Pakistanis declare life back to "normal" as Bengalis driven out and murder spree continues

Last updated: 5 October 2017 From the section 1971 Muktijuddho

The Pakistan Army's offensive continued relentlessly throughout March and April. General Niazi arrived in Dhaka on 4 April 1971 to add further reinforcement and to eventually take over from General Tikka. Known for much personal bravado, General Niazi opted for transfer to East Pakistan only when Lieutenant-General Bahadur Sher - recipient of Military Cross just like Niazi - had chosen to decline the posting.

The thunder of artillery, the crackle of machine guns and other noises of war began to be heard from the peripheral border areas, and blazing fires and spiraling smoke told a tale of destruction.


The Pakistani army dehumanised their 'Bengali enemy' in a number of ways. Officers used the phrases "for disposal" or to be "disposed of" from the first night of killings. Troops also referred to killings with phrases like "sending to Bangla Desh" or "dispatched to Bangladesh", or threatened people by using such language.


By about 10 April 1971, Tikka Khan was able to restore a semblance of normalcy in that after having pushed the rebellious troops, the Hindu and other minorities and non-cooperators across the Indian border, and also having crushed the Awami League, he skillfully and mercilessly carried out his mandate of reestablishing Yahya Khan's writ in Bangladesh. Having accomplished this, he relinquished the soldier's role in favour of Lt. Gen. A. A. K. Niazi, who took over as General Officer Commander-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) Pakistan Eastern Command on 11 April 1971. Tikka Khan reverted to the role of Governor and Martial Law Administrator. For the time being, there was nothing much for Niazi to do except stablise what he had achieved and further strengthen the army's hold on the land and people.

It may be said to the credit of the Pakistani military machine - and Tikka Khan that, defying the logistic nightmares of a distant overseas base, long and circuitous air routes, lack of an administrative infrastructure and stockpiling for a force not more than a division plus, and utter disruption of road, rail and sea communications, it crushed a movement, at least temporarily, launched by 75 million people acting unitedly. Internationally, Pakistan's military image soared for the time being, and India's credibility sank correspondingly low. The Indian people watched the entire drama helplessly. But then they had their own problems.


By 20 April 1971, the Pakistani army controlled most of the country again after fanning out from the cities and their vicinity to the countryside. Looting and plundering of properties became common. The problem reached to the very top of the Pakistani army - General Niazi removed Brigadier Arbab on charges of "looting and theft" and condemned the practice of commanders tolerating widespread pillaging and troops sending loot to West Pakistan, including cars, refrigerators and air conditioners, as well as up to 233,000 rupees in cash per person. All of this seems to have originated from high-level orders in late March 1971 to live off the land, take goods without proper receipts, and treat East Pakistan as "enemy territory".

All of this happened in an environment of general violence, where different guerrilla groups also fought against each other. And it happened against the backdrop of greatly reduced industrial production, commerce, traffic, and port activity, the closure of schools, uncollected taxes, and the temporary ceasing of bank operations in cities and their permanent closure in the countryside. The income of much of East Pakistan's non-farming population was severely affected and the country divided into isolated mini-economies.


"There is no doubt," said a foreign diplomat in East Pakistan last week, "that the word massacre applies to the situation." Said another Western official: "It's a veritable bloodbath. The troops have been utterly merciless".

As Round 1 of Pakistan's bitter civil war ended last week, the winner—predictably—was the tough West Pakistan army, which has a powerful force of 80,000 Punjabi and Pathan soldiers on duty in rebellious East Pakistan. Reports coming out of the East (via diplomats, frightened refugees and clandestine broadcasts) varied wildly. Estimates of the total dead ran as high as 300,000.

TIME magazine on 12 April 1971

Despite muktijuddha's (freedom fighters) defeat by end of April, the vast majority of Bengalis now rejected the concept of an united Pakistan.

Psychologically the concept of an united Pakistan is dead in Bengal.


By end of May, the Bengali rebellion had been outwardly suppressed except for a few small pockets in outlying and inaccessible peripheral areas.

Initial mukti juddha's drive dampened by Pakistani superior force

At first Mukti Bahini's resistance was spontaneous and disorganised, and was not expected to be prolonged. But when the Pakistani Army cracked down upon the population, resistance grew. The Mukti Bahini became increasingly active.

The sound of a dusty chorus of erupting voices screamed out new strength as they joined in loud, then louder. Clenched fists in the air, they wanted rights of their own. Rights to a free life, rights to dignity, to honour, to a life unshackled, to the colonial rule of the West Pakistani Junta.


Pakistan responded by airlifting in two infantry divisions and reorganising their forces. During the first week in April 1971 the Pakistan forces established a foothold in Chittagong. By mid-April they controlled not only Chittagong, but most of the cities and towns of Bangladesh.

Determined to cripple the Bengali cause for decades, the army continued its systematic massacre. Working from carefully prepared lists, special commando units of the Pakistan army hunted down and exterminated Awami League leaders, intellectuals, professors, students, doctors, lawyers, journalists, and Hindus. The stories of the butchery and brutality meted out to these men and their families were endless.


Pakistan also raised paramilitary forces of Razakars, Al-Badrs and Al-Shams, as well as other Bengalis who opposed independence, and Biharis - Muslim Indians, commonly termed 'non-Bengalis' - who had settled during the time of partition.

To produce the desired number of corpses, the West Pakistanis set up "extermination camps" and launched a wave of gender-selective killing. The place of execution was the river edge, or the shallows near the shore, and the bodies were disposed of by the simple means of permitting them to flow downstream. The killing took place night after night. Usually the prisoners were roped together and made to wade out into the river. They were in batches of six or eight, and in the light of a powerful electric arc lamp, they were easy targets, black against the silvery water. The executioners stood on the pier, shooting down at the compact bunches of prisoners wading in the water. There were screams in the hot night air, and then silence. The prisoners fell on their sides and their bodies lapped against the shore. Then a new bunch of prisoners was brought out, and the process was repeated. In the morning the village boatmen hauled the bodies into midstream and the ropes binding the bodies were cut so that each body drifted separately downstream.