Sunday 1.08.1971

As most of you will know I left Dacca on the 4th of April for Karachi. From there I went to Bangkok and stayed there along with some of the other UN personnel who were awaiting advice or instructions from their agencies and I returned to Dacca on the 24th of June….. Enough to say that Bangkok is like another world when you start comparing it to Dacca.

Dacca has never been to the best of my experience a particularly bright or happy city. It has its greenery but its greyness and its squalor seem to overshadow this……. I very soon realised on my return that what little life there had been in the city had been successfully stamped out by events since March.

Before my arrival it had been raining heavily and a light drizzle greeted me as I came out from a completely empty airport building between a metal gate and an armed guard. It was only 8pm but all the streets were empty of rickshaws and babytaxis, no shops were open, the city was silent, by now accustomed to retiring early after 3 months of curfew. So far it is still much the same in the evenings, a few cars are to be seen, but rickshaws and babytaxis are very rare and very few shops are open after dark.

Over the next few days I was to see how the mood of the people had changed. During the period of the Awami League rule there was a light and buoyant mood among the people. There was of course a degree of anarchy, and this I am sure everyone likes, but it was not this that gave cause to the atmosphere at the time but rather the solidarity of the people behind one party, for one cause, of one mind. For the first time they had political hope – a majority, a strong party an outline for a constitution, the promise of a national assembly in which to frame the constitution and perhaps the most important of all – a leader. Hopes were dampened by the postponement of the assembly after Bhutto’s refusal to attend, but determination and solidarity grew and the campaign of civil disobedience continued. Undoubtedly there was much pressure from the left in the Awami League to declare independence, but this was resisted all along by Sheikh Mujib.

The initial effects of the army’s “invasion” was one of shock, now it has turned to bitterness and hatred. Determination and solidarity has strengthened but all the joy and high spirits has gone out of life. All the Bengalis I have spoken to so far are of the same mind – East Pakistan must become independent Bangladesh, it is only a question of time. They WILL NOT bend again to the wishes of the army, they will fight it out, slowly perhaps but successfully in the end. It is the opinion of some people, and I share it, that at some stage Yaya Khan was wrongly advised on the elections. No one expected a party to gain so many seats, let alone a majority in the whole country. The seats were expected to be divided between 2 or 3 parties if not more and 1 or 2 could have been bought off by the West and the West maintain its control in the province. It was not so and somehow the West (the army/Punjabis) had to prevent power being taken by the Bengalis. This is the result.

They have not prevented it only postponed it and with the addition of much suffering for everyone. No Bengali that I have met is interested in maintaining the unity of Pakistan now, for them the sooner they gain their freedom the better. The people are on the whole very open about how they feel. One friend I met the other day told me straight away how he had lost his brother who had joined the Mukti Bahini very early on. He was now looking after his parents but he had warned them that he may leave at any time and that they would probably not see him again unless it was to celebrate independence. The British press and BBC are not approved of here officially, but unofficially it is read and listened to very closely. Very little that is approved of by the government is approved of by the people and vice-versa. Yaya Khan’s of 28 June did not impress anyone here, it only seemed to make the Bengali more certain that his cause is just and necessary.

The predominant feeling is one of uncertainty, no one knows what will happen from day to day. One of the staff came in a few days ago saying that 3 children had been taken from his neighbourhood for “collaborating” with the authorities by taking their matriculation as instructed by martial law. If any possible target of the Mukti Bahini happens to be in the area, no one can say what they will do or how severe will be the army’s reaction. In the recent past we have been having quite regular explosions in the evenings, seemingly more noise than effect. However a few nights ago an electricity substation was badly damaged and the electricity supplies were disrupted for about 24 hours; it is unlikely that this will be the only attack against the electricity supply. Just a little up the road from where I am presently living and almost outside where I was living before, lies the wreck of a car recently blown up. It is sure that the Mukti Bahini are in most places though they nay only be strong in the border areas. No one is quite sure what any friend, neighbour or associate is telling to whom. Some foreigners feel in danger, but there is no danger for us compared to what the local people face. Many are living in a state of nervousness and it shows.

I have not had a chance to travel the country so I cannot give you the sort of reports you are no doubt reading in the press, but the sights of Dacca are indicative enough and the stories I have heard only go to confirm what I have read. Particularly depressing are the heaps of rubble that were once Hindu villages in the middle of the race course, an area of the old city that I’ve seen (not the only one apparently), once a maze of houses shacks and shanties, now a flat open space; once houses for hundreds maybe even thousands of people, now only a children’s play area. And the old railway line running through the city, once populated by similar shacks and shanties on either side now a clearway with only a few remains of what must have been home to thousands.

The stories are many but the verifications are few. It is certainly true that what goes on in any war has gone on here, in that way it is surely not unique, but I am certainly not in a position to say whether it has been any worse or any better than in any other war. Its tragedy is perhaps more obvious because of the circumstances; the history of East Pakistan within the history of Pakistan, the hopes of the elections and the subsequent suppression of a traditionally peaceful people by their “brothers” in the West who are just the opposite. No one knows quite how many people have been killed, no one knows the strength of the Mukti Bahini either in numbers or skill. But it seems sure that the war can only end with independence for the province.

The independence of Bangla Desh will only be the beginning of a long hard struggle; an already very poor country will be very much poorer by the time that independence is realised. Jute and tea, the former the main foreign exchange earner, and the latter an important export to West Pakistan, have been amongst the main targets for the freedom fighters. Local administration is disrupted such that health and welfare services have broken down in many areas, vaccination programmes have lapsed and perhaps most serious of all, what has been a very successful anti-malarial campaign over the last ten years or so may be set back a long way. School attendance is presently estimated by the government department concerned to be only 15 to 20% of its previous level and the university programme has been delayed effectively for a year. Many other problems will doubtless result, but the most serious of all will be the food problem, both shortage of food and the distribution difficulties are very likely to cause widespread suffering.

It is for this reason that the Government, after first claiming that there would be no food shortage, has now requested the United Nations to provide assistance in the distribution of foods, while member governments have been asked to donate food through the United Nations. The Secretary General therefore appointed his Special Representative in East Pakistan, Mr El Tawil, to set up the UN mission for Relief and Rehabilitation in East Pakistan. The mission’s work will be concentrated on food import and distribution, but it is hoped that with the co-operation of other UN agencies, such as UNICEF, WFP, FAO, WHO, the mission’s work will be as comprehensive as possible. At present the mission consists of only 5 people including 3 radio operators. It is expected that as many as 100 people could be involved in the operation eventually both at the centre and in the field.

At present the plans for the mission are still being formulated so I cannot tell you more about it, but it will prove to be, I think, an interesting mission for 2 main reasons. Firstly, as you probably know, there is a good deal of pressure on the UN to form what might be called a “Disaster Agency”, to be ready for such emergencies as this and the cyclone emergency of last November. A number of blueprints for this have apparently already been made, but this could be a kind of test bed for such co-operation among the agencies that would be essential for such work. (Co-operation which it seems to me is often sadly lacking). Secondly the Government has requested that the UN co-ordinate the work of voluntary agencies which are working in East Pakistan. Some of these agencies are of long standing here and some have been here just since the cyclone. At present there are about 15 voluntary bodies, in general either religious/denominational or national or a mixture of both. I am sure it will be a valuable thing to try and co-ordinate all this work, in fact I think it is proposed to appoint someone specially to do the job, but I am equally sure that it will be no easy task to gain full co-operation from everyone.

The UN will be about the only organisation expanding in the near future judging by current trends. Many projects have been postponed or cancelled, the continuous stream of World Bank consultants we had coming prior to March has dried up completely and almost all UNDP projects are held in abeyance for the time being. Most of our work at present consists only of packing up the effects of those who have departed, selling some of them, settling up with worried landlords etc. We are also chasing up consignments that have been waiting for an opportunity to come to Chittagong having been offloaded at almost any port in the east. I think it unlikely that the UN or any other aid agency will expand up or beyond their old levels of activity until the “civil” war is settled and to my mind that can only be with independence.

The prospect for the immediate future is not a bright on, but I am basically optimistic for the long term outcome. To a degree the predictions of my December letter “things will only get worse before they get better…..that sooner or later there has to be a major upheaval in this society if it is going to move forward and that upheaval will almost certainly be bloody and violent” have turned out to be true. I would not care to predict the outcome and as everyone knows the economic and political battles are far from finished when the military one is over. But if this upheaval can unite the people, can discipline the people to work together for a common cause maybe there will be more rapid results when independence is realised. There is certainly no enthusiasm to work for the present government but when it is their own country, for their own wellbeing and dignity as a nation maybe things will be different. I sincerely hope so.

I think it only remains for me to say “JOY BANGLA”

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