9.44 POLITICAL AFFAIRS IN EAST PAKISTAN: RIOTING IN CHITTAGONG

 

 

Public Record Office

 

RLF: DO 196/319

 

BRITISH HIGH COMMISSION,
DACCA.

 

1-DAC. 6/36/1

18 May, 1966

 

E.L. Sykes, lad., C.M.G.

Karachi.

 

POLITICAL AFFAIRS IN EAST PAKISTAN

 

Terence O'Brien's letter to Victor Martin, giving an account of the Indian view of the political pressures on the President in East Pakistan with an American gloss thereon, calls for comment, and we discussed it when you were here recently.

 

2. We felt that, though necessarily compressed, the note which was prepared for your visit served as an apt commentary. The substance of this was contained in my telegram 326 to Karachi, but as this was not copied all round, I now enclose a copy of the original note. Amplified by what follows, it will serve as a brief for your discussions with David Scott next week.

 

3. As you will readily understand, one has to approach this from a simple standpoint - is Fast Pakistan in a ferment or not? Whilst we were touring the peaceful wilds of Rangpur and Dinajpur, various things have happened in the more sophisticated areas to suggest that it ought to be. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Province's one vocal and effective political leader, has been clapped in gaol and (as is the way with political prisoners) has promptly been declared to be ill. The University authorities have issued ham fisted orders on five senior teachers to show cause why they should not he disciplined for seeking judicial enquiry into University affairs after the Mahmood affair two months ago, and making representations to the President about it. The Opposition press continues to play up the food and prices situation. Influential minority communities such as the Ismailis are badly upset by an ugly affair in Chittagong, when a Memon girl was prevented by her family from marrying a Bengali boy, and Bengali-nationalist rioting following. This has temporarily shaken the Ismailis confidence in Fast Pakistan as a venue for investment, and could have very serious repercussions.

 

4. But often when you peer at something in the dark the substance disappears. \o crowds clamour at the gaol for Sheikh- Mujib's release; protest meetings have peen desultory; the press blames the Awami League for inaction more than it blames -:,e Government for undemocratic high handedness. Strikes at the University have

been token only and ineffective. And nothing has been heard for weeks of that barometer of the Bengali mood, the language issue. The Governor by skilful manipulation of extensive food reserves appears to be keeping the price situation in hand.

 

5. Our tour impressions in Rajshahi and North Bengal perhaps support this measured scepticism. Time has not yet allowed full analysis of our findings, but I think you would agree that:

 

(a) We detected not the smallest sign of political unrest. Rajshahi University was said (not only by the authorities) to be entirely peaceful. The name of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman produced no reaction at all in any of the areas we visited.

 

(b) We found, in fact, every evidence of a sound, keen and solid local administration in full charge, sensibly setting about rural development in close co-operation with the people through the units of basic democracy, operating a Local Works Programme which really begins to show results (a situation which, unless things have changed markedly since my day, would arouse the open-mouthed envy of district administration in India).

 

(c) We were told, and had evidence ourselves, of crop failure and delay caused by drought. But it was very much localised; the effect of recent rain was manifest; in many areas cultivation was now in full swing. The boro rice crop had been poor, but the vital aman crop had been adequate. Sowing of aus paddy had been delayed, but was now going well. Of the cash crops, tobacco had done well and sugar was little affected; the jute crop will be low and late. but not disastrously so.

 

(d) If this adds up, as we thought it did, to a lean period (well short of famine) between now and August, the Government gives every impression of being able to cope with it by means of (i) stocks of paddy levied on the aman crop (we saw them); (ii) wheat stocks under PL 480, both of which are distributed under the system known as "modified rationing" which works through Union Councils.

 

6. Looking at this in an East Pakistan context, it tends to confirm what we already felt, that the political discontent (which I would be no means underrate) lies in the frustrations and sense of inferiority of a sensitive and cultured intellectual minority, still, after eighteen years in an independent Pakistan, conscious that they lack the drive, acumen and cosmopolitan attainments of their middle est orientated partners. This does not get through to the masses. We thought it might with the language movement. It hasn't so far. The President evidently thought it would through Mujib's oratory and the autonomy movement - hence the March outbursts. So far as we can tell, it hasn't. It could through food and prices, but the danger seems to be passing. The labour and industrial field ought to be prolific of discontent but there has been no major strike since the ineffective railway strike a year ago and all disputes are of minor nature. Least of all, is dissatisfaction at the Government's Kashmir policy an issue in which the masses concern themselves. Such a picture of

an almost somnolent province probably goes too far. Reactions differ from area to area and it is probably necessary to distinguish between urban and rural areas. Developing urban and industrial areas in a largely rural economy do frequently produce political movements. Hence Dacca, Chittagong and possibly Khulna may be centres of discontent. We know that the North and North West are areas of reasonable stability. We have no recent first hand knowledge of the rest of the Province but could make an informed guess that with the possible exceptions of Sylhet and Noakhali districts, they would count as areas of stability too. It still sums up best in the phrase we have used before - political opposition disquiet, but lacking the characteristics of a popular movement and having no clear means of making its views effective.

 

7. Seen in the all-Pakistan context, this also produces a familiar situation; one which is full of noise, but about which the President is on present evidence (and East Pakistan's politics is like Melbourne's weather you wait a bit and watch it change) not obliged to do anything until 1970 gets a lot nearer.

 

8. Accordingly, we feel that though there is much in the American analysis which is right (we doubt, by the way, that the urge for complete separatism is still as strong as they believe, also that significant sections of the Opposition are in support of Mujibur Rahman) we disagree on present evidence with the basis conclusion. We do not see to the moment any likelihood that the Opposition will be able to make its views effective, by stimulating widespread disturbance or by other means, and with 1970 still four years away the indications are that the status quo will be maintained.

 

9. If this is correct then any belief which may be held in India that the political situation in East Pakistan is going to modify the Government of Pakistan's basic attitude towards Indo-Pakistan difficulties is likely to prove ill-founded, at least for the present.

 

10. 1 have copied this, with enclosure, to Victor Martin, Dick Stratton, Terence O'Brien and Ivor Porter.

 

(K.R. Crook)

 

 

Source: The British Papers Secret and Confidential India.Pakistan.Bangladesh Documents 1958-1969, Oxford University Press, p. 535-537.