Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and propaganda

A radio commentary in October, 1971 reflects on the crisis before the liberation of Bangladesh

Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and propaganda

U.L. Baruah

Exactly a fortnight back in his column, Men & Matters, Z.A. Suleri, wrote how high the stakes are for Pakistan in the present crisis. Being a veteran journalist and very near to the military junta he ought to know.

He starts with the 70-year-old French author, M. Andre Malraux’s offer to serve in the Bangladesh forces fighting to free East Bengal from Pakistani domination. I quote: “He is the leading literary light of France, who was a close companion of De Gaulle and was his Cultural Minister for many years. His books are considered masterpieces of French literature. That intellectuals and men of letters should feel a moral compulsion to fight in movements they regard as advancing the cause of humanity, is a long tradition.

Hundreds of people fought in Spain to tilt the decision in favour of what they thought were the democratic forces. It should cause no wonder that the Indian Parliament and the intellectuals should express solidarity with the Bangladesh freedom movement.”

Mr. Suleri goes on to say, and I quote extracts: “The blunt truth is that he (Monsieur Malraux) has just been impressed by the presentation of the Indian case. It is the presentation, which matters whether or not the facts behind it are true. This art is the essence of modern propaganda…we lost our case not because it was poor, but because it was not projected skillfully. We should have known one thing. The traumatic events in East Pakistan provided the chance of the century to the Indians to break up Pakistan. And this is no ordinary failure.

It has involved the country in a life and death struggle. We are now faced with armed forces of secessionism…the truth of the matter is that propaganda succeeds on two counts. One, that the point of view should be presented in a manner which is persuasive… and the second element in successful propaganda is timing.”

Mr. Suleri then goes on to castigate the Pak foreign office for its failure to present Pakistan’s case abroad.

The general feeling in India, however, is that Pakistan has been doing rather well in propaganda. The question is how well can you present a bad case.

What is the genesis of the current crisis in Pakistan? It almost started with the creation of Pakistan. It was apparent to most sensible Pakistanis that religion could not hold the two disparate wings of a country separated by over a thousand miles of foreign territory, unless a reasonable kind of relationship based on mutual trust was established. Since that never happened, a military junta of West Pakistan took over power, and began ruling East Bengal, where majority of the Pakistanis lived, as a colony. A tiny minority was oppressing the majority of the people.

When people of Pakistan agitated for a return of democracy and Gen Mohd. Ayub Khan was thrown out, Yahya Khan took over power to arrange transfer of power to the people. That did not happen because it is not easy for the rulers in Islamabad to liquidate the empire they have built on the basis of Islam and Pakistani ideology. As far as East Bengal was concerned, the place of British masters was taken by bureaucrats and army men from West Pakistan.

General elections were held but the political party representing the majority of the people, that is, the Awami League, was banned and its leaders are being tried by a military junta that represents nobody. Pakistan’s case in the U.N. was presented by someone who was defeated in the last elections.

The civilian Government headed by Dr. A.M. Malik represents nobody. On the other hand, there is an ever-growing band of Bengalis enrolling themselves in the Mukti Bahini and fighting a war of liberation. Pakistanis are continuously told that these are no other than Indian interventionists.

Refugees are still coming to India at the rate of 40 to 60 thousand per day. The number has already crossed 9 million. The Indian economy has shown signs of the strain and yet the Pakistan Government would like the world to believe it is India which is standing in the way of refugees returning home.

Mr. Suleri refers to Pakistan’s White Paper published in August 1971 and says it looked like an afterthought, which in fact it was. Pakistan’s case against the Awami League and Sheikh Mijibur Rehman was built on the fantasy that elected representatives were murdering the people who voted them to power. Now what is this State of Pakistan without the elected representatives whom the people have voted into power? As someone wrote in the Sunday Times of London last week, one cannot but speak of Pakistan except in obituary terms.

While Pakistan’s propaganda machinery is keeping people of West Pakistan in the dark about the happenings in Bangladesh, it could not obviously confound the people of the world. Now every nation of the world, whether it is the Soviet Union, Britain or the United States, is asking for a political settlement in Bangladesh.

When Mr. Suleri was blaming Pakistani diplomats for poor presentation of Pakistan’s case, he probably had in mind the growing number of defections from Pakistan’s Foreign Service.

The people of West Pakistan would do well to note that the people of Bangladesh are fighting the military rulers and are determined to win. No amount of propaganda about Indian intervention in East Bengal can hide the facts.

(This commentary by U.L. Baruah was broadcast on October 10, 1971, on All India Radio’s Urdu and Punjabi services and is excepted from an anthology published recently)

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    Published: 18 Jul 2021, 11:00 AM