Pakistani troops laid down their arms and surrendered to India for the secession of East Pakistan. The lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were lost. Much has been written about this watershed in Pakistan’s history. We can learn lessons from the events that occurred in the past in order to avoid any such recurrence in the future.
India had set up hundreds of training camps in West Bengal where they trained and armed Bengali youths from East Pakistan to form the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Army). By mid-November 1971, the situation in the border areas had become alarming as more and more MuktiBahini fighters kept pouring in from Indian Bengal. The border skirmishes were rapidly turning into bloody attacks on Pakistani troops. Eventually, on December 3, 1971, war with India was declared.
Several white specks moved about in an orderly fashion. Indian planes, MIG-21s and SU-7s, were circling over Dhaka at a very high altitude to avoid ground fire. They tried to bomb Dhaka Airport and the Dhaka Cantonment area but the bombs, dropped from such a great height, went astray and missed their targets. The very next day, the Indian Air Force attacked Dhaka Airport with their full might. Wave after wave of MIGs and Hunters flew over the airport dropping heavy bombs. The Pak gunners on the ground put up a brave fight. They shot down several enemy planes, yet there were so many Indian planes that the airport runway was destroyed, with all the planes standing there. The war on the ground was being fought in the border areas and towns of Jessore, Khulna, Natore, Kushtia, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Sylhet, etc.
Dhaka is situated almost in the middle of the country and is surrounded by the rivers Ganges (Padma), Meghna and Brahmaputra. As such, there was no sign of the Mukti Bahini or Indian forces near Dhaka or its adjoining areas. In the city, the only indication of a war being fought was the continuous presence of Indian planes which kept circling high up over the city, and the mandatory blackouts at night.
Occasionally, from the balcony four second-floor flat, could see Indian planes dive and fire rockets at the Governor House. Streaks of fire leaping from the plane would explode over the eastern dome of the Governor House and flames shooting from the ground would e explode in the sky as the Pakistan army gunners tried to down these planes.
The Governor House was empty as Governor Abdul Malik and his staff had already shifted to the Intercontinental Hotel. The Indian forces had yet to cross the rivers before they could reach Dhaka. This was not easy as the river bridges had been destroyed. The city wore an uneasy calm and the atmosphere was charged with tension. Fear and anxiety was gradually but steadily tightening its grip on the citizens. Such was the state of affairs when December 16 dawned over Dhaka.
Large numbers of pamphlets were being thrown from the planes. Printed in English, Bengali and Urdu, they invited the public to RamnaRace Course ground in the afternoon to witness the surrender of the Pakistan Army. Intrigued and hopeful, Bengalis flocked to the race course. There, in the presence of several lakhs of Bengalis raising thunderous slogans of ‘Joy Bangla’ and ‘Jai Hind’, Gen Niazi signed the Instrument of Surrender and handed over his pistol to General Arora Singh.
East Pakistan died and Bangladesh was born. At the end of the ceremony, the mammoth crowd that spilled out from the Race Course Ground. The cries of ‘Joy Bangla’ were now intermingled with cries of ‘Kill the Pakistanis’. But no one dared to attack the Pakistani troops; most of them were still armed.
So, in their murderous mood, the mob spread out in the city to kill and plunder the supporters of Pakistan and the Pakistani army. A strange celebration of independence. An estimated 300,000 Urdu lived in Dhaka city. They were scattered in various localities of the city, namely Shahjahan Pur, Kamla Pur, Motijheel, Purana Pultan, Nawabpur road, Nawab Bari,Thatheri Bazar, Moulvi Bazar, Armani Tola, Islam Pur, Azim Pur, Saddar Ghat, Eskatan, Dhanmandi, Dhakeshwari, Neel Khet, etc. In all these localities, Urdu speaking was in a minority amounting to five to seven percent of the population. That night, the Urdu speaking residents of every locality were attacked by the wild mobs that were on a killing, burning and looting spree.
It was mass killing of non-Bengalis, the Urdu-speaking people. These people had been living in East Pakistan since1947, some had settled in the area even earlier. They lived amongst the Bengalis like brothers, amicably, without any discrimination. Some of them were married to Bengalis and their Bengalis relatives helped them with all their kind efforts. In those days the Bengalis Intelligentsia were for inter wing marriage. They encouraged the Urdu speaking students to marry with Bengali speaking students. Hopefully, this should be religiously followed particularly in the Sindh province.
Shaikh Mujibur Rahman’s party, the Awami League, had won a majority of seats in the 1970 general elections of Pakistan. They had full rights to form a government and rule over Pakistan. This infuriated not only the Awami League but the entire population of East Pakistan. The Awami League announced that, as protest to this gross injustice, March 23 celebrations would not be held in the province and all private and public buildings would hoist black flags. Anyone who hoisted the Pakistani flag would be declared a traitor and punished severely.
They particularly asked the Urdu speaking community to show their solidarity with Bengali people by not hoisting the Pakistani flag for that act, they felt, would mean that they were enemies of Bengali people. But the Urdu speaking argued that they were Pakistanis. They had migrated here because of Pakistan.
Before the declaration of war, Indian Army along with Mukti Bahini started invading main check posts on 30th November and till 3rd December they had encircled the Eastern wing completely. Indian Air-forces stepped in their airstrike activity and bombed Dhaka airfield into wreckage. The armed forces of East Pakistan had to fight the war without Air Force with Mukti Bahini and Indian Army who knew all the places of Bangladesh better than them. Since the Pakistani forces were surrounded by Indian Army, they had no supply of food and ammunition which led to their demoralization.
What happened on the 16th December 1971 was bound to happen as it was not possible to run a country separated by 1000miles. However, the way it has happened is appalling and is something that could have been shunned. If only there was political will for power sharing, we could have avoided the bloodshed and loss of valuable human life.
Lessons Pakistan should never forget fall of Dhaka: A debacle borne of self-censorship and lies Western media has long upheld a biased narrative of the situation in East Pakistan.
We have also not learned anything from that tragedy. There was the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, the war report, which is said was censored. And it remained hidden from us while we were getting to hear different versions of it from outside sources. It is said that may true or not there were 12 copies of the report prepared by the Chief Justice Hamoodur Rahman; all were destroyed except one.
The editors of Western newspapers and those working in TV channels never thought for a minute that they were giving a false and made up figure. But the story of self-censorship does not end here. The Western media was completely blind in seeing the worst imaginable kind of atrocities committed by Bengalis on non-Bengalis. The Western press and media were completely one-sided and compromised. Despite trumpeting the freedom of the press, the West’s own media imposed strong self-censorship.
Bangladesh has progressed now economically, socially and educationally. Pakistan has lagged far behind in every sphere of life. It is said that that Bangladesh progress is faster than India which exhibits fake progress to advanced western countries. Look at the large poverty stricken people of India now suffering from hunger and disease. Let now both the countries Bangladesh and Pakistan forget and forgive all the atrocities committed by them. A long time Pakistan has forgiven them for all the brutalities committed on non Bengalis. But sadly Bangladesh under the influence of India is yet to forgive Pakistan. Pakistani so called politicians should take lessons from the past mistakes. Pakistani students should know the downfall of Dhaka and separation of Pakistan.