Sunday, September 2, 2012

Failure of Pakistani Intelligence in 1970-71 Crisis

VIEW : Intelligence fault lines: East Pakistan endgame — II — A R Siddiqi

Bhutto refused to attend the inaugural session of the National Assembly. He argued that it would be at the cost of West Pakistan

Elections under the LFO were scheduled for October 1970, the first ever on the basis of one-man-one-vote. In September-October, East Pakistan was hit by widespread floods necessitating indefinite postponement of the elections. Unlike West Pakistan reacting little, East Pakistan protested loudly against the postponement. The Awami League, under Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, projected the announcement as yet another move on the part of the regime to deny the people, especially those of the majority eastern wing, their only chance to come to power by democratic means.

The protest, however, simmered down after the initial outburst. The regime for its part without undue shilly-shallying announced December 7 as the new date for the general elections. Political parties/groups would be free to project their manifestoes and programmes consistent with the integrity, security and the ideology of the state. Mujib used his six-point agenda as his main election plank practically with no opposition from the government.

In the middle of November, East Pakistan was hit by devastating cyclones turning the whole province upside down. It might have been nothing less than doomsday itself. Besides its likely impact on the course and actual implementation of the elections scheduled for the first week of December, it had been a colossal human tragedy. Flying to the coastal Haitya, Bhola, Majidi Court areas, I saw whole shorelines littered with washed up, blackened corpses.

General Yahya flew over to Dhaka to oversee and guide the rescue operation himself.

In the midst of the mounting criticism of the army for failing to come to the rescue of the Bengalis spread rumours about yet another postponement of the elections scheduled for December 7. General Yahya held a press conference on November 29 to face a violent barrage of questions from the battery of foreign and own correspondents. He parried the questions with a remarkable firmness and dexterity. He raised his deep-throated voice to announce, come hell or high water, elections would be held as scheduled.

Back in West Pakistan, the intelligence wizards, Akbar, Umar and Rizvi, had been busy with their guesswork about the election outcome. Akbar (ISI) and Rizvi (IB) would forecast Mujib to end up with a maximum of 120 seats out of 162 allotted to the Awami League in the National Assembly. That was in spite of the turn of the tide for Awami League in the wake of the November cyclone. As for Umar, he went about his primacy task of getting and funding smaller political parties, mainly the Muslim League under Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan and the Jamaat-i-Islami to cut into the vote bank of the Awami League and the PPP to ensure a split verdict. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's PPP won 85 seats in the National Assembly out of the quota of 138 seats. Although the largest, it fell way short of his hopes to sweep the polls in West Pakistan. The Awami League took all the 162 seats in East Pakistan but one literally awarded to Mr Nurul Amin. Amongst split groups in West Pakistan, Wali Khan's National Awami Party, Qayyum's Muslim League together with the Jamaat-i-Islami and Mufti Mehmood's Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam (JUI) garnered the remaining 53 seats. Bhutto would thus not be able to call the shots in West Pakistan. Frustrated, he boycotted the inaugural session of the National Assembly General Yahya had announced for March 1 in Dhaka. That led to a deepening crisis ending with the military crackdown in Dhaka on March 25, 1971.

General Yahya cursed Rizvi (DIB) and resented Akbar (ISI) for their fanciful forecast about the election results. With some expected 20-25 National Assembly seats from East Pakistan, Bhutto's 85 and another 20-30 of other smaller groups in West Pakistan, General Yahya would have some 121 seats to make a reasonable tidy number to challenge Mujib. All the wishy-washy intelligence forecasts about Mujib ending with no more than 120 seats in the National Assembly left the regime without a political cover.

While the regime was being praised worldwide for holding the first ever fair elections on the basis of one-man one-vote, General Yahya, supported by Bhutto, was beginning to have second thoughts about the transfer of power. Bhutto refused to attend the inaugural session of the National Assembly. He argued that it would be at the cost of West Pakistan. The resulting PPP-Awami League confrontation led to the military crackdown on March 25. An ab initio ban was imposed on the Awami League, and Mujib was arrested together with his party men still in Dhaka.

Politics in East Pakistan came to a dead end to create a vacuum ideal for the intelligence sleuths to fill in. The ISI chief, General Akbar emerged as the man of the hour in East Pakistan with his tentacles further extended over there and greatly empowered in West Pakistan. Bhutto would back up Akbar. He would have his party organ the daily Musawat and its editor in-chief, Maulana Kausar Niazi function as a press arm of the regime. Jama'at-i-Islami's daily Jasarat in West Pakistan and the Dainik Shangram (Daily Jihad) from Dhaka enjoyed full financial support and moral backing of the ISI.

General Akbar, the DG ISI, recommended government advertisements for the papers (Endgame, Pp 34-35).

Akbar's crucial role as the intelligence chief came to light on May 5 when he met a handpicked group of foreign correspondents in Karachi. He dished out a paper to the foreign correspondents. The burden of his paper was based on Mujib's bid for secession, aborted by the timely intervention of the armed forces to save the country. He also went on to argue that it would be 'absolutely wrong' to call the East Pakistan uprising as a 'civil war'. It was only a 'rebellion' and a mutiny. Akbar's paper lost much of its value for its overly delayed issue on May 5, some five weeks after the military crackdown. Thenceforward intelligence, civil and military, went on from bad to worse until the Fall of Dhaka on December 16.

GHQ and HQ CMLA were still hoping for help from friends — the USA from the south (the Seventh Fleet) and China from the north. Whereas Akbar and Rizvi remained preoccupied with their intelligence work and analyses, General Umar had had much to do by the way mainly of contracting and funding second and third line parties and groups to play the spoiler. The administration would not have either of the two parties, Awami League in particular, emerge as a behemoth and call the shots after the elections. General Yahya in his drunken wisdom, and Bhutto in his single-minded pursuit of power at any cost, lost the baby with the bathwater. The majority wing was gone with some 50,000 soldiers and nearly as many civilians in Indian captivity.

'Reason gets tongue tied to explain the enigma.'


The writer is a retired brigadier and can be reached at

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