Pakistanis refuse to see Bangladesh eye-to-eye. They hide themselves behind a very shoddy narrative of the happenings of 1971 that only describes it as a conspiracy. It might well have been one. But who plotted against whom and when? What were the Bengalis up to? How did they reach the breaking point?

This article is Part 3 of a four-part series that attempts to see the happenings of 1971 in Pakistan from the point of view of the development of democracy in this country. See Part 1 and Part 2.


And elect they did. Not one, not two but a whole house full of elected traitors!

Pakistan started counting traitors before actually it became a nation. There hardly had been a time since its birth that it did not find itself on a cross road, crying foul at the top of its voice. Those in power had very strong ideas about what kind of state and government they wanted and demanded the electoral democracy only to legitimise their plans. The poor democracy, however, lacked the capacity to oblige, despite all the sincere efforts made by its administrators. They wanted it to come back again and again to square-one while the democracy would insist on producing more numbers than required. It can't be by coincidence that all of Pakistan's traitor-designates or traitor-suspects were voted feverishly by the people.

Let me illustrate my point with an example. Prime Minister Liaqat Ali Khan moved the Objective Resolution in the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on 7 March 1949. The Assembly gathered in Karachi for its fifth session in its 20-months life. It was the first day of the proceedings starting at 4 o'clock in the afternoon when the Prime Minister moved the resolution and made a lengthy speech. Immediately afterwards opposition leaders, Hindus from East Bengal, rose and raised many objections apprehending that the Prime Minister wanted to bulldoze through the Resolution.

Quoting from the debate (official document):

Mr Sris Chandra Chattopadhyaya: ... We need time to study it, in consultation with our friends in East Bengal and for the sake of clarification. In fact when we left East Bengal this time we had no idea that such a Resolution was to be brought forward. There was no indication of it in the Agenda papers circulated. The budgetary session is almost at an end. The attendance in the House is very thin. Many members of my province - East Bengal - the Prime Minister (of Bengal) who might very well give us advice and guidance have left already. I presume they had no idea about it. There are some Members who did not attend the session at all. Surely they would have attended this meeting to take part in the discussion of such a Resolution if proper notice was given to them. Practically no notice was given to them. I, therefore, venture to suggest that the consideration of an important matter like this should be postponed and the Resolution be circulated for eliciting public opinion, till the next session or a special session may be convened for this purpose ...

The Honourable Mr Liaqat Ali Khan: Sir, I am afraid there is a lot of contradiction in the arguments that have been advanced by the Honourable Members who have moved the motion for circulation of this Resolution. One of the chief arguments that has been advanced is that the House is very thin as most of the members have left and are not here and that they have not had enough time. As far as the Members of my Honourable friend's party are concerned, every single of them is present in the House except one, who unfortunately is not well but is present in Karachi. So far as absence of Members is concerned I do not think that this is really very valid ground.

Mr Sris Chandra Chattopadhyaya: There is no party of mine. I will deal with every one.

The Honourable Mr Liaqat Ali Khan: When I said 'party' I meant the non-Muslim Members of the House, because after all if anything can be said about this Resolution, if any objection can be raised, it can only be from the non-Muslim Members of this House, and I said just now, every one of them is present here ...

So the Prime Minister did not consider it important for the Muslim members to be present in the Assembly at the time when he tabled the most important constitutional instrument of our history. In fact, he did not want them to forward any arguments, or, God forbid, make any objection. They were expected to nod their heads like brides do, from underneath the pile of exotic fabric that is piled up on them, when approached by the nikah khwan. No good Muslim should even think about opposing anything (including rule) being done in the name of Islam.

But the good Muslims were in short supply in East Bengal as they kept demanding their rights. They wanted a constitution drafted by an assembly that is elected directly by the people. They wanted Pakistan to be a federation that treats all of its units with equality and justice. They wanted maximum provincial autonomy and effective safeguards against economic exploitation. They demanded respect for their language and culture. All of this was not acceptable to, what we have known as, our establishment but the problem was that whenever democracy was allowed to prevail, people enthusiastically supported all of the Bengali demands.  So, for around a quarter of century they tried to remodel democracy to suit them.

Nothing worked. By 1969, the civil-military establishment came to this depressing conclusion that they have to except at least some of the Bengali demands. So general elections were announced, the principle of one person one vote was accepted and people were to directly elect a Constituent Assembly (as opposed to the indirect elections introduced by General Ayub). East Bengal was given representation in the assembly proportionate to its population. So it had 162 of the 300 general seats and seven of 13 reserved for women. Polling was held in December 1970 and following were the results:

3b Bengal votes
Awami League led by Sheikh Mujibur Rehman swept all the East Bengal seats except two. It definitely was the strongest possible verdict. It gave the Awami League agenda legitimacy of the highest order. Its leaders stood victorious and vindicated. They had passed the toughest of the tests with flying colors.

The elected Assembly was supposed to draft a constitution for the country within 120 days of its first meeting. General Yahya announced to hold the first meeting of the Assembly on 3rd of March, 1971 and Awami League's parliamentary committee announced the salient features of the constitution on 27 February. Since the party had simple majority in the House, there was no way it could be stopped from adopting the basic principles in its inaugural meeting. This would have effectively ended the rule of the Pakistani establishment over at least East Bengal, if not the entire country. Yahya postponed the inaugural session and engaged in talks with Mujib and Bhutto that remained fruitless. The General soon admitted his defeat on the democratic front and challenged Bengalis on the other. The Pakistan army declared war on one of its wings in the night of March 25.

They left behind innumerable pieces of evidences of their hatred for free-thinking people who were fearless while giving verdicts as well. Bengalis swear that these are in millions. I will share only one with you here.

Within days the military campaign changed into a full-scale civil war as Bengalis were ready for the worst. The assembly elected in December 1970 did not meet. Pakistan banned the Awami League and disqualified 76 of its 160 elected members for being traitors. So, the Awami League was cut down to size with its strength reduced from the commanding 167 to just 84 in the House of 313. That was at par with PPP, which had 81 in Punjab and Sindh. A divided and hung parliament is always in 'the best national interest'.

The General was however living in a fool's paradise. He amended his LFO in September 1971 to facilitate the Election Commission to organise by-elections on these 'vacated seats' of East Bengal. By that time, it was simply out of question for the government of Pakistan to perform in Bengal. Religious parties saw an opportunity in this absurd and bleak situation. Six of them, led by Jamaat Islami, met and decided to field joint candidates on these seats knowing that their nominees will return uncontested as no one else considered the exercise legitimate. So on 11 November, the EC found only one candidate each on 63 of these seats. All of them thus, were returned uncontested. Following was the party position on these seats:

Jamaat Islami 15 Pakistan Democratic Party 12 Pakistan Muslim League - Council 7 Nizam-e-Islam 6 Pakistan Muslim League - Convention 6 Pakistan Muslim League - Qayyum 5 Pakistan People's Party 5

PPP initially flayed the by-elections but latter found the loot sale too tempting and joined the fray. Sixty three seats were decided and the EC announced to hold polls on the rest of the 15 from December 7 to 20, 1971. Curtains fell on this theater of the absurd on 3 December as war broke out on the western front as well and the EC announced postponement of by-elections. ZA Bhutto became the President and the Chief Martial Law Administrator on 20 December, four days after the Pakistan Army surrendered in Dacca. Bhutto nullified the by-elections on 23 December depriving Jamaat Islami of its biggest ever electoral triumph.


The writer works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Updated Dec 17, 2012 11:20am

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Comments (41) (Closed)

Gerry D'Cunha
Dec 17, 2012 01:42pm
you people would be in a worse position today,had you been part of pakistan - see the present position in pakistan today
Foreign Leg
Dec 18, 2012 09:57am
saad rehman: Bangladesh is a secular parliamentary republic.
Nabarun Dey
Dec 17, 2012 04:19pm
India or Indira Gandhi acted as a mid-wife during the birth of a new nation not because of animosity towards Pakistan but because she wanted to help hapless infirm Bengalis and save them from the intimidating Khans, Punjabis and the Pathans. But for Indira then, Pakistan would have had its way. Right thinking Bangladeshis still acknowledge that. Sulking Pakistan could never have appreciated that.
Syed Ahmed
Dec 18, 2012 12:23am
Elections 70, led to a situation where Bhutto would have to give up power and allow Sheikh Mujib to become the Prime Minister of Pakistan, but that was not acceptable to Bhutto. His feudal'istic gestures and fiery speeches were not mere rhetoric, but the actions of a desperate man vying for power at any cost, whether in a united or divided Pakistan. First he raised the most ludicrous demand that he be made an equal shareholder in power. This was totally unconstitutional and undemocratic. When Sheikh Mujibur Rahman obviously rejected this silly demand, Mr. Bhutto responded: udhar tum, idhar hum - you there (in East Pakistan), we here (in West Pakistan). In a public meeting held in Lahore on 28th February 1971, Mr. Bhutto had hurled a threat to the applause of the predominantly Punjabi audience that he would break the legs of any MNA from West Pakistan who dared to attend the Dhaka session of the Assembly and would not let such MNAs return to West Pakistan. These words were loaded with sinister meaning as future events were to expose.
Dec 18, 2012 07:40am
@Nayeem ‘orittro’ Rahman There is a recent book on this subject by a Bangladeshi writer Golam Murshid. The title of the book is, ‘Muktiyuddho Tarpar: Ekti Nirdaliyo Itihas’ published by Prathama Prakashan, Dhacca. Its an extremely well researched book.
Nayeem 'orittro' Rahman
Dec 18, 2012 07:30pm
thanks, i'll check it out.
Dec 17, 2012 03:20pm
Perhaps this was just a reaction to the ridiculous Pakistani notion that religion triumphs everything else - culture, language, ethnicity, history, even common human decency.
Dec 17, 2012 03:09pm
A good writeup, enough data for one to chew on, enough details to get a good understanding of the context. Isn't is funny that Morsi in Egypt did exactly what Liaqat Ali, illegally push through his Islamic agenda? Looks like all muslim right-wing have the same agenda - circumvent the rules to gain power. Muslim kingdoms have never had a clear succession rule, and battles for power and everything illegal is common. This trend continues even in pseudo-democratic setups today.
Dec 17, 2012 05:21pm
From this article it may be concluded that constitution of Pakistan was never formally made. Am I right ?
Dec 17, 2012 03:08pm
May be they were right looking at the distances and realising the time it will take for the people sitting in GHQ in West Pakistan to understand and react to the situation on ground. But the proposal could have been discussed in the House. How fair it was, Not permitting the house to meet. And why was a majority party leader being denied the post of prime minister.
Dec 17, 2012 02:27pm
That's because they have lost confidence that the administration in West Pakistan will rule with an even hand.
Dr. Baig
Dec 18, 2012 09:23pm
Did born? Strange English! Reading the style of your text you sound like an Indian faking a Bangladeshi. Even now the majority of Bengalis are religious, my best friend is a Bengali he is patriotic for Bangladesh yet recognises our shared past and can see the manipulation of India. Certainly even now there is a soul in all Bengalis regrets the 71 war.
Dec 17, 2012 02:55pm
Dear Writer, I have read many Indian and Pakistani view points from 1971 onward. Sir I sincerely complement you for writing this series of four articles where in a very clear, concise and to the point manner you have narrated the truth and nothing but the historical truth. May be India took advantage but the doing was entirely of leaders of Pakistan. No one has learnt any thing even today your saying "Those in power had very strong ideas about what kind of state and government they wanted and demanded the electoral democracy only to legitimise their plans." Is true even today. And this rigid approach to achieve what they want at any cost is costing Pakistan a total loss of face all over the world.
Nayeem 'orittro' Rahman
Dec 18, 2012 09:44am
read again, I said 'in pursuit' of a secular country. Btw, Bangladesh did born as secular country then one military dictator included Islam as the 'state religion', and the next one put 'Bismillah..' on the the top'. Guess what people who considers a tragedy are mainstream, infact we the Bengali's are secular by tradition. Anyway the current Awami league government among many miss-deeds did one thing right: Removed 'Bismillah', and I say masshallah!!! The day is not far when we will remove the sate religion as well.
Dec 17, 2012 11:06pm
Spot on! The question is what was in the minds of then Pakistani leaders? Use East Bengal as some kind little brother with no say in anything? West knows better? What a short sighted union would be in the making?
ahmed ali
Dec 18, 2012 10:56am
yes..same agenda will be followed in pakistan if Jamat-e- islami comes in power
Dec 18, 2012 07:26pm
Moral of the story is no lesson learned by Pakistan including Army yet and repeating the same mistake in Baluchistan. Don't go on conspiracy theory. Nobody believes and nobody cares about your virson of 1971 war results.
Dec 20, 2012 06:58am
Tahir Saheb, Excellent piece. Keep writing.
saad rehman
Dec 18, 2012 01:53am
Bengladesh isn't a secular country.
Nayeem 'orittro' Rahman
Dec 17, 2012 01:05pm
Couldn't resist of commenting here. I am a Bangladeshi youth while searching for some literature on 16th December I stumbled upon this article. Interesting perspective this article gives ofcourse. But let me state the 'Arch-typical' view of the Bangladeshi middle-class youth: 'We are so damm happy we got out of Pakistan', yes, we have our problems apparently a lots of them, but in pursuit of a secular democracy, we couldn't more happier to be in Bangladesh. Pakistan to us is a shady past, a very distant point in memory.
Dr. Baig
Dec 17, 2012 10:24pm
Good riddance to your kind, the constantly moaning and self deprecating mass of - I know it all ! With statistics and ill gotten propaganda, thanks but no thanks. Bangladesh sits at the mercy of India, the day they decide to swallow you up, they won't even break a sweat.
Dec 17, 2012 07:27pm
I met lot of Bangladeshi's in UK and found out that they are good people living in close proximity with each other. However, also found out that they are more closer to Indians then Pakistanis could be due to being next door neighbors having more impact of big brother, or due to being helpful in getting cessation from Pakistan or could be due to past bad history.. To me it was their right of choice to live with Pakistan or become an independent country East Pakistan instead of Bangladesh as It were Bengali's of East Pakistan who struggled and were involved in the creation of Paksitan as compared West Pakistani's.
Dec 17, 2012 09:14pm
Has it occured to you that if East Pakistan had its own army, the (West) Pakistani army would not have been able to rape and murder Bengalis by the million? Secondly, if the money is being collected from your area, why should you not get a share of it? Ever heard of state tax or county tax? - A Pakistani
Dec 18, 2012 11:30am
True, in that sense no Muslim majority country is secular. Infact India also is not a purely secular country.
ali ahmed
Dec 17, 2012 05:45pm
History repeat itself,method & actors changes---to rob the mandate of Bengal 76 members were disqualified and to rob the mandate of native Karachi order for new delimitation has been ordered...
Dec 17, 2012 05:47pm
I think writer has overlooked so many important details. This issue needs to be analyses both at policy and micro level. Few important questions need to be answered as 1. What was the percentage of employment of East Pakistanis in federal government in 1947, 1957, 1967 and 1971. 2. Agartala case and role of Sheikh Mujib. What Bengalis say now in 2012 about his role. 3. When killings started before Army action, who were the victims and who perpetrators of terror. 4. Why army action was conducted. 5. When Bangladeshi flag was unveiled. 6. Role of India and USSR. When India and Israel recognized Bangladesh. 7. In 1970 election, percentage of East Pakistani that voted in election. Our analyst and philosophers mostly drowned in foreign ideology intentionally overlook so many details to present Pakistan as a failed state. This episode is their favourate subject, intentionally used to question making of Pakistan. 1971 is an unfortunate part of our history. It need proper and objective research without any prejudice. I will request all educated Pakistanis to read and research with a view to know what happened, why happened, our mistakes, role of foreigners and secessionist, and lessons learnt.
Ganesh Saha
Dec 17, 2012 08:37pm
I was 11 years old during that time. Pakistani military junta instead of allowing Awami League to form a secular Government in Rawalpindi resorted to brutal massacre of innocent Bengalis in name of saving Islam and Pakistan. I personally lost 3 of my immediate family members who were gunned down in front of me. That brutal and horrific scene is still vivid in my memory and continues to haunt me everyday. Had Bangladesh not gained liberation on December 16, 1971 , the military establishment of Pakistan would have made us third class citizen of their Pure Land. Long Live Bangladesh.
Ajaya K Dutt
Dec 18, 2012 04:05am
Excellent, thorough and objective analysis.
Dec 18, 2012 04:27am
Bengalis were and are our brothers. Awami Leauge won majority and should have had the right to form the Goverment - no if's and but's. Politicians want power and they will do anything to acheive that come what may - to hell with the country and its people.
Dec 18, 2012 06:11am
As long as there is at least one medium left for free expression of facts, like internet-the most powerful one, there is hope that Pakistan will change someday for good.Fingers crossed. Peace be upon those who love peace.
Dec 17, 2012 09:07pm
Please read the news papers of those days. There are not many people left that can remember the situation leading to 1971. Remember explosions and explosions every day, all day in East Pakistan. The same was tried in 1972 and later and NWFP. Hardly a day will pass when there was no bomb explosion.
Sahil Javed
Dec 17, 2012 07:01pm
Well, in all honesty. Bangladesh should have come to birth on 14th August 1947. It is mind boggling to understand that a wing of Pakistan was 1000 miles apart separated by its arch rival and with so much differences in culture. Reglion typically doesn't tie nations. Sooner or later it was going seprated but unfortunately it happened in a tragic way.
Dec 18, 2012 04:45am
Every Pakistani should read this article series to know the exact things happened in past. Its completely different what is written in the text books. Why pakistan is so afraid of telling the actual history.
Nayeem 'orittro' Rahman
Dec 18, 2012 10:30am
well Sir, in that case it's a win-win situation for both.
Dec 19, 2012 02:42pm
Muslims do not like to look at their history for the fear that they will learn the painful facts.
Dec 17, 2012 09:56pm
"awami league also demanded that each state have its own army" Can someone comment on this? I am just curious as this is the first time I am hearing this piece
anwar kamal
Dec 18, 2012 02:33pm
Awami League want each state should have para military force .
saad rehman
Dec 17, 2012 11:53am
the writer has failed to report that awami league also demanded that each state have its own army and right over how its taxes are used thus in affect making Pakistan into a late Holy roman empire sort of a country .
Dec 17, 2012 01:36pm
For some reason creators of Pakistan which were not the people always had some grand agenda of prism in which they saw Pakistani people. They wanted people to be religious but still they themselves didn't want to wear a beard. Isn't that the contradiction. This has confused there people as well as themselves and we find Pakistan in a state that it is now.
Ganesh (India)
Dec 25, 2012 02:34am
Pakistan's future looks "Very Safe"
Dec 25, 2012 01:22pm
We always play the blame game. It is time to change and validate our pit falls rather than to blame others