Londoni

West Pakistani view: "Secessionist Bengalis aided by Hindu elements"

The Mujibnagar "government in exile" was established on Indian soil, in Kolkata. The Muktijuddha or "liberation forces" were trained in camps with Indian assistance. The Swadhin Bangla Betar Kendra - the voice of the Bengalis - was set up and operated from Kolkata.

On 18 April 1971, the Pakistani Deputy High Commission in Kolkata was taken over by an East Bengali defector from the Pakistani Foreign Service, Hussain Ali, and functioned thereafter as a 'Bangladesh Mission' with India's cooperation. For the Pakistanis, every major Bengali development seemed to have an Indian hand behind it.

'India wants to increase stranglehold on South Asia by separating two brothers'

Geographically, "Hindu" India surrounded East Pakistan.

In 1971 there were about 10 million Hindus living in East Pakistan. West Pakistan alleged that India wanted to separate East Pakistan to protect their interest and strengthen the economic position of the Hindus. According to them, many Bengali Hindus acted as spies for India and the only reason the Russians were against Pakistan was because they had allowed America to establish military bases in Pakistan. America's dwindling support was also viewed with suspicion. The unwillingness of the United States to militarily safeguard Pakistan's unity was seen as proof of American unreliability and its desire to see the separation of East Pakistan. As such, the Americans made it easy for the Russians to openly support India's "aggression".

This notion that India 'could not tolerate the existence of Pakistan' was even propagated by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, one of chief players in the Shadinota Juddho, as far back as 1966.

India cannot tolerate the existence of Pakistan. India wanted to destroy Pakistan. In the destruction of Pakistan lay India’s most sublime and finest dream.

Bhutto, on 19 March 1966, on India's true motive

Even on the western border, the Indians provided monetary and other support to the Pashtun leadership of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in an attempt to break-up Pakistan by supporting autonomy claims of various Pakistani ethnic groups. These Indian actions further confirmed the apprehensions of Pakistan that India would do its utmost to destablise it.

In order to crush such vindictive actions, it was important to raise 'true, Muslim, children of the soil' to fight the war on two fronts - against the Indian aggression and the Mukti Bahini, the "rebel and militant wings" of the Awami League. The "miscreants" (wrongdoer) and later as Indian "agents" or "infiltrators", as Pakistani referred them to, were sheltered, trained, armed and funded by the Indians who sent them back to East Pakistan to fight against the Pakistan Army. They were encouraged to 'fight for liberation' on the promises of a separate ethno-centric land based on secular values. It was left to the 'brave' Pakistani soldiers and their 'Muslim brothers in East Pakistan' to withhold an unified Pakistan and prevent the situation from getting hopelessly out of control.

When the miscreants of Mukti Bahini were pillaging the houses, raping the women and killing men of Bihari nationality; nothing more could have been expected from the army that is taught to value civilian lives.

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Faced with severe political and economic strains imposed by the Bengali refugees, and tempted by the prospect of permanently easing its two-front security threat from Pakistan, New Delhi decided to support the "secessionists' aspirations" for their own state of Bangladesh - "Land of the Bengalis".

Questions were raised in West Pakistan regarding the the objectives of the Indians in supporting the East Pakistanis. Did the Indians have a limited objective, such as to establish government in a section of East Pakistan which will be internationally recognised, or was their support a carefully disguised military intervention by India, a prelude to an all-out invasion of East Pakistan that had defeat and surrender of Pakistani army as its objective? There was uncertainty on this matter in Pakistan throughout 1971 and even until early December there was confusion on how best to respond on the ground level to such lingering threats.

The successful break-up of Pakistan at the end reinforced the belief that "Islamic" Pakistan faced constant threats to its identity and that "Hindu" India was committed to undoing partition. It confirmed Pakistani's suspicions of the 'hegemonic [dominance] designs' that the Indians harboured.

First, Indians tend not to remember 1971 as a Pakistani civil war, but rather as India's "good" war. It is remembered as an intervention by India to prevent the genocide of Bengalis by Pakistanis. The fact that the Bengalis themselves were also Pakistanis has been effaced from the collective memory of Indian elites. This makes 1971 merely another Kargil, or Kashmir, Afghanistan or Mumbai—an instance of Pakistan meddling in other people's affairs, and of the Pakistani military's adventurism in the region. This is why mention of Balochistan at Sharm el-Sheikh created such a stir in India. It was literally incomprehensible to Indians that Pakistan could accuse India of meddling in its internal affairs. Surely, this is the pot calling the kettle black. But what the Indian mind perceives as Pakistan's ongoing divorce from reality is in fact Pakistan's most fundamental political reality. The Pakistani establishment has internalised the memory of 1971. In all things, and at all times, it must account for India. Dismemberment has the requisite effect of focusing the mind on existential matters. Nothing can be taken for granted.

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However, the West Pakistanis would not openly admit to two very important facts. Firstly, the Muslims accounted for over 10% of India's 600 million population in 1971, that is there were 60 million Muslims in India - five million more than the whole population of West Pakistan. Secondly, the Bengalis were fighting for their political rights which they won democratically and legally via the 1970 election and also to balance the social and economic injustices that had prevailed since the formation of Pakistan in 1947. For the 'East Pakistanis' the conditions for a division of Pakistan was created by the West Pakistani elites, and the 1971 war represented a culmination of their long term grievances against this powerful body. For India, they just got it on a platter.

Role of Hindu teachers

Most of the senior officials of the Pakistan Army had experienced the violence of 1947 firsthand, and the mostly Punjabi members of the army hated anything related to Hinduism. This was evident in their particularly brutal actions against the Hindu community in 1971.

A large number of Hindu teachers were teaching in the educational institutions in East Pakistan. The Pakistanis believed these teachers produced literature which created negative thinking in the minds of Bengalis against the people of West Pakistan.

There were a large number of Hindus in East Pakistan. They had never really accepted Pakistan. A large number of them were teachers in schools and colleges. They continued creating a negative impression among the students. No importance was attached to explaining the ideology of Pakistan to the younger generation. The Hindus sent a substantial part of their earnings to Bharat, thus adversely affecting the economy of the province.

A passage from a secondary school textbook in Pakistan,

In particular Dhaka University (or DU for short) was considered to be an institution where Hindu professors framed anti-Pakistani sentiments. The DU was also at the centre of the 1952 Basha Andolan (Bengali Language Movement) which tried to establish Bengali - perceived by West Pakistani elites as a Hindu Sanskrit language - as a state language since it was spoken by the majority of the people in the country.

West Pakistani government accommodated all Hindu demands, and as a result DU was established as a predominantly Hindu institution. It was staffed mainly by Hindu professors. But in as much as Pakistan came into being in the teeth of Hindu opposition and as the entire Hindu community was opposed to it, the Hindu professors of Dhaka University and the hundreds of thousands of Hindu school masters throughout East Pakistan openly preached to their students against Pakistan. In fact it was these professors and teachers who sowed the seeds of the crisis.

Moulana Mohammad Ali exemplifying the perception held by West Pakistanis that East Pakistanis are 'Hindu influenced' ,

Army officers operated with the perception that killing Hindus and driving out Hindu survivors would help save Pakistan. That the Hindus should leave for India where they 'belonged', thus East Pakistan would be left with 'pure and real' Muslims.

Many Muslim leaders pointed out to the infiltration of anti-Islamic "Hindu culture" upon the Bengalis, such as songs, dance and nudity through TV channels and propagation of anti-Pakistan sentiments through literature (e.g. newspapers, books, leaflets). They warned of Indian's, Awami League's and disenchanted leftists' secular values damaging the social fabric of the 'Islamic' Republic of Pakistan, and in particular the Muslims in East Pakistan. This is still an issue amongst practising Muslims in present day Bangladesh where the use of music, women dancing in public and other acts prohibited by Islam is used widely to celebrate national events such as Shadinota Dibosh (Independence Day) and Ekushey February (21st February).

It was against the Muslim creed to drink spirits [alcohol], but they [i.e. West Pakistani elite] drank prodigiously. Islam frowns on excess, and demands that all men should live in humble servitude to God, and they were the least humble of men. The essential egalitarianism of Islam, by which the slave becomes the equal of the master, had no meaning for them. They observed the outward formalities of Islam if it pleased them or if it suited them, but did not feel bound to them. They were above the law, even the moral law.

Author Robert Payne on the hypocrisy of the Pakistani elite

Big Brother syndrome

Since it's formation in 1947, Pakistan felt the challenge of it's bigger neighbour. The Partition and subsequent wars over Kashmir and other issues have exacerbated mutual distrust between the two nations.

Weaker in economic and military potential, lacking an industrial base and other necessary infrastructures, and awkwardly divided into two widely separated wings, Pakistan harboured a genuine fear that its bigger neighbour would swallow it to form a 'Akhand Bharat' (Undivided or Greater India).

The cause of our major problems is India's inability to reconcile herself to our existence as a sovereign, independent state... We have an enemy, an implacable [relentless] enemy India and it has ambitions to absorb Pakistan and turn her into a satellite.

Pakistan's President Ayub Khan wrote in his book "Friends Not Masters" (1967)

Speeches of Indian leaders where they made no secret of their political designs also contributed their share. Threats to undo Pakistan were frequently issued soon after Partition by Hindu leaders of the Indian National Congress, such as its President, Acharya Kripalani, or Sardar V. B. Patel, the Home Minister at the time.

Neither Congress nor the nation has given up its claims of a united India.

Acharya Kripalani, President of the Indian National Congress in 1947

Sooner than later, we shall again be united in common allegiance to our country.

Sardar Vallabhbai Patel , first Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister of independent India

During 1971, many Indians advocated exploiting Pakistan's predicament. Undoubtedly the most highly publicised in Pakistan was Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam, then the director of the government-sponsored Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses in New Delhi who urged military action to take advantage of this 'opportune' moment which 'will never come again'.

On 31 March 1971, Subrahmanyam participated in a Council of World Affairs seminar on the East Pakistani developments in which, in contrast to most of the other participants, he argued against the non-intervention policy of the Indian government. Then on 5 April 1971 he published an article in the National Herald (a newspaper that had long been closely associated with the Nehru family and strongly supported Indira Gandhi) in which he reiterated his argument that the East Pakistani crisis presented India with an opportunity of a lifetime to settle scores with Pakistan.

What India must realise is the fact that the break-up of Pakistan is in our interest and we have an opportunity the like of which will never come again.

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  • Krishnaswamy Subrahmanyam (1929 - 2011) Prominent international strategic affairs analyst, journalist and former Indian civil servant.

However, according to Subrahmanyam, he had not consulted with any governmental officials in preparing the article, which was an expression of his personal opinion. Besides, the National Herald refused to publish subsequent articles by Subrahmanyam stating similar views, and he had to turn to the pro-Jana Sangh paper Motherland as a medium for publication. Later, he was "advised" by the Defence Ministry to suspend publication of articles on the subject when a report prepared by him for a "closed door" seminar sponsored by his own institute advocating the seizure of sections of East Pakistan and the establishment there of a provisional government of Bangladesh under Indian army protection was acquired by a London Times correspondent, published, and even more widely quoted than his earlier statement.

Always believing that "Hindu" India had plans to break up Pakistan, statements like these only increased Pakistani fears. Nevertheless, there were other important Indian writers who argued on the other side of the debate and promoted restraint such as Piloo Modi, one of the founder member of the Swatantra Party, General Cariappa, first Indian Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army, and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, last Governor-General of India, who advised against any recognition of the Bengali government in exile. But, Subrahmanyam’s phrase was widely cited by the Pakistani government, press, and intellectuals as proof that the Indian government had decided on an interventionist policy by late March - if not earlier - given Subrahmanyam's "important" position and status in governmental circles. It left a lasting impression and remains vivid in the memory of many historians in Pakistan, and further deepened the Pakistani's animosity against India.

The tendency in both Pakistan and India to look for "worst case" interpretations of each other's behaviour is reflected in Pakistan's failure to place Subrahmanyam's contributions to the debate in India in proper perspective. Several other, more prominent Indians who publicly counseled against any form of involvement in East Pakistan were totally ignored in Pakistan. These included C. Rajagopalachari, governor-general of India from 1947 to 1950 and a former chief minister of Tamil Nadu; General Cariappa, the former commanding general of the Indian army; and M. Karunanidhi, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu in 1971, who cited the developments in East Pakistan as a warning to India to avoid creating conditions that would encourage autonomy movements in its own territory.

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