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March '71: The creation of the crisis

DHAKA, March 20, 2016(BSS)-The political crisis in Pakistan of 1971 that led to the creation of Bangladesh dates back to the historic general election of December 1970, the first such exercise in that country, which the Awami League under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won hands- down.

All intelligence reports of the Pakistan government said that the Awami League would win a maximum of 120 seats out of 169 earmarked for Bangladesh. But surprisingly the Bengalis voted en masse for Awami League which got 167 of the total seats in the National Assembly.

Hopes of the Pakistan government that Awami League would be forced into a coalition immediately faded and the Pakistanis started the process of undermining the election results.

In late January 1971, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who had won the second largest seats to the Pakistan National Assembly visited Dhaka for talks with the leader of the majority party. In mid-January the president of Pakistan, General Yahya Khan, had also come to Dhaka for talks. At the airport he told inquisitive newsmen that he had come to talk with the "future prime minister" of Pakistan.

However, the honeymoon was soon over and an anti-climax erupted with Bhutto rejecting Yahya's announcement of February 13, 1971 that the national assembly would meet for the first time in Dhaka on March 3, 1971. In a public meeting in Karachi on February 15, 1971 Bhutto announced that "Punjab and Sindh were the bastions of power in Pakistan". He also said that there were two majority parties in Pakistan, one in the east and another in the west.

As far as Bhutto was concerned if the assembly met in Dhaka it would be a "slaughter house" for West Pakistan's public representatives. He also threatened to put on fire everything from Karachi to Khyber Pass if the schedule for the assembly was followed.

To compound matters an Air-India plane was hijacked by so-called Kashmiri freedom fighters and diverted to Lahore from Amritsar on January 30, 1971. Bhutto met the hijackers on the tarmac and proclaimed them as "heroes". It was a cleverly laid-out plan to subvert handing over of power to Bangabandhu and he adroitly side-stepped it. For a couple of days after the plane was blown up by the hijackers on February 4, 1971 Bangabandhu remained silent and then he stunned the whole country by condemning the incident for what it really was.

On March 1, 1971 General Yahya announced the assembly meetings scheduled to start in Dhaka on March 3, 1971 postponed, sine die. The protests that erupted throughout what was then East Pakistan astonished everybody.

In the face of the protests, on March 6, 1971, Yahya, once again, announced that the inaugural session of the assembly would be held on March 25, 1971 in Dhaka and that he would be visiting Dhaka for talks with Bangabandhu to pave the way for constitutional rule.

But what happened on the day or night, to be precise, is known as "Black Night" in Bangladesh.

At a few minutes past mid-night, on March 26, 1971, Bangabandhu in a telegraphic message announced the independence of Bangladesh.