links of history
General M. Sakhawat Hussain
15th December 2003, ARY Digital TV network,
a Pakistani owned private TV station that
beams from Dubai, aired a program that no
Pakistani or Pakistani media had done before.
It was an interview based TV talk show that
centered on a few characters that played
keys role in military operations in the
then East Pakistan in 1971. Not only Pakistanis,
but one of the Bangladeshi stalwarts, the
only surviving sector commander and post
Liberation Chief of Army Staff, Major General
KM Shafiullah also participated in voicing
his opinion. In his interview General Shafiullah
in brief explained the aim and objective
and the circumstances that led to Bengali
resistance to Pakistani brutality that led
to the War of Independence.
TV programme was designed to dig out the
'missing links' of the story around the
fall of Dhaka and emergence of Bangladesh,
particularly in the Pakistani perspective
and inform young Pakistanis what twist that
history took to break, in presenter's opinion,
the largest Muslim country in the world,
by trying to put some missing links together.
compere of the program raised couple of
pertinent questions. One of those was a
very pointed allegation on his Pakistani
guests, two of the infamous generals involved
in the Bengali massacre, Major General Rao
Farman Ali, Civil Affairs adviser to the
then governor of East Pakistan, and the
last Pakistani Commander Eastern Command,
Lieutenant General AAK Niazi, the man who
surrendered to the joint Indo-Bangla command
on 16th December 1971. It may be mentioned
that that was the last phone-in interview
of these two infamous generals, a week before
their death. The only other civilian person
interviewed, was Mr. Saleh Khaled then SSP
the TV program was laudable in that it tried
to extract some vital information from two
main characters i.e. Generals Farman Ali
and Niazi in a bid to find the missing link
of the black history of Pakistan. The two
issues that formed the basis of the programme
were one, who was responsible for killing
of the Bengali intellectuals. Two, who is
to be blamed for the actions that saw the
end of united Pakistan?
was Rao Farman Ali, first to be interviewed,
who blamed the trio, General Yahya, Mr.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and General Pirzada
for the Bangladesh crisis. For the military
defeat he blamed General AAK Niazi.
However, Farman Ali was asked about his
role in the killings of the Bengali intellectuals
on 14 December 1971, couple of days prior
to the liberation. Farman Ali partly denied
his connivance with this gruesome cold-blooded
execution that rivals Hitler's SS force
but he inclined to make Niazi culpable for
the crime. What the General said as an effort
to clear his name was that it was the work
of al-Badr anti-liberation militia, and
he only came to know about that once he
was in the Indian POW camp. He rather sheepishly
agreed that he did control the movement
of this militia raised and armed by Civil
Affairs Adviser's office. Al-Badr was essentially
controlled by Jamat-e-Islami, but Farman
Ali totally declined the suggestion that
he did move or authorise any armed group
to seize any one from Dhaka University area.
But the factual position was that Farman
Ali, having been the Civil Affairs Adviser,
controlled the operation of such armed militia
that operated in support of the Pakistani
happened in 14th December 1971 could not
have taken place without the connivance
of the Pak Military oligarchy. In his disposition
he said that after the resignation of the
governor in first week of December, he (Farman
Ali) moved inside Dhaka cantonment where
he found Niazi listing people to be arrested
to which he (Farman) wanted to intervene
suggesting that when the Indian army was
within striking distance of Dhaka there
was hardly any time to indulge in such a
foolhardy operation. What Farman Ali implied
was that it was Niazi who could have done
such an atrocious act but he could not ascertain
the names that Niazi insisted on arresting
prior to surrender.
the charge of intellectual killings Niazi
denied to have had any hand. What transpired
from the interview was that, among these
two, any one of them could have had a hand
in the most coward and un-soldierly act.
History however records the name of Rao
Farman Ali who had total control on the
events of then East Pakistan and the anti-liberation
forces, arming and training them as the
Civil Affair Adviser to the provincial government.
Be that as it may, the question that remains
unanswered is why these intellectuals were
killed couple of day before the surrender
of Pakistani troops when for the entire
duration of the liberation war these celebrities
never left their premises? The irony is
that no inquiry was ever held in Pakistan
to ascertain the conduct of their officers
in a war that they had lost. This could
have helped Pakistan army to shed the historical
burden that they will carry for generations.
when asked whom they would hold responsible
for 1971, all the Pakistanis interviewed
had no hesitation in pointing that it was
Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who had misguided
Generals Yahya Khan, Hamid and Pirzada.
Mr. Bhutto proved to be a power-hungry man,
who not only tacitly supported the military
action but also planned the action in advance
before he left Dhaka under the cover of
darkness on 25th March 1971. On reaching
Karachi he had thanked God for saving Pakistan,
a phrase that is still haunting Pakistani
very interesting piece of information that
Farman Ali revealed was Bhutto's ambition
to be in power. Farman Ali, who met Bangabandhu
in one of the political parleys that was
taking place in the Governor's house, told
the general that Mr. Bhutto had cajoled
Awami League to assure him of the presidency
but Mujib declined to commit as he (Mujib)
is said to have told Bhutto that it was
the parliamentary committee to decide. Farman
Ali further said that the Awami League had
some one else in mind to appoint as president
of Pakistan. The LFO for drafting constitution
provision for a West Pakistani president
in case of a East Pakistani prime minister
and vice versa. One could take Farman Ali's
statement as nearer to fact as he had access
to both the leaders, though as he stated,
he never attended any political parleys.
In sum and substance General Farman Ali
absolved Sk. Mujibur Rahman and the Bengalis
as responsible for the event.
these two main players of 1971 events revealed
would burden Pakistan history for betrayal
with their people for generations to come.
What the Bengalis aspired in 1970 election
was minimum of autonomy within Pakistan
but that was denied by those who had played
little a part in creating Pakistan.
the then East Pakistan was considered a
burden for Pakistan since exploitative policies
faced challenges from Bengalis. It was the
Pakistani ruling elites who were even ready
to trade off the majority province for rest
of Kashmir. The fact that West Pakistan
was more than willing to leave East Pakistan
at its 'mercy' was well documented by Lieutenant
General AAK Niazi in his book 'Betrayal
of East Pakistan' where he exposed how over
the years Pakistani policy makers became
less interested to keep Pakistan united.
Niazi writes, "immediately after 1970
elections Mr. Bhutto had asked MM Ahmed,
advisor Economic Affairs Division, and Mr.
Qamar-ul Islam, Deputy Chairman Planning
Commission, to prepare a paper for him (
Bhutto) to prove that West Pakistan could
flourish without East Pakistan.
still from 'Muktir Gaan'
the question remains why is that we could
not foresee the events that had clear indication
of the execution of the plan? The political
build up prior to the war of liberation
had no plans incorporated to resist the
probable military onslaught. The fact is
well documented even by those who led the
War of Liberation and confirmed from the
statement of Rao Farman Ali. He said that
Bangabandhu was working for a political
agreement and a minimum of his earlier 'six
point' till last.
fact remains that Bangladeshis were hardly
prepared to face the military onslaught
on night 25th March 1971. It was a handful
of Bengali members of the Armed Forces,
EPR (East Pakistan Rifles) and Police who
took up arms to initiate the war of liberation
and provide space for politicians to render
political support. Major General KM Shafiullah
substantiated the fact when he spoke at
the TV talk show. Major General KM Shafiullah,
categorically stated that they remained
loyal to Pakistan Army till the army he
was part of launched murderous attacks on
unarmed Bengalis. It was sheer patriotism
of Bengalis that motivated them, not necessarily
under any particular ideology.
was a people's struggle. And struggle continues
to achieve excellence as a forward-looking
nation in the world community.
courtesy: Tareq Masud
the past in the eye
a student of mine of Pakistani origin at
National University of Singapore came to
see me the other day. She asked me some
questions on the course I was teaching,
and then she asked me whether I would answer
some of her questions not related to Sociological
Theory, the course I was teaching. I agreed.
was born more than a decade after the birth
of Bangladesh or the breakup of Pakistan
-- depending on which way you look at it.
Her family has lived in Singapore for a
long time now. The distance from Pakistan
gives her some detachment, if not complete
objectivity. A Pakistani in Pakistan would
know, more or less, what happened. There
the official story was that India helped
some "misguided" Bengali leaders
such as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to break up
Pakistan. And that was all. So there was
not much to find out.
wanted to know what happened looking straight
into my eyes. She wanted to know in what
way people of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan)
were different from Pakistan (then West
Pakistan) and why Pakistan could not remain
united. After over three decades these questions
made me look back at a time when I was younger
than Sidrah today, a witness to hopes, tragedies,
anguish, fear, relentless patriotism, nationalism,
revolution, liberation war -- in a word,
came back to haunt me. Some of my dear friends
perished in that war. I was lucky to tell
the stories to none other than one who descended
from the same people who were on the other
side of the divide. I do not know how the
children of the Jews from Auschwitz looked
at the children of Nazis, or Palestinian
children would look at an Israeli.
did not see her as an enemy. She was just
a twenty year old girl slightly older than
my own daughter who grew up in foreign land
unencumbered by animosities or past baggage.
They are members of the "Cell phone
generation." They listen to Anasthesia
and Eminem. They do not care much about
history. They look into the future with
was different. She wanted some answers.
Is Islam in Bangladesh and Pakistan the
same? I asked her whether she was fasting.
She said she did. Luckily on that day, I
could also say to her that I too was fasting.
I told her that as far as religion was concerned,
we were practicing the same religion.
was different was our ways of life, our
dreams, aspirations, our language, our ways
of eating and what we ate, our marriage
ceremonies, in a word, culture. The language
movement of 1952 when people of East Pakistan
fought for the rightful status of their
mother tongue. At this point Sidrah interrupted.
"What movement?" she asked.
her history lessons did not include 1952.
The language movement, the sacrifice of
Bengalees on the streets of Dhaka, Shahid
Dibosh, etc were not part of the history
curricula in Pakistan, I presume. And when
I told her of the banning of Tagore songs
in 1967, she exclaimed: "What!"
in utter disbelief.
told her about economic exploitation and
disparity; how Pakistan had used the hard
earned foreign currency from the export
of jute that the peasants of Bangladesh
grew to build and modernize their cities
and to industrialize and so on. The economic
disparity was glaring. All the cushy jobs
went to the Pakistanis, and Bengalis became
second class citizens in their own country.
It was nothing but an internal colonialism.
I told her the stories of political oppression
and cultural discrimination.
told her how the rulers of Pakistan systematically
followed a strategy of exclusion. I told
her that the Muslim League which brought
Pakistan on the map itself was created in
Dhaka in December, 1906, more than twenty
years after the creation of Indian Congress
told her that in 1946 a large number of
Muslims of East Bengal voted in favour of
the creation of Pakistan and how over the
years they were excluded. By and large,
the Bengali Muslims -- both the elite and
the common people -- were involved in the
movement of Pakistan but their hopes were
dashed and they felt a deep sense of betrayal.
1971, after winning 167 seats in the election
of National Assembly of 300, Awami League
under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh
Mujibur Rahman was denied political power.
I told her of the brutalities of March 1971.
I told her of the systematic extermination
of our intellectuals in the declining days
told her the whole story -- not in anger
but in a dispassionate tone of forgiveness.
Why should I be angry? She had nothing to
do with the crimes of the past. Why should
I put her on the spot? I told her to read
Hassan Zaheer's book. But can we just forget
remember one moment of history vividly.
President Nelson Mandela came to Singapore
to deliver Singapore Lecture on March 6,
1997. We were waiting with batted expectation
at the Ball Room of Hotel Shangri-La. Mandela
walked in escorted by a single bodyguard.
A tall, handsome, crew cut, smart, young
white man followed Mandela closely.
was a man who spent nearly three decades
of his life in jail imprisoned by the white
ruling class in one of history's cruelest
episodes. Now he was free man who forgave
his oppressors. He stood taller.