On March 26, 2,200 kilometers apart.will be celebrating the golden jubilee of its freedom. Few outside South Asia remember that was once part of . From 1947 to 1971, modern-day was West and was East . They were both incongruously part of the same new country even though they were more than
A Tortured Past
Soon after Pakistan’s creation in 1947, the east was subjected to discrimination and repression. East Pakistanis demanded the recognition of declared that “the state language of [was] going to be Urdu and no other language, and anyone who [tried] to mislead [them] was really the enemy of .”as an official language. Their western brethren rejected that demand. In March 1948, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of , visited the eastern part of the country for the first time and emphatically
Jinnah’s view that United Nations marks February 21, the day of the killings, as International Mother Language Day.would not remain unified without a single national language did not take into account East Pakistani aspirations. Protests broke out in , the capital of modern-day , and the situation remained volatile till 1952. That year, the constituent assembly declared Urdu to be Pakistan’s national language. This caused students in to protest and clash with security forces. Hundreds were injured and five died during the clashes. Today, the
Shahidul Alam: “I Will Remain a Thorn for the Oppressor”
For the next two decades, Westcontinued to oppress East . It became the dominant of the two halves of the country. Its military was dominated by Punjabis and Pashtuns. Its bureaucracy was staffed by muhajirs, the Urdu-speaking refugees who had fled west from . Bangladeshis found themselves increasingly marginalized in the power structures of the new state. Jinnah’s two-nation theory assumed all Muslims were equal in a new Islamic nation. Instead, in this new state, taller and fairer Muslims were more equal than shorter and darker Muslims.
West exploitation of East . Between 1947 and 1970, only 25% of industrial investment and 30% of imports went to East , which provided 59% of the exports. West gorged on the meat, leaving only bones for East . West Pakistanis did so because they saw their eastern brethren as culturally and ethnically inferior. East Pakistanis seethed but could do little against a state controlled by an ever more powerful military.continued the British policy of economic
On November 11, 1970, a major cyclone hit East . With winds over 240 kilometers per hour, it left 500,000 people dead and 2.5 million homeless. West responded slowly and poorly. As little relief trickled in, resentment grew. Things came to a head in the 1970 elections. Many parties divided the vote share in West . In contrast, the , led by East Pakistani leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won a resounding victory in the national election. He had campaigned on the plank of autonomy. This was unacceptable to General Yahya Khan, the president of , who instituted martial law. Protests erupted in East . Emulating Mahatma Gandhi, Rahman called for a civil disobedience movement on March 7, 1971.
Campaign of Terror
Khan and Rahman met from March 16 to 24 but failed to come to an agreement. On the night of March 25, Rahman was arrested and Khan launched BBC has called a “campaign of terror.” Members of the , members of the intelligentsia, the Hindu minority comprising 20% of the population in East and other perceived opponents of the West Pakistani regime were mercilessly killed.to restore the writ of the federal government. In reality, it was what the
Troops indulged in “kill and burn missions,” pogroms and mass rape. About 200,000 to 400,000 women and girls were raped. Anthony Mascarenhas, a courageous Pakistani reporter from a small community of Goan Christians in Karachi, broke the news to the world. On June 13, 1971, The Sunday Times published his story titled, “Genocide.” Mascarenhas was not far off the mark. This story captured global attention. George Harrison, the lead guitarist of the Beatles, along with Indian classical music maestro Ravi Shankar and other friends, organized a concert for at Madison Square Garden on August 1.
Not only journalists and artists but also intelligence officials and diplomats became increasingly disturbed about West Pakistani actions in East Blood Telegram,” the subject of a multiple award-winning book. He accused his superiors of failing to prevent genocide. In his view, US President Richard Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger supported a military regime in West that was crushing democracy and slaughtering innocent people. The two hated Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi whom they saw as a strong Soviet ally and who had termed West Pakistani brutality a “genocide” as early as March 31, 1971. Nixon and Kissinger labeled Blood “the maniac in ,” recalled him to Washington and continued to back its Cold War ally in complete disregard of its wanton use of violence.. Archer Blood, the US consul-general in , sent a telegram to Washington that has since come to be known as the “
West Pakistani brutality triggered “the largest single displacement of refugees in the second half of the 20th century.” An estimated 10 million East Pakistanis sought refuge in , forcing the country to intervene. Initially, backed Mukti Bahini, the Bangladeshi guerrilla resistance movement. Then, it prepared for war. When West Pakistani aerial strikes hit 11 air bases in on December 3, 1971, Indian troops invaded East . On December 16, fell and 93,000 West Pakistani troops surrendered. With the war over, was born.
Different Memories Drive Different Trajectories
The 1971 war has left different memories in the three countries of , and . In , the war itself is seen as one of liberation, though different parties spin the narrative to suit themselves. Rahman’s daughter, Sheikh Hasina, is prime minister, a position she has occupied since 2009. For , the war is often regarded as the nation’s finest moment. It liberated David from Goliath and won its greatest military victory. In , the war is airbrushed out of history, but its military elite has never forgotten its humiliating defeat. It embarked on using asymmetric warfare by using state-sponsored terrorism against its bigger neighbor, . has also sought to cultivate strategic depth by dominating Afghanistan to counter New Delhi.
In contrast to, retains a close bond with . Both countries share many commonalities. Both nations have settled their border disputes peacefully by signing the historic 2015 Land Boundary Agreement. transferred 111 enclaves comprising 17,160.63 acres to , while the latter transferred 51 enclaves comprising 7,110.02 acres to . Residents of these enclaves were offered citizenship of either country and, though it is early days yet, the agreement has held up remarkably well.
partner in South Asia. has given away millions of COVID-19 vaccines to for free. South and Southeast Asian nations, including , have also benefited from India’s generosity that has been termed “vaccine diplomacy” in many circles. This diplomacy has worked exceptionally well with . Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to be the guest of honor on March 26, Bangladesh’s national day. In his first overseas visit since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Modi will visit Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s memorial, two historic temples and sign a deal or two. It almost seems that this golden jubilee is rekindling an old love affair.is India’s biggest trading
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