Our 1971 debacle

It was during this time that my ‘ideals of Pakistan’ being a ‘citadel of Islam’ were crushed to a cold death.

Sirajuddin Aziz December 15, 2010

December is cold. Its nights are long and the days are sun-starved. Every December, since 1971, I get into an unexplainable mood of depression. That year, I had stepped into my teens and was like any other young lad, passionately in love with my beloved country, Pakistan. It was during this time that my ‘ideals of Pakistan’ being a ‘citadel of Islam’ were crushed to a cold death. The unnecessary war of December 1971 with India, saw the dismemberment of the then, largest Islamic state and the event heralded in me, a new awakening — religion was not a binding force, anymore! The youthful and emotional ‘idealism’ of a unified, single Ummah caved into a dismal pit of anger and denial.

Asghar Khan in his book, We Have Learnt Nothing From History aptly remarks, “The verdict of the electorate (1970 elections) was unexpected and baffled not only the political pundits but also the contesting parties…The Bengalis had been known for their massive support to a single political organisation, once they believed it deserved their confidence…Amongst the provinces that later formed a part of Pakistan their contribution to the battle of the ballot was most valuable and their sense of patriotism probably the most developed”. So how was it, that the most patriotic segment of the country decided to revolt and secede?

Refusal to accept the results of the 1970 elections by the political parties of the western wing, who had the tacit support of the power-drunk generals, paved the way for the long-simmering hatred to surface with full might and venom. The military struck with all its might in March 1971, not realising that no army in history had ever won against its own people.

On December 17, I remember watching the six o’ clock English news on PTV, whereupon the fall of Dhaka — the humiliating spectacle of a ceremony of surrender at the Dhaka Race Course Ground — was shown to an aghast, shocked and miserably demoralised nation. In recent history, no army general had ever been stripped of his badges, in full public view. And here General ‘Tiger’ Niazi (may Allah bless his soul) who, a day earlier, had said “Dhaka — over my dead body” was signing the instrument of surrender! I cried bitterly, avoiding eye contact with other family members. We were all devastated. East Pakistan had been lost, Jinnah’s dream and effort lay in shambles.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, despite his histrionics and dramatic performance at the UN Security Council, seemed like a God-sent messiah to us, when he said: “We will make a new Pakistan”. He lifted our courage and morale for which he deserves full credit. He restored respect to the armed forces by declaring in every speech Pakistan lost a political battle, not a military war.

Sarmila Bose is assistant editor at the widely-read, Anandabazar Patrika, and a niece of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Writing on the 1971 war, she said something that we, today, would do well to heed: “There is much for Pakistan to come to terms with what happened in 1971. But the answers don’t lie in the unthinking vilification of the fighting men who performed so well in the war against such heavy odds, in defence of national policy. Rather, in failing to honour them, the nation dishonours itself”.

Oh! deathly cold December, thou shall always be in mourning.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2010.


Hamid Khawaja | 10 years ago | Reply Pakistan has neither been successful in national integration nor has it been to overcome its crises of legitimacy and identity. The separation of East Pakistan was the result of these simmering problems which culminated in December, 1971. While those in power then are to blame, they are not the only ones. Many before them contributed to this final debacle. Sadly, we have learnt nothing from it and the same crises continue to threaten another debacle.
sankar ray | 10 years ago | Reply Sharmila Bose is not a niece of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. His father, Sisir Bose who drove Netaji out in the latter's famous escape was his nephew. And one point. Zulfiqar Ali Bhuto's call for socialism as gaseous as his statement that Pakistan had lost a political, not military battle, as otherwise he would not have gave call for one thousand year war against India.But certainly, Bhutto did his best to free Pakistan from the cobra-hold of military-feudal nexus albeit in a limited way.
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