Rethinking the History of the Fall of East Pakistan

The intricacies of East Pakistan's demise, dissecting historical records to provoke a fresh understanding and scrutiny of established narratives.

Muhammad Motassim Billah
By Muhammad Motassim Billah 6 Min Read
Fall of East Pakistan, Pakistani commander Lt Gen A K Niazi signing the surrender document in Dhaka
Pakistani commander Lt Gen A K Niazi signing the surrender document in Dhaka (Photo: Liberation War Museum of Bangladesh)

A lie told for a long time becomes a perception, and if the truth does not come out to counter it, then the lie is permanently accepted as the truth. The events unfolding the fall of East Pakistan are highly concentrated in an anti-Pakistan and anti-Pakistan Armed Forces narrative. The surrender of 93 thousand troops and officers, the genocide of 3 million Bengalis, the rape of 1 million Bengali women, and the 160-seat’mandate’ of Sheikh Mujib Ur Rehman remain the most well-known statements and narratives.

Today, more than five decades and two generations have passed by with the same perception of narratives stated above without realization of the truth, which has long been lost. The statement of surrender by 93 thousand soldiers and officers across the country is dubious. In East Pakistan, the Eastern Command, also known as the III Corps, was the only Corps with Pakistan Army units and was stationed in Dhaka.

In the early days of March 1971, it was reported that an estimated 27 thousand men, including 18 thousand Bengali regiment personnel, were deployed across the country. On March 15, 1971, Sheikh Mujib Ur Rehman openly declared a revolt against the state of Pakistan, leading to a mutiny in the army and resulting in the desertion of 18 thousand Bengali personnel and leaving behind a force of only 9 thousand men, which now had to take on both the Mukti Bahini and the deserted personnel combined. An additional 23 thousand troops from West Pakistan, armed with light weapons, were sent as reinforcements through Pakistan International Airline (PIA) planes via Sri Lanka since India has restricted its airspace for its western neighbour.

The surrender of 93 thousand troops and officers, the genocide of 3 million Bengalis, the rape of 1 million Bengali women, and Sheikh Mujib Ur Rehman’s 160-seat ‘mandate’ are widely recognized narratives.

On March 25, 1971, Sheikh Mujib declared the independence of East Pakistan as Bangladesh and was arrested shortly after his action. His arrest marked the beginning of a nine-month-long war between the West Pakistan armed forces and the Mukti Bahini, later joined by the Indian armed forces on November 22, 1971, under the command of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. The West Pakistan army had only three infantry divisions with limited resources; the Air Force had a single squadron consisting of sixteen Saber jet fighter aircraft, and the Navy had only four gunboats.

During these nine months, an additional 5 thousand personnel were either martyred or war wounded, and on the 16th of December, not all the troops surrendered, as many of them either went to Burma or were martyred in action, thus bringing the tally down to 30-35 thousand men. Sharmila Bose, a Bengali-Hindu journalist and analyst, states: ‘In March 1971, the tally of West Pakistani personnel was 12 thousand, to overcome this critical situation, reinforcements were called in. In 1971, according to Commander Eastern Command, Lieutenant General Abdullah Khan Niazi, the total strength of the army was 34 thousand, including the police, civil officers, staff, and children combined. To say that 93 thousand army men surrendered is wrong’.

Fall of East Pakistan, Bengali youth
Youth of East Pakistan venting their anger on a caricature of Pakistani ruler General Yahya Khan (Photo: Liberation War Museum of Bangladesh)

The association of the genocide of 3 million Bengalis at the hands of the West Pakistan army is baseless, unnatural, and unexpected. With any army in the world lacking in numbers and resources, it is impossible to achieve such a gigantic and heinous task. Starting from the 25th of March until the 16th of December 1971, in 267 days, reaching a count of 3 million means murdering 11,236 humans every day, which is outright impossible. It was the Mukti Bahini that killed half a million Biharis, Punjabis, Pathans, patriot Bengalis, and other non-Bengali people in only eleven days, starting from the 15th of March until the 25th of March, when the West Pakistan army launched Operation Searchlight and the massacre came to a halt.

If the Bengalis were being massacred in scores, then why were the non-Bengalis leaving the country? The exodus of non-Bengalis, instead of Bengalis who claim to be persecuted, from East Pakistan is another piece of evidence against this narrative.

What entity, contrary to widespread perception, bore responsibility for the atrocities committed during the conflict: the Mukti Bahini or the Pakistani army?

Qutubuddin Aziz, a Pakistani diplomat, states: ‘It is unbelievable that during nine months of civil war, the Pakistan Army, comprising three divisions and deployed along a border of 1800 miles, had no job other than involving in the heinous crime of murdering 13 thousand people every day’.

The Pakistan Army is a professional army, and its warfighting history is full of hospitality, humaneness, and sympathy. The officers and troops are mostly comprised of Muslims; their religion and training can never allow them to commit such a crime against humanity. Charlie Wilson, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, states: ‘‘The massacre of 3 million Bengalis and rape of 200 thousand women by less than 40 thousand soldiers in East Pakistan in 1971 is a serious charge that common sense cannot accept’’.

When Sheikh Mujib became the head of state of former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, a commission was formed to investigate the cases of killed and missing persons. The commission received only 2,000 complaints from across the country. Furthermore, during the tenure of Sheikh Mujib, a Britain-based institute investigated the case of the raping of women. After a wide-scale investigation, the report put forward by the institute stated that since the formation of the state of Bangladesh, there have been no more than one hundred pregnant women.

It was the Mukti Bahini that was responsible for the rape and murder of the non-Bengali women. Multiple accounts of the survivors who recall the eyewitness experience of murders, rapes, looting, and houses being set on fire by the Mukti Bahini in the book ‘Blood and Tears’ by Qutubuddin Aziz expose the narrative.

The events surrounding the fall of East Pakistan are steeped in a narrative that vilifies Pakistan and its Armed Forces.

On December 7, 1970, the first direct general elections in Pakistan took place for 300 general constituencies, of which 138 were in West Pakistan and 162 in the East. In a landslide victory, the Awami League, headed by Sheikh Mujib, won 160 seats from the eastern wing, while the Pakistan Peoples Party, headed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, won 81 from the western wing. They were the most corrupt and rigged elections in the history of Pakistan.

The situation was better in West Pakistan, but in East Pakistan, the situation was completely out of hand. Although the government of Pakistan did not interfere in the election process, the Mukti Bahini hijacked the elections, and no one could dare stand against a candidate appointed by Sheikh Mujib, and even if someone did, they were either threatened to withdraw or killed. The Mukti Bahini took control of the polling stations, and the voters were either Awami League supporters or the Mukti Bahini itself. There was no opposition possible to such an organized gang of criminals and murderers. The candidates of the Awami League won ‘Unopposed’ and did a clean sweep. The only certainty after a rigged election is chaos, which later came with full might and separated East Pakistan from the West.

Former Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Brigadier Siddique Salik SI(M), In Main Ne Dhaka Dobte Dekha, states: ‘The situation at polling stations in East Pakistan was different, thugs of the Awami League were intimidating people. The polling and presiding officers allowed their future leaders to do whatever they liked’.

The author is an ‘electrical engineering’ student at the NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in articles and blogs on Aware Pakistan are solely those of the authors and do not represent the official stance of the website. We are not liable for the accuracy of information provided by authors.

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