Fall of Dhaka: can we learn from history?

Published: December 19, 2018
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PHOTO: FILE

PHOTO: FILE

PHOTO: FILE The writer is a professor of political science at LUMS, Lahore. His recent book is Imagining Pakistan: Modernism, State and the Politics of Islamic Revival (Lexington Books, 2017)

Never forget national tragedies, big or small, and never fail to recognise the real enemies, the perpetrators behind what as a nation we suffered 47 years back — the shameful fall of Dhaka. And four years back, the coward enemy attached our children in Peshawar. The Palestinians keep memory alive of the capture of Palestine by the Zionists each year by holding rallies, seminars, conferences and remember those who resisted one of the most shameful aggressions supported by powerful Western states. December 16, 1971 — the blackest day in our history just passes by without much national reflections, except a few editorials and not too many reflective, analytical articles in the press. Everyone finds some scapegoat for what happened — and it is always a convenient opportunity for quite a few of the ‘progressives’ to train their intellectual fire on the military and its allies.

Fall of Dhaka: Winemaker’s tale of selfless love and sacrifice

The most important thing is to recognise it was a great tragedy, it happened, and we need to reflect on the causes of it. Briefly, incompetent military leadership, the decade of Ayub Khan, too slow a pace of giving equal representation to the people of then East Pakistan in the power structure of the country, denying transfer of power to the majority party after it swept the 1970 general elections — the Awami League. On top of it, situation in every part of Pakistan was complex, confused and the society was divided by religion, ideology, party politics, and more importantly ethnicity and sub-nationalism.

The question is what we have learnt from that tragedy, and many others. It is not an easy question, but nor is it to so difficult to answer it when we look at the big picture. Actually, the fall of Dhaka was the beginning of many other episodes in the tragic history of the country. Look, how power was transferred, the multiple rifts, dissolution of the Balochistan Assembly, the Baloch insurgency, the rigged 1977 elections, the Pakistan National Alliance and its movement, the toppling of Z A Bhutto, and his unfair and tragic execution under the reign of a despotic military regime.

We marched with some factions of the Afghans, the Americans and so many other powers hell bent on fomenting resistance against the Soviet Union. The war goes on after more than forty years, with new players but within the same geography. And then, ‘leaders’ were cultivated, some by the military, and others who were deft to capture Z A Bhutto’s legacy at the right time. Sounds very pessimistic; but it is what the history is.

16 December 1971 — a day to remember

Where we stand today? Polarised, diminished, fighting many wars within and against too many ‘enemies’, divided and very confused about direction the country needs to take. The very forces that could unite us, and help resolve issues, find a common political ground and frame up a national agenda are fanning the politics of fragmentation, confrontation and polarisation. These are, democracy as a system, the political parties, the leaders, the media and the civil society.

If we add complexity of geopolitics to the current troubles, the big picture doesn’t look nice, except some optimism, trust and expectations attached to Imran Khan. He has emerged out of prolonged political crises. His choice is between overcoming the national crises or being consumed by them. The band of time for him to act is shrinking by the day, and the reform spectrum he wants to work with appears to be too large to fit into the capacity of the state system to deliver goods on time. Never is any leader a last hope, but at the moment, he is the only one that people can trust and take seriously.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2018.

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Reader Comments (2)

  • Shakir Lakhani
    Dec 19, 2018 - 12:23PM

    “He is the only one that people can trust and take seriously.”. Just as we thought Bhutto should be taken seriously? At the moment, IK is taking us in the same direction Bhutto did (devaluation, loss of jobs, no sense of how to govern, etc.). In fact, I have an eerie feeling that IK may meet the same fate Bhutto did. Let’s hope I’m wrong.Recommend

  • Nikki Khan
    Dec 20, 2018 - 7:26AM

    Hope Pakistan has learnt from the past and moving a head
    Pray for IK, the only leader after Jinnah, who is sincere with Pakistani nation, he has no interests for himself. How did he treat with religious extremists, that is an example which never exists in Pakistan’s history.Recommend

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