In his attempt to redraft script around Pakistan Army’s surrender during the 1971 War, former Army Chief General Bajwa not only botched up facts, but also generated a perception that the Pakistan Army was not ready to accept the reality about its humiliating defeat

In his attempt to redraft script around Pakistan Army’s surrender during the 1971 War, former Army Chief General Bajwa not only botched up facts, but also generated a perception that the Pakistan Army was not ready to accept the reality about its humiliating defeat

General Qamar Javed Bajwa, a few days before he retired as the Pakistan Army Chief, stated in an address, “I want to correct some facts here. Former East Pakistan was a political failure and not a military one.”

General Bajwa also said that Pakistan only had 34,000 soldiers in East Pakistan, and these confronted the Indian army, much larger in size. General Bajwa went on to state, “Against these heavy odds, our army fought bravely and gave exemplary sacrifices which were acknowledged by Indian Army Chief Field Marshal Manekshaw.” General Bajwa once again raised the ghost of the 1971 War, which continues to rile the Pakistan Army even after more than five decades.

Pakistan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, whose grandfather Zulfikar Bhutto became President as also Pakistan’s first civilian martial law administrator post the 1971 War, disagreed with General Bajwa. Bilawal stated, “He (Zulfikar Bhutto) rebuilt the nation, restored the confidence of the people, and finally brought our 90,000 troops back home who had been made prisoners of war due to ‘military failure’. Those 90,000 soldiers were reunited with their families.” In one sentence Bilawal tore apart General Bajwa’s narrative on numbers and failure. Neither General Bajwa nor any of his generals had a response.

General Bajwa had ignored facts when he spoke. General Yahya Khan held both posts, martial law administrator and Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan’s Army in 1971. Yahya Khan ordered his forces in East Pakistan to launch ‘Operation Searchlight’ to suppress the agitation. Over 3 million were killed, 200,000 women raped and ten million sought refuge in India. All decisions taken in East Pakistan were by military leaders sitting in Islamabad.

Their confidence flowed from support emanating from US President Richard Nixon, who was Pakistan's ally, as Islamabad had acted as the link between Washington and Beijing. It was Yahya Khan who ordered the Pakistan Air Force to initiate operations against India, assuming the US would come to Pakistan’s aid. Till the end of the war, the military leadership in Pakistan hoped that the US Seventh Fleet would come to its rescue. Pakistan, under pressure from the Army, has yet to release the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report on the causes of the debacle in the 1971 War.

The Indian government records mention 79,676 uniformed POWs including 55,692 from the army, 16,354 paramilitary, 5,296 police, 1000 navy and 800 air force. The balance 13,324 were Pakistan civilians and family members. The paramilitary was deployed alongside the Pakistan army. Figures of Pakistan soldiers killed are not available. From where General Bajwa obtained a figure of 34,000 remains a mystery.

The crackdown ordered by Yahya was against all advice rendered by those then responsible for East Pakistan, Admiral SM Ahsan, Governor of East Pakistan and Lt General Yaqub Khan, Commander of Eastern Command in Dhaka, both of whom were unceremoniously removed from command. They were aware of the anger growing within East Pakistan and knew that any military action could rebound. They also realized that they lacked resources to contain any Indian offensive.

Pakistan history books paint a different picture of the 1971 War. Pakistan’s Punjab province history textbook for secondary classes states, “There were a large number of Hindus in East Pakistan. They had never truly accepted Pakistan. Many of them were teachers in schools and colleges. They created a negative impression among students.

No importance was attached to explaining the ideology of Pakistan to the younger generation. They went around depicting the central government and (the then) West Pakistan as enemy and exploiter. Political aims were thus achieved at the cost of national unity.” Pakistan twists history by blaming India for inciting the Bengalis, ignoring its own dubious role.

There is no mention of the genocide as also the role of Zulfikar Bhutto nor the political events which acted as the catalyst for the war. Bangladesh history books blame Pakistan’s step motherly treatment of Bengalis and East Pakistan as primary causes for the breakaway. Most of Pakistan’s GDP flowed from East Pakistan, which in turn was ignored. Bangladesh books specifically mention no relief from West Pakistan when the 1970 Bhola cyclone hit them resulting in over 500,000 casualties. This is closer to the truth than what Pakistan attempts to project.

The way General Bajwa talked about the 1971 War as if it concerned only India and Pakistan. Pakistan has always attempted to gloss over the role of the Mukti Bahini with whom India jointly celebrates victory every year on December 16. Factually, the largest sufferers of the war were Bangladeshis. Bangladesh has for decades been pushing for global recognition of the genocide committed on them by Pakistan. It has approached the UN to declare March 25 as the global genocide day. Within Bangladesh, the government has declared March 25 as the national genocide day. China will always act as a roadblock against this declaration as it attempts to shield Pakistan from further embarrassment.

The month of December holds immense value for both India and Bangladesh. Soldiers from both nations fought together under India’s Eastern Command to defeat Pakistan forces which were responsible for the genocide. It was Field Marshal Manekshaw who used all his skills to save Pakistan troops from being tried for crimes against humanity. Had he not acted, many Pakistan soldiers would have been sentenced to death for their brutality against innocent civilians. It has been over half a century and the Pakistan government has yet to apologize to Bangladesh for its brutality, rapes, and massacre of innocents.

While India and Bangladesh celebrate victory, Pakistan fights to overcome the ghost of the 1971 War which saw the largest ever surrender since World War II. No matter what Pakistan tries, the stigma of surrender can never be removed.

  *** The writer is a security and strategic affairs commentator; views expressed are his own