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  • Writer's pictureSaleem Qamar Butt

16th December: Pakistan's Greatest Tragedy

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

There comes not seldom a crisis in the life of men, of nations, and of worlds, when the old forms seem ready to decay, and the old rules of action have lost their binding force. The evils of existing systems obscure the blessings that attend them, and, where reform is needed, the cry is raised for subversion.~Benjamin N. Cardozo

On 16th December 1971, I was only 10 years old but vividly remember my late father striking his fists on the wall with tears pouring out from his eyes. The emotional state of most people in the then West Pakistan was not much different and the day was filled with dark clouds of deepest grief and despair. Forty-nine years down the lane, how many of our brethren even remember that we lost half of our state body i.e. former east Pakistan on this most tragic day of our history. But even more heartbreaking is the fact that as a nation and as a country, we did not delve deep enough to learn the right lessons from this greatest national tragedy. The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana observed that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." As a consequence, we in Pakistan are once again witnessing many developments on the internal and external fronts that remind us of the hurtful subversion in the political, economic, social and security fields that are fraught with catastrophic ramifications, without much realization though.

A brief overview of the 1971 catastrophe may be in order as young generation might not even remember it; and those who claim to know, most of them are fed on the Indian sponsored propaganda that both preceded and succeeded the fall of Dhaka. The preparation for dismemberment of united Pakistan began in India under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. The Indian spy agency R&AW was created in 1968 from Indian Intelligence bureau that had already succeeded in getting some toehold in former East Pakistan by mainly using a large Hindu population there. That helped in sowing the seeds of discord and by inflaming existing Bengali discontent with Urdu language having been declared as Pakistan’s national language. The power struggle that ensued untimely demise of father of the nation Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, resulted in undue political polarization that exasperated the Bengali resentment about inequality in the national wealth distribution, infrastructure and industrial development, unemployment, poverty, food and water crises, lackluster natural disaster management and above all grossly disproportionate employment opportunities and representation in civil and military jobs. To be fair, some of the grievances were quite genuine, though perceived in haste, yet some other grievances were merely concocted. Those concerns were fed into Bengali minds through well orchestrated Indian disinformation and psychological war perpetrated in former East Pakistan as a preparatory phase of strategic covert war and impending open military invasion. The creation of R&AW coincided with recruitment of more than 100,000 Bengali from East Pakistan as Mujib Ur Rehman’s Mukti Bahni (who had a number of meetings with Indira Gandhi). Mukti Bahni was recruited, trained, funded and equipped at Indian city of Agartala to unleash a reign of terror through rape, arson and plunder of the civil population, and simultaneously put the blame on small size Pakistan Army scattered all over the country mostly along the Indian border. Mukti Bahni was specially tasked to undertake raids and ambushes on Army convoys to logistically choke Pak Army. To the Indian glee, Mukti Bahni and Mujib’s political followers succeeded in bleeding their own countrymen and Army by historical back-stab and shameless conspiracy. It is well documented in books on the subject that amid regionalism, hatred for West Pakistan and natural disasters, Pakistan went to polls on 7th December 1970. The Awami League of Mujib scored a convincing victory, by securing 160 out of 162 seats reserved for East Pakistan. Bhutto's PPP managed to get 81 seats against the 138 allocated for West Pakistan. Quite ironically, out of 81 seats, PPP got 62 seats from Punjab, and only 18 from Sindh and just 01 from NWFP; despite that Bhutto misused Sindhi language card to subdue demand for Bengali language as state language in East Pakistan. The last straw on the camel’s back was non-acceptance of national assembly election results primarily by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Consequently, Mujib’s collusion with Indian R&AW and Indira Gandhi, Bhutto’s political machination and announcement of Udhar Tum, Idhar Hum (you be there and we be here) and finally General Yahya Khan’s inability to prevail upon both Mujib and Bhutto for peaceful and timely transfer of power and failure to apply the right politico-military strategy resulted in small size stranded Pak Army getting attacked from all directions and more sadly subjected to backstabbing by own countrymen. Consequently despite exemplary individual acts of valour and heroic battles at tactical level, the most ignominious surrender of around 30 thousand plus troops with fewer bayonets and bullets left to fight took place. Ironically, it was propagated as 95000 troops’ surrender that actually included most civilian West Pakistanis. Nevertheless, the Army was subjected to a sustained image tarnishing campaign both home and abroad for putting a blanket on the political intrigues and greed and covert and overt war by India with Pakistani hands in Indian gloves in both parts of Pakistan. Many regard it as a divine warning that all three main characters responsible for the dismemberment of United Pakistan met un-natural deaths including their kith and kin.

While the Armed Forces learnt part of their lessons and focused on developing potent conventional and nuclear capability to thwart any future aggression post 71 humiliations, the other elements of national power in Pakistan remained far from being wiser after the biggest debacle of its history. The consistent political mayhem continues till to date (Jenga Continues in Pakistan), the very word and system of democracy remains most misused as almost all political parties thrive on ill gotten funds and stay focused on multiplying the ill-legitimate wealth while in power. The political powers in almost all political parties remain hereditary where children and grandchildren continue to boss the subservient old party stalwarts, loser in any elections still refuse to gracefully accept defeat and keep cribbing and conspiring till they get their piece of cake. The much desired morals and values always give way to petty interests, colluding with anti-state forces and hostile countries while defaming and undermining own proud armed forces through direct and indirect assaults remains in fashion by all power hungry vultures. The use of armed militants, proxies, exploitation of fissiparous tendencies, sub-nationalism, use of provincial, ethnic and sectarian cards continue unabated (Why a State Collapses?). Thus, Pakistan remains subjected to hybrid war with Armed forces and national intelligence agencies compelled to fight on too many fronts. Like in the past, the enemy within is even more harmful than the enemy outside. However, it is quite reassuring that today’s Pakistan is far stronger and geographically cohesive, possesses most battle hardened armed forces duly backed up by potent nuclear deterrence, and is blessed with more aware and better educated masses compared with the sad past. Besides, due to changed global geo-political environment and realignments, strategic partners like China and Turkey are standing shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan with many other friendly countries ready to support newly emerging political, economic and security blocks. Therefore, any numbers of neo-subversive politicians and new faces of former Mukti-Bahni ilk terrorist outfits i.e. BLA, BRA, TTP etc and other so called sub-nationalist militant wings playing in the hands of R&AW have bleak future, despite their occasional pin pricks here and there. Nevertheless, India in collusion with some other intimidating countries continues to target Pakistan unabated with most modern methods of covert war called 5th generation warfare, which need to be contested in all dimensions (Beware of Invisible War Unleashed in Pakistan).

It is so painful to note that some people either due to lack of in depth knowledge or for some other malicious reasons unwittingly indulge in broad brush statements and even self pity vis-à-vis Bangladesh that has passed through a number of bloody coups since its creation and continues to struggle with India breathing down its neck. It is a matter of satisfaction to see Bangladesh making good progress in many fields despite numerous challenges. However, unrelenting false propaganda and maltreatment of stranded Bihari Muslims and genocide of Jamiat-e-Islami Bangladesh accused of being pro Pakistan in 1971 is condemn-able. One would hope that as a lot of Pakistani citizens indulge in introspection, regret and reflect upon the greatest tragedy of Pakistan's history, there might also be millions of people in Bangladesh who succeeded in rising above the Indian sponsored propaganda, recognized the truth and now have similar longing for lost brothers. If East and West Germany could be reunited in 1990 after 45 years of breakup, and North and South Koreans are coming closer; a day may be in store by Almighty ALLAH when Pakistan and Bangladesh could carve out a blueprint for reunion i.e. may be One Nation with Two States. After all, the creation of Bangladesh was neither the negation of two nation theory nor the breakup of Islamic brotherhood bond. The Bangladeshi people cheering Pakistani sports teams all over the world and during recent cricket series in Bangladesh is reassuring and heart warming. 'May we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion'.

APS Peshawar Carnage: The second stab in the back once again came from Indian sponsored proxy operating from Afghanistan on 16 December 2014, when six gunmen affiliated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) conducted a terrorist attack on the Army Public School in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. The militants entered the school and opened fire on school staff and children, killing 149 people including 132 schoolchildren, ranging between eight and eighteen years of age making it the world's fourth deadliest school massacre. A rescue operation was launched by the Pakistan Army's Special Services Group (SSG), who killed all six terrorists and rescued 960 people. On 2nd December 2015, Pakistan hanged four militants involved in the Peshawar massacre. The Supreme Court of Pakistan upheld the death sentences of two more convicts involved in the attack in the Said Zaman Khan v. Federation of Pakistan case on 29 August 2016. This was the most horrendous terrorist activity sponsored by India inside Pakistan on 16th December 2014 that symbolized Indian National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and R&AW’s cruelest and crude way of conveying repeat of 16th December 1971 covert stab capability. Nevertheless, slap on the perpetrators’ face came in the form of Pakistan high spirited unified national response that propelled Pakistan Armed Forces to successfully defeat terrorism.

16 December 2021

( This article was published earlier in December 2020, titled '' 16th December: Deepest cut to the Heart"; has been updated and republished on this most tragic date)

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