A Sol­dier’s View on Pak­istan’s Par­ti­tion

Southasia - - Book - the au­thor nar­rates his ex­pe­ri­ence and ob­ser­va­tions: “Sheikh Mu­jib’s mes­sage (for Ma­jor Gen­eral Khadim Hus­sain Raja), briefly, was that he was un­der great pres­sure from the ex­trem­ists and stu­dent lead­ers within the party to de­clare uni­lat­eral dec­la­ra­tion

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.

Re­viewed by Munir Ishrat Rah­mani

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

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