A few hours after I concluded writing the above preface I came across one of the latest publications on the tragedy of 1971. My immediate reaction was that it called for some notice. The author is Hasan Zaheer and the title of his work: The Separation of East Pakistan. Published from Karachi by the Oxford University Press in 1994. the book purports to give a survey of the causes which led to Pakistan's disintegration and provides interesting details about behind-the-scenes deliberations which preluded General Yahya's decision to suppress the Awami League revolt by recourse to force.
What surprised me, rather painfully, is that Mr Hasan Zaheer, an ex-member of the Central Superior Service of Pakistan who claims to have spent some of the happiest years of his life in the Eastern Wing concludes his Prologue in the following terms. ' ....it was a verdict against the twenty-four year history of repression, obscurantism, and disregard of the people's will, and on the futility of the use of force in resolving national issues.
An unhappy chapter in the history of the Muslims of South Asia had ended. A new one had begun, redeeming the covenant entered into by the Muslims of the subcontinent at the Lahore Session of the All-India Muslim League on 24 March 1940, and reiterated in 1941 at the Madras Session, to create separate "Muslim Free National Homelands". On this day the second Muslim Homeland had emerged: 'a new nation was born.'
Taken at their face value these words amount to an exercise in apologetic but actually go far beyond a mere mea culpa. They betray at one and the same time a lack of faith in the two-nation theory which constitutes the basis of Pakistan, a complete distortion of the causes of the upsurge of 1971, a measure of intellectual naiveté and immaturity in the interpretation of Indian history.
Although I have dealt with those issues in the course of my memoirs, it would not be irrelevant to ask how an officer who during his first tour of duty discovered nothing in the behaviour of East Pakistanis suggestive of any hostility towards non-Bengalis could say that the 24 years of Pakistan was for this wing a period of repression and obscurantism.
Secondly, why did it not occur to him to enquire why the Hindus of West Bengal wanted no share in the Bengali nationalism of which Sheikh Mujibur Rahman considered himself the chief spokesman.
Did it not also occur to Mr Zaheer that if the Bengali speaking population of East Pakistan could legitimately stake out a claim to separate nationhood, not only Pakistan, as it is today, but even the Indian Union can have no right to function as a single state? Would Mr Zaheer let the Sindhies and Pathans secede on the same analogy? Would he recognise the right of the Telegus and Tamils or the Maratti speaking Maharastrians to set up their own nation states?
Finally, if Mr Zaheer has perceived nothing anomalous in the yoking of the Bengali Hindus of West Bengal with Punjabi Sikhs and Hindus, where was the illogically of the Muslims of East and West Pakistan forming a single state?
I have had occasion in my memoirs to say that it was the idea of so many linguistic units being integrated into a single polity which has always struck me as illogical, especially when this integration was pursued in the name of a fictitious Indian nationalism.
Like many others Mr Zaheer has described the establishment of Bangladesh in 1971 as the fulfilment of the essence of the Lahore Resolution of 1940. Can he provide a single instance from Europe, Asia or America of a small state like Bangladesh coming into existence and surviving without the willing consent of larger states around it? Holland, Belgium and Denmark in Western Europe and Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in Eastern Europe owe their continued existence to the balance of forces between the great European powers France, Germany and Russia. During the second world war, Germany in a single swipe made short work of the three states of Western Europe, while the Soviet Union swallowed up the three in East Europe. Holland, Belgium and Denmark were liberated by the Allied Army in 1945 but Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia had to wait for the fall of communism in the Soviet Union to regain their independence.
Central America and the Caribbean are a mosaic of small states which in the same way as the small states of Europe owe their survival to the balance of power among the bigger states in the region. Even Belize has been granted recognition as an independent state and it is protected by assurance of Support from Britain and America.
The same is true of the map of Africa where there are giants like Nigeria and also tiny states like Guinea-Bissau or Siera Leone. ll1ey are all survivals from the period of European colonialism. They have frontiers which are arti11cial and cut across tribal boundaries. This has been at the root of much political instability but nevertheless no one has proposed redrawing those demarcation lines lest it lead to the opening of a Pandora's Box.
Shift your gaze now to the Indian subcontinent and consider what has happened since 1947 to Junagarh which joined Pakistan in exercise of its rights under the Independence Act of 1947 and Travancore in the South which in exercise of the same rights declared itself independent. Reflect on the fate of Kashmir which has continued to bleed for over 47 years without any end to its agonies being in sight. Think how Mrs Indira Gandhi annexed Sikkim upon a flimsy pretext.
Can anyone in his senses imagine that an independent East Pakistan in 1947 without a civil service, a police force and encircled by a hostile country, many times its size which did not want it to detach itself from British India, could have survived even for a week?
Yet such is the intellectual naiveté of those who wish to discover an expost facto rational justification for Pakistan's break-up in 1971 that they argue that the implementation of what they read into the Lahore resolution would have prevented the sad happenings of 1971.
Mr Hasan Zaheer has spoken of the exploitation of East by West Pakistan. But nowhere do I find evidence of his knowledge of conditions in Eastem Bengal before 1947. There is no reference to the terrible famine of 1943 which reduced this region practically to a shambles; he does not discuss the educational and economic backwardness of Bengali Muslim; nor, looking further back into history, does the author take into account the impact of the Permanent Settlement of 1793 upon the Muslims. It is these factors which, as I have shown in my book accounted for the unbounded enthusiasm with which we hailed the Pakistan movement as a panacea, and means of deliverance from the political oppression of the British and the economic oppression of the new land-owning Hindu aristocracy.
The protection of Bengali was never an issue in the separatist movement which culminated in Pakistan. Anyone with a modicum of common sense would understand that there was no question of Bengali being under threat in a United India. As Mr Basant Chatterjee has shown in his book Inside Bangladesh Today, the language issue was seized upon on the morrow of Pakistan's establishment as a weapon with wish to destroy the new state. And the bungling of the new leaders of Pakistan brought ample grist to the mill. On this analogy, one might as well argue that the chief reason the American colonies separated from England in the 18th century was their anxiety to preserve the purity of the English Language.
I was amused to find Mr Zaheer referring casually to a proposal early in Pakistan's life that Bengali be written in Arabic script so as to strengthen the bonds of cultural unity between the two wings. In the first place this proposal never got off the ground as a serious suggestion. Secondly, the shallowness of Mr Zaheer's knowledge of the question at issue is underlined by his assertion that what was proposed was a change form Devanagri to Arabic. I am sure this would tickle even those who might accept his views on the political relationship between the two wings. The script used in Bengali has never been called Devanagri by anyone. It is a form of the alphabet used throughout the subcontinent in languages which do not use Arabic script. Devanagari is associated in modern times with Hindi and Maratti particularly. A person who does not know the difference between Devanagri and Bengali scripts is hardly qualified to pass judgment on the language issue which was so cleverly and skillfully manipulated to subvert Pakistan's foundation.
Mr Zaheer's pretensions claim that much research has gone into mea-culpa is also exposed by his failure or omission to take into account what Indian writers themselves have said about the methods used to fuel the rebellion in East Pakistan. If he had at all taken care to consult Basant Chatterjee and Jyoti Sen Gupta, he might have avoided some gaffes.
It is surprising that in spite of his claim that he read Asoka Raina, who gives a fairly detailed account of the Agartala conspiracy, he reiterates the view that it was wrong to involve Mujibur Rahman in the case. Nor does he appear to have read the speeches of Mujib himself in which after the establishment of Bangladesh, he repeatedly told the public with an air of pride that the creation of the independent state of Bangladesh represented the fulfillment of a dream he had worked for ever since 1947.
I have referred in an appendix to a similar mea-culpa by Lt. General Matinuddin. Both he and Mr Zaheer bring to light interesting details as does Rao-Forman Ali's How Pakistan Got Divided. But none of them has offered any explanation which refutes my thesis that East Pakistan's fall primarily owing to the subversive activities of a bunch of quislings aided by Pakistan's international enemies. Their greatest diplomatic triumph lay in the success they won in convincing a large number of supine but emotionally immature people, young and. not so young that East Bengal needed to end its links with Pakistan by violent means in order to be really free. Most of them feel utterly disenchanted today.
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