An era of darkness – the tail end

Shashi Tharoor’s latest book, An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India is making waves. One of the most befuddling legacies of when ‘Brexit from India’ happened in 1947 was the creation of Pakistan and East Pakistan,


separated by about 2000 miles of Indian territory. One last destructive gambit to destabilise the sub-continent. And how wonderfully has that worked out! Pakistan will never forget 1971.


More from 1971:

Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, leader of the Awami League, had just won a landslide election in Pakistan’s general elections of 1970, but was not allowed to form a government. He was forced into rounds of negotiations with Pakistan’s military leader, Yahya Khan, where the latter refused to cede any power. On 7th March 1971, in a fiery speech, Mujibur Rehman had declared:

“The struggle this time is for emancipation, the struggle this time is for liberation”

Further, from recently declassified CIA files contain this report on the developments in Pakistan, where Yahya Khan interestingly appears to not be in favour of a military solution, or did the Americans read him wrong…?

The President’s Daily Brief

18 March 1971



After a second meeting with President Yahya in Dacca yesterday, Mujibur Rahman appeared discouraged but said he hopes discussions will continue. Another meeting is scheduled for today.

According to a report reaching the Consulate General in Karachi, Yahya does not believe Pakistan can be held together by force. He therefore intends to give in to most of Mujib’s demands and turn “the whole bloody business” over to him – meaning the National Assembly, which is to write a constitution. According to other reports, the main barrier to an agreement is Yahya’s insistence that martial law will continue until a constitution is written.

Meanwhile, the pro-Peking East Bengal Communist Party may already be trying to take the initiative away from Mujib and his moderate followers.

[Paragraph redacted]

…Because, Yahya Khan launched Operation Searchlight, days after this reported CIA cables to take control over an agitating population in then East Pakistan.

The attack termed “Operation Searchlight” by the military was launched after Awami League supremo Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared independence of Bangladesh in a message. He was subsequently arrested, flown to Pakistan and kept in jail. The exact number of casualty could not be known. But foreign journalists working in Dhaka at that time estimated the number to be between 7,000 and 35,000.

The purpose of the operation was to arrest or kill the distinguished Awami League leaders, student leaders and Bangali intellectuals in the main cities of the then East Pakistan including Dhaka, to disarm the Bangali members of military, para military and police forces and to capture armoury, radio station and telephone exchange.

From the report of Simon Dring published under the caption Dateline Dacca in the Daily Telegraph of March 29, it was revealed that 200 students of Iqbal Hall (now Shaheed Sergeant Zahurul Haq Hall), teachers and their family members numbering 12 in Dhaka University residential area had been killed on that night. In Old Dhaka, around 700 people were burnt to death.

This was followed by a massive refugee influx into India, and India’s subsequent military operation to liberate Bangladesh, which concluded on December 16th, 1971.

Bangladesh later declared March 26th, 1971 as their independence day.  This was the day after Yahya Khan initiated Operation Searchlight – when the Bangladeshi forces started their military resistance.


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