11.4 RADICAL WING IN EAST PAKISTAN POLITICS

 

Public Record Office

 

REF: FCO 37/468

 

                                                                                                                           British High Commission,
                                                                                                                                     Rawalpindi.
                                                                                                                               12 February, 1969

 

A.A. Duff, Esq., C.M.G.., D.S.O., D.S.C., South Asia Department, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London, S.W.1.

 

Dear Tony,

The Radical Wing in East Pakistan

 

I enclose a copy of a memorandum on this subject based on my experience during my recent fortnight's visit to Dacca.

 

(A. Halliley)

 

 

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Enclosure:

The Radical Wing in East Pakistan Politics

 

On 7 February, I attended an interesting supper party given for me by Dr. Rashiduzzaman of the Department of Political Science, University of Dacca. My host is also Secretary of the Teachers' Association at the University, and was responsible for the public statement deploring the conduct of the security forces when they entered the university campus on 31 January. Others present at the party included:

 

Dr. Mitchell, British Council

Mr. Sykes, British Council

Dr. Rafiqul Islam, Department of Political Science, Dacca University

Mr. Abu Tayeb, Abbottabad Public School (Air Marshal Asghar Khan's Bengali

instructor)

Mr. Enayatullah Khan, Editor "Holiday" Mr. Rafique Huq, Barrister

     2. The remarks that follow are based largely on conversations at the party and on a talk that Mr. Twist and I had had earlier in the day with Dr. M.O. Ghani. Chancellor, University of Dacca. I have also drawn on conversations I have had others during my fortnight's stay in Dacca.

     3. In many ways the emergence of the radical element is an entirely new feature in post-independence East Pakistan politics. It has set the pace in the current political ferment in the province to an extent that the more conservative opposition parties and their leaders are finding themselves not only out-bid but increasingly irrelevant. Student political activity is not of course new in Bengal, and from time to time (though not, I think, on a significant scale in East Bengal during the last decade) there has been unrest in the rural area. (In West Bengal the Naxalbari disturbances were the product of social and economic conditions similar to those now obtaining on the Pakistan side of the border.) The novelty in the present situation lies in the way in which the separate elements which now comprise the radical wing are fusing together. At this early stage of the emergence of a radical wing as an effective political force there is, it is true, every likelihood of a breakdown in its unity and discipline and it is very possible that factionalism will appear even if the immediate goals of the present campaign against the Ayub regime are achieved. Nevertheless it looks as though this movement has come to stay and despite such internal divisions as may from time to time arise in the future it is certainly a factor which we must now take seriously.

     4. Broadly speaking, the radical wing has three components:

 

     (a) Students

     (b) Workers

     (c) Peasants

 

     Of these, the students are at present the most important. This is not only because they themselves are becoming more confident and better organised; utilising their social background they are also awakening the other two groups, and providing a unifying influence.

 

The Students

 

5. Dacca University has a resident student population of over 7,000 in the various hostels, but taking the university as a whole, including affiliated institutions (some of which are at some distance from Dacca itself) the number of students is over 50,000. This represents a rapid increase in the student population and much of this has taken place during the present decade.

     6. Hand in hand with this increase in numbers has come a related change in the social background of the bulk of the students. Whereas in the past most university students came from upper and upper middle-class families with a tradition of employment in Government services, the professions, etc., most students now come from lower-middle or working class families. The parents of many belong to the urban proletariat; the rest are of rural peasant class. This distinction is not clear-cut because many of the town-dwelling parents continue to have close links with the villages through family connections and/or through ownership of small land holdings.

     7. Today's student population in Dacca has, therefore, close ties with the urban proletariat and peasantry, while its links with the upper middle-class are tenuous and may be tinged with suspicion.

     8. Furthermore, students in Dacca University tend to be educated to a much higher level than their parents; some of the latter may indeed be illiterate. This gives the students added kudos in their parents' eyes (and in the eyes of their parents' contemporaries); and it further erodes the authority - always less strong in the East than in West Pakistan - of parents over their children. Dr. Ghani quoted the example in this respect of Miss Motia Chowdhury, was a leader of the Pro-Soviet NAP students' group: even when jailed she refused to desist from her political activities as her father, a Superintendent of Police, demanded; instead she immediately married so that her father (who because of her activities felt himself in danger of unpleasant pressures from his superiors) was no longer her titular guardian.

     9. With these new links it has been easy and natural for the students to find support, and to achieve popularity, among -

 

     (a) White-collar urban workers

     (b) The urban proletariat

     (c) The peasants

 

This popularity has in the last three weeks or so exceeded the students' own expectations. Among evidence of popularity, I would cite, inter alia:

 

(i) the immense crowds that came out in the streets after a student was killed on 20 January. Students expected about 200,000; in the event there may have been something of the order of 500,000. It is estimated that some 30,000 villagers joined the demonstration and that processions during the week 20­25 January were joined by numbers of white collar workers and trade unionists;

 

(ii) the warm public welcome accorded to a procession of women students in Dacca on 7 February.

 

     10. I should also draw attention to two qualities which can now be detected among the Dacca students and which have given rise to comment. First, student demonstrations have been disciplined. It was not students who burned down the Press Trust building and threatened the "Paigam" offices. The immense torchlight procession on the evening of 24 January was entirely orderly and the credit for this must go to student leaders who appear to have exercised admirable control. Secondly, as incidents in the University Campus on 1 February showed, there is a hard core of students who, when they are emotionally charged, are not afraid of bullets.

 

The Urban Proletariat

 

11. Organised labour has not hitherto played a leading part in politics. This is now changing and part of the change is attributed to the students, many of whom not only have a common social working-class background, e.g. factory labour, but have also taken up factory jobs with a view to organising labour and acting as spokesmen on industrial and political issues. I have already referred to the participation in mass demonstrations of Trade Unionists and white collar workers.

 

Peasantry

 

12. These have long standing grievances of an economic and social nature. These grievances are now being exploited by students who have their links with the countryside either through their families or through their schools, or through both. Political awareness among some sections of the peasants seems to be growing, even among the landless labourers, the class in the rural areas which suffers most from the rising cost of living. This is partly attributable to such things as the spread of transistor radios, increasing mobility etc. On their home ground, therefore, there are among the peasantry an appreciable number from whom student activists can elicit an intelligent and favourable response.

     13. Students fanned out into the rural areas at the height of the disturbances and during the days that followed. One reason for this no doubt was to avoid arrest but others seem to have gone out to rouse the villages. This they appear to have done with success in some - but not all - parts of the province.

     14. Thus on one day recently 14 thanas for the Bharisal Division rose simultaneously to attack identical targets - kotwalis, post offices, any places where records were stored, etc. The road between Dacca and Comilla during the weekend 1­2 February was at least at one point commanded by students working in conjunction with the local peasantry who had set upon any vehicle not carrying a black flag. Khulna division generally was considerably disturbed and parties of EPR were out in some force as late as the weekend of 2 February. There have also been disturbances in Tangail district. Hajiganj in district Comilla was the scene on 7 February of an attack by peasants on tax collectors. I am informed also of numerous incidents up and down the Province of Basic Democrats being beaten up: we know of a number of resignations of B.Ds., but I am told the number of B.Ds. who have been subjected to physical persuasion is more widespread and has so far been concealed by Government information sources.

     15. On the other hand other areas seem to have been relatively quiet e.g. Sylhet (though in some of the country south of the town black flags were much in evidence) and Chittagong (apart from interference with railway traffic at one stage).

     16. Even though this pattern is sporadic (we know nothing of developments in the north-west), it argues a degree of organisation and confidence among the rural elements which has surprised even people who may be assumed to have fairly close contacts with students and other related groups.

 

Attitude to D.A.C.

 

     17. In the context of the current political movement in the Province, left-wing radicals consider the D.A.C. almost irrelevant. At best during the period following the President's broadcast on 1 February they thought of it as a sort of theatrical turn going on in the limelight downstage, while in the darkness behind some rapid scene­shifting was in progress. Even Tofail Ahmed, Vice President, Dacca University Combined Students' Union (not one of the more extreme student leaders), and a number of the more moderate student organisers have indicated that they thought on these lines. Representatives of student bodies called on Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan to convey warnings that the D.A.C. demands are, in any case, not consistent with those of the students and that compromise during the coming talks will make the gap even wider.

     18. In short, in East Pakistan it is the students and their associates who have captured the imagination of the masses and who, by their 11 points (only one of which is strictly to do with education), have out-bid the D.A.C. (For ease of reference I attach the D.A.C. 8 points and the students' I 1 points at Annex.)

 

External Financial Assistance

 

     19. I have heard much in recent days of the financing of the activities of these bodies from foreign sources. There may be something in this (the Civil Authority is convinced there is) but it has not been possible so far to obtain hard information as to whether any money at all is obtained from external sources, let alone how much. My guess at the moment is that subsidies, if they are given, are on a moderate scale. The causes exist and it is these which produce the ferment. There is little need yet to spend money on such things as travelling expenses, posters, pamphlets or bribery. But this could change. It has been pointed out to us that the numbers of Chinese in Dacca (and the number of Chinese restaurants) have greatly increased during the last seven or eight years. The popularity of the Chinese in East Pakistan has, however, decreased of late since Peking Radio appears to support the regime. It may, nevertheless, be that the Chinese are backing both sides. Against this, however, I am told that Sinophiles amongst the radicals are likely to be Peking-style Communists out of conviction and not through the direct influence of local Chinese. There is a "Mao Tse Tung Academy" in Dacca but this is said not to have links with Peking. We have had reports that firms such as Ispahanis which do business with Communist China have to make a rupee payment to local Chinese agents on each deal; this money can then be spent locally. There is also talk of American (to the Awami League) and Indian money being paid to political parties. But again I have not heard of any real evidence.

     20. The students, however, lack the political machinery - particularly leadership - to translate their programme into political terms. It is true that certain political parties - particularly the Awami League - have close connections with certain student groups (thus the Student League is the student arm of the Awami League). In parts of the countryside Bhashani workers have been plugging away for years and are now in a position to reap dividends. Nevertheless, the movement has yet to throw up a real Provincial (let alone national) leader. Bhutto has his followers within and outside the student community. It may be that his charisma is sufficient to overcome the fact that he is a West Pakistani. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has a special position as the proponent of a Six Point programme which if implemented would give East Pakistan near­autonomy and as the principal figure in the Agartala Trial. If these two could work together, and especially if they could reach some sort of understanding with Maulana Bhashani, then the movement would have the leadership it needs. (On 29 January there was a rumour that Bhashani and Sheikh Mujib had come to some understanding but this has not yet been substantiated. A few days later People's Party representatives approached Sheikh Mujib though as yet nothing has come of this initiative).

     21. In default of such leadership I think we must expect some temporary disintegration in the short term, though there will be another and perhaps more dangerous upsurge later. What we must not do is to write off the movement as a passing phase, concentrating our attention on the downstage activities of the established politicians; much more important in the long term, and possibly in the short term as well, is the activity of the scene shifters behind.

     22. So far in this paper I have been concerned solely with East Pakistan. In West Pakistan the student population is more scattered and the possibility for some inter­city jealousy exists. Moreover I do not detect the same degree of fusion among the radical elements. In these circumstances it is difficult to see the implications for the West Wing and for Pakistan as a whole of the radical movement in the East. Much would depend on who captures the leadership and the loyalty of the East Pakistan students and their allies.

 

Rawalpindi

12 February, 1969                                                                                                                                                                              (A.A. Halliley)

 

 

 

 

         Source: The British Papers – Secret and Confidential India.Pakistan.Bangladesh Documents 1959-1969, Oxford University Press. P. 779-784