A Soldier’s View on Pakistan’s Partition
The first question that comes to mind after reading ‘A Stranger
in My Own Country’ is, why did it take the author or the publisher four decades to print this book? Major General (Retd.) Khadim Hussain Raja pens the book forty-one years after the historical breaking away of Pakistan’s eastern wing. The book presents valuable information and candid observations regarding the crucial period between February and April 1971, with a heavy emphasis on the political and military leadership of the country and the creation of Bangladesh. It is a personal account of the events and the author’s own observations, devoid of any research work.
Most personal accounts revolving around the war of 1971 were in print within a couple of years. A similar book based on extensive research and regarded as one of the best works on the war, War and Secession: India, Pakistan and the Creation of Bangladesh by Richard Sisson and Leo Rose (California University Press and Oxford University Press), took less than ten years to appear in the market. Despite the delay in its publication, Raja’s book is a valuable addition to the limited number of accounts that have been written
on the subject in Pakistan.
‘A Stranger in My Own Coun
try’ covers the last few years – 1966 to 1971 - of Maj Gen (Retd) Khadim Hussain Raja’s tenure in uniform, with particular emphasis on the most important phase of his army career – his days in East Pakistan during 1971. Stationed there as a brigade commander in the middle of 1969, he was promoted to the rank of Major General in October the same year and commanded 14 Division before returning to West Pakistan in April 1971. During those critical years, as history repeated itself, he personally witnessed some of the most unfortunate and ill-conceived decisions taken at the highest political and military level in Pakistan.
The events taking place off the field during February-April 1971 were significant and had a great bearing on the outcome of political developments and military action later that year. Raja had the advantage of watching the action from a close vantage point and was a witness to some of the major decisions taken during the course of military operations. He deserves credit for being honest and forthright in expressing his opinion at a time when such a stance was discouraged by the highest command. His narration of the conversation between Lt. Gen. Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan and the CMLA President General Yahya Khan has historical value for a student of Pakistan’s history and for those who are curious to understand the unfortunate circumstances under which the country fragmented. The book clears up many ‘grey areas’ for those who were absent or not prepared to accept the truth.
Chapter 6 of the book, “The Crisis Deepens” is of particular importance as it deals with some of the vital decisions that sealed the fate of the country. It describes the sincere and frantic efforts made by Lt Gen Yaqoob Khan, Maj. Gen Rao Farman Ali Khan and Admiral Ahsan, till the very last moment, to keep the country united, avoid bloodshed and bring Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman on board for a peaceful political settlement of the contentious issues. It reflects the feelings of those who loved Pakistan and hated to be part of the unfavorable decisions made at the Headquarters of the CMLA in West Pakistan with the apparent connivance of Mr. Bhutto.
Here it would be pertinent to reproduce extracts from the book where
on the central theme of the book. The last chapter “Last Words . . .” reflects the writer’s insight into the ills that bugged East Pakistan for so many years and resulted in the creation of Bangladesh.
“The Introduction” written by Muhammad Reza Kazimi is also very interesting and discusses not only the content of the book but also conveys his views on the partition of East Pakistan. Another feature of the book is the extract from an article by Rahman Subhan, published in South Asia Review (London, July 1971). Subhan, a prominent Bangladeshi economist, had close ties with the Awami League. His article corroborates Khadim Hussain Raja’s observations of Sheikh Mujib’s mindset. He says:
“His (Sheikh Mujib’s) decisions to persevere with non-cooperation while leaving the door open for a negotiated settlement within Pakistan was a compromise between the counter-pressures of the street and Army. There is no doubt that between March 1 and 7 he was under intense pressure to proclaim independence, and this became greater still after Yahya’s broadcast on March 6. But by the afternoon of March 7 he had successfully contained these pressures and committed his party to negotiations within the framework of Pakistan.” (Extract of Article by Rehman Subhan - p. 112)
Largely, ‘A Stranger in My Own
Country’ makes an interesting read and the author’s veracious and lucid style combined with simple language, avoiding verbosity or pretence, retains the readers’ attention.
Title: A Stranger in My Own Country Author: Major General (Retd.) Khadim Hussain Raja Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 2012) Pages: 154, Hardback Price: PKR 695 ISBN: 9780195474411