During the military assault of West Pakistan’s army on the Bengali population from March 1971, millions were displaced, mostly to India’s West Bengal province. Many were brutally killed by the regime to trample the Bengali rebels who, according to the dictator’s government, were trained and armed by India to destabilize the united Pakistan and had betrayed the Constitution. This article is not to prove who was right or wrong, but to show how the government in West Pakistan failed to showcase its side of the story to the global public.
During Operation Searchlight, when a mass exodus started due to a brutal crackdown by the army, India played a strong diplomatic game and successfully convinced governments and public in the West about the heinous genocide committed by the military in today’s Bangladesh.
This resulted support for the Bengalis and Indians, which later on provided the excuse officially declare war on Pakistan, resulting to quick victory after an 11-day battle. The US secretly stood with Pakistan but no open military or moral support was provided to Yahya Khan. The Chinese did provide armaments but no strong affiliation was showed with the military’s actions in West Pakistan. This seclusion forced Yahya Khan to take two distressed attempts to save face in front of the West; the first was a movie project shot and directed by the competent documentary maker Aslam Azhar, under the orders of Roedad Khan, who monopolized the entire PR programme, second was the White Paper published by the government to purify the army from any genocidal actions and crimes.
Both of these actions are rarely recorded and recalled by historians but are a significant part of Pakistan’s failed effort to persuade the global audience about India’s efforts for damaging the country and clearing away any faults whatsoever.
The first scapegoating came in the shape of a documentary film entitled Great Betrayal. The movie, according to Brigadier A.R. Siddiqui, portrayed the excesses perpetrated by the Bengalis and the Mukti Bahini guerrillas on West Pakistani civilians and soldiers. Qutubuddin Aziz, former diplomat, in his book Blood and Tears (1973) praises the film as “it showed the rubble of homes and shopping blocks shot up or put to the torch by the rebels but it gave very little evidence of the infernal slaughterhouses and torture chambers set up by the rebels in March 1971 to liquidate many thousands of their non-Bengali victims. The blood-chilling savagery of the Awami League’s genocide and the colossal wreckage of human lives it had left in its trail were not fully exposed.” He further mentions that due to inadequate funds the movie could not be “shown on important television networks in the United States” and surprisingly to “buy time.” He labels the film as a “timely effort” but blames insufficient attention and funds for the flopping of the appreciative documentary.
Brigadier (r) A.R. Siddiqui in his latest biography on Yahya Khan shows the skepticism of the film in the following narration: “A preview (of the film) was arranged for the president, with Generals Hamid Khan, Gul Hassan, and myself, together with Roedad Khan, Aslam Azhar, and few others. Yahya sat through the first half of the 35-minute documentary quite excited, throwing in a good word or two every now and again. Thereafter, he went silent. As the film ended, he gave Roedad Khan quite a quizzical glance that caused him to cup his chin and wet his lips nervously. ‘Good work on the whole,’ said Yahya,’ but are you sure that all the ruined buildings and destruction you have shown in the movie are not the result of the army action?’
‘No sir, we did ensure that. You know, sir, you can’t miss the difference between army-targeted damage and that wrought by miscreants.’ That left Yahya wondering!
About the skulls, some 60-70 of them only shown in the movie, Yahya was rather blunt. ‘Tell me Roedad, how you can tell one skull from another. I am damned if I could tell the difference between a Punjabi and a Bengali skull?’ Roedad wet his lips with his tongue and looked at Aslam Azhar for an answer. Speaking English with a native fluency, Aslam Azhar responded, ‘We did the best we could to distinguish between the two.’ Imagine how exaggerated the content of the film would have been!
Continuing the narration, “’Okay, okay’, cutting Azhar short, Yahya looked at Generals Hamid and Gul. They both laughed. Gul looked at me,’ What can I say sir, but this is hardly the time to bring the dead back to life. Let bygones, be bygones.’
About the skulls, some 60-70 of them only shown in the movie, Yahya was rather blunt. ‘Tell me Roedad, how you can tell one skull from another. I am damned if I could tell the difference between a Punjabi and a Bengali skull?’
Turning to Roedad, Yahaya said, ‘Well I’d hate to have such a lot of good work go down the drain. Consider showing it to a limited selective audience, only if you must.’ That brought the discussion to a close.”
So, Brigadier Siddiqi exposed the words of Qutubuddin regarding the lack of funds to be the failure of the film but the movie itself was full of questions that even Yahya Khan himself could not be impressed.
In August 1971, West Pakistan published the White Paper which was another poor report to demonize the Mukti Bahinis and their actions against the Biharis. Qutubuddin Aziz writes, “The White Paper on the East Pakistan crisis, published by the Government of Pakistan in August 1971, failed to make any significant international impact. It was inordinately delayed and gave a disappointingly sketchy account of the massacres of the non-Bengalis by the Awami Leaguers and other rebels. Dozens of places where, it now appears, non-Bengalis were slaughtered by the thousands in March-April 1971 were not mentioned in the White Paper. The Government failed to give this belated post mortem report of the Awami League’s genocidal campaign against the Biharis adequate and effective international publicity. The White Paper would have made more impact, in spite of its inadequacy of details, and its foreign readers would have reacted in horror over the Awami League’s racist pogrom if it had been published before the end of April 1971.”
The White paper was also tasked to Roedad Khan, confirmed by Brigadier Siddiqi in his biography. But such reports are always unacceptable to the world due to their biases towards the anti-government voices. Thus, this paper lost its credentials right from the beginning of its release.
Roedad himself, mentions his incompetence in his appointed field during Yahya Khan’s tenure stating in his book, A Dream Gone Sour (1998), “Soon after Yahya took over, I was appointed Managing Director, Pakistan Television, a job for which I was least qualified. My sole qualification, if it can be called a qualification at all, was that I owned a television set.” Thus, the competency of the hurriedly-made regime can be valued from the aforementioned very statement. So, Brigadier Siddiqi shifts the blame from himself regarding the media content production and manipulation on a bureaucrat, Roedad Khan and excusing himself,” that little was left for my modest ISPR Unit.”
We can still see the very same incompetent effort by the present government to defame PTM using the ill-researched report published this month. Indeed, India has nefarious intents but just by twitter hashtags, the government labelled the constitutionally recognized party as traitors and RAW/Mossad agents. Quite bold and idiotic! This country needs internal stability and that can come from respecting trusting one another, not abusing and insulting for PR stunts.