Prof Rehman Sobhan
Fazal Elahi, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, pictured together
after Pakistan officially recognised Bangladesh in 1974. PHOTO: AP
President Yahya flew out of Dacca on the night of March 25, he took with him
the last hopes of a united Pakistan. For the final two days, he had been holed
up in the Dacca cantonment with the junta of generals who rule Pakistan,
putting the finishing touches to Operation Genocide.
contingency battle plan had been worked out over the last two years when the
army had been given a glimpse of the true force of Bengali nationalism during
the movement against Ayub. The strength of the army in this time had been
raised from one understrength division to three divisions and an armoured
brigade. But the decision to put the plan into action was probably taken some
time between March 1 and March 6 and was symbolised by the replacement of
Lieutenant General Yakub on March 7 by Lieutenant General Tikka Khan, regarded
as the fiercest of the Punjabi hawks.
time, they must have gauged the overwhelming support behind Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman in Bangla Desh. Sheikh Mujib's call for peaceful non-cooperation,
protesting against Yahya's postponement of the Assembly, had, in less than a
week, not only destroyed the authority of the Yahya government in the East
wing: traditional instruments of Central power in Bangla Desh, such as the
civil service and police, had positively pledged allegiance to Mujib.
decision to postpone the Assembly was seen as a collective conspiracy with Mr.
Bhutto to frustrate the democratic process at the expense of the Bengali
majority. The fact that Yahya's close associate, Lieutenant General Umer, was
reported by other West Wing leaders to have put pressure on them to join
Bhutto's boycott of the Assembly was seen as evidence of this collusion.
the decision to postpone the assembly was seen as an attempt to save Bhutto's
position when this strategy failed to win support in the West. Many Bengalis at
that stage felt that self-rule for Bengal could be attained only outside the
framework of one Pakistan.
with this mood, Mujib staked his political life, first in his public meeting on
March 3, then before a million people on March 7, when he deflected the demand
for independence towards a negotiated demand for full autonomy. On March 7, the
army in Dacca was prepared for unleashing a bloodbath if Mujib declared independence.
Heavy machine gun emplacement had been prepared on the cantonment perimeter.
Tanks were ready and the air force was alerted.
open provocation by Mujib, and faced with a complete erosion of Central
authority in the East wing, Yahya appeared to opt for compromise in talks with
Mujib. He flew to Dacca on March 15 with a clutch of generals, several of whom
secreted themselves in the cantonment to finalise their battle plan for March
being flown in daily in plain clothes on PIA commercial flights, and by March
25 a full division, with support-equipment, had reinforced the existing force.
A fleet had been mobilised to send more troops and heavier equipment in case
the existing force proved inadequate. A special plain clothes commando unit had
been infiltrated into selected urban areas to create trouble as a cover for
for this sort of synthetic provocation was becoming more necessary as Yahya saw
the extent to which Mujib's Awami League volunteers had established law and
order throughout the East Wing. Apart from an ugly communal riot in Chittagong
on March 2 and 3, when the army was responsible for law and order, the province
had been extraordinary peaceful.
background, the Mujib-Yahya talks progressed with surprising ease. At an early
stage, Yahya agreed to Mujib's demand for an end to martial law and a transfer
of power to civilian rule. Mujib accommodated Yahya by agreeing to let him stay
as an interim civilian President at the Centre until the new constitution
emerged. He further accepted Yahya's demand for separate session in the
National Assembly. This, contrary to Yahya's subsequent posture, was designed
to accommodate Mr. Bhutto who feared that in a joint session of the Assembly,
Mujib might join hands with the Pathan and Baluch and some of the smaller
anti-Bhutto parties in Punjab to neutralise Bhutto and even impose the Six
Points on West Pakistan.
demanded a free hand for Bhutto in the West as a quid pro quo for conceding
Mujib's demands. Mujib played into his hands in his desperation to get the army
out and in so doing alienated his support in the West wing. When Bizenjo, the
Baluch leader, Wali Khan, the Pathan leader, and Daultana, flew back on March
24, they had been sacrificed on the altar of a Bhutto-Mujib entente and should
look to their own defences at home.
and Mujib had reached an agreement in principle, and Bhutto's interests had
been adequately safeguarded by Yahya, the task of working out the details of
the proclamation to transfer power was left to the experts. MM Ahmed, chief
economic adviser to Yahya, had been brought in to advise on economics, and had
readily conceded that most of the autonomy demands could be accepted even in
the interim phase.
over the basis for transferring power was resolved when the leading
constitutional lawyer of Pakistan, AK Brohi, gave an opinion that the Indian
Independence Act gave a precedent for transfer of power by presidential
proclamation. While some semantic as opposed to substantive, points remained,
Yahya's team never indicated that there was a point beyond which they could not
accommodate the Awami League.
result, there was no question of any breakdown in the talks because Yahya and
his team never issued any ultimatum, or their minimum basis for a settlement.
Having conceded a free hand to Bhutto in the West and power to Yahya in the
Centre at least in the interim phase, it was felt that Yahya could come to
terms with the de facto authority exercised by Mujib in the East.
League team waited for the final drafting session of the proclamation on March
25 but the expected call from Lieutenant General Peerzada never came. Instead,
MM Ahmed flew to Karachi without waiting to see the Awami League response to
his amendments, indicating the junta had other plans as a substitute for talks.
It is now
clear that Yahya was using the talks as a cover for reinforcements to his
troops as much as for an opportunity to alienate Mujib from potential support
in the West. No one knows what the terms were for transferring power to the
civilians, since Yahya's cryptic commitment to the integrity of Pakistan
continues to mean all things to all men.
Yahya never indicated that the Six Points were inimical to the concept of one
Pakistan. Any question of Mujib's modifying his demands never arose with Yahya
because no such demand was ever made of him.
unfortunate for Yahya that Mujib, in spite of provocation, kept law and order
under control while Yahya sat in Dacca. Yahya had to act in cold blood when he
left orders with Tikka Khan to launch Operation Genocide.
have known that he was destroying the last hope of a united Pakistan. On the
night of March 25, Mujib told a West Pakistani visitor that he had done his
best to hold Pakistan together but that Yahya was set on a military solution
and that this was the end of Pakistan. He felt he might be killed, but that an
independent Bangla Desh would be built on his grave.
article published in the Guardian, Manchester on June 5, 1971 Prof Rehman
Sobhan, who was Professor of Economics at Dacca University and an Adviser to
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, describes the background to the Yahya-Mujib talks
Headline: Prelude to an order for genocide
Source: The Daily Star