DHAKA, March 25, 2016 (BSS)- Brigadier Abdul Rehman Siddiqi, who headed the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) and was Press Advisor to Army Chief General Yahya Khan, was clearly in the thick of things.
Therefore, his book 'East Pakistan: The Endgame - An Onlooker's Journal 1969-1971' will be of interest to those wishing to penetrate the Pakistani establishment's historical veil that has subsequently been draped over the more unsavory events of that era.
The author had the unique advantage of observing the tragedy as it unfolded. As the ISPR chief, he interacted with the national press and a cross-section of public and political leadership in both wings.
In his description and appraisal of the various dramatis personae, he acts as an impartial observer. Following the military takeover in 1969, Siddiqi claims that Yahya was quick to reveal his true intentions and confided to some of his senior officers: "Gentlemen, we must be prepared to rule this unfortunate country for the next 14 years or so."
Soon, Yahya announced general elections after being convinced by the intelligence agencies that they would result in a split vote and a fractious National Assembly, making it impossible for the new government to fulfill the stipulation of an approved constitution within 120 days. This failure, the thinking went, would then lead to fresh elections while power would indefinitely remain in the army's firm grip.
However, the election results could not have been farther from Yahya's calculations. Badly let down by the intelligence agencies, Yahya decided to pursue a new course of action. His famous reference to Bangabandhu as the future prime minister was in reality no more than "a calculated maneuver aimed at, first to set the military against Bangabandhu, and second, to provoke the Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP)."
The worried generals then recruited Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to ensure that any chance of a compromise with Bangabandhu would be non-existent. In fact, as Siddiqi informs us, General Umar even met many West Pakistani minority party leaders to actively dissuade them from attending the first National Assembly session at Dhaka. Not surprisingly, East Pakistan soon went on the boil in the face of such intransigence. And the army-controlled West Pakistani media retaliated by accusing East Pakistanis of treason.
We all know what followed. The army's subjugation of East Pakistan resulted in untold misery for millions of innocent Pakistanis, the death of many thousands as well as the breakup of Pakistan. And as Siddiqi's narrative makes apparent, all this happened so that the generals could maintain their hold on power.
Another fact the author emphasizes is the sheer profusion of war crimes inflicted on hapless Pakistani citizens. The reader comes across a devastated Major General Ansari telling Siddiqi that rape and brutality were widespread.
The general also confesses to a complete breakdown in the "discipline of his junior officers [and that] there was little he could do to check their "atrocities." If junior officers had run amok, one shudders to think what the less-educated jawans got up to.