Decline and Fall of Ayub BD Civil War-Genocide of Bengalis


     In his weakened post-1965 war state, Ayub could never hope to withstand the combined onslaught of East and West Pakistan. The campaign against him, led initially by students and industrial workers, had caught the imagination of the people. This was the last time people of the two wings were to unite on one platform.

In a desperate attempt to save his legacy, Ayub called a joint conference of government and opposition leaders. The talks broke down.

Ayub was failing so it was time for a resumption of political activities.             National Awami Party (NAP) in alliance with leftist elements was expected to gain plurality in the NWFP. Baluchistan continued to remain firmly in the grip of tribal Sirdars, who aligned themselves with the highest bidder. At the time NAP had considerable support of the power brokers there. It was expected to do well in East Pakistan as well.

Agitation was resumed with renewed and ever greater vigor. Mujib drew ever-larger crowds. Bhutto drew large crowds in the Punjab. Sindhis sensing the prevailing wind, or perhaps yielding to chauvinistic sentiments, also started supporting him. He did develop some opportunistic following in the Frontier and Baluchistan provinces as well.

Ayub threw in the towel and flouting his own tailor made constitution which mandated that the speaker of the national assembly succeed him, or as some observers would have it, was forced by the top brass to hand over the Presidency to the army chief Yahya Khan, who re-imposed martial law and assumed the combined offices of the President and Chief Martial Law administrator (CMLA).

Yahya made the usual noises that he had agreed to take over the government to save the country from impending disaster, as was his bounden duty as a patriot and an officer, abrogated the constitution, and dissolved one unit.1 He further promised to hold free and fair elections based on adult franchise, one-person one vote. People listened to him with scarcely disguised disbelief. It was déjà vu from Ayub’s first broadcast. Calm was restored pretty soon. Politicians went about organizing their parties and gear them for an election campaign. People were cautiously hopeful. There was certainly no presentiment of impending doom.

Credit must be given where due. For all his faults, Yahya was, till then, the only ruler of Pakistan who kept his word to hold free and fair elections. He promulgated-necessary ordinances empowering the Census Board to prepare a voter list, the Election Commission to get ready for elections and lifted the freeze on political activities. He consulted leaders of political parties, exhorting them to assist and cooperate with the electoral machinery. In brief, he took all the correct and pertinent steps, including admonition to the police and bureaucrats to be impartial and to show no favor. Political parties went into a frenzy of campaigning.

Mujib offered his now famous or infamous, depending upon one’s point of view, six points which were a thinly disguised plan of Con-federal government. Bhutto gave a catchy slogan of Roti, Kapra aur Makan, roughly translated bread, clothes and home. He also pledged nationalization of industries and radical land reforms.

After school and college education in Bombay, Bhutto had gone to Oxford in England for a law degree. He subsequently studied at the Berkeley Campus of the University of California and returned to Pakistan in the mid-1950s. He obtained an appointment as a lecturer at the law school in Karachi. Family money and connections helped him with a private office and a lucrative retainer ship with the family shipping business of Ardeshir Cowasjee, a well known columnist and activist, who belongs to a tiny but well-knit Parsi community in India and Pakistan. 2

The job of legal counsel to the shipping concern of Cowasjee family persuaded Iskander Mirza, the then President of Pakistan, to name him the leader of the country’s delegation to a maritime conference in Geneva. Bhutto sent Mirza an absolutely slavish letter, difficult to emulate even in a country awash with toadies and sycophants, predicting that when history of Pakistan was written, the latter’s name will figure perhaps even more prominently than Jinnah’s!

In the NWFP, successors of the Khan Brothers had regained legitimacy. Before the advent of Martial law, the older brother popularly known as Dr. Khan Sahib had served as a Chief Minister of the unified province of West Pakistan, called one unit. They had joined National Awami party (NAP) led by Maulana Bhashani, also known as the Red Mullah because of his egalitarian-leftist views.

  1. All the provinces of West Pakistan were merged into one unit to justify equal number of seats of the West and the East in the central assembly.
  2. Iranians, who did not convert to Islam fled to India and are called Parsis, a distortion of the noun Farsi for Faras, another name for Iran. Koran, along with Christians, Jews and Sabians, calls them people of the book. Muslim men but not women may marry a person of the book without first converting them.

The Mullahs, frightened of secular Awami League and National Awami Party, had joined hands with the feudal elements, the army and bureaucrats, thus completing the evil Quad.1

The establishment was confident that elections will result in a divided house, and Yahya acting as a referee, would be able to get Mujib or someone else to indulge in the usual horse-trading and cobble a coalition. Hankering after office, the members of the assembly will fall out with each other once again.

But it was not to be. East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, is a hurricane prone country. With the population explosion in the twentieth century, and non-development of energy resources, large swathes of the country had been deforested for fuel. Trees and vegetation underneath hold water and soil. It thus resulted in enormous erosion of soil, which ended up in rivers, severely restricting their capacity to hold water. A particularly devastating storm hit the region just prior to the scheduled elections.

Hurricanes have a vastly different impact on a poor and densely populated region like Bengal than they do in an advanced country like the United States. They wreak havoc. A large majority of the people live in makeshift mud and clay huts. Weather forecasts are at best capricious. Even if they were reliable, people won’t have anywhere to escape to. The most common mode of transport is by boats, which along with whole villages, are swept away by a combination of wind and high tide. During the monsoons, people are reduced to plying boats on the roads in the capital city Dhaka and all the other major cities. The sea is dotted with hundreds of islands off shore, ranging in size from a few hundred square yards to several square miles on which millions live. They are, if anything, worse off than the mainlanders. 2.

Maulana Bhashani demanded, and with good reason, that elections be postponed and the emergency be dealt with first. But Yahya was fantasizing about his place in history. Mujib had smelled the heady perfume of victory. Bhutto was confident that he would manage, with the connivance of the Army brass and a sizable victory in West Pakistan, to come out on top. Elections were not postponed. Bhashani boycotted them.

The Awami league, without an effective competition from Bhashani’s NAP, found the arena uncontested. Under the system of the front runner taking all, Awami League won 160 seats out of 162 assigned to East Pakistan, and commanded absolute majority in a house of 310 members. He could, with the support of smaller parties in West Pakistan, even garner a two third majority in the house. That would enable them to pass any constitution they wanted.

  1. I have borrowed this from Mao’s gang of four.
  2. I had written this before Katrina hit New Orleans.

Yahya and the Army high command were stunned. Bhutto was too. They put a brave face on it. Yahya, during a post election visit to Dhaka, introduced Mujib to the international press as the future Prime Minister of Pakistan. He even announced the date the new parliament would meet. He and Bhutto negotiated with Mujib and tried to get him to give a little on the six points and concede a face saving formula. Talks broke down. Yahya postponed the parliamentary session for an indefinite period of time.

Mujib demanded that another date for the parliamentary session be announced at once. He permitted his minions to take over the administration, security services, transport, schools, colleges and universities, health services and courts in East Pakistan. The writ of the central government ran only in the cantonments and the Government House. Mujib, in effect, ruled East Pakistan, venturing even to welcome Yahya on subsequent visits as a guest of East Pakistan.

Yahya did announce another date for the opening session of the parliament, but things were beyond repair now. Bhutto threatened to personally break the legs of any members of his party who would go to Dhaka for the opening session of the parliament. He also warned members of the parliament from other West Pakistani parties that if they attended the meeting, they would eventually be tried as traitors. Yahya made pious noises of national reconciliation in order to buy time to deploy enough troops in East Pakistan to crush and control the natives.

Awami league leaders were aware of the plans. They tried to beef up the East Bengal rifles, a thinly armed militia manned by Bengali soldiers, all of whose senior officers were from West Pakistan. Contingency plans were drawn up for most of the senior cadre of the party to escape to India when the army made their move. Mujib and other Awami league leaders looked the other way, while houses and businesses of Urdu-speaking immigrants were looted, scores were killed; women kidnapped and raped with impunity. They had mistreated Bengalis while they ruled the roost. They had, in common with Punjabis, looked down upon Bengalis as somewhat inferior beings and kept aloof from them. They had consistently supported West Pakistani interests, politically, in business and industry. They had behaved as virtual colonizers. Let them suffer. So the argument went.

Among Bengalis, members of religious parties notably Jamaat-e-Islami, timeservers and collaborators, also suffered horribly.

The massive air and sea transfer of troops to East Pakistan was a logistic challenge in itself. They were further hampered by the fact that India had banned over flight of its territory, on the pretext that two Pakistani agents had hijacked an Indian civilian plane to Lahore.1

When Army high command felt that they had adequate forces to cow down the populace, they swooped down like birds of prey. As the first measure they disarmed, and confined the East Pakistan rifles to, what were for all practical purposes, concentration camps. The army then moved to take care of the leaders of the rebellion. A frontal assault would mean wholesale massacre. The army was not averse to it but the Governor of East Pakistan and Chief of the Navy, Admiral Ahsan, intervened. 2. He insisted that the arresting squad go in quietly under the cover of darkness and behave respectfully especially with women.

In the event the assault force did beat up Mujib, push around women and break the bones of a few servants. Mujib was arrested and flown to a jail in West Pakistan, where he was tried in camera for treason and sentenced to death.

Other members of Awami League high command had quietly slipped across the border to India. Security officials, their ranks beefed up by armed soldiers, went around securing the capital city Dhaka, and the environs and spread out arresting and torturing people en route to cities nearby and did it at the slightest pretext, even without one. Other units tried to emulate the performance of the central command.

After “pacifying” the cities, army personnel spread through the countryside. Out of the spotlight of the international media, they unleashed an even more brutal reign of terror of unprecedented ferocity. They did not spare even the Bengalis who they suspected of harbored pro-Pakistan sympathies. 3.

As soon as he heard of the army action in Dhaka, Army Col Zia Ur Rahman one of the few senior Bengali officers in the Pakistan army, then stationed in Chittagong, declared independence of Bangladesh (BD) from the local radio station. 4.

Awami league High command, with blessings, diplomatic and material support of the Indian Government, set up the Government of Bangladesh (B.D) in exile in Delhi, with Mujib as the president and a cabinet acting in his name. They set about obtaining political, diplomatic, financial and armed assistance from Governments and the public all over the world.

The response was tepid. Most countries, except for the Soviet Union, adopted a wait and watch policy. Nixon leaned towards Pakistan. He, along with Kissinger, was mindful of the faithful satellite status of the country. Human Rights were not a relevant concern for them.

  1. While Pakistan was transporting troops to East Pakistan, an Indian passenger plane was hijacked to Lahore. India claimed that it was the work of Pakistani agents. It later turned out that the whole thing was planned by Indian security agencies.
  2. Admiral Ahsan, an enlightened immigrant was the chief of Naval forces, and had been the first Naval attaché to Jinnah. He prevented a lot of bloodshed in the region.
  3. My daughter’s father-in-law, Dr. Mumtaz Chaudhury was serving as a Director of Education in a major city. The army wanted him to keep an eye on the staff under him. He told them that he would not act as a spy. A Major and a Colonel visited him soon after. In the ensuing argument, the Major called him all kinds of names and pulled a gun on him.
  4. Not to be confused with General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan.

The army, not familiar with lanes and byways of towns and villages, were frequently ambushed. Reprisals were brutal. With only a few minutes’ notice, shantytowns were run over by heavy armored vehicles. Escaping victims were cut down with machine gun fire. Women and little girls were abducted, some raped on the spot, in full view of the parents. Survivors of the massacre were driven like cattle to designated concentration camps.

Soldiers were also ordered to assault the places of worship and kill all who had sought shelter in the House of God. When they, Muslims themselves, demurred, they were told that non-Muslims had occupied mosques. Some older soldiers took off the garments of the dead and discovered that they were circumcised. The officers told them that the Hindus, in order to hoodwink Muslim police, had surgery performed on them.

There was a veritable avalanche of refugees across the border. Pakistan claimed that the fleeing mass of humanity were Hindus, who had never reconciled to partition. Few paid any heed to the blatantly dishonest attempt to whitewash the rampant repression in Muslim Bengal.

Yahya, with full support of the brass, replaced the comparatively mild, multilingual and academically-inclined martial law administrator of East Pakistan, Lt. General Yakub Khan, with a barbaric general in the mold of Helegu.1 The man, Tikka Khan, on arrival at Dhaka Airport, declared that he was interested in the land, not the people. Another of his infamous proclamations was that “We will change their race.”  Both events were shown on British TV. It was a blatant espousal of gang rape as an instrument of state policy.

The butcher of Dhaka, as he came to be known, gave the soldiers a free hand. They specially targeted Dhaka university students. After surrounding the hostels they announced on loudspeakers that those who left peaceably would not be harmed — and fired on fleeing boys and girls. The sizable Hindu minority (they made up about 15% of East Pakistan’s population) were also prime targets. All the urban areas were subjected to similar measures.            Urdu-speaking immigrants and members of Islamist parties served as a willing fifth column for the army. Bengali Islamists were more effective as they could easily infiltrate the ranks of the freedom fighters. They were to suffer horribly for this treachery.

Several million refugees had sought shelter in Indian Bengal and had been accommodated in hastily created tent cities. It was, indubitably, an intolerable burden on a poor country like India. Even with international aid it could not support the burden of feeding and housing millions of destitute humanity.

The Indian Prime Minister Indra Gandhi was the daughter of Pundit Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India. Undivided India was an article of faith for him and other leaders. They would have loved to undo it, but never got the chance. His redoubtable daughter no doubt felt that destiny had offered her the opportunity to fulfill her father’s dream. She was a pragmatist and was not particularly hampered by scruples. In actual fact, she was more like another leader of Independence movement Sirdar Patel. 1.

Yakub was the military administrator while Ahsan was the governor. Both tried to curb atrocities of the army  and other leaders.1

She gave an ultimatum to Pakistan. Refugees were an intolerable burden on India. Take them back immediately; settle the affairs without delay or India would take appropriate measures. Pakistan would be responsible for the consequences.

She permitted Indian security personnel to clandestinely train and arm Mukti Bahini (Freedom Fighters) organized by the BD government in exile and send them on to East Bengal to harass the Pakistan forces. The assistance was not a secret to anyone. But Mukti Bahini was able to put up only feeble resistance.

India massed its forces on East Pakistan border, ostensibly to prevent the flood of refugees into its territory. Indra Gandhi undertook a tour of all the major world capitals. She skillfully presented India’s case, dwelling rather more on human misery of unprecedented scale, than on the crushing economic burden of having to look after millions of refugees.

She was, of course, the legitimate and popular leader of the largest democracy in the world. The country had a fast expanding industrial base, and was potentially a vast consumer market. Even Nixon, though partial to Pakistan, gave her a respectful hearing.

Pakistan, ruled by an unelected, brutal and dissolute general, sent a foreign office bureaucrat who had difficulty getting an appointment with mid-level officials.

On return from a highly successful tour, Indra renewed her ultimatum to Pakistan. Admiral Ahsan, the Governor of East Pakistan, renewed his offer to work out an arrangement under which the Pakistani Army could get out intact, without being humiliated. Pakistan would become a con-federation.2 Yahya could continue as head of state. West Pakistani government servants would be repatriated to West Pakistan. East Pakistanis stranded in the West would be moved to the East. National assets would be divided in proportion to the populations of the two wings. It was the best possible solution under the circumstances. It would keep the country in one piece. The international community supported it. India fell in line, though reluctantly. The civilian leadership of the West, barring Bhutto, was prepared to assist in any way and supported the Ahsan formula.

The military cabal vetoed the proposal. Bhutto endorsed the veto. Admiral Ahsan resigned and was replaced with a Bengali Quisling.

  1. Justifiably called the Iron man of India, Patel absorbed the feudal and semi-independent states in India with admirable speed.
  2. The so called Ahsan formula under which center would control defense, foreign affairs and currency, but the provinces would have the authority to raise revenue and would fund the federation for central subjects.

The public was kept in the dark and was fed the official propaganda line that the Hindus, aided and abetted by India, were rebelling against Pakistan. They couldn’t possibly have hoped to win an armed conflict in East Pakistan. They had no means of keeping a supply line to their forces intact. India had already banned over flights over its territory. Soldiers, unless escorted by an armored convoy, could not move around.

The butcher got himself replaced with the hapless General Niazi and fled to West Pakistan.

The top brass had started looking for face saving excuses for transfer back to the Western wing. Expatriates could get uncensored news in the UK but were still divided along the same lines as they were in Pakistan. My acquaintances were mostly Punjabi- and Urdu-speaking people. Nearly to a man, except for the true-blue progressives, they supported the army.

But the most pitiable condition was that of Pakistani Bengalis in the UK. Nearly all had a relative who had been jailed, maimed or killed by the army. The bearded Bengali owner of a shop near Warren Street in London had his store trashed twice, once by Punjabis because he was a Bengali and the second time by Bengalis because in his Islamic zeal he supported Pakistan. In the end he wished a pox on both houses.

Pakistani generals, in total denial of reality, deluded themselves into thinking that by initiating a conflict on the western border they would get an international intervention, cease fire, etc. 1. Bhutto had lavished compliments on them for coming up with this brilliant idea. Pakistan would be saved. West Pakistan was the buffer between the Soviet Union and the Indian Ocean. Once the Russians controlled the ocean, they would threaten the access of the Euro-American alliance to the Far East and on and on. The US would not tolerate that. It was a rehash of Dulles’s domino theory. 2

International power brokers would have intervened, perhaps, if Pakistan had had a sustainable military position. In addition, Pakistan had earned such a bad name that even her supporters could not back her openly. Bhutto knew the opprobrium his country had already earned. He was also aware of the parlous state of the army. He still egged the army on.

The Indian Government gave a final ultimatum to Pakistan to withdraw her forces from East Bengal voluntarily and immediately. The ultimatum was rejected by Pakistan. The Indian army went into action on its border with East Pakistan. The Pakistani army withdrew after a token resistance to “defensible” strong points. The Mukti Bahini took control of the vacated areas and declared Bangladesh sovereignty over them.

  1. I am quoting Akbar S Ahmad, then a civil servant, now an academic, from his book Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity. During a visit to the military headquarters, general Niazi told him a few days before surrender that he was going to fight through India to create a land link between the two wings.
  2. US secretary of state under Eisenhower wanted to fight in Vietnam, because if that country fell to communists, all other countries would fall like dominoes.

Indians could afford to wait for the inevitable and pushed ahead slowly.           Pakistanis, however, adopted a scorched earth policy in East Pakistan, which would make the French action in Algeria look like a mild police raid. They destroyed all infrastructure, crops, boats, cars, buses, bridges, public buildings, industrial plants, schools and hospitals. They wanted to wreck the region, as one Neanderthal among the general staff put it, back to the Stone Age.

At this point Yahya decided to open hostilities on the Western border. Pakistani air force planes bombed some Indian airports as far as Agra, right in the belly of India. They hoped and prayed for international intervention, but it did not materialize.

India counter-attacked and easily overcame the demoralized Pakistan forces. They had complete command of the skies and bombed Karachi by air, and their ships shelled the port. Lahore was hit, without a respite, by long range artillery and from the air.1

Lahore was within easy grasp of India. All their army had to do was to walk in. Nixon-Kissinger warned India off West Pakistan. Nixon announced that he had ordered the US pacific fleet to move towards East Pakistan. It was a shot across Indra’s bow. It worked, or as some would have it, she had other ideas. 2

The Chinese government, in an eerie replay of a similar claim during 1965 India Pakistan war, accused the Indian border forces of abducting a few cows and goats. India, as on the previous occasion, hastily offered immediate restitution.

The Army had appointed Bhutto as the foreign minister and sent him to New York to defend Pakistan’s case in the UN Security council. He made grandiloquent, dramatic, and patently futile gestures. He was playing to the domestic audience; he tore up the draft resolution demanding immediate cease-fire. He was hailed in West Pakistan as a hero for magnificently taking on the whole world to save the country.

On return to Pakistan he was handed over total control of the Government. He had driven to the President’s house in a plain car and driven out in a vehicle bedecked with national, presidential and CMLA flags. 3

The Pakistani army’s resistance crumbled in the East and in the West. On the eastern side, they would soon abandon even the pretense of putting up a fight. Many senior officers fled in helicopters, pushing aside women and children. But the day before surrender, they rounded up and shot in cold blood all the educated people they could lay their hands on in Dhaka. 4

The inevitable happened. The Pakistani army surrendered to arch foe India. The ceremony was broadcast on TV all over the world. I watched it in London. It was pathetic. In full view of an audience, which must have counted in hundreds of millions, the victorious Indian General Aurora tore the medals and epaulets from the Pakistani General Niazi’s uniform and accepted a reversed gun from the latter as a token of surrender. Without a trace of self-consciousness, Niazi told the international press that after the surrender ceremony, Aurora invited him to cocktails.

  1. My former wife and daughter were in Lahore. I could not get in touch with them for weeks.
  2. Some Indra detractors claim that she did not want to add a huge number of Muslims to the population which takeover of East and West Pakistan would have involved.
  3. Ostensibly to maintain continuity, he had taken over both the offices of Yahya-President and Chief martial law Administrator.
  4. Bangla Desh: A legacy of blood by Anthony Marcarenhas. was pathetic.      Mukti Bahini guerillas would have torn all 90,000 Pakistani military and civilian personnel and family members to shreds. But the Indian army expeditiously threw a protective cordon round them and soon after moved them to India.



I was born in Dewa Sharif, UP, India in 1939.

I went to school from the fourth to eighth class in Gonda, UP and the 9th grade in Jhansi, UP, India.

We moved to Quetta, Pakistan and went to school for the 10th grade and intermediate college in the same town.

I was in Karachi University 1954-57, then Dow Medical College 1957-62. I Was in the National Students Federation from 1954 to 1962, trained in surgery in the Civil Hospital Karachi 1962-65, proceeded to England 1965 and trained in General surgery and orthopedic surgery till 73, when I left for Canada 1973-74, USA 1974-83, back to Karachi 1983 and built a hospital and went back to the USA in 1991, been in the USA since.

I retired from surgery in 2005.

I have worked in various HR and Socialist groups in the USA.

I have Published two books ,:”A Medical Doctor Examines Life on Three Continents,” and ,”God, Government and Globalization”, and am working on the third one, “An Analysis of the Sources and Derivation of Religions”.





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