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    BANGLA DESH AND THE CRISIS OF PAKISTANHamza Alavi

    THE cyclonic fury with which the Pakistan Amy struck against thepeople of East Bengal? exactly two years to the day on which theregime of President Ayub Khan had fallen and General Yahya Khanassumed power under Martial Law, marked a new stage in thedeepening crisis of Pakistan. I t is a crisis of national identity. I t isalso a crisis of the challenges which are being posed by the risingdemocratic forces in the country to the ruling bureaucratic-militaryoligarchy.

    The one unambiguous fact in the situation is the relentless brutalityof the Army in its attack on an entire people. Equally clear is theunqualified right of the people of East Bengal to struggle to liberatethemselves from its yoke. But the underIying issues are complex. Theyconcern, firstly, the consequences of widening regional economicdisparities inherent in the unevenness of capitalist development, aswell as, on the one hand, the questions of the social basis of unitarianconcepts of nationhood and national ideologies, and, on the otherhand, of the emergence of a sense of separate national identity amongstunderprivileged regional groups. For a quarter of a century the peopleof East Bengal, who constituted 54 per cent of the population ofPakistan, have agitated for a rightful place for themselves in appoint-

    ments to the state bureaucracy and the armed forces and for measuresto rectify the economic backwardness of that exploited region by are-allocation of economic resources and modification of economicpolicies. In the course of that struggle, they established their separateidentity in their distinct culture and language and their sense ofnationhood crystallized. Their confrontation with the Army in MarchI 971 was the climax of a long struggle.

    The action of the Pakistan Army in East Bengal can have few

    parallels in history, because it was premised on the elimination ofthe entire Bengali intelligentsia, in a desperate bid to silence the voiceof the Bengali people. When, in the dark hours of the night of 25thMarch, the army moved into bloody action, by all accounts it did sosystematically, searching out marked houses of political cadres, intel-lectuals and members of the University community. They acted,evidently, on the hypothesis that the voice of Bengali nationalism was

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    *go THE SOCTALIST REGISTER1971no more than the rhetoric of a small band of intellectuals and politi-cians, whose elimination would, therefore, restore loyal obedience ofthe Bengali people to their own authority and remove all prospectsof renewed challenge. Their action was calculated to break the spirit

    of those who survived and to silence a whole people.

    The people resisted. But resistance to the Army's unanticipatedaction was localized, spontaneous and uncoordinated. I t was courage-ous, because those who proudly proclaimed themselves as the 'libera-

    tion forces' had little to fight with except their own defiant spirit andthe will to survive. In retrospect, it is only too plain that the EastBengali political leadership and, especially, the leaders of the Awami

    League who were the spokesmen of Bengali Nationalism, had neither

    planned nor anticipated and prepared themselves, for any kind ofarmed liberation struggle.

    The style of politics of the Awami League leaders is reflected, for

    example, in the response of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman, its undisputedleader, at the moment when the Army went into action. He had atimely warning of the army's impending attack. But having exhausted

    all possibilities of finding a basis for a negotiated settlement, he choseto remain at his residence and awaited arrest. This was a familiar style

    of politics of an earlier day, a style in which Mujib had been broughtup. Successive generations of politicians had used the technique of

    political negotiations backed by threats and pressures, alternatingwith spells in British prisons. In this way they secured, step by step,concessions from the British which led inexorably towards the seats of

    Government, without their having to take the risk of mass action ona scale which could give rise to a revolutionary liberation movement.Negotiation was possible because the British could rely on that

    'nationalist' leadership to maintain the social order in which their ownessential interests were embedded and preserved in the neo-colonialsituation which followed. They too feared the alternative to negotia-tions with the 'moderate leaders', which was the growth of

    revolutionary forces.The situation in East Bengal was no different. There did exist some

    common ground and a basis for compromise between the 'Bengalinationalist' leadership of the Awarni League, and the powerful vested

    interests of West Pakistan, neither of whom wished to unleash socialforces in East Bengal which might threaten to overthrow the estab-

    , lished social order. The Awami League leadership, who championedthe demands for 'full regional autonomy' for East Bengal, as expressed

    in their 'Six Point Pr~gramme,'~were constantly pushed from behindby forces which had helped them to an overwhelming electoral victory

    in December 1970, but which, nevertheless, threatened to push themaside if they faltered in pursuit of the East Bengali demands. We shall

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    examine the nature of these demands and the forces which pressed forthem. But, it must be emphasized at the outset, these demands didnot include any which might threaten the capitalist social order in

    East Bengal nor the interests of its landed gentry. Moreover, the leader-ship of the Awami League, unwilling to engage in an open strugglewith the armed forces of West Pakistan were a t pains to emphasizethat their demand for regional autonomy did not in fact extend tototal independence. However, it was abundantly clear to all the partiesin the situation that, they could not renege on the Six Point Pro-gramme without losing control over the political forces which theywere attempting to restrain. A basis for a negotiated settlementbetween the two sides existed not only because of their mutual wn-cern to avoid precipitating a revolutionary struggle in East Bengal butalso because East Bengal's 'regional autonomy' would in the circum-stances have been acceptable to some of the vested interests in WestPakistan, as a necessary price for the preservation of their largerinterests.

    At the time when the Army struck in East Bengal, the Awami Leagueleaders had been engaged for several weeks in negotiations with Presi-dent Yahya Khan and his political and military advisers as well aswith West Pakistan political leaders. The background to the negotia-tions was the constitutional crisis which followed the results ofPakistan's first National General Election, which was held under theauspices of the Army and Martial Law. The Awami League, commit-ted to a programme of a maximum degree of regional autonomy, wonno less than 167 out of the 169East Bengali seats. On the other hand,the Pakistan People's Party, led by Mr. Z. A. Bhutto, who has greataffinity with the hawks in the Army, won 8 I out of I3 I West Pakistaniseats, in the National Assembly. Significantly, Bhutto's greatesttriumph was in the powerful province of Punjab, which has alwaysdominated politics and Government in Pakistan. Bhutto's party andthe hawks in the Army were antipathetic towards demands for regionalautonomy, and they stood for a strong centre. The respective positionsof the two major parties were sharply opposed.

    The Awami League had an absolute majority in the NationalAssembly. I t could even count on the support of some West Pakistani

    politicians from the underprivileged Provinces; especially from theleft wing National Awami Party. The Awami League demanded thatthe Assembly should set to work without delay. Bhutto, on the otherhand, put himself forward as the principal spokesman of WestPakistan, by virtue of being the leader of the largest West PakistanParty, and argued that the Constitution should be based on a prioragreement between his Party and the Awami League. He threatenedboycott to the Assembly scheduled to meet on March 3, and mounted

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    292 THE SOCIALIST REGISTER1971a protest movement in West Pakistan. President Yahya Khan post-poned the Assembly meeting. Sheikh Mujib responded by declaring aGeneral Strike in East Bengal which was successful. There was shoot-ing and many were killed. President Yahya flew to Dacca, the capitalof East Bengal and a protracted series of negotiations began betweenhim and Sheikh Mujib, after President Yahya Khan acceded to hisdemand that the Army be recalled to barracks. Bhutto and other WestPakistani leaders also came over later and negotiated with the AwamiLeague leaders and with President Yahya Khan. On the eve of themilitary action on 25 March, optimistic statements had begun to issuefrom those who were engaged in the talks, and it was thought that asettlement was in sight. The. army's action at that juncture was there-fore sudden and unexpected.

    The general strike called by the Awami League in East Bengal a tthe beginning of March was a total success and had continued whilstthe negotiations were in progress. The civil administration and thepolice too identified fully with the Awami League, for by now theservices in East Bengal were manned almost entirely by Bengalis. Itbecame necessary for Sheikh Mujib to 'administer' the General Strike,to allow the necessary functioning of 'essential' activities. For this

    purpose he issued directives which were implemented by the Admini-stration. The Awami League leaders found themselves, in effect,running the administration of East Bengal; they