The Mind of the Mullah: Understanding the Fall of Dhaka

Daily Times, January 17, 2006
SECOND OPINION: Wrangling witnesses of Fall of Dhaka —Khaled Ahmed’s TV Review

General Umar was more upset than he should have been. His reference to his own piety was not appropriate. The first thing is to decide about coming to the programme. Once you decide to face it then be prepared to face the questions without getting hot under the collar

For a long time, Pakistan was dominated by the opinion that East Pakistan separated from Pakistan because the Indians engineered it and finally invaded it to assist its agents there. Then in the period of freedom of expression under Prime Minister Junejo, people began to write the real story. Two opinions began to appear, as if in a clash. Even that period passed and now those who say that India broke Pakistan up are increasingly on the defensive. Even the generals have started disagreeing.

GEO (December 2005) in his Jawadeh programme Iftikhar Ahmad grilled Major-General (retd) Ghulam Umar on the Fall of Dhaka. Gen Umar insisted that East Pakistan fell because of the secret plans of India, Mujib’s traitorous link-up with India, the Soviet Union and the United States, which did not send its naval fleet to save Pakistan.

In his book The White House and Pakistan (OUP), FS Aijazuddin informs us from official documents that President Nixon delivered an ultimatum to India that if it attacked West Pakistan the US will move against it. He made the threatening move on the sea to back it up. And the threat worked. There was no American commitment to save East Pakistan. There was also no similar Chinese commitment.

In his book, Gen ‘Tiger’ Niazi accused Gen Ghulam Umar of being in the inner circle of Yahya Khan and even of embezzling money, misappropriating Rs 600,000 and returning only Rs 300,000 when caught. Gen Umar denied the charge and said he could not answer the allegations when they cropped up because he was placed under house arrest by Bhutto for five and a half years.

The political factor has cropped up. Bhutto’s act of confining him and Zia’s favour to him marks him. But he is no longer closed to the ‘non-ideological’ causes. He wants the state to re-investigate causes other than India’s role. The fact is that the military officers have finally started telling their story and this causes clashes among them.

The charge against Gen Umar was that he had interfered to scuttle an agreement already arrived at between Yahya and Mujib before Umar arrived in Dhaka from Islamabad. He met with General Yahya, General Tikka Khan and General Khudadad in Dhaka where he convinced them not to agree on anything with Mujib and to start Operation Blitz.

General Umar vehemently denied the allegation. He said he knew nothing about Operation Blitz. Another accusation, according to Bangladeshi sources, was that Gen Umar together with Generals Gul Hasan and Tikka Khan had decided that Bengali intellectuals and journalists would be put to death.

Gen Umar denied it. He kept insisting that he was clean because of his religious background. He was from the family of Islamic scholars and ascetics (ulema and fuqara).

Gen Umar was more upset than he should have been. His reference to his own piety was not appropriate. The first thing is to decide about coming to the programme. Once you decide to face it then be prepared to face the questions without getting hot under the collar. Gen Umar gave a bad interview.

Gen Umar thought Gen Sher Ali, as information minister of Gen Yahya, was a great man because he campaigned to make Pakistan Islamic. He said he had proof that India had plotted the fall of East Pakistan together with Mujib and the Soviet Union with the presumed acquiescence of the United States.

He said Bhutto knew that he would not have absolute power over Pakistan as long as there was East Pakistan, so he got rid of East Pakistan. Bhutto also wanted to disgrace the Pakistan army.

Another weak part of Gen Umar’s defence. Sher Ali was a bit of a comic figure, impersonating Napoleon at night and doing Islam during the day. Sher Ali was a forerunner of General Zia, only he was more grotesquely unreal — a ‘nawab’ general gone Islamic. Another ‘nawab’ general Yaqub Khan was more gifted intellectually. He ducked out of East Pakistan.

To the question that a recent book by Hussain Haqqani had also indicted him, Gen Umar said that he had no assets; he just could not be dishonest. To the accusation that the Hamudur Rehman Commission on the Fall of East Pakistan had also stated negative things about him, asking the state to indict him, he said he was ready to be tried in the court of law. He said he took no part in the intrigues in which other generals were involved. As for East Pakistan it was now Bangladesh and it did not rejoin India and was an Islamic state.

Gen Umar was reductionist about Islam in Bangladesh today. He presumed that Pakistanis no longer knew much about the state of Islamic terror in Bangladesh. He may have been right. Our minds are closed on Islam in that country. Today, an acceptance of the constitutional nomenclature of Islamic state for Bangladesh would be a shameful acceptance of Islam as terrorism.

GEO (December 13, 2005) Host Hamid Mir spoke of inter-faith dialogue with Prof Khalid Alvi and Dr Khalid Masud and a Christian leader, Mr William. Mir said how could we talk to the West when one leader (Bush) was talking of Crusades? To this Mr William replied that the West did not believe that what was happening in Iraq was a Crusade. He said he was opposed to the American invasion of Iraq.

Khalid Masud said that abusing religion politically was an issue before the Muslims. He said global capital and liberalism were destroying Islam. Khalid Alvi said that 7/7 in London was the wrong thing to do. He said Britain was a good state but the new laws it was bringing in were wrong. He said he saluted the British parliament for saying no to Blair’s anti-Muslim bill, that is, arrest without charge for 90 days.

Dr Masud, like his predecessor chief of the CCI, has locked horns with global capitalism. Dr SM Zaman, too, had attacked globalisation in a conference which was not on the subject. Why should a specialist on religion dabble in economics? Our thinkers (Sir Syed and Allama Iqbal and before them Abduh and Rashid Rida of Egypt) allowed themselves to comment on banking only to accept riba as its prohibition was keeping the Muslims out of trading.

Islamic orthodoxy has its own economic doctrine, which doesn’t jibe with any system that the world knows today. In the above chat show Mr William came out the winner because of his moderation and self-criticism.

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