Inspite of common ideology and a common struggle for emancipation, the geographical separation of East and West by 1000 miles exerted tremendous pressure on the two to go their own separate ways. This was true even without any interference from India, which is considered to be the main villain and Pakistan’s number one enemy for its part in the events which lead to fall of Dhaka. Before this dreadful event took place, the extremists representing the spearhead of political thinking in both had already fallen apart. Those in the West believed that East Pakistan was quite different from them both ethnologically and linguistically. They thought that East would get out eventually and what was keeping her in was the intelligent self interest and the apprehension that without the West she would not be able to survive. Those in the East thought that it was the East that earned bulk of the foreign exchange and that it is at her cost that economy of the West had been built. This ideology lead to the belief that they can very well look after themselves and it was time that there were two separate economies and indeed two independent States.
Man is a political animal and self government has ranked amongst the top of his priorities. No good government can be an alternative to self government. Who could then question the birth right of the East or West to ask for managing their affairs as they thought best. Demand for regional authority and then independence was natural.
There were a number of factors which lead to the fall of Dhaka. We quite often see the debates on televisions in which they try to blame one person for the fall of Dhaka. One has to understand that the fall of Dhaka took place in 1971 but the differences had started between the East and West at the time of inception of Pakistan. Some people take it back to the time when Urdu was made the national language of Pakistan. One of the factors was that the pace of economic development in the East was much slower than the West. This could not go unnoticed and their public servants, which constituted the most powerful silent force, did not fail to see where and how. They thought that not only East Pakistan had not been given its due share, rather it had been treated as a colony. Social and economic justice was one of the basic demands of people and lack of complete satisfaction on that score has been the great cause of discontent. There were a number of key players in 1971 which lead to fall of Dhaka, the prominent ones being Mujib, Bhutto, Ayub and Yahya.
In 1966 Mujib announced his controversial six point political and economic program for East Pakistani provincial autonomy.
On March 25, 1969, General Ayub resigned and handed over the administration to the then commander-in-chief, General Yahya Khan who announced that he considered himself to be a transitional leader whose task would be to restore order and to conduct free elections for a new constituent assembly, which would then draft a new constitution. On December 7, 1970 Yahya announced plans for a national election. The first democratic election in the history of Pakistan took place in December 1970, in which Sheikh Mujib’s party Awami League won majority seats of 167 and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s party, Pakistan Peoples Party won only 88 seats. Awami league won not a single seat from West Pakistan and PPP met the same fate in East wing. The military, bureaucracy, and business, all West Pakistani-dominated, were shocked at the results because they faced the prospect that the central government’s power would be passed away to the Bengalis, if the Awami League were allowed to shape the constitution and form a government. The results of the election gave the Awami League the possibility of framing the constitution according to its six point program. The election had put the Pakistani ruling elite in such a position that, if it allowed the democratic process to continue, then it would be unable to stop the Awami League from framing a constitution that would protect the Bengali interests.
The month of December passed and yet there was no sign of the calling of the assembly. On the 3rd of January 1971, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called a massive public meeting in which he administered an oath to the persons who had been elected to the national and provincial assemblies by which they swore allegiance to the party’s programme for provincial autonomy. Between the election results and this meeting apparently no effort was made by Yahya Khan to bring the leaders together for consultations, though later when he made such efforts the Sheikh adopted hard attitude.
Yahya Khan made no announcement regarding the first meeting of National Assembly in that time. On 11th February after consulting with Bhutto, he announced that the assembly meeting will take place on 3rd March. Bhutto, on 21st February held his party convention and after the meeting he announced that PPP will not attend the first National Assembly meeting on 3rd March. Yahya Khan scared of Bhutto’s decision postponed the assembly meeting at the eleventh hour on 1st March. This decision from the presidency ignited the agitation in Eastern wing. On 23rd March Yahya called all leaders meeting in Dhaka which Mujib opposed. When West Pakistan was commemorating Republic Day, Bengalis celebrated Resistance Day and hoisted new Bangladesh flag on their official buildings.
This serious confrontation did not go well with West Pakistan where President Yahya met Bhutto for final fate of Awami League. On the midnight of 25th and 26th March a serious crackdown started against Mujib and Awami League in Eastern wing on Yahya’s order. This crackdown gave rise to the revolt that was being brewed under wraps. After this crackdown General Tikka Khan left Bangladesh and General Amir Abdullah Niazi was made the commander-in-chief and Chief Martial administrator of East Pakistan. Many refugee and rebels fled to India where Indian army prepared them as guerrilla force of Bengalis known as Mukti Bahini. Indian Army trained Mukti Bahini with best military skills in fewer than six months to force insurgency in East Pakistan. Before the declaration of war, Indian Army along with Mukti Bahini started invading main check posts on 30th November and till 3rd December they had encircled the Eastern wing completely. Indian Air-forces stepped in their airstrike activity and bombed Dhaka airfield into wreckage. The armed forces of East Pakistan had to fight the war without Air Force with Mukti Bahini and Indian Army who knew all the places of Bangladesh better than them. Since the Pakistani forces were surrounded by Indian Army, they had no supply of food and ammunition which led to their demoralisation. After seeing these circumstances and no support from West wing on 16th and 17th December General Niazi ordered all his brigades to tell their Indian counterparts about their agreement of surrender. The aftermath of the war is an insulting part of our history that how General Niazi surrendered to his Indian counterpart by giving his weapon in a public gathering where thousands of Bengalis were gathered to celebrate their victory.
What lead to the terrible event of fall of Dhaka cannot be precisely pointed out. Similarly not one single person can be held responsible for it. It was a complex long drawn process of 24 years of neglect, jealousy and treachery involving different factors and huge egos of political and military actors. What happened on the 16th December 1971 was bound to happen as it was not possible to run a country separated by 1000 miles. However, the way it has happened is appalling and is something that could have been avoided. If only there was political will for power sharing, we could have avoided the bloodshed and loss of valuable human life.