Professor Dr Moonis Ahmar, a perceptive scholar as well as observer of Pakistani politics wrote an interesting column in a Pakistani English Language daily The Express Tribune on December 11 this year on the 1970 Pakistan Election and held mostly the Awami League and its Six Point Programme responsible for the subsequent disintegration of Pakistan. I always enjoy reading his columns. However, when a scholarly person like Professor Dr Moonis analyses the historic election of 1970 like other Pakistani analysts who prefer to live in a make-believe world of their own about the emergence of an independent Bangladesh and India's role in it; I beg to differ with this respected analyst.
Taking a cue from political scientist as well as the then central Minister of Pakistan, Professor GW Chowdhury's The Last Days of United Pakistan, Professor Moonis held the Awami League responsible for the disintegration of Pakistan. He argued that Awami League intimidated all other political parties in such a way that they did not find any level playing field in the 1970 historic election. This is an erroneous argument. Since the Awami League was the most popular political party in Pakistan, it did not need to intimidate any political party. Rather, all other parties, which always believed in the narrative of President Ayub Khan and cooperated with him at the expense of the interests of the Bangalees did not have any popular base. To be sure, these were political parties only in name. Only Mr Nurul Amin and not his party had popularity in his constituency. The only other political party, which had base in East Pakistan, was the National Awami Party of Maulana Bhasani but the mercurial Maulana boycotted the election in a mysterious way. Pakistani military spokesperson, the late Siddique Salik's Witness to Surrender highlights this line of reasoning in East Pakistani politics.
Ethnic character of the Bengalees is very different in that we are a very emotional people and our emotion is the product of our climate and topography. We overwhelmingly voted for Pakistan in 1946 but once Pakistan failed to fulfill our rising expectations, we felt betrayed. The growing disparity that developed between the two wings of Pakistan for over the last twenty-three years and the lack of democratic representation as well as election in Pakistan during the same period created such an emotional issue that the Awami League could very easily capture the imagination of the Bangalee people. Since Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman never compromised with the Pakistani establishment on the issue of our right to national self-determination, he naturally won their hearts. This way he emerged as the foremost spokesperson of the Bangalee people. On this issue, all other leaders, even the mighty Maulana Bhasani stood discredited in the eyes of the people because the great Maulana also compromised with President Ayub Khan due to their joint pro-Peking stance in world politics in the 1960s.
According to Professor Moonis, Pakistan government was naive to allow the Awami League to preach the cause of secession with its Six Point Programme during the 1970 election. The fact of the matter is that the Pakistan government was not naive. Rather, the Pakistani establishment misjudged both the spirits and mood of the Bangalee people and the reality that obtained in East Pakistan prior to the 1970 election. No doubt, both Governor Vice Admiral SM Ahsan and the Martial Law Administrator Shahibjada Yakub Khan, who were a different breed of Pakistani military officers, were sympathetic to the Bangalees because they first hand saw the deprivation that the Bangalees had experienced under Pakistan for over two decades.
Any way, the Pakistani military, especially the Military Intelligence believed that the Awami League would get a simple majority of seats in East Pakistan but not the overwhelming majority in the National Assembly, which Awami League subsequently happened to secure. The Chief of the Military Intelligence informed President Yahya Khan of this. According to Srinath Raghavan, the author of 1971: A Global History of the Creation of Bangladesh, President Yahya Khan who watched the election results throughout the election night became angry with the unexpected result and asked the Chief of the Military Intelligence why his projection of the election result did not match with what happened in East Pakistan. Interestingly, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib had correctly projected the election result in East Pakistan. While campaigning in the constituency of Nurul Amin, Bangabandhu was asked by the journalists whether Awami League would get all the seats in East Pakistan. Bangabandhu told journalists that Awami League would get all the seats, barring two- - one by Nurul Amin and the other by Raja Tridiv Roy.
Had the Awami League been called to form government at the centre and write a new constitution in March 1971, the Awami League would have to compromise on the issue of the Six Points Programme but Mr Bhutto did not leave that scope. Rather, Bhutto mistakenly claimed that since the Awami was the majority party in East Pakistan, power would have to be transferred to the Awami League in East Pakistan and the same would have to be done in West Pakistan to the Pakistan's People's Party since his party secured the majority in West Pakistan. He is said to have uttered in Urdu--Ahdhar se ham; Others se tom. This way Mr Bhutto and not the Awami League paved the way for the subsequent disintegration of Pakistan. Had power really been transferred to the Awami League, a compromise could somehow be found. Retired Air Marshall Ashagar Khan developed this line of reasoning in his Generals
Professor Dr Moonis argues that since the Awami League which preached the Six Point Programme was not willing to compromise on this issue, this party should not have been allowed to contest the 1970 election. To be sure, at first Bangabandhu did not seek to break Pakistan for which he fought in the 1940s. Rather, the anti-people politics of Pakistan as practised in its formative years created a scope for him to envision an independent Bangladesh. In fact, a number of factors such as the politics of palace conspiracy, an attack on Bangalee language and culture, autocracy and military dictatorship, ever increasing disparity between the two wings of Pakistan, the deprivation of the Bangalees of their right to national self-determination within the scope of the historic Lahore Resolution, and lastly, the intransigence of Mr Bhutto ultimately led Bangabandhu to realise his dream of an independent Bangladesh. He believed that Pakistan had been created for the Muslim people but the politics that Pakistan practised for the first two decades revolved around the interests of the ruling elites -- the scions of the Muslim landed aristocracy, and the military and civilian elites. Their foreign master was the United States of America which needed Pakistan and its military to wage the Cold War against the former Soviet Union. Religion was also used to justify the vested-interests of the ruling elites.
Generally speaking, nation-states do not die in the nation-state based international system. As a nation state, Somalia has been languishing in the surgical ward for almost thirty years but somehow it is still surviving. The former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are more an as a nation state because since its inception in 1947, it was not a viable country from the standpoints of geography, ethnicity, language, culture and shared civic values. Professor Hans J Morgentha thought that since relation between East and West Pakistan was tenuous, the country needed superb political acumen to maintain its territorial integrity. However, Pakistan lacked that type of politics to handle the victory of the Awami League in the 1970 election. And that lacking, and not the Awami League, led to its disintegration in the following year, i.e., 1971.
Supad Kumar Ghose teaches at the Noakhali Science and Technology University (NSTU), Noakhali, Bangladesh.