THIS is with reference to the report ‘Sheikh Mujib didn’t want independent nation, documentary reveals’ (Dec 14), which was based on the screening of Javed Jabbar’s documentary, Separation of East Pakistan — The Untold Story. I find the title and the article a bit misleading.

While it is true that Mujibur Rahman did not want an independent Bangladesh in the beginning, he was eventually left with no other option but to struggle for a separate homeland. As an 87-year-old person, who has witnessed many historical events, I would like to bring to light a few things.

We know that Bengalis were at the forefront of the struggle for a separate state for the Muslims, so there was no reason for them to participate in the breaking of a country which they had fought for. It may be recalled that there were 44 members from East Pakistan and only 25 from West Pakistan in the first constituent assembly of Pakistan. Six of the members were nominated by the East Pakistan Assembly from West Pakistan, and one of those six members was Liaquat Ali Khan.

At the time of partition, population-wise East Pakistan was in majority, and, if the East Pakistanis wanted, they could have pressed for Dhaka to be designated the capital city, and Bengali as the national language, as well as a constitution that favoured East Pakistan. But Bengalis sacrificed the principle of majority and accepted parity, hoping for an equal treatment. However, in the following years, their sacrifices went in vain.

In the mid-1960s, I served as a district officer in a semi-government organisation, the West Pakistan Agricultural Development Corporation (WPADC), in Nawabshah. I happened to be part of a high-level meeting in which WPADC chairman Gen Haq Nawaz proposed that jute, the golden fibre, should be cultivated in West Pakistan and mills should be set up for its production and subsequent export.

An agriculturalist, with 40 years of experience, tried to dissuade the general on the grounds that jute was successfully exported from East Pakistan, and the farmers and labourers in West Pakistan would not be able to carry out the tedious process. However, the general thumped his fist on the table and said that he had a 40-year experience of making things work. Needless to say, the project failed. However, the general’s intention was to create competition with the flourishing industry of the eastern wing and to claim some of the foreign revenue.

In 1970, I attended Mujib’s rally in Nawabshah. I personally heard his speech in which, apart from various other things, he categorically asked the people to tell him why he would be against Pakistan when he was going to be the prime minister of the country. We now know that Mujib was denied that right despite having more than the needed vote count.

It was not the Bengalis who wanted to move away from West Pakistan. They found themselves pushed against the wall. If we learn what we need to learn from history, we will be able to stand with those who were oppressed then and with those who are under oppression today. According to the late Brazilian thinker and activist, Paulo Freire, freedom means to free ourselves from oppressing the others. Let’s be free.

Salim Ahmed
Karachi

Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2021

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