In Commemoration Of 1971’s Unfortunate Incident – OpEd


In 1971, Pakistan as a nation suffered the most terrible shock in its entire history. We lost one wing of our country due to reasons that are well known but yet not very well understood. In December 1971, East-Pakistan became the independent state of Bangladesh as a result of a movement of Bengali Separatism. The movement for Bengali separatism did not develop overnight. It had its roots in the history of Pakistan.

However, the sad incident of separation of East Pakistan is a foremost foundation of deliberations or debates predominantly the excuse to initiate military act on March 25, 1971. Decades after the earth-shattering events of Fall of Dhaka that talks involving Sheikh Mujib, Yahya Khan, and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto to discover a way out of standoff over Awami League’s six points failed, the verdict to start on “an operation search light” in order to restore the writ of the state established to be counter-productive that lead to the division of Pakistan on December 16, 1971.

Some of the fundamental questions about this tragedy continue to agitate the minds of the intellectuals as to whether the break-up of Pakistan was due to the failure of the political leadership, the political ambitions of the top brass of the army or an international conspiracy.

Since the start, the relationships between both parts of Pakistan were unfortunately not very welcoming. They were tricky and complex at the same time. However, if one talks about the conflicting areas among both could be narrated: “the language issue, differences regarding constitution making, and economic centralism. Immediately after independence, Pakistan’s two wings were set apart by one thousand miles of enemy territory. Both air and maritime contact could be blockaded by India at anytime. Geographical separation was the base for other differences i.e., racial identity, language, habits of life and culture. Hailing from different strata of society, the leaders and administrators from East and West Pakistan had conflicting ideas and aspirations and they could not understand properly each other’s problems.”

Post-1971 war, it was a general perception everywhere in the world, especially India viewed particularly that Pakistan caused a reduction in its size due to the 1971 war. It was also considered at that point in time that Pakistan would remain sandwiched between its two powerful neighbors’; Iran on west and India on east. It would not be able to maintain a standing armed forces to transform the equation. “The military defeat did not come up because there was some organized resistance in East Pakistan but mainly because of the Indian attack. When nine million refugees crossed over to the Indian side, the Indians thought they had a legitimate reason to attack.”

Pakistan’s acquisition of its full spectrum nuclear deterrence signaled it completely obvious and understandable that a critical war or nuclear attack against Pakistan is not at all any viable option for India however, India, driven by its foolish aspiration of hegemonic designs and others by their strategic contemplations in the region, kept on destabilizing Pakistan in more than one way.

Nevertheless, while analyzing critically, we can rightly conclude that the events that led to the separation of East Pakistan were a series of misunderstandings and mishaps which were cleverly and cunningly manipulated and exploited by a hostile neighbor. Why did it happen and what would have stopped it are the questions still whirling in the minds of the people of Pakistan. We cannot undo what has already happened in the past. However, we should learn lessons from our history and avoid committing mistakes like we did in the past. The present situation in Pakistan is not much different from that which led to the separation of East Pakistan. Ironically, sensitive matters should be dealt with prudence, tolerance, and large-heartedness to avoid another tragedy like the one we experienced in 1971.

Beenish Altaf

Beenish Altaf works for the Strategic Vision Institute, Islamabad and be reached at [email protected]. Ms. Beenish Altaf holds masters degree in Defence and Diplomatic Studies from Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

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