“Udhar tum, idhar hum”: When Bhutto pushed Bangladesh to the edge of Pakistan

Published: December 17, 2018
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It took many years for the people of East Pakistan to decide that there was no future for them in a united Pakistan. PHOTO: EXPRESS/ IBRAHIM YAHYA

The fall of Dhaka is one of those events in our history that we’d rather forget. No one talks about it nowadays, because it was the result of our own follies. But those who are still alive will never be able to forget TV newscaster Shaista Jabeen’s tearful announcement that dreadful night in December:

 “According to an agreement, Indian soldiers have now taken control of Dhaka.”

The people in what remained of Pakistan were shocked beyond belief. For days they had been told that everything was normal in the eastern wing, despite the BBC giving a contrasting picture. As always, the reaction from those who mattered was that BBC was an Indian agent, presenting a false image of the situation. No wonder violent protesters came out on the streets and burned down then president Yahya Khan’s house in Peshawar after feeling betrayed due to the surrender.

Most of the Pakistanis who were born after 1965 probably don’t know that our country had a province called East Pakistan, where the Pakistan movement started with the birth of the Muslim League in 1905. The people of that province were as good of Pakistanis as we in West Pakistan were, yet to our eternal shame, they were denied what was rightfully theirs. We made fun of them, of the way they spoke, of their language and attire. Most of the income for Pakistan was contributed from East Pakistan; however, the money was spent to develop West Pakistan. Despite all of this discrimination, we were surprisingly astounded when we found out they didn’t want to remain a part of Pakistan. To be honest, the only surprising thing in this should be that Pakistan was even able to remain united for 25 years before being dismembered.

There are many versions of why we lost East Pakistan, depending on who you ask. However, one thing is for sure: it didn’t happen overnight. It took many years for the people of East Pakistan to decide that there was no future for them in a united Pakistan.

Perhaps it all began when Muhammad Ali Jinnah, despite the hostility of the students of Dhaka University he was addressing, insisted that “Urdu and only Urdu” would be the state language of Pakistan. This was strange, since the Quaid himself could only speak broken Urdu and that too with great difficulty. I strongly suspect Jinnah wanted Urdu as the national language because he was under pressure from the feudal lords of West Pakistan to do so. The only other reason would be that he did not know that the vast majority of people in East Pakistan didn’t speak Urdu or even understood it, which seems highly unlikely.

Thus began the process of poisoning relations between the two parts of the country. The Bengali speakers launched a movement to have their language recognised as the state language along with Urdu. After many deaths, they succeeded to have their demand accepted in 1956.

But the rot had begun.

It didn’t help that the country had no constitution before 1956. By a peculiar twist of logic, despite East Pakistanis comprising the majority (56%), they were allowed to have the same number of seats in the assembly as the people of West Pakistan. The first martial law in 1958 (which was imposed by a general belonging to West Pakistan) together with the fact that East Pakistanis were not as many in number in the central government and the services increased their feeling of isolation. When it was time for Ayub Khan to resign, the Constitution required that he should hand over power to the speaker of the National Assembly (Abdul Jabbar Khan, a Bengali). However, Ayub did not do so and instead asked the then Army Chief (Yahya Khan) to take over the reins of the country. This further alienated the people of East Pakistan, adding to their bitterness of being neglected.

Pakistan could have remained united if its rulers had accepted Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the prime minister, which was his legal right as his party had won the 1970 Elections. Despite this, Zuilfiqar Ali Bhutto, whose party had won in Punjab and Sindh, did not agree to recognise Rahman as the prime minister of the country. He also steadfastly refused to attend the National Assembly session which was to be held in Dhaka. In fact, he was so arrogant that he threatened to break the legs of his elected party members if they dared to go to Dhaka. He knew that he could never be the prime minister of a united Pakistan, so he even said,

Udhar tum, idhar hum.

(You rule in the East, we will rule in the West)

Bhutto claimed that Rahman’s demands for maximum autonomy, called the Six Points, would weaken the country. When president Yahya called Rahman the future prime minister of the country, Bhutto was incensed. He questioned how a man who was considered to be a traitor recently was now being touted as the prime minister.

Despite his claims, there are indications that Rahman did not want the breakup the country. After his release from jail in 1969, he said,

“We are in the majority, why should we secede?”

According to Dr Moonis Ahmer, Rahman asked the military authorities twice in March 1971 to protect him from the diehard members of his party as they wanted him to declare independence.

As for the 1971 war, our brave soldiers could have defended Dhaka for more than three months, if the government had stationed more troops in that city. But the army was spread out throughout the province, and despite having enough ammunition and weapons to last them for many months, there was no option but to surrender.

Again, we lost the opportunity to save the country when Bhutto reportedly went to the United Nations but deliberately confined himself to his hotel room for two days (it is widely believed that he did this to allow the Indian army to have more time to reach the gates of Dhaka). If he had really wanted to save Pakistan, he would not have dilly-dallied, but would have accepted the Polish Resolution calling for a ceasefire (instead, he tore it up and walked away).

From the looks of it, Bhutto was mainly responsible for the great tragedy. In fact, when you think of it, all the problems we face today are a direct result of what he said and did after the 1970 Elections and after he assumed charge of the country in 1971. He said that he would build a new Pakistan from the ruins of the old one but instead caused immense damage to the country. But that is a story for another time.

Shakir Lakhani

Shakir Lakhani

Engineer, former visiting lecturer at NED Engineering College, industrialist, associated with petroleum/chemical industries for many years. Loves writing, and (in the opinion of most of those who know him), mentally unbalanced. He tweets @shakirlakhani (twitter.com/shakirlakhani)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    – Idhar hum, udher tum was attributed to ZAB but its origins lay somewhere else.
    – East Pakistan would have separated eventually, it was inevitable …… the way it happened was simply sad and avoidable but then history can not be rewritten.Recommend

  • Sarmad Hassan

    If there was no Bangladesh there was no Muslim League and there was no Pakistan.Recommend

  • Fahad Yousuf

    Great and very informative article especially for all those like me who were born way after this tragedy. We also came to know all the consequences which resulted in this painful incident. We all came to know the reality of some characters whom we are always taught as heroes.

    What is more painful is, like Bhutto another arrogant and dirty-languaged prime minister is sloganeering “New Pakistan” these days. God Forbids if he wants to break our country into more pieces.Recommend

  • Humza

    The Pakistani army is not needed to take over occupied Kashmir. It is only a question of time until occupied Kashmir returns to Pakistan because no one, not even 700 000 Indian soldiers can oppress a people forever and deny their wishes forever.Recommend

  • Nomad1412

    “From the looks of it, Bhutto was mainly responsible for the great tragedy. In fact, when you think of it, all the problems we face today are a direct result of what he said and did after the 1970 Elections and after he assumed charge of the country in 1971.”

    Shakir, you started on the right note blaming multiple factors but then ended up blaming Bhutto for everything following to the letter. Bhutto was the straw that broken the camel’s back, but there were a litany of transgressions over 25 years that cumulatively caused a snowball effect. While Bhutto is responsible for much of what is wrong with Pakistan today such as the anti-Ahmadi legislation, what Pakistanis gloss over completely is that after 1971 the unpopularity of the military led to them propping up fundamentalist parties to protest against Bhutto in an attempt to clip his wings which resulted in a self-avowed communist becoming a champion of Sunni Islam. The cleric-military nexus that was established in 1971 is the cause of much of what is wrong with Pakistan today. We see the relationship blossoming in the Afghan war and even now with the Taliban, TuQ, TLYRA, etc.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    ” God Forbids if he wants to break our country into more pieces”. He’s so power-hungry (like Bhutto) that he will stoop to any level to remain in power. He’s already headed in that direction.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    “East Pakistan would have separated eventually, it was inevitable”. What makes you think so? We in Pakistan called them traitors when they demanded their rights (which is what we are doing today as well). How would you feel if your entire ethnic group is called traitors?Recommend

  • Abdus Samad

    The baloch will eventually go their own way. Maybe even the pashtuns. The country will fragment.Recommend

  • Yousaf Haque

    No use nowRecommend

  • Parvez

    To my knowledge the concept of a Banladesh first arose about in ’46 ….. but for obvious reasons the leaders at that time gave priority to the concept of ‘ partition ‘ on ground of religious majority thus allowing Pakistan to come into being. The fact that a country was in two halves divided by a thousand plus miles and a people who were different in many respects ( language, culture etc ) prompts me to say that separation was inevitable.
    What you are talking about is mis-governance, intolerance and a flawed mindset of the leaders in the west …. and you have a good point there which I don’t disagree with.Recommend

  • Imran Ahmed

    When the author argues that ZAB who badly lost the 1970 elections wanted secession but Sh Mujib the winner of a landslide victory did not, he does sound plausible.
    However had it been so the dictator who ruled with his army should then have moved swiftly against the secessionary traitor in West Pakistan. So then why did General Yahya Khan despatch troops from West to East Pakistan, attacking unarmed citizens and arresting their elected leaders in East Pakistan including the rightful PM instead?
    Blaming Bhutto for East Pakistan’s secession because of the political statements he made when he was only a powerless, defeated politician holds very little water.
    The people to be held accountable are mainly those who were in the driving seat at that time.Recommend

  • Iftikhar Khan

    Bangladesh (East Pakistan) should have been offered to choose between confederation or total independence soon after independence from Britain by Jinnah. It was insane to rule East Pakistan with Punjabi-Mohajir bureaucracy, Punjabi-Pashtun military and Urdu as national language. This appears a master-slave relationship. But this is past, like the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Now
    If you ask Pakistanis a theoretical question: Would they like Bangladesh to be part of Pakistan again, if requested by Bangladesh. The answer would surprise most because it would be an overwhelmingly no. Here are the reasons.
    Pashtun, Balochis and Sindhis had no feeling for Bengalis to begin with and now joining Bangladesh would mean replacing politically Punjabi domination with Bengali domination. So they would say no. Between Punjabis and Mohajirs, Punjabis would certainly say no because of losing the current dominant position in Pakistan. The expatriate Pakistanis with some experience of interacting with Bangladeshis would say no for a variety of reasons including detesting Pakistanis in general and Punjabis in particular.Recommend

  • Parvez

    As a matter of fact it is always useful to learn ….. It is when you live in denial that you harm yourself and others.Recommend

  • Shakir Lakhani

    It’s our duty to learn from history and prevent another breakup of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Sudhanshu Swami

    Political leaders should learn how democracy works. A leader who can digest defeat gracefully is bigger and better leader in Democracy.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Whoa! sterry! Who said Hindustani Occupied Kashmir belongs to Pakistan?
    It does not.
    They have a right to choose what they will do. Maybe a separate country of their own. Maybe they will,… by joining with Azad Kashmir of Pakland.
    One thing is for sure, they will never join Bharat…er…Hindustan. Not after the savagery and human rights violations perpetuated by Hinduland.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Your entire ethnic group the Muhajjirs, is still considered ‘foreigners’ by
    the Sons of the Soil. Even after 70 years. There is no letup. Muhajjirs are second class citizens in Pakland.
    You all live in an enclave, called Karachi. You can say it may well be the largest ghetto of Asia, in a sense of speaking. Even though Karachi is the financial and industrial hub/engine of the Land of the Pure.
    Ooops! They do make some soccer balls and cricket bats in Sialkot. In just a matter of years they won’t make any more cricket bats,…because all the trees would have been cut, by the Lumber Mafia.Recommend

  • Yousaf Haque

    I am not living in a denial mode.I have lived my entire life in the secession process of East Pakistan which started right at the inception of the then Pakistan of ’47.Now tell me if anyone has learned any lesson from since pre and post-secession events of East Pakistan,and then talk to meRecommend

  • Yousaf Haque

    Bhutto never uttered the words that,’udhar tum idhar hum’Recommend

  • goggi (Lahore)

    Wise words of our great ancestor Chanakya to Alexander at the bank of river Jhelum:
    …..kiunkeh desh-prem se bada koyi dharam nahi aur matar bhoomi ki raksha se bar kar koyi karam nahi……!
    Great people of former East Pakistan proved this dharmic wisdom in fact, that the love for Matar Bhoomi – Motherland and Matar Bhasha – Mother language, is higher than the imported and imposed religion and language of Bedouins, Persians and Turks and named their newborn country Bangladesh.
    Their beautiful national language is the thousands of years ancient Bengali, their national anthem “Amar Shonar Bangla” -My Golden Bengal is in Bengali, composed from the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore Sahib.
    Their national anthem is not about any praise for the religion of Arabs or Persians, rather the deepest love and appreciation for their Matar Bhoomi and its wonderful ecology e.g the Mangos and Banyan trees!
    Pakistan, on the contrary, has no cultural consciousness and identity and speaking my thousands of years old mother language Punjabi in the public and offices is a social crime.Recommend

  • ajnd jdns

    This was a doomed union to begin with.

    do you think institutions based 1200 miles away can effectively govern a province ?
    Its only possible to do this with smaller provinces (like India does with Andaman and Nicobar Islands)Recommend

  • ajnd jdns

    There is a well-known phrase in English
    “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it”Recommend

  • ajnd jdns

    but those “people” wont remain same forever.. more kashmiris are living in different cities of India.. and Indians from different parts go to kashmir.. in a few generations, there will be no distinction ;)

    by the way, next time try to stick to the topic (which here is bangladesh ;)Recommend

  • Parvez

    Read read your original comment ” No use now ” ……. which prompted my reply. If you had been more clear possibly I would worded my reply differently.
    The point you make on ‘ Not learning from history ‘ is very valid.Recommend

  • ajnd jdns

    The secession happened exactly because lessons were NOT learned by the then west pakistani establishment.

    If they had learned about why the bengali language agitation happened in the 1950s, then 1971 would not have happened.

    Those who don’t remember history are destined to repeat it” – Edmund BurkeRecommend

  • Patwari

    Right. You would still be on the wall,…dithering.Recommend

  • Maher

    So Bhutto is the one, who broke Pakistan into pieces… And we still say Bhutto aj Bhi Zinda hai…Recommend