Loss of East Pakistan, lessons learnt recalled

Updated 25 Dec 2019

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Javed Jabbar speaks at the PIIA on Tuesday.—White Star
Javed Jabbar speaks at the PIIA on Tuesday.—White Star

KARACHI: “The loss of East Pakistan was a catastrophe beyond bearing,” said Dr Masuma Hasan, chairperson of the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), at her talk titled ‘The loss of East Pakistan: a national tragedy and international milestone’ at the PIIA library on Tuesday.

“My ancestors lived in Panipat and Delhi for some 700 years. Even though they travelled far and wide they always maintained their links with the two cities. Then, when Pakistan was born, my parents gave up everything to come here by train on August 12. They sunk their roots in this new land and East Pakistan was part of this land. Losing it was a great tragedy for my parents’ generation,” she said.

Continuing with her own experience, Dr Hasan said that despite the break-up they still had many friends in Bangladesh. But she saw the change happening there during her subsequent visits. “I wanted to get some postage stamps from the post office once but no one in the clerical staff there would speak in Urdu or English as a result of which I couldn’t get what I needed,” she said, adding that she was able to learn a lot from the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, being part of the committee that recommended declassifying it 19 years ago. Dr Hasan also shared some relevant excerpts from the report.

‘Pakistan, East and West, was a dream state’

Earlier, writer, former senator and federal minister Javed Jabbar, in his talk, wondered that 48 years have passed which is equal to two generations now but should we forget what happened leading to the loss of East Pakistan? “If you start remembering, you will remember everything including the painful parts,” he said. “Still, we shall revisit the past to review or resolve and maybe even learn from history,” he added.

“Pakistan, East and West, was a dream state, which became a nightmare,” he said. “Pakistan is a religion-based nation state and yet it is unlike any other religion-based country. There is no country separated by hostile territory so it was also a uniquely created territory,” he pointed out.

Reasons for break-up

About the failures of this country leading to its break-up in 1971, he said that the subsequent governments here disregarded the majority principle. There was also a delay of seven years in making Bengali a state language with Urdu. Another issue felt by East Pakistan was neglect from the West during the 1965 Pakistan-India war. President Ayub Khan’s violation of the Constitution in transferring power to the army commander-in-chief instead of the speaker of the National Assembly was another reason as was President General Yahya Khan’s bizarre actions.

Moreover, there were major flaws in the Legal Framework Order of 1970. The lack of detailed study of the six-point manifesto of the Awami League was also an issue along with the unwillingness of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to visit West Pakistan post-election victory. Then rose another issue that hurt in the form of the postponement of the first session of the National Assembly set for March 3, 1971 without a new date. More failures seen by the people of that side included “insensitive” leadership of the military in East Pakistan and in GHQ and the ineffective use of global media to project the facts.

Mr Jabbar also pointed to some falsehoods attached to the said break-up such as propaganda about three million Bengalis killed by the Pakistan Army, over 200,000 women raped, calling the armed forces Bengali-haters, very little development in East Pakistan, 93,000 soldiers becoming PoWs and the failure of the two-nation theory.

International milestones

About the international milestones as a result of the break-up, he said that Pakistan happened to be the first state to disintegrate after World War II and its reassertion by Pakistan of its will to survive and a new dynamism in foreign policy. “The Islamic Summit in Lahore in February 1974 was also an international milestone,” he said, adding that meanwhile India was going through internal turmoil. “They faced a new regional hegemonism. Their nuclear explosion in 1974 also initiated Pakistan’s own secret acceleration and United Nation General Assembly’s Resolutions for a nuclear-free South Asia,” he said. “Despite the birth of Saarc in 1985, regional hegemony by India with Pakistan made it the only South Asian state able to challenge and deter. And then in 1998, about 27 years after the loss of East Pakistan, both Pakistan and India became nuclear powers.”

“Are there vital national interests of Pakistan for attempting to build better relations with Bangladesh, especially under that country’s present leadership?” Mr Jabbar wondered aloud. “In the service of history, in the search for a better future, through a robust official and public diplomacy, Pakistan may be able to strengthen Pakistan-Bangladesh relations,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, December 25th, 2019