The dismemberment of Pakistan in 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh are mourned here as routine every December 16, during which most of the blame for what happened, is placed on external factors. The habit is well formed because in 2011, too, we are externalising our essentially intra-state conflict and blaming it on others. The two-nation theory, which should have died with East Pakistan, is alive and well and is taking revenge on non-Muslim Pakistanis through the Blasphemy Law. The common denominator in the military defeats suffered by Pakistan, is dominance of the Pakistan Army and a succession of martial laws. This dominance still continues. Therefore, the crisis of the state continues.
The first blunder in East Pakistan was the failure to understand Bengali nationalism, which was language-based, and impose Urdu on the province using the ‘national language’ as the basis of ‘separation’ from India. Hassan Zaheer’s book The Separation of East Pakistan (OUP 1994) notes that the All India Muslim League had run into trouble in 1937, when it proposed Urdu as the national language of the league. It was opposed by the Bengali Muslim Leaguers who got Jinnah to water down the resolution to read that Urdu should be encouraged in areas where it was spoken. The same kind of mistake was made in Sindh, where, too, nationalism was language-based and we have the issue of Sindhi nationalism even today.
Military rule and the strategy of defence it created for East Pakistan was deeply flawed. An army officer has written a book titled The 1971 Indo-Pak War: A Soldier’s Narrative (OUP 2002), which touches upon some very important issues. The author, Major-General (retd) Hakeem Arshad Qureshi, commanded the SSG (commandos) and an infantry battalion in East Pakistan in 1970-71, was a POW in India and later commanded Pakistan Rangers as director-general before retiring in 1990. He criticises the military’s strategy that the defence of West Pakistan should lie in West Pakistan: “Despite the deliberate strategic conclusion that the defence of East Pakistan lay in West Pakistan, no effort was made to augment the defence of East Pakistan to gain time before the counter offensive against the enemy could begin from West Pakistan. It was not taken into account that the Bengali component of the army in East Pakistan was not sympathetic given long years of dissent in the eastern wing and protest against inequality of treatment.”
The war in East Pakistan was an intra-state conflict that has once again become familiar in Pakistan: unequal development. That no lesson has been learned is proved by the Baloch insurgency, which Pakistan blames on India just as it did in 1970. The use of religion to paper over reality continues in Pakistan. Hassan Zaheer writes: “Such was the insensitivity of the ruling party to popular issues that the East Pakistan Muslim League Council recommended Arabic as the state language. This was not acceptable even to the West Pakistan intelligentsia.”
Pakistan has taken on America today because of its flawed view of India as an eternal enemy. Without a strategy that could be understood and supported by the world, Pakistan wants Afghanistan left open to a repetition of what it did there after the exit of Soviet Union in 1991. Its argument is that no solution in Afghanistan is possible without its consent, but it has no credible policy that the neighbours of Afghanistan could accept as viable: it has no influence on the Afghan Taliban of Mullah Omar; it negotiates from a position of weakness with its own Taliban.
Major-General (retd) Qureshi says national strategy is conceived by the civilian mind based on the country’s resource base. When the state will go to war is never a determination made by the army. As a small state situated next to a big neighbour, Pakistan must devote its energy to becoming economically strong. Another defeat is looming because of the unlearnt lessons from the loss of East Pakistan. We continue to hurt Bangladesh by writing false textbooks on how we lost it. In 2011, Pakistan is all set for an implosion since the world is gradually abandoning it even at the risk of letting al Qaeda get at our nuclear weapons.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2011.