Bangladesh history, an alternative view

As 16 December approaches and Pakistan looks inwards to the ‘Tragedy of Errors’ collectively committed by the leadership of that time, we have tried to come out with a slightly different view of history of creation of Bangladesh. Our research work on this aspect was published in Dec 2016, this paper is built upon that research and may be of interest to our youth, who has only seen a stereotype view churned out by Bangladeshi and Indian writers.

Pakistan Bangladesh relations have gone through an evolutionary process and continue to evolve; while Awami League has been more inclined towards India, the relationship with Pakistan have not been adverse. Bangladesh remains divided on the approach to deal with Pakistan; which should not be painted negatively. There is a strong political constituency within Bangladesh which favours having good relations with Pakistan and detests Indian Hegemony; no wonder the concept of SAARC was a brain child of Bangladeshi political leadership who felt overawed by a mammoth in the neighbourhood, India.

History is important as it contributes to developing the foundation of a nation; however an honest and dispassionate view of history is essential as it can help in developing a balanced approach to the past, present and future.

Let us see the first shot fired between both wings before 1971. A Pakistani Jet trainer on a routine training flight from Karachi witnessed a struggle between the instructor and the trainee on 20 August 1971, culminating at the crash of the air. Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas, a Pakistani and Flight Lieutenant Matiur Rahman a Bengali, lost their lives. Pakistan awarded Pilot Officer Rashid Minhas with Nishan e Haider and Bangladesh awarded Bir Sreshtho to Matiur Rahman. It may be a record in modern warfare that one single aircraft produced two war heroes from two opposing sides. That is the way the history looked at Fall of East Pakistan in 1971 and that’s the narrative prevalent in Bangladesh and to some extent in Pakistan.

It is important to highlight the positive contributions made by Pakistani leadership in developing East Pakistan(EP), while acknowledging the mishandling and strategic mismanagement of East Pakistan situation before 1970 by the politico military leadership of both wings.

In the united Pakistan, before 1971, erstwhile East Pakistan was developed by the joint leadership of both wings. In an article titled ‘Ayub Khan’s Reforms in former East Pakistan’, Asif Haroon Raja, highlighted the work done by leadership of United Pakistan, few excerpts are quoted here:

Ayub Khan made concerted efforts to remove the grievances of the Bengalis. From 1958 the question of inter-wing economic disparity was accorded high priority. The pace of development of EP was put in high speed to redress the situation at the earliest. EP was allocated Rs. 27,000 million out of the total outlay of Rs, 52,000 million for public and private uplift programs. Other objectives included increase of GNP by 37%, provide 5.5 million new job opportunities, strengthen balance of payment, develop basic industries, arrest population growth and to provide better health and education facilities. A newsprint factory at Khulna was opened in 1959. Fertilizer factory was constructed in Fenchuganj in 1960. By 1970, the Karnaphuli paper mill and Khulna newsprint factory produced paper and newsprint to the tune of 82000 tons. Chittagong Port was developed into a modern port. Khulna shipyard in 1957 and Chittagong dockyard in 1960 were also developed. Chalna anchorage was developed to handle 23 lakh ton of goods.

Other initiatives included Kaptai head works, up gradation of some narrow gauge railway lines to broad gauge lines. Dacca, Narayanganj, Chandpur, Barisal and Khulna were given the status of River Ports. Survey on major irrigation projects were initiated including Teesta Barrage, energy plants were established at Dacca and Mymensingh, the electric energy almost tripled. Tejgaon airport at was built, a television station was opened at Dacca and Dacca converted from a district town to a cosmopolitan city throbbing with life.

In 1962 , Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission planned to build one reactor in West Pakistan and one in East Pakistan. In an interview to Dhaka Tribune published July 2016, Bangladeshi nuclear engineer Dr Matin stated, “During my service at the Atomic Energy Commission we had negotiated with Russia to set up a nuclear power plant in Rooppur in 1968-69. Later we negotiated with Belgium for setting up a 200MW plant in East Pakistan and even the contract with Belgium was finalized, it was not materialized due to the Liberation War’. What Dr Matin did not mention was that India disallowed acquiring of any nuclear capability by Bangladesh just after liberation war in 1971 and the infrastructure on ground for Rooppur was dismantled by Indian Army on the instructions of Indira Gandhi, something Sheikh Mujib did not like but could not protest.

Indian leadership by exploiting the concerns of Bangladesh Army over the raising of “Jatiyo Rakhi Bahini” (National vanguards) in 1972 created volatility in Bangladesh by fomenting divisions resulting in the killing of Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman. Why was the Bongobondhu(Father of the Nation) murdered within four years of liberation of Bangladesh, a big question Awami League needs to answer. On 15 August 1975, a group of junior army officers invaded the presidential residence with tanks and killed Mujib, most of his family members and personal staff. Wasn’t the coup planned by military officers in collaboration with disgruntled Awami League colleagues including Mujib’s confidanté Khondaker Moshtaq , who became the beneficiary and immediate successor to Sheikh Mujib?

Dr Junaid in his ground breaking book, Creation of Bangladesh, Myths Exploded, has come out with a strong argument based on solid data and research changing the stereotype view of 1971 tragedy to a great extent. Even Bangladeshi leadership was unable to rebut the content of the book, as it was based on hard facts put through a logical and intellectual debate.

So where do we go from here, should Bangladesh keep parroting the Indian sponsored narrative and remain in a historical grid lock to keep bashing Pakistan, or, move ahead, as done by BNP leadership in cementing ties between both Muslim Countries.

While rectifying the historical record, it may be appreciated that two Divisions of Pakistan Army (20,000, which latter grew to 34,000) operating in adverse environment had no motivation to go on civilian killing spree. If the total number of troops was 34000 then how come the much publicized figure of 93,000 troops is true?

Sarmila Bose in her book “Dead Reckoning” terms the number a gigantic rumor, Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report considers even 26,000 as an exaggerated figure. Richard Sisson and Leo E. Rose in book titled “War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh” and Gary Bass in his book “The Blood Telegram” clearly admit that figures about so-called genocide were India purported

Sheikh Mujeeb-ur-Rehman had realized the need to move forward and signed an agreement in 1974 so that past shall not over-ride the present and future relations with Pakistan.

For Pakistan, Bangladesh is a reality and we recognize it as a sovereign state; however our commonalities and a dispassionate view of history warrants that we should move forward in maintaining and developing good brotherly relations. Pakistan and Bangladesh also maintain good defense relations and there is regular exchange of officers deputed to attend courses in different defense institutions. Pakistan also supplied military hardware to Bangladesh during border tensions between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

For how long will the story of carnage in 1971 keep hounding both countries, after all the living nations get over with the past and move ahead, example of France Germany, Japan and US, Vietnam and US and now Pakistan and Russia may show us a new path.

Today, 2 million Bangladeshis are working in Karachi only; this indicates that Pakistan is second home to Bangladeshis; this also indicates that Pakistan has enough space in her heart to welcome her brothers and sisters for a shared dream.


The authors are freelance journalists.