Yahya and the Army high command were stunned. Bhutto was too. They put a brave face on it. Yahya, during a post election visit to Dhaka, introduced Mujib to the international press as the future Prime Minister of Pakistan. He even announced the date the new parliament would meet. He and Bhutto negotiated with Mujib and tried to get him to give a little on the six points and concede a face saving formula. Talks broke down. Yahya postponed the parliamentary session for an indefinite period of time.
Mujib demanded that another date for the parliamentary session be announced at once. He permitted his minions to take over the administration, security services, transport, schools, colleges and universities, health services and courts in East Pakistan. The writ of the central government ran only in the cantonments and the Government House. Mujib, in effect, ruled East Pakistan, venturing even to welcome Yahya on subsequent visits as a guest of East Pakistan.
Yahya did announce another date for the opening session of the parliament, but things were beyond repair now. Bhutto threatened to personally break the legs of any members of his party who would go to Dhaka for the opening session of the parliament. He also warned members of the parliament from other West Pakistani parties that if they attended the meeting, they would eventually be tried as traitors. Yahya made pious noises of national reconciliation in order to buy time to deploy enough troops in East Pakistan to crush and control the natives.
Awami league leaders were aware of the plans. They tried to beef up the East Bengal rifles, a thinly armed militia manned by Bengali soldiers, all of whose senior officers were from West Pakistan. Contingency plans were drawn up for most of the senior cadre of the party to escape to India when the army made their move.
Mujib and other Awami league leaders looked the other way, while houses and businesses of Urdu-speaking immigrants were looted, scores were killed; women kidnapped and raped with impunity. They had mistreated Bengalis while they ruled the roost. They had, in common with Punjabis, looked down upon Bengalis as somewhat inferior beings and kept aloof from them. 12 They had consistently supported West Pakistani interests, politically, in business and industry. They had behaved as virtual colonizers. Let them suffer. So the argument went. Among Bengalis, members of religious parties notably Jamaat-e-Islami, timeservers and collaborators, also suffered horribly.
The massive air and sea transfer of troops to East Pakistan was a logistic challenge in itself. They were further hampered by the fact that India had banned over flight of its territory, on the pretext that two Pakistani agents had hijacked an Indian civilian plane to Lahore. 1
When Army high command felt that they had adequate forces to cow down the populace, they swooped down like birds of prey. As the first measure they disarmed, and confined the East Pakistan rifles to, what were for all practical purposes, concentration camps. The army then moved to take care of the leaders of the rebellion. A frontal assault would mean wholesale massacre. The army was not averse to it but the Governor of East Pakistan and Chief of the Navy, Admiral Ahsan , intervened. 2 He insisted that the arresting squad go in quietly under the cover of darkness and behave respectfully especially with women.
In the event the assault force did beat up Mujib, push around women and break the bones of a few servants. Mujib was arrested and flown to a jail in West Pakistan, where he was tried in camera for treason and sentenced to death. Other members of Awami League high command had quietly slipped across the border to India. Security officials, their ranks beefed up by armed soldiers, went around securing the capital city Dhaka, and the environs and spread out arresting and torturing people en route to cities nearby and did it at the slightest pretext, even without one. Other units tried to emulate the performance of the central command.
After “pacifying” the cities, army personnel spread through the countryside. Out of the spotlight of the international media, they unleashed an even more brutal reign of terror of unprecedented ferocity. They did not spare even the Bengalis whom they suspected of harboring pro-Pakistan sympathies. 3
As soon as he heard of the army action in Dhaka, Army Col Zia Ur Rahman one of the few senior Bengali officers in the Pakistan army, then stationed in Chittagong, declared independence of Bangladesh (BD) from the local radio station. 4 Awami league High command, with blessings, diplomatic and material support of the Indian Government, set up the Government of Bangladesh (B.D) in exile in Delhi, with Mujib as the president and a cabinet acting in his name. They set about obtaining political, diplomatic, financial and armed assistance from Governments and the public all over the world. The response was tepid. Most countries, except for the Soviet Union, adopted a wait and watch policy. Nixon leaned towards Pakistan. He, along with Kissinger, was mindful of the faithful satellite status of the country. Human Rights were not a relevant concern for them.
1 While Pakistan was transporting troops to East Pakistan, an Indian passenger plane was hijacked to Lahore. India claimed that it was the work of Pakistani agents. It later turned out that the whole thing was planned by Indian security agencies.
2 Admiral Ahsan, an enlightened immigrant was the chief of Naval forces, and had been the first Naval attaché to Jinnah. He prevented a lot of bloodshed in the region.
3 My daughter’s father-in-law, Dr. Mumtaz Chaudhury was serving as a Director of Education in a major city. The army wanted him to keep an eye on the staff under him. He told them that he would not act as a spy. A Major and a Colonel visited him soon after. In the ensuing argument, the Major called him all kinds of names and pulled a gun on him. 4 Not to be confused with General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan.