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Fall of Dhaka: A Comprehensive Failure of Pakistan’s Foreign Policy

December 16, 1971 is embedded in the history of Pakistan as a ‘black day’. Despite having ‘common colonizers’, the first twenty-four years of independence gave rise to surprisingly varied ‘political cyclones’, ensuing from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal. India was relatively steady while governing what was left by the British. Pakistan was entangled in the tedious process of constitution-making and abrupt changes in the government allowed the military to intervene in national politics. Field Marshall Ayub Khan’s (first martial law administrator of Pakistan) ‘economic policies’ are accused of burgeoning Bengali resentment. With an Eastern wing located 1000 miles away, administrative efficacy couldn’t be ensured. Results of elections in 1970 explicitly presented the political polarization that had developed. Yahya Khan‘s mediation for bringing Z.A Bhutto and Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman on the same page failed. The weak bondage between the Eastern and Western wing of the ideological state could no longer be sustained by ‘religious cohesive forces’. This divergence received the attention of rival India, which fomented hatred in East-Pakistan. Indira Gandhi and her Congress (R) were returned to power with a massively increased majority. Being a shrewd politician she viewed the hostile Bengalis as chips to avenge the Muslims. Indian instigation coupled with economic disparity and political differences, propelled Bengalis to drift away with their land (now known as Bangladesh). Apart from these causes that gave birth to Bangladesh, the foreign policy orientations also had a decisive role to play during the events of 1971.

Jinnah’s concept of Pakistan predisposed him in favour of democratic states and he considered the US as a partner in ‘defence for democracy’. Pakistan’s anti-communist aspirations made her lean towards the West. Gradually, the pro-American policy became an inevitable choice due to the influx of aid under the CENTO and SEATO pacts. However, the gulf between the two countries widened as the US provided military aid to India during Indochina war of 1962. Furthermore, aid to Pakistan was suspended during the first Indo-Pak War in 1965. This was perceived by Pakistan as ‘betrayal’ on part of the US and as a reactionary measure, windows to the East were opened. ‘Bilateralism’ was the new policy in effect, which aimed at normalising relations with China and the Soviet Union, but not at the expense of offending Western allies. On the other hand, the Indian foreign policy, was inspired by the non-aligned movement. Jawahar Lal Nehru sought to maintain cordial relations with both the USA and the USSR. Internationally, he was viewed as a champion of pacifism and an advocate of the United Nations. The ‘Hindu defeat’ during Sino-Indo war in 1962 distorted Nehru’s image at home as he was held for responsible for not anticipating an attack from China. The military was also stigmatised for not being prepared, but India’s policy of weaponisation and self-sufficiency gained momentum under Nehru. He played the ‘diplomatic cards’ at the right time in order to prepare India for similar conflicts in the future. Without giving up his non-aligned policy he requested the US to equip India with 12 squadrons of fighter jets and a modern radar system. This insightful diplomatic move was later used by Nehru’s daughter, Indira Gandhi.

Indira Gandhi is elected as the first female P...

Indira Gandhi is elected as the first female Prime Minister of India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Adhering to her father’s principle of ‘non-alignment’, Indira proved to be a prudent Prime Minister of India. Being Nehru’s daughter, her exposure to the world was substantial enough to acquaint her with the dynamics of the international politics. She is known as the architect for innovating the ‘decision-making’ process in foreign affairs. Indira Gandhi demarcated the intelligence service into two in terms of their responsibilities. Intelligence Bureau was in-charge of internal intelligence and counter-espionage. External intelligence was entrusted to the newly formed Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). Both these services, along with revenue intelligence (which was under the Finance Ministry), were brought directly under the Prime Minister’s control. RAW intensified the separatist sentiment in East Pakistan and instigated the ‘Agartala operation’ in 1966. Politicians in the West Pakistan remained preoccupied with the elections campaign. Nature turned the tides in favour of India as a cyclone of great intensity added to the plight of Bengalis. Indira accused the federal government of remaining indifferent to the needs of the East Pakistanis. As military crackdown was ordered in East Pakistan by Yahya Khan in March 1971, Indira Gandhi found her reasons to gain support of the international community. West Pakistan further worsened the situation with the decision to expel all foreign journalists from East Pakistan. The Western media turned against West Pakistan and was outraged by the military crackdown. Media propaganda by India, constructed the opinion that ‘genocide’ of helpless Bengalis by West Pakistanis was inhumane.

With the international public opinion largely against Pakistan, Indira knew that the time was ripe to appear on the ‘diplomatic chess board’. As her first strategic move, she started negotiating with Moscow to reduce the chances of Chinese intervention. Islamabad failed to realise that its role as a mediator between Washington and Beijing had irked Moscow in the wake of strained Sino-Soviet relations. Indo-USSR friendship treaty was signed in July 1971. Meanwhile, the number of Bengal refugees infiltrating in India were exaggerated by her. To lessen India’s burden, the United States provided $350 million in aid. The pressure fell on Yahya Khan, as expected, he told Washington in October that he was willing to grant full autonomy to East Pakistan. Indira knew that she was heading towards victory on the diplomatic front and that was necessary to ensure the surrender of West Pakistan on battleground.

Richard Nixon and Indira Gandhi, 4 November 1971

Richard Nixon and Indira Gandhi, 4 November 1971 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Before the final blow, she undertook an international tour and visited six countries in Europe and America (Belgium, Austria, Britain, the US, France and Germany) for 20 days from October 24, seeking their understanding on India’s position. From West Pakistan, only one mission led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto visited China for three days from November 5. Consequently, China was the only country that spoke of India’s gross interference in Pakistan’s affairs after the disaster of 1971. Even the Islamic World was unperturbed by the division of the largest Muslim-population. Shah of Iran had gone the farthest by stating that in case of any future uprising, Iran would annex Balochistan. President Nixon had understood the nefarious designs of Indira Gandhi, but the State Department didn’t allow him to support West Pakistan as public opinion veered against it. Islamabad’s poor diplomatic strategies in the presence of a military Commander-in-Chief (Yahya Khan) and a former Foreign Minister (Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto) brought much disgrace along with the loss of country’s Eastern half. The Indian foreign policy exploited the USSR and the US to the fullest. From the creation of RAW to the persuasion of international community in favour of Bengalis, everything was perfectly executed by Indira Gandhi. Her diplomatic acumen and the comprehensive failure of Pakistan’s foreign policy orchestrated the fall of Dhaka.


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Posted by on December 16, 2012 in International Affairs


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In Memory of East Pakistan

east pak seminar 2Hameed Nizami Conference Room of the Institute of Communication Studies, University of the Punjab.From Left to Right: Prof. Dr Ahsan Akthar Naz, Farrukh Sohail Goindi, Altaf Hassan Qureshi,Jamil Athar, Major Aftab.

Recalling the events of 1971 and the factors which led to the creation of Bangladesh, the Institute of Communication Studies (ICS), University of the Punjab, arranged a seminar on December 13, 2012. Hameed Nizami Conference room of ICS had sketched the year 1971 in front of the future communicators. The seminar was hosted by the Director of the Institute of Communication Studies, Prof Dr. Ahsan Akhtar Naz and presided over by Altaf Hassan Qureshi. Other speakers included: a former army officer (Major Aftab), Farrukh Sohail Goindi and Jamil Athar.

In his preliminary note, the Director explained the aim of arranging a seminar with the title, ‘In Memory of East Pakistan‘. He told the students about the significance of December 16, 1971. As per his view, students of mass communication should outweigh others while exhibiting their knowledge about socio-political issues in a historical context. “This seminar is arranged to let you know that the country in which you all live, used to consist of two wings. The Eastern one got separated in December 1971 while conspiracies are ensuing to disintegrate the Western half as well,” remarked the Director. Referring to the complexity of East Pakistan’s separation, the Director said that it’s an ongoing debate and books are still being penned down about the creation of Bangladesh.

Jamil Athar (President of Council of Pakistan News Editors-CPNE) was the first one to address the students. He read out an excerpt from the book of late Syed Sajjad Hussain who was the Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University in 1971. The key points of the excerpt reflected Sajjad Hussain’s lamenting account of a grieve-stricken day in the history of Pakistan that suggested the dichotomy of ‘truth’ and ‘fabrication’ related to the liberation of Bangladesh. According tot he excerpt, ‘soldiers of West Pakistan were martyrs who fought with valour to defend their homeland. The number of Bengalis killed is overstated in accordance with the will of RAW (Research and Analysis Wing of Indian Intelligentsia).

Farrukh Sohail Goindi, media analyst and columnist, discussed at length his perspective on the fall of Dhaka. He called it the ‘first unique paradox of modern history’ as a result of which a majority population (East Pakistan) sought independence from minority population (West Pakistan). Goindi disagreed with placing the blame of ‘1971 tragedy’ on a few politicians or military generals. He held everyone accountable for the separation of East Pakistan. According to his view-point, ambiguity of power concentration and the power-hungry generals generated a conducive environment for the creation of Bangladesh. Moreover, the intelligentsia and the bureaucracy were equally responsible for ill-treating the Bengali brothers. Furthermore, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto‘s statements had been manipulated and misinterpreted after he was hanged to make him the culprit of Pakistan’s division. Goindi shared with the students his experiences as a young school going student at that time, which culminated to form a ‘bad memory’ of his life. The most tragic aspect for him was that Pakistan lost the ‘intellectual hub’ (Bangladesh) of subcontinent. He explained that Bengali poetry, story writing and intellectual capabilities had no match in the subcontinent. While clearing the misconceptions associated with the events of 1971, he told the students that a Bengali youngster calculated the ratio of ‘Bengalis killed during the war of 1971’ and the ‘population of East Pakistan’. His findings concluded that if 3 million Begalis had been killed during the war then one Bengali from each home in East Pakistan must have been killed. However, the youngster himself confessed that no one from his family or village even was killed during the war of 1971. As for Bagladesh, Goindi suggested that a demand for trial should be made by the government of Bangladesh only after discovering the truth.

Elaborating the relevance of Bangladesh with the turmoil in FATA and Balochistan, Goindi amazed the students by revealing a discussion with his Balochi friend. According to the Balochi native, Goindi stated, Arab ships land on the strips of Balochistan without any official license or permission in order to support the transportation of ‘narcotics’. “If we could have questioned the past and explored the truth then Pakistan could have prevented the political debates in Balochistan and FATA”, said Goindi.

“Injustice in the society and the propagation of ideological taboos had done most of the damage to the country. Instead of using diversity as a strength in an inherent federation like Pakistan, the political elite of Pakistan has always exploited ‘diversity’ to create disharmony and dissent among provinces”, Goindi stated.

He wrapped up his speech by emphasising on the need to learn from the past, creating a just society and advocating “authentic truth”. The persuasive speaker emphatically labelled ‘vast knowledge of the political history’ as a prerequisite for achieving excellence in the field of journalism. Goindi identified, ‘injustice’, ‘poverty’ and ‘ blunders of the past’ the real enemies of Pakistan against which the nation should unite.

Deviating to some extent from the views of Farrukh Sohail Goindi, Major Aftab Ahmed Khan (fought the 1971 Indo-Pak war triggered by a civil war in the then East Pakistan) shared his perspective on the creation of Bangladesh by explaining the military dimension. Before plunging into the topic, he connected the events of 1971 with the sacrilegious month of Muharram ul Harram. “The war of 1971 was not less than the battle between the army of Hazrat Hussain (A.S) and the army of Yazeed,” the Major said. According to him, the bureaucracy had laid the foundation for widening the gap between the Eastern and Wetsern half of the country by functioning like a colonial authority. In addition to this, the army had always treated Bengalis as second class citizens. Major Aftab considered the army action of March 25, 1971 baseless and illogical. He opined that the decision of the electorate in 1970 should have been respected by the army, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) under the leadership of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the rightist Jammat-e-Islami. He expressed his views about Shiekh Mujeeb ur Rehman, recalling him as a patriot who always resisted any move towards independence. It was only under increased public pressure and the pre emptive attack of March 25, 1971 by Yahya Khan‘s army that Mujeeb had to retaliate, according to Major Aftab.

While pointing out the common charatceristic of Mukti Bahini and Yahya Khan’s army, the Major tagged both of them as ‘mutinous forces’, which allowed India to intervene in the bout. “When co-religionists belonging to the same nation fight against each other than foreign elements get a chance to take advantage of the situation,” remarked Aftab. For him, the most ‘shameful’ part of the tragedy was that the army of West Pakistan had to surrender in front of General Aurora (commander of Indian army) instead of Mukit Bahini’s commander Colonel Usmani (who was senior than General Aurora and demanded that the army of West Pakistan should surrender in front of Mukti Bahini). Aftab declared that he was a patriot soldier who support the army as the saviour of the people and opposes the political involvement of Generals.

“I can claim that my love for army cannot be measured or compared and the separation of East Pakistan is the bleakest moment of my life, worse than the death of my son,” said the emotionally charged Major. Major Aftab was a part of the army that surrendered on December 16, 1971, but he won the hearts through his words, the students of ICS gave a standing ovation to him after his speech.

Despite being the last speaker, Altaf Hassan Qureshi (founder of Digest Journalism in Pakistan) gave an interesting presidential note. “I am,perhaps, the only journalist in West Pakistan who went to East Pakistan during 1971 and reported events as they were not as they I liked them to be,” said the veteran Digest Journalist. He called 20th century an epoch of both , an extreme glory (creation of Pakistan) and extreme misfortune (creation of Bangladesh) for the Muslims who strived for their ideological and political rights.

Altaf recalled an interview with Shiekh Mujeeb ur Rehman (1969), during which the Sheikh reiterated his reluctance to seek independence. However, Altaf as an interviewer requested him to cease the negative role of the press that was fomenting hatred among the local populations of Eastern and Western wings. Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman was a fascist politician, according to Altaf, who garnered support through force in the elections of 1970. In his opinion, the delay in the process of constitution making, the abrogation of the constitution by military dictators and the economic disparity during General Ayub’s regime contributed towards the separation of Bangladesh. The solution, as presented by Altaf, lied in maintaining the sanctity of the constitution by following it in letter and spirit. Besides that, he believed in the cultivation of a mature political process by allowing the growth of political parties. “Nations do not unite through army or bureaucracy, political forces alone can integrate the nation if they work in a disciplined manner and according to the aspirations of the people,” said Altaf. He accepted that democratic trends are not engendered in political parties of Pakistan, therefore, such trends should be developed. Altaf opposed the way army had always lashed out at politicians to justify its rule. He requested the students to learn and broaden their vision regarding the events of 1971.

The seminar was concluded by the Director of ICS, Prof Dr Ahsan Akhtar Naz, who expressed his gratitude towards the speakers. This seminar was the most prolonged one at the ICS during the past two years.

seminar ics-east pak

English: Pakistan before the Bangladesh War in...

English: Pakistan before the Bangladesh War in 1971. Then East Pakistan became what is now known as Bangladesh and West Pakistan became Pakistan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Reporting at the Institute


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The Perceived ‘Bengali Genocide of 1971’ Compared to the Real ‘Genocide of Rohingya in 2012’

Before I plunge into this ‘seemingly’ irrelevant contrast. I would like to state that there is no justification for the way Bengalis were alienated due to the disparities in the economic structure and political participation of the Eastern and Western half of Pakistan before 1970. There were various factors for this abrupt division, starting from geography and ending at the notorious, concealed media propaganda. Political immaturity of the politicians and ruling Generals tore away the Bengali bud from Pakistan. Disputes of this nature are often a blessing in disguise for the neighbouring rivals. The Indian involvement and intervention was the immediate cause for the creation of Bangladesh, therefore it cannot be ignored. The one who instigates the perpetrator is equally responsible. This is the reason that young trainees of Al Qaeda are not blamed entirely for their transgressions, the organization that instructs them shares the blame with them.

In a recent, but redundant demand by the Bengali foreign ministry that seeks an apology from Pakistan over the ‘perceived Bengali genocide’ in 1971, Bangladesh needs to adopt a rational approach. An apology for the ‘Operation Searchlight‘ conducted by Yahya Khan to track down the conspirators hatched with the help of India’s RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) first requires an apology from those responsible for creating ‘Mukti Bahini’. Those behind ‘Agartala Conspiracy’ should also share the shame for this disaster.

Why a ‘Perceived Bengali Genocide’?

I used the word ‘perceived’ because the Indian propaganda aimed at creating a negative international public opinion about West Pakistan had played a pivotal role. The Bengalis were seen as victims and the Western wing as a brutal butcher. Closely look at the picture above. ‘Operation Search Light’ was turned into a war being aided by the Indian military. The number of deaths were misreported and the situation was amplified by the Indian government to muster the support of other states. A tactical manipulation gave the impression that ‘Muslims are killing Muslims’.

Genocide of the Rohingya

Approximately 800,000 Rohingya Muslims live in Myanmar, forming 4% of the Burma’s total population. Apart from these official estimates, the Muslim population in Myanmar is double according to neutral sources. These Muslims are commonly known as Rohingya Muslims and have never been given the legitimate citizenship of Myanmar despite living there from the 8th century.They are subject to racial discrimination as “Bengalis”, and, under a 1982 law, are denied citizenship.The discriminatory prosecution against them accelerated since 9/11, but it has surpassed all the previous brutality since June 2012. They are being slaughtered mercilessly and images on social media shook the world to view the plight of these innocent victims.As a result, some of them took refuge in Bangladesh. However, the Bangladeshi government seems to be apathetic about the Rohingya Muslims.

Open this link to watch a video by Al Jazeera

The Bangladeshi apathetic attitude towards Rohingya Muslims should make the Bengali foreign ministry think that who will feel sorry for these stateless and innocent victims who are lying at the border of Bangladesh?

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Posted by on November 16, 2012 in International Affairs


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