Believing in one’s own propaganda: Newspapers of Dhaka and the war of 1971

What happened in Pakistan during 1971 continues to be the case when it comes to media’s coverage of Balochistan.

Ali Usman Qasmi December 14, 2015
During a recent visit to Dhaka, I had the opportunity to do research in the National Archives of Bangladesh and the Library of Dhaka University. Although the creation of Bangladesh was not the focus of my research, I was anxious to learn more about the tragic events resulting in the death of countless civilians and the dismemberment of Pakistan.

For this purpose, I picked up the files of two English newspapers, Morning News and Pakistan Observer, published from Dhaka and examined their contents for the months of November and December. I looked at the headlines, feature articles and advertisements printed in these newspapers between November 23, 1971 and December 30, 1971. It was during this period that emergency was declared in Pakistan, war broke out with India and the independent State of Bangladesh came into existence.

It did not come as a surprise to me that newspapers in East Pakistan were under strict State control and used for propaganda purposes. Anyone who tried to report accurately was snubbed and declared an enemy of Pakistan. General Niazi, the commander of Pakistan’s forces in East Pakistan, described BBC as “Brahman Broadcast” and refused to take its reports seriously. He was more content with the reports appearing in Morning News and Pakistan Observer. During the period of active combat starting from late November, these newspapers projected an image of Pakistan as being in complete control of the situation. Both newspapers, till the very end of the war, kept on reporting on the advance of Pakistan’s military and the huge losses incurred by the Indian military.

The idea was to keep the people (especially of West Pakistan) in the dark about the atrocities being committed in East Pakistan and the rapid military advancements made by Indian troops to exploit Pakistan’s precarious internal situation. But it seems that it was not just the people of Pakistan, but the military command itself which started believing in this propaganda. This is why the decision to surrender came as a huge shock to many of the military men as well.

A cursory glance at these newspapers of the last few weeks of united Pakistan should serve as an eye-opener for those who believe that censoring media and suppressing voices of dissent are justified under the larger banner of serving the ‘national interests’ of Pakistan. A time comes when those trying to control the thoughts of masses through repressive means start believing in their own deceits and distortions. This happened in Pakistan during 1971 and it continues to be the case when it comes to media’s coverage of Balochistan and tribal areas. These areas are generally off-limits to independent media and one simply has to rely on information funneled through the tweets of ISPR’s spokesperson.

Just because the media is not allowed to report on the missing persons of Balochistan, large-scale displacement of population from tribal areas and collateral damage of military operation, it does not mean that there is no political turmoil or unrest in these regions. Nor does it mean that a media blackout will help to control or resolve the situation amicably. Among the most important lessons to be learnt from 1971 is the failure of such policies.

Proclamation of Emergency

The news of the victory of Pakistani forces over India and occupation of its areas were repeated on almost daily basis till December 16.

In order to give a semblance of the situation under control while the war was ravaging major parts of East Pakistan, Morning News published a feature on the popularity of miniskirts

Headline of Morning News on December 11, 1971 when the war was at its peak on both fronts

Recruitment ads were still being printed as war had broken out on the Eastern Front with the overwhelming number of Bengalis opposed to the Pakistani military

Making people believe in the myth of Pakistani military's victory over India during the war of 1965 and expecting a repetition of the same in 1971

Headline of Pakistan Observer just three days before surrender

Pakistan Observer becomes Observer as East Pakistan becomes Bangladesh

An ad published in Morning News on December 27, 1971 in which the name Pakistan has been crossed out

All photos: Ali Usman Qasmi
Ali Usman Qasmi The author is an Assistant Professor of History in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). He tweets as @AU_Qasmi (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


PARVEZ PC CHOWDHURY | 7 years ago | Reply I am a victim and survivor of the brutality and unjust war of Pakistan Army in 1971. Here is my story- On 1st of April 1971 my father a Bengali Police Officer, Abdur Rahman Chowdhury was seriously injured while fighting with Pakistani forces in the Lalmonir Hat Air Field. On 4th of April 1971 morning 32 Punjab Reg. captured Lalmonir Hat and killed him along with several other Bengali injured inside the Lalmonir Hat Railway Hospital. On 13th April 1971, Tohfael Ilahi , Parvez Elahi and their Cousin brother Abul Hasnath Chowdhury( not in this photo) along with another Bengali person(Luthfor Rahman) was captured by Pakistani. Only Parvez Elahi survive! No Dead body was found. May Allah Bless them all—Ameen ! - You may ask do I want Revenge? Answer is NO! But Justice by the Law. Sitting from L-R Shaheed Abdur Rahman Chowdhury, Late Nurun Nessa Chowdhury, Flg. Off. Ishfaq Ilahi PAF (Course mates of 46 & 47 GD(P) PAF Academy Risalpur -Later Air.Cdr.Rtd. BAF) ,-- Standing from L-R Shaheed Tohfael Ilahi , Tarifa Akhter, Parveen Akhtar, Parvez Elahi, and Towfiq Elahi. Shaheed Abul Hasnath Chowdhury(Not in this Photo)
Mohammed Faizan Farooq | 8 years ago | Reply We tend to beat around the bush. The war in 1971 was not responsible for the independence movement in Bangladesh. Rather it was a lack of development in the region. Mujeeb had already stated that he would retain the name of East Pakistan however the eastern wing would be independent. This was before the war broke out in Dhaka. The Pakistan military was severely out manned by the Indian forces and even if fighting continued we would have benn overwhelmed although it may have been a more respectful end to the offensive. Alas Tiger Niazi had other ideas.
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