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 (see Yahya Khan, 1969-71 , ch. 4). 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 (see The
Military Reasserts Itself , ch. 5).
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
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.
Data as of April 1994