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March 23, 1971 appeared as virtual end of Pakistan: records

Sahidul Islam Rana

DHAKA, March 22, 2016 (BSS) - The 23rd March of 1971 had appeared to be an eventful crucial day marking the virtual end of united Pakistan as viewed by the Liberation War veterans, researchers and even members of the then Pakistan junta.

"On March 23, 1971, Mujib finally provided his own draft constitution (to Yahya Khan), rejecting the one offered by Yahya . . . This date thus marked the virtual ending of united Pakistan," wrote Bengali professor GW Choudhury, who served as one of general Yahya Khan's top advisers, in his “The Last days of United Pakistan”.

He wrote March 23 "for long been a great day for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent” as on this day in 1940 that Mohammad Ali Jinnah "proclaimed to the world that the ultimate goal of Muslim nationalists was a separate state of their own".

"On the creation of Pakistan in 1947, March 23 was declared the 'National Day (of Pakistan)' . . . but in Dhaka on March 23, 1971, it was observed as 'Resistance Day'," Choudhury wrote.

He continued: "(In Dhaka) No Pakistani flag was allowed to be hoisted, even on public buildings, let alone the private houses, the lonely flags that were hoisted at the president's house where Yahya was staying and the provincial government house, of course it was also flown in the cantonment areas of Dhaka."

Liberation War veteran and independent Bangladesh's 1st army chief retired major general KM Shafiullah Bir Uttam described it as an "amazing day" as Bangabandhu declared holiday on March 23, 1971 and Awami League observed it as the "Resistance Day", negating the spirit of the "Pakistan Day".

Early on that morning, he recalled, Bangabandhu hoisted the red-green flag of Bangladesh atop of his Dhanmondi residence making a new history for the Bengali nation.

"Bangabandhu virtually announced the Independence of Bangladesh by hoisting a new flag of Bangladesh at the rooftop of his Dhanmondi residence at 5'oclock on that morning," Shafiullah told BSS in an interview ahead of the 45th anniversary of independence.

The newspaper archives suggest Bangabandhu took the salute at a march-past composed of students and youths in front of his residence after the flag of Bangladesh was hoisted with great pomp and grandeur.

Public relations officer of the then Pakistani troops major Siddiq Salik in his Witness to Surrender described the scene of the day in Dhaka saying "The whole city was covered with new maroon (red) and golden flag . . . the Radio and Television played Tagore's Sonar Bangla as the new national anthem".

"The Pakistan flag could be seen only at two places -Government House and the Martial Law Headquarters. In fact some clever Bengali boy had managed to stick a small Bangladesh flag on the western gate of Government House," he said.

Salik also recalled angry Bengalis burning the Pakistani flag as a mark of their rejection of Pakistan.

The records suggests another great Bengali leader Maulana Bhasani on that day issued from his abode in Santosh in Tangail a statement read out at a grand rally of his National Awami Party (NAP) in Dhaka to mark "Bangla Day".

Bhasani in his message asked West Pakistan junta to accept independent Bangladesh and warned of "dire consequence" if they failed to accept the reality.

The events of the day and particularly the hoisting of the flag dominated the front pages of East Pakistan dailies, cutting across their political biases, while many foreign newspapers highlighted the events portraying the day as a turning point of the global political history.