Yahya Khan and Bangladesh
The new administration formed a committee of deputy and provincial martial law administrators that functioned above the civil machinery of government. The generals held power and were no longer the supporting arm of the civilians--elected or bureaucratic--as they had been throughout much of the country's history. In the past, every significant change of government had relied, in large part, on the allegiance of the military. However, Yahya Khan and his military advisers proved no more capable of overcoming the nation's problems than their predecessors. The attempt to establish a military hierarchy running parallel to and supplanting the authority of the civilian administration inevitably ruptured the bureaucratic-military alliance, on which efficiency and stability depended. Little effort was made to promote a national program.
These weaknesses were not immediately apparent but became so as events moved quickly toward a crisis in East Pakistan. On November 28, 1969, Yahya Khan made a nationwide broadcast announcing his proposals for a return to constitutional government. General elections for the National Assembly were set for October 5, 1970, but were postponed to December as the result of a severe cyclone that hit the coast of East Pakistan. The National Assembly was obliged within 120 days to draw up a new constitution, which would permit maximum provincial autonomy. Yahya Khan, however, made it clear that the federal government would require powers of taxation well beyond those contemplated by the six points of the Awami League. He also reserved the right to "authenticate" the constitution. On July 1, 1970, the One Unit Plan was dissolved into the four original provinces. Yahya Khan also determined that the parity of representation in the National Assembly between the East Wing and the West Wing that had existed under the 1956 and 1962 constitutions would end and that representation would be based on population. This arrangement gave East Pakistan 162 seats (plus seven reserved for women) versus 138 seats (plus six for women) for the new provinces of the West Wing.
An intense election campaign took place in 1970 as restrictions on press, speech, and assembly were removed. Bhutto campaigned in the West Wing on a strongly nationalist and leftist platform. The slogan of his party was "Islam our Faith, Democracy our Policy, Socialism our Economy." He said that the PPP would provide "roti, kapra, aur makhan" (bread, clothing, and shelter) to all. He also proclaimed a "thousand year war with India," although this pronouncement was played down later in the campaign. In the East Wing, the Awami League gained widespread support for the six-point program. Its cause was further strengthened because West Pakistani politicians were perceived as callously indifferent to the Bengali victims of the October cyclone and slow to come to their aid.
The first general election conducted in Pakistan on the basis of one person, one vote, was held on December 7, 1970; elections to provincial legislative assemblies followed three days later. The voting was heavy. Yahya Khan kept his promise of free and fair elections. The Awami League won a colossal victory in East Pakistan, for it was directly elected to 160 of the 162 seats in the east and thus gained a majority of the 300 directly elected seats in the National Assembly (plus the thirteen indirectly elected seats for women, bringing the total to 313 members) without winning a seat in the West Wing. The PPP won a large majority in the West Wing, especially in Punjab and Sindh, but no seats in the East Wing. In the North- West Frontier Province and Balochistan, the National Awami Party won a plurality of the seats. The Muslim League and the Islamic parties did poorly in the west and were not represented in the east.
Any constitutional agreement clearly depended on the consent of three persons: Mujib of the East Wing, Bhutto of the West Wing, and Yahya Khan, as the ultimate authenticator representing the military government. In his role as intermediary and head of state, Yahya Khan tried to persuade Bhutto and Mujib to come to some kind of accommodation. This effort proved unsuccessful as Mujib insisted on his right as leader of the majority to form a government--a stand at variance with Bhutto, who claimed there were "two majorities" in Pakistan. Bhutto declared that the PPP would not attend the inaugural session of the assembly, thereby making the establishment of civilian government impossible. On March 1, 1971, Yahya Khan, who earlier had referred to Mujib as the "future prime minister of Pakistan," dissolved his civilian cabinet and declared an indefinite postponement of the National Assembly. In East Pakistan, the reaction was immediate. Strikes, demonstrations, and civil disobedience increased in tempo until there was open revolt. Prodded by Mujib, Bengalis declared they would pay no taxes and would ignore martial law regulations on press and radio censorship. The writ of the central government all but ceased to exist in East Pakistan.
Mujib, Bhutto, and Yahya Khan held negotiations in Dhaka in late March in a last-ditch attempt to defuse the growing crisis; simultaneously, General Tikka Khan, who commanded the Pakistani forces in East Pakistan, prepared a contingency plan for a military takeover and called for troop reinforcements to be flown in via Sri Lanka. In an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion, the talks broke down, and on March 25 Yahya Khan and Bhutto flew back to West Pakistan.
Tikka Khan's emergency plan went into operation. Roadblocks and barriers appeared all over Dhaka. Mujib was taken into custody and flown to the West Wing to stand trial for treason. Universities were attacked, and the first of many deaths occurred. The tempo of violence of the military crackdown during these first days soon accelerated into a full-blown and brutal civil war.
On March 26, Yahya Khan outlawed the Awami League, banned political activity, and reimposed press censorship in both wings. Because of these strictures, people in the West Wing remained uninformed about the crackdown in the east and tended to discount reports appearing in the international press as an Indian conspiracy.
Major Ziaur Rahman, a political unknown at the time, proclaimed the independence of Bangladesh from Chittagong, a city in the southeast of the new country. He would become president of Bangladesh in April 1977. A Bangladeshi government in exile was formed in Calcutta.
Ziaur Rahman and others organized Bengali troops to form the Mukti Bahini (Liberation Force) to resist the Pakistan Army. The East Pakistan Rifles, a paramilitary force, mutinied and joined the revolutionary forces. Nevertheless, the Pakistan Army pressed its heavy offensive and in early April controlled most of East Pakistan. More than 250,000 refugees crossed into India in the first few days of the war. The influx continued over the next six months and reached a total of about 10 million. No accurate estimate can be made of the numbers of people killed or wounded or the numbers women of raped, but the assessment of international human rights organizations is that the Pakistani crackdown was particularly alarming in its ferocity.
Relations between Pakistan and India, already tense, deteriorated sharply as a result of the crisis. On March 31, the Indian parliament passed a resolution in support of the "people of Bengal." The Mukti Bahini, formed around regular and paramilitary forces, received equipment, training, and other assistance from India. Superpower rivalries further complicated the situation, impinged on Pakistan's war, and possibly impeded its political resolution.
In the fall, military and guerrilla operations increased, and Pakistan and India reported escalation of border shelling. On the western border of East Pakistan, military preparations were also in evidence. On November 21, the Mukti Bahini launched an offensive on Jessore, southwest of Dhaka. Yahya Khan declared a state of emergency in all of Pakistan on November 23 and asked his people to prepare for war. In response to Indian military movements along and across the Indian-East Pakistani border, the Pakistan Air Force attacked military targets in northern India on December 3, and on December 4 India began an integrated ground, naval, and air invasion of East Pakistan. The Indian army launched a five-pronged attack and began converging on Dhaka. Indian forces closed in around Dhaka and received the surrender of Pakistani forces on December 16. Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi proclaimed a unilateral cease-fire on December 17.
Violent demonstrations against the military government soon broke out at the news of Pakistan's defeat. Yahya Khan resigned on December 20. Bhutto assumed power as president and chief martial law administrator of a disgraced military, a shattered government, and a bewildered and demoralized population. Formal relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh were not established until 1976.
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