Bangladesh: 1969 Uprising to Independence in 1971


by R Chowdhury 9 February 2020

In the article “Bangladesh: Recalling 1969 Mass Uprising” (,I recounted the historic movement that quashed the Agartala Conspiracy Case (ACC) and saw the end of Ayub era in Pakistan.  I also desired to examine how the 1969 Movement played a role in the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.   

The 1969 movement did not stop with the success of its immediate demand, that is withdrawal of the ACC. It picked up the thread of its original crusade that started a year ago against President Ayub Khan of Pakistan. Bengalis saw him as the main architect of widening the gap of disparity between the two wings.

Inter-Wing Disparity

(In 1950-1970, West Pakistan with 44% population received Rupees 1133.4 billion for development while East Pakistan having 56% people was allocated Rupees 459.3 billion, 40% of what its minor half got. On the other hand, East Pakistan contributed 60% of the national revenue and 60% of the foreign exchange earnings. (Ref: Bangladesh Documents, Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, 1971. See the Appendix at the end). 

The movement soon became a catalyst in an explosive all Pakistan anti-Ayub rebellion. Army chief General Yahya Khan found it convenient to ease his boss Ayub out and take over in March 1969.  

Some analysts attribute the independence of Bangladesh to1969 movement. While acknowledging the importance of the 1969 movement, I don’t think it could be given the sole credit for the birth of Bangladesh. The greater success of the 1969 Uprising, to my mind, was that it united the people of East Pakistan and they spoke in one voice for the first time. Sheikh Mujib’s 6 Points demands played a significant role in it. 

The independence of Bangladesh had a larger and longer history than only the past two years. It had many immediate fathers though: the imprudent and reckless ruling military junta, an ambitious and mischievous Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the vested Indian interests, global players, and of course the freedom fighters to whom it was imposed.

History of Independence

In the wake of independence to British India, Mohammad Ali Jinnah of Muslim League renewed the age-old idea that Hindus and Muslims were two societies, two nations. Their lives clashed in many ways, and as such, could not live together after the British left. He proposed three independent contiguous states: Pakistan in the northwest, Bangistan in the northeast and Hindustan in the middle. He also supported Tamil and Telegu demands of independent Dravidistan to free themselves from the control of the 3% Hindu Brahmins. Congress leaders wanted an Akhand Bharat, undivided India. The independence finally came as Pakistan and India, largely on religious divide. India soon forcibly annexed Hyderabad, Junagarh, Jodhpur, Travancore and a few other states who wanted either independence or desired to side with Pakistan. More than 500 Princely States were coerced to join Indian.

The partition of 1947 was the need of the time, but it was faulty. Bangsam–Bengal and Assam—or Bangistan of Jinnah, should have been an independent entity (which Sher-e-Bangla, Bhashani, Suhrawardy, Abul Hashem, Sarat Bose and many others campaigned for), not part of Pakistan.

The way Pakistan was made and subsequently administered by the west’s military and political overlords, its eastern half would have separated sooner or later. It was an unsustainable geographic union in which the people of its the two parts differed many ways, saving a common faith. For 23 years of their united existence, the gap kept widening in political, economic, social sectors, and more importantly, in mutual trust. (Please refer to the inter-wing disparity in the Appendix). There had to be parting of the ways, which, unfortunately, came at a high cost.

 Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won majority in the December 1970 elections. But, all his seats, 160 of 300, were in East Pakistan and none in the other half of Pakistan. On the other hand, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s, Pakistan People’s Party won all its 81 members in West Pakistan and none in the eastern half. That itself was an ominous signal for the Islamic nation where it was heading!

Conspiracy to Silence Bengalis

In “Bangladesh: Road To March” (, I mentioned how Operation Searchlight was born at Bhutto’s Larkana Palace in mid-January 1971. Searchlight was designed to crush the aspirations of the Bengalis once for all. During the “Larkana Conspiracy,” as it was dubbed, the president remained busy with what he enjoyed the most (two ‘W’s) while the generals worked on the blueprint of the operation. It was rumored that the military control then quietly shifted to Hamid-Peerzada clique and the president remained a front man only. Bhutto, the mastermind of the conspiracy, was in the loop through his pal General Peerzada, Principal Staff Officer to the President. Peerzada later earned the title “Rasputin” in the conspiracy.

After a few showcase overtures at solving the political problems, the junta unleashed its military on the innocent Bengalis on the night of March 25, 1971. Mujib and his family surrendered to the military. Most other top leaders either went into hiding or crossed the border to India for safety. In that leader-less confusing vacuum, Major Ziaur Rahman of 8 Bengal made the crucial Declaration of Independence from Chittagong Radio Station on March 27, 1971. People from all walks of life joined the soldiers, police, Rifles, Ansars in the fight for independence.

Ziaur Rahman

It was generally known that since 1947, India had been trying to weaken or dismember Pakistan by detaching East Pakistan from the center. 1971 presented an opportunity of lifetime for Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India. But it was not so obvious, nor was it so easy to accomplish. She had other preoccupation, both domestic and external. She was worried about Naxalites and communist movements which were expanding fast. Going in direct support to Bangladesh independence could encourage these forces and the independence seeking states to create further problems for her.  

Indian Plan

When Indira Gandhi received Tajuddin Ahmad, Secretary General of Awami League, on April 4 and 6, she was skeptical and gave a guarded support to Bangladesh’s independence move. Subsequently, the 7-Point Agreement signed in July, detailed what she wanted of a future Bangladesh: total submission. Tajuddin had little choice. He had already come under Indian control when he was allowed to form the Exiled Government in Kolkata. Khandakar Mushtaque Ahmed, Foreign Minister of the exiled government, opposed it. Colonel M A G Osmani, the chief of the Mukti Bahini, the independence fighters, resigned in protest (The eccentric retired colonel resigned a number of times on policy disputes, but was persuaded each time to stay on). Additionally, to keep the exiled administration under check, General Sujan Singh Uban, Director General of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Indian External Intelligence Agency, created and trained Mujib Bahini, supported Kader Bahini and other smaller outfits, who did not follow the Bangladesh command guidelines. 

The US, China and the Muslim world, which supported Pakistan, heavily burdened Indira Gandhi’s mind. And, they are yet to forget their debacle of 1962 with China.  For India, another troubling issue was the influx of refugees, mostly Hindus, from Bangladesh, which grew up to be about 10 million. She, however, turned the problem into opportunity. She effectively sold the issue globally, and international support and sympathy kept pouring in. US Senator Ted Kennedy’s trip to the refugee camps was a high point, which diluted, if not negated, Nixon-Kissinger’s pro-Pakistani tilt. (In those days, Pakistan played a conduit to the US-China rapprochement). 

Indira Gandhi felt comfortable only after winning Russia in August 1971 through a treaty, her master stroke. It neutralized both the US and China’s adventurism in the conflict, though there was no overt evidence that either was eager to get militarily involved in the South Asian conflict. On the other hand, Indian military was not ready for an offensive in summer, and much less during the Monsoon months in East Pakistan.

The two Prime Ministers: Indira Gandhi of India and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh

The War of Independence

By end April or early May, Pakistan military virtually regained control of the whole of East Pakistan (militarily) at a huge cost to Bengalis though (300,000 by The Times estimate). When Mukti Bahini regrouped and formed three Regular Brigades (Z, S & K), following firm assurance of military help from India in July/August, the war took a reverse turn.

Yet, Pakistan was hoping help would come from the US and China and it could win. However, by November, when no such thing happened, Islamabad knew its eastern half was all but lost. General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, the military commander in East Pakistan, was consigned to his fate. The hawkish junta then foolishly tried to make some quick acquisition in West Pakistan and attacked India on December 3, only to face a humiliating defeat in less than two weeks.

In reality, India fought for only 9 days in its eastern front, from December 4 to 12, on an enemy that had already been crippled after facing the Mukti Bahini guerrillas and later the conventional forces for nine months. From December 13, it was a psychological warfare conducted by General Sam Manekshaw, the Indian army chief, in the form of Sam Manekshaw Ka Paigham, which kept warning the Pakistani forces to surrender or face serious consequences. Niazi surrendered with his 93,000 men on December 16. 1971.

General, later Field Marshal, Sam Manekshaw of Indian Army

What pained me the most were: 1) Non-participation of Bangladesh in the Surrender Ceremony (thanks to Indian hegemony), and 2) India taking away all the sophisticated Pakistani weapons of nearly Five Divisions.

Zoglul Husain, a freedom fighter and renown political analyst, said, “In 1971, the people of Bangladesh fought for independence from Pakistan, but India joined the war to divide Pakistan and turn Bangladesh into a subservient state under India.” (See

As a smalltime freedom fighter of 1971, I greatly regret that we jumped from the frying pan of Pakistan only to fall in the fire of India!

The Victory


Economic Disparity between the Two Wings of Pakistan

After the birth of Pakistan in 1947, political and economic control remained in the hands of the leaders in West Pakistan. East Pakistan continued to be neglected economically. There had never been a Bengali minister of Finance or Planning during the 23 years of a united Pakistan. Following chart for the year 1968- 69 will give an idea of how the disparity stood between the two wings of Pakistan:

(Ref: Bangladesh Documents, Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, 1971)

Employment in percentage:

                                         West Pakistan                         East Pakistan

            Population:          43% (56 million)                  57% (74 million)



Central Civil Service 84% 16%
Foreign Service 85% 15%
Army 95% 5%
Navy 86% 14%
Air Force Employment in numbers: 89% 11%
Defense Forces 500,000 20,000
Officers of the rank of General 16 1
Pakistan’s national airlines (PIA) 7000 280
PIA Directors 9 1
PIA Area Managers 9 0
Railway Board Directors 7 1
Foreign Heads of Mission Social Welfare: 60 9
Population 56 million 74 million
Number of doctors 12400 7600
Hospital beds 16000 6000
Rural Health Centers 325 88
Urban Comm. Dev. Center Allocation of Annual Budget: 81 52
Defense (Total 60%) 50% 10%
Non- defense (Total 40%) 25% 15%

A Soldier’s Debt

To be Noted

  • 22 families based in West Pakistan controlled 90% of the industries and 70% of the total wealth of Pakistan.
  • East Pakistan provided 60% of the total revenue and received only 25% of the budget allocation, while West Pakistan was allocated 75% by providing only 40% of the budget.
  • During the 10- year period 1958-6 8, East Pakistan exported Sterling

1153 million- -60% of the total- – and its share of import was only 30%, at Sterling 1000 million. During the same period, West Pakistan exported only 40% of the total, at Sterling 820 million, while its imports stood at 70% at Sterling 2315 million.

  • East Pakistan got 23% of the total funds, including foreign aid, for development projects, while West Pakistan got away with the lion’s share of 77%.
  • In 1949, the per capita income in West Pakistan was 18% higher than that of East Pakistan. In 1969, the gap widened to over 70%. The per capita income quadrupled in West Pakistan in 20 years, at the cost of East Pakistan.
  • East Pakistan’s share of GDP in 1949 was Rs.123.60 billion against Rs. 121.06 billion of West Pakistan. Because of a rapid pace of industrialization in the western wing, East Pakistan’s share in 1967 stood at Rs. 202.35 billion and rose to Rs. 286.52 billion for West Pakistan.
  • While West Pakistan continued its fast- paced industrial developments, the eastern half remained its feeder market for raw materials.
  • In 1969, Bengalis had to buy their staple food rice at Rs. 50 a maund (82 lbs.), while the price was Rs. 18 in West Pakistan. West Pakistanis bought their staple food wheat at Rs. 10 a maund, while East Pakistanis had to pay Rs. 35 for the same.

Those are a few examples of how East Pakistanis suffered under planned exploitation over the years.

Under those circumstances, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came out with his 6- Point Program, aimed at redeeming the rights of Bengalis.