Days leading up to the war

8 March 1971: Sheikh Mujib tells foreign journalist that people are obeying his orders and nobody should try to suppress them

A day after his historic public address at Ramna Race Course Maidan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was speaking with a western journalist. During the course of the interview, Sheikh Mujib declared that the people of East Pakistan were following his orders and not theirs (i.e. central government). He warned the government not to suppress them any longer as they will, one day, achieve their freedom.

Sheikh Mujib also claimed that it was natural ("it automatically comes") for people to use 'independence' instead of 'emancipation' and that he too "has used something like this".

When questioned about military action against him and the people, Sheikh Mujib declared he "didn't care" whether they carried this out on him as he's "ready to sacrifice everything for my people". The people might have to shed more blood, but they will eventually win. "Victory is ours" he concluded.

Sheikh Mujib: "It is most unfortunate, we cannot tolerate any more this system.

And you know the people are behind me. Everything has collapsed, there is no administration, and people are obeying MY order not THEIR order. Legally, I am the authority because people have put it to me. Now they are using their force – it is up to them now to decide what to do. But I can tell you one thing: Nobody should play with fire. Nobody should try to suppress 70 million people. When they are determined to achieve something nobody can suppress them – today, tomorrow, or day after tomorrow, they must win. Victory is ours."

Reporter: "Why do you enjoy such tremendous support do you think?"

Sheikh Mujib: "You know, that, I love my people and my people loves me. I am ready to sacrifice everything for them and naturally they will also sacrifice everything for what I say. And I am fighting for a principle, for a cause, and for the emancipation and freedom of my people. And definitely, the people who have been oppressed for long 23 years, naturally the people now will stand by me and I must stand by them. I am not interested in anything. I am interested in the emancipation for my people – politically, economically, and all matters."

Reporter: "You're using this word 'emancipation', liberation, a freedom from long exploitation by the other wing of Pakistan. Some of your supporters prefer the word 'independence'. Now you didn't use that yesterday."

Sheikh Mujib: "It automatically comes. I have also used something like this, it automatically comes. If these people behave like a colonial power and if the armed forces of the country use like a occupation army and kill innocent unarmed people, what can you expect from people then?"

Reporter: "You have the opportunities and determination to continue in the path of democracy until the last moment. You're going to make the other people..."

Sheikh Mujib interjects: "You know I am believing in the democratic process. If anybody use armed forces, if people counteract by force that's their responsibility. But as far as I am concerned, as a democratic man, I follow the democratic movement. And I have started for satyagraha [civil resistance] and non-cooperation movement against them. And I am sure my people will not pay tax, I am sure the people will not join the government, and I am sure the people are absolutely behind me and my party."

Reporter: "Won't that make President Yayha Khan take military action against you?"

Sheikh Mujib: "That's up to him. I don't care. I am for a cause. I am ready to sacrifice everything for my people."

Reporter: "Do you think you're people are able to withstand an attack by the military government?"

Sheikh Mujib: "Do you know that nobody can suppress 70 million people. When 70 million people are determined to achieve something, nobody can suppress it. It might be, they can suppress it for few years, for few days, for few months, but in the long run the people must win. Nowhere in the world the struggle has failed – nowhere. It might be some more bloodshed but nothing can happen like this [i.e. suppression continues forever]."

Transcript of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's conversation with a foreign journalist on 8 March 1971

8 March 1971: Black protest flag flown and "Bikshubdha Shilpi Samaj" artists switch allegiance

On 8 March 1971 Black flags were hoisted atop the residential houses, education institutions, on all private and public transports, business establishments and a number of Government officers in the provincial metropolis in protest against the firing on the unarmed people in the current mass movement over all Bangladesh.

The call of hoisting of black flags for an indefinite period throughout Bangla Desh was given by the Awami League chief Sheikh Mujib in his address at the Race Course maidan on Sunday.

A large number of people belonging to all ages also put on black ribbon as a mark of mourning for those who laid down their lives for the emancipation of Bangladesh in the current movement.

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During the same day 46 radio, television and film artistes representing the "Bikshubdha Shilpi Samaj" vowed to only participate in radio and TV programme from 10 March 1971 on the condition that the programme were "favourable to people's movement". A delegation of the artistes also met Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and reiterated their full support to him. For his part, Sheikh Mujib endorsed the programme of the artistes.

A statement was issued to the press. Among the signatories were Abdul Ahad, Samar Das, Dhir Ali, Khadem Hossain, Abed Hossain, Ghulam Mustafa, Hasan Imam, Anwar Rahman, and Ali Mansur to name a few.

In a joint statement, they emphasised the need of transmitting popular and patriotic songs and dramas to keep up the spirit of the people and to inspire them in their struggle for emancipation. They recalled that the artistes had associated this time also with the struggle of the people of Bangla Desh and had been boycotting Radio and TV since 1 March 1971.

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On 10 March 1971 the artistes began to re-associate themselves with the radio and TV programmes as promised. However, they were quick to reassert that in no circumstances would they participate in any programme contrary to the spirit of the present movement or inconsistent with the overall situation obtaining in the country. They called upon the fellow artistes all over Bangladesh to take active part in the non-violent non-cooperation movement for the realization of people's legitimate rights.

During the same day the actor-actresses and the technicians under the leadership of Golam Mostafa and Khan Ata staged demonstration under the banner of Bikshubdha Shilpi Samaj.

9 March 1971: Maulana Bhashani demands Yahya acknowledge independence

On 9 March 1971, two days after Sheikh Mujib's address, the influential Maulana Bhashani, co-founder of the Awami League, held a mammoth rally at Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, extending his support to Sheikh Mujib. In his address Maulana Bhashani asked President Yahya Khan to acknowledge the independence of Bangladesh and 'free' 75 million Bengalis. He also declared 14 points of NAP. Ataur Rahman Khan, the former Chief Minister of East Pakistan (1956 - 58), supported the Maulana and also declared independence.

Relationship with Pakistan is over.

A defiant Maulana Bhashani at Paltan Maidan, Dhaka, on 9 March 1971

Many Bengalis were left disappointed that Sheikh Mujib had not clearly declared independence two days earlier. Maulana Bhashani provided comfort to them by asking them to trust Sheikh Mujib.

Sheikh Mujib is like my son, he's incapable of betrayal.

Maulana Bhashani ask people to put their faith in Sheikh Mujib

Bhashani's pledge of support came with a warning for Sheikh not to compromise with the President. "It's better to be a hero", he said, "than a Prime Minister".

Maulana cautions Sheikh Mujib not to let the people down

By speaking thus, the Moulana was not only protecting Mujib, toward whom he had always been affectionate, from the growing disaffection of the millions aspiring for independence, but also applying tacit pressure on him to uphold the aspirations of the people.

Moulana warned Awami League not to compromise on people's aspirations that the movement be directed towards national independence.

The Bhashani Foundation

That same day a signed leaflet was issued in the name of Maulana Bhashani elaborating on the question of independence for Bangladesh. He called upon the people, especially the peasants in the field, factory workers, and youths, to join the struggle to preserve the independence of East Pakistan. The leaflet cautioned people against the conspiracies being hatched by opportunist Bengalis in conjuction with the military rulers and exploiters of West Pakistan to form a government and thus destroy, again, the aspirations of long-suffering Bengalis for their right to self-determination. Maulana Bhashani also declared that he would start the last phase of the struggle for independence in solidarity with Sheikh Mujib unless the independence idea was not peacefully recognized by the military by 25 March at the latest.

Full independence, nothing short of it, is our objective, because, there is no alternative for the people of East Bengal to ensure their political and economic progress and self-sufficiency.

The Moulana said in the leaflet

9 March 1971: Prominent officials like Tajuddin Ahmad, Ataur Rahman Khan, Chief Justice B. A. Siddiqui provide guidance

Also on 9 March 1971 Tajuddin Ahmed proclaimed 16 instructions on behalf of Awami League as guideline for civil administration while Ataur Rahman Khan urged upon Sheikh Mujib to form the national government. East Pakistan Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) went a step further and called upon the people to liberate the country through guerrilla warfare instead of non-cooperation movement. Elsewhere, the Police, EPR, Intelligence Bureau and CID were asked to disrupt their relation with the government and Chief Justice B.A Siddiqui expressed his reluctance to conduct oath of newly appointed Governor Lieutenant General Tikka Khan.

9 March 1971: Bhutto's cable of condolence to Sheikh Mujib

On the same day as Maulana Bhashani was holding the rally, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto sent a cable to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman expressing his condolences on the recent events in East Pakistan and requesting Sheikh Mujib to cooperate with him as the future of the country "hangs in balance". Ironically, it was Bhutto's refusal not to attend the National Assembly - and ultimately give Awami League and Sheikh Mujib their democratic right to power - which had triggered the uprising in the first instance.

I am deeply distressed and profoundly concerned over the recent turn of events in our country I grieve for our countrymen who have lost their lives in this crisis. My heart goes out to the bereaved families. We seek a new order for Pakistan - an order where exploitation of man by man or of region by region - comes to an end. Let us strive to enshrine such a new order not only in the constitution but in the hearts of all Pakistanis.

We are faced with a crisis of the gravest magnitude. The future of our country hangs in the balance. Both of us carry an extremely heavy responsi­bility and everything humanly possible must be done to avert the disaster that threatens us. It must be our common objective that Pakistan be saved and set on the road to peace and progress in which both wings of the country can play their full part.

The unfortunate crisis that has since developed leads me to believe that we have come to a stage when the two wings of Pakistan must immediately reach a common understanding if the country is to be saved and the country must be saved whatever the cost.

To overcome the present crisis, every effort roust be made to bring the people of the two wings together. Every effort must be made to erase the bitterness and misgivings engendered during the past 23 years. Every effort must be directed to preserve the unity and solidarity of the people of Pakistan so that they may march forward hand in hand as brothers.

I am prepared to visit Dacca again immediately to meet you and to devise a common solution to end the crisis that faces the country so that the Assem­bly can proceed with the framing of the constitution.

Let not the people say nor history afterwards record that we have failed them.

Bhutto's cable to Sheikh Mujib on 9 March 1971

10 March 1971: Government threatens to "punish offenders"

On 10 March 1971, whilst artistes and technicians were demonstrating under the banner of Bikshubdha Shilpi Samaj, second class employees of the civil service were expressing their allegiance to Awami League. To control the growing non-cooperation movement, the government declared that any direct or indirect damage to government properties and obstruction to the movement of the armed forces would be punishable offence.

Meanwhile, Radio Pakistan did not air any part of the influential Maulana's speech in any of its news bulletins, much to the disgust of NAP's General Secretary Mashiur Rahman. Mashiur issued a press statement in Dhaka on 10 March 1971 to deplore the total black-out of Maulana Bhashani's Paltan meeting.

The NAP General Secretary expressed surprise over the attitude of the Radio Pakistan authorities in boycotting the due coverage of the Paltan meeting of such a popular political leader.

He said the authorities would be solely responsible if any untoward incident took place in this connection in the province. The people of Bengal cannot tolerate such conspiracy.

Mashiur Rahman’s furious over radio black-out of Bhashani’s speech

11 March 1971: Intellectuals and award-winning personalities denounce title conferred by government

On 11 March 1971 Tajuddin Ahmad proclaimed more instructions regarding the conducting of economic activities. The non-cooperation movement also spread over in each and every educational institutions of the province. Students and youth of East Pakistan started taking armed preparation and armed training. Agitation started among the Bengali soldiers, para-military force such as EPR, Police, Ansar in East Pakistan. "Sangram Parishads" (Resistance committees) were being formed in every district, sub-division, thana and union in preparation of the impending attack by the military government.

From 11 March 1971, Intellectuals also started rejecting titles given to them by the Pakistani government. This act of uprising started with prominent 'Shilpacharjya' Zainul Abedin denouncing his Hilal-i-Imtiaz (Crescent of Excellence) title which was awarded to him in 1959. The Hilal-i-Imtiaz is the second highest civilian award and honor given to both civilians and military officers of the Pakistan armed forces by the Government of Pakistan.

Poet Ahsan Habib also denounced his title conferred upon by the government. Many others followed this courageous trend afterwards.

  • Zainul Abedin (1914 – 1976) Bangladesh's leading painter. Given honorary title of 'Shilpachariya' (Great Teacher of the Arts). Born in Mymensingh.
  • Ahsan Habib ()

The administrative structure of the whole province was shattered. The offices and courts, bank, insurance companies ceased to work and realization of land revenue and taxes was stopped. The government instructed the officers and staff to join their offices by proclaiming new orders and circulars. But the movement went on uninterrupted by violating the orders of the government. Non-cooperation movement got wide publicity not only at home but abroad also.

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10 - 13 March 1971: West Pakistan prepare for war

The news had trickled into Dhaka from Sri Lanka that Pakistan Army personnel were flying over the island from the western wing to the eastern wing in civilian clothes. Between 10 and 13 March 1971, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) cancelled all their international routes to urgently fly "Government Passengers" to Dhaka. These "Government Passengers" were almost all Pakistani soldiers in civilian dress.

The Government of India had earlier banned overflights of Indian territory by Pakistani aircraft after the Pakistan-inspired hijacking of an Indian Airlines plane 30 January 1971. The Fokker F27 Friendship aircraft named Ganga was hijacked by two Kashmiri militants, Hashim Quereshi and his cousin Ashraf Butt, whilst flying from Srinagar to Jammu and Kashmir. It was forced to land in Lahore, Pakistan, and was blown up on 1 February 1971 by the hijackers after the passengers and crew had been allowed to disembark and return to India. Initially the Pakistani government allowed media attention on the hijackers and lauded them as brave Kashmir "freedom fighters" for their daring act of resistance to the "illegal" government in Srinagar, whilst the Indian government and press denounced the "dastardly crime" committed by "criminals".

On 4 February 1971 the Indian government used the incident as the stated reason for banning all Pakistani overflights of Indian territory. This was followed by a Pakistani inquiry which on 15 April 1971 branded their once 'heroes' as actual Indian RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) agents and sentenced them to prison. It was alleged that New Delhi had ordered the hijacking to have an excuse to ban Pakistani overflights, thus drastically complicating Pakistan's logistical problems in communicating between the two wings, and in this way assisting the 'separatist movement' in East Pakistan. India too lost important overflight rights of its own military and civilian planes over both East and West Pakistan. The hijackers were later released from prison after the 1971 war and in 1982 were still living in Pakistan without any restrictions - hardly possible if they had actually been "Indian agents".

This [ban on flying over India] made it necessary for Pakistani craft to take the circuitous route through Sri Lanka, and this was both expensive in terms of money and time-consuming.

Sukhwant Singh, author of "India's Wars Since Independence" (2009)

Reliance on air transportation at first restricted immediate reinforcements to lightly armed Pakistani forces, but in due course heavier weapons could be expected to fetch up by sea.

Pakistani Navy ship MV Swat, carrying ammunition and soldiers, was harboured in Chotrogram Port but Bengali workers and sailors at the port refused to unload the ship. The trouble gained a new dimension when a unit of the East Pakistan Rifles refused to fire on Bangali demonstrators. This action gave a sharper edge to Bangali resentment and began a mutiny of Bengali soldiers.

During those ten days, however, other more disturbing developments were taking place. The daily PIA flights continued to ferry to Dhaka soldiers dressed in civilian clothes. Military transport planes arrived full of arms, ammunition and provisions. Ironically, Yahya shipped soldiers and arms to East Pakistan more quickly than he had sent aid after the [1970] devastating cyclone. The military took control of the airport, turning it into a fortress complete with machine gun nests and artillery. Commando groups, specialists in assassination, sabotage, and undercover operations, were deployed in various cities. One by one, six shiploads of troops departed Karachi, West Pakistan, for Chittagong in the East. Bengali soldiers and policemen noticed, moreover, that their stocks of reserve ammunition were being reduced, on one pretext or another, and that senior Bengali officers were being dispatched on various useless or insignificant missions.

Viggo Olsen & Jeanette W. Lockerbie, authors of "Daktar: Diplomat in Bangladesh" (1996)

Foreign journalist whisked away

In the meanwhile foreign delegates present in East Pakistan during that time anticipated more intensity in the situation. The then Secretary General of United Nations, U Thant asked the local UN employees to leave East Pakistan. Just after that, Japanese and the West German governments also announced that they would be sending chartered planes to evacuate their citizens.

However, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was quick to point out to the world that it was not only the foreign journalist and professionals who needed saving, but also the people of East Pakistan.

The responsibility of the United Nations does not end with the evacuation of their employees from a troubled area. The threat that we are facing today is of genocide. It is a threat which is in violation of the UN charter that protects the basic human rights of seven and a half crore people of this country

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 10 March 1971 highlighting the need for international help

  • U Thant (1909 — 1974) Burmese diplomat and third Secretary-General of the United Nations (1961 - 1971). "U" is an honorific in Burmese, roughly equal to "Mr". "Thant" was his only name. In Burmese he was known as Pantanaw U Thant, in reference to his home town of Pantanaw.

12 - 14 March 1971: Fight commences on the cultural front

On 12 March 1971 cultural activist announced that from now on Shapla will be the national flower of the province.

Meanwhile, a meeting of writers was held in Dhaka where they formed a "Lekhak Sangram Shibir" (Writers' Action Committee) with Hasan Hafizur Rahman as convener.

Amongst the Shibir members were poet Shamsur Rahman who would write his famous "Tumake Powar Jonno Hai Swadhinata" as a powerful dedication to the sacrifices of the people during the Liberation War, poet Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury who wrote the equally powerful "Amar Bhai'er Rokto Rangano Ekushey February" poem for 1952 Bhasha Andolon shaheeds (Language Movement martyrs), and filmmaker Zahir Raihan, soon to be killed as part of Bengali intellectual killing by the Pakistan Army and the razakars. The only two lady members Begum Sufia Kamal and Laila Samad.

Members of the Lekhak Sangram Shibir include:

  1. Hasan Hafizur Rahman
  2. Dr. Ahmed Sharif
  3. Shaukat Osman
  4. Ramesh Dasgupta
  5. Badruddin Umar
  6. Sayeed Atiqullah
  7. Shamsur Rahman
  8. Sikandar Abu Zafar
  9. Borhanuddin
  10. Syed Shamsul Huq
  11. Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury
  12. Mahadeb Saha
  13. Farhad Majumder
  14. Abdul Ghani Hazari
  15. Zahir Raihan
  16. Abu Kaiser
  1. Rafiq Kaiser
  2. Muntaseer
  3. Rafiq Nowshad
  4. Shahnur Khan
  5. Mohammad Nurul Huda
  6. Sajjad Kadir
  7. Ahmed Humayum
  8. Roknuzzaman Khan
  9. Humayun Kabir
  10. Bashir Al Helal
  11. Ahmed Safa
  12. Eklashuddin Ahmed
  13. Masud Ahmed Masud
  14. Begum Sufia Kamal
  15. Laila Samad

There was no end to irony in those weeks of drama. General Yahya Khan, unable to exercise authority over East Pakistan, expressed his interest in travelling to Dhaka to talk to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The Bengali leader's response was crisp and sharp. President Yahya Khan, said he, would be "our guest". That certainly rankled with the military-led establishment, which spotted seeds of separatism in the statement. A couple of days later, asked by a foreign journalist if he planned to go for a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI), Mujib sounded ambiguous: "Independence? No, not yet".

At around the same time, when another foreign newsman questioned Mujib's challenging of the authority of the Pakistan government in the province, the Awami League chief snapped: "What do mean by government? I am the government".

The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

13 March 1971: Sheikh Mujib terms new MLO (Martial Law Order) a provocation

On 13 March 1971 Sheikh Mujib issued a statement deploring the promulgation of another Martial Law Order (MLO) and said that promulgation of such orders could only serve as provocations to the people.

He urged the authorities concerned to desist from such provocation action.

The people will continue their struggle despite all such attempts at intimidation, for they know that now force can withstand the strength of a united people.

Sheikh Mujib on the power of Bengali people

14 March 1971: Bhutto proposes dual sharing of power & Tajuddin Ahmad issues 35 points for conducting government affairs

On 14 March 1971, from Karachi, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto proposed the idea of transfer of power to the majority parties in east and west wing of Pakistan. Naturally, his suggestion created further uproar and added new dimension to the movement. Nurul Amin, Abul Hashim, Wali Khan criticised Bhutto's dual majority theory and commented that the implementation of the theory would invite disintegration of Pakistan.

On the same day various West Pakistan leaders, including Abdul Gafoor from Jamaat-e-Islami, expressed their support for Sheikh Mujib and demanded transfer of power to him. However, Abdul Qayyum Khan of Muslim League was publicly critical of the activities of Awami League.

Meanwhile, in response to growing army presence and activities, Sheikh Mujib voewd to continue the non-cooperation movement at the cost of life in order to attain independence 'so that the next generation may lead a life in liberty with self respect'. At the same time Tajuddin Ahmad declared 35 points instruction for conducting the affairs of the government on behalf of the Awami League.

Elsewhere, Chhatra Sangram Parishad installed check posts in several places of Dhaka to prevent smuggling of wealth to West Pakistan whilst various prominent newspapers of Dhaka published joint editorials under the caption "Time is running out".

After the directives of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman the direct control of the Pakistan government over East Pakistan was virtually ceased. The control of Awami League was established everywhere save and except the army. Due to extreme pressure of the movement the government took a decision to have discussion with the political parties.

Banglapedia - Non-Cooperation Movement 1971

Economic impact of hartal

Sheikh Mujib's policy of satyagraha (civil resistance) and non-cooperation were applied religiously by his followers. But this caused many difficulties for them as much as for central government.

Central government's control over the eastern wing came to an end and trade between the two halves of the country virtually ceased. But the population of Bengal was growing by 6,000 people per day during that period. To feed them, East Pakistan had to import 3 million tons of food every year. But with ports closed the province was hit by serious food shortages which was immediately reflected in rising prices. Rice and fish, Bengal's stable diet, increased by 25% and almost 100% respectively.

East Pakistan produced 80% of world's jute. Factories around the country, especially outside Dhaka, were not receiving the money they should, and were unable to export goods as custom was closed in the ports. But Pakistan used around 23% of all foreign exchange earning to simply pay interest on foreign aid loan. With exporting stopped, the debt spiralled out of control and many industries were struggling to survive.

Those manufacturers dealing locally were fine. But those exporting their goods - which are the ones that count as far as the economy of the country was concerned - eventually grinded to a halt. Banking was proving big problem. There was uncertainty over exact directives. It was difficult to get money, and money was running short. Some banks wanted to give money but couldn't. Employers were unable to pay money to their staff at the end of the month. Some staff members wanted three month advance payment and guarantee they would get paid till end of the year. Unable to meet such demands, productivity and staff morale were heavily affected.

Nevertheless, an independent Pakistan a viable proposition. After all, in 1947 Pakistan as a whole had less than what East Pakistan has now in terms on industries and know-how. But it would depend entirely on foreign aid as united Pakistan depends entirely on foreign aid. Nothing new about that. But East Pakistan would need to get recognition pretty quickly.

An English businessman in Bangladesh in March 1971

Bengalis demonstrated in no uncertain manner that their allegiance now belong to Sheikh Mujib. It's this support of the masses which has helped to make Sheikh Mujibur the most important politician in East Pakistan today.

Foreign journalist (8 March 1971)

From a general civilian perspective, the ideal situation would be for a friendly compromise. The options were to separate on good terms or separate in a bad way. The latter would have dire consequence. It was the latter that was about to happen.

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