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On This Day: 18 March, 1971 All preparations for Operation Searchlight

On This Day: 18 March, 1971 All preparations for Operation Searchlight

Unbeknownst to the Bengali political leadership as well as to the outside world, the Pakistan military junta on March 18, 1971 initiated preparations for what would euphemistically come to be known as Operation Searchlight. Even as he made a show of continuing his negotiations with the Awami League, General Yahya Khan gave General Tikka Khan the green signal for the operation that would plunge Pakistan into tragedy a few days later on March 25. As a matter of fact, following the meetings between Yahya Khan and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and between their advisors on March 17, the president ordered the army to prepare for action against the Awami League leadership. Consequently, once he had received Yahya’s instructions, Tikka Khan authorized General Khadim Hussain Raja and General Rao Farman Ali to work out the details of the planned operation. They did so with the greatest efficiency. Meanwhile, the talks between the regime and the Awami League continued. Among the Bengali population, there was a rising degree of exasperation at the fact that the regime had till then made no progress in trying to work out an arrangement with the majority party. That only added to the militancy among the population, very large sections of which now openly demanded that Bangabandhu declare the independence of Bangladesh on an immediate basis. While some quarters pinned their hopes on the two sides reaching an acceptable degree of accommodation, most were convinced that Pakistan could not continue in light of the rapidly changing scene in its eastern province. Hence the urgent calls to Bangabandhu for an outright declaration of independence. On March 18, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman rejected the commission of inquiry set up by Tikka Khan to probe the circumstances in which the army had been called out, and stayed out, between March 2 and March 9. Bangabandhu clearly felt that an inquiry by the army itself would not be a fair one. As such, the people would not accept such a commission.

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