This haunting tell-tale image is symbolic of the plight of those who had survived the trauma of the 1971 war, which had led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. She was captured through the lens of acclaimed Indian photographer Raghu Rai who had accompanied the Indian forces to Dhaka during the war.  Raghu Rai has gifted his photographs to Dawn for this Special Report.

Special report: The Breakup of Pakistan 1969-1971

It was Bhutto, again, who uttered words that led to one journalist coining the famed headline: ‘udhar tum, idhar hum’.
Published September 23, 2017

The haunting tell-tale image on the top is symbolic of the plight of those who had survived the trauma of the 1971 war, which had led to the dismemberment of Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh. She was captured through the lens of acclaimed Indian photographer Raghu Rai who had accompanied the Indian forces to Dhaka during the war. Raghu Rai has gifted his photographs to Dawn for this Special Report.

Elections and massacre

By S. Akbar Zaidi

IN her book, The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics, Ayesha Jalal writes about Gen Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, who imposed martial law after replacing Gen Ayub Khan in March 1969 as president of Pakistan when the latter was forced out by street protests, that Yahya was a “boisterous fellow and determined drunkard [and] had a penchant for cavorting with abandon”. Perhaps many would still remember Yahya for what Jalal calls his “nocturnal activities”, since they “were the talk of the nation”, and ‘General Rani’ became part of what she calls “elite gossip”.

However, it is more probable that today Yahya Khan is remembered for two extraordinary developments that took place under his watch: the elections of 1970, and the subsequent massacre in East Pakistan, leading to the separation of the latter and the creation of Bangladesh. He played a key role in both events. Of course, Yahya, even if indeed he was perpetually inebriated, was not the lone player in what happened in 1970-71. Two other actors, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, played critical roles as well.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, chief of the Awami League, addressing a public rally in Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan during his election campaign. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, chief of the Awami League, addressing a public rally in Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan during his election campaign. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives

It was the numerous contradictions which emerged from the Decade of Development’s capitalist logic under an authoritarian military state which gave rise to the regional, social, economic and political discontent of the late 1960s, forcing Ayub Khan’s resignation in Pakistan’s first popular uprising.

In West Pakistan, while it was Baloch and Pakhtun nationalists who were demanding the end of the One Unit, it was Bhutto who led students, the working classes and sections of the newly emerging middle classes against Ayub. While some scholars have read too much into the Bhutto agitation, stating that Pakistan was on the verge of a socialist revolution, his not being Punjabi and having already publicly parted ways with Ayub after Tashkent in 1966, saw Bhutto emerge as the dominant voice in West Pakistan opposing military authoritarianism of which he was once a part.

In East Pakistan, even though Maulana Bhashani spoke for the peasants of the province, it was Sheikh Mujib, who, after raising his Six-Point Programme in 1966 for democracy and greater provincial autonomy, and who was implicated (but later released) in the Agartala Conspiracy Case in 1968, was fast emerging as the main voice of East Pakistani/Bengali nationalism when Ayub was forced out.

It is important to state that while some Bengali voices were challenging the unity of Pakistan, Mujib, at this political juncture, was still in favour of a united, democratic, federal Pakistan, despite the growing realisation in the eastern wing that East Pakistan had by now become a mere colony of West Pakistan.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman making his way through a sea of supporters in Lahore while he was still a Pakistani. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman making his way through a sea of supporters in Lahore while he was still a Pakistani. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives

Under these circumstances, led by charismatic and populist leaders who had sat through 11 years of military rule, Yahya Khan announced elections for October 1970, doing away with the One Unit, giving the majority province on the basis of its population 162 seats in a parliament of 300.

Yahya had imposed martial law when he took over from Ayub, and the military and bureaucracy were busy influencing political parties and elements that were eager to test their popularity. Historians examining Yahya’s decision have argued that it was based on reports by military intelligence which stated that no single party would win a majority in parliament, and, with a hung parliament, real power would still reside with the military-bureaucracy oligarchy.

Due to monsoon rains in East Bengal, the government postponed the elections by two months. The polls were announced for Dec 7. However, a devastating cyclone in November 1970 in East Pakistan, which claimed the lives of close to 200,000 people, sealed the fate of the elections and, in retrospect it seems, of Pakistan. East Pakistanis were appalled at the response of the predominantly Punjabi-Muhajir military-bureaucratic administration in dealing with this crisis, and East Pakistani politicians, with just a few weeks to go for Pakistan’s first elections, were eager to point out how irrelevant Pakistani Bengalis had become to the ruling West Pakistan clique.

Academics studying the process of democratisation in Pakistan have argued that one of the many reasons why elections were never held in Pakistan was the fear of the Punjabi-Muhajir elites, and of their military-bureaucratic alliance, that with East Pakistan’s majority population universal franchise would always result in a majority of seats from East Pakistan.

The 1970 election results went further in confirming these fears. Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League won 160 of the 162 seats in East Pakistan, giving it a majority in united Pakistan’s parliament. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party won 81 seats out of 138 in West Pakistan, becoming the majority party in West Pakistan, mainly from Sindh and Punjab. The critical outcome from the 1970 elections was that neither of the two largest parties won a single seat in the other wing. Electorally, Pakistan stood divided.

A grim Yahya Khan at a function during his dictatorship that lasted from March 25, 1969, to December 20, 1971. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives
A grim Yahya Khan at a function during his dictatorship that lasted from March 25, 1969, to December 20, 1971. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives

While the military’s Operation Searchlight in East Pakistan started in March 1971, the short period following the elections until the brutal military operations, clearly showed how the egos of a handful of West Pakistani politicians played out and were matched with the incompetence and unwillingness of the military leadership in understanding and addressing political issues.

United Pakistan just might have been saved in these few weeks had the Punjabi-Muhajir military-bureaucratic leadership allowed the results of the 1970 elections to be honoured. But this would have gone against their very own genius and their core material interests. Moreover, there was one particular popular democrat who refused to acknowledge the democratic mandate which did not entirely suit him.

Soon after the election results, there was talk of having two prime ministers for Pakistan, with Bhutto apparently having agreed. Yahya, on the other hand, on a visit to Dhaka, called Mujib the “future prime minister of Pakistan”. On his return to West Pakistan from Dhaka, Yahya flew to Larkana to meet Bhutto, who advised Yahya not to give control of the National Assembly, and, hence, of Pakistan, to Mujib. Bhutto flew to Dhaka to meet Mujib, but talks had clearly failed between the two.

Shuja Nawaz in his Crossed Swords writes that there were many senior generals who were willing to “back Bhutto”. Clearly, the electoral winner in West Pakistan and the generals were not willing to honour the election results and a major political and constitutional crisis was at hand.

Bhutto famously remarked that “a majority alone does not count” (ironically, words which would haunt his daughter in 1988), and further made one of his many famous statements, threatening to break the legs of any West Pakistani elected representative who proceeded to Dhaka — “tangain tore doon ga” — to participate in the National Assembly session called by Yahya on March 3, 1971. It was Bhutto, again, who later uttered words that led to one journalist coining the famed headline: ‘udhar tum, idhar hum’.

After repeated failed attempts to call the National Assembly meeting and with talks completely having broken down, Operation Searchlight was launched by the military on March 25, 1971, under Gen Tikka Khan, with both Yahya and Bhutto still in Dhaka.

There has been a great deal written by Pakistani military men and historians, as well as by Indian and Bangladeshi academics and scholars, on what happened in East Pakistan between March 25 and Dec 16, 1971. While versions may vary, as do number counts — of casualties, massacres and rapes — there is broad consensus, especially among Pakistani authors, that the scale and nature of atrocities conducted by the military was on a horrific scale.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at one of the several United Nations Security Council meetings ahead of the fall of Dhaka. | The Directorate of Electronic Media and Publications [DEMP], Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad & Karachi.
Zulfikar Ali Bhutto at one of the several United Nations Security Council meetings ahead of the fall of Dhaka. | The Directorate of Electronic Media and Publications [DEMP], Ministry of Information, Broadcasting & National Heritage, Islamabad & Karachi.

A Pakistani journalist who worked for the Morning News in Karachi, Anthony Mascarenhas, wrote for the London Sunday Times on June 13, 1971, an article simply entitled ‘Genocide’, which revealed to the world the atrocities committed in East Pakistan.

Yet, while George Harrison of the Beatles organised a concert for Bangladesh, the US and other world powers, turned a blind eye to what was happening in East Pakistan. As the massacre took place in East Pakistan, Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon did “nothing, intentionally”, as documented in Gary Bass’ book, The Blood Telegram, based partly on a telegram sent by Archer Blood, the then US consul general in Dhaka, who warned of what was happening.

The Americans at the time were courting Mao’s China and Pakistan mattered to them, for it was the conduit for what later became known as ‘ping-pong’ diplomacy. China, too, kept out of Pakistan’s “internal affairs”.

Military action in East Pakistan continued from March to early December, with a Bangladesh government-in-exile based in Kolkata (Calcutta at the time). A pretty large number of non-Bengalis, mainly Biharis, were also killed by those who were part of the Mukti Bahini fighting their war of independence, and hundreds of thousands of East Pakistanis fled across the border into India.

Millions of refugees fled East Bengal with bare belongings in search of safety. | Photo: Raghu Rai.
Millions of refugees fled East Bengal with bare belongings in search of safety. | Photo: Raghu Rai.

Eventually, India launched a military attack on East Pakistan in November, with (West) Pakistan attacking Indian territory on Dec 3. Despite the fact that West Pakistanis were told as late as Dec 14 and 15 that they were winning the war, on Dec 16, 1971, Gen A.A.K. ‘Tiger’ Niazi, GOC, East Pakistan, surrendered to the Indian troops led by Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora in Dhaka. East Pakistan had now formally become Bangladesh. Not just had there been yet another partition in the Indian subcontinent, but Jinnah’s ‘two-nation theory’ had also come undone.

Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan ‘Tiger’ Niazi (right), Head of the Eastern Command, signing the Treaty of Surrender on December 16, 1971. On the left is Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, Joint Commander of the Bangladesh-India Allied Forces. | Photo: Raghu Rai
Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan ‘Tiger’ Niazi (right), Head of the Eastern Command, signing the Treaty of Surrender on December 16, 1971. On the left is Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, Joint Commander of the Bangladesh-India Allied Forces. | Photo: Raghu Rai

Shuja Nawaz writes that it was a corrupt military’s “wishful thinking”, a military which had become used to the “culture of entitlement”, “clouded by blissful ignorance and liberal doses of alcohol” which led to Pakistan’s debacle, but it is evident that there were at least three clear stages of events leading up to the eventuality of Dec 16, 1971.

By not acknowledging the wishes of the electorate, Bhutto and his backers in the military created a crisis which the military then dealt with in the only way it knew how. Elite interests in West Pakistan were unwilling to give democracy and the people their mandate. While West Pakistani politicians are responsible for the constitutional failure, it was only the military leadership which was responsible for the massacres that took place in East Pakistan.

Sadly though, not many West Pakistani intellectuals or political leaders protested and opposed military action in East Pakistan. Their silence makes them complicit in the killings. India helped East Pakistan become Bangladesh in the last few months of 1971, but was not responsible for the conditions between 1947 and 1970 which led to the breakup of Pakistan. External forces can only build on local fissures and take advantage of conditions created domestically, and India did just that.

Since 1971, one has heard of the great saneha of East Pakistan, yet perhaps lessons are still left unlearned. While the separation of East Pakistan brought about democracy in the truncated Pakistan which survived, events in 1972 and 1973, once again, and despite a democratic dispensation, brought to the fold issues of greater centralisation against so-called regionalism and provincialism, with little accountability and retribution of those who were responsible for the breakup of Pakistan.

The writer is a political economist based in Karachi. He has a PhD in History from the University of Cambridge, and teaches at Columbia University in New York and at the IBA in Karachi.

This story is the 5th part of a series of 16 special reports under the banner of ‘70 years of Pakistan and Dawn.' Visit the archive to read these reports.

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DAWN March 27, 1969 (Editorial)

Moving back from the brink

Richard Nixon (sitting third from left) seated with Yahya Khan during his first visit to Lahore as President of the United States in August 1969. On the extreme right is his wife Thelma Catherine ‘Pat’ Nixon. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives
Richard Nixon (sitting third from left) seated with Yahya Khan during his first visit to Lahore as President of the United States in August 1969. On the extreme right is his wife Thelma Catherine ‘Pat’ Nixon. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives

THE country has just witnessed a change of very great importance — a change which is capable of affecting the future course of the nation’s political evolution in a profound way. The departure from the political scene of Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan brings to a close a phase which lasted more than a decade. Pakistan finds itself at a critical turning point in its life as a sovereign country with the abrogation of the 1962 Constitution and the imposition of Martial Law. Field Marshal Ayub Khan’s reasons for taking the decision that he announced on Tuesday [March 25]are well elucidated in his valedictory message to the people as also in his letter calling upon the Army Chief, General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, to assume the responsibility of preserving the country’s security and restoring normal conditions. Field Marshal Ayub Khan has referred to the spread of agitation, violence and lawlessness, to the grave setback which the economy has suffered and to the state of helplessness to which constitutional authority and civil power have been reduced. It is indeed tragic that hopes of a peaceful transfer of power should have been dashed to the ground and the country should have been pushed to the brink of catastrophe. The Armed Forces have now been called upon to retrieve a situation that has come to be viewed by all patriotic elements with increasing trepidation. It is a very heavy responsibility which now rests on the Armed Forces and on their leader, Gen A. M. Yahya Khan, who assumes the office of the Chief Martial Law Administrator.



DAWN November 14, 1969 (News Report)

Iskander Mirza dies

GENERAL Iskander Mirza, who was President of Pakistan until October 1958, died in London of a heart attack. His body will be flown to Teheran for burial in the Iranian capital. Mr Mirza took up residence in London after he fell out with former President Ayub Khan. A telegram sent from London to Syed Asad Ali, Mr Mirza’s son-in-law, in Karachi said that according to the wishes of the former President he would be buried in Teheran. The Royal Government of Iran will accord a State burial to his body.



DAWN December 9, 1969 (Editorial)

Action against officials

THE President’s concern over the prevalence of corruption in the public administration has found expression in several public pronouncements, beginning with his first broadcast as the Chief Martial Law Administrator and including his latest, that of November 28. The action that he promised against public servants who were found guilty of corruption, abuse of power etc. has now been initiated. The Government has just released a list of 303 Class I gazetted officers who have been placed under suspension and who will be proceeded against under Martial Law Regulation 58. It is a formidable list not only in the number of officials it affects but also in its composition, which reveals a fairly high proportion of officials occupying superior and, in some cases, the highest positions in the administration. The list constitutes an emphatic refutation of the belief that was sought to be fostered by the last regime that the malady of corruption is largely confined to public servants at the lower rungs of the administrative ladder and that the upper echelons of the public services are, for the most part, unaffected. This was of course an utter absurdity, and it left most people unconvinced. For it has been the common observation everywhere that corruption assumes a virulent form and dangerous proportions only when it is rampant among those occupying the top positions. The reason why this happens is simple. When persons in superior positions resort to corruption and manage to go scot free, the malady advances at a galloping pace, leaving the honest administrators and the common people thoroughly demoralised and frustrated. In his endeavour to provide the country with a clean and efficient administration the President has clearly recognised the necessity of beginning the cleansing operation from the top.



DAWN December 23, 1969 (Editorial)

Revival of political life

WITH the publication of the rules which will govern the conduct of political activities the stage has now been set for the full revival of political life as from January 1, 1970. Political parties and leaders of opinion will be given the opportunity to resume their work which was interrupted when Martial Law was imposed nine months ago. This opportunity has now been provided in terms of the President’s plan for a transfer of power to the people and of the code of political conduct which has just been made available in the form of Martial Law Regulation No. 60. The mess which the political leadership made of things over a greater part of the first decade of Pakistan’s independence was directly responsible for the denial of democratic rights and loss of liberty which the people experienced in the second decade. Unprincipled politics, an uninhibited scramble for positions of power and wealth, exploitation of and pandering to parochial sentiments, advocacy of methods of coercion against political rivals and disregard of democratic principles and traditions in the working of political parties and institutions – these were some of the factors that together militated against the development of a healthy democratic life, and created the chaotic conditions in which autocracy was born and the power of making vital policy decisions passed into the hands of the bureaucrats.



DAWN March 30, 1970 (Editorial)

The legal framework

PRESIDENT A. M. Yahya Khan’s November 28 plan for a smooth transition to representative rule has taken final shape with the promulgation of the Legal Framework Order, 1970. The country now knows precisely how it is going to set about the task of providing itself with a constitution and of restoring democratic government. The scope of the Order extends to the enunciation of certain basic principles. These principles include a guarantee of the inviolability of the territorial integrity and the national solidarity of Pakistan, the preservation of the Islamic ideology which is the basis for the creation of the country, the independence of the judiciary and a guarantee of the enforcement of the Fundamental Rights of the citizens.



DAWN July 1, 1970 (Editorial)

The wind of change

THIS day marks the emergence of new (or old) provinces in West Pakistan which is a gratifying development as it follows the wishes and aspirations of an overwhelming majority in the region. When President Yahya proclaimed his intent to dissolve One Unit in the November 28 broadcast last year he was only acknowledging in tangible terms the ascendancy of public opinion. He made the following significant observation on the subject: “I would like to remind you that when Pakistan was created it was not on the basis of One Unit but it was on the basis of various provinces in the Western Wing. The people of both East and West Pakistan are almost unanimous in demanding the break-up of One Unit. My decision is therefore based on popular wish”. Such remarkable responsiveness to democratic sentiment has been characteristic of the President’s pronouncements and actions ever since he assumed the responsibility to run the affairs and administration of the country.

It is by now no longer a secret that the 1955 scheme to integrate the then existing separate provinces into a single Unit was a superimposed arrangement and as such was doomed to failure. The seeds of discord started germinating at the very inception and continued to grow menacingly despite the studied efforts to show that all was well and blooming in the garden.

Hidden tensions, suppressed sense of grievance, masked anger and anguish at last erupted like molten lava to sweep away the monolithic structure. Now that a palpable wrong has been rectified and an administrative anomaly adjusted, let all those concerned rise above the lingering mood of bitterness and bickering to start afresh as brothers. After all the fate and future of millions inhabiting different areas of Pakistan is interlinked by the supreme cementing force of Islam.



DAWN November 20, 1970 (News Report)

National mourning

Yahya Khan during a visit to East Pakistan in the wake of the disaster caused by the Bhola Cyclone that struck the region in November 1970. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives
Yahya Khan during a visit to East Pakistan in the wake of the disaster caused by the Bhola Cyclone that struck the region in November 1970. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives

PRESIDENT Yahya Khan has declared Friday (Nov 20) as a Day of National Mourning for the victims of unprecedented cyclone and tidal bore in East Pakistan, which has taken a heavy toll of life. A Press note issued by the Ministry of Home and Kashmir Affairs said the President has further directed that the Pakistan Flag on all Government buildings will be flown at half-mast.

Special prayers will be offered in memory of the victims of the disaster. Over one lakh people lost their lives in six police stations in Bhola sub-division alone, official sources said in Dacca upon Governor Ahsan’s return to the capital. This is the latest estimate of loss of lives reported by the provincial Governor. Admiral Ahsan, who went to Bhola to continue his on-the-spot survey of the extent of damage and supervision of relief operations, was also informed that 65 per cent of the cattle had perished [in these areas].

About one lakh houses were destroyed completely and 25,000 partially. Innumerable boats were sunk and washed away and damage to crops was extensive, the Governor was further told. According to estimates, damage to properties in terms of money would be in the neighbourhood of Rs20 crores.

The Governor made a thorough enquiry about the organisation and progress of relief operation. Zonal relief centres have been set up under responsible officials and the entire operation is being directly controlled and supervised by the Commissioner, assisted by a host of senior officers deputed from outside.

Gruel kitchens have been started all over and the medical operation is being supervised by the Deputy Director of Health Services of the division.



DAWN November 20, 1970 (News Report)

An appalling disclosure that meteorological authorities in East Pakistan ignored repeated warnings from American weather satellite of gathering cyclone in Bay of Bengal was made tonight [November 19] in a BBC Television programme.

United States weather satellite first took pictures of the gathering cyclone on November 6 and a warning that it was of dangerous proportions was conveyed to Pakistani meteorological authorities on November 7. As the gathering cyclone became more menacing, the American weather administration repeated warnings to Pakistan on each of the successive days until November 12.

This astounding revelation on BBC Television programme ‘24 Hours’, coming as it does following Pakistan newspaper reports early this week about alterations in method of weather forecasts which confused people in cyclone-stricken areas, is a very serious reflection indeed on meteorological authorities concerned.



DAWN December 9, 1970 (Editorial)

Historic achievement

Yahya Khan casting his vote during the general elections that were held on December 7, 1970. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives
Yahya Khan casting his vote during the general elections that were held on December 7, 1970. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives

THE way in which Monday’s [December 7] General Election was conducted has been one of the best things that has ever happened to this country. The people will rejoice in the fact that everything went off smoothly and in the manner it was meant to do. The polling took place in a tranquil, disciplined and relaxed atmosphere, and barring a few incidents here and there, perfectly peaceful conditions prevailed. For a popular consultation involving tens of millions of voters, many of whom gave their votes for the first time in their lives, the conduct of the general election could be easily considered exemplary in almost any country in the world.

The President not only kept faith with the people. He saw to it that the Government machinery kept itself aloof from electoral politics and carried on election proceedings stage by stage in a manner which was impartial and honest to the core. One must have the courage to acknowledge that this thing is new in our history. As a result of this and also for reasons of the all-round efficiency that was in evidence on the election day and of the nearly meticulous regard for detail shown in the organisational arrangements undertaken, the December 7 Election becomes the exemplar for the future. Whenever the nation goes to the polls again, and one hopes and prays this will be at regular intervals, it will always know what to demand of the powers that be. Democracy’s development depends very crucially on how those wishing to practise it manage their elections and on whether they develop a tradition of having every citizen give his vote peacefully and as a free agent. We must thank Almighty God that we have at least fulfilled this very vital condition. We heartily congratulate all concerned on this historic achievement – the Government, the Armed Forces, the Election Commission and all those who were seconded to election duty, including policemen, the candidates and the leaders and workers of all political parties. All these and the entire electorate at large deserve the credit for the excellent account the country gave of itself on the polling day. This is the verdict of the people in a free and fair election. Everybody, no matter what his political affiliations and persuasions may be, must gracefully acknowledge the fact that the people have given their verdict.



DAWN December 9, 1970 (News Report)

AL emerges as single largest NA party

THE Awami League has emerged as the largest single party in the National Assembly. Of the 153 seats that it contested in East Pakistna in the general elections, the party has conceded only two seats to its opponents. Although unofficial counting had not been completed, by midnight the Awami League had won 133 seats. In West Pakistan, where unofficial counting has been completed in all the four provinces, the Pakistan People’s Party, with 81 victories to its credit, has emerged as the largest single party in this Wing which has 138 seats in the NA. The party has recorded the most remarkable victory in Punjab, capturing 62 of the 82 seats (75.5 per cent). It had put up 77 candidates in the province. In Sind, too, the party has bagged over 66 per cent of 27 seats. It had put up 25 candidates of whom 18 have won. None of the other 23 odd major and minor parties that took part in the elections come anywhere near the Awami League and the People’s Party. The Jamaat-i-Islami which had put up the largest number of candidates (79) in West Pakistan, won only four seats: none of its 69 candidates in East Pakistan could win. While the People’s Party candidates blasted the opposition lines in Punjab and Sind, Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League set aside all opposition in East Pakistan. In the wake of the characteristic victory of the AL candidates the only political survivor was the elderly statesman, Mr. Nurul Amin, head of the PDP – the only one of his party to earn title to sit in the National Assembly. The only other constituency where an Awami League candidate has lost was Chittagong Hill Tracts where the Chakma tribe chieftain, Major Raja Tridiv Roy, defeated him and another independent candidate who was a Provincial Minister in the Ayub regime.

While scoring the most thumping victory ever, the Awami League chief, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, set an all time record by polling a total of over 184,000 votes against the East Pakistan CML chief, Khwaja Khairuddin. On the other hand, the PPP chief, Mr Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, also created a record by winning by big margins in five of the six seats that he contested – three from Sind, two from Punjab. He won all the three seats in Sind and in two in Punjab. But he lost to Jamiat Hazarvi group General-Secretary Mufti Mahmud in D.I. Khan of NWFP. Two prestigious victories won by Mr Bhutto were in Larkana where he trounced the veteran Mr Ayub Khuhro, and in Lahore where he defeated CML’s Dr Javed Iqbal and PDP’s Maj-Gen (Rtd) Sarfaraz Khan.



DAWN February 5, 1971 (News Report)

India bans Pakistani overflights

INDIA today [February 4] banned all Pakistani flights over its territory as thousands of students attacked the Pakistan High Commission [in New Delhi] for the second day running, in protest against the blowing up of a hijacked Indian airliner. The government told Pakistan that the ban would continue until Islamabad settled compensation for the plane, its cargo, passenger baggage and mail. India had already banned over-flights by Pakistani military planes of the 1,000 miles which separate Pakistan’s two wings in protest against the blowing up of the hijacked Fokker Friendship at Lahore airport on Tuesday night. A Note announcing the ban was handed over to the Pakistan High Commission here as about 4,000 Indian students attacked the building.

Police fired dozens of teargas shells as demonstrators hurled stones, bricks and bottles inside the High Commission grounds. Unconfirmed reports said police fired twice in the air to disperse the students. Groups of students broke into the walled grounds at thinly-policed sections on at least two occasions and smashed windows of buildings behind the Chancery. They set fire to grass and shrubs outside the walls at the back of the building which stands between the Yugoslav and Australian missions in the city’s diplomatic enclave. Over 600 riot police, some of them mounted, were guarding the High Commission.

A Pakistan High Commission spokesman said the Indian Government had been warned that if demonstrators continued, there could be a chain reaction. If the Government did not put down the demonstrations firmly, “public opinion in Pakistan is likely to be inflamed”, he said. An Indian Note to Pakistan said the Government was “deeply disturbed by the instigation, abetment and encouragement given on Pakistan territory to unlawful and subversive activities in India”, which had resulted in the hijacking.



DAWN February 16, 1971 (News Report)

Constitution will be based on Six Points

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, chief of the Awami League, addressing a public rally in Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan during his election campaign. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, chief of the Awami League, addressing a public rally in Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan during his election campaign. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives

THE Awami League Chief Sheikh Mujibur Rahman today [February 15] reiterated that the country’s constitution would certainly be framed on the basis of his party’s Six Point programme and the Student Action Committee’s Eleven Point programme. No power could stop it, he said. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman advised the West Pakistan leaders to accept the Six Point programme in toto. If it was accepted then “we can live together”, the Awami League chief said. He asked the leaders of that Wing not to create confusion and misunderstanding and to accept the Six Points. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman assured them that the Six Points were not against the ordinary people of West Pakistan but against the exploiters of West and East Pakistan. Addressing the West Pakistani leaders of his party who were sitting with him on the dais, the Awami League chief smilingly said: “Unfortunately you have produced more (exploiters)”.

The Awami League chief said the Six Points could not be changed. When he first presented it after the war in 1965, it was his property. When the Awami League accepted it, it was the party’s property, but now after the elections it had become the property of the people and nobody had the power to change it, he said.



DAWN February 16, 1971 (News Report)

PPP not to attend NA session if AL not flexible

MR Z. A. Bhutto, Chairman of Pakistan People’s Party, today [February 15] declared that his party will not attend the National Assembly session starting on March 3 at Dacca unless it was made clear to him and his partymen that there would be some amount of reciprocity from the majority party, either publicly or privately. Addressing a crowded Press conference he did not term his decision as boycott of the Assembly but said: “We can’t go there only to endorse the constitution already prepared by a party and to return humiliated. If we are not heard and even reasonable proposals put by us are not considered, I don’t see the purpose to go there”.



DAWN March 2, 1971 (News Report)

National Assembly session postponed

PRESIDENT Yahya Khan yesterday [March 1] announced his decision to postpone the National assembly session scheduled to start in Dacca from March 3 to a later date in view of the grave political situation in the country. The President’s decision was announced in a statement specially broadcast over Radio Pakistan. At the same time President Yahya made a solemn promise that as soon as the situation improved he would not hesitate in calling the session of the National Assembly.

The President also said that he will do everything possible to help political leaders in achieving an understanding. He appealed to the political leaders and the countrymen to exercise restraint at this “grave hour of our life”.

Saying that he was taking the decision “with a heavy heart”, he explained that if the National Assembly session was held without the participation of political leaders from West Pakistan it would have led to the disintegration of the Assembly itself and thus his entire effort to transfer power to the people would have been wasted.

He said it was, therefore, imperative to give more time to the political leaders to arrive at a reasonable understanding and he hoped that they would rise to the occasion.

The President said that the decision has been taken because a major party of West Pakistan, namely the Pakistan People’s Party, as well as certain other political parties have declared their intention not to attend the National Assembly session on March 3.

In addition, the President said, the general situation of tension created by India has further complicated the whole position.

He said he had repeatedly stated that constitution was not an ordinary piece of legislation but it was an arrangement to live together. For a healthy and viable constitution, therefore, it is necessary that both East and West Pakistan had adequate sense of participation in the process of constitution-making.



DAWN March 5, 1971 (Editorial)

On the brink

THE situation as it now stands after President Yahya Khan proposed a meeting of 12 leaders of Parliamentary groups to solve the constitutional crisis and Sherth Mujibur Rahman expressed his inability to attend it is one which will fill all patriots with deep anxiety. Never in its history has the country faced a moment of danger like the one it does now and the sense of peril is made more acute by the fact that primarily the threat has its origins within the country and cannot be conveniently ascribed to an external enemy. The postponement of the National Assembly session without the fixation of a new date has created a grave crisis of confidence in the Eastern Wing of the country. Rightly or wrongly the people in East Pakistan have interpreted the move as an attempt to prevent them from asserting their democratic rights as citizens of Pakistan and from securing a constitutional dispensation that satisfies their aspirations. An acute sense of desperation has led to a widespread movement of protest and defiance. How far the Awami League will be able to exercise control over the movement remains to be seen. There is no doubt that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is under mounting pressure from those who lack patience and those who are too inexperienced to realise what the stakes are.

The very first task is to prevent the crisis from getting worse and to create a climate of opinion in which a meaningful attempt can be made to produce a constitution which will satisfy a majority of the people and attract the commitment of the federating unites. And such a consulitution has to embody the essence of the Six-Point formula. We are firmly convinced that no initiative in this direction will have any chance of bearing fruit in today’s context without an immediate announcement setting a very early date for summoning the National Assembly.



DAWN March 25, 1971 (News Report)

‘Resistance Day’ parade

MARCH 23 was heralded here [Dacca] with the observance of the programme announced by the Students Central Action Committee, which declared it as a Resistance Day. The Bangla Desh flag fluttered atop all buildings, both Government and non-Government, including the Dacca High Court and the Secretariat buildings. Private houses and residences throughout the city, including the Dhanmondi residence of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, were seen flying the flag, which was designed by and flown for the first time on March 2 at the Dacca University Arts Faculty campus at a mass students rally by the Students Action Committee. The tricolour flag is bottle-green with a red sun and gold coloured map of Bangla Desh.

Buses, trucks, rickshaws, cars and carts all alike flew the flag of Bangla Desh and the black flag together. The black flag symbolised the mourning for the people killed during the mass movement in the last weeks, which came after the postponement of the National Assembly session scheduled on March 3.



DAWN March 27, 1971 (News Report)

Awami League is outlawed

THE President, Gen. Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan, today [March 26] banned all political activities and imposed complete press censorship throughout Pakistan. In a broadcast to the nation, the President said: “As for the Awami League, it is completely banned as a political party.” The President said that Martial Law Regulations will very shortly be issued in pursuance of these decisions. The President told the nation that he had taken these decisions “in view of the grave situation that exists in the country today.” The President said: “Let me assure you that my main aim remains the same, namely, transfer of power to the elected representatives of the people”.

“As soon as the situation permits I will take fresh steps towards the achievement of this objective”, the President added. He said Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s action of non-cooperation movement “is an act of treason”. President Yahya said: “They have insulted Pakistan’s flag and defiled the photograph of the Father of the Nation. They have tried to run a parallel government. They have created turmoil terror and insecurity”. He said that a number of murders had been committed in the name of the movement. “Millions of our Bengali brethren and those who have settled in East Pakistan are living in a state of panic and a very large number had to leave that Wing out of fear for their lives”.

He added that the armed forces, located in East Pakistan have been subjected to taunts and insults of all kinds.



DAWN May 7, 1971 (News Report)

Army action saved Pakistan

THE outlawed Awami League had set the small hours of March 26 as the zero hour for an armed uprising and the formal launching of “the Independent Republic of Bangla Desh”, an official spokesman of the Pakistan Government revealed here [Rawalpindi] today [May 6].

In a detailed statement on the East Pakistan situation, the spokesman said that the plan was to seize Dacca and Chittagong, lying astride the Army’s Air/Sea lifelines to West Pakistan. But, he said, the Army moved barely a few hours before the Awami League zero hour and made a series of pre-emptive strikes around midnight of March 25-26, seized the initiative and saved the country.

He said the Army at that time consisted of a division of 18 battalions, including 12 from West Pakistan, spread thinly over cantonment in the interior and deployed along the border with India. Arrayed against them were infiltrators from India and deserters from the East Pakistan Rifles, the East Bengal Regiment and other auxiliary forces, equipped with mortars, recoilless rifles and heavy and light machine guns liberally supplied from across the border.

The spokesman also gave a resume of Sheikh Mujib’s continual shifting of stand from his pre-election interpretation of Six Points as the demand for largest measure for autonomy within the framework of a single country (for which he got the mandate), to the demand of confederation and his attempts to achieve it through conspiracy and force using “Nazi-style tactics”.



DAWN November 23, 1971 (News Report)

All-out Indian attack

The battlefront remained active till the creation of Bangladesh. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives
The battlefront remained active till the creation of Bangladesh. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives

INDIA, without a formal declaration of war, has launched an all-out offensive against East Pakistan. The offensive has followed months of pin-prick attacks, minor and major skirmishes and an arduous build-up of over 12 Indian infantry divisions all around East Pakistan. The Indians have been able to make some dents across international borders into our territory, because no one expected that they would throw all international conventions to the winds and would stoop down to launching an all-out offensive.

The Indian Army has concentrated all its might on the Jessore sector, where the attack has been launched by the 9th Indian Infantry division, the 4th Indian Mountain division and two Indian tank regiments.

Fierce fighting continued in Jessore throughout the night and the early hours of the morning. The Indian Army suffered heavy causalities but due to intense and heavy shelling, it was able to retrieve the wounded and most of the dead bodies.



DAWN December 4, 1971 (News Report)

It’s now all-out war

THE Indians have escalated war and extended their aggression to the whole of Pakistan. At a hurriedly called press briefing at about midnight today [December 3], a Defence Services spokesman told newsmen that, not satisfied with their aggression against East Pakistan, the Indians have now attacked West Pakistan at seven points at about noon. Regular Indian troops moved towards our border posts, manned by Rangers. On being challenged, they opened up with small arms fire, wounding some of our men. The Rangers fired back in self-defence. The Indians subsequently opened up with their artillery. The spokesman said the Indians have attacked almost simultaneously in Shakargarh salient, Kasur border, Huseiniwala headworks, Chamb and Rahim Yar Khan, opposite Rajasthan, well inside Punjab.



DAWN December 16, 1971 (News Report)

Enemy closes in on Dacca

THE situation in East Pakistan has become very critical, according to the latest reports received here tonight [December 15]. Earlier, a military spokesman said Pakistan troops were defending Dacca from reorganised defences, butt the enemy continused to close in on Dacca during the past 24 hours.

Pakistani troops are fighting with superior will and determination against superior firepower and numbers, he said.

The spokesman said the enemy had approached Dacca from different directions but Pakistan forces resisted valiantly and determinedly. He said fighting had also been reported from other places, including Sylhet, Comilla and Khulna area. At all places in East Pakistan from where fighting is reported “it is the same story,” he said.

Asked whether there was any direction from which the enemy had not approached, the spokesman replied that they came from all directions. He said the situation in East Pakistan continued to be grim. On the Western front, the spokesman said fighting had been reported from various sectors and Pakistani troops inflicted heavy causalities on the enemy.



DAWN December 16, 1971 (News Report)

UN a farce, says Bhutto — walks out

PAKISTANI Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister-designate, Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, walked out of the Security Council debate on the Indo-Pakistani war today [December 15]. Tearing a Security Council document to shreds he strode from the horseshoe table of the 15-nation-body and paused only at the entrance of the UN headquarters to tell newsmen that his Ambassador, Agha Shahi, could represent Pakistan, if necessary.

“Why should I waste my time here?” he asked the Council. “I will go back to my country and fight.” He said he would remain in New York for two or three days to “tell the American people of the great stand of their government” against Soviet support of India in the Security Council. Mr Bhutto said he “implored” Council members to act this morning, informing them that there was hand-to-hand fighting in Dacca, the beleaguered capital of East Pakistan.

“Thousands were being killed while the Council was deliberating whether to postpone its meeting for three hours or two hours,” he said. Declaring he would not agree to surrender to India, Bhutto said: “I have only reflected the feeling of my country. Rather than being asked to bite the dust here, we have been asked to rub our noses into the ground. I have to return to Pakistan. I am the leader of the people there.”

Mr Bhutto declared that he would not be party to a “shameful capitulation” of Pakistan. His voice choked with emotion, Mr. Bhutto charged that the Security Council had done nothing to protect Pakistan. Before he left, Mr. Bhutto said his speech could be the last he would ever make to the Security Council. It was a bitter address is which he fiercely attacked the United Nations. The world body did not need a Secretary-General, it needed a chief executioner, he said. He said he would never be a party to the capitulation and dismemberment of Pakistan. He charged that the UN had procrastinated for four days “with one object—to permit the fall of Dacca.”



DAWN December 17, 1971 (News Report)

Fighting ends in East Wing

Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan ‘Tiger’ Niazi (right), Head of the Eastern Command, signing the Treaty of Surrender on December 16, 1971. On the left is Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, Joint Commander of the Bangladesh-India Allied Forces. | Photo: Raghu Rai
Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan ‘Tiger’ Niazi (right), Head of the Eastern Command, signing the Treaty of Surrender on December 16, 1971. On the left is Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, Joint Commander of the Bangladesh-India Allied Forces. | Photo: Raghu Rai

LATEST reports indicate that following an arrangement between the local commanders of India and Pakistan in the Eastern theatre, fighting has ceased in East Pakistan and Indian troops have entered Dacca.



DAWN December 18, 1971 (News Report)

Yahya orders ceasefire

PRESIDENT Yahya Khan this afternoon [December 17] ordered the Pakistan forces to cease fire with effect from 1430GMT. Which corresponds to 7.30 p.m. West Pakistan time. In a statement, the President said, “if India is sincere in its pronouncement of the ceasefire, then she should proceed through the United Nations to formalise it”.

The President said he gave the order for ceasefire “in the interest of peace” and in pursuance of the resolution of the UN General Assembly.

The President’s statement said: “I have always maintained that war solves no problem and that there should be negotitations between India and Pakistan to resolve all outstanding disputes.

“In pursuance of this stand, Pakistan has accepted several proposals made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and by friendly countries which could have averted the present tragic situation between India and Pakistan.

“Pakistan has also accepted three resolutions of the Security Council as well as the General Assembly Resolution calling for cease-fire, withdrawal of armed forces to their respective borders and a political solution of the problem facing Pakistan”.



DAWN December 21, 1971 (News Report)

Yahya hands over power

THE People’s Party Chairman, Mr. Z. A. Bhutto, was today [December 20] handed over power by General Yahya Khan and was formally sworn in as the President and Chief Martial Law Administrator. The four-line official announcement came as a surprise as no one here was expecting Mr. Bhutto to assume the office of Chief Martial Law Administrator. The swearing-in took place at the President’s House where the outgoing and incoming Presidents talked for nearly two hours before affixing their signatures on the formal document. The two shook hands after signing the paper, said to have been presented by the Cabinet Secretary, Mr. Ghulam Ishaq Khan. The new President also shook hands with his Party colleagues, Mr. J. A. Rahim and Mr Ghulam Mustafa Khar — who were also present. Mr. Bhutto landed at the airport at about 10.45 in the morning and drove straight to the President’s House in a sky-blue Mercedes driven by Mr. Khar. He waved to the large crowds gathered all around the airport and declined to answer questions.

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Dawn Delhi IV: The making of Pakistan

By Roger D. Long

Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah (right) and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan (left) during a trip to London in December 1946. In the centre is Altaf Husain, who at the time worked at Dawn Delhi and would later become the first editor of Dawn Karachi. | Photo: The Altaf Husain Family Collection
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah (right) and Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan (left) during a trip to London in December 1946. In the centre is Altaf Husain, who at the time worked at Dawn Delhi and would later become the first editor of Dawn Karachi. | Photo: The Altaf Husain Family Collection

IT was on August 21, 1945, when the Viceroy announced that elections would be held in the cold weather at the end of the year. Aligarh Muslim University played a major role in League plans for the elections as did colleges in the Punjab. The League set up a training camp on campus at Aligarh at the end of 1945 with some 650 students attending the camp. Of the 11 topics covered in the course offered at the camp, one was on ‘Islamic history’ and another was on the ‘The religious background of the Muslim League and Pakistan’.

The following month an election office was set up at Islamia College, Lahore, and 200 students were deputed to tour 20 constituencies covering 400 villages. In the course of the campaign it claimed that 60,000 villages were visited by these student campaigners. Aligarh students clad in black sherwanis and Turkish caps created a very favourable impression when, like other students and League representatives, they spoke in mosques. The students were carefully coached to express their messages in religious terms and to equate the Muslim League with Islam. Dawn recorded their names and activities.

In the Punjab, the religious leadership based on the numerous shrines in the rural areas also played a large part in the League’s campaign. These shrines were the tombs of sufi saints who propagated Islam in the Punjab, especially western Punjab when it was an outpost of Islam. The religious leader of these shrines, the sajjada nashin, was normally a descendent of the original saint; he was a teacher, a pir and he had disciples, murid, who would make payments in one form or another. Over time these sajjada nashins became intimately involved in rural society, exerting not only religious leadership but political and social influence as well, much like the mullahs in the mosques, both urban and rural.


When the pir became vociferously involved in local politics he wielded a great deal of influence. By the time of the 1945-46 general elections five of the important sajjada nashins had come over to the League. Many of them were revivalists and interpreted the Pakistan Movement as the establishment of a religious state. In addition, as one Unionist worker complained in December 1945, a pir was issuing fatwas that the Muslim League was the only Islamic community and all the rest were kafirs.

Dawn followed the events in the Punjab, as it did in every other of the crucial provinces for the Pakistan Movement, and reported widely on tours of League workers and meetings held throughout the provinces. On October 13, 1945, it ran a front-page story titled ‘Muslim Interests Mean Nothing to Unionists’ and that the Unionists were ‘Pawns in Non-Muslim Hands’. The article that followed was an insinuation that the Muslim members of the Unionists were not good Muslims. These were the kinds of lines that League workers would use during the election campaign. Dawn on October 24, 1945, reported that the Punjab Muslim Students’ Federation had established an Election Board to propagate the League’s message all over the state. It reported that “over 200 Muslim students of the various local colleges have been enlisted to work as volunteers in the election campaign”. They undertook a short training course and then were sent in batches to various parts of the province.

League planning for the election began at Liaquat’s house in Delhi when Dawn announced in its October 1, 1945, issue that a meeting of the Central Parliamentary Board would be held later that day and the Committee of Action would meet over two days on October 9 and 10. What was important for the League was the choice of candidates for League tickets, the organisation of meetings, the provision of student workers to campaign in critical constituencies, and, very importantly, the creation of literature that would be distributed during the campaign.

In ‘League News from Provinces’ on October 2, 1945, Dawn reported that the Muslim Writers’ Association met at Aligarh on September 27 and that “separate Committees were formed to carry on the League propaganda work in different languages and to translate the original works for free distribution among the Muslim masses”. It had created an English Publication Committee, an Urdu Publication Committee and a Committee for Translations. A Study Circle trained workers and sent them to different parts of the country and the Committee also cooperated with provincial parties to use the literature it had created. These and dozens of other activities were all preliminary to the campaign itself which was launched the same month.


Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah addressing a gathering of Muslim League workers in Delhi in 1946.  | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah addressing a gathering of Muslim League workers in Delhi in 1946. | Photo: Dawn/White Star Archives

The success of all these League activities can be gauged by the number of people who now wanted to run on the League ticket. Dawn reported on October 8, 1945, that in the United Provinces, for example, some 20 people applied for the League ticket for the six Muslim seats for the Central Legislative Assembly. Another was the report in Dawn on October 12, 1945, that in the Punjab ‘17 Congress Stalwarts Join Muslim League’ and the Central Parliamentary Board had met for three days to come up with the list of 21 candidates for the 30 Muslim seats for the Central Legislative Assembly; the rest of the names would be announced later.

On Thursday, November 1, 1945, Jinnah officially kicked off the League campaign with Dawn reporting the event the following day with the headlines of ‘It Is My Duty To Serve Muslims’, ‘Mr. Jinnah Inaugurates Campaign’, ‘Even If You Don’t Vote For Me I Shall Work For You’ and ‘Grave Issue Confronts Indian Mussalmans’. The article reported Jinnah’s speech in Bombay to a large audience of Muslims inaugurating the first League election campaign meeting where he claimed that the Muslims were “today politically more conscious than the Hindus”. The election, he went on, would decide the future of India. It was not a question of voting for this or that candidate but it was the question of a hundred million Muslims. “The elections will give a clear verdict on the issue of whether the Muslims of India stand for Pakistan or for Akhand Hindustan. It is therefore a question of life and death with Muslims of India.”

The editorial that day had the title of ‘Never Again’ and regurgitated the story of the “terrible suffering to which Muslim minorities in Hindu-majority provinces were subjected during 1937-39”. Alongside it was another story on the misdeeds of the Congress when the ‘Tragic Story Of 1937-39 Re-Told’. It was the first of many articles spread over several days in the ‘It Shall Never Happen Again’ series. By December 20, 1945, Dawn had published version 31 in the series. In addition to the column ‘League News from Provinces’ there were hundreds of stories, large and small, mostly small, about League activities. League workers would faithfully repeat these campaign messages in the days to come in many parts of northern India.

The history of the League campaign in the 1946 elections and the remarkable victory it achieved has yet to be written but it was celebrated as the glorious victory it was in the pages of Dawn which announced the wins as they came in and culminated the month-long saga with stories galore about the mammoth meeting of some 450 League legislators organised in New Delhi to celebrate the League success in the elections.


The meeting was ‘The Muslim League Legislators’ Convention’ held between April 7 and 9 on the Quadrangle of the Anglo-Arabic College. League legislators of the central and provincial legislatures from all over India journeyed in triumph to Delhi to take part in its proceedings held in a boisterous mood with the final session not ending until 2am. It was a Who’s Who of Muslim League India with Sir Feroze Khan and the Nawab of Mamdot of the Punjab, H.S. Suhrawardy of Bengal, Chaudhury Khaliquzzaman of the United Provinces, Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, Premier of Sindh, Sir Mohamad Saadullah of Assam and Abdul Qayum Khan of the North-West Frontier Province were some of the notables in Delhi to celebrate this great triumph.

The highlight of the meeting was Jinnah’s speech on April 8 which was reported at great length in Dawn the next day and in numerous articles in the days and weeks that followed. Inter alia Jinnah said that for Muslim India the conception of a United India was impossible and if the Government attempted to impose a unitary constitution-making body, then Muslim India would “resist it by all means and at all costs”.

To cheers he told the mass audience that he informed the Cabinet Mission that there could be no compromise on the fundamentals of Pakistan and its full sovereignty. With regard to the election results, he said to appreciative ears that by winning about 90 per cent of the Muslim seats “we have achieved a victory for which there is no parallel in the world”.

Jinnah then turned to the recent comments of Patel and Nehru that they would not accept two states in South Asia and especially Nehru’s comment that independence should come first and then a constitution-making body would be formed to write the constitution. For Jinnah and the League this meant putting the minority at the mercy of the majority with the certainty that the Congress should dismiss totally the demand for Pakistan. Jinnah called this a “Fascist Grand Council”. He concluded his lengthy speech with the words: “God is with us because our cause is just and our demand is just both to Hindus and Muslims inhabiting this vast sub-continent. And so we have nothing to fear and let us march forward with complete unity as disciplined soldiers of Pakistan.”

With the great election victory, the League could claim that the Muslims of India had voted for Pakistan and this was a claim that the League would make until Pakistan was actually created on August 14, 1947. Later on in the year, in August, the League would unleash its own civil disobedience movement to convince the British that they should not ignore the League and hand over India to the Congress and allow the party to write a new constitution as Nehru and others had been demanding.


Dawn would continue to play a major role in all the twists and turns of the negotiations and political manoeuvres of the end-game of the British raj. This involved the Cabinet Mission, League participation in the Interim Government, the second Simla Conference, the negotiations with the British Government in London and the negotiations with Mountbatten that finally led to the establishment of Pakistan. Dawn played a major role in helping to shape public opinion, especially Muslim public opinion, and to ‘spin’ the League message as it twisted and turned to counter Congress and British efforts to prevent the creation of Pakistan. This included explaining at length the League’s rejection of participation in the Interim Government and then its acceptance; its acceptance of the Cabinet Mission Plan and then its rejection.

Throughout, Muslims of India looked to Dawn for the attitude of the League toward the latest turn in events, and the British carefully scrutinised its pages for an insight into League thinking and to plan its own moves. A variety of factors led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The first was the creation of a democratic system that would establish the legitimacy of national spokesmen and the legitimacy of the causes they espoused. It was this democratic system that gave credence to the claims of national spokesmen made important by their electoral success (although Gandhi was the exception to the rule).

The second great factor in the creation of Pakistan was the outbreak of the Second World War and the political blunders perpetuated by the Congress such as resigning from their government positions in 1939 in protest over India’s declaration of war without proper consultation with the Congress, and their Quit India Movement in 1942 which led to Congress leaders’ imprisonment for the major part of the War, leading to a vacuum of power which the League happily filled and of which it took enormous advantage.

The third factor was a recognised single League leader around which the League rallied. That was Jinnah, the Quaid-i-Azam, the ‘Great Leader’, a remarkable man in many senses whose political strategy, unlike the Congress’, was superb. His ascendency to the apex of Muslim leadership in India was facilitated by the premature death in the Punjab of Fazl-i-Husain and Sikandar Hayat. It was to the great good fortune of proponents of Pakistan that his own health held out until Pakistan had been created.


Political fatigue by the British and the aspiration to leave India sooner rather than later amid the usual propensity of an imperial power to turn its back on colonies when the time comes to depart, no matter what the deadly consequences for the citizens they leave behind, as they demonstrated so fatally in India and would do so a few months later in Palestine, played a large role.

Finally, the last Viceroy’s love of speed in everything he did, including the demission of power in India, meant that independence would be pushed through within weeks; if the creation of Pakistan meant facilitating speed, then Pakistan it would be no matter what the consequence of a hasty retreat of the forces of law and order in the land might mean.

The elimination of any of these factors would have changed the political situation in the years leading to Partition. Above all, however, the creation of Pakistan is a testament to a remarkable decade-long political story. It is a testament to the sure-handed political leadership of Jinnah and his creation as a charismatic leader. It is a testament to the work and devotion of a large cadre of League supporters and workers in many parts of India, especially in the United Provinces, Bengal and the Punjab.

The creation of Jinnah as the ‘sole spokesman’, the organisation of the League, the mobilisation of Muslims behind the League, and the message that in the pre-television age the League needed to transmit to the people of India and the British, were all facilitated and in many ways made possible at all, was through its own creation, that is, through the pages of Dawn: Dawn, too, therefore, was a factor, an important factor, in the creation of Pakistan.

This concludes a four-part series of articles on Dawn Delhi. Also read the first, second and the third part.

Excerpted from ‘Dawn & the Creation of Pakistan’, Media History 2009, SOAS, London.

The writer is Professor of History, Eastern Michigan University, USA

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Commentary on the 1971 war


General Yahya Khan’s speech on Radio Pakistan on March 25, 1969


Iskander Mirza’s funeral in November 1969


Sarmila Bose on Yahya Khan’s initiative to hold elections and an interview with Yahya Khan in November 1970


Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s interview by David Frost on January 18, 1972


Reading from Sultan Mohammad Khan’s memoirs


President Yahya Khan’s interview on July 31, 1971


Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s interview on December 16, 1971


President Yahya Khan's address on December 20, 1971


Reading from AR Siddiqi’s forthcoming book East Pakistan – The Endgame: An onlooker’s journal 1969-1971


AR Siddiqi’s interview on the last days of Dawn Delhi

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