No tears for Dhaka

BY Khalid Hasan| IN Media Practice | 28/05/2004
More on how the Pakistani media abdicated when the majority seceded from the minority in 1971.



                 Reprinted from the Friday Times     




Private view/ Khalid Hasan  


Jonaid Iqbal, an old friend, responding to a column I write for TFT’s sister publication, Daily Times, has recalled how the announcement by Gen Yahya Khan that he had "unleashed the tigers" (his own description of the military crackdown of March 25, 1971) on the people of East Pakistan was greeted with applause by senior officers of the information ministry in Islamabad, where Jonaid then worked. The only man in that room who did not join the celebrants was Jonaid, who came from East Pakistan. When upbraided for this lack of "patriotism", he said quietly, "Pakistan as I know it has come to an end." Jonaid was suspended from service for being what he was: a Bengali. And though the "New Pakistan" was keen to leave him, he never left Pakistan.


I had suggested that instead of lecturing the world on human rights because of Abu Ghraib, we should first apologise to the people of Bangladesh. At the time, the prevailing view in Lahore was that the Bengalis were not being punished enough. Some idea of the general mood in the city can be gleaned from the following two incidents.


In the reporters’ room of The Pakistan Times, where I then worked, I had placed on the large table around which we all worked a picture of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman holding his head in both hands. That one single image expressed the despair that had descended on East Pakistan. The only other person in the reporters’ room who felt the pain of East Pakistan was my friend and senior Maqbul Sharif, though he was quite close to Yahya personally.


The Pakistan Times, despite its forcible takeover by the Ayub regime, still remained the last refuge of card-carrying comrades, socialists, left-wingers and liberals. So what happened next should be sobering for those who are in any doubt as to who stood where when Golden Bengal was raped by its own defenders. One day, Ghulam Muhammad, who used to carry out our errands, came to me and said that while everyone liked me and Judge Sahib (as Maqbul Sharif was called for his expert coverage of the higher courts), there was simmering resentment over the fact that we had put up the "traitor Mujib’s" picture on our desk. So before anything unpleasant happened, would we please remove it.


A few days later, I accompanied Maqbul Sharif to dinner at the Lahore cantonment home of someone he knew. When we arrived, the large living room was full and in one corner a discussion was in progress on the "great army action" in East Pakistan. When I intervened to say that we were massacring our own people and destroying our own country, all hell broke loose. One man said, "If you are siding with the traitors, then you’re traitors yourselves." As the exchanges grew more animated, the host walked up to us and said, "You two have to leave my house. We don’t want you here." We left. Had we hesitated or argued, we would have been physically thrown out or perhaps even handed over to some Field Intelligence Unit as collaborating separatists in the pay of India.


I narrate these two incidents to show the atmosphere in Lahore. We should pull this skeleton out of the cupboard where it has lain hidden for over thirty years. The best book written by a Pakistani on the East Pakistan tragedy is The separation of East Pakistan by the late Hasan Zaheer. I would like to quote some passages from the chapter ‘West Pakistani responses’ to reinforce my point. He writes, "The insensitivity of the influential classes of West Pakistan to the physical repression and political manipulation in the East Wing after the army operation, exposed their pretensions as the guardians of the integrity of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. There was no public protest at the outrageous policies, and no demand for national reconciliation."


Hasan Zaheer writes that the West Pakistan press in 1971 included three major privately-owned independent dailies - Nawai Waqt, Jang and Dawn - all of which enjoyed a fair degree of freedom to take an independent stand and influence government policies. "Following the army action, they all lent their full support to it. They continued to toe the official line until the fall of Dhaka, in violation of their professional obligation to inform the people of the objective conditions in East Pakistan; in fact, at times, they appeared more aggressive than the regime itself and seemed to be goading it to intensify defiance of world opinion." They ran banner headlines, creating war hysteria and wrote editorials praising the government for giving up the political process and urging it on in the same direction, never questioning the aims and limits of army action. Dawn, which has always crowed about its independence, wrote an editorial on April 4, 1971, calling President Yahya the soldier statesman the nation looked up to "with the same confidence … (to) meet this challenge from without just as he firmly faced the threat of disintegration from within when Awami League’s obduracy and adamant unreasonableness left no other course open." Nawai Waqt’s coverage remained volatile all through, while demanding the dismemberment of all Pakistan’s internal and external enemies, little realising that in the end, it would be Pakistan itself which would be dismembered.


It is a sad story and it is time all of us accept responsibility for Pakistan’s break-up. And all of us should apologise to the people of Bangladesh, which would have remained East Pakistan had it not been for the refusal of the ruling classes to share power with its people. Have we ever thought that the secession of East Pakistan is the only instance in history where the majority seceded from the minority?



This is a regular column by TFT’s Washington

correspondent. He can be reached at  



This is a sequel to  Abu Ghraib and after-A Pakistani view



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