After this apparent defeat, the Bengali resistance forces then crossed over to India, where they could obtain arms and ammunition as well as sanctuary ? the Pakistan Army would not dare to cross the Indian border, and thus giving sanctuary to the Mukti Bahini was the first significant move by India in her involvement in the crisis. Without India's arms and sanctuary, Bangladesh might have remained a distant dream of the Bengali nationalists for many years to come. Just as the Pakistan Army's brutal atrocities can never be condoned, similarly India's role, which I discuss in the next chapter, was contrary to all the basic principles of the U.N. Charter and international law.
Turning to the internal scene in the emerging Bangladesh and West Pakistan, the temporary "victory" by the Pakistan Army over the Bengali resistance forces gave the military junta in Islamabad a sense of optimism. But instead of using the time gained for developing a constructive and imaginative approach to the crisis, the Army generals in West Pakistan allowed themselves to be fooled. The military regime imposed a strict censorship of all news about "East Pakistan". Not only the public in West Pakistan but even the ruling elite seemed to believe that the uprising in East Bengal was merely the product of "Indian agents" and a few "miscreants". It was widely believed in West Pakistan that the People of "East Pakistan" were not behind the movement. Of course, the Bengali Muslims, as I have already pointed out, did not like to see Pakistan destroyed, particularly by the Indian forces. But the Army's atrocities left the Bengalis ? whether Awami Leaguers or nationalists with no choice. The Army's actions, particularly Tikka's and subsequently Niazi's policy of "collective punitive actions", under which village after village was burnt and destroyed, turned the entire population of East Bengal against the Pakistan Government. It was therefore no wonder that people in such a desperate situation were prepared to embrace even the devil to escape from total annihilation. Nothing could be further from the truth than Fazal Muqueem's statement: "The Muslim population, particularly in the rural areas, had welcomed the troops and were coming forward in large numbers to help them."14 In fact, the people were living in dread their young men's lives were not secure and their women were not safe. How could they welcome the troops who were intent on subjugating them?
May - July 1971
"The revolt in East Pakistan had been completely crushed by the end of May." Thus asserted Fazal Muqueem and all the publicity organs of the Government of Pakistan began to tell the same story. The White Paper published by the Pakistan Government in August 1971 contained false assertions to the
same effect. But those living outside the jurisdiction of the "iron curtain" imposed by the Pakistan Government's press censorship had no illusion about the real situation. The Bangladesh crisis was deepening and becoming more complex, due both to the Army's continued atrocities and to the lack of any positive steps by the Pakistani Government, and indeed to India's growing involvement in the crisis.
I had left Pakistan within a week of the Army's military action and came with my family to London to begin a research assignment at Chatham House. However, no Bengali at that time could have concentrated his full attention on research. My family and I spent most of our time reading the British newspapers and listening to the news on radio and television. It was the most agonizing period of my life ? Bengalis were being killed mercilessly; Pakistan was nearing its destruction, which meant too that the Indians were nearing the realization of their long?cherished dream. In a letter on April 13 from London, I wrote to Yahya urging him passionately to stop the forces of terror and destruction let loose by the Army's action. His reply was, in a sense, pathetic; he repeated what he had told me at our farewell meeting in Karachi on March 29. He now seemed to have realized Bhutto's insincerity but he had never been a serious administrator, and he now seemed to have lost all control. Among the large community of Asian immigrants in London, there were all sorts of stories and rumours. At one stage, it was circulated there that the generals had realized the futility of their military adventures in East Pakistan. The number of Pakistani soldiers, including officers, killed in the military operations in East Bengal was rising; Pakistan's economic situation was desperate. All foreign loans and aid for development had been stopped. The United States had announced a ban on military supplies to Pakistan, only those items "already in the pipeline" being allowed. Any sensible regime would have tried seriously to get out of the impasse; it was difficult for me to believe that the junta had not yet realized the blind alley into which their military operations had led them. Was there nobody in West Pakistan to see and tell them the truth?
In the latter part of May I decided to go to both West Pakistan and Dacca to see the situation for myself. In the preceding two years, from April 1969 to February 1971, I had been an active participant in the political process in Pakistan; it was thus almost impossible for me to be in London while my country was disintegrating; near relations and dear friends were involved. So I decided to make the trip although it caused unjustified comments in certain quarters that I was still involved in Pakistan's quest for a constitution. First, no political realist could expect a "constitutional formula" for both East and West Pakistan in the summer of 1971. Secondly, I had already declined Yahya's invitation to become an adviser, and accepted an academic assignment in London. My trip was solely to watch the latest developments both in West Pakistan and in Dacca. I had no illusions about the situation; the Pakistan press censorship had not been able to reach me in London I landed at Karachi on May 16. Yahya was there on a tour, so I met
him the next day. I told him my reaction to the Army's atrocities. He tried to convince me, at one stage, that all that I had read in the British and American newspapers was incorrect but I told him that I was going to Dacca to see the real situation for myself. I asked him why, as President of the country, he never cared to visit "East Pakistan" after a situation had developed which was causing worldwide concern; he replied that he would visit Dacca as soon as he could finalize "a programme to offer the Bengalis". It was truly a pity that the country's President could not even now make up his mind about the "next steps".
I went to Dacca, and it was the worst experience of my life. Everywhere I went, 1 heard the same story: one person had lost a son; another a husband; many villages were burnt. The people who did not agree with Mujib's secession plan told how they too had been victims of indiscriminate and stupid acts by the Army. Many people, including my close relatives and friends, could hardly express themselves without tears in their eyes. They urged me to tell Yahya to come to Dacca and to see for himself the damage his Army had done. They repeatedly asked me: "Is there no way for our survival?" They knew of my close involvement with political developments from April/May 1969 and that I had been close to Yahya while he was formulating his plan for the transfer of power. But what answer could I give? I returned from Dacca bewildered and with a heavy heart. I wrote a lengthy report giving authentic accounts of the many cruel acts of the Army including the raping of women.
My next meeting with Yahya took place in Rawalpindi in the same house and in the same room where I had spent many hours with him in 1969-70 with great expectations of a political solution to the growing East?West Pakistan conflict. Yahya's first question was what I had seen in Dacca. My prompt reply was that no single foreign newspaper had exaggerated. On the contrary, the people's agony, suffering and humiliation had not been fully exposed. I also told him that it was not only the number of deaths but the manner in which innocent persons had been killed and women raped that had destroyed our cherished homeland for which the Muslims of the subcontinent had sacrified so many thousands of lives in 1947. I knew from past experience that it was no use giving Yahya a lengthy report such as I had prepared while in Dacca. So I begun to read extracts from my notes ? all factual data. He looked vacant and seemed unable to talk to me. He knew my devotion to the concept of a united Pakistan and he also knew that I had never supported Mujib's veiled secessionist plan. He could not, therefore, dismiss my account as that of a "typical secessionist under the influence of India" ? the last thing I wanted to see was the destruction of Pakistan with the help of the Indian armed forces. Our meeting ended in a confused way. Yahya asked me to see him again before I returned to London.
G. W. Choudhury
served as a member of the Pakistan cabinet from 1967 to 1971