Role of Psychological Warfare in Bangladesh’s Liberation War of 1971 – Part 1

Written by Anthony Mascarenhas, a Pakistani reporter, and printed in the UK’s Sunday Times, it exposed for the first time the scale of the Pakistan army’s brutal campaign to suppress its breakaway eastern province in 1971.

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Witnessing History in the Making: Photographs by Anne de Henning Bangladesh 1971–1972 was on view at the National Art Gallery, Dhaka, Bangladesh. [ Photo Credit: huckmag.com]


Sun Tzu’s famous quote is pertinent here, “To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.” Psychological warfare, also called psywar, the use of propaganda against an enemy, supported by such military, economic, or political measures as may be required.

Since the recorded history of warfare, a wide variety of psychological, propaganda, deception, subversion methods and tools have been used to gain a position of advantage against an adversary with the aim to ultimately win, with or without the use of kinetic force. Therefore, the primary aim of psywar is to target the cognitive domains so as to inform, influence, persuade and shape the perception of the targeted population, leaders as well as rank and file of security forces.

Psychological warfare

In 1971, apart from Indian psychological warfare, Bangladesh government in exile also launched an all-out psychological warfare on block-buster level against Pakistani Army and their local buddies in the-then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).

Declaration of Independence

In his last message, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called upon the people to resist the occupation forces. Mujib was arrested on the night of 25–26 March 1971 at about 1:30 am (as per Radio Pakistan’s news on 29 March 1971).

The world press reports from late March 1971 also make clear that Bangladesh’s declaration of independence by Bangabandhu was widely reported throughout the world.

What was the role of media in Bangladesh

In this war the media, mainly the Radio, played an important role in inspiring the freedom fighters to go forward with brevity. Besides, in 1971, World Media also played a greater role in the war of independence of Bangladesh publishing the reports on war in world level.

What was India’s role in the Bangladesh War

The 1971 war against Pakistan was not a war won by India alone. It was a war jointly won by India and the people of the-then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). India’s great role has always been lauded in Bangladesh for attaining our own homeland in 1971.

How is the war of 1971 remembered in Bangladesh?

Fifty-two years after the 1971 war, which led to the independence of Bangladesh, each country involved in the battle institutionalised a distinct memory of the events of that year. In Bangladesh, the war is remembered as the Bengali people’s struggle against an oppressive Pakistan army and its local brutish.

The Role of International Media & Artists

The War of Liberation of 1971 was fought not only by the brave Mukti Bahinis (Freedom Fighters). The creation of Bangladesh also supported through the coverage it received in the international media and artists. Journalists brought home to the people of the world the story of the trials and sacrifices of the heroic people of Bangladesh, and the tribulations they were facing under the insensitive and brutal military administration of the occupying armed forces of Pakistan and their local mango-twigs.

Simon Dring, The Daily Telegraph, London

The first major expose of what had happened in the early hours of 26 March was done by Simon Dring, the young ‘Daily Telegraph’ reporter from London. He had flown into Dhaka on 6 March to cover the growing political tension and then eluded Pakistani search parties (that were entrusted with the task of expelling foreign correspondents). He managed to stay on and presented to the outside world his first-hand account of the fighting that had broken out in the stricken state. He left Dhaka on the weekend after 26 March and filed a special report on the sudden mass crackdown in Dhaka. He was the first to point out on 30 March 1971 that more than 7,000 Bengalis had been slaughtered in Dhaka over 48 hours. It was also clear from his article that the army had struck without warning, under the cover of darkness and that these factors were responsible for enormous casualties.

Anthony Mascarenhas

Bangladesh war: The article that changed history ‘Genocide’ in Sunday Times on 13 June, 1971.

On that day, an article in the UK’s Sunday Times exposed the brutality of Pakistan’s suppression of the Bangladesh’s people’s uprising. It forced the reporter’s family into hiding and changed history.

Abdul Bari had run out of luck. Like thousands of other people in the-then East Pakistan, he had made the mistake the fatal mistake of running within sight of a Pakistani patrol. He was 24 years old, a slight man surrounded by soldiers. He was trembling because he was about to be shot. So, started one of the most influential pieces of South Asian journalism of the past half century.

Written by Anthony Mascarenhas, a Pakistani reporter, and printed in the UK’s Sunday Times, it exposed for the first time the scale of the Pakistan army’s brutal campaign to suppress its breakaway eastern province in 1971. Three million people were brutally murdered by Pakistani Army and their local mango-twigs, especially Jamaat-e-Islami mass-murderers.

Mascarenhas’ reportage played its part and it helped turn world opinion against Pakistan and encouraged India to play a decisive role.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi told the-then editor of the Sunday Times, Harold Evans, that the article had shocked her so deeply it had set her “on a campaign of personal diplomacy in the European capitals and Moscow to prepare the ground for India’s armed intervention,” he recalled.

Mascarenhas was, Evans wrote in his memoirs, “just a very good reporter doing an honest job.”

He was also very brave. Pakistan, at the time, was run by the military, and he knew that he would have to get himself and his family out of the country before the story could be published – not an easy task in those days.

“His mother always told him to stand up and speak the truth and be counted,” Mascarenhas’s widow, Yvonne, recalled (he died in 1986). “He used to tell me, put a mountain before me and I’ll climb it. He was never daunted.”

When the war in what was the-then East Pakistan broke out in March 1971, Mascarenhas was a respected journalist in Karachi, the main city in the country’s dominant western wing, on good terms with the country’s ruling elite. He was a member of the city’s small community of Goan Christians, and he and Yvonne had five children.

The conflict was sparked by elections, which were won by an East Pakistan party, the Awami League under the able and dynamic leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, which wanted greater autonomy for the region.

While the political parties and the military argued over the formation of a new government, many Bengalis became convinced that West Pakistan was deliberately blocking their cherished desire.

The situation started to become flog with or as if with an inflexible rod. The Awami League launched a campaign of civil disobedience, and the army flew in thousands of reinforcements.

On the evening of 25 March, it launched a pre-emptive strike against the Awami League, and other perceived opponents, including members of the intelligentsia and the Hindu community, who at that time made up about 20% of the province’s 75 million people.

In the first of many notorious war crimes, soldiers attacked Dhaka University, lining up and executing students and professors. Their campaign of terror then moved into the countryside, where they battled local troops who had mutinied.

(To be continued…)

Anwar A. Khan

Anwar A. Khan is an independent political analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs

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