Bangladesh at 50: Pakistani guns, Bangla blood and birth of a nation

Dr Shujat Ali Quadri:

When Bangladesh and India celebrated the December 16 victory in 1971 Liberation War, Pakistani hordes launched a scathing propaganda attack on Twitter targeting both New Delhi and Dhaka. Interestingly, these attacks were slightly soft on Bangla Mukti Vahini (Bangla Liberation Army), but they used every obnoxious word against India. Most of these tweets had Urdu hashtags like #Dil Pe Naksh Hai Dhaka, #Dhaka Ke Badle Dehli and #16 December Aur Pakistan Toot Gaya. Similarly, Pakistanis got many English hashtags trending on Twitter like #Fall of Dhaka, #APSPeshawar and #IndiaBehindPeshawar. Peshawar tweets were especially designed to malign India by tagging it to 2014 gruesome terror attack on Army Public School in Peshawar. This disinformation avalanche nevertheless, Pakistan is unable to eclipse the fact that its East Pakistan broke away from its West Pakistan’s oppression and became Bangladesh as an independent state.

In 1947, as part of the Partition Plan of the British, India and Pakistan came into being as separate two nations. While India was a geographically coherent state, Pakistan was anomalous. Its West and East parts were like two wings of a bird that were divided by a humongous gap of distance. After the East wing split to become Bangladesh, West Pakistan (now Pakistan) concocted a narrative that the birth of Bangladesh was because of sinister designs of India. Pakistani school textbooks included this narrative as part of authentic history. However, these books didn’t tell children that Pakistani Army unleashed a rein of terror on Bengali citizens and they revolted to free themselves from this repression. Bengalis could only stay with West Pakistanis for about 24 years after 1947. They began to regard themselves as free since December 16, 1971. Though India had accorded them independent status 10 days before itself. On December 16, 1971, Pakistani Commander Lieutenant Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi ‘instrument of surrender’ signifying Pakistan’s surrender officially. The document was signed and accepted by India’s Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora, who was General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of India’s Eastern Command. And, thus the first Bangla state of the world, Bangladesh, took birth in Asia.

Owing to obstinacy and shortsightedness of its leaders, Pakistan had descended into chaos right from its birth. At the time of its independence, East Pakistan or Bengalis comprised 56% share in its entire population. West Pakistanis aka Punjabis, Sindhi, Baluch, Pasthun and Saraikis were in minority. Pakistan adopted Urdu as its national language despite the fact that only 3% of its population, and that too migrants from North-Central India, were its experts. These Urdu speakers, who were labelled as muhajirs, thought they could run the country because of cultural and linguistic superiority. However local Punjabis had hold over large swathes of land and other resources. They were very influential. Pakistan’s founder Mohammed Ali Jinnah also considered himself an Indian as he had been living in Bombay for a very long time. He was also of the view that only Urdu can connect the whole of Pakistan as one unit. He had little idea that it could be fatal to the unity of Pakistan. His deputy and Prime Minister of Pakistan, who originally hailed from Muzaffarnagar, UP, vehemently advocated the cause of Urdu. Under such influence, when Jinnah toured Dhaka in 1948 and addressed the Assembly there, he categorically declared Urdu as the lingua franca of the whole of Pakistan. Bengalis read an adverse signal in Jinnah’s message — they thought that West Pakistan was not ready to assimilate them. It is flummoxing that a leader of Jinnah’s stature could not fathom this historic reality that linguistic identity runs supreme in various Indian parts and it might lead to division of Pakistan that was already apart geographically. Ironically, India today recognises Urdu as a national language after Hindi and in some states, it’s number one language, this language cut Pakistan into two. Making Urdu the national language of Pakistan meant that all East Pakistanis or Bengalis would have to learn Urdu, but West Pakistanis would not learn Bengali even though Bengalis outnumbered West Pakistanis.

The Urdu-speaking Muslim elites who migrated to Pakistan thought that only Urdu could teach Islam, the religion of Pakistan. It proved to be a blunder of historic proportion as Bengalis revere their language, irrespective of their religious orientation. They didn’t put up with any irreverence to their language and went on to carve a separate state for themselves.

The most gruesome episode in repression of East Pakistanis is the 1952 student agitation at Dhaka University. On February 21, 1952, a group of students had led a march against imposition of Urdu. The police heavily cracked down on them and shot dead many students. It was a watershed moment for the Bangla movement. Bengalis firmed up their minds that West Pakistanis would always see them and their culture as second rate and would not shy of shedding their blood. Years later, UNESCO declared February 21 as the ‘Mother Tongue Day’ as a tribute to the sacrifice of Dhaka University students.

West Pakistanis also never bothered to check the fact that all leading Islamic Sciences books were available in Bengalis and Bengalis were well versed in them. Bengalis used to recite Juma Khutba (Friday sermon) in Bangla even in Colonial India. Barring Azaan and Namaz (Call to prayer, and prayer), all other Islamic teachings and traditions were learnt and observed in Bangla. Islam saw similar adaptations by Assamese and Malayalis in India.

One more reason behind the creation of Bangladesh was the cultural clash between West Pakistan and East Pakistan. West Pakistanis actually nurtured a disdain for their East compatriots. Economic inequality between West Pakistan and East Pakistan was one of major issues that the Awami League, the breakway faction of Jinnah’s Muslim League and led by legendary Bangabandhu Mujibur Rehman, often raised in its political agitations. However, whenever East Pakistanis raised their demands, West Pakistani tried to repress them by guns. The nadir of West Pakistan’s oppression was Pakistani Army’s ‘Operation Searchlight’ that was launched on March 25, 1971 to eliminate anti-Army elements like students, teachers, activists, political leaders, minority leaders, Hindus and others. It was a bloody series of events. All those leaders who were asking for the 1970 election mandate in favour of Awami League were targeted. By denying Mujibur Rehman his democratic due in 1970 and instead giving the Army free hand to deal with his supporters, West Pakistan engraved its division. The whole of East Pakistan rose up in revolt in protest against ‘Operation Searchlight’. India, which had neighbourly concern for oppressed Bengalis and had been sheltering hordes of Bengali refugees, ultimately decided to provide military support to rebel Bengali guerrillas who are popularly known as Bangla Mukti Vahini volunteers. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi didn’t care for intimidations from China and America and even defied international pressure to help Bengalis achieve independence from Pakistani yoke.

Today, India and Bangladesh are the largest trading partners in South Asia. Both these countries are part of SAARC, BIMSTEC, IQRA and Commonwealth. They are committed to raise their bilateral trade to $10 billion. India exports around $6 billion of goods to Bangladesh. Both the countries have unique pacts to use land and aquatic routes for bilateral trade. India reaches the Myanmar market via Bangladesh and Bangladesh has access to West Asia via India. Meanwhile, Pakistan, like a sore loser, keeps trying to create a wedge between India and Bangladesh, But Islamabad must remember that it spilled Bengali blood in 1971 and that blood has taken its revenge. Pakistan has to remember this lesson of history.


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