Friday 26.03.71

I am starting this letter with no idea when it will get out or if it will get out but I must put pen to paper. I am not at the office but at home as we are back in curfew again. The city is absolutely silent. The occasional dog barks now and then and others take up the call and then all is quiet again. A plane goes overhead, probably a military one. Now as I write the sudden clack of machine gun fire, or something very like it. All morning and I guess much of the night as well there has been sporadic firing. No doubt it is calmer than Belfast but it sounds awful.

Yesterday was as normal, the National Assembly had been postponed by mutual agreement, there was a bit of tension due to trouble in Chittagong. Most people seemed to be expecting an announcement but it never came, no speech from the President, no press conference or whatever……People were beginning to talk of Government offices reopening soon and things returning to semi-normal.

……I was glad to get my head down to sleep. But only for about 2 hours, because at about 1.15am, I woke up to the sound of firing. At first I was not sure if I was dreaming, but having established that I was not, I then thought that perhaps it was fireworks for independence or something. This seemed reasonable for a moment or two because I saw a flare go up. But then I could see a lot of trucks and what were presumably troops and there was a lot of firing, both close and further away in town. Unfortunately I could not see clearly what the troops were doing though they were all around Sheikh Mujib’s house. There are rumours this morning that he is dead and all the household as well or that he has been carried off. Certainly something has happened otherwise they would not have been so concentrated around his house. We shall have to wait and see what the truth is.

I listened to Radio Pakistan this morning but there was absolutely nothing. Troops came round in trucks later with loud hailers. It was difficult to make out what they were saying, but I think telling people to take flags down and stay in, but we were informed, politely of course, that if any road block was set up the house beside the block would be destroyed. Pleasant I must say.

So we are back to square one or maybe even further. Many have I am sure been killed and a political solution, when It seemed close, has slipped through everyone’s fingers. The news mentions that the President left last night at midnight but says nothing about whether Bhutto left with him, but I would be surprised if he did not.

So today there is nothing to do but stay inside and see what tomorrow brings.

I think I would say that with the announcement of about 15 new Martial law orders which I have just heard on the radio I have heard the beginning of the end of Pakistan. Everything has been prohibited; political meetings, gatherings of 5 or more persons, news not subject to censorship, carrying of firearms, pamphlets, propaganda, shouting of slogans, carrying of sticks etc. Everyone has to return to work in 24 hours (but there is a curfew so that maybe difficult) or risk trial in a military court and loss of job. Schools remain closed for the present and banks are freezing all assets. All reproduction and cyclostyling machinery is supposed to be handed in to martial law authorities. Now we shall see the solidarity of the people tested – will they stick to Sheikh Mujib’s orders of civil disobedience till his demands are met or will everyone be back at work tomorrow?

All day the firing has gone on. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how many are dead.. At about 3 I went onto the roof again, looking out of the door there was a thick black cloud of smoke rising from over the old town somewhere and the cloud spread right across the horizon to over the second capital buildings. On going up again just now (7pm) I could see the red flare of the fire under the smoke. If it is the old city it must be frightening because I can imagine much of that going up like matchwood and the wind is quite strong tonight. The lady from downstairs said the fire had been burning from about 2.30.

The Sheikh’s house has looked empty all day. One begins to get the feeling that this was all planned to some extent sometime ago and that the talks this week were just to give them time to get more troops over here – a difficult job without being able to overfly India. We are fairly effectively cut off from the outside world and listening to the BBC which talks of unconfirmed reports of fighting seems to confirm that.

8.30pm. So the President has spoken and suddenly I have no sympathy for Pakistan any longer but only for Bangladesh. You will have read something about the speech by the time you get this. It is really fantastic that he can try and lay all the blame at the feet of Sheikh Mujib and the Awami League when they were voted for by some 60% of the electorate of E Pakistan and by some 90% of those who voted here. He (the President) had the constitutional framework and demanded the immediate sitting of the National Assembly and it was called for March – OK they agreed. Then it was postponed by the President and it was he who started the trouble by doing that. Now he declared the Awami League traitors, i.e. in effect all of East Pakistan and has banned the party. Also he has banned all political activities for the present. However he still says that when things return to normal he will pursue his aim of handing over power to the peoples’ representatives – ha-ha and who believes that now, no one here that’s for sure. It was interesting that on turning over from Radio Pakistan to BBC the BBC had been monitoring it and was commenting on it at the time. Pretty fast work.

The army takes over and that means the W Pakistani army, so few are Bengali. Martial law means laws from the West…. What little sympathy I had for Pakistan has vanished completely tonight. This is the beginning of the end even if it takes years and W Pakistan stands to lose far more by it in the end.

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