BANGLADESH Pakistan was born with two “wings”: the western wing was made up of the provinces of Punjab, Sindh, the Northwest Frontier, and Balochistan The western wing also included dozens of princely states East Bengal comprised the “eastern wing” of the country, separated from the western part by more than 1,600 kilometers of often hostile Indian territory Soon after the birth of Pakistan in 1947, the people of East Bengal gave a strong signal that the new state would be politically viable only if the leadership of the western wing was prepared to accommodate Bengali interests The first response from the leaders of West Pakistan came in 1948 when Governor-General Muhammad Ali Jinnah visited Dacca (Dhaka), the capital of East Bengal This was his first visit since his successful endeavors to create Pakistan, an independent state for the Muslims of British India Jinnah told his Dacca (Dhaka) audience that, for the sake of national unity, he wanted only one national language: Urdu In 1952, a similar suggestion from Prime Minister Khawaja Nazimuddin, himself from Bengal, led to bloody riots The language riots of 1952 were the turning point in East Bengal’s relations with the western wing Within 24 hours of Nazimuddin’s statement, the chief minister of East Bengal successfully carried through the provincial legislature a motion calling on the central government to adopt Bengali as one of the national languages
The full force of Bengali resentment at what was seen as the western wing’s political and economic domination and the insensitivity of its leaders toward Bengal’s legitimate demands was felt throughout the country, and in the provincial elections of 1954 the Muslim League was trounced by the United FrontFrom 1954 to 1971 Pakistan’s two wings remained attached, but the union was uncomfortable Some of the solutions sought served only to underscore the real nature of the relationship For instance, in 1955, the leaders of the western wing agreed to merge all the provinces and the princely states in the west into the One Unit of West Pakistan In this way, the western leaders tried to balance Bengal with their part of Pakistan From now on East Bengal was to be called East Pakistan and was to have an equal number of seats in the National Assembly, even though its population was larger than that of the western wing This was the formula of “political parity” that became the basis of the constitution of 1956 Parity between the country’s two wings was retained in the constitution of 1962, promulgated by President Muhammad Ayub Khan, but the highly restricted political activity permitted within the new political framework was seen as a major step backward by the leaders of East Pakistan By the close of the 1960s, however, Bengali nationalism began to reassert itself On 12 February 1966, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the leader of the Awami League and East Pakistan’s most popular politician, announced his Six Point Program for obtaining greater political and economic autonomy for his province Beginning in the spring of 1969, events moved rapidly
Muhammad Ayub Khan resigned in March He was succeeded as president by General Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan, the commander in chief of the Pakistan army, who imposed martial law and abrogated the constitution of 1962 Yahya Khan also promulgated an interim constitution under the name of the Legal Framework Order that did away with the principle of political parity and gave East Pakistan representation in the to-be-elected constituent Assembly on the basis of population Elections to the constituent Assembly were held in December 1970, in which Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League won a clear majority Had Yahya Khan kept his word for transferring power to the majority party, Mujibur Rahman would have become Pakistan’s first elected prime minister If that had happened, Pakistan might have succeeded in keeping together its two wings But Yahya Khan, encouraged by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, hesitated and postponed the convening of the Constituent Assembly This was a major blow for the hopes of the people of East Pakistan In a large public meeting held in Dacca (Dhaka) on 7 March 1971, Mujibur Rahman made an emotional statement that virtually amounted to a declaration of independence He was arrested soon after, flown to West Pakistan, and imprisoned in a town in Punjab The army followed these moves by attempting to quash the rebellion
The result was a civil war that lasted for nine months and led to the emergence of Bangladesh-the former East Pakistan-as an independent state on 17 December 1971It was revealed in a set of classified documents released by theUS Department of State on 27 February 2005, covering the period 1969 to 1972, that Washington believed that an overwhelming majority of UN members were against the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, but Russian vetoes prevented the UN Security Council from playing any role in resolving the crisis According to an assessment prepared by the US mission to the UN, “On 7 December, the UN General Assembly, acting under the Uniting for Peace procedure, recommended by an overwhelming majority a cease fire and withdrawal of troops to their own territories and the creation of conditions for voluntary return of [Bengali] refugees The vote showed the strong sentiment [104 members voting in favor while 11 abstained] in the United Nations against the use of military force to a member state Early attempts by Secretary General U Thant to persuade the permanent members of the Security Council to address the crisis over East Pakistan had foundered mainly on Soviet objections” Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who took over as president from General Yahya Khan in December 1971, moved quickly to normalize relations with Bangladesh Mujibur Rahman was released from prison and flown back to Dacca (Dhaka) where he was installed as president
On the eve of the Islamic summit held in Lahore in February 1974, Bhutto announced Pakistan’s recognition of Bangladesh In return for this gesture, Mujibur Rahman flew to Lahore to attend the meeting Bangladesh went through a number of political traumas after its birth in December 1971 Mujibur Rahman was assassinated in 1975 and the military assumed power in the country President Ziaur Rahman, the military leader, was himself assassinated in May 1981, and was succeeded by General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, who ruled the country for six years before surrendering power to a civilian government led by Khaleda Zia, the widow of the slain president The intense rivalry between Prime Minister Zia and Hoseina Wajid, the daughter of Mujibur Rahman, kept Bangladesh off balance for a number of years. During these troubled times, however, Pakistan’s relations with Bangladesh improved. The two countries began to work together within the framework of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to forge closer economic ties with each other.