by Saleem Samad 28 November 2022
The outgoing Pakistan Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa in one of the several farewells meetups categorically said “1971 was not a military, but a political failure. Our army fought courageously in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).”
He lamented that those fallen martyrs of the Pakistan Army were never honoured and people have forgotten them and politicians never mention their sacrifice.
He made a desperate attempt to “correct” the narrative of 1971 and stated facts regarding the debacle, and said the number of [Pakistan] soldiers fighting [in the eastern war theatre] was not 92,000 but 34,000 while the others were in different government departments.
Quoting his speech he said, “Against these heavy odds, our army fought bravely and gave exemplary sacrifices which were acknowledged by Indian Army chief Field Marshal Manekshaw.”
By ‘against these heavy odds’, General Bajwa meant that 34,000 Pakistani soldiers were confronted by an Indian Army of 250,000 soldiers and 200,000 members of the Mukti Bahini.
Such mind-blogging narratives of Bajwa have also shaken the political and military historians in Pakistan.
Shouldn’t you feel that Gen Bajwa needs to update his knowledge of the political history leading to the liberation war in 1971 and the humiliating defeat of the marauding Pakistan armed forces in the eastern war theatre?
The brutal birth of Bangladesh experienced the genocide of three million, rape as a weapon of war of tens of thousands of women, and brutal murder of thousands of intellectuals committed by the occupation Pakistan military and their henchmen recruited to kill, torture, rape and of course loot to frustrate the war of independence.
When the dreadful ‘Operation Searchlight’ was launched at midnight on 25th March 1971 in Dhaka and later spread to the rest of the country, the Pakistan military perpetrated the genocidal campaign under the military dictator General Yahya Khan.
Apologetic General Shaheb was a school student in 1971. But while in the military academy and later when he was climbing the ladders of his career in Rawalpindi GHQ. he must have read the Justice Hamidoor Rahman Commission Report regarding the debacle in 1971.
He need not read any documents or books published in Bangladesh on the 1971 war. It is believed that he must have come across scores of books penned by senior military officers of Pakistan, as well as by Indians who were on the battleground.
Does any of the documents and books claim that it was a failure of the politicians? In the helms of affairs were senior military hawks in Rawalpindi GHQ along with the civil bureaucrats in Islamabad.
Pakistan was sans political government since 1958 and continued till 1972. A political government took charge after an election in 1977 under a fresh constitution.
Pakistan lived under military rule since 1958 when General Ayub Khan led a bloodless coup and became the self-styled President of the country. He abrogated the 1956 historic constitution and accused many senior and junior ministers of the United Front mostly from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) of corruption and were tried in kangaroo military courts.
The 1970 elections, incidentally were held under a Martial Law regime, which arbitrarily denied the handover of political power to an elected majoritarian party Awami League.
Therefore the outgoing Pakistan COAS blaming the debacle on the shoulders of politicians was from his fairytale dream.
The military hawks in Rawalpindi were the mastermind of the crackdown and was cleared from the headquarters of the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), according to Major General Khadim Hussain Raja’s book ‘A Stranger In My Own Country’.
The book describes that during January and early February 1971, military dictator General Yahya had visualised the possibility of a military crackdown accompanied by the suspension of all political activity.
The top commanders in Dhaka had the opinion that it would be sheer ‘lunacy’ to attempt the operation at that time.
On 27 February 1971, Gen Raja gave formal orders to brigade commanders to be prepared for Operation Blitz into action.
Soon both Lieutenant General Yaqub Khan and Admiral S.M. Ahsan were denied access to President Yahya when he arrived in Dhaka for a series of parleys, primarily with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
The two top brasses Admiral S.M. Ahsan, Governor of East Pakistan and Lieutenant General Yaqub Khan, Commander of the Eastern Command in Dhaka were unceremoniously removed by Rawalpindi GHQ for dilly-dally in executing the crackdown.
The duo instead appealed to President Yahya to forget about the “military solution” to the political impasse and hold dialogue with Sheikh Mujib, chief of Awami League to discuss the Six-Point, which was found scribed in the ‘Strategy, Diplomacy, Humanity: Life and Work of Sahabzada Yaqub’ as a threat to security and sovereignty of Pakistan.
He states that “I am convinced there is no military solution, which can make sense in the present situation. I am consequently unable to accept the responsibility for implementing a mission namely, a military solution, that would mean civil war and large-scale killings of unarmed civilians and would achieve no sane aim. It would have disastrous consequences,” Sahabzada Yaqub concluded.
The military hawks, according to Brigadier A. R. Siddiqi’s book ‘East Pakistan the Endgame’ understands that in March, the Rawalpindi was growing impatient for the delay of the crackdown.
The military dictator angry with General Yakub replaced him and appointed Lieutenant General Tikka Khan, who was known as the “Butcher of Balochistan”. The message of the replacement was loud and clear.
In midst of the dialogue, the infamous Operation Searchlight was launched. Several historians explain that military hawks kept in mind the dreadful operation and the parley was a ploy.
The plan for Operation Searchlight was quickly adopted by Yahya Khan and implemented when he was still in Dhaka. How can Bajwa attribute the humiliating defeat to a “political failure”?
First published in The News Times, November 28, 2022
Saleem Samad, is an independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <[email protected]>; Twitter @saleemsamad