Friday, June 26, 2009

Excerpt Of The Day: Bathroom Diplomacy To Save A Country

I'm currently doing some research on ethnic-centered independence movements for my dissertation, and quite naturally, the case study of East Pakistan/Bangladesh is crucial for the study. I plan on doing a post on the various historical interpretations of that event maybe next week, but today I wanted to highlight one quite amazing passage from War and Secession: Pakistan, India, and the Creation of Bangladesh by Richard Sisson and Leo E. Rose.

To set the stage for you, we're basically just around the corner from formal civil war breaking out at the end of March 1971. The crisis -- born of decades of political, economic, social, and cultural mistreatment of East Pakistan at the hands of the West Pakistan establishment, culminating in the election results of 1970 being ignored by Yahya's military regime and Bhutto's PPP -- has reached a boiling point. Yahya has postponed the convening of the National Assembly, a meeting which Bhutto has barred all PPP representatives from even attending (the famous "break your legs" line). East Pakistan has erupted, and law and order has broken down. The central authorities in Bengal have lost control of events on the ground.

Under these circumstances, Yahya has gone to Dhaka for one last throw of the dice. He is meeting with Mujib ur Rehman, the leader of the Awami League, the democratically elected most powerful party in Pakistan. Take it away, Messrs Sisson and Rose:
Negotiations between the government and the Awami League began the following day, 16 March. After an early morning meeting with his senior colleagues, Mujib arrived at the President's House in a white car flying a black flag that symbolized the public's mourning for those who had died under army and police fire after the postponement of the National Assembly. The first decision to be made was where the two leaders were to confer. Mujib strongly objected to meeting in the drawing room for fear that it might be bugged and insisted that Yahya and he hold their discussions in a room that was more private and secure. After some deliberation, and with Mujib's concurrence, the president ordered two chairs brought to the bathroom off the main bedroom of the President's House. It was there that the final negotiations to save Pakistan began.

All I've got written in the margins next to this paragraph is the word "nice".


takhalus said...

what an interesting load of crap?

looking forward to the book review

bubs said...

Ahsan: You might also enjoy this Time magazine article from 1971. It has some great Yahya quotes.

bubs said...

Sorry. Messed up the HTML. This is the correct link.

Kalsoom said...

Great excerpt! Interested to know what you thought of the book, I used it for my genocide seminar in college when I did my final project on 1971 (my mom is Bangladeshi and my dad is Pakistani, so studying the war was always a big deal for me throughout school).

Ahsan said...


Don't think I'll be reviewing the book per se, but I do have a post planned on the war and the lead up to it.


Thanks. Some great quotes there.


I thought it was an ok book, but didn't go in depth enough about the actual conduct of the civil war.

takhalus said...

Have you read the last days of united Pakistan by G W Choudry? Quite a lot of informative stats in it..

anoop said...

Any leader who speaks like Yahya Khan would have been kicked out of office by his own bodyguards in India.. Indian Muslims are really lucky to have remained back in India..