April 03, 1971: The Slaughter in East Pakistan

Editorial titled ‘The Slaughter in East Pakistan’ published in The Times, London on April 3, 1971.


Editorial, The Times, London, April 3, 1971

The more the news from East Pakistan accumulates, the more harrowing it becomes. Senseless murder hysterical cruelty and what must be a creeping fear run like a current throughout this packed mass of human beings. All this the distant obser­ver may assume despite the protests of the Pakistan Government at some of the stories that have been given circulation.

They have a case-or had in the first days following the orders given to Pakistan army to restore order. When authentic first-hand accounts are to be had the temptation to report anything that comes from any hearsay source is rarely resisted. And when Western reports-news agencies, broadcasts, and newspapers-become the source of information for so many parts of the world, the objections are all the stronger. Figures for those killed in the first days of shooting were often widely beyond anything one person could possibly have observed or calculated. In the period of negotiation between President Yahya Khan and Sheikh Mujib expectations of a united East Bengal, standing to arms had grown so strongly that they led to battle lines being drawn where none existed.

By now the picture is a little more clear and a great deal more gruesome. Enough first-hand reports from Dacca itself and from some of the major towns have come into confirm that what is happening is far worse than what might have been expected in a war of East Pakistan is resisting the forces of the Central Government in their demand for independence. The accounts piling up make conditions in East Bengal sound only too much like the massacres that broke out between Muslims and Hindus in the months leading up to the partition of India. Sparks from one fire set another going. Murder here demands vengeance there. And when the forces of order, military or police, are themselves the objects of one side or the other’s hatred there are -no boundaries to the hysteria of fear and murder. Yet in some ways the killing now in East Pakistan is worse. Hindus and Muslims had always been separate communities, brought up to regard each other as different. Outbreaks of violence between them were nothing new. Apart from Hindus who may have been caught up in the present slaughter there is no religious feeling to divide Punjabi from Bengali. There is unfortunately just enough difference for fear and hysteria to work on. Hence the ready and relished decapitations of any West Pakistanis who may find themselves innocently among the Bengalis. Vengeance is everywhere and no one can tell when be may be its victim.

How much of this must be blamed on the orders given to the Pakistan army in its task of restoring order? If not the orders themselves the manner in which they were carried out seems to have been well calculated to arouse fear and hatred on all sides.

From the evidence available one must conclude that the aim was so to wipeout the Awami League leadership that it could no longer provide an effec­tive leadership for any resistance movement. Sheikh Mujib was arrested and may have been taken to West Pakistan. How many of his lieutenants are gone is impossible to say. The slaughter of students in Dacca, as likely organizers of guerrilla operations, seems well attested. If some move to reverse the orders were now to be made, lest the slaughter go on spreading, leaders who might help to moderate the passions on the Bengali side would be lacking. From Pakistan Radio there are still only the assurances that all is well and the army is in control. Nothing has been said or done that will put a stop to the reverberating fear. Yet nothing could be worse than to allow the present muddle of fighting and minor massacre to drift on.

Judging by the Pakistan Government’s account of Dacca being restored to normal with civil servants returning to their duty, shops opening and normal life resuming, the expectation is that with a little more time at least all the populated centres of East Bengal will have been brought under control. Reports from East Pakistan, however, would suggest that the Pakistan army has not got the manpower to bring about this result other than in the main towns. Elsewhere popular resistance will be strong enough to control smaller urban pockets, leaving much of the countryside as an undeclared no-man’s land. Sonic sort of lines of control will this be drawn. But what might such conditions presage? President Yahya Khan’; con­ciliatory actions ever since the elections last year can hardly allow him to contemplate settling down to a long campaign merely to entrench the Central Governments authority throughout East Bengal. At some point the dialogue between the Government and the leaders of East Pakistan must be resumed. The sooner the better judging by the horrors of the past few days.

(Editorial, THE TIMES, London-April 3, 1971)

Source: Bangladesh Documents, vol – I, p.391-393