Ex-Pakistan Army chief Bajwa blames politicians for 1971 war debacle

Dreadful 'Operation Searchlight' was launched at midnight on March 25, 1971 in Dhaka

Islamabad: Former Pakistan Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa blamed the 1971 Bangladesh war debacle on the country’s politicians.

In one of the several farewells meetups, he categorically said “1971 was not a military, but a political failure. Our army fought courageously in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).”

Saleem Samad, an independent journalist, media rights defender, and recipient of the Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award, writing in The News Times said that Gen Bajwa needs to update his knowledge of the political history leading to the Bangladesh liberation war in 1971 and the humiliating defeat of the marauding Pakistani armed forces in the eastern war theatre.

The brutal birth of Bangladesh experienced the genocide of three million, rape as a weapon of war of tens of thousands of women, and brutal murder of thousands of intellectuals committed by the occupying Pakistani military and their henchmen recruited to kill, torture, rape, and of course loot to frustrate the war of independence.

When the dreadful ‘Operation Searchlight’ was launched at midnight on March 25, 1971 in Dhaka and later spread to the rest of the country, the Pakistan military perpetrated the genocidal campaign under then military dictator General Yahya Khan, said Samad.

Samad further said that Bajwa must have read the Justice Hamidoor Rahman Commission Report regarding the debacle in 1971 when he was climbing the ladders of his career in Rawalpindi GHQ in the military academy.

He need not read any documents or books published in Bangladesh on the 1971 war. It is believed that he must have come across scores of books penned by senior military officers of Pakistan, as well as by Indians who were on the battleground, reported The News Times.

Notably, none of these documents and books claimed that it was a failure of the politicians. At the helms of affairs were senior military hawks in Rawalpindi GHQ along with the civil bureaucrats in Islamabad, said Samad.

Pakistan was sans political government since 1958 and continued till 1972. A political government took charge after an election in 1977 under a fresh constitution.

Pakistan lived under military rule since 1958 when General Ayub Khan led a bloodless coup and became the self-styled President of the country.

He abrogated the 1956 historic constitution and accused many senior and junior ministers of the United Front mostly from East Bengal (now Bangladesh) of corruption and who were tried in kangaroo military courts.

The 1970 elections, incidentally were held under a Martial Law regime, which arbitrarily denied the handover of political power to an elected majoritarian party Awami League.

The military hawks in Rawalpindi were the mastermind of the crackdown and ‘Operation Searchlight’ cleared the headquarters of the Chief Martial Law Administrator (CMLA), according to Major General Khadim Hussain Raja’s book ‘A Stranger In My Own Country.

The book describes that during January and early February 1971, military dictator General Yahya had visualized the possibility of a military crackdown accompanied by the suspension of all political activity, reported The News Times.

The top commanders in Dhaka had the opinion that it would be sheer ‘lunacy’ to attempt the operation at that time.

On 27 February 1971, Gen Raja gave formal orders to brigade commanders to be prepared for Operation Blitz into action, said Samad.

Soon both Lieutenant General Yaqub Khan and Admiral SM Ahsan were denied access to President Yahya when he arrived in Dhaka for a series of parleys, primarily with Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

The two top brasses Admiral SM Ahsan, Governor of East Pakistan and Lieutenant General Yaqub Khan, Commander of the Eastern Command in Dhaka were unceremoniously removed by Rawalpindi GHQ for dilly-dally in executing the crackdown.

The duo instead appealed to President Yahya to forget about the “military solution” to the political impasse and hold dialogue with Sheikh Mujib, chief of Awami League to discuss the Six-Point, which was found scribed in the ‘Strategy, Diplomacy, Humanity: Life and Work of Sahabzada Yaqub’ as a threat to security and sovereignty of Pakistan, reported The News Times.

“I am convinced there is no military solution, which can make sense in the present situation. I am consequently unable to accept the responsibility for implementing a mission namely, a military solution, that would mean civil war and large-scale killings of unarmed civilians and would achieve no sane aim. It would have disastrous consequences,” Sahabzada Yaqub concluded.

The military hawks, according to Brigadier AR Siddiqi’s book ‘East Pakistan the Endgame’ understands that in March, the Rawalpindi was growing impatient for the delay of the crackdown, reported Samad.

The military dictator angry with General Yakub replaced him and appointed Lieutenant General Tikka Khan, who was known as the “Butcher of Balochistan.” The message of the replacement was loud and clear.

In midst of the dialogue, the infamous Operation Searchlight was launched. Several historians explain that military hawks kept in mind the dreadful operation and the parley was a ploy.

The plan for Operation Searchlight was quickly adopted by Yahya Khan and implemented when he was still in Dhaka. How can Bajwa attribute the humiliating defeat to a “political failure”? asked Samad.

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