The Break up of Pakistan in 1971


In continuation of my previous article “What Jinnah accomplished” I further want to discuss the division of East and West Pakistan. Is it possible for East and West Pakistan to have remained one nation or were they bound to separate?

On the 21st of March in 1948, Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Dhaka and stated: “Ultimately it is for you, the people of this province, to decide what should be the language of your province but let me make it clear to you that the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language”. This meant that in Jinnah’s Pakistan, Bengali would be a secondary language to Urdu in all matters of the state and it was explained that this was because Bengali if made the official language of the country, would encourage ethnic division. While this decision fueled separatist sentiments in East Pakistan, it was not until 21st February in 1952 that the Bengali Language Movement reached its climax. This was because on this day the students at the University of Dhaka were protesting, and the police killed many demonstrators after a law and order situation was created. These deaths provoked civil unrest in East Pakistan. This, alongside the geographical distance between East and West Pakistan, sowed the seeds for the separation movement and they were watered by the events that transpired.

The second issue which arose was that of economic growth and development. West Pakistan controlled the economy despite East Pakistan making a larger contribution. It was also clear that East Pakistani wealth was being transferred to West Pakistan since the largest part of the budget spending was military and East Pakistan had no major border issue with India. Even the per capita income gap in East and West Pakistan continued to rise from a value of 51 (1949-50) to 88 (1959-60) to a staggering 206 (1969-70). Similarly, the educational disparity and health care spending between East and West Pakistan also grew wherein West Pakistan remained at a constant advantage.

Finally, the most critical issue between East and West Pakistan was that of political representation. West Pakistan always had an unfair majority despite East Pakistan having a larger population. This meant that despite constituting 56% of the total population of Pakistan, East Pakistan was considered a minority in the political sphere of Pakistan whilst West Pakistan which consisted of the remaining 44% of the population received better representation. East Pakistani expressed their disapproval on this matter and rightfully so since Pakistan would not have been created were it not for the support of East Pakistan; this is because a larger number of East Pakistanis voted for Pakistan than did West Pakistanis.

It is also important to note that before this, there were no bilateral ties between India and Pakistan since the Pakistani Army had attacked Kashmir which resulted in the Indian Army attacking the Wagah Border. This issue was escalated to the United Nations and Bhutto who was the foreign minister of the Ayub Khans cabinet in 1966 went to Tashkent to sign the Tashkent Accord which was a peace agreement between India and Pakistan which aimed to resolve the tensions of the Indo-Pak war of 1965. This played a major role in the formation of Bhutto’s Peoples Party since Bhutto claimed that Ayub Khan had supported India during the Tashkent Conference which, alongside East Pakistani resentment towards military rule contributed to Ayub Khan’s resignation and Yahya Khans appointment as President of Pakistan. It was then President Yahya who set the framework for the 1970 elections (Legal Framework Order, 1970) by manipulating Mujibur Rahman’s six-point movement for greater autonomy in East Pakistan to the one unit policy which brought down the 56% representation of East Pakistan to 50% – the same as that of West Pakistan.

Tensions escalated when, in 1970, after the elections, Bhutto did not accept the results of the 1970 election. The election results showed that in East Pakistan, The Awami League Party which was led by Mujibur Rahman held all the seats and had therefore won by a clear majority whilst in West Pakistan, the seats were divided amongst People’s Party and Pakistan Muslim League where Bhutto who led People’s Party had won by a clear majority but had lost to the Awami League.

During this period, some remarks made by Bhutto proved problematic and had lasting effects, and these range from “udhar tum, idhar hum” to threatening to break the legs of any elected representative who went to Dhaka for the National Assembly session. Despite all attempts, Bhutto did not concede power to Mujibur Rahman and the army ended up arresting Mujibur Rahman on the 26th of March in 1971 on counts of conspiracy against the state and the ongoing mass protests in East Pakistan. This resulted in violent protests erupting all over East Pakistan as their Prime Minister-elect was flown to West Pakistan for imprisonment and it was suspected that he might have to face capital punishment for the allegations which was imposed on him solely because they were not in the interest of the army.

It was during this time that East Pakistan was turned into a war zone for nine months from the 21st of March to the 16th of December, 1971 wherein the Pakistani Army and the Bihari’s from East Pakistan fought against the Mukti Bahini and the Indian Army. The approximate is that somewhere between 300,000-3,000,000 East Pakistanis were killed while 200,000-400,000 East Pakistani women were raped. The war crimes against East Pakistan finally came to an end when the Pakistani Instrument of Surrender was signed in which 93,000 soldiers of the Pakistan Armed Forces surrendered to the Indian Army and the Mukti Bahini. After this, the United Nations stepped in and called for a seize fire. East and West Pakistan were separated into two countries wherein East Pakistan became the People’s Republic of Bangladesh under Mujibur Rahman and West Pakistan became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Conclusively, the question that arises is: Could East Pakistan and West Pakistan have remained one nation, or were they bound to separate? The simple answer is yes that would have been possible had East Pakistan received fair political representation, an equitable division of the financial budget, and increased autonomy however this was never likely. Still, West Pakistan could have separated East Pakistan with less bloodshed and in a more civil manner.

 


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