Aftermath I

Natural event triggers a civil war

At the time of the cyclone, tensions were building up between East and West Pakistan because the eastern half was losing out economically and poverty was widespread. Within four months of this storm, the two parts of Pakistan would be at war, leaving little hope for effective reconstruction after the storm.

The Pakistan government's poor handling of the relief efforts helped accelerate the bitterness felt in East Pakistan, swelling the resistance movement there. Funds only slowly got through, and transport was slow in bringing supplies to the devastated regions. Shocked by the Bhola Cyclone disaster, the international community rapidly responded, and international aid flowed into East Pakistan. Bengalis angrily noted, however, that help from West Pakistan was slow, reluctantly given, and minimal. The slow pace of Pakistani-led relief efforts combined with subsequent allegations of rampant corruption and willful neglect within its emergency services soon served to catapult both provinces into a vicious 9-month civil war.

The feeling now pervades... every village, home, and slum that we must rule ourselves. We must make the decisions that matter. We will no longer suffer arbitrary rule by bureaucrats, capitalists, and feudal interests of West Pakistan.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman

That did it. Not only were Bengalis being deprived of their fair share of resources, but when in dire need they were largely ignored and given little sympathy by their supposed brethren. Fortunately, the upcoming national parliamentary elections in December gave the Bengalis a mechanism for expressing their rage, and the Six-Point Program of the Awami League gave them an alternative.


Bhola Cyclone accelerates Awami League victory in national elections

The Awami League, the largest political party in East Pakistan, headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, swept to a landslide victory in the national elections in December 1970, in part because of dissatisfaction over failure of the relief efforts by the national government. The elections for 9 national assembly and 18 provincial assembly seats had to be postponed until 18 January 1971 as a result of the storm.

While Pakistan had suffered a dearth of elections, just four provincial elections on adult franchise in the early 1950s and Ayub Khan's two 'indirect' national elections, it was now to experience a surfeit of electioneering.


However, the West Pakistan-based central government denied the Awami League their legitimate right to hold power in office. The failure of West Pakistan to respond to the November disaster in East Pakistan was bad enough. Now to deny it the honest victory it had won at the polls was a political quake that rocked East Pakistan. It shattered any expectation of fair play within Pakistan's current political structure and made absolutely clear that the Bengalis would have to wrest independence from Pakistan.

As tensions increased in March 1971, foreign personnel evacuated because of fears of violence. The situation deteriorated further and developed into the Bangladesh Liberation War on 26 March 1971. This conflict widened into the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 in December and concluded with the formation of a sovereign but no less vulnerable Bangladesh.

This is one of the first times that a natural event helped to trigger a civil war. As such, Bangladesh is commonly referred to as "the nation born of a cyclone".

Relief work marred by political unrest

As the conflict between East and West Pakistan developed in March 1971, the Dhaka offices of the two government organisations directly involved in relief efforts were closed for at least two weeks, first by a general strike and then by a ban on government work in East Pakistan by the Awami League. Relief work continued in the field, but the long-term planning was curtailed.

Polarisation of the two wings of Pakistan

Of course, not all East Pakistani grievances revolved around the 1970 cyclone. The favouritism shown to the western wing by the central government, the dominance of the West Pakistanis in the military, the decision to make Urdu the official language for whole of Pakistan and undermine Bangla which was spoken by the majority were few of the long-standing grievances that the eastern wing had towards the central government based in West Pakistan. The fact that Yahya Khan was a military leader installed in government by a coup further undermined the legitimacy of the regime.

It took the trauma of the 1970 cyclone, however, to ignite these latent grievances into a general firestorm of insurrection against the West Pakistani government.

If it is accepted that the 1970 cyclone played a crucial role in the 1971 insurrection, then the cyclone must bear some indirect blame in the atrocious human suffering triggered by the Bangladesh Liberation War.


Concert for Bangladesh (1971)

Cyclone shelters provides protection against future cyclones

Learning resources

Glossary of terms

Sarkar sara
Government response
Shajjo korun
Antorjatik shajjo
International help