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Revolution and Liberation War

When the Second World War came to an end, the colonial powers were thoroughly exhausted and weakened both economically and politically. The retention of overseas possessions by continuous military dominance became problematic for several reasons. Nationalism in the guise of anti-colonialism spilled over into the colonies and its pace became more intense after the recognition of the right of self-determination in the Versailles Treaty of 1921. The local leaders in the colonies, most of whom had been educated in European schools and colleges, became vocal about this right of self-determination. Moreover, many inhabitants of the colonies had to take part in the wars of the colonial masters in Europe and elsewhere. The impact of all these factors was quite profound.

Throughout the twentieth century there were many liberation wars, directed against colonial masters in different forms. Ceylon, for example, got independence in 1948 and it was made possible by the activities of the armed guerilla groups, aided by armed police and political activists. The Indonesian fought against the Dutch military and gained independence in 1949. The Chinese Communist Party through fierce fight against the Chinese Nationalist Government established their rule in mainland China in 1949. The nature of liberation war underwent changes over time, but guerilla tactics had been the favourite modus operandi with the army fomenting national revolution. Political parties, pressure groups, professionals and semi-military organizations like the volunteer corps played a vital role in these wars. Such wars have always been nationalistic in character and were fought by self-styled liberation armies. Much importance was often attached to the use of Marxist-Leninist dogma by the young students, workers, peasants and political activists. The struggle of the Vietnamese or the Algerians against the French colonial masters are typical in this respect (Geertz 1963). The instances of independence struggles in Guinea and Ghana may also be cited in this connection (Wallerstein 1961). In some cases, the charisma of the leaders of independence movement was used to mobilize people. The military had also to respond to the call of the nation. Thus, it turned out to be great liberating promise in most of the colonies of Asia, Africa and Latin America. While the common denominator of these movements in the colonies had been anti-imperialism stance and a political rejection of capitalist form of economic reconstruction the ideology guiding them has been a mixture of agrarian populism and radical nationalism.

These movements were generally led by political leaders, but where violent means were used against the colonial armed forces, the military also got involved. Young intellectuals and the rising professionals also played important roles, but students constituted the most important mass base of the liberation war. It must be remembered that the conditions vary from country to country, but primarily the students and military constitute the bulk of such armies.

Can the term ‘liberation war’ be defined? Liberation war, like war in general, is a complex concept. No simple or single theory is likely to account for it. Bowyer Bell has defined the liberation war as a military action. Thus, “if a small, renewable core of true believers can be organized, willing to sacrifice their lives for a cause professed by a reasonable portion of the population and possible of realization, then, in spite of the obstacles, real or imagined, an armed struggle can be launched” (Bell, 1976: 526). The cause of the struggle need not necessarily be fully understood or completely accepted by those for whom they fight and it certainly need not have to have majority support.

The essence of a revolt is commitment to a cause beyond the capacity of the system to co-opt or absorb. The motives that inspire revolt and the take up of arms are generally couched in fear of losing some vital interests of a collectivity, for which they are prepared to lay down their lives. The major interest of the rebels is to cause as much disorder as possible, even using guerilla tactics where feasible. Liberation war is a sort of omnibus term and covers wars of independence, guerilla warfare, revolution, rebellion, revolt, insurrection, peasant revolt, uprising or mutiny. It is however undeniable that conceptual confusion still persists. The 1956 ‘Hungarian Revolution’ as referred to by one analyst becomes for another ‘The Hungarian Revolt’, because in his definition ‘revolution’ succeeds while ‘revolt’ fails (Keskemeti, 1961: 2). Similarly, some writers have termed the War of American Independence an act of revolution, but others differ (Greene, 1974: 7). While such phenomena are sometimes described as ‘new wars’, Harry Eckstein has used the term ‘internal war’ (Eckstein, 1964), because such wars take place between two nations in one state and remain confined within one state. The concept of liberation war has been used in this study in the sense of an internal war. John Chalmers has also used the term in this sense. In his own words: “During that time the world also witnessed at least fifteen revolutions of diverse types. These include the 1971 revolution that created Bangladesh out of what had been East Pakistan” (Chalmers, 1982: IX). Some Bangladeshi scholars have also described the bloody confrontation between the Pakistani authorities (the internal colonialists) and the east Pakistani authorities (the internal colonialists) and the East Pakistanis during 1971 as Liberation War (Ahamed, 1988 Talukder, 1980), although the Pakistan authorities termed it as rebellion because the Bengali military officers revolted against “their lawful authorities”.

The term ‘revolution’ has been derived from astronomy, It was initially used by philosophers to imply a cyclical process in human development and it entered into common political parlance only after the French Revolution of 1789 (Arendt, 1926: 35-36). The Encyclopedia of Social Sciences defines revolution thus: “Revolution in its common sense is an attempt to make a radical change in the system of government. It often involves the infringement of prevailing constitutional arrangement through the infringement of prevailing constitutional arrangement through the use of force. Revolution may also mean any fundamentally new development in the economy, culture and social fabric that is, in practically in any field of human endeavour” (Encyclopedia of Social Sciences, 510). Crane Brinton, analyzing the anatomy of this limited political revolution in broader social and cultural context, has found out such abstract general social values as freedom security, equality or justice as the causes of revolution since these are the ones that provide a basis for revolutionary sentiment (Brinton, 1958).

Though the concept of revolution since the time of Aristotle was originally related to the notion of a cyclical alteration in the forms of government, it implies a totally different thing today. It is “the idea of a new order” and this concept of revolution predominates since the American and French revolutions. The concept of revolution began to be used in this sense since the seventeenth century, as “a challenge to the established political order” and “eventual establishment of a new order, radically different from the preceding one” (Encyclopedia of Social Sciences: 510). Its recent use is indicative of “an attempt to make a radical change in the system of government”, and in fact a successful revolution is more than an attempt, in that it radically changes the system of government. It inaugurates new order both in the society and polity (Skocpol, 1975: 175-180; Skocpol, 1976: 57-60). To avoid them or to reduce its possibility, effective changes by means of gradual transformation are in order so that adaptation of the institutions or processes of political order to evolving values, interests and beliefs becomes easier.

In the pre-revolutionary situation, large groups of people remain alienated from the established political order. The existing laws and regulations thus lose their legitimacy to them and appear arbitrary, their enforcement unjustified. During the pre-revolutionary period though, efforts are often made to reform and re-establish the political and socio-economic order, but they fail and this failure enhances the sense of revolutionary potential. Looking at the Six-Point Programme of 1966, and its implications for Pakistan, one is forced to conclude that it was intended to re-structure the political system in Pakistan so that in such areas as finance and currency, taxation and trade that the intergrity of the Pakistani state was severely challenged and the Bengali elite would have had their control firmly established. The West Pakistani elite could not accommodate this situation mainly because they were not prepared to part with the resources over which they had continued to exercise absolute control since 1947. The military leaders of Pakista, most of whom were from West Pakistan, became especially alarmed because at least 4 points of the Six-Point Programme (2, 3, 4 and 5) were against their corporate interests. From this perspective, the happenings of 1971 in East Pakistan can be understood as a revolution (Talukder, 1980). The Six-Point Programme and its implications for the Pakistani armed forces have been analyzed in depth in Chapter Six.

One must however proceed with caution in this slippery terrain. The changes that occurred in East Pakistan after the revolution were much more than the revolution from above as formulated by Ellen Kay Trimberger (1978). East Pakistan, UNLIKE Turkey after the Ataturk regime, or Japan after Meiji restoration, or Egypt after Nasser’s take over, became a totally new entity, an independent and sovereign state, and in this transformation, mass upheaval accompanied by a bloody war fought by the Bengali soldiers and Mukiti Bahini (freedom fighters) became the crucial factor.

Revolution has a variety of connotations. If it results in change of the government only, becomes labeled as political revolution; if it also changes the distribution of wealth and status symbols in the society, for example, by destroying the privileges of a nobility, it becomes known as social revolution (Skocpol, 1976). Attempts that are made against a government or a state, seeking to change the ruling elite or their policies, but not intending to fabricate wholesale changes in the institutional framework, are generally known as revolts (Johnson 1964: 50-75; Tanter and Midlarsky 1967: 15-35; Gurr with Ruttenberg 1967: 66-77; Eckstein 1963: 115-121; Wallerstein 1961: 159-163; Pettee 1938: 85-96). In revolts, the rebels abrogate previous authorities by recourse to armed forces in an attempt to seize power in the name of a new legitimacy upheld in the name of people.

Although the aims of a revolt may in large part be determined by the orchestration of a revolt may in large part be determined by the orchestration of the rebel’s resources, no new vision or any intention of fashioning a new society are necessary, In short, a revolt is a means to a limited and or varying ends, a determined but coherent intervention with violence. It may be difficult for the rebels to create a recognizable, legitimate alternative to the challenged authority. In the words of J. Bowyer Bell: “A revolt is coherent, armed rising of sufficient proportion to challenge seriously the existing central authority, but without the capacity to create an alternative authority: a lethal dialogue between rebel aspirants to power and the forces of authority” (Bell, 1976: 5-6). The momentous events in East Pakistan on 25 March 1971 may be characterized as a revolt in the sense that the Bengali armed forces, very casually trampling on their allegiance to the parent body i.e. the armed forces of Pakistan, and joining hands with other paramilitary forces and the political elements in the society, began fighting against the Pakistani forces. The Bengali forces issued a historic Declaration of Independence of Bangladesh; they coordinated their activities both with the military and paramilitary forces stationed in different cantonments; they agreed to fight under the recognized political leadership which started functioning on 17 April, 1971; the political leaders promulgated a constitutional formula to shape the destiny of the land and its inhabitants.

It can similarly be said that those cataclysmic events of 1971 in east Pakistan were revolutionary in the those were designed to make radical changes in the existing politico-economic system in East Pakistan through use of force, and were strongly motivated by the earnest desires of the participants for such social values as freedom, democracy, equality and justice. Ultimately it was proved that those events were more than a revolution in the sense that the authors of the revolution although they proceeded with the goal of re-structuring the system and the mass upheaval finally hardened and became solidified with a national movement desirous of setting up a new nation state. It can not be termed a revolution from above because the Bengali military leaders, who took the first crucial jump in the revolution and revolted by throwing aside the professional discipline, finally fought under the leadership of an organized government, the Bangladesh Government-in-Exile at Mujibnagar. For all these reasons, it is more reasonable to term that revolution the Liberation War of 1971, and this is how it has been described in the study.

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