Sheikh Mujib: "East Pakistan will now be called Bangla Desh"

On 5 December 1969 at a meeting to observe the death anniversary of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared that East Pakistan will henceforth be called 'Bangla Desh' (Land of Bengal).

This was a foretaste of things to come.

On behalf of the people of Bengal, I am announcing today that henceforth the eastern province of Pakistan will, instead of being called East Pakistan be called Bangladesh. There was a time when all efforts were made to erase the word "Bangla" from the land and its map. The word "Bangla" was found nowhere except in the term Bay of Bengal. I announced today that this land will be called Bangladesh instead of East Pakistan.

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On 6 January 1970 Maulana Bhashani appealed to Yahya Khan to settle the issue of 'regional autonomy' before the election. On 7 March 1970 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made an announcement that he would launch a mass movement after the election to achieve autonomy for East Pakistan. Two weeks later, on 21 March 1970, Maulana Mawdudi, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, asked Yahya Khan to award autonomy to East Pakistan before the election.

Yahya simultaneously started negotiations with Mujib, Bhutto, and various other political leaders about the restoration of civilian and democratic rule. The task before him was complex. The Islamic right-wing parties in Pakistan, such as the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Jamaat-ul-Ulema-e-Islam, and the Jamaat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan, favoured a strong, centralised government with an Islamic constitution. The non-Awami League parties in East Pakistan wanted greater autonomy but were disinclined to support Mujib's radical Six-Point Programme. Bhutto and the PPP made vague statements about their commitment to socialism and Islam. They also expressed reservations about [British] Westminister-style democracy but did not clarify their views on issues of power-sharing between the two wings of Pakistan.

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  • Abul A'la Mawdudi ( 1903 – 1979)

'One Unit' dissolved and proportional representation implemented

During his radio broadcast on 28 November 1969, President Yahya affirmed that the parity [equal status] of representation in the National Assembly between the two wings that had existed under the 1956 and 1962 constitutions would end and the representation would be based on population. This move delighted the East Pakistanis, because it meant that their province would now occupy the majority of the seats in the National Assembly, reflecting East Pakistan's larger population base. The arrangement meant the National Assembly would consist of 313 seats (or members) - 169 seats from East Pakistan (with 7 reserved for women) and 144 seats for West Pakistan (with 6 for women). Women were also allowed to contest the elections from general seats.

In the provincial assemblies that was to follow the general election few days later, East Pakistan was allocated 310 seats (with 10 reserved for women only).

Maximum autonomy to the two wings of Pakistan as long as this does not impair the national integrity and solidarity of the country...People of both East and West Pakistan are almost unanimous in demanding the break-up of One Unit. My decision is, therefore, based on a popular wish. People of the two regions of Pakistan should have control over their economic resources and development as long as it does not adversely affect the working of a national government at the Centre.

President Yahya on the dismantling of 'One Unit' system in a national broadcast on 28 November 1969

President Yahya's regime made no attempt to frame a constitution. The expectations were that a new constituent assembly would be set up by holding a free and fair election. In order to hold the proposed elections, President Yahya appointed a team to draft a new constitutional formula. Four months later, this formula was officially issued and is known as the Legal Framework Order (LFO) of 1970.

In an attempt to assuage regional grievances about the political dominance of Punjabis, President Yahya agreed to dismantle the 'One Unit' scheme. On 1 July 1970, the One Unit of West Pakistan was dissolved restoring the four provinces of the Punjab, Sind, NWFP (North West Frontier Province) and Baluchistan. East Pakistan remained as a single province, though it's name was not reverted back to 'East Bengal'.

Yahya dismantled one unit of Western Pakistan that Ayub envisioned with Basic Democracy in 1962. Thus, Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan, and Sarhad (North-West Frontier) came back in the map of Pakistan. Since these names appeared again in the map but the mystery remains with the name of the Eastern wing. Ayub installed two names for two wings of Pakistan which was pretty easy to note based on their location on the global map. Yahya remained silent about reviving Eastern Bengal for Eastern Pakistan as a province. This silence did not cause problem with the sentiment of the people of the then Eastern Pakistan concerning the name of the Province.

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Legal Framework Order (LFO)

On 25 March 1970 Pakistan celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Muslim Resolution demanding a separate homeland in the then undivided India. The national day was celebrated with large scale military parades in major cities, including Karachi. President Yahya Khan took advantage of this 'Pakistan Day' by reaffirming the importance of unity of the country.

No power on earth can separate one from the other [i.e. East and West Pakistan].

...I have no doubt in my mind that our armed forces will maintain their fine traditions and will be ready to lay down their lives in the discharge of their sacred duty of guarding the frontiers of Pakistan.

President Yahya congratulates country's armed forces for successfully countering every threat to Pakistani security (25 March 1970)

Five days later, on 30 March 1970, President Yahya formally issued the Legal Framework Order (LFO) of 1970 with a view to transferring power to the elected representatives. The LFO laid down the political principles and laws governing the 1970 general election and the structure and composition of the national and provincial assemblies. It was a detailed blueprint for the return to civilian government.

Guiding principles

The Legal Framework Order was constructed to safeguard the constitutional outcome and contained a set of principles with a view to maintaining national identity and unity. It defined how political parties should behave during the election and following the election results, how the Parliament would proceed with the constitution of Pakistan, and how the Prime Minister and the President would be determined for the country. Overall, it gave a mechanism of the ruling machinery.

The LFO declared that future Constitution should enshrine the following five principles:

  1. An Islamic ideology in which the Head of State should be a Muslim.
  2. Free periodical federal and provincial elections based on population and on universal adult franchise.
  3. The independence of the judiciary along with the guarantee of the fundamental rights of the citizens.
  4. The provision of maximum provincial autonomy in a federal system which would provide adequate powers to the Central Government to enable it to discharge its responsibilities in relation to external and internal affairs and the preservation of the territorial integrity of the country.
  5. Full opportunities to the people of all regions to participate in national affairs together with the removal by statutory and other measures in a specified period of economic and other disparities between provinces and regions.

Time limit and presidential powers

The National Assembly was obliged within 120 days of its first meeting to draw up a new constitution, which would permit maximum provincial autonomy. The President also reserved the right to "authenticate" the constitution by which if the National Assembly produced a Constitution not according to the broad principles of the LFO, he had the right to send it back to the Assembly for its reconsideration and even abrogate (remove) the entire Parliament. In this worst case scenario, the military will continue to adminstrator the country until next decision for transfer of power is devised.

The President also had the power to interpret and amend the Constitution, and his decision could not be challenged in a court of law. Each party leader was asked to sign the LFO and follow the guideline before competing in the election.

The sovereignty will be given to the National Assembly only when he has handed over the power. Until then everything is under cover and umbrella of Martial Law.

President Yahya Khan in a press conference

The loop-hole that Yahya created was with the LFO. The meaning of LFO was understood by the political parties. It was made public at a later date on 30 March 1970 for comprehension. General mass never paid attention to this document as it had nothing to do with the daily life of a person within Pakistan. Since political activities were not allowed at that time, thus, there was no remark about LFO published by the political parties. Yahya’s outline of LFO was Greek until it was available as a document.

...Justice A. R. Cornelius, a Catholic Christian from Punjab, engineered the content of the LFO though he does not come to the forefront. He was bottle partner of Yahya Khan and served nicely under Ayub Khan as the Supreme Court Chief Justice. Both Yahya and Cornelius became friends to a level that Cornelius protected the interest of Yahya as the President of Pakistan.

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On 4 April 1970, President Yahya went to Dhaka to assess the political situation and meet the political leaders there. He assured them that the LFO was only 'a formality'.

The President's power of authentication was criticised in East Pakistan, but Yahya sought to allay fears during a visit to Dhaka early in April [1970]. He dismissed this as a 'procedural formality' and maintained that he was 'not doing all this for fun' but was earnest in his pledge to restore democracy. He also refused to countenance intelligence service reports both of Mujib's aim to tear up the LFO after the elections and establish Bangladesh and of India's growing involvement in the affairs of East Pakistan.

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