East Pakistan's Civil War

July 28, 1971

Report Outline
Chaos in East and West Bengal
East Pakistan and Indian History
Perils of Strife on Asian Subcontinent
Special Focus

Chaos in East and West Bengal

Massive Refugee Migration to Neighboring India

One of history's greatest, and most sudden, migrations is taking place across the border that separates East Pakistan and India. Driven from their homes by violence, chaos and fear, as many as seven million Pakistanis have sought safety in the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar, Assam, and Tripura. This mass movement has been compared to having the entire population of New Jersey abruptly flee to New York City and nearby counties. In one week, May 10–17, according to State Department figures, nearly one million East Pakistanis crossed the border into India. The influx doubled the population of tiny Tripura in barely two months. As of late July, the migration continued at a rate of 75,000 to 100,000 a day, with no end in sight.

The refugees are escaping from a civil war in East Pakistan that has turned their riverine countryside into a lake of blood. Soldiers from West Pakistan are battling a ragtag but growing insurgent force intent on creating an autonomous, or even independent, Bengal state. Until 1947 when Pakistan was carved out of India, the area that is now East Pakistan was a part of India called East Bengal, and many of its people are still drawn by ancestral ties to the Indians of West Bengal rather than the West Pakistanis.

The struggle over “Bangla Desh,” the Bengali homeland, is claiming a fearful toll of lives. By some Indian estimates, more than 700,000 Bengalis have been killed since fighting erupted in late March. A West Pakistani writer, Aijaz Ahmad, calculates the number of East Pakistani deaths at 500,000. Some other sources put the total so far at 200,000 The economy of East Pakistan lies in ruins and famine is threatened. Moreover, the refugee movement bas placed terrible economic and social strains on India and raised fear of a cholera epidemic.

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