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Pakistan Army’s Day of Infamy, December 16, 1971: Time To Ponder – OpEd

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By Dr Subhash Kapila

Pakistan’s annals of history in the decades to come will carry rankling of December 16 1971 as “Pakistan Army’s Day of Infamy” when General Niazi of the Pakistan Army and 93,000 of his soldiers surrendered at Dhaka to the Indian Army which had to intervene to put an end to the genocidal slaughter of millions of East Pakistani Bengali Muslims and flow of millions of Muslim Bengalis to India for refuge.

The Pakistan Army undoubtedly contributed directly to the breakup of Pakistan on December 16 1971. It was traumatic for the remaining people of West Pakistan to witness the breakup of their State as they had been wrongly led to believe that the Pakistan Army of ‘Ghazis’ (Holy Warriors) was invincible and was emerging victorious in East Pakistan against the Indian Army.

Excerpted from the writings of Shuja Nawaz whose celebrated book “Crossed Swords” on the Pakistan Army has stood well received, and besides being a brother of one of Pakistan Army’s Chief wrote that it was a corrupt military’s “wishful thinking”, a military which had become used to the “culture of entitlement”, “clouded by blissful ignorance and liberal doses of alcohol” which led to Pakistan’s debacle. A severe indictment of the Pakistan Army by one of its own.

The United States was in a position to restrain the Pakistani Generals from their genocidal instincts with its tremendous leverage that it had over them but did not move. US President Nixon and his Secretary of State Kissinger were heavily biased against India. In this connection, a Western observer Christopher Hitchin has commented that “Bangladesh….. In 1971….. Kissinger overrode all advice in order to support the Pakistani Generals in both the civilians’ massacre policy in East Bengal and their armed attack on India from West Pakistan. This led to a moral and political catastrophe, the effects of which are still severely felt.”

The Pakistan Army may have succeeded in suppressing the truth that its surrender at Dhaka was for reasons beyond its control. But what the Pakistan Army could not conceal on December 16 1971 was the breakup of Pakistan irretrievably.  People of Pakistan on that day were horrified with the breakup of Pakistan and violent disturbances could not breakout against the Pakistan Army because of the iron grip that the Army exercised.

Pakistan Army wrongly maintains that it was India which engineered the break-up of Pakistan in 1971? The stark reality that Pakistan Army and all Pakistanis must face is that it was the entire Pakistani population of East Pakistan comprising Bengali Muslims who rose in revolt to liberate themselves from the colonial rule of Pakistan Army. If India was interested in break-up of Pakistan it could have done that earlier. East Pakistan from simmering in the period 1947-1970 went into a pressure cooker- burst in 1971 precisely arising from the large scale pogroms inflicted by Pakistan Army in 1970-71.

The younger generations of Pakistani born after 1971 may not even be conscious of the contributory role of the Pakistan Army in the breakup of Pakistan as Pakistani history stands tutored for decades by the Pakistan Army. It is this younger generation of Pakistanis whose future is at stake by the ‘Garrison State’ mindsets propagated by the Pakistan Army for retaining its political hold on Pakistan, who must research and study the reasons for the ‘Day of Infamy’.

Pakistan’s younger generation stands challenged in 2018 a as to what form and contours Pakistan must adopt to emerge as a modern, moderate Islamic democracy to befit it to emerge as a responsible stakeholder in the region.  Here I would like to borrow the observations of a Pakistani noted Columnist Ghazi Salahauddin in one of his topical pieces on the subject. He observes that “In any case, Pakistan has traversed almost an era in our history since 1971, and one can easily demonstrate that we have not yet understood what that time meant and whether we have to re-invent  or re-imagine the country that we have now”.

Quoting him in the same context but in a much earlier Column, he so accurately observed that “Besides, because of our pathological disdain for history, we do not much care about the choices that we have made as a nation”. Who in Pakistan have fostered this disdain for Pakistan’s history? Obviously, the Pakistan Army because if the younger generation of right-thinking Pakistanis delve into history, the narrative of Pakistan Army for its hold on Pakistan would  undeniably be questioned and go horribly wrong.

Historically, December 16 1971 was not only a “Day of Infamy” for Pakistan Army but also a “Day of Infamy for Pakistan” as on that day Jinnah’s concept of a separate Homeland for Indian Muslims stood devastatingly negated and buried as debris in the annals of Pakistan’s history. Reflecting this, the DAWN Editorial on December 18 2018 stated “On this day the dream of Pakistan was violently broken’”

Borrowing Jinnah’s concept, the East Pakistani Muslims liberated themselves from Pakistan’s and Pakistan Army’s colonial yoke of decades of political and economic neglect and established the independent Nation State of Bangladesh—a term   for ‘Bengali Muslims Homeland’. Bangladesh’ ‘War of Liberation’ witnessed the loss of millions of lives due to genocidal slaughter by the Pakistan Army, loot and rapine. The Pakistan Army extracted a heavy price from Bangladesh ‘War of Liberation’ by wiping out an entire generation of Bengali intellectuals, both old and young, with targeted killings.

The Hitlerian instincts of the Pakistan Army manifested in 1971 in East Pakistan became etched in global memory. The Pakistan Army’s propensity for slaughtering Pakistani citizens did not cease in 1971 and in recent times the same continues in Baluchistan, in Frontier Tracts of Pakistan’s Western Frontiers and Gilgit-Baltistan. The Pakistan Army displayed the same instincts abroad when Pakistan’s later military dictator on General Zia on an assignment in Jordan with a Pakistan Army Brigade massacred Palestinians in refugee camps.

The ‘Land of the Pure’ —a theological State founded  with Islam as the State religion could not hold together its Bengali Muslim citizens and emerged in 1971 as the ‘Land of the Impure’ where millions of East Pakistani Bengali Muslims were  butchered by the Pakistan Army forgetting that the Bengali Muslims were their Islamic co-religionists. What an irony for Bengali Muslims as it was they who initially founded the Muslim League at Dacca in 1906—the political party that Jinnah adopted to pursue his Pakistan Dream.

The Partition of Pakistan in 1971 brought about by Pakistan Army’s arrogant high-handedness against their fellow Pakistanis—the Muslim Bengalis of East Pakistan should have forced Pakistan, the Pakistan Army and all right thinking Pakistanis to indulge in some scorching soul-searching. But it did not happen for the simple reason that the Pakistan Army has continued to be in a state of denial on its atrocities in East Pakistan.

The Pakistan Army suppressed the Hamidoor Rahman Commission Report  headed by then Pakistan’s Supreme Court Chief Justice to investigate the events leading up to the dismemberment of Pakistan. The Report stands buried in Pakistan Army GHQ in Rawalpindi as severe strictures stood passed on Pakistan Army’s military hierarchy.

Pakistan’s reputed columnist Ayaz Amir, himself a former Pakistan Army officer asserted righty in the DAWN OF December 16 2005 that “If we had drawn any lessons from the events of 1971 we would have foresworn military rule for ever, indeed consigned the very memory of coups d’état to a never-to-be opened hall of national shame.”

“Pakistan is Pakistan Army and Pakistan Army is Pakistan”. This self-delusionary charade continues because the Pakistan Army has hidden the truth from Pakistan citizenry of its crimes against humanity on a genocidal scale. Pakistan Army has gotten away with this charade by propaganda to Pakistan citizenry that it was an Indian conspiracy to dismember Pakistan with the help of treacherous Bengali Muslims so perceived.

 Has the Pakistan Army learnt any lessons from the ignominy it heaped on Pakistan as a Nation-state? Does not seem so as even in 2018 the Pakistan Army refuses to give up its grip on the Praetorian State that it has created and impedes Pakistan’s notional civilian governments to exercise full control on the foreign and security policies of Pakistan as per the norms of civil-military relations templates in normal modern democracies

Pakistan indeed also had its own ‘Two Nations’—the predominant West Punjabis and the numerical more larger Bengali Muslim population of East Pakistan which after liberation on December 16 1971 emerged as a separate nation of Bangladesh.

 The entire blame for the breakup of Pakistan needs to be apportioned largely to the Pakistan Army and no less to political leaders like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who colluded with and goaded the Pakistan Army in engineering a political crisis where in Pakistani General Elections the Bengali Muslims had won an overwhelming majority and Sheikh Mujibur Rehman would have emerged as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Both the Pakistan Army and Bhutto engineered the imposition of Martial Law on East Pakistan to quell largescale protests in East Pakistan with the Bengali Muslims being denied their political victory.

The Pakistan Army under the guise of Martial Law unleashed a merciless ethnic genocide on the Bengali Muslims of East Pakistan beside widespread rape and plunder. This prompted an exodus of millions of  Pakistani Bengali Muslims into India. Thus was prompted India’s military intervention against the Pakistan Army ethnic genocide and the support to the Mukti Bahini or ‘Liberation Army’ of the Bengal Muslims. It finally culminated in the fall of Dhaka on December 16 1971 and the liberation of Bangladesh as the Islamic Republic of Bangladesh.

Pakistan Army’s rapacious record along with ethnic genocide of their co-religionists Bengali Muslims stands widely recorded in Indian and Western military literature but hardly discussed within Pakistan for obvious reasons. Pakistan Army and its then many Western supporters had stoutly maintained that the Pakistan Army was the ‘Glue that held Pakistan together’. If that had been the truth then how come Pakistan Army glue could not hold East Pakistan together as an integral part of Pakistan in the form that it had emerged in 1947?

The Pakistan Army was defeated on the vicious battlefields of East Pakistan as evident from the fact that 93,000 Pakistan Army soldiers had to surrender to the Indian Army. These Pakistani Army Prisoners of War continued in Indian captivity for nearly a year until Bhutto who had emerged to head Pakistan after Pakistan’s military defeat begged Indian PM Indira Gandhi at the Simla Conference for their release.

Pakistan in the wake of December 16 1971 ‘Day of Infamy ‘went through a traumatic military and political suffering. Its proud Pakistan Army touted as the most powerful Army in the Muslim World stood vanquished on the battlefield.

Obviously, because Pakistan’s failure to hold East Pakistan and its more populous Bengali Muslim East Pakistan was not a ‘political failure ‘but an outright ‘failure of the Pakistan Army’. India was held up from repeating its success in East Pakistan on West Pakistan under pressure from the United States and Britain. Both of them feared that this would lead to a complete dismemberment of Pakistan as a Nation State which at that time was not desirable in their strategic calculus.

As the year 2018 passes into history and Pakistan is beset with far more political and military turbulence arising from Pakistan Army’s acts of commission and omission generated by Pakistan Army’s unquestioned hold over Pakistan’s political dynamics, it is high time for all right thinking patriotic Pakistanis to force a ‘National Debate’ to ponder how the Pakistan Army could go wayward in hurtling Pakistan into a second Partition and pre-empt any further disintegration within Pakistan.

Contextually, in 2018, Pakistan has yet another Prime Minister who is in outright collusion with the Pakistan Army and as its creation furthering Pakistan Army’s corporate political narrative. Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan was instrumental in bringing down from office the former PM Nawaz Sharif without completing his five year term. Is it not paradoxical that PM Imran Khan’s every political statement is followed by the qualifying additive that ‘This has the support of the Pakistan Army?

Concluding, one has to emphatically observe that even after 47 years after Pakistan’s ‘Day of Infamy’ on December 16 1971 Pakistan as a Nation State has not learnt the lessons that it should have. The Pakistan Army which brought about the dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 continues unchallenged in not submitting to civilian political control. On the contrary it continues to foist its own choice of Prime Ministers on Pakistan and when a Prime Minister attempted to bring it under civilian political control, the Pakistan Amy stage managed in what I then for the first time termed as a “Judicial Coup”. Pakistan must reinvent itself and that onerous task has to be shouldered by Pakistan’s young generation emerging from the masses.



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SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

One thought on “Pakistan Army’s Day of Infamy, December 16, 1971: Time To Ponder – OpEd

  • Avatar
    December 27, 2018 at 7:41 am
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    Pakistan must reinvent itself and let corrupt politicians plunder what little is left. Great advice …..

    Reply

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