The Rape of Bangla Desh

The Book of the Week is “The Rape of Bangla Desh” by Anthony Mascarenhas, published in 1971.

In March 1969, Pakistan got a new leader named Khan. The reason was that dissatisfaction with Khan’s predecessor had reached critical mass among various parties that were keeping him in power, including the military.

Khan made the following campaign promises: “drain the swamp” in the government, and hold elections that would establish parliamentary (representative, civilian rather than military) government, pursuant to a constitution. The sovereignty of Pakistan had not held elections since its 1947 inception via the partition of India (amid excessive bloodshed, religious hatreds and a caste system that retarded the country’s economic, cultural and social growth for decades; see this blog’s post, “Freedom At Midnight”).

In November 1969, Khan claimed he was still working on the new constitution. He made other announcements on other issues that made it pretty obvious to politically astute people that he was turning out to be yet another dictator. He declared that Sind, Punjab, Baluchistan and the North-West Frontier (in West Pakistan) would become separate states again, and changed how votes would be tabulated, territorially.

Khan set dates for steps that helped Pakistan prepare for its elections, which would allegedly be held in October 1970. But they weren’t. In early November 1970, a tidal wave and cyclone hit the coastal areas of East Bengal. Khan then had a great excuse to postpone the elections until December.

Khan wrote the new constitution, which contained “small print”– a Legal Framework Order– that basically gave Khan unlimited powers; plus murky language that would cause endless arguments over the application and jurisdiction of laws between the provinces and Pakistan’s federal government.

However, in his evil scheme to become Pakistan’s supreme ruler through “divide and conquer” Khan’s new vote-tabulation method allowed Bengalis (of East Pakistan) to obtain too much representation in the national assembly, in the elections (when they were finally held). West Pakistanis became resentful, although they had previously enjoyed the lion’s share of control of governmental affairs for decades.

By February 1971, Khan had been executing various political machinations, including dissolving his civilian Cabinet. He said that he couldn’t let civilians rule Pakistan’s government just yet, as there was a national-security emergency– conflicts among East and West Pakistan, and India. The military had to handle them.

Unsurprisingly, in the first week of March 1971, there began more than three weeks’ worth of violence, rioting and looting, with Bengalis’ agitating to become an independent Bangladesh. To sum it up, “Pakistanis are intensely patriotic people and could not for one moment believe that their government was deliberately misinforming them so terribly.”

Read the book to learn the details of this “textbook example” of how actions taken by an alpha male with hubris syndrome (whose actions backfired!) led to circumstances that resulted in independence for a specific group of people in a particular territory (not without: serious sacrifices of human lives, the usual ethnic, tribal and religious warfare– including what some have defined as genocide; plus linguistic and other issues, and millions of refugees).