in Dacca since his arrival is evidence enough of Mujib’s authority.

Within West Pakistan itself the front began to crumble. Chairman Bhutto had been assigned the role of rousing the masses against Bangladesh. He went around circulating the totally tendentious canard that Six Points meant the perpetual domination of West Pakistan by Bengalis when in fact it meant a repudiation of this very principle.

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In this task it was expected that Mr. Bhutto would use his control over the masses to intimidate other parties in West Pakistan into boycotting the Assembly so that confrontation would be total.

Bhutto’s task had temporary success, but by the end of February the attempt was facing disaster and the only party which had joined the boycott was the Qayyum Muslim League. This party had all along been receiving support or patronage from a certain section of the administration who now pressured them into lining up with Bhutto.

It is well known that Rizvi, director of Central Intelligence, had openly persuaded prominent figures to join the QML, and that Major General Omar was also soliciting support for this party in the election along with NawabQizalbash.

Rizvi and Omar along with Major General Akber, the Service Intelligence chief, appear to have switched their support to Bliutto after the QML’s debacle, and there is evidence that Omar actually canvassed MNAs outside the PPP and QML against attending the Assembly.

When even three members of the QML booked their seats for Dacca and Bhutto faced the threat that more than half of his Sindhi MNAs and some from Punjab would also take the flight, the Omar-Akber axis, buttressed by Bhutto’s new adviser and intimate, MM Ahmed, had to intervene.

They seem to have mounted sufficient pressure to bail Bhutto out by having the Assembly session postponed. 

It is not certain if the additional time was desired to firm up the crumbling West Wing front behind Bhutto to ensure a total confrontation with Bangla Desh or whether they wanted to sabotage the entire attempt to restore democracy.