Yahya Khan speaking with the media at Dhaka on 15 March 1971

Yahya & Bhutto declare that East Pakistan has been "saved from secessionist"

Last updated: 5 October 2017 From the section 1971 Muktijuddho

Whilst President Yahya returned to West Pakistan before Operation Searchlight commenced, opposition leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto stayed behind in Dhaka to watch the horror unfold.

Bhutto saw the burning ghats (series of steps leading down to a water body) of Dhaka and heard the earth-shaking explosions from his hotel room. In the fierce display of the army’s firepower, Bhutto saw the vision of his political power rise like the proverbial sphinx from the ashes.

Daily Times newspaper (Pakistan)

Few hours after the massacre began, Bhutto left the safe haven of Hotel Intercontinental around 8.30am and made his way to the airport under heavy security guidance. He returned back to Karachi, Pakistan, the following day (27 March 1971) propagating the 'successful' negotiation with Sheikh Mujib and President Yahya Khan. He was the first to bless the army action as he disembarked from his Boeing 707, giving his stamp of approval for Operation Searchlight.

Thank God, Pakistan has been saved.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's response when asked by waiting news reporters what he thought about the night's events. That was his only comment

Many think this single statement summed up the attitude of the West Pakistanis toward East Pakistan, that for West Pakistanis the people of East Pakistan did not matter at all; they were the Other, Hindu-like, and deserved destruction. Pakistan resided in the western wing and the rule of the elite of this region had to be guaranteed by all means, even if it meant whipping up a sentimental, but unfounded, rhetoric of "saving Islam from the Hindus" by brutalising the people of East Pakistan.


President Yahya on national radio: "Secessionist Awami League to blame"

Meanwhile, in a nationally broadcast radio speech at 8pm on 26 March 1971, President Yahya Khan addressed his "fellow countrymen" to explain and justify the military's takeover of East Pakistan. His audience, the "fellow countrymen", were West Pakistanis - East Pakistanis were not encompassed. The speech was delivered in Karachi rather than in Dhaka, those declared culpable were members of the Awami League and no West Pakistani leader or party was judged responsible either wholly or in part for the impasse. The leaders of the east stood charged with treason.

President Yahya claimed that the Awami League were intending to take East Bengal out of the Republic of Pakistan on the 'zero hour' (i.e. early morning) of 26 March 1971. However, their plans were foiled by the Pakistani Army before the zero hour and action were taken to put down the "insurrection and thwart the treasonous secessionists".

In East Pakistan a non-co-operation and disobedience movement was launched by the Awami League and matters took a very serious turn. Events were moving very fast and it became absolutely imperative that the situation was brought under control as soon as possible....

Having consulted West Pakistani leaders it was necessary for me to do the same over there so that areas of agreement could be identified and an amicable settlement arrived at...

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's action of starting his non-co-operation movement is an act of treason. He and his party have defied the lawful authority for over three weeks. 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.

A number of murders have been committed in the name of 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.

The Armed Forces, located in East Pakistan, have been subjected to taunts and insults of all kinds, I wish to complement them on the tremendous restraint that they have shown in the face of grave provocation. Their sense of discipline is indeed praiseworthy. I am proud of them.

I should have taken action against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his collaborators weeks ago but I had to try my utmost to handle the situation in such a manner as not to jeopardise my plan of peaceful transfer of power.

We have left no stone unturned [to resolve the issue].

His [Sheikh Mujib's] obstinacy, obduracy and absolute refusal to talk sense can lead to but one conclusion-the man and his party are enemies of Pakistan and they want East Pakistan to break away completely from the country. He has attacked the solidarity and integrity of this country-this crime will not go unpunished.

We will not allow some power hungry and unpatriotic people to destroy this country and play with the destiny of 120 million people.

In my address to the nation of 6th March I had told you that it is the duty of the Pakistan Armed Forces to ensure the integrity, solidarity and security of Pakistan. I have ordered them to do their duty and fully restore the authority of the Government.

...I appeal to my countrymen to appreciate the gravity of the situation for which the blame rests entirely on the anti-Pakistan and secessionist elements and to act as reasonable citizens of the country because therein lies the security and salvation of Pakistan.

God be with you. God bless you.

President Yahya Khan's broadcast to the nation in the evening of 26 March 1971

The military action "over there" was prompted by Sheikh Mujib's failure to "see reason". The President suspended all political activity and banned the Awami League. Having declared Sheikh Mujib a traitor, and having dispersed the Awami League higher command, President Yahya Khan created a political mess as he could not easily fill the vacuum.

Whatever the difficulties, he [Yahya Khan] had to move fast to produce a political solution... However, the urgency of the situation seemed to escape the President. Later, he did make a half-hearted attempt to recreate the central authority in the province, but only with the rejected people, and that too when it was too late.

Responding to President Yahya's secessionist accusation, the newly appointed Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Tajuddin Ahmad, pointed out that his statements were self-contradictory. The President branded the Awami League as traitors and outlaws but only 48 hours earlier he had been negotiating with them for a peaceful transfer of power thus it "bore no relationship to the situation in Bangladesh or the course of the negotiations".

The crudity of the statement was clear evidence that Yahya was no longer interested in taking shelter of either logic or morality and had reverted to the law of the jungle in his bid to crush the people of Bangladesh.

Pakistan is now dead and buried under a mountain of corpses. The hundreds and thousands of people murdered by the army in Bangladesh will act as an impenetrable barrier between West Pakistan and the people of Bangladesh . By resorting to pre-planned genocide Yahya must have known that he was himself digging Pakistan's grave. The subsequent massacres perpetrated on his orders by his licensed killers on the people were not designed to preserve the unity of a nation.

They were acts of racial hatred and sadism devoid of even the elements of humanity. Professional soldiers, on orders, violated their code or military honour and were seen as beasts of prey who indulged in an orgy of murder, rape, loot, arson and destruction unequaled in the annals of civilisation. These acts indicate that the concept of two countries is already deeply rooted in the minds of Yahya and his associates who would not dare commit such atrocities on their own countrymen.

Yahya's genocide is thus without political purpose. It serves only as the last act in the tragic history of Pakistan which Yahya has chosen to write with the blood of the people of Bangladesh. The objective is genocide and scorched-earth before his troops are either driven out or perished. In this time he hopes to liquidate our political leadership and public amenities and as a final act he intends to raze our cities to the ground. Already his occupation army has made substantial progress towards this objective. Bangladesh will be set back 50 years as West Pakistan's parting gift to a people they have exploited for 23 years for their own benefit.

PM Tajuddin Ahmad on President Yahya's secessionist accusation