My Scholastic Rendezvous in ‘East Pakistan’: A Witness to the Breakup of Pakistan and Making of Bangladesh


Dhaka University, Arts Faculty in 1960s

By Tariq Mahmud      6 December 2022

A Destiny Changing Afternoon Stroll

This was 1964. The crimson sky steadily turned grey with intermittent thunders of the thickly gathering clouds. I was having a casual stroll with my elder brother in the suburbs of our hometown Sialkot, Pakistan

My elder brother, at the time a Pakistan Foreign Service (PFS) probationer had just returned from the ‘East Pakistan’ after an eventful study tour. He had so much to tell me about his experiences in the former eastern wing of Pakistan for example, the Sakura restaurant on the Dhaka airport road, the cruising in paddle steamship between Narayangunj and Khulna, the two river-port towns and how much he relished the Hilsha fish, a delicacy in ‘East Pakistan’ and his visit to the lush green tea gardens that rolled over the gentle slopes of the hills in Sylhet, a district in the North East.

As we were walking, my brother paused and said, “Tariq, why don’t you apply for the inter-wing exchange programme (a study programme of the then Pakistan Government that offered scholarships to students of West Pakistan to study in the East and vice versa) and undertake the University education in Dacca (Dhaka). ‘

I looked at him a bit lost and told him that I had yet to complete my intermediate. He said “well, when you finish your intermediate the next year, keep it in mind, it is worthwhile.”

My Scholastic Journey to ‘Dacca’ (Dhaka)

Next year, the year 1964 passed rather quickly. After clearing my intermediate examination with a good grade and following on the heels of my brother’s advice, I applied for the Inter-wing exchange programme and got the scholarship to study economics at the Dhaka (‘Dacca’) University in ‘East Pakistan’.

However, my journey to ‘Dacca’ (Dhaka) had to be postponed for a few days and this was because, a war between India and Pakistan had broken out and travel to  ‘East Pakistan’ from the West by plane that involved flying over India, was disrupted.

Finally, in November 1965 when flights between the West and the East resumed via Colombo, Sri Lanka I bought my ticket, boarded the PIA plane, and landed at the ‘Dacca’ airport on an early winter day.

Soon after my arrival, I got myself admitted in B.A. (Honours) degree course at the Department of Economics of the Dhaka University. However, as I had arrived late, I was lagging far behind the course and as a result, had to work hard to make up for the lost time.

Walking down to the new bloc for the classes and spending long hours at the university and at the then ‘East Pakistan library’ (now Public Library) consumed most of my time during my university days. I would also visit, once a month, the US Information Centre which was about 20 minutes or so walk from the university.

My first taste of the ugly side of politics and alienation of the East from the Pakistani establishment in the West

As the session at the university progressed, an unfortunate if not an ugly incident took place. The then pro government (Ayub/Monem Khan government) student goons belonging to the National Students Front (NSF) viciously attacked and injured Dr Mahmud, the head of my Department, the Department of Economics who was a left leaning teacher and a bitter critique of the government.

A day after the incident I along with one of my inter-wing senior scholars from ‘West Pakistan’ who was undertaking his studies at the Dhaka University, went to see Dr. Mahmud.

Dr. Mahmud was in a very pensive mood, a bit slow in talking and was lying on a reclining bed. Both of us were deeply saddened seeing Dr. Mahmud in this condition.

The story behind the attack was that Dr. Mahmud had a job-related dispute with a fellow colleague – a pro-government academic – which was under litigation, a case that Dr. Mahmud had won. Apparently, this was the background to the attack – the pro-government academic who lost the case influenced the pro-government student goons to physically assault Dr. Mahmud.

The attack on Dr. Mahmud triggered strong reactions among the students as well as most of the academics especially among those who admired him, ensuing a protracted period of violence and counter violence in the campus.

There was tension in all the residential halls of the university including the Salimullah Muslim Hall where I used to reside.

As the conflicts intensified and went out of control, the university administration closed the university for an indefinite period. The closure was a good opportunity for me to travel to ‘West Pakistan’ and visit my mother and my siblings back in Sialkot.

Confusions and Reflections

Till my landing in Dhaka, I had no idea about the sensitivity and the tensions that prevailed and defined the relationships between the two wings of the then Pakistan.

Before I came to Dhaka in 1965, my knowledge of ‘East Pakistan’ consisted of Pakistan’s two wings – East and West – separated by hostile Indian territory. But why there was the physical distance between the two wings of the same country baffled me all along.

I also knew that Bengalis were good football players, agile and swift especially on a wet field. As a child I had seen some of the Bengali foot ballers in Murree enchanting the crowd in the wet weather with their swift and confident movements.

However, soon after I touched down on the soil of the then Eastern Wing of Pakistan, – ‘East Pakistan’ – I was on a learning curve with an urge to know more about the aspirations of the Pakistanis of this part of the country.

After coming to Dhaka and interacting with many Bengalis, some of whom became very close friends (and they still are) I came to the conclusions that there were tensions in terms of East’s perception of the Western wing of Pakistan. However, the good thing was these perceptions which were mostly of political nature never dulled their warmth and for the people of the Western wing.

In other words, neither the physical distance nor the racial differences separated the people of the two wings. Their resentments were mainly against the Pakistani establishment which were compounded year-after-year by policies that consistently discriminated against and ignored the aspirations of the people of the Eastern wing.

The Language issue – the beginning of discord

Take for example, the language issue. Soon after independence in 1947, the issue of official language became the first and the major source of discord between the people of the East and the West where the central government was located. The Pakistani establishment which was dominated by the Urdu speaking gentry decided to make Urdu, the state language of Pakistan, a decision which was duly and understandably, opposed vehemently by the Bengali speaking people of the East, who also constituted the majority in Pakistan.

I had reflected on this issue of the Language for many years. To me everything was Pakistani and that everything regardless of whether it was the poetry of Shah Latif Bhitai in Sindhi, Bhullay Shah in Punjabi, Khushal Khan Khattak in Pashto or Tagore’s and Kazi Nazrul’s poems and songs In Bengali, everything evolved and fermented from the soil, that now we call Pakistan and thus have had familiar ambience and deserved equal recognition and admiration.

Till today, I wonder why we were not more appreciative of and sensitive to the aspirations of the Bengalis. After all Bengali language had evolved and bloomed within the ambience of the land and confines which contained the majority population of the new state, Pakistan and a language that has had a long and a rich history.

Acceptance of Bengali as one of state languages of Pakistan would in no way have relegated Urdu to which the people of the Eastern wing had been as familiar and fond of as those in the West just that they didn’t appreciate their own mother tongue, Bangla, a rich language by its own rights, being replaced with another.

From my own personal experience, I have seen how Bengalis loved watching Urdu movies, relished ghazal and different genre of Urdu poetry. They admired and appreciated Urdu as much as they admired the Bangla art, literature, and movies. However, their admiration for Urdu did not mean that they would welcome removal of their own language from official and other use. As a result, reaction of the ‘East Pakistanis’ was obvious – they revolted.

Faced with violent resistance from East Pakistan against the imposition of Urdu as the national language of Pakistan, central government eventually relented, and Bengali was recognised as one of the two the state languages of Pakistan. This was sensible though and sadly, the seeds of discontent and distrust between the two wings of Pakistan that been laid, continued simmering and was made worse by the policies of the central government that consistently neglected the interest of the East.

The birth of the ‘Six Points’ and the aftermath.

The 1965 India/Pakistan war and its aftermath evoked divergent feelings and impressions among the people in the two erstwhile wings of Pakistan.

After the heroic tank battle in Chowinda, Sialkot that kept the Indian army from advancing into the ‘West Pakistan’ territory and the Pakistan Air Force keeping the skies safe in that part of Pakistan and thus there was a sense of reassurance and relief amongst the people in the western wing that they have an army which is strong enough to protect them against an external enemy, in ‘East Pakistan’ the mood was different.

In the then East Pakistan, the central government of Pakistan never deployed nor developed a defence capability of any significance. As a result, during the War, the eastern wing was left virtually undefended and the people in that part of the country felt abandoned and unprotected against the enemy. Luckily India did not invade ‘East Pakistan’ and thus was saved but the damage was done. For the first time, people of East Pakistan felt and for good reasons that the Pakistani establishment did not care and did not protect them same way they defended the West.

In early 1966 a meeting of the combined opposition, the Combined Opposition Parties (COP) was called in Lahore.

The meeting was called to draw a clear strategy against the quasi-military government of Ayub Khan, a government which had not only failed the nation but brazenly trampled the legitimate rights of people. The Lahore meeting proposed dismantling of the presidential system of government and demanded to replace it with the parliamentary form government and maximum provincial autonomy.

In the same meeting the leader of the Awami league, Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman presented the historic six points for the regional autonomy. As a perceptive politician with a keen sense of timing there couldn’t have been a better occasion to unwind a plan of action that has had the potential to meet the aspirations of East Pakistan.

The plan however, had far-reaching economic and constitutional implications for the Pakistan though it is also true the 6-point announcement also reflected the frustrations of the East Pakistanis especially the have been treated by the centre and more so, the way they were left out and undefended during the 1965 India/Pakistan war, at the mercy of an enemy who surrounded it on three sides. However, instead of responding and addressing the feelings of alienation sensitively and pragmatically, the Pakistani establishment opted to stifle the voices of dissent of their leaders that articulated and brought them to the fore.

Six points envisioned a constitutional dispensation which was in conformity with the Lahore resolution of 1940 which envisaged having more than one autonomous state for the Muslims of the subcontinent with the powers of the centre confined to the foreign affairs and the defence while the rest of the powers and ancillaries were to be transferred to the provinces. The movers and framers of the resolution were fully aware of the concentration of the Muslim population in the northwest and eastern parts of India and thus had known well that a traditional federal system couldn’t work seamlessly.

The ‘Six points’, envisaged two separate convertible currencies or of a single currency with a separate account for the provinces with checks on transfers. A provision was made for accounting separate reserves. Power for all kinds of taxation was to be vested in the provinces and the central government had no role in raising and appropriating the taxes which were so essential to run the state craft. The central government was to meet its requirements through transfer of finances by the provinces to defray its expenses.

There is no doubt that these were extreme demands. However, let us also not forget that the Bengali Muslims who enthusiastically and assertively voted in 1946 to make Pakistan a reality, have been systematically treated badly by the Pakistani establishment which was in the Western wing.

As a result, distrust of the West by the East and East’s last desperate efforts to narrow the gap, albeit within the framework of one Pakistan, compelled them to resort to a set of Centre-Periphery arrangements – the 6-points – that opted for maximum autonomy to the East and minimum control of the Centre.

During this entire episode I would often get involved in steamy discussions with my ‘Dacca University’ Bengali friends.  We have had so many arguments and counter arguments.

One question I often had to face from my ‘East Pakistani’ friends was whether I could give an example of a federation in the world separated geographically with a hostile neighbour and furthermore, a persistent question that I would often be confronted with and a question that I never could answer, was – why was it that issues such as Kashmir that were more linked to the West Pakistan than the East were the only issues that got prioritised and that East’s issues and concerns were barely entertained?

Economic differences between the two wings undoubtedly have had deep and genuine historical reasons and 6-points demand were outcome of years of systemic neglect. Regrettably, instead of taking concrete steps to narrow the gap, the Pakistani establishment opted to do the opposite – suppress the voices of dissent. As a result, disparities, and distrust between the two wings of the then Pakistan continued to grow at multiple levels.

‘The Agartala Conspiracy Case’

The Launching of the 6-point should have triggered reflections and inspired actions to address the grievances. Instead, the Pakistan establishment decided to hit back with punitive actions.

They invented the so-called ‘Agartala Conspiracy’ case where it was alleged that Mujib was secretly hatching a conspiracy with India, in Agartala town, a border town in India across the Eastern border of the then East Pakistan, to dismember Pakistan. Pakistani establishment indicted Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and few others and put them behind bars.

As could be imagined, the arrest and incarceration of one of the most popular leaders of East Pakistan on false pretexts, infuriated the East Pakistanis.

With the launching of the Agartala Case, Pakistan had reached a defining moment. I felt that regardless of how extreme the stipulations of the 6-point were, the Bengali leadership at least offered a negotiating framework to engage and mitigate the grievances through political means. Unfortunately, the west Pakistani politicians and policy makers opted for reprisal.

An Agartala Tribunal was set up under Justice SA Rehman for undertakings the trial. Ironically, the proceedings of the case which used to reported in all the leading dailies in the ‘East Pakistan’  and revealed the hollowness of the case became sources for further distrust and at the same time, increased support for Awami league in the general public. These reports revealed that the accused were regularly tortured, both physically and emotionally and were subjected to taunts for “not being Muslim” by the interrogating and the prison officer. There were also reports that some of the accused were denied the opportunity fasting during Ramadan. During this time an unfortunate incident took place –  a Sergent Zahurul Huq, a non-commissioned officer, an accused in the case, was shot who died subsequently, triggered violent reaction all over the province, while in the university the name of Iqbal Hall was defaced and renamed as Zahoor ul Haque Hall.

Another missed opportunity

Another opportunity that the Pakistani establishment ever got to address the grievances of the ‘East Pakistanis’ politically was when Hussain Shahid Suhrwardi, the then leader in the East Pakistani dominated Awami League won the general election in 1956 and became the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Sadly, this did not last long.

Pakistan’s tryst with democracy and its only chance to narrow the gap between the wings was soon nipped in the bud – in 1958, through a military coup led by General Ayub Khan. Mr. Suhrwardi was sacked and exiled where he died a lonely man in a hotel.

Fast Forward 1969-1971: Fall of Ayub Khan, Rise of Bhutto, Entry of Yahya Khan, the Election 1970

Ayub Khan ruled with iron hands, and he felt so conceited of his accomplishments that influenced by some of his hangers-on, decided to celebrate the so-called ‘Decade of Development’ in 1968, a celebration that turned out to be somewhat hollow that revealed more of his failures than successes and more importantly, revealed the stark inequities– both intra and inter-wing – in Pakistan. The celebration triggered more resentments than joy in both wings of Pakistan.

Bhutto’s rise

At this time, Mr Bhutto, a long serving cabinet member of the Ayub regime broke ranks with his mentor, Auyb Khan and resigned from the government. While most of Ayub Khan’s cabinet members were either hated or were ignored by people, Bhutto made a deep positive impression among most people especially in the ‘West Pakistan’ and this was mainly because of the historic emotional speech he made as the Foreign Minister of Pakistan at the UN Security Council on the 1965 India/Pakistan war. He was articulate, up front, histrionic and spell binding. His defiant speech and his charisma caught the imagination of the public.

Bhutto, a shrewd and an ambitious man sense an opportunity. He thus parted company of the unpopular Ayub, mulled over the prospect of forming a left of centre political party and be Pakistan’s next leader.

I remember his visit to Dhaka and his address to a select gathering at the Bangladesh Engineering institute in Dhaka. The hall was packed. As Bhutto spoke, he was heard with rapt attention.

After the event the left leaning students of the Dhaka University who were impressed by Bhutto’s speech were also of the view that his stance was mainly anti Ayub and that his speech hardly touched issues that were important to ‘East Pakistan’. The consensus among my Dhaka University friends was that complete regional autonomy was the only solution to the prevailing disparity between the two wings. Some also felt that Bhutto’s left-leaning posturing was more of a political stunt than anything genuine.

In ‘West Pakistan’ politics had taken a violent turn with the killing of a student of a polytechnical college in Rawalpindi. People were up in arms against the government and against Ayub Khan’s long tenure that did not seem to have produced happy outcomes.

Mr Bhutto who by then had joined the protesting crowd was arrested. Non-politicians and respectable people such as Air Martial (Retired) Asghar khan and Mr. Justice (Retired) Murshid, a nephew of Shere Bangla A. K. Fazlul Huq also joined the anti-Ayub movement.

Agartala case dropped, Mujib released

Led by Maulana Bhashani, the octogenarian leader of ‘East Pakistan’, a mass movement demanding immediate release of Shiekh Mujibur Rahman led to the dismissal of the Agartala Conspiracy Case against Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and other co-accused and Sheikh Mujib and his co-accused were released from the prison.

Meanwhile, President Ayub, announced that he would no more be the candidate for the future presidency. He publicly admitted for the first time that representatives and people of East Pakistan did not have proper share in the national decision making and admitted that the National Assembly was devoid of effective power to legislate freely. While Ayub deserved much praise for telling the truth, it was him who committed these mistakes during his decades long rule. Thus, his admission of guilt came rather late – by then, the wheel of history had moved too far ahead.

Ayub Khan resigns, Yahya takes over

Lurking shadows of evening had overtaken the Dhaka sky. I was with a friend in the New Market, the then then popular shopping joint in Dhaka, shopping.

There was a sudden announcement on the radio that the President of Pakistan was going to address the nation. After a pin drop silence the President was on air. It was a short parting address by the President informing the anxious nation that he was stepping down and instead of handing over power to the Speaker of the National Assembly which according to Ayub’s own Constitution should have been the person to handover power, he chose the sitting army chief, General Muhammad Yahya khan.

The outgoing President and the military ruler who came to power through Martial law was now leaving the office through a Martial law.

With his exit the system which sustained the reign of the General for a decade crumbled like a house of cards, a sordid lesson of history which no ruler seems to care to learn.

The Pledge of a free and fair election

Immediately after taking over the Presidency and the Office of the Chief Martial Law Administrator General Yahya Khan pledged the nation a free and fair general election and in a unilateral move he dissolved the one unit in West Pakistan and revived the old four provinces and dispensed with the principle of parity between the two wings. Instead, he gave weightage to the population of respective provinces which would gave a numerical advantage to ‘East Pakistan’.

With these announcements and in anticipation of the ensuing election, political forces/parties in both wings started to reach out to people and mobilise support for their respective parties.

In West Pakistan Bhutto led Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) had been gaining ground on a leftist platform with the popular slogan of ‘ Roti, Kapra aur Makan (Bread, Cloth and House).

The Islamist and the right leaning parties labelled the PPP as heretic anti-Islam.

In East Pakistan the single denominator that swayed the public opinion was the demand for regional autonomy and became the most dominant rallying cry during the campaign period.

The Changing political mood in ‘East Pakistan’

I am not too sure of the exact date, but this would be sometime in late 1969 that I became a witness to a harrowing incident. I saw in the middle of the Ramna Racecourse, a sprawling ground in Dhaka, close to the Dacca (Dhaka) University, a group of the university students armed with sticks thrashing unarmed boys, that came their way. I panicked and ran to save myself. The attackers then chased a lone guy who was trying his utmost to outrun the armed gang to save himself but failed. Soon the goons caught up with him and started bashing him mercilessly with rods and stick while he groaned and screamed in pain and became unconscious. Later I came to know that the victim’s name was Abdul Malik and he was the member of the right wing student organisation Islami Chhatro Shongo, the student wing of Pakistan Jamati Islami Party, a pro-establishment and an opponent of the Awami League, the party of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Few days later, Malik died of the injuries.

The perpetrators happened to be the goons of Chhatro league, the student wing of the Awami League, now a rising star on the political horizon. This was a shock to me as until recently such violence used to be the monopoly of the National Students Front (NSF), the student wing of the Pakistan Muslim League, Ayub Khan’s ruling party. I personally have seen several thuggeries of the NSF during my time at the Dacca (Dhaka) University and at the Salimullah Muslim Hall, the University dormitory where I resided.

With each day passing, the political landscape especially in East Pakistan was undergoing sea change with Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and Awami league rising on crest. The campaign on six points was in full swing, mustering exceptional support.

Meanwhile, in November 1970 a massive cyclone and tidal bore hit coastal districts of ‘East Pakistan’ killing thousands and destroying properties and crops. Central government’s slow and lacklustre response to the cyclone exposed yet again government’s lack of empathy and its utter indifference and ineptness to the sufferings of the East.

These failures alienated the people of ‘East Pakistan’ from the West especially, the central government, even more.

The December 1970 Election

On December 7, 1970, the General Election under the Legal Framework Order (LFO) took place in both wings of the then Pakistan.

Election results sprang huge surprises where the left leaning Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) of Bhutto routed the other more traditional parties and came out victorious in the West, in ‘East Pakistan’ the Awami league the party of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman trounced all other parties, winning 167 seats out of 169 seats allocated to the ‘East Pakistan’. Which also implied that Awami League now has had the majority in the National Assembly, as well.

While in the Western wing, the nationalist and regional parties made distinct head way in the Frontier and Baluchistan political configuration threw up challenges to the Centre, the military government, and its cohorts. They were expecting a split verdict where they would keep the control. In the West, some of the old hats performed poorly and some even lost their security money in the election.

‘I am back in West Pakistan’

By now I was back in West Pakistan, but I remained in touch with a few friends in Dhaka. Differences and divergences in the thinking among the new leaderships in the two wings of Pakistan became too evident and were far too apart.

The electorate in the two wings gave a decisive verdict to the two leading parties with very little common ground to work on.

According to the Legal Framework Order (LFO) the newly elected members must draft the new constitution within 120 days of the convening of the National Assembly, failing which the President would take over.

Bhutto’s threats

In the meantime, Mr. Bhutto signalled that the election results have shown that Pakistan had “two majority parties” – his Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), in the West and Sheikh Mujib’s Awami League in the East. This was no doubt an abomination of democratic norm where there can only be one majority party in the parliament. In other words, Bhutto’s claim that Pakistan had two majority parties was not only audacious but could easily be treated as treasonous. But no one did nothing to challenge Mr. Bhutto’s claim. On the contrary, Mr Bhutto started to argue in the Western wing that before convening the session of the National Assembly, there has to be broad consensus on basic parameters of the constitution.

Whereas the Awami league which contested the elections on 6-point autonomy demand and got an unequivocal mandate of people of the East on the programme had no option but press for these demands. The leadership of Awami League had a point that during the campaign on six points which was carried out within the stipulations of the LFO, neither military junta nor anyone else reached out to them about any reservations against the six points. Thus, they felt that it was too late to alter their position because the results of the election indicated overwhelming support to and appeared more like a referendum for the 6-points for the people in the eastern wing.

The Beginning of parting of ways

The military junta and Mr Bhutto persistently raised reservations and were looking for some assurances/compromise on 6-point from the Awami League before the convening of the Assembly that lacked rules of procedures to carry out the proceedings in a tense and conflicting situation.

While Mujibur Rahman, the elected majority leader kept on stressing that all ideas and differences were to be addressed at the National Assembly, Mr. Bhutto with support of the Army, demanded consensus prior to the convening of the National Assembly which was to take place in Dhaka (Dacca) on March 3, 1971. Furthermore, Mr. Bhutto threatened that he would break the legs of those West Pakistani elected representatives who dared attending the Assembly. However, some did defy Bhutto and assembled in Dhaka to attend the National Assembly Session.

Sadly, though, and towing the line of Mr. Bhutto, and without any consultation with the majority leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, President Yahya Khan abruptly postponed the convening of the session of the National Assembly without giving a new date of convening. This led to a violent reaction in the Eastern wing. People in hundreds and thousands came out on the streets of Dhaka and all other district headquarters and angrily protested the postponement. The situation went out of the hands of the government. As a matter of fact, the government became dysfunctional with incidents of murders, arson and loot becoming the order of the day. It looked that the situation was slipping out of the hands of Awami league’s top leadership as well though eventually Awami League High Command became the virtual provincial government issuing administrative instructions.

Attempted negotiation, the ‘Operation Search Light’ and the final Parting of Ways

Yahya gathered Bhutto and Sheikh Mujib and others in Dhaka to iron out the differences concerning the autonomy issue. In the meantime, the military kept on beefing up their numbers and ammunitions in ‘East Pakistan’.

It is not clear exactly what took place in the closed-door talks. At one stage there were speculations that talks have succeeded and Mujibur Rahman would be declared the Prime Minister of Pakistan. But without any prior notice, Yahya left Dhaka in the evening of March 25, 1971 and Bhutto the next day. Talks had failed.

The Dismemberment

On the midnight of March 25, 1971 Pakistan Army launched the ‘Operation Search Light’, a code name for crackdown on the entire province that triggered a civil war. Hundreds and thousands of innocent people were killed, and women were raped, indiscriminately. About a million fled to the neighbouring India and became refugees.

Many Biharis, the non-Bengali Urdu speaking Muslim refugees who since 1947 made ‘East Pakistan’ their home who were accused of being collaborators of the Pakistan Army, were also killed and their women were raped as well.

In time, a more organized armed resistance against the Pakistan Army and their cohorts ensued. The Indian army trained the Bengali rebels and, in some sectors, joined the fight directly.

On 3rd of December, India/Pakistan war broke out and on December 16, 1971, the Pakistan Army surrendered to the joint forces of the Indian Army and the Bangladesh Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters).

After cohabiting for 25 years, the two wings of Pakistan went their own ways permanently. Bangladesh emerged as another Muslim majority independent nation in South Asia.


I still hold with great affection and admiration memories of ‘East Pakistan’, the people, the music, the rivers, and my friends at the Dhaka (Dacca) University, Nuru Mia the errand boy at the S. M. Hall  and to this day, the feelings are as warm and mutual as these have been 50 years ago.

I often ask myself, where did we go wrong?

Whether the idea of two wings of Pakistan separated by thousand miles of a hostile foreign country was inherently fraught and that the breakup was only a matter of time? Or whether the separation was man-made, a case of prolonged and structured injustices and neglect of one group by the other that pulled them apart or is it because we allowed institutions or groups to go above the state and dictate terms that were self-seeking that hurt the very basis of an Islamic state – Insaaf (justice) for all? Or is it because our leaders lacked the qualities of empathy and mutual respect that are key to keeping people with diverse background and differing aspirations together or is it that all these factors worked hand-in-hand to push away a part of the country that once played a significant role if not the most instrumental role in the creation of Pakistan, the part of Pakistan, where all that its people asked for was the right to live as equals and with dignity, in one Pakistan?

It is important that we Pakistanis reflect deeply and draw lessons from our mistakes for “We are products of our past, but we don’t have to be prisoners of it.”


The author, a Pakistan national did his BA (Hons) in Economics and M.A. in International Relations at the Dacca (now Dhaka) University in erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh during 1965-1969. He was an as inter-wing scholar – special exchange of students’ programme devised to offer educational opportunities to the students of one wing of Pakistan to the other.

Mahmud also went to the New left School of Development Studies, University of East Anglia, UK and earned MA degree in Rural Development.

Mr. Mahmud joined the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) in 1973 and after serving in several positions, retired as the Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of Pakistan. Currently, he is an Adjunct Faculty at a premier institution, Lahore University of Management Sciences, Lahore, Pakistan.

Mr. Mahmud, also a poet of considerable repute has written many books and op-ed articles in leading journals in Pakistan and in addition to English and Urdu which is his mother tongue he is fully conversant in Bangla, the language of Bangladesh (the erstwhile East Pakistan) and West Bengal, India that he learned during his time in Dhaka.

This article is an English summary of and selected excerpts from his autobiography, Daam-e-Khayal (Priceless Memories) which is in Urdu,