Every year for the last 43 years we discuss separation of East Pakistan in December, and much of it is around the military operation rashly started in early 1971. Of course that was a major blunder of the stupid establishment at that time.
But what is Bangladesh today was not made in those crucial eight months. It was a consequence of the wrongs done to the people of East Pakistan by the West Pakistan ruling classes and the military who wanted to rule the Eastern wing as a colony. It was thus a liberation movement which was supported by the Indian government because we provided them an opportunity to prove that two nation theory was fragile.
Soon after Pakistan was established the Muslim League leaders led by Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan thought it appropriate to impose Urdu as the only national language in February 1948. Mohammed Ali Jinnah jumped into this debate on 21st March stating that can be the language of the Province, but said “let me make it clear to you that the state language of Pakistan is going to be Urdu and no other language.” This was not acceptable to the Bengalis because they would have been placed in a disadvantageous position in competition with the Punjabi and Mohajir west Pakistanis, who had a better understanding and command of Urdu.
The protests continued which took a violent turn on 21 February 1952 when the state government opened fire on the protesting students, according to different accounts, seven to nine students died and several were injured. The attempt by the students to construct a memorial (Shaheed Minar) was also foiled, though eventually, the government had to give in. This memorial was also a rallying point for Bengali nationalists even during the liberation war against Pakistan.
After giving the East Bengalis a ‘Shaheed Minar’, it was finally agreed in the third draft of the Constitution in 1954 that Bengali and Urdu would be the official languages of the country. ‘At the same time it provided for the use of English as the “official language of the country for twenty years.” (Mehrunnisa Ali 1966)
But it was an expensive tradeoff for the Bengalis as they had to accept the perfidious idea of ‘One Unit’, thereby giving away their majority in the assembly. Not only that. Once all of West Pakistan was declared one province, what was called East Bengal in the official documents until 1954 was renamed East Pakistan.
Let us take a cursory look at a few disparities:
The total government expenditure in 20 years 1950-70 in Pakistan was US $30.95 billion, out of which West Pakistan extracted the lion’s share of US $21.49 billion meaning over 69 per cent, while East Pakistan, despite having 55 per cent population, was doled out only US $9.45 billion, which was just 30.45 per cent of the total.
This distribution of resources was in sharp contrast to the income generated by East and West Pakistan. All through the 24 years, East Pakistan had enjoyed foreign trade surplus. In a paper Why Bangladesh, a group of scholars in Vienna collected data from the government of Pakistan’s official papers showing how East Pakistan was exploited by West Pakistan. Taking stock of the foreign trade they pointed out: ‘In foreign trade East Pakistan exports constituted 59 per cent of the total but imports only 30 per cent of the total imports… During the same period West Pakistan earned 41 per cent of the total foreign exchange and was allowed 70 per cent of the foreign exchange earnings.’
While the surplus generated by East Pakistan was invested in the infrastructure and industry of West Pakistan, it was a secured market for the West Pakistani goods. Between 1964 and 1969 West Pakistan exported goods worth Rs5.29 billion to East Pakistan, while it imported goods of Rs3.17 billion.
Of the total foreign assistance almost 80 per cent was consumed by West Pakistan. On the whole, again according to the Vienna Group, 77 per cent of the funds allocated for development went to West Pakistan in the first 20 years. Not only all the major investments in the jute and paper industry in East Pakistan were owned by the big business houses of West Pakistan, East Pakistan was their undisputed market of over 50 million people. It was because of the loss of this colony that Pakistan had to devalue its currency by 135 per cent in 1972 and its textile and consumer industry had a great fall.
The East Bengal middle classes were also bitter because of their meagre share in government services. For example, by 1971 the share of 54 per cent of East Pakistan’s Bengalis in the central civil services was 16 per cent; in foreign services, 15 per cent; in the army, out of total 17 generals, there was only one Bengali. And in PIA, the state-owned airline, only 280 employees were from East Pakistan as against 7000 from West Pakistan.
I probed General (Retd) Tikka Khan, when he was the Secretary General of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). To my observation that he shouldn’t be talking about democracy because they had killed over 250,000 Bengalis in East Pakistan, his simplistic answer was: ‘You people in the media always exaggerate such figures, only 35,000 Bengalis were killed during the military operations.’ The generals of course are not trained to value human life whether it is 3 million as claimed by BD or 35,000 which is not a small figure either. The real figure of Bengalis killed by the Pakistan army and Al-Badr and Al-Shams, the JI militant arms, may be somewhere between the two claims. This does not include the killings of the Biharis and West Pakistani civilians by the Mukti Bahini in reaction to the military operation.
The Germans have not only apologised to the Jews and the communists who were killed by the Nazi government, they have museums to tell the future generation what they did wrong. Would we be able to apologise for the wrongs done to East Bengal and move on instead of living in our cocoon believing that it was an Indian conspiracy.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org