1971: Gen. Yahya Khan, an Ignominy We Ignore

Posted on March 22, 2010
Filed Under >Adil Najam, History, People, Politics
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Adil Najam

This post continues our series on the events of 1971. The previous three parts of the series can be read here, here, here and here.

It has always surprised me that in all our discussions of the traumas of 1971 the name of Gen. Agha Muhammad Yahya Khan much less frequently than it perhaps should given his role. He presided over the beginnings of a military campaign against what were (then) his own people, what escalated into a full-fledged civil war, eventually an international war, and finally the breakup of the country.

Indeed the complexities were great, there were many other individuals involved, and the roots of all that happened went much further and deeper than just the events of 1971. Yet, Gen. Yahya Khan was in command – of military as well as civilian operations – in those moments of ignominy. But still, for some reason his mentions tend to be fleeting. Although never flattering, there is a sense that we want to move away from the topic of Gen. Yahya Khan as soon as we can; possibly to get to that perennial favorite topic: Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.

In watching this video (from July 31, 1971) this thought struck me again. I realized that at least I had never before seen a recording of him speaking at length. This particularly interview was particularly disturbing also for its content. The arrogance that he was known for and the sense that he as indeed out of touch with what was happening in the country are all too evidently on display:

“If a Head of State is out of touch with any part of his country, I don’t think he has any damn right to remain Head of the State… the moment I find I am out of touch – out of touch with my people – I shall quit… I know East Pakistan more than East Pakistanis know themselves… I am not out of touch. I know exactly hat is happening.”

Equally disturbing is the bit where towards the end he rants about Ireland. This is more disturbing because this is a commentary not only on 1971 but on today. It is all too often that when confronted with evidence of problems within our own polity and society our gut instinct is to (a) highlight how “we are not alone in doing whatever is being condemned” and (b) to argue that since others do it too, therefore it must not really be that bad!

Such discourse has always disturbed me because on the one hand it holds ourselves to the lowest possible standards and on the other hand it it comes across as a sign of being in denial. I hope readers will hear this part of the video (at the end) with care and think hard about how we ourselves sound exactly the same when we make similar arguments about denial!

33 responses to “1971: Gen. Yahya Khan, an Ignominy We Ignore”

  1. Pakistani says:

    Yes, Punjabis are considered less than human. If you don’t burn public property, if you don’t kill doctors and teachers because they speak a different language, if you devote yourself to working instead of complaining about “Big Brother”, if you dont threaten to destroy the country, then you have no importance in Pakistan.

    And noone should object if rockets are fired at youm least of all try to catch the perpretors. That would be a “repeat of 1971.”

    We must be unique as a nation in embracing the enemy narrative – forgetting the Bengali atrocities (skinning alive, eye gouging, death by slow burn), and remembering the army action as the chief villainy. Heck, we went all out and celebrate Mujib and Co., while letting the only true Pakistanis – the biharis – rot in camps for generations.

  2. Farigh says:

    Army Generals are doing exactly the same thing once again in Balochistan. The situation is almost same if not exactly. Lack of trust, resources manipulation, army operation, killing and kidnapping of Balochis by pakistan army, India’s intervention,
    Do we plan to condemn our generals 40 years after Pakistan is divided once again, or we raise our voice now to change it now?

  3. Eidee Man says:

    @ Watan Aziz,

    the language riots were simply a manifestation of a much deeper problem, that of fundamental inequity. Pakistan came into being so that Muslims of the sub-continent would not be relegated to second-class status. And in time, the people in the Eastern wing realized that they were still second-class in the eyes of their compatriots in the western wing. After all, if language itself had been the main issue, then why did the Sindhis, Baloch, and Pathans not rise up with the same fervor?

    The most fundamental error was in not understanding what these days we call the “ahsaas-e-mehroomiyat” of the East. As others have pointed out, we’re repeating the same mistakes today, in both Balochistan and NWFP.

  4. XYZ Khan says:

    how did this arse-hole become the head of the nation?

  5. shahran says:

    Good one, also there is no media clippings that are not covered in Pakistani media on Sheikh Mujib I think he is the one which has got the least coverage in our media and we need to revisit his stance as well by adding his videos in there

    Indira Gandhi on 1971

    Sheikh Mujib

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