Exploitation of East Pakistan: The East Bengal segment of Pakistan deeply resented the exploitation of the eighteen districts that comprised the four divisions of East Pakistan. The major source of exploitation was the foreign exchange earnings from their 40 jute mills located at Chittagong, Chandpur, Saidpur and Dacca and the tea gardens at Kaptai, Kishoreganj, Fenchgong, Chatak and Chittagong. But only one-fifth of the foreign exchange earnings were made available to the Eastern Wing.
Further, it was East Pakistan that supplied most of the domestic requirements of paper, sugar, textiles, betelhut and tea. The paper mills at Chandragaon and Khulna, sugar factories at Darsana, Khulna, Gauripur and Thakurgaon arid the textile mills at Bogra, Narayangunj,’ Kaliganj, Tungi and Dacca were the main production centres. But nonetheless, out of Rs 100d million spent on development in the fifties and sixties, only Rs 300 million was the share of East Bengal. Therefore, rice production remained stagnant as tractors, fertilizers, import of seeds, etc. were unfairly apportioned to this former rice bowl which now paradoxically depended on the import of grain.
“¦according to World Bank figures, the ratio of per capita income between West and East Pakistan which was 100:82 in 1957 dropped sharply to 100:62 in 1971.
Similarly, only half the volume of East Bengal exports were allowed to be spent on imports for East Pakistan. Besides, 75 per cent of the heavy industries of Pakistan continued to be located in the West. Hence, according to World Bank figures, the ratio of per capita income between West and East Pakistan which was 100:82 in 1957 dropped sharply to 100:62 in 1971. And in addition, the per capita income of West Pakistan was 32 per cent higher than East Pakistan.
This in turn affected the employment potential among the rapidly growing population of East Pakistan which was further aggravated by only 15 per cent of Pakistan’s Government employees being recruited from East Pakistan. And in the predominantly Punjabi armed forces, Bengalis accounted for only 5 per cent of the total armed forces. Only in the Navy did Bengali officers account for 19 per cent of the technical cadre but only 5 per cent of the non-technical branches.
Further, in the context of culture and language, Bengali was denied its rightful place as the language medium in law courts or competitive examinations. It was not taught in many schools and colleges. Bengali theatre, music, literature and paintings were discouraged as being alien and pro-Indian. In short, Pakistan considered their Eastern Wing more as a colony for exploitation than as an integral part of their nation state.
The waterways of revenge
The major seaport was Chittagong situated on the Karnaphuli river which handled 31 lakh tons of cargo in 1969. This tonnage doubled in 1971 due to the induction of four Pakistan Army divisions with their logistic requirements to stem the deteriorating law and order situation. A few months earlier, Major Zia-ur-Rehman had turned his guns against Pakistan soldiers who had been sent to crush the Bengali dock workers on their refusal to unload arms from the freighter MV Swat.
No other naval establishments were located in East Pakistan in spite of the Awami League clamouring for maritime establishments in East Bengal”¦But Islamabad continued to maintain that the defence of East Pakistan lay in the West.
The West Pakistan authorities had earlier embarked a large contingent of East Bengal Rifles for onward passage to Karachi. These troops had also revolted and the ship was forced to turn around and disembark them at Chittagong thus making the East Bengal Rifles (EBR) the nucleus for the emerging partisan forces. Chalna was the main port for the inland waterways transport system for the Khulna region which utilized the Pussur river for servicing this deltaic region. The naval base PNS Bakhtiar was located in Chittagong. In 1970, PNS Titumarwas commissioned in Khulna. No other naval establishments were located in East Pakistan in spite of the Awami League clamouring for maritime establishments in East Bengal. This would have not only created employment but also harnessed the natural reservoir of Bengalis who were well versed in maritime crafts such as merchant seamen, fishermen, coxswains for harbour vessels, marine mechanics and experienced sailors. But Islamabad continued to maintain that the defence of East Pakistan lay in the West.
East Bengal in turn, realized how defenceless the region was particularly during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan conflict when the Pakistan Air Force units based in East Bengal attacked Indian Air Force stations of Kalaikunda and Bagdogra. India, however, did not carry out reprisals. Although this was resented by Indian Air Force personnel, it turned out as a negative factor for Pakistan during the ensuing civil war.
East Pakistan waterways
The primary river routes in East Bengal were:
The Chinese had supplied 28 such vessels with a capacity of 20,000 tons of cargo or alternatively transporting one battalion of troops per coaster.
- Chittagong-South of Sandwip-Gazipur-Chandpur-Dacca.
- Chittagong-South of Sandwip-Gazipur-Barisal-Khulna.
The waterway between Chittagong and Khulna bifurcates at Gazipur with the ‘Kache route’ between Barisal and Khulna being used by vessels with draughts of 12 feet. These vessels navigated down to Barisal along Morrelganj to the top of the Bay and then via the Pussur river to Sandwip and onwards to Chalna and Khulna. The alternative was the ‘Madhumati route’ for vessels with draughts of less than 6 feet. These shallow draught vessels proceed to Khulna via the upper route through Patghat and Gopalganj.
The logistic requirements for these cantonments were the transportation of two lakh tons of cargo and 1.5 lakh personnel.
However, for both routes, the bottleneck was the 80feet wide Gabkhan Canal which was between Jalakathi and Pirajpur and hence was a primary target for the riverine guerrillas for targeting coasters which daily carried 800 tons of cargo from Dacca to Chittagong and Khulna. The Chinese had supplied 28 such vessels with a capacity of 20,000 tons of cargo or alternatively transporting one battalion of troops per coaster. Normally it took one day to load, two days to unload and a day to reach their destination. The US had contracted to give nine such mini-bulkers of 2500 tons and seventeen coasters each of 600 to 1000 tons to Pakistan ostensibly to transport foodgrains and not for military purposes.