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March 1971 Diary: Negotiating from strength

  • Published at 12:00 am March 25th, 2021
Anwar Hossain's photo of skull in 1971
Photo: Anwar Hossain

This extract is the final part of 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 totally unprecedented resistance to this move within Bangla Desh has led to the inevitable reaction within West Pakistan. Whilst many political figures in the West began by supporting the postponement, by the end of the second week of people’s Raj in Bangla Desh, all bar the PPP were demanding that Yahya concede Mujib’s Four Points in toto.

Bhutto, who remained apologetic and on the defensive ever since March 1, was thus compelled to further expose his ambition in Karachi on March 14. Here he introduced West Pakistan for the first time to the concept of the two-nation theory and demanded that power be handed to the two majority parties of Pakistan, namely the Awami League in Bangla Desh and People’s Party in West Pakistan.

Bhutto’s drive towards becoming shahinshah of West Pakistan had of course been exposed in the columns of Forum some time ago, though none would have thought that he would be crass enough to proclaim his ambition at such a psychologically unfavourable moment. Needless to say the reaction in the two regions, NWFP and Baluchistan, where his writ does not run, was the most unfavourable. To them this was a clear attempt to reimpose Punjabi domination on them through the agency of Mr. Bhutto.

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Even within the PPP there were serious misgivings not only at Mr. Bhutto’s present posture but his entire strategy. Whatever their misgivings about Six Points, they must have awakened to the fact that the price of resisting Six Points and also imposing their will on the Baluch and Pathan was a permanent partnership with the likes of General Omar. Far from PPP being the champion of democracy in West Pakistan, they would merely degenerate into the civilian front of another junta.

Whilst the events of last month have exposed Mr. Bhutto for what he is and perhaps in the process inflicted serious damage to the progressive cause in West Pakistan, it is not certain whether the wings of the hawks have at all been clipped.

Whilst no man of whatever persuasion in West Pakistan could now doubt the Himalayan blunder implicit in the act of postponement and fail to be aware of the near fatal damage to the concept of national unity, it is yet to be seen whether the right lessons will be drawn from the experience.

A sensible general as much as a sensible leader having miscalculated would attempt to recoup his losses by trying to come to terms with the people’s representatives in Bangla Desh and handing over power to them in order to create an atmosphere where the future of the country can be examined soberly.

On the other hand, both generals and leaders have also been known to compound their own blunders, thereby converting simple folly into unmitigated disaster.