Another promising man in New Twenty was Mr Akhtaruddin Ahmad. A barrister by profession, he had married into the Ahsan Manzil family, his wife being the daughter of Khwaja Nasrullah, son of Nawab Salimullah. He was in his middle forties. His family belonged to Barisal district.
I noticed that he had turned extremely religious. What surprised me even more was that in his reaction against the indifference towards religion of his earlier days, he had swung over to a form of religious bigotry and superstition. Not knowing any Arabic and not having much knowledge of religious texts even in translation, he had begun to develop an uncritical reverence for everything associated with them. In his present frame of mind, he was deeply suspicious of rationalism in any form; he would not condemn even the wildest pranks of Muslim fanatics, lest he should offend against some unknown canon.
A discussion one day on what is meant by civilisation revealed how far his surrender to faith had taken him. He argued that we had no right to regard even the most primitive communities as uncivilised. Did they not possess feelings of love, sympathy and charity? Did they not in their own ways worship God? I pointed out that while love, sympathy and charity were undoubtedly essential to civilisation, the word had another signification which implied the possession by the civilised of certain material goods and technical skills. Thus a community which did not know the use of metals or the wheel, which did not know agriculture or how to build houses, could be designated as primitive and uncivilised. Mr Akhtaruddin emphatically disagreed, saying that these criteria had been set up quite arbitrarily and that God did not classify communities into uncivilised and civilised. I found it difficult to pursue the argument; I realised that I was talking to someone determined not to allow what he had learnt in school and college to influence his judgement. I fell back finally upon the plea that communities which had not arrived at the acceptance of God should at least be called uncivilised, no matter what their technical accomplishments. This seemed to satisfy him or at least helped me to get out of his labyrinthine logic.
It was this mixture of logic and unreason, of truth and fancy, that characterised Mr Akhtaruddin's attitude. In purely worldly affairs, he behaved as any lawyer like him would; he was shrewd, intelligent, bold. But mention religion and he immediately relapsed into a state which bordered on the puerile. Obviously shaken by the tragedy of 1971 and the misfortunes which had befallen him, he was seeking some relief in a surrender to religious authority, hoping to derive from this source both consolation and a solution to his troubles. People in Europe and America who join the Catholic Church after a period spent in the communist movement display the same distrust of rational thinking in religious matters. Very few defect from communism to Protestantism. Catholicism with its rejection of rationalism as a religious test provides a surer refuge from the dogmatism of Marxism. The parallels must not be stretched too far, but it helps one to understand what had happened in the case of Mr Akhtaruddin.
I watched him day after day going punctiliously through all the rituals of the Faith, praying, fasting, studying the Scriptures, listening to others reading from theological works. Yet all this left the other side of his life unaffected; it didn’t appear that he valued truthfulness, kindliness, courtesy, charity any more than others. When he discussed politics, he did not give the impression of approaching it from an unorthodox angle because of his piety. Here, I said to myself, was clear evidence of a dichotomy between the spiritual and the secular aspects of a man’s life, such as had plagued the rulers of Pakistan for two decades. But I hoped that his intelligence, his legal training and an innate boldness in his attitude towards things would enable him to play a useful part in the future.
Of obscurantism as well as religious simplicity, the most striking instance that I came across in prison was Maulana Mukhlesur Rahman. He was best known as the founder of an orphanage at Tejgaon on the outskirts of Dacca, which was heavily bombed in December 1971 by the Indians. Over three hundred, most of them young children, are reported to have lost their lives in this raid. A man of over seventy-five, Maulana Mukhlesur Rahman was in many ways a remarkable personality. He told us that he had been jailed seven times before. He began his life as a Congressite, drifting into the Terrorist Movement of the twenties (he seemed now somewhat ashamed of his association with the Terrorists, for he was reluctant to answer questions on this phase very frankly). He was connected with the Khilafat Movement of the thirties; it was to this that he owed his first baptism in prison life. Subsequently as far as I could gather from his conversation, he worked for the peasant movement led by Mr A.K. Fazlul Huq, retaining however his faith in the Congress ideals. Nineteen hundred and forty-six found him fighting the Muslim League on the Pakistan issue as an independent. According to his own story, he renounced politics after the establishment of Pakistan, sold his business soon after (he had been a timber merchant), and decided to devote himself to missionary work.
The Tejgaon orphanage founded by him early in the sixties combined missionary work with the care of orphans the aim being to train the children in Islam. It depended on public charity, and, before December 1971, used to provide a home for over seven hundred children and adolescents, male and female. The Maulana had gathered around him a band of dedicated workers who looked upon him as a spiritual teacher.
Wholly self-educated, Maulana Mukhlesur Rahman knew Urdu very well, could read, understand and write English, and had a good acquaintance with Arabic and Persian. He had tried, he used to say, to study all the commentaries on the Quran. Talking to him, one realised that formal education has its advantages. For the Mualana having read things unsystematically, mainly on his own, without much guidance, had developed into a curious bundle of paradoxes and contradictions, an odd mixture of learning and ignorance, a fantastic blend of enlightenment and superstition. He held, quite rightly it seemed to me, that love of one’s fellow beings was of the essence of religion; he himself was kind and considerate in his behaviour. But with this went an intolerance towards anything that appeared to him contrary to the letter of the religious law. It was difficult to convince him that his own interpretation of a point might not be accurate, that there were other authoritative sources than those he knew or that one could without being a heretic subscribe to a viewpoint entirely different from his. I got into trouble one day by saying that the ablutions insisted upon before prayer had a symbolic significance in addition to their purificatory function. They were, I said, meant to be a conscious mental preparation for the devotions. He felt upset at the use of the term ‘symbolic’. It was new to him; he had never encountered it in the books he knew. His protest took the form of a solemn declaration that what I said amounted to heresy. It took me quite sometime to explain what symbolism meant but I don’t believe he was satisfied. On a different occasion, irked by our attempt to place a philosophical construction on a Quranic statement, he roundly announced that philosophy was the root of all evil and its study should be banned in an Islamic society. We found some of his interpretations amusing. Thus he declared one day that he was doubtful whether singlet and lungi, which was our common dress in prison in the summer was the right apparel for a person praying; the Prophet had insisted on the appropriateness of a worshipper’s garments. He was silenced only when it was pointed out that there was no mention of singlet or shirt in the Hadith and that any argument in favour of one or the other would be a sort of heresy. This time we beat him on his own ground.
The fact is that Maulana Mukhlesur Rahman found it both unnecessary and dangerous to think. He tried to cling for spiritual safety to what the authorities said. It never occurred to him that the authorities themselves differed on many points, and that his own selection of some of them in preference to others involved the exercise of judgement and discrimination. Occasionally his religious intolerance, limited in prison necessarily to words rather than actions most of the time, became really troublesome. He would utter plainly discourteous sentiments without bothering to understand that they could hurt.
At the same time that I am saying this, I would observe that there was in him a kind of otherworldly simplicity, naiveté and guilelessness, which won him admirers. It was not affectation. The utter helplessness he betrayed in certain matter proved it. He did not know, for instance, how to make himself a cup of milk out of milk-powder, or how to distinguish between a cardigan meant for women and one intended for males. Canned food frightened him.
What was amazing was that this man, with his intolerance, simplicity and naiveté possessed also extra-ordinary powers of organisation. His orphanage, a ramshackle affair in many ways, was a remarkable institution, an educational experiment a combination of school and polytechnic and monastery, served loyally by his followers. They were subjected to repression after the establishment of Bangladesh on account of their attachment to Islam, pursued by the Mukti Bahini and the police, and persecuted. The orphanage was pillaged. But this experience had done little to reduce the Maulana’s fervour or the ardour of his zeal. At seventy-six, he looked forward to paying a visit to Britain to open a branch of his mission.
On the subject of Pakistan, his attitude was ambivalent. He deplored the tragedy that led to its breakdown, but would repeat the crudest stories about Pakistani soldiers. He fully accepted the Awami League sponsored myth that millions of people were tortured and killed and thousands of women molested. He told me how a friend of his, an ardent Awami Leaguer had discovered in December 1971 a concentration camp for women in the Chittagong area where six hundred females, completely nude were found cowering in terror. When approached by their rescuers, they waved them away, asking them to come with clothes. An astonishing story, if true, of human cruelty and barbarity. But I asked him why such a fact had never been made public, when the Awami League went about daily saying how over two hundred thousand women had been dishonoured by the Pakistani army. A report of this sort vouched for by eye-witnesses would impress foreign audiences better than vague descriptions. Here was something in which truth outdistanced action. But the puzzling fact remained that it had been carefully withheld from the public so far. Certainly, this could not be due to any anxiety on the Awami League’s part to save Pakistani soldiers from discredit. Could be that the Maulana’s friend had invented the whole thing to persuade him of the wickedness of the Pakistanis?
After listening to my analysis, the Maulana agreed that what he had been told must have been pure falsehood. But his initial readiness to swallow this astounding lie was proof both of his simplicity and of the ambivalence of his attitude towards the concept of Pakistan.
These were a cross-section of my companions in prison for two years. The more closely I watched them, the greater my feeling of isolation and loneliness. It is not that they were not friendly. Except for minor hitches on rare occasions which are perhaps unavoidable when large numbers of people from differing backgrounds are thrown together, we got on fairly well. But I felt that I little understood their minds; they for their part must have had the same feeling about me. What depressed me most of all was the realisation that we were not agreed even after the terrible experiences of 1971, on what Pakistan had meant to us.
"We are merely cheated of our lives by drunkards." -Shakespeare
Never before in the history of the Dacca Central Jail had so many educated people been so packed into its cells. There were five Ph. D's, all University teachers; there were barristers trained abroad; one High Court Judge; several senior Civil servants; the Director General of Radio Pakistan, Dacca; a Doctor who was an M. R. C. P.; Lawyers; scores of theologians and over a hundred College and University students. These people were utterly unlike any prisoners the jail staff might have seen in the past, and caused them both embarrassment and difficulties. Hate them as they might, they knew they were not criminals and intellectually and socially much superior to themselves as well as to the present ruling clique. Of these only a very small fraction about a hundred and fifty at the most, were placed in Division I; the rest had to fend for themselves as best they might in the Khata.
Although we never met, except on Eid days, and that also very briefly (for we were herded back into our respective cells immediately after the prayers), news of what was happening in the Khatas reached us regularly through the Faltus who spent their nights with them. The first impression I formed on the basis of these reports was that their faith in Pakistan rested on much stronger foundations than was the case with the better-known people, of some of whom I spoke earlier. Allowing again for hyperbole and exaggeration, it appeared that very few of these men were prepared to recant or anxious to purchase their freedom by repudiating their past. They did not regret having supported Pakistan; they did not believe that Bangladesh was a good thing; they were convinced that worse trials lay ahead; they were determined, no matter what happened, to preserve their loyalty to their ideals.
Less educated prisoners, many of whom had joined the Volunteers’ Corps known as Razakars, shared this determination. Even the most persecuted ones, those whose homes had been pillaged or who had lost their parents or relations in the Civil War, showed no weakening. Their firmness was both a rebuke to weaker spirits among Division One prisoners and a comfort to those who tended to be despondent about the future. Particularly remarkable seemed to me the fortitude of a family of four brothers, the youngest a child of thirteen, who had lost their father, a brother, and a brother-in-law. All three, noted in their locality for their piety and theological learning, had been abducted and later slaughtered. The father had been the superintendent of a religious seminary, a Madrasah in Dacca district. Their house and property had also been plundered. Left behind at home were the mother, the widowed sister with several young children, and another unmarried sister. But I was amazed to notice that neither Baker, a young man of about eighteen who worked as Faltu for us for about a couple of months, nor his brother whom I met later betrayed the least sign of backsliding. He did not think he had been misguided in his loyalty to Islam and Pakistan; he bore his sufferings with forbearance, trusting to God's mercy and justice. Baker knew the Quran by heart. His courtesy, his patience his humility were a lesson at least to me.
I remember another young man, Mujib who looked after me for several weeks in the jail hospital. He was also an ex-Razakar. He had visited Agartala in 1971 in disguise and had seen with his own eyes how bearded Muslims suspected of Pakistani sympathies were caught and sacrificed before the goddess Kali. The experience had only redoubled his determination to free East Pakistan from the yoke of the tyrants who had subjugated it.
Baker and Mujib were typical of hundreds of young men languishing in prison on vague charges. Many of their comrades had been tortured to death after the establishment of Bangladesh. Those who found their way into prison were lucky to have escaped a worse fate. But their courage remained undaunted. The more intelligent among them had already started planning their future. They did not know when their present agony would end. A long absence in prison, of two or three or twenty years, seemed to be in prospect. But they were certain that deliverance would eventually come, and they were preparing themselves for the tasks that lay ahead.
They and their more aged compeers transformed the prison into a vast monastery by their devotions and spiritual exercises. Day and night the chanting of scriptures and the repetition of the prayers went on. They prayed in the intervals of their prison labours; those who did not know the formulae for prayer turned to others for assistance. Each evening after the cells were locked up there arose from them a chorus of voices repeating verses from the Quran from memory, the sound of congregational prayers, the rhythmic repetition of set formulae. Those who had any training in theology were persuaded to give discourses on religion. Only an insignif1cant minority consisting of people picked up indiscriminately from the streets who actually had nothing to do with politics did not cooperate.
In this respect there was not much of a difference between Khata and Division. Prisoners of either category exhibited a religious zeal remarkable for its fervour, an attachment to the institutions of prayer and fasting notable for its ardour.
Much of it was undoubtedly sincere. Many confessed that adversity had opened their eyes. Some doubtless belonged to that group of weaklings who turn to God in moments of crisis and relapse into Godlessness when the crisis passes. Freed from prison they would probably resume their old sinful ways. It is also worth remarking that as far as their general conduct was concerned, the majority did not appear to me to have undergone any sea-change. They conformed to the usual pattern so ubiquitous in our country, which was composed of religiosity, piety, hypocrisy and deceit. How could it change so quickly?
But of one thing I felt sure. There was no element of hypocrisy in their support for the ideal of Pakistan and Islam. Naturally, they understood and interpreted both in the light of their own experience and background. A sophist might trace flaws in their beliefs, a logician inconsistencies in their convictions, a materialist contradictions in their ideas. So analysed and scrutinised, very few would be seen to hold logically irrefutable beliefs. Ordinary men are not logicians or philosophers. They have only an instinctive awareness of the essence of things. Pressed to say why they prefer one set of beliefs to another, or one kind of ideology to another, they would give the most elementary arguments, the crudest theories. A well-trained theoretician could tear those arguments and theories to pieces in the twinkling of an eye. But logic and conviction are different propositions. And in the present instance these people had nothing to gain by being insincere about Pakistan. Apostasy would pay better. Some well-known persons who escaped arrest had turned a somersault and started refuting their own past utterances to ingratiate themselves with the present regime. A typical example, judging from the scanty newspaper reports reaching us in prison, was Principal Ebrahim Khan. A strong supporter of the Muslim League before 1971, a man whose fulsome flattery of President Ayub Khan had embarrassed his circle, he now in his old age, turned his back upon his past and was saying that the ‘liberation’ achieved by the Awami League fulfilled his own vision of the destiny of the Bengali people. Couldn’t he like many others have remained silent? Or did this indeed reflect his true beliefs? Either way he revealed himself as a ‘great hypocrite’ a turncoat, a liar. If what he said now was true, he must have been lying during the twenty-three years that Pakistan lasted; and if his present utterances were meant to ward off his enemies and to draw a red herring across their trail, he was employing a hypocritical device for self-defence. A dignified posture of detachment and reticence would have been more appropriate at his age.
When I thought of him, I contrasted him, to his disadvantage, with his friend and contemporary, Mr Abul Kalam Shamsuddin who rose to fame in the thirties and forties as the editor of the daily Azad. No man held stronger beliefs on the question of Pakistan. There was a time shortly after 16 December 1971, when I thought he must have been arrested or killed. But he had luckily survived. But no newspaper reported any statement or speech by him to the effect that the events of 1971 had brought him deliverance from the bondage that Pakistan was. One could sympathise with his reticence and respect him for it.
Dewan Muhammad Azraf was also playing a role not unlike Principal Ebrahim Khan’s. He went about presiding over seminars and meetings in celebration of the victory of the Bengalis. He too like Mr. Ebrahim Khan had been a strong Pakistani. But he seemed more circumspect and cautious than the latter. Principal Ebrahim Khan had a daughter, Khalida Edib Khanam, who had earned notoriety in the Pakistani period as a woman of easy virtue, who used her sexual charm to seduce politicians. Newspapers reported her now issuing statements of one sort or another, calculated to draw a veil over her past and earn her the favour of the present rulers. Leopards cannot change their spots; nor can men (and women) their habits. Dramatists, poets and novelists, Homers, Dantes, Shakespeares, Moliers, Balzacs and Dickenses chronicle their antics, record their acrobatics, and draw philosophical conclusions from them. But the only truth which keeps its validity down the ages, I mean the only truth about human nature is ‘plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.’
Although the kind of heroism which defies death is rare all over the world, it is rarer in our society. There is an element of baseness in our character which prevents us from rising to great occasions, from responding to the dictates of honour, from thinking of anything but the most abject humiliations as a way out when confronted by a crisis. We recant easily; we lack firm convictions; we vacillate between right and wrong even when we know what is right and what is wrong. I shall never forget the sycophancy and hypocrisy of Rajshahi University teachers in April 1971 in the presence of the Army. The compelling motive behind the things they said and did was fear undoubtedly, but fear by itself does not wholly explain it. Men in other societies in a similar predicament have been known to behave differently. There was Nazim Mahmood, my Public Relations Officer, a rank atheist if there was one, a left-winger who surprised us all by deciding never to be without a cap in his waking hours and punctiliously attending all congregational prayers. A born coward, he thought cap and prayer would be an ideal disguise for his pusillanimity.
It is against this background that one must judge the firmness displayed by the so-called ‘Collaborators’ in prison, particularly those in the Khata. I rejoiced to think that all our men were not poltroons, that adversity, (and it was adversity of the most tragic kind) had really steeled their nerves and strengthened their sinews. This firmness was specially discernible among men between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five with a religious background. Those trained in the seminaries called Madrasahs stood out easily as a class apart. Their cool poise, their imperturbable courage, their indomitable optimism were encouraging omens. These young men were determined not to let their ideals die.
But why had these ideals suffered what they believed to be a temporary but calamitous reverse?
There was a great deal of soul-searching in progress among us. There was no one who was not preoccupied with the analysis of the causes which had led to the present situation. Everyone thought of himself, of course, first but no one denied that his fate was bound up with the country’s. Only a small group, among whom the most prominent were Mr Obaidullah Majumder and Solaiman, members of the erstwhile Malik cabinet, isolated themselves from the rest of us and openly said that they had blundered by aligning themselves with Pakistan at the moment of her death. They thought their salvation lay in confessing their crimes and obtaining a conditional absolution from the Sheikh, their surrogate for God. But the others, whose convictions were stronger, while bewailing their fate, did not know what had happened exactly.
Their assessments differed widely. Being wise after the event is a common human weakness, and many of us displayed astonishing degrees of hindsight. Mr A.T.M.A. Matin, the former Deputy Speaker, a comparatively unknown figure in the country’s politics found himself able to quote chapter and verse for the advice he claimed to have given the politicians in power from time to time, which, if followed would have averted disaster. The conspiracy against Pakistan should have been firmly nipped in the bud before it could flower into the demonstrations of 1969; Sheikh Mujibur Rahman should have been installed in power after the elections of 1970 in advance of the Constituent Assembly Session and permitted to rule and face an inevitable erosion of his popularity. Maulana Nuruzzaman maintained with great cogency that the seeds of Pakistan's disintegration lay in her failure to reconcile the practice of her rulers with the principles and ideals on which it had been founded. Some said the weakness shown in the handling of the language issue in the period from 1948 to 1950 had delivered the State into the enemy’s hands. Some felt in retrospect that a quick settlement on the basis of the Awami League’s Six points would have saved Pakistan. Some, while condemning the conspirators, spoke bitterly of the excesses committed by the Pakistan Army. A number of people held strongly that President Yahya and Mr Bhutto had betrayed an utter bankruptcy of statesmanship and played into Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s hands. A few thought the uprising of 1971 was made inevitable by the step-motherly treatment that East Pakistan had received from the Centre; they deplored the arrogance and political myopia of the West Pakistan leaders.
As regards the electoral crisis of 1970, opinion was divided. The fact that the parties opposed to the Awami League had failed to unite and form a joint front which could have been an alternative to it was seldom discussed, and if discussed, glossed over. The leaders seemed secretly ashamed of their part in the episode. None could say with a clean conscience that he for his part or on his party’s behalf had given a lead worth following. Everybody had been guilty of the same sort of blindness and selfishness. While disaster threatened, they had bickered over trifles, over the distribution of seats, the proportion that each claimed was due to him, not realising that the danger looming ahead was likely to exterminate them all, and that only by uniting could they hope to overcome it.
The opinions these people expressed went to show that few had yet recovered from the stunning effect of the 1971 tragedy, even fifteen months after it, most seemed to blink when they tried to see the 1971 events in perspective. Nothing like them was known to them. Wrestle as they might with the political and economic factors behind them, they still found them incomprehensible.
Historical perspective is impossible to command unless a certain amount of time has elapsed, unless one can stand at a certain distance from the events which one tries to judge. This applies to events of all kinds. But perspective can be of two kinds, closer and remoter. How an event of yesterday will look five hundred or a thousand years hence is very uncertain. Political changes in ancient Greece wear for us a complexion utterly unknown not only to the immediate successors of Herodotus and Thucydides and Polybius but even to the men of the Middle Ages. But assessments, fairly impartial, are perhaps possible when the events assessed cease to be topical in a narrow sense. Surely, the forces at work behind the First World War can be studied today with some detachment; the rise and fall of Napoleon must appear more distinctly for what it portended than it did to the men of the nineteenth century.
In the case of the 1971 tragedy neither kind of perspective is achievable today. We are both too near it in time and too involved to see the whole truth. But we realise bitterly and poignantly that a tragedy of the greatest magnitude entailing the enslavement of our homeland through the machinations of a group of Quislings has occurred.
To the question what made for the success of the Quislings there is no clear answer. It had seemed in 1971 that an overwhelming proportion of the East Pakistani public had been won over by them. But prison experience showed that there were in 1971 thousands of patriots willing to fight and die for the preservation of the country’s freedom. Why have they proved so ineffective?
In asking this question, I am voicing a doubt whose legitimacy itself will be challenged by many. They would say that the tragedy of 1971 meant the subjugation of a free area by superior military force, that the Quislings or fifth columnists inside could by no means have brought about the downfall of Pakistan but for the intervention of India. Much as I would like to accept this view, it is impossible for me to shut my eyes to the fact that vocal opinion inside East Pakistan had turned predominantly anti-Pakistani. One could sense the public’s hostility towards the very idea of Pakistan in the way people talked and behaved. India’s triumph lay in first bringing about this change in the climate of opinion and then exploiting it militarily. The first in my own opinion represents a much greater achievement than the second. Given superior military power, one country can conquer and subjugate another. Germany had subjugated France, Belgium and Holland in the Second World War. But did Germany succeed in subjugating the spirit of France or Belgium or Holland? There had been collaborators in these countries. Marshal Petain of France was the most notorious among them. A small section of the French public had also been behind the marshal. But no historian has been able to discover existence of a large body of French opinion supporting Hitler. Even Marshal Petain or M. Laval had never spoken of Hitler as the liberator of France, as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman spoke of Mrs. Indira Gandhi as the liberator of Bangladesh to the acclamation of thousands. Eminent foreigners like Andre Malraux and Jean Paul Sartre had viewed the conflict in East Pakistan as a war of national liberation. Although no figure of comparable stature in Britain or the U.S.A. had announced his adhesion to the cause of Bangladesh in the same unequivocal terms, there is no gainsaying the fact that the British and American press had by and large sided with the rebels. Some members of Parliament in Britain and a few Senators in the U.S.A. had not refrained from displaying open parties sympathies. A summary condemnation, characterising all of them as parties to the conspiracy against Pakistan, would not be convincing. They have been the dupes of a campaign mounted against Pakistan’s unity and integrity by her enemies, but the question that needs probing is; why did the campaign fool so many? What devices did it employ? What stratagems did it resort to in order to obtain such remarkable results? Can we isolate them?
There are, it seems to me, several aspects to the issue. Some such as the developments on the international front which determined the attitudes of the U.S.S.R., the U.S.A. and China we would find it difficult to judge correctly without further detailed information. Why did Russia decide to urge and help India to break Pakistan up? How to account for the lukewarm support given to Pakistan by both the USA and China? The part that India played is easier to understand against the background of her hatred for Pakistan. The role assigned to the Quislings headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is also clear. They were carrying out a behest on their masters’ behalf. What is more complicated is the reason why the population of East Pakistan allowed itself to be blinded by Sheikh Mujib’s propaganda.
Younger people under the age of thirty who had no clear recollections of what East Bengal had been like were less to blame than their elders. The latter knew that before the establishment of Pakistan, East Bengal had been a hinterland to Calcutta, feeding her industries with her jute, tea and hides and skins, supplying her markets with her fish, poultry, eggs, meat and vegetables, providing a captive market for finished goods flowing out of her mills and jobs for the unemployed. Undeveloped, virtually without rail and road communications, East Bengal had a definitely subordinate role assigned to her in the economy of the undivided province of Bengal; demands for improvement and development used to be openly opposed and resisted on the grounds that expenditure in this area would be uneconomic. Yet the myth sedulously propagated by the Awami League had aimed at painting the progress that took place in the Pakistan period as retrogression. Facts were suppressed; statistics distorted; and people were persuaded that East Pakistan was being ruthlessly exploited by the non-Bengali businessmen who had invested millions in this area. Investment which East Pakistan badly needed was termed capitalistic exploitation. How the province could have got on without outside capital, how the new industries could have been financed, where the entrepreneurial skills would have come from- were questions conveniently avoided. The worst and most vocal critics of the Pakistan regime were the new class of Bengali capitalists nursed into existence by the Central Government. Forgetting how they had come into being, they started fretting at the presence of non-Bengali rivals and dreaming of growing richer overnight by throwing them out.
It is a sad story of betrayal, treachery, foolishness, myopia, deception on one side and lack of forethought, unconcern, ignorance, want of sympathy, arrogance on the other. Together, they led to the cataclysm and tragedy of 1971, from which deliverance, if it comes at all, would be a slow process.
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