The truth about 1971 massacres – Documents from the U.S. National Archives

Even after forty years, Bengalis in Muslim Bengal are going through the continuation of same civil war that the rest of country went through.

Even after four decades, the Awami League is still conducting programs against pro-Pakistan masses. Today all of Bangladesh is holding a country-wide “hartal” to protest the prosecution of those who the Awami League thinks supported Pakistan or still support Pakistan.

Mukti Bahini in Dhaka Stadium

Mukti Bahini in Dhaka Stadium

Indian Support of Mukti Bahini Guerrillas (Documents from the U.S. National Archives)

  • Initially, the Indians are likely to confine their actions to expressions of sympathy for and perhaps support to East Bengalis. They will watch closely for signs as to the strength and prospects for success on the part of East Bengal dissidents. If the evidence indicates to the Indians that the East Bengal independence movement has reasonably good prospects for success, the GOI may do any of several things: tolerate privately provided cross-border assistance to the East Bengalis. This assistance could range from propaganda support to weapons and explosives; permit East Bengal dissidents to use India as a refuge and to conduct cross-border activities from within India; covertly provide supplies, including weapons, and perhaps some training, to East Bengal dissidents. Indian Reaction to Pakistan Events, Mar. 29, 1971
  • Shahi displayed concern over evolution of events in East Pakistan and thought competing communist elements from India could set off armed struggle between left and right forces in East Bengal which could overshadow current hostilities between separatists and army. Pakistan PERMREP Protests Indian Interference, Apr. 9, 1971
  • Pakistan High Commissioner told Ambassador today that Pakistan and India on verge of war. … He claimed 3,000 Indians armed with regulation Indian Army equipment either killed or captured by Pakistani troops in East Pakistan. Conversation with Pakistan High Commissioner, April 30, 1971
  • In addition to its concern about the refugee problem, the GOI has been taking steps to support the Bengali struggle for independence in the face of the military successes of the Pakistan Army. The BSF has established camps at which 10,000 Bengalis are reportedly receiving training in guerrilla and sabotage tactics. Limited quantities of arms and ammunition continue to be provided to the Bengali separatists and some Indian forces have infiltrated into East Bengal to provide assistance and training to the separatists. … [W]e have learned from intelligence sources that China may have given a conditional promise to assist Pakistan in the event hostilities break out with India. The Chinese may have also given assurances that they will initiate military action “along the Tibetan border” if Indian troops deliberately cross the Pakistani border in force. Should the Chinese become directly involved,it is likely that the Soviet Union will openly support India and will presumably provide such military assistance as required. Contingency Study for Indo-Pakistan Hostilities, May 25, 1971
  • For some time now India has been systematically interfering in internal affairs of Pakistan with clear aim of jeopardizing Pakistan’s territorial integrity. India has sent armed infiltrators into East Pakistan to create disturbances and to help anti-state elements. She has circulated false and highly distorted and tendentious accounts of events in East Pakistan through government-controlled radio and press. She has not only provided shelter to anti-state elements on her soil but has also persistently allowed so-called members of “Bangla Desh Government” to use her radio and other mass media to stir up rebellion against legitimate government of country. Pakistan Protest Note to India, May 26, 1971
  • We have pursued three courses with regard to the Indians. First, since the refugee burden seems to be India’s major problem now, we have taken a number of steps to encourage India to manage this problem by getting international assistance rather than by taking direct action against East Pakistan as some Indians are urging. Partly because of our actions U Thant is getting an effective international assistance program underway. We are already helping and will be stepping up our assistance. Second, we have taken up with the Indians their cross-border support to guerrillas and have privately cautioned them against direct action. Third, in order to persuade the Indians that a solution to the East Pakistan problem can be achieved without their direct military intervention, we have confidentially briefed them on the positions we are taking privately with Pakistan. Possible India-Pakistan War, May 26, 1971
  • Following based on Corr’s personal observations and discussions with M.A.K. Chaudhry, Inspector General Police (IGP), East Pakistan, formerly IGP North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Joint Embassy-USAID Message, June 25, 1971
  • Choudhury admitted that attacks by Mukti Bahini forces against police stations in rural areas seemed to be continuing at a high level but asserted that at least now police were fighting back rather than dropping their rifles and running. … Referring to Dacca, he said bombings and sabotage were a major headache for his forces. Recalling press item three days ago announcing capture of young Bengali carrying explosives, IG said man was part of three man team designated to disrupt SSC (matriculation) examinations. He said young man was found with impressive supply of grenades adn other explosive devices, all with Indian markings. Man admitted to membership BM and to having been trained at Argatala before undertaking mission. Status of East Pak Police, July 23, 1971
  • Two successive batches of insurgents have now completed training in India and have boosted number and quality of infiltrators. Number of Mukti Bahini have received training at Dehra Dun and been commissioned as officers. Additional numbers are now in training at various Indian centers. Meanwhile extremist elements including Naxalites have taken advantage of opportunity to step up their own activity, on the other hand, Hamid said, Mukti Bahini are not so successful as they would like to have people believe. Conversation with Pak Army Chief of Staff: East Pak Situation, Aug. 11, 1971
  • Acting Secretary Johnson called in Indian Ambassador Jha August 23 to discuss USG concerns about reports of GOI intention to step up its support to Mukti Bahini and to express USG hope that GOI could use its influence with Mukti Bahini to discourage and prevent attacks on relief facilities and personnel in East Pakistan. Jha in response indicated historical tradition of anarchic violence in Bengal and physical and poltiical difficulties which GOI would face if it tried disarm guerrillas. Jha stressed dangers of radicalization of Mukti Bahini. Indian Support to Mukti Bahini, Aug. 12, 1971
  • During Hilaly’s call on Cisco August 13, Hilaly raised question of role Senator Church and his office playing on behalf of Bangla Desh Movement. Hilaly’s Call on Sisco, Aug. 14, 1971
  • Primary problem is not cross-border activity by Paks but rather by Indians, including vital support they are giving to Mukti Bahini. We believe problem of potential serious cross-border action by Paks would be easily eliminated if India halted its own support for military operation within East Pakistan. Indo-Pak Escalation, August 20, 1971
  • Three months ago East Bengali leftist parties sought the formation of a United Front Government. They were then rebuffed by the Awami League, which asserted that its sweeping victory in East Bengal in the December 1970 general elections conferred on it a mandate as exclusive representative of the people of East Bengal. The creation of the council is thus a major shift in the Awami League’s stance. Some sources believe that the council was formed as a result of pressure from leftists within the Mukhti Bahini; since the “liberation force” appears to have drawn heavily on students, it is very likely that it has a higher than average complement of leftists. Moreover, the Mukhti Bahini runs the day-to-day risks in the struggle against the Pakistan Government and now has more immediate contact with the people of East Bengal than the BDG, whose members are in India. Thus, the Mukhti Bahini might have been able to convince the Awami League of the need to broaden the BDG’s base. Bangla Desh: A “National Liberation Front” Emerging? Sept. 21, 1971

The National Archives support what Sarmila Bose and the Hamood Ur Rehman Commission have written:

  • Serious concern over Indian military deployments, strengths, and intentions was expressed during Sep 30 briefing of Congressman Frelinghuysen by Major General Jilani, Director General, Inter Services Intelligence, and his staff. … They also portrayed 69 Indian-sponsored insurgent training camps bordering East Pakistan, with an estimated total of 30 – 50 thousand rebels in training. Pak Military Intelligence Briefing for Congressman Frelinghuysen, Oct. 1, 1971
  • Although India had not started the crisis, it was, for reasons of its own, supporting guerrilla activity in East Pakistan, even though this was denied. Memorandum of Conversation with Foreign Secretary Douglas-Home (Great Britain), Oct. 3, 1971
  • Sir Terence asked about US representations to India on latter’s aid to Mukti Bahini. I replied that GOI position is that it gives sympathy and support, as demanded by Pariament, to members of Mukti Bahini who enter India and then go back with or without arms. GOI makes clear it will not stop this support. However, GOI will not admit that it is supporting training camps for Mukti Bahini on Indian soil, despite ample evidence to contrary. I expressed doubt regular Indian Army units or personnel are participating in military activity in EAst Pakistan, though some Indian Bengalis might be involved. Sir Terence noted incidence of shooting, including artillery, across the border. I speculated that if Paks retaliate it will probably be in Kashmir in order to seize territory for bargaining purposes. War or Peace in South Asia, October 7, 1971
  • We now have specific report (Calcutta 2605 – protect source) to effect that Mukti Bahini plans to inject as many as 40,000 armed men across border by October 15, with additional 20,000 to follow by end October. This action reportedly would be accomplished with support diversionary actions by Indian Army to keep Pak Armed Forces off balance while infiltration took place. We are not convinced that intensified guerrilla activity will achieve results compatible with India’s interests. Risks of War in Indo-Pak Confrontation, Oct. 7, 1971
  • Oct 8 press reported 79 Indian agents eliminated the previous day in two separate actions in Rangpur District. First action in which 44 were claimed killed occurred mile and a half outside Pakistan territory near Daikhata. In second action, north of Lalmanirhat, 35 infiltrators were reportedly killed. In both cases, large quantities of ammunition, including machine guns, grenades and explosives claimed captured. Comment: Press reports of Indian agents and/or infiltrators killed this week now totals 136. More Indian Agents, Oct. 8, 1971
  • Status of insurgency: In Dacca 2733 we suggested two chief unknowns this situation were: (1) whether population of province had will continue support [sic] MB in face of difficulties and reprisals and (2) whether MB would be able organize itself for long guerrilla struggle. In past two months we have gathered some evidence on both points: (A) On question of popular support our impression is that urban bourgeoisie showing some signs weariness. People in this class hate West Pakistan as much as in April and May but some beginning wish things would settle down. However, peasants who must actually feed and shelter guerrillas appear be on side of MB as much as ever. This true despite fact that there are now more guerrillas than in July, placing correspondingly heavier burden on rural people. Army’s reprisals against villagers for MB actions appear counterproductive in sense of increasing their hatred of the army and support of MB. In sum, MB’s popular support appears to be holding up. (B) Question of organization somewhat more obscure. As reported in Dacca 4066, MB in Gopalganj claims existence permanent chain of command from Colonel Usmani down to Thana-level guerrillas. MB sources informed Australian Deputy High Commissioner (protect) that MB has about 28,000 EBRS, EPRS, police, locally-recruited militia (Ansars) and veterans; 40,000 men in camps being trained for conventional war; and 35,000 men who have completed guerrilla training and are already active; latter reportedly supposedly scattered among 69 base camps and 100 sub-bases throughout province. According this source, MB intends establish 90 base camps eventually. Best judgment we can make at this point is that while MB has not yet developed its organization to degree necessary to overcome Pak Army, it has made considerable progress. First evidence of parallel BD shadow government appeared during month: as reported Dacca 4066, Time Correspondent Dan Coggin met individuals in Gopalganj Subdivision claiming to be governing area in name Bangla Desh Government. Pakistan Internal Situation, Oct. 9, 1971
  • Former East Pakistan Governor Abdul Monem Khan shot to death night October 13 at his home in Dacca. As Monem Khan had been conferring with conservative politicians for past several months with view toward ending his retirement, strong likelihood is that assassination carried out by Mukti Bahini. Assassination of Monem Khan, Oct. 14, 1971
  • The Pakistan Army in East Pakistan has achieved nearly autonomous control of the province, in many respects independent of the policies and direction of President Yahya Khan in Islamabad. Only foreign affairs affecting East Pakistan is firmly in the hands of Islamabad. The relative isolation of President Yahya Khan is probably the result of many factors. Indications of this isolation are that Army commandersi in the East pursue independent military operations, the Army governs the province behind the facade of the puppet civilian Governor Malik and his cabinet — who are completely dependent on the Army for their personal security — with limited reference to Islamabad, little but Pakistani successes and India’s perfidy is reported from Dacca to Islamabad, and President Yahya Khan lacks independent means of observation, reporting and verification of events in the East. … The myth of growing political stability in East Pakistan is almost certainly fed to Yahya Khan by reports from his civilian Governor and his Army commanders. The reality is that Army policies and operations — behind the facade of a civilian government — are progressively and seriously alienating the Bengali population in East Pakistan, and that the seeds of rebellion are not only those sown by India. President Yahya Khan’s Control in East Pakistan is Increasingly Limited, Nov. 5, 1971
  • General Farman Ali Khan described the loevel of Mukti guerrilla insurgency as somewhat intensifed but manageable because the newly trained Bengali guerrillas entering from India feared to take action. Over 1,400 guerrillas had entered Dacca district in the last 30 days but only a few had chosen to fight. He acknowledged, off-the-record, that this was due to the terroristic reprisal policy. He also acknowledged that terror and reprisal had an “unfortunate effect on Bengali attitudes.” But he said, “all Army commanders had concluded that insurgency was more of a problem in areas where the Army had been too lenient and had not demonstrated clean-up operations.” … General Farman Ali Khan said the Army sought to leave the fighting of the Mukti guerrillas to the newly armed Bengali “Rasikars,” who now numbered 60,000. He acknowledged that “Rasikars” — raised as village levies for guard duty with only ten days training, and without NCOs or officers — did not constitute a disciplined force. However, the “Rasikars” are a destabilizing element — living off the land, able to make life and death decisions by denouncing collaborators and openly pillaging and terrorizing villages without apparent restraint from the Army. With villagers caught between the Rasikars and Mukti guerrillas, law and order is breaking down rapidly in rural East Pakistan. Hence, the rural population is moving either to the cities which are now overpopulated or going to India. … General Farman Ali Khan accepted the estimate that at least 80 percent of the Hindus had left East Pakistan. He, off-the-record, spoke of about six million refugees who had gone to India and he anticipated that a further 1,500,000 refugees would probably go to India “before the situation settles down.” President Yahya Khan’s Control in East Pakistan is Increasingly Limited, Nov. 5, 1971
  • [I]nitially, insurgence was weak. Indians needed several months to train Mukhti Bahini. Mukhti Bahini have conducted border crossings, and we are satisfied there is active Indian involvement in Pakistan fighting. This is mixed operations, with about four times more Indians than Mukhti Bahini. Indians have publicly acknowledged their direct involvement during last 48 hours. Minister of Defense has said Indian troops are permitted to cross border and go far enough into East Pakistan to quell artillery. India-Pakistan Briefing for Yugoslav, Nov. 30, 1971
  • Prime minister Indira Gandhi announced to packed Lok Sabha … that one hour earlier General Niazi, Pak commander in East Bengal, had surrendered unconditionally in Dacca to General Arora, Indian General commanding joint Indian Army / Mukti Bahini operations. Telegram from New Delhi Embassy to Secretary of State, Dec. 16, 1971

  • Reports continue to pour in of wanton killings of civilians by Indian armed forces personnel and Mukti Bahini in East Pakistan. In fact, American TV networks have shown pictures of huge crowds of people witnessing the torture and execution of people without any trial. … The Government of Pakistan would be grateful if the Government of the United States would impress upon the Government of India that the Indian occupation forces would be held responsible for the arson, loot, murder and rape by Mukti Bahini and other elements in East Pakistan. Aide Memoire, Dec. 20, 1971
  • Citizens of largely Bihari areas of Mohammedpur and Mirpur, on the outskirts of Dacca, are living in state of terror. Areas are cut off from communications and food. Lawlessness reigns. The Bihari Question, Dec. 23, 1971

Sheikh Mujib and Indira Gandhi signs the 25-year treaty of friendship and cooperation between Bangladesh and India in Dhaka.

1971 War

  • Reliable sources report that the Pakistan Army has been placed on a low-level alert; less reliable sources indicate that Indian units may have also been put on alert. Substantial numbers of Indian troops have been deployed along the border with East Bengal, and there have been indications of possible Indian deployments in the West. Exchanges of artillery and mortar fire across the eastern Indo-Pakistani border have grown in number and volume over the past few weeks. A variety of sources indicate that India is preparing for major military operations in September. The order of July 28 banning foreign relief workers in India from border areas could signal the start of accelerated military preparations. India-Pakistan: The Guns of August, July 30, 1971
  • As a result of indications of a military build-up on both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border and of an early massive increase in cross-border infiltration, we instructed Ambassador Keating to see Mrs. Gandhi and Charge’ Sober to see President Yahya (a) to propose a pullback of military forces, (b) to point out to the Indians and the Pakistanis the grave damage to our bilateral relations which would result if either provoked a conflict, (c) to indicate the importance which we attached to a political settlement with the elected leaders of East Pakistan, and (d) to ask the Indians to prevent a massive cross-border infiltration of guerrillas. … Foreign Minister Swaran Singh (Mrs. Gandhi was unavailable) said the U.S. was “distorting” the sequence of events leading up to the present crisis and emphasized the need for genuine reconciliation in East Pakistan. He nevertheless categorically stated that (1) the Mukti Bahini was not present on the Indian border in such numbers ready to march openly into India; (2) the Indian Army would not undertake diversions to cover a Mukti Bahini attack, and (3) India would not attack or make any incursion against Pakistan. He also said India would consider withdrawal of Indian forces if Pakistani forces withdrew. Foreign Secretary Kaul subsequently reaffirmed a willingness to “reconsider” the situation if Pak forces withdrew from the “threatening” positions they now occupy. Proposal for Mutual Withdrawal from Indo-Pak Borders, Oct. 20, 1971
  • He stressed that any Indian attack on Lahore would invite Pakistani retaliation on Indian cities such as Amritsar and Ferozepore. He noted Pakistani artillery of considerably longer range and higher fire power than any Indians believed to possess. He further stated Pak reconnaissance aircraft have penetrated India as far as Srinigar and returned safely despite Indian pursuit. Pakistan Military Tactics in Lahore Area, Oct. 20, 1971
  • Reports of extensive and presumably Indian-supported Mukti Bahini penetrations along East Pakistan border could represent serious escalation in Indian/Mukti Bahini pressure tactics against Pakistan. On behalf of President Amb. Keating is conveying to GOI our deep concern over this development. We are also instructing Amb. Beam in Moscow to convey to Soviets our concern over these developments and our hope that USSR will use its influence for restraint by GOI. You should seek immediate appointment with President Yahya to inform him of actions we are taking with Indians and Soviets. You should take not of Yahya letter to President (septel), expressing President’s strong appreciation for Yahya’s determination continue exercise greatest possible degree of military restraint and “avoid senseless and destructive war with India.” Secret Telegram from State Dept to Islamabad Embassy, Nov. 23, 1971
  • On November 21 an Indian Army Brigade group supported by armed helicopters ingressed into Chittagong Hill Tracts over-running our border out-posts and ingressing approximately 10 miles in our territory. On the same day, another brigade group of 23rd Indian Division launched an attack in the Belonia Salient of Noakhali District pushing 8 miles deep into Pakistan territory, supported by the rest of the Division. In the Brahmambaria subdivision also on November 21 attacks were launched by a battalion group each from 57th Division against two of our border posts at Mukandpur and Saldandi which were over-run. In Sylhet District Maulvi Bazar subdivision, two battalion groups attacked and over-ran our border out-posts at Dhalai, Atheram and Zakigauj. The battalion groups included two companies of Gurkhas. On November 21, another attack was launched in Rangpur District in the Burangamari Salient where an Indian Brigade Group penetrated 15 miles into Pakistan territory up to Nageshwari. On the same day in Jessore District, a major offensive was launched by a brigade group of 9th Indian Division supported by armor and air cover. The attack was launched opposite Chaugacha and Indian tanks penetrated about 8 miles into Pakistan territory. … As many as 12 Indian Divisions have been deployed around East Pakistan. In additon there are 38 battalions of the Indian border security force. 2nd and 5th Indian mountain divisions which were previously deploted on the borders with China have also been moved towards East Pakistan. The 8th Mountain Division (of 6 brigades) has also been moved to East Pakistan borders towards Sylhet from Nagaland where only one brigade is now left. … Mr. President, as you are aware Indian armed forces in the last few months have maintained pressure all along our Eastern borders. Apart from training, equipping and launching rebels supported by Indian Border Security force personnel into Pakistan territory, Indian artillery units have been constantly shelling areas in East Pakistan. But as I have pointed out above, in the last 3 or 4 days the Indian Armed Forces have turned from localized attacks to open and large scale warfare on so many fronts. Letter from President Yahya to President Nixon, Nov. 23, 1971
  • Lest there be any possible misunderstanding on subject of Niazi’s intentions in making his approach to me, I should like to emphasize that Niazi is appealing for our most speedy assistance in bringing his proposal to attention of Indian army authorities as quickly as humanly possible in order to reduce liklihood that beginning of assault in Dacca (which could occur beginning with daylight tomorrow) may unleash bloodbath. Today’s heavy bombing and strafing of targets in Dacca and elsewhere lend point to Niazi’s urgency. I strongly recommend that New Delhi or Calcutta or both be immediately authorized convey Niazi’s message directly to Indian army authorities asap. Niazi Cease Fire Proposal, Dec. 14, 1971
  • “Pakistan Government is putting out false allegations against Indian in and outside UN. They have alleged that India has launched massive attack with tanks and troops in East Pakistan. This allegation is false and baseless and is designed to cover up massing of Pakistani infantry, artillery and armor right up to our borders in an attempt to crush freedom movement in East Bengal and push more refugees into India. To exacerbate the situation further, President Yahya has declared a stae of emergency throughout Pakistan on November 22. This has been done following Pak offensive of November 21 supported by tanks and artillery against freedom fighters who were holding liberated area around Boyra in East Bengal five miles from Indian border. Pakistani armor under heavy artillery cover advanced to our border threatening our defensive position. Their shells fell into our territory wounding a number of our men. The local Indian military commander took appropriate action to break up Pakistani attack. In doing so he destroyed thirteen Chafee tanks whereupon the Pak troops fell back. On November 22 Pakistani forces called up an air strike of four Sabre jets on our positions. These were intercepted within Indian territory by our Gnats who destroyed three Sabre jets.” South Asia Crisis, Nov. 24, 1971
  • Current GOI attitudes toward West Pakistan are necessarily tentative pending Indo-Pak peace settlement and unfolding of President Bhutto’s declared policy and actual practice over next months. … Should Bhutto opt for postures of revanchism and revision, for military buildup, for anti-Indian alliance strategy, GOI might respond by abetting the weakening of West Pakistan from within. Indian Intentions Re Baluchistan and Pashtunistan, Jan. 17. 1972
  • NY Times and Washington Post Wednesday editions carried Schanberg/Lescaze stories attributed to Indian sources suggesting USG deliberately delayed transmission of surrender proposal from Niazi to Indian authorities. … Spokesman has emphasized that nothing like 20-odd hours lost; that only even potentially avoidable delay fell within period 1620-2300 December 14 when we unable to establish contact with Pakistanis or Indians; that delay was completely unintended and stories suggesting contrary are unfounded and inaccurate. Alleged Delay in Transmission of Surrender Proposal, Jan. 26, 1972.

See also The Report of the Commission of Inquiry – 1971 War declassified by the government of Pakistan.  Paul Wolf, 2003-2004. No copyright to original government works. For educational use only.

‘Dead Reckoning’ redefines history of 1971

Dead Reckoning by Sarmila Bose: This ground-breaking book chronicles the 1971 war in South Asia by reconstituting the memories of those on opposing sides of the conflict. 1971 was marked by a bitter civil war within Pakistan and war between India and Pakistan, backed respectively by the Soviet Union and the United States. It was fought over the territory of East Pakistan, which seceded to become Bangladesh. Through a detailed investigation of events on the ground, Sarmila Bose contextualises and humanises the war while analysing what the events reveal about the nature of the conflict itself. The story of 1971 has so far been dominated by the narrative of the victorious side. All parties to the war are still largely imprisoned by wartime partisan mythologies. Bose reconstructs events via interviews conducted in Bangladesh and Pakistan, published and unpublished reminiscences in Bengali and English of participants on all sides, official documents, foreign media reports and other sources. Her book challenges assumptions about the nature of the conflict, and exposes the ways in which the 1971 war is still playing out in the region.

Product code: 455601, ISBN13: 9781849040495, 288 pages, paperback, Published by C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd in 2011

indo-pakistani_war_1971_mukti_bahini training

Indo-Pak War 1971 – Training of Mukti Bahini

SARMILA BOSE is Senior Research Fellow in the Politics of South Asia at the University of Oxford. She was a political journalist in India and combines academic and media work. She was educated at Bryn Mawr College and Harvard University.

Here is a dose of sanity from Sarmila Bose:

Ms. Sarmila Bose in her paper entitled “Losing the Victims: Problems of Using Women as Weapons in Recounting the Bangladesh War” paints a picture of the Pakistani military as a disciplined force that spared women and children. She writes:

During my field research on several incidents in East Pakistan during 1971, Bangladeshi participants and eyewitnesses described battles, raids, massacres and executions, but told me that women were not harmed by the army in these events except by chance such as in crossfire. The pattern that emerged from these incidents was that the Pakistan Army targeted adult males while sparing women and children.

She also quotes the passage from the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report that I cited above to support her assertion that so many rapes could not have occurred. 20,000-34,000 could not have raped 200,000 to 400,000 women in the space of nine months.

She states in the introduction:

That rape occurred in East Pakistan in 1971 has never been in any doubt. The question is what was the true extent of rape, who were the victims and who the perpetrators and was there any systematic policy of rape by any party, as opposed to opportunistic sexual crimes in times of war.

To try to bolster her argument that the Pakistani forces in Bangladesh could not have raped so many women, she claims:

The number of West Pakistani armed forces personnel in East Pakistan was about 20,000 at the beginning of the conflict, rising to 34,000 by December. Another 11,000 men — civil police and non-combat personnel — also held arms.

For an army of 34,000 to rape on this scale in eight or nine months (while fighting insurgency, guerrilla war and an invasion by India), each would-be perpetrator would have had to commit rape at an incredible rate.

There are numerous reports out there now which negates the well-established beliefs. The declassified US reports, Indian military officers’ account, Pakistan military officers’ account, General Niazi’s memoirs, Sharmila Bose, Hamoodurahman commission report.

Pakistan Military officers fought hard. Many foreign correspondents speak well of their bravery. It is the bravery of a Muslim soldier that Indian Military got tough fight. These Pakistani Mard-e-Momin fought so hard that they had almost regained the control of East Pakistan from the dirty hands of Mukti-Bahini. When India saw this, She then started the military action which resulted in the fall of Dhaka.

Then Mujib showed his true colors after the formation of Bangladesh with his BAKSAL party. How he became authoritative and usurped democracy is not a secret anymore. He was going to make Bangladesh part of India that he was killed timely by the Pakistani military officers (yes those Bengalis who never gave up allegiance to Pakistan. I stand in honour for them).

In the end, 1971 was an ephemeral event for Bharat. It forced Pakistan to go Nuclear, and the events of 1971 created parity between Bharat which is 9 times bigger than its neighbour, and Pakistan. It also focused Pakistan towards Central Asia, blocking trade of Bharat with the region north of the Amu Darya. The events of 1971 created turmoil in Afghanistan, and an overconfident USSR, encouraged by Bharati policy makers ventured into Afghanistan. Exactly 20 years after the events of December 16th, 1971, the USSR imploded. On 17th December 1971 the USSR ceased to exist. Pakistan had exacted its revenge on the Soviet Union for assisting Bharat. The events of 1971 also created a huge schism between Bharat and China which has not been bridged, despite the fact that China uses Bharat as a mining colony taking raw materials and exporting back shoddy Chinese goods which it cannot export to the West.

1971 was the worst form of terror in this century. The fact that the West tolerated the Bharati plan of sending 80,000 armed terrorists disguised as Pakistani soldiers into Bengal to create havoc with the local population is a fact that lives in ignominy. The West sanctified Bharati aggression and stood back and watched the disintegration of a state which the US had two Executive Defense pacts and was also tied into defense agreements in SEATO and CENTO.

1971 led to Pakistan’s JF-17 Thunder and Nuclear and Missile programs which have created colossal headaches for Bharat and others that have supported it. Because of the nuclear weapons, the US could not invade Pakistan, like it invaded Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. The American defeat in Afghanistan is a direct result of the events of 1971 and Pakistan’s nuclear status. As the US begins to leave the area before 2014, the inevitable union of Afghanistan and Pakistan will ensure robust trade with Central Asia and strategic depth for Pakistan and Afghanistan both.

1971 halted economic growth in South Asia. Bharat was a pariah nation for a decade after that–and the entire region has still to recover from the effects. Bangladesh has half the GDP of Pakistan. Bharat has been unable to convince Pakistan to allow it a land route to Iran and Europe. The economic cost of the barrier to Bharati trade is colossal.

1971 galvanized Kashmir and tied down 800,000 Bharati soldiers and the militancy rages on affecting the rest of Bharat. The entire region became radicalized, and Asama dn the Naxals control large swathes of Bharati territory where there is no writ of the Central Government.

1971 gave rise to fundamentalism in Bharat. With the rise of the BJP and RSS, the nature of the Bharati landscape has changed. Its clash with the West is inevitable and will bring tragic results to South Asia.

The events of 1971 brought about the Oil embargo on the West with a decade of recession and malaise which radicalized America and moved it to the right. The events of 1971 radicalized Arab youth, and created the OBLs of the world. The events of 971 brought about two Martial Laws in Pakistan which led to various issues in the society and for the region. It allowed the US claim a stake in the neighbourhood.

1971 radicalized Bharati society and created militant Muslim groups in Bharat. The Indian Mujahideen and SIMI and others will continue to grow in the slum infested waters of penury and poverty.

The events of 1971 galvanized the Naxal insurrection in Bharat and the Maoist insurgency in Nepal, deeply affecting Bharat.

The vents of 1971 forced Pakistan to look westward. It now thinks of South Asia as its past the Central and West Asia as its future.

1971 consolidated Pakistan as never before, and with the discovery of Coal and Gold reserves, the country is re-evaluating its political landscape and bringing in new leadership to deal with the new realities of prosperity and growth.

In the end Bangladesh also became a belligerent state for Bharat, deeply impacting the demographics of West Bengal, which is now headed towards Muslim majority status. Bangladesh itself is in a Civil war with itself. Right after 1971, Mujib, the Indian agent declared himself dictator for life and banned all the political parties that existed. On 14th August 1974 patriotic patriots killed Mujib and threw his body in the streets for days. They killed all members of the Mujib family. In a dramatic reversal of events, Bhart’s “Rakhi Bahni” which had planned to incorporate Bangladesh into an Indian province was thrown out of Bangladesh, the treaty of friendship was torn up and Delhi’s dream of taking over Muslim Bengal never materialized.

The events of 1971 laid bare the intentions of the US, and its lack of support. This has led to a colossal tide of anti-Americanism in Pakistan and the region which is detrimental to America and Europe. Eventually China and Russia were the beneficiaries of this sort of avoidable negativity.

The Bangladeshis resurrected the Two Nation Theory, and refused to join West Bengal. Despite persecution of the Islamic forces, Bangladesh remains a deeply religious nation and has better relations with Islamabad than it has with Delhi. The suppression of Islam in Bangladesh has created a time-bomb that will affect the entire Northeast region.

The events of 1971 have led to a large presence of Chinese forces and possibly bases in Pakistan. Islamabad constructed two new ports, an effort unparalleled in the history of the world.

Behind the myth of 3 million: true story of bloody birth of Bangladesh

Did Pakistan commit genocide and kill 3 million people in East Pakistan in 1971?

Time mag 1971

Dr. M. Abdul Mu’min Chowdhury, a Bengali nationalist who actively participated in the separatist cause, spoke out in 1996 to tell the true story of what went on during that war. He says the allegations against Pakistan were entirely cooked up and the actual death toll was much lower than the falsely fabricated 3 million figure. He cited an extensive range of sources to show that what the Pakistani army was carrying out in East Pakistan was a limited counter-insurgency, not at all a genocide.

He questions the conventional narrative of an oppressed, downtrodden Bengali nation fighting a brave and noble war of “liberation” from a tyrannical regime in the face of impossible hardship only to emerge as a free nation to whom the future now belonged. He says that greed for personal power and Indian predatory ambitions against its only regional counterweight were the only things that motivated the players who incited the breakup of the only homeland created for the Muslims of the subcontinent.

He explains how the allegations of genocide were artificially cooked up and from where the “absolutely impossible” 3 million figure was hatched, and anyone who tried to dig for the real truth in those days was murdered. He gives research-based details of each major incident that was blamed on Pakistan: the killing of intellectuals in Dhaka University, killings elsewhere in Dhaka, the murder of 5,000 Buddhists and 17,000 Awami Leaguers, the massacres and destruction visited on Kushtia, Jessore, Khulna and Chittagong, and the rapes of 400,000 women resulting in 200,000 pregnancies.

He then goes on to explain another category of atrocities committed by the so-called “liberators” that anti-Pakistan propagandists have whitewashed from all historic record, these were carried out against large numbers of East Pakistanis that fought for Pakistan and just about everyone who did not support Mukti Bahini. He describes the savage and gruesome ways they (he gives actual names and credentials of the victims) were murdered and otherwise brutalized and recounts the stories survivors themselves told, and apportions responsibility directly to Mukti Bahini and Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman, who was an Indian collaborator since the mid-1950s.

He says the true story must be told otherwise Bangladesh will never be a truly free nation and a normal member of the international community or the comity of Islamic nations. He says only the truth will enable reconciliation between Pakistanis and Bengalis and enable them to move on from the past and move toward the future together as brotherly nations like they used to be at one time.

Download this book to know the true story:
By Dr. M. Abdul Mu’min Chowdhury

تاریخ پر رحم کریں – طارق اسمٰعیل ساگر

Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971 by Sarmila Bose

This article was banned in Bangladesh.

Anatomy of Violence

Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971 by Sarmila Bose.

While events of 1971 continue to evoke strong emotion in both Pakistan and Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), there has been little systematic study of the violent conflicts that prevailed in the course of the nine-month long civil war. Popular attention has, thus far, focused on the Pakistani army‘s action against the Bengalis, or on the India-Pakistan war. However, East Pakistan in 1971 was simultaneously a battleground for many different kinds of violent conflict that included militant rebellion, mob violence, military crackdown on a civilian population, urban terrorism to full-scale war between India and Pakistan. The culture of violence fomented by the conflict of 1971 forms the context for much of Bangladesh’s subsequent history. A careful, evidence-based approach to understanding the events of 1971 is vital if the different parties to the conflict are to be ever reconciled.

Sarmila Bose

“ham ke Thehre ajnabi itni madaaraaton ke baad phir banein ge aashna kitni mulaaqaaton ke baad
kab nazar mein aaye gi be daagh sabze ki bahaar khoon ke dhabe dhulein ge kitni barsaaton ke baad” (‘Dhaka se waapsi par’, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, 1974)
(We have become strangers after so much expression of affection How many meetings will it take before we become friends again
When shall we be able to see the beauty of unblemished green How many monsoons will it take to wash away its patches of blood

–‘On Returning from Dhaka’)


The Many Conflicts of 1971

“This must be the only country in the world where there are two views on the independence of the country”. (Iqbal, former Muktijoddha, Dhaka)

1971 in south Asia usually denotes the third major war between India and Pakistan, in the context of a civil war in Pakistan which led to the secession of East Pakistan and the formation of a new country, Bangladesh. The cold war served as the international backdrop to this regional conflict.

However, the conflicts played out on the soil of East Pakistan in 1971 were more numerous and ran deeper. The civil war was not merely between the two wings of Pakistan, but also within the territory of East Pakistan, between Bengalis and non-Bengalis, and among Bengalis themselves, who were bitterly divided between those who favoured independence for Bangladesh and those who supported the unity and integrity of Pakistan. The middle ground of federation and autonomy was increasingly squeezed between these two highly polarised positions, especially through the general elections of December 1970.1

Non-Bengali Muslims from the north Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who had migrated to East Pakistan (East Bengal) after the partition of India were collectively referred to as “Biharis” by the Bengalis.2 Pro-liberation Bengalis assumed these non-Bengalis to be in favour of united Pakistan. But a significant minority of Bengalis, including the religious parties, was also for unity. In addition, many Bengalis who voted for Sheikh Mujib out of a long-standing sense of alienation and a desire for provincial autonomy, may not have been in favour of outright secession. The profound polarisation of politics reached even into individual Bengali families, dividing some of them horizontally – for example the father, who had experienced the creation of Pakistan, supported united Pakistan, while the son, swayed by the oratory of Sheikh Mujib, joined the fight for an independent Bangladesh. The internal battles among Bengalis in East Pakistan in 1971 are still playing out in the current politics of Bangladesh.

While 1971 evokes strong emotion in both parts of the severed wings of Pakistan, there has been little systematic study of the violent conflicts during the nine-month long civil war.3 Popular attention has focused on the Pakistani armed force’s action against the Bengalis, or the India-Pakistan war. However, East Pakistan in 1971 was simultaneously a battleground for many different kinds of violent conflict – militant rebellion, mob violence, military crackdown on a civilian population, mutiny within the armed forces, urban terrorism, guerrilla warfare, conventional battles, death squads, civil war within Pakistan and between Bengalis, and full-scale war between Pakistan and India.

Rules of Engagement

Studying the war poses vast and complex problems. It lasted close to a year, involved multiple combatant parties and different levels of conflict. It happened 34 years ago and its memory is still riddled with bitterness and contradictory claims. Archival material from key players is not available. A comprehensive account would demand an institutional effort of national proportions, which Bangladesh has not done. Yet a “law of averages” approach does not work, as there was great variation in the experience of the conflict in different areas and at different times.

This paper presents a systematic analysis of the context and nature of violence in the conflict of 1971 using in-depth case studies of several specific incidents, drawn from my ongoing project ‘1971: Images, Memory, Reconciliation’. The case studies are from different districts, different moments of the time-line of the conflict, and involve different groups of perpetrators and victims. The focus is on the civil war – between pro-liberation and pro-unity groups, rather than the war between India and Pakistan, though India’s heavy involvement on the pro-liberation side blurs that distinction to an extent. In-depth examination at the micro-level provides a better understanding of its complexities and humanises the war. The study uses multiple sources of information and includes all parties to build as complete a picture as possible.

The case studies are therefore “representative” of the conflict, though not comprehensive. They were selected after discussion with several Bangladeshis with a keen interest in the war, almost all strongly “pro-liberation”, complemented by instances suggested by researching published material from all sides. They include mob violence in early March in Khulna and Chittagong, military action on March 25-26 in Dhaka University student halls and faculty residences, army attack on Shankharipara in old Dhaka on March 26, mutiny in Mymensingh, Bengali-Bihari violence in Khulna at different times, such as Bengali attacks against “Biharis” in March, “Bihari” attacks on Bengalis subsequently and Bengali “revenge” after independence, Bengali-non-Bengali violence in Chittagong and Bogra areas, rebel resistance in Tangail, mass killings by the army in Rajshahi and Mymensingh, army killing of Hindu refugees in Khulna, killing of intellectuals in Dhaka in December and “revenge” killings by the winning side after the end of the war. The compilation is ongoing.

The paper uses data collected during 2003-05 in Pakistan and Bangladesh from site visits, interviews with survivors, eye-witnesses and participants, and related material such as images and published and unpublished eyewitness accounts and memoirs (in English and Bengali).

The approach in the project, and in this paper, is “reconciliation”. This refers partly to reconciliation among people. In the absence of any institutional “truth and reconciliation” effort, participants in the 1971 conflict remain bitterly divided, in denial to a significant degree, and without “closure” in numerous instances. However, “reconciliation” also refers to the reconciliation of fact with fiction, using a non-partisan, evidence-based approach towards a conflict whose accounts are still driven by bitter emotional partisanship. They provide the basis for an analysis that challenges both the silence and the unsubstantiated rhetoric that have obscured the study of the conflict of 1971 to date.

The paper is organised in the following manner. Section III elaborates on the chronology and typology of violence in the conflict of 1971 with illustrative examples from the case studies. Section IV discusses some of the preliminary findings on the patterns that emerge. As the project is ongoing, the illustrative examples are only taken from completed parts of the case studies, and the findings must necessarily be termed preliminary until the work is completed.

Chronology and Typology of Violence

“The real question is whether anybody can run the god-damn place.”
(President Nixon, phone conversation with Kissinger, March 29, 1971)4

Call to Arms: The Bengali Nationalist Rebellion

“There are two basic problems here”, wrote Henry Kissinger in a secret memo to President Nixon on March 13, 1971, “(1) Rahman has embarked on a Gandhian-type non-violent non-cooperation campaign which makes it harder to justify repression; and (2) the West Pakistanis lack the military capacity to put down a full-scale revolt over a long period.”5

Kissinger was right about the second point, but dead wrong about the first. The rebel movement in East Pakistan led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman bore no resemblance to the path of non-violence advocated by Gandhi against British rule in India. Despite some rhetorical calls for restraint, the movement was openly, and proudly, armed and militant. Personal memoirs of the time recount large public meetings in Dhaka since March 1, with the crowds carrying bamboo sticks and iron rods, calls to “take up arms”, incidents of bomb-throwing and shooting, and military-style parades carrying weapons both real and dummy. Images of such gatherings and parades are displayed with pride in the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka. Some aspects of the movement are similar to the violent revolutionary movement in Bengal against British rule in early 20th century and the 1930s, not Gandhian non-violence.6

Kaliranjan Shil, a Communist Party activist who survived the army’s assault on Jagannath Hall in Dhaka University on March 25-26, has written about the training for armed revolt, (using dummy rifles, according to him), that started on the university gymnasium field as soon as the parliament session was postponed on March 1. Each trained batch would then train arriving recruits, while “normal” students left the halls as the university was closed. He had trained as usual on March 25.7

Mob Violence by Bengalis against Non-Bengalis

The postponement of the national assembly on March 1 followed by the call to observe “hartal” given by Sheikh Mujib led to widespread lawlessness during March, when the Pakistan government effectively lost control of much of the territory of East Pakistan. Many accounts, both Bangladeshi and Pakistani, have recorded the parallel government run on Sheikh Mujib’s decrees.

Apart from sporadic incidents of violence in Dhaka, there was arson, looting and attacks by Bengali mobs on non-Bengali people and property in many parts of the province, some with casualties. The White Paper published by the Pakistan government in August 1971 lists such incidents, of which the worst loss of life appears to have occurred in Khulna and Chittagong in the first week of March. That “the government’s writ had ceased to function in most parts of the province” and that there were attacks upon non-Bengalis by Bengalis on the rampage, is acknowledged by critics of the government too.8

Most of these attacks were on civilians and commercial properties, but some were directly on the army, which remained curiously unresponsive under orders. Mostly the army suffered from the refusal of Bengalis to sell them food and fuel, being jeered and spat at, and the widespread disregard of curfew orders, but some encounters were more deadly. “The murder of army personnel, caught in ones and twos, became an everyday occurrence”, writes Major General H A Qureishi, “In our area we lost Lt Abbas of 29 Cavalry. With an escort of Bengali soldiers, he had ventured out of the unit lines to buy fresh vegetables for the troops. The escort was “rushed” by the militants, the officer was killed, weapons were “confiscated” and the Bengali members of the guard sent back unharmed.”9 Even Anthony Mascarenhas, the Pakistani journalist who became famous for his condemnation of the military action, wrote, “It speaks volumes for the discipline of the West Pakistan army, that its officers were able to keep the soldiers in check during what was to them a nightmare of 25 days.”10

The failure of the Awami League leadership in this respect – its inability or unwillingness to control a population it had incited, and encouraged to break the law – was matched by the failure of the regime to respond appropriately to attacks on life and property.

Military Action: Operation Searchlight

The extraordinary restraint of the army under provocation was totally reversed with the launch of military action with “Operation Searchlight” during the night of March 25-26. The operation was aimed at both Dhaka and the rest of the province and included the arrest of political leaders, disarming of potentially disloyal Bengali personnel in the police and army, and crushing the militant rebellion by force. Two of the target areas in Dhaka were Dhaka University, considered by the government to be the hotbed of militants, and parts of old Dhaka. In the action in the university, I draw a distinction between the attack on student halls and that on faculty quarters.
(i) Attack on Dhaka University student halls: In the usual Bangladeshi depiction, the army is accused of attacking the student halls and killing unarmed students. For instance, Kaliranjan Shil, the survivor from Jagannath Hall, describes the residents as “nirastra” – unarmed – despite his own description of their “training” and the arrival of trainees from elsewhere, in the same account.11 However, a recording of army communications during the attack, made by a Bengali and made available to me by the Liberation War Museum in Dhaka, supports the army version of a two-way battle, but reveals it to have been a very unequal one, with .303 rifle fire from the student halls, and no evidence of automatic weapons or grenades.12

A vivid description of the attack on Jagannath Hall given to me by an eyewitness, Rabindra Mohan Das, who lived in the staff quarters on the grounds, corroborates the massive use of force by the army, and also the killing of unarmed staff. According to Lieutenant General (Lt Gen) Kamal Matinuddin’s account, the officer in overall command of this attack – then Brigadier Jehanzeb Arbab – admitted “over-reaction and over-kill by the troops under his command”.13

The Bengali nationalist narrative suffers from a contradiction in this instance. The pride taken in militant defiance of the military regime and readiness to take up arms for the Bengali cause is negated by the parallel claim of unarmed, passive students gunned down as they slept.

The regime’s side of the story is not a tidy one either. The execution of “Operation Searchlight” on March 25-26 by the newly arrived Governor General Tikka Khan, was condemned by Lt Gen A A K Niazi, who arrived in April as commander of the Eastern Command, as a violation of the mission and equivalent to the Jallianwalabagh massacre in the Punjab by the British in 1919. He said it made his task of regaining control of the province infinitely harder by provoking widespread mutiny among Bengali officers and men and turning virtually the entire population hostile.14

Wide differences in approach are evident throughout the ranks. In the communications recorded during the night’s operations, one officer wonders how to feed his prisoners, while another reports that he has taken no prisoners. Nazrul Islam, then a student at the Art College, has written about how one group of soldiers shot him and two others in their hostel next to the EPR camp on March 26, only to be followed by a second group of soldiers who expressed shock that they had been shot, gave them water and encouraged the two of them still alive to seek help and live.15
(ii) Killing of Dhaka University faculty: During the attack on the university, several faculty members and adult male members of their family were dragged out of their apartments and shot. This must necessarily be placed in a different category from the battle at the student halls. Eyewitness accounts of the case of one of the victims, Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, is provided by Guhathakurta himself – he lived for four days before succumbing to his injuries, as well as the memoirs of his wife and the testimony of his daughter to me.

In a confusing pattern, while soldiers attempted to break down the doors to all apartments, two out of the five faculty members then residing in the same building were killed while the other three were not.16 In response to my question whether the army had a specific list of faculty members they were looking for, the then secretary of the National Security Council, Major General Ghulam Umar, expressed his view that there was no specific list.17 However, the Guhathakurta family testifies to an officer asking for a specific person by name. Guhathakurta said that he was asked his name and religion before being shot. The other faculty killed was Maniruzzaman, along with his son, nephew and another young man from his apartment.18

The leader of the Bengali nationalist movement, Sheikh Mujib, was arrested from his home the same night. Most of his colleagues escaped to India. The anomalous result was that certain university professors were killed while political leaders were detained alive.
(iii) Attack on areas of old Dhaka: The attack on March 26 on areas of old Dhaka like Shankharipara, a single narrow lane specialising in the “shankha” (conchshell) business, has yet to yield a clear reason for its targeting, unless the fact of it being a Hindu business area was the sole reason. US consul-general in Dhaka, Archer Blood, sent a situation report on March 27, citing the Indian deputy high commissioner’s view of a “large number of casualties” in this area. Mascarenhas has written, without citing any source: “In Shankaripatti an estimated 8,000 men, women and children were killed when the army, having blocked both ends of the winding street, hunted them down house by house.”19 This description is entirely false.

Survivors of the attack on Shankharipara on March 26 testify that about 14 men and one child (carried by his father) were killed inside a single house that day – an unexplained and terrifying incident, but a different event from the one claimed above. The father and child who were killed – Chandhan and Buddhadev Sur – are one of my case studies. The soldiers did not go house to house. Other residents who remained inside their homes survived and within a couple of days everyone fled the area, mostly to go to India, returning only after the independence of Bangladesh.20


The military action on March 25-26 was followed by a wave of mutiny of Bengali officers and men in the army and police forces.21 The pattern of violence during the mutiny varied from place to place. With regard to the mutiny at the EPR cantonment at Mymensingh on March 27, local Bengalis spoke of a fierce gunfight in which a number of West Pakistani officers and men were killed, women assaulted and abducted and any man trying to escape lynched by the assembled population.22

The then Major (later president) Ziaur Rahman declared the independence of Bangladesh over the radio. His West Pakistani commanding officer at 8 East Bengal Regiment was killed. Major Khaled Musharraf (who briefly took power during the coup and counter-coup in 1975) of 4 East Bengal placed his West Pakistani superior officers under arrest and handed them over to India. In these early days of open civil war, the fighting, and dying, for both causes – the independence of Bangladesh and the unity of Pakistan – was borne heavily by men in uniform, who had turned against each other.

Bengali officers who defected to the cause of liberation appear to have had a clearer idea of the gravity and risk of what they were undertaking than many civilian volunteers who joined the “Muktibahini”. For instance, Major General K M Safiullah, then second-in-command of 2 East Bengal Regiment, writes, “We had taken the oath of a soldier. The one and only punishment for breaking that oath and rebelling was to face the firing squad, i e, death. There had to be an appropriate reason for rebelling, and we did it because there was one.”23 In contrast, many accounts of civilians who took up arms against the state express shock and indignation at the prospect of capture and execution.

Mob Attacks and Post-Military Action

The launching of army action was also followed by another wave of mob violence, in which Bengali mobs slaughtered Biharis or West Pakistanis wherever they held the upper hand, until army units arrived and secured the area.24 Most of the territory remained in rebel hands after March 25 and it took several weeks for the army to regain control.

One such slaughter of a very large number of Bihari men, women and children occurred at the Crescent Jute Mills in Khulna on March 27-28. According to local Bengali workers at the mill, at the time both Bengali and Bihari workers and their families were barricaded inside the mill compound, to prevent the army from entering. Sporadic violence had occurred between the two communities throughout March, and Awami League supporters among the Bengalis had been training and holding parades. A “truce” agreement had been made, but did not hold. Two Bengali policemen who had come by river with their weapons and a few locals who had guns first shot at the Biharis and then the Bengali mob massacred the fleeing Biharis with ‘da’s (cleavers) and other weapons. The bodies were dumped in the river.25 Similar killings of non-Bengalis by Bengalis from late March to late April are also reported in many other parts of the province and a vicious cycle of Bengali-Bihari ethnic violence continued even after Bangladesh’s independence.26

First Battles between Army and Rebels

As the army moved to secure the territory of East Pakistan and re-establish the writ of the government, initial resistance by Bengali rebels was disorganised and amateurish, while the army’s reaction was overwhelming. In an incident described by local villagers as the first battle between rebel forces and the army outside Dhaka, for instance, a group of Bengali ex-army and police personnel attempted to resist the army as it moved north from Dhaka to Tangail. They set up their position at a small village called Satiarchora. According to a villager who possessed a gun and took part, only a few villagers were involved and the Bengali side was caught unprepared and by surprise in the early hours of April 3 by a substantial convoy of the Pakistan army rolling their way. Though the army is said to have taken some casualties, the rebel ambush was crushed by its mightily superior force, with the army shooting “anything that moved” and torching the village.27

In a fascinating parallel, Major General A O Mitha, the legendary founder of the Special Services Group (SSG) who was specially recalled to East Pakistan in late-March-early April, writes about an instance when flying along the route taken by a brigade, “I noticed that in many of the villages near the road, almost all the huts were burnt…” When asked about this, the brigadier (Arbab, moving out of Dhaka into the countryside) said he had faced little resistance, but adopted a policy of “prophylactic fire” on the advice of General Tikka Khan. General Mitha writes that General Tikka denied giving any such advice, whereupon he had him come over to the site at once to tell the brigadier so.28

Mass Killings during “Pacification”

Throughout April and into May, the army continued to bring rebel-held territories back under the writ of the government. The pattern of ‘pacification’ had some common features, yet the outcome could differ startlingly from case to case. An example is the army operation to regain control of two security forces installations that had been taken over by rebel forces in the district of Rajshahi, in an area at the border with India.

As the army closed in on the first installation, the rebels vacated it and mingled with the villagers in the adjoining village, which is located by a river at the border with India. For reasons unfathomable, a couple of them took potshots at the advancing units in the bazaar. This triggered an overwhelming reaction from the army, which not only killed the two who had shot at them, but rounded up all the villagers, along with the outsiders among them, who had collected by the river bank.

In what appears to have been a pattern during this phase of army operations, a junior officer was in charge on the ground, while remaining in communication with superior officers elsewhere. Women and children were separated from adult men and sent back to the village. The men were then questioned in an attempt to identify ex-police, armed rebels, or Indian infiltrators, and anyone so suspected was summarily executed. However, at some point the officer appeared to receive an order from superior officers to kill all the men present, including, in this case, villagers who were entirely uninvolved in the fighting. The bodies were then stacked and set on fire. In contrast to this grisly outcome, another unit which went along the river to the second installation, secured it without killing villagers.29 The difference underlines the need for a deeper probe into the disregard for human life or due process that characterised the mass killing.

Hounding of Hindus

The minority Hindus, perceived by many in government, the armed forces, as well as the majority population as pro-India and a traitorous force within the country, were in a particularly vulnerable position during the civil war. Many Hindu villagers in Khulna, for instance, spoke of their harassment at the hands of local Muslims, which got serious enough for them to seek refuge in India. Thousands of them collected what belongings they could and went by boat to a village called Chuknagar, from where they went by road towards the Indian border. At Chuknagar they were relieved of their boats and much of their belongings by local Muslims, usually for a pittance or nothing.

The harassment, hounding out, and dispossession of the Hindus in this area took a turn for the worse on May 20. On that day, according to numerous eyewitnesses and survivors, a small unit of the armed forces, comprising only 20-25 men, arrived from the direction of Jessore and killed a very large number of adult male Hindu refugees among the thousands thronging the river bank and bazaar of Chuknagar. Once again, women and children were not harmed. Upon the departure of the unit, large-scale looting of the refugees’ belongings, cash and jewellery, appears to have been conducted by the locals, who disposed of the bodies by throwing them into the river.30

US consul-general in Dhaka, Archer Blood, received reports about attacks on Hindu men around the same time. His reassessment of the situation was: “… as Bengali resistance increased in the countryside, and a situation of civil war was approached, we realised that the term “genocide” was not appropriate to characterise all killings of Muslim Bengalis. Atrocities were being committed on both sides…It seemed to us that Army violence was increasingly being used for military purposes, i e, to secure control of the countryside.” However, Blood felt that the term could be applied to the selective targeting of Hindu men. He had no explanation for it except to say that the Pakistan military seemed unable to distinguish between Indians and East Pakistani Hindus.31

Urban Terrorism

As monsoon passed into fall, groups of young Bengali men trained in camps in India returned to East Pakistan on a programme of sabotage. A number of them were involved in bombings and shootings in Dhaka. Their stories are reminiscent in part of the underground militant movement in Bengal directed against symbols of British rule. The targets of sabotage and opportunistic killings of army or police personnel are also reminiscent of the more contemporary urban terror of extreme Leftist militants called “Naxalites” in Indian Bengal.32 Many of these Bengali youths were captured, killed or disappeared, but many survived to tell their stories. They reveal highly idealistic, but rather amateur activities, with a high degree of division and betrayal.33

Collective Punishment

In the absence of any political dialogue, the war dragged on at multiple levels – guerrilla war and sabotage by Bengali rebels trained and equipped by India, as well as increasing direct involvement of Indian armed forces. In this context, in an incident on October 13 at Boroitola near Kishoreganj town in Mymensingh district, Pakistan army units arrived by train, rounded up adult men from neighbouring villages and, for reasons yet unclear, lined them up in two queues and gunned them down with what appears to have been light machine guns on stands. Villagers from one particular village were allowed to leave, following a conversation between their (loyalist) leader and the officer in charge.

The trigger for the army’s arrival may have been the blowing up of a bridge nearby the previous day, or information provided by an informant in the village, or the fact that the area was the home village of Syed Nazrul Islam, the president of Bangladesh’s government-in-exile in India. There is some evidence that the army may have initially come for a different purpose which changed upon receiving local information on the spot. Whatever it was, the manner of the killing suggests a public example of collective punishment or vengeance, without regard for due process or human life.34

Death Squads

In the final days before the end of the war in December 1971, several well-known professionals – professors, doctors, writers, and so on – were picked up from their homes in Dhaka by bands of Bengali youth identified by eyewitnesses as members of the “Al Badr”, a group of Bengali loyalists organised by the Pakistan army.35 Some of those picked up were never seen again. The bodies of many were found at a brick kiln at Rayerbazar in Dhaka. All had their eyes blindfolded and hands tied behind their backs.

One such case was Aleem Chowdhury, an eye specialist, who used to help the rebels by raising funds, and providing medical supplies and professional care. By a bizarre coincidence, he had given refuge in the clinic downstairs in his house to Moulana Abdul Mannan, who turned out to be a member of the “Al Badr”. Chowdhury was picked up on December 15. The Moulana declined to intervene despite the pleadings of his wife. The war in East Pakistan ended on December 16 and Bangladesh came into being. Chowdhury’s body was found on December 18. He had been shot, and had multiple injuries thought to be inflicted by a bayonet. He is believed to have been killed during the night of December 15-16.

Many Bangladeshis hold Major General Rao Farman Ali of the Pakistan army responsible for this hit-squad style execution of Bengali professionals, at least in part because a list of intellectuals in his handwriting was found after the war. A direct link to the army is hard to establish, however, as all the eyewitness accounts by relatives describe the victims as being picked up by Bengali members of “Al Badr”. Aleem Chowdhury’s family holds Moulana Mannan responsible for his killing.36 The account of the only known survivor of the Rayerbazar killings also speaks of only Bengalis as the captors and killers of fellow Bengali professionals on the eve of the creation of Bangladesh.37

Attacks on Non-Bengalis and “Loyalist” Bengalis

“We did ‘revenge killings’” said a former “muktijoddha” in Mymensingh, with a sense of exacting justice, about the immediate aftermath following the end of the war in East Pakistan on December 16, 1971.38 Attacks on non-Bengalis and loyalist Bengalis by pro-liberation Bengalis occurred in many areas in the new country, including public lynching in some cases even in front of the camera. In the capital, Dhaka, a crowd of thousands watched, and foreign journalists photographed, “Muktibahini” commander Kader Siddiqui and his men bayoneted bound prisoners to death. In a chilling mirror-image of the killing of pro-liberation intellectuals earlier, the “loyalist” vice-chancellor of Dhaka University was picked up on December 19, beaten, stabbed repeatedly and left for dead in a paralytic state on a street the next morning.39 As late as March 1972, with Sheikh Mujib back and at the helm of government in Bangladesh, another mass killing of “Biharis” by Bengalis occurred in Khulna.40

Patterns of Violence: Some Preliminary Indicators

(i) Multiple parties in the conflict, each both perpetrator and victim of violence: Popular perceptions as well as “victor’s history” following India’s political, military and diplomatic triumph over Pakistan in 1971 and the emergence of Bangladesh have tended to portray the civil war in East Pakistan simply as the West Pakistani military regime suppressing the rebel Bengali province. Certainly the military regime of the time attempted to impose a military solution on a seemingly intractable political problem, with disastrous consequences. However, a closer look at the conflicts on the ground reveals a more complex reality, in which there were multiple parties in the conflict and each were both perpetrators and victims of violence in 1971.

To begin with, this was not a simple “west versus east” contest. With the notable exception of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, most political players in West Pakistan were amenable to transferring power to the Bengali nationalist party which had won the elections. On the other hand, Biharis as well as many Bengalis in East Pakistan were opposed to the break-up of the country. Bengali nationalist memoirs show a loyalist presence in practically every neighbourhood.

Some pro-liberation civilians also accuse Bengali military officers of being opportunists, who joined the independence struggle only after the military action endangered their own lives. They have little empathy with the difficult position Bengali members of the armed forces found themselves in, or that it was quite reasonable for many of them to have remained cautious as professionals until events overtook their oath of loyalty. Some among the Bengali military argue in return that it was they, not the politicians, who did the actual fighting.

Nor was violence the means adopted by only one side. Once the political contest polarised into support for a united Pakistan versus secession of Bangladesh, West Pakistanis, non-Bengali East Pakistanis (Biharis) and loyalist Bengalis were broadly ranged on the side of a united Pakistan, against pro-liberation Bengalis and their Indian allies. In the course of the war, members of each group used violence as the means to their ends and were also victims of violence.
(ii) Hatred fanned by attribution of “treason” to the “other” by both sides: Due to the successful emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country, it is sometimes overlooked that in 1971, the defence of the unity and integrity of Pakistan – espoused by Biharis and “loyalist” Bengalis including members of Islamic parties – was a legitimate political position, indeed the “patriotic” political position, as opposed to the secession proposed by pro-liberation Bengalis. The alliance of the latter with arch-enemy India was particularly “traitorous”.

To pro-liberation Bengalis, however, West Pakistan came to be seen as a “foreign occupier”, and Biharis and loyalist Bengalis who cooperated with the government were considered “traitors” to the Bengali cause. Both political positions were legitimate, but each side was entirely intolerant of the other’s perspective. The intolerance was particularly bitter between loyalist and secessionist Bengalis. The hatred fanned by the civil war was considerably heightened by the attribution of “treason” by each side upon the other, and contributed to the brutality with which the war was fought.
(iii) Brutality and humanity found in all warring parties: While the excessive force used by the Pakistan army in the course of putting down the rebellion in East Pakistan, along with allegations of atrocities, has received greater public attention, the examination of incidents of violence at the ground level bear out Sisson and Rose’s conclusion that “One thing is clear – the atrocities did not just go one way, though Bengali Muslims and Hindus were certainly the main victims.”41 Many Bengali victims, Muslim or Hindu, are also found to have suffered at the hands of other Bengalis.

It is likely that, even after discounting exaggerations, the armed forces and loyalist Bengalis may be responsible for a greater proportion of casualties, due to greater fire power and a longer period of holding the “upper hand”, following military action on March 25. However, pro-liberation Bengalis also adopted violence as the means to their end and their leadership did not uphold or enforce a principled stand against violence towards unarmed people and political opponents, presumed or real. In many areas, pro-liberation Bengalis’ violence towards perceived opponents abated only upon the arrival of the army and re-surfaced as soon as the war ended. The culture of violence fomented by the conflict of 1971 forms the context of subsequent events in Bangladesh.

The case studies show that brutalities were committed by all parties in the conflict and no party is in a position to occupy the moral high ground on this question without first acknowledging and expressing remorse for the inhumanities committed by its own side. Both sides must be held equally accountable in terms of the nature of the crime. Equally, acts of humanity in the midst of a bitter conflict are found on all sides, with Bengalis, Biharis and West Pakistanis helping one another in the midst of mayhem. Indeed, it is this reality that makes the conflict in East Pakistan in 1971 suitable to a “reconciliatory” approach, rather than a recriminatory one.
(iv) Inconsistent evidence on targeting of Hindus: To the West Pakistani authorities as well as many Bengali Muslims, Bengali Hindus were a suspect population on the basis of their religious affinity to India. In a civil war in which the secessionists were allied with India, the Hindus of East Pakistan were in a very vulnerable position.

However, the case studies reveal contradictory evidence on the targeting of Hindus. The attack on Shankharipara in old Dhaka during “Operation Searchlight” appears to have been on the basis of religion. Of professors targeted at Dhaka University, Guhathakurta (a Hindu) was asked his religion before being shot, but the other faculty member killed with him was Maniruzzaman (a Muslim). In fact, as three relatives were killed with. Maniruzzaman, four Muslims and one Hindu were killed at that particular building that night. Clearly, factors other than religion were also at play.

The Hindu villagers of Khulna who were fleeing to India via Chuknagar in May say they were doing so due to harassment – by local Bengali Muslims, not the West Pakistani military. Local Bengali Muslims also appear to have gained the most materially by the distress sales of the Hindu refugees, as also from the loot from the dead at Chuknagar. However, the killing of Hindu males was done by the armed forces.

One male Hindu refugee, Nitai Gayen, who survived the shooting at Chuknagar, offered this as explanation of why he was targeted: “I don’t think they targeted us (male refugees) because we were Hindus. I think they targeted us because they considered us the “enemy”. We were going to India. Some of us would return, and we would not return empty-handed.”42 In the end, in spite of the vulnerability of the Hindu population, the internal conflict remained predominantly a war of Muslims against other Muslims.
(v) Ethnicisation of “enemy” and “ally”: The case studies show a striking tendency to “ethnicise” the “enemy” or the “ally” in terms of regional ethnic identity. Pro-liberation Bengalis defined their identity in terms of language, hence the non-Bengali people of East Pakistan, collectively referred to as Biharis, became marked as the “enemy” along with West Pakistanis, who were often collectively referred to as “Punjabis” regardless of whether they were from Punjab or not.

However, in the case studies, when Bengalis did make a distinction among West Pakistanis, a noticeable number identified “better” or “more humane” members of the West Pakistani armed forces as “Beluchi” – ethnic Baloch people. People in towns and villages, men and women, with different experiences of violent conflict, mentioned “Beluchis” as a better sort among West Pakistanis. Small kindnesses, such as someone slipping food to prisoners under interrogation, or an officer rescuing a boy from forced labour – were attributed to the person being a “Beluchi”.

This is intriguing, as the proportion of ethnic Balochis is low in the Pakistan army, “Baloch” regiments are not exclusively comprised of ethnic Balochis, and most Bengalis were not in a position to distinguish among West Pakistanis on the basis of appearance. The characterisation may be due to a feeling of solidarity towards Balochi people as another oppressed group. General Tikka Khan, who was sent as governor to East Pakistan in 1971 and launched the military action, was also known as the “butcher of Balochistan”. Some of the feeling may be retrospective, given the Baloch uprising of 1973 which was crushed with great force by the regime of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

The second group identified as “better” by Bengalis was “Pathans”. While recounting the two cases in Rajshahi where one village had suffered a mass killing of men, while the other had not, the villagers stated – as if by explanation – that the officer who did the killing was a “Punjabi”, while the one who did not was “Pathan”. As an ethnic group, “Punjabis” come in for an almost complete demonisation, with only the rare acknowledgement of the possibility that there might be some “good” Punjabis as well.43
(vi) Pakistan army’s actions marked by a pattern of targeting of adult males while sparing women and children: The case studies show a clear pattern by the Pakistan army of targeting adult males and sparing women and children as they recaptured control of the territory after March 25. The officer at the faculty quarters in Dhaka University during “Operation Searchlight” assured Guhathakurta’s wife that there was no danger to her and her daughter, but all the young men at Maniruzzaman’s apartment were killed with him. In the village in Rajshahi, women and children were separated and sent away before the men were interrogated and killed. At Chuknagar, even amidst the melee of refugees, adult men were shot while women and children all around them remained unhurt. Only men were assembled and killed at Boroitola in Mymensingh.
(vii) Mob violence involved indiscriminate killing of men, women and children: Mob violence, such as the massacre of Biharis by Bengalis at Crescent Jute Mills in Khulna referred to earlier, involved indiscriminate killing of men, women and children. Large-scale incidents of “Bihari”-Bengali ethnic violence appear to have involved indiscriminate killing.
(viii) No rape of women by Pakistan army found in the specific case studies: In all of the incidents involving the Pakistan army in the case studies, the armed forces were found not to have raped women. While this cannot be extrapolated beyond the few specific incidents in this study, it is significant, as in the popular narrative the allegation of rape is often clubbed together with allegation of killing. Rape allegations were made in prior verbal discussions in some cases and in a published work on one of the incidents. However, Bengali eyewitnesses, participants and survivors of the incidents testified to the violence and killings, but also testified that no rape had taken place in these cases. While rape is known to occur in all situations of war, charges and counter-charges on rape form a particularly contentious issue in this conflict. The absence of this particular form of violence in these instances underlines the care that needs to be taken to distinguish between circumstances in which rape may have taken place from those in which it did not.


The analysis of the conflict of 1971 through in-depth study of ground-level incidents and cross-checking of primary material underlines the importance of a careful, evidence-based approach to this subject. As the biggest losers of 1971, West Pakistan and the Pakistan army in particular have remained defensive, in a state of denial, or silent about the events of that year. Bangladeshis are understandably more voluble about the birth of their country, but have done less well at systematic historical record-keeping, and a vast proportion of literature put out on 1971 is marred by unsubstantiated sensationalism.

There is also the cultivation of an unhealthy “victim culture” by some of the pro-liberationists – hence the people of Chuknagar complain about being left out of the official history books and vie to establish their village as the site of the “biggest mass killing” in the country, and people are instigated at the national level to engage in a ghoulish competition with six million Jews in order to gain international attention. These tendencies hamper the systematic study of the conflict of 1971 and hinder a true understanding of a cataclysmic restructuring in modern south Asian history.

The civil war of 1971 was fought between those who believed they were fighting for a united Pakistan and those who believed their chance for justice and progress lay in an independent Bangladesh. Both were legitimate political positions. All parties in this conflict embraced violence as a means to the end, all committed acts of brutality outside accepted norms of warfare, and all had their share of humanity. These attributes make the 1971 conflict particularly suitable for efforts towards reconciliation, rather than the recrimination that has so far been its hallmark.



[An earlier version of this paper served as the basis for the author’s presentation at the conference ‘South Asia in Crisis: United States Policy 1961-72’, US State Department, Washington, DC, June 28-29, 2005.]

1 This was the first “free and fair” election on universal suffrage held in Pakistan, as promised by the new military ruler General Yahya Khan when he took over in 1969 from General Ayub Khan who had ruled since 1958. The Bengali nationalist party Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with a manifesto that stood for autonomy or secession, depending on one’s perspective, won an overwhelming victory in East Pakistan, but not a single seat in West Pakistan. Yet, due to the Bengali population being greater, this gave them majority in the national assembly. The People’s Party led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto won a majority of seats in the West, but not a single one in the East. Negotiations among the political parties, brokered by the military regime, to chart a way through this polarised result, dragged on till their collapse on March 25, 1971, when the regime launched military action to crush the rebellion in East Pakistan.
2 Bengalis referred to Ismailis as “Agakhanis” or “from Bombay”, and usually lumped all West Pakistanis together as “Punjabis”.
3 The only comprehensive scholarly study of the 1971 conflict remains Richard Sisson and Leo Rose’s impressive work, War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh (University of California Press, Berkeley, 1990). Some military officers of all three countries have written memoirs. In Bangladesh there is a virtual cottage industry of literature on 1971 in the Bengali language, mostly of a very poor quality, both due to a lack of a systematic approach and the use of dubious and unreliable information. The best primary material is the series of short accounts by participants or eyewitnesses edited by Rashid Haider, published by the Bangla Academy, and a few personal memoirs.
4 Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976 (FRUS), Vol XI, ‘South Asia Crisis, 1971’, 2005, pp 36-37. In another phone conversation with Kissinger the next day, President Nixon says, “The main thing to do is to keep cool and not do anything. There is nothing in it for us either way.”
5 Memorandum from the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger) to President Nixon, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Vol XI, ‘South Asia Crisis, 1971’, 2005, pp 17-20.
6 For example, Jahanara Imam, Ekattorer Dinguli (Sandhani Prakashani, Dhaka, 1986), who also found bomb-making material in her own son’s room; Archer Blood, The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh: Memoirs of an American Diplomat (The University Press, Dhaka, 2002). Anthony Mascarenhas mentions “shot guns, swords, home-made spears, bamboo poles and iron rods” as some of the weapons people brought as they gathered to hear Mujib (Mascarenhas, The Rape of Bangladesh (Vikas Publications, Delhi, 1971), p 99).
7 Kaliranjan Shil, ‘Jagannath Hall-ei chhilam’ in Rashid Haider (ed), 1971: Bhayabaha Abhignata (Sahitya Prakash, Dhaka, 1996).
8 Mascarenhas (1971), ‘25 Days to Remember’. Some Bengalis privately acknowledged to this author that there were attacks upon non-Bengalis during this period.
9 Major General H A Qureishi, The 1971 Indo-Pak War, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2003, pp 16-17.
10 Mascarenhas (1971), p 105. Mascarenhas was among a group of Pakistani journalists taken on a tour of East Pakistan by the military authorities in April 1971. He fled to Britain and his report on the brutal suppression of the rebellion was published in the Sunday Times.
11 Shil in Haider (ed) (1996).
12 Tape recording of communications among Pakistan army units on the night of March 25-26, 1971, made by M M Hussain, Atomic Energy Centre, Dhaka, recorded at Khilgaon Chowdhury Para, Dhaka. Archives of the Liberation War Museum, Dhaka.
13 Author’s interview, Rabindra Mohan Das, Dhaka University, 2005. Lieutenant General Kamal Matinuddin, Tragedy of Errors: East Pakistan Crisis 1968-1971 (Services Book Club, Lahore, 1993), p 250. Film footage of apparent executions in the games field outside the student halls, taken by Nurul Ula, appears not to have been preserved in any relevant museum in Bangladesh. Ula’s account, ‘Gonohatyar chhobi’, is in Haider (ed) (1996).
14 Author’s interview with Lieutenant General A A K Niazi, Lahore, 2003. See also his book, The Betrayal of East Pakistan (Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2002).
15 Nazrul Islam, ‘Shorir-bhedi Bullet’ in Haider (ed) (1996).
16 In a meeting held at San Clemente, California, on March 31, Kissinger enquires, “Did they kill Professor Razak? He was one of my students.” David Blee of the CIA replies, “I think so. They killed a lot of people at the university” (FRUS, Vol XI, p 42). Actually, Razak lived in the same building as Guhathakurta, but was not killed. Dhaka University sources opine that he was likely a “fellow student”, not a student, of Kissinger.
17 Author’s interview with Major General Ghulam Umar, Karachi, 2005.
18 Basanti Guhathakurta, Ekattorer Smriti (University Press, Dhaka, 2000); author’s interview with Meghna Guhathakurta, daughter of Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta, Dhaka University, 2005. Another faculty member’s experience is in Md Anisur Rahman, My Story of 1971 (Liberation War Museum, Dhaka, 2001).
19 Blood (2002), p 198; Mascarenhas (1971), p 114.
20 Author’s interviews of survivors at Shankharipara, Dhaka, 2004-05. The difficulty of documenting events of 1971 and the need for meticulous verification is highlighted by the fact that even in a publication of the Liberation War Museum, Dhaka, a photo of Chandhan Sur’s body, dressed in the traditional “lungi”, is mislabelled as a woman allegedly raped and killed with her child.
21 Government of Pakistan’s official position is that plans for the mutiny were already in place and that theirs was a pre-emptive action.
22 Author’s interviews, Mymensingh. The mutiny in Mymensingh is cited also in the Government of Pakistan’s White Paper of August 1971.
23 Major General K M Safiullah, ‘Aloukik jibanlabh’ in Haider (ed) (1996). Author’s translation from Bengali. Similar realism is expressed by Shamsher M Chowdhury, then adjutant to Major Zia, recounting his capture by former colleagues of the Pakistani forces, in ‘Chhoybar mrityudanda’, Haider (ed) (1996). Decorated by Bangladesh for his role in the liberation war, Chowdhury is currently Bangladesh’s ambassador to Washington.
24 Anthony Mascarenhas’ report in the Sunday Times on the suppression of the rebellion in East Pakistan was a searing indictment of the military action. However, in that report he also wrote, “First it was the massacre of non-Bengalis in a savage outburst of Bengali hatred. Now it was massacre deliberately carried out by the West Pakistan army.” His account contains grisly allegations of butchery and rape by Bengalis against “Bihari” men, women and children, with an estimated death toll in the same range as alleged Bengali victims later. (Mascarenhas, Sunday Times, June 13, 1971).
25 Author’s interviews with Bengali mill workers and “Bihari” settlers, Khulna, 2004. Both groups confirm large-scale killing of “Biharis”, but differ on estimate of casualties. Bengalis also recounted death-squad type killings of Bengalis by ‘Biharis’ in the following months, when “Biharis”, as supporters of the government, had the upper hand, and again revenge killings by Bengalis of “Biharis” following Bangladesh’s independence.
26 Many incidents of Bengalis killing “Biharis” are listed in the government White Paper of August, 1971. Some are recounted in memoirs of army officers. Inexplicably, the Pakistan government did not publicise the alleged killings at the time, reducing the credibility of the White Paper later in the year. Bengali accounts typically only recount “Bihari” violence against Bengalis.
27 Author’s interviews, Satiarchora 2004. Later in the year, the rebels were better organised in the Tangail area under Kader Siddiqi, whom General Niazi mentions as well as the one well-organised rebel force [Niazi 2002:216].
28 Major General A O Mitha’s autobiography, Unlikely Beginnings: A Soldier’s Life (Oxford University Press, Karachi, 2003) is one of the best of its kind (pp 343-44).
29 Author’s interviews with villagers who were eyewitnesses and survivors, including the only man whose life was spared by the officer in charge and another who survived multiple bullet injuries and crawled out of the stack of burning dead bodies, Rajshahi, 2004. Both are remarkable in the way they have coped with their trauma and the thoughtful and level-headed way they recount their experience.
30 Author’s interviews at Chuknagar and surrounding villages of widows and mothers of victims, male survivors, eyewitnesses and those who disposed of the bodies, 2004-05. The trigger for the army action on that particular day is unclear, but is believed to be based on information provided by local Bengali loyalists.
31 Blood (2002), pp 216-17.
32 In a curious twist, there is suspicion of the Naxalites having formed a tactical alliance with the Pakistanis [Niazi 1998], p 66; also accounts of some individual “Muktijoddhas”.
33 Author’s interviews, including with Abul Barak Alvi, a member of the underground group, who managed to talk his way out of custody. Many individual memoirs are published in Bengali, e g, Haider (ed) (1996). One moving human account is Ekattorer Dinguli by Jahanara Imam, whose son Rumi was one of these young men, presumed executed after his capture on August 29.
34 Author’s interviews with a survivor of the shooting and local rebel fighters, 2004.
35 The “Al-Badr” and “Al-Shams” were “Razakar” or loyalist forces raised locally. General Niazi writes that due to lack of adequate training and poor availability of weapons for them, some West Pakistani police and non-Bengali elements were mixed with them [Niazi 1998:79]. However, eyewitness accounts of the December pick-ups describe the men involved as Bengalis.
36 Interview with Shyamoli Nasreen Chowdhury, Chowdhury’s widow, his daughter and brother. Shyamoli Chowdhury’s account of what happened and those of the relatives or friends of many of the other victims, are published in the series Smriti 1971 (Bangla Academy) and also Haider (ed) (1996). I requested a meeting with Moulana Mannan, to be told that a stroke had left him bed-ridden and without the power of speech. Mannan had later become a minister in the Bangladeshi government and is the proprietor of a major newspaper there.
37 Dilawar Hossain, account reproduced in ‘Ekattorer Ghatok-dalalera ke Kothay’ (Muktijuddha Chetona Bikash Kendro, Dhaka, 1989).
38 Author’s discussions with former “muktijoddhas” in Mymensingh 2004.
39 The public bayoneting was reported at the time in the media. The vice-chancellor Syed Sajjad Husain’s ordeal is recounted in his book, The Wastes of Time: Reflections on the Decline and Fall of East Pakistan, (Notun Safar Prokashani, Dhaka, 1995).
40 Author’s discussions with Bengalis and “Biharis” in Khulna, 2004.
41 Sisson and Rose (1990), p 306.
42 Interview with author, Khulna, 2004.
43 Not all Bengalis seem aware of the irony that General Yahya Khan was a (Persian-origin) Pathan, as was General Niazi, the Eastern commander (though from Punjab), while many of the Indian “liberators” warmly embraced by Bangladeshis were Punjabis!


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Anatomy of Violence: Analysis of Civil War in East Pakistan in 1971