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Political process may have saved from surrender in Indo- Pak war of 1971

By Dr. Anjum Sarfraz

After independence on 14 August 1947, the objective resolution was passed on 12 March 1949 which provided guide lines for framing the constitution. Important clause was “Pakistan shall be federation, principles of democracy, freedom, equality, tolerance and social justice as enunciated in Islam shall be fully observed. It took nine years to frame constitution, major hurdle was the politicians from West Pakistan (W Pak) wanted parity between the two provinces although population of former East Pakistan (E Pak) was about 55 percent. Finally, Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy from E Pak, in 1955, after elections agreed to three points, one unit, parity between two wings and Joint electorate. The constitution of 1956 was effective from 23 March.

National Assembly had total 300 seats, equally divided in two wings. It was abrogated in October 1958 when Martial was imposed by Gen Ayub Khan. This was a setback to E Pak. New constitution by Ayub was promulgated on 8 June 1962 which was presidential form of government, president head of state, as well as government. Unicameral, national assembly of 150, equal members from each province. Most powers with center. Became a unitary form of government. Ayub Khan after signing of Shimla Agreement followed by political agitations instead of handing over powers to speaker national assembly Abdul Jabbar khan, from E Pak, as per constitution invited Gen Yayah khan to impose Martial law on 25 March 1969. This also became big irritant for E Pak. According to Dr Hassan Askari Rizvi book, Military and Politics in Pakistan, Gen Yayah Khan announced to hold free and fair elections on the basis of one man one vote and permitted political activities with effect from first January 1970 while martial law remained enforced. He also abolished one unit and West Pakistan was reconstituted into four provinces Punjab, Sindh, NWFP and Balochistan. Reallocation of national assembly seats were, E Pak 162, Punjab 82, Sindh 27, NWFP 18, Balochistan 4 and Tribal Areas 7.

Elections to be held under Legal Frame Order(LFO). National assembly to frame constitution in 120 days of its first meeting. The Constitution bill passed by the Assembly to be authenticated by President before promulgation. It did not clarify the important condition for the Bill to be approved by two third majority. Moreover, time limit for assembly to meet and place was not mentioned. The imposition of conditions was generally not appreciated by politicians especially from E Pak. National and provincial assemblies’ elections were held on 7 and 17 Dec respectively. Two major parties emerged were Awami League 160 seats from E Pak and nil from W Pak, PPP 81 from W Pak and zero from E Pak, independents one from E Pak and 15 from W Pak.

Other prominent parties were Qayyum League 9, Council Muslim league, JUI (Hazarvi) and NAP (Wali) 7 each. Awami league under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman had contest elections under six points which were part of their manifesto since 1967. These were almost for confederation but LFO clearly said federation to be maintained. It is pertinent to mention that as per Gen Matinuddin book Tragedy of Errors, GD ISI forecast was that none of party will get simple majority and it will be a collation government. This un expected result and politically volatile situation demanded an experienced, visionary, self-sacrificing, ruler with sharp political acumen.

Gen Yayah dismissed his nominated civilian cabinet on 17 Feb71, opportunities to get political advice from the politicians who maintain liaison at the grass root level diminished. Infect he should have selected sharp, unbiased, and loyal politicians from both wings who had not participated in the elections. The decision making was mainly by president advised by an inner circle of senior army officers. The president visited Dhaka on13 Jan, had detailed meeting with Sheikh Mujib and other Awami league(AL) leaders. He conceded the technical ability of the AL to go alone. However, he did express a desire for the AL to include W Pak politicians in the future government.

On the way back Gen Yayah went to Larkana at the invitation Bhutto instead of calling him to Rawalpindi. According to Gen Pirzada, PSO to Gen Yayah, the president told Bhutto to sort it out with Mujib or sit in the opposition. However, visit to Larkana created doubts in the AL and other politicians. Some politicians even believed that it was sell out to Bhutto. The president announced on 13 Feb for the national assembly members to assemble in Dhaka on 3 March 71(after 87 days of election). It was very late which gave time to politicians to manipulate and take advantage from the prevalent political environments. Bhutto declared, he would break the legs of any of his party member who dared to attend the national assembly session and those who went without his consent would not be allowed to return. Publically Sheikh Mujib was not showing flexibility about his six points.

Military hierarchy in W Pak was generally not in favor of handing power to AL. Gen Yayah called a meeting of senior officials in Rawalpindi on 22 Feb which was attended by Governor of E Pak Vice Admiral Ahsan (retd), Commander Eastern Command Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub, Maj Gen Rao Farman Ali, military adviser to governor E Pak, PSOs and DG ISI. He gave decision to knock sense in Mujib and postpone the assembly meeting till AL is crushed. Sahibzada Yaqub, Ahsan and Rao Farman Ali did not agree with the decision. On 25 Feb Mujib invited Yayah to visit E Pak and gave a hint to modify his six points but visit did not materialize. It created more doubts in AL leadership. On 1 March governor E Pak and Sahibzada Yaqub were told by PSO to president to convey to Mujib the postponement of national assembly session scheduled on 3 Mar for indefinite period. Mujib was upset at the same time requested for the next date as he would not be able to control the situation.

Now there will be pressing demand from my people for a Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). He further said, the parleys at Larkana have tilted the balance in Bhutto’s favor. Governor immediately sent telex to CMLA headquarters stating “I beg you to announce a fresh date tonight, tomorrow will be too late”. The plea went unnoticed, mid night 1/2 Mar announcement was made without giving fresh date. This became a turning point. The governor resigned and Sahibzada took over as governor. Sahibzada on 3 March when the situation started deteriorating invited Gen Yayah to come to E Pak for a political solution. His request was declined. Sahibzada sent a signal of resignation which is” the situation in E Pak has reached a point which will not admit a military solution. I had urged you to come to seek a political solution. I did not succeed. There is no military solution to the problem. A military solution would lead to large scale killings of the innocent civilians. It would not help in achieving the aim. I cannot accept a mission which would prove disastrous. I, therefore hereby offer my resignation.” (Tragedy of Errors p 160-185)

Gen Tikka Khan was immediately ordered to proceed to E Pak to take over from Sahibzada Yaqub. From 2 Mar killing, burning, looting, ambushing, brick batting and molestation of non-Bengalis was at the peak. A large number of Bihari, and W Pakistanis were killed by AL militants. Shops were gutted, their houses looted, women raped and bodies mutilated. Mujib addressed a large gathering in Platen Maidan on 7 Mar and denounced the military leadership for favoring a minority party and not handing over power. He gave additional four points which included immediately lifting of martial law, transfer of powers to majority party, army to return to barracks, judicial inquiry for killing of some innocent people on the night 1 / 2 March. He ended speech by saying “our struggle is for freedom”. He did not use the word independence nor in clear words he demanded an independent state of Bangladesh. On 14 Mar, Bhutto made a public statement, “power should be transferred to both the majority parties.” It may be indication of accepting the confederation.

Gen Yayah went to E Pak on 15 Mar and stayed till 25. Hectic discussions took place on the constitutional frame work between AL and the experts of the president. Later Bhutto and other leaders from W Pak also joined. No agreement emerged because AL strict to confederation which was not acceptable to the president. The 25 Mar date of national assembly meeting was postponed. According to book Pakistan’s Crisis in Leadership by Gen Fazal Muqeem p52, Gen Yayah called Gen Tikka and Rao Farman Ali and asked them to finalize ops order for “Operation Search Light”. Killing of a few thousands would not be too high a price for keeping the country together. Show them the teeth and they will be quiet. The main objective of operation was to create conditions for selecting a civilian set up. The military crackdown began mid night 25/ 26 March. Upon reaching Karachi the president made announcement of banning all political activities, imposing complete censorship and denouncing Mujib’s actions as an act of treason. Mujib was arrested the same night. On 26 Mar Major Zia ur Rehman announced on radio, East Pakistan as People’s Republic of Bangladesh. This day is now celebrated as a National Day in Bangladesh.

Major task was to dis arm 6 battalions of East Bengal regiments (EBR) and personnel of East Pakistan Rifles(EPR) about 16000 and Raza Kars 45,000. There were Mukti Bahini (freedom fighters) well trained for insurgency operations in addition. By 31 of May writ of the government has been restored. However, some personnel of EBR and EPR crossed the borders to India with weapons intact and joined Mukti Bahini. Casualties were enormous on both side during the civil war. Mujib claimed 3 million, Indians 1 million, and Tikka khan 34,000. According to Indians about 10 million crossed the borders to India as refugees. Military action was strongly denounced by the world especially India. In June Lt Gen Amir Abdullah khan Niazi arrived E Pak as Commander Eastern Command.

This situation provided a golden opportunity to Indira Gandhi to dismember Pakistan. She called her COAS Gen Manekshwa in April and asked him to be ready for attack. Keeping in view, rivers & hills, marshy land, a difficult terrain in E Pak, and time required for deployment of troops, his cautious reply was “if you want me to go for war now, I guarantee you 100 percent defeat, but if you give me some time I can guarantee you 100 percent success. It is obvious that India had decided to go to war in April and preparations / planning started thereafter. Our Intelligence set up should have kept the government abreast to the development and counter plans made accordingly in both wings of Pakistan. According to Abdul Sattar book, Pakistan’s Foreign Policy p129, the announcing of Henry Kissinger’s visit to Beijing on 9-11 July 1971 and invitation to visit China by Nixon stunned the world. Moscow’s reaction was angry and quick. USSR signed the treaty of Peace, Friendship and cooperation on 9 August 71 with India. Its article IX committed the two countries to mutual consultation in the event of an attack or threat of attack, in order to remove such threat and take appropriate effective measures to ensure their peace and security.

Infect USSR provided an umbrella to India against intervention by China. Indira Gandhi before starting war visited almost all the important countries of the world including USA. Pakistan protested on 21 Nov that India without a declaration of war has launched an all-out offensive in E Pak. There was vast difference in relative strength. India deployed 8 Infantry divisions,1 para brigade, 32 para military battalions and support of 100,000 Mukti Bahini. Pakistan Army was comprised of 3 Infantry divisions, I3 para military battalions. Indian Navy had deployed an aircraft carrier and 8 Destroyers / frigates and Pakistan Navy had gun boats and improvised crafts with guns for inland operations. IAF had 11 air squadrons and PAF only one. The outcome of war in this theater was obvious. It was the time factor. As a plan for counter offensive in the West, PAF carried out pre – emptive strikes on several Indian air bases along the western coast on 3 Dec.

The reasons of 11 days’ delay have a question mark. If we had started earlier the chances of UN Security Council resolution for cease fire would have been better, which would have avoided humiliating surrender. Now it was an all-out war on both fronts. After the news of Indians troops having crossed the borders of E Pak, friendly countries advised Agha Shahi permanent rep in UN to take up the Indian aggression to UN. The government advised not to go to security council unless directed. After our counter offensive on 3 Dec, USA moved a draft resolution for cease fire with certain conditions on 4 Dec which was not supported by USSR. Similarly, China moved draft resolution on 5 Dec which was also not supported. The Soviets on 6 Dec accepted a draft resolution (UN document S/ 10425) dated 5 Dec, sponsored by Belgium and 5 other countries calling upon the governments of India and Pakistan, as a first step for an immediate cease fire.

The government of Pakistan should simultaneously take effective action towards a political settlement in East Pakistan giving immediate recognition to the will of people of East Pakistan as expressed in the election of Dec 1970. Since it was supported by USSR it may have been considered by Pakistan. Bhutto as a foreign minister arrived USA on 10 Dec. The famous Poland resolution was moved on 14 Dec. It contained cease fire and transfer of forces to pre-set locations and transfer of power to elected representatives. The contents were approved by the government of Pakistan. (contents were similar to Soviet supported resolution of 5 Dec). However, Bhutto was not available on 14 Dec. When the Security Council met on 15 Dec, news had reached that surrender of the Pakistan armed forces was being arranged on 16 Dec. However, Bhutto made a fierce speech in Security Council which hardly had any effect on the war scenario. According to book on foreign policy by Abul Sattar p133, Indira Gandhi intensions to occupy more spaces of West Pakistan was stopped by USA. Message was conveyed to India through USSR that USA has defense pact with Pakistan. US had moved its fleet to Bay of Bengal in this time frame, but Soviet ensured that India will not occupy more spaces and will accept cease fire on western war theater. On the Western front, Pakistan lost 51,39 square miles.

On Eastern front surrender document was signed between Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, the GOC-in- C Indian Eastern Command and Lt Gen A.A.K Niazi, Commander Eastern Command at Ramna Race Course Dhaka at 1631 on 16 Dec 71. It was the biggest surrender after WW-II. About 93,000 soldiers and civilians were taken as prisoners of war. It is evident that military hierarchy of Pakistan made series of mistakes. Pakistan would have remained intact if initial LFO giving details of election had included that constitution bill should be passed by 2/3 majority. AL had to take elected members from W Pak to pass the bill. Date and place of meeting of elected assembly members within 45 days should have been given in LFO. Gen Yayah may have taken sincere, experienced and unbiased politicians in his cabinet from both wings who were not participating in election instead of completely banking on the advices senior army officers. Advice of the governor of E Pak, Vice Admiral Ahsan and Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub Commander Eastern Command not to postpone date of meeting of assembly on 3 Mar indefinitely should have been taken seriously.

Policy to linger on should have been avoided. During war, there were a lot of chances to accept UN Security Council resolutions of cease fire and handing over government to majority party. This would have certainly avoided humiliating surrender. There is a famous saying “if every political problem that is created in the world justifies the use of force then there is no end to war”. Lessons learnt are many but most important is the saying of George Clemenceau who led France in WW-II,” war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.”

Dr. Anjum Sarfraz is commodore(retd) from Pakistan Navy. Former director National Center for Maritime policy research, director Bahria Univ Islamabad Campus and Senior Research Fellow at SVI, Islamabad.

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