As the chances of East Pakistan getting separated from West Pakistan increased sharply following the December 1970 elections which reflected the people’s resistance against exploitation and dominance, the CIA observed in early March that Bangladesh’s future under the rule of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League would not be a smooth journey either.
The report stated that an independent East Pakistan would begin with some assets, notably in the political realm but also including an ethnically homogenous population.
But it would “face economic problems of staggering proportions because of its dearth of natural resources, its burgeoning population, and its lack of capital, economic infrastructure, and entrepreneurial and technical skills.”
The dominant agricultural sector – mostly dependent on jute – could make little headway unless flood waters were controlled, the CIA said, adding that the process would require considerable capital.
The intelligence memorandum “East Pakistan: An Independent Nation?” dated March 1, 1971 and published online in January this year gives a glimpse of erstwhile East Pakistan’s strength and limitations, from agriculture to industrial growth and poor condition of the Bangali army men.
The secret document was prepared by the Office of Current Intelligence and coordinated within the Directorate of Intelligence.
Pre-war East Pakistan:
• Population- around 73-75 million, with 90% living in rural areas
• Literacy rate 20%
• Average per capita income about $60 (far below that in West Pakistan and not much higher than the level in 1948)
• 4.3% engaged in small-scale manufacturing industry
• 45% of workforce in jute product manufacturing
• Agricultural sector mostly dependent on jute
• Flood, drought used to strike often
• Private investment 25% of national total
• Capital was in hands of a few wealthy families migrated from Pakistan, India and Myanmar
• Power shortages and frequent outages
• Until 1970, the country had only one gas field in Sylhet
• No easily exploitable coal fields
• Hydroelectric power possibilities were limited
• Rooppur nuclear plant was set to be constructed with the support of Belgium
• In 1965, there were 151 Bangalis in civil service out of 461
• In 1970, only 11 out of 53 Pakistani heads of missions were Bangalis
[caption id="attachment_51096" align="aligncenter" width="800"]
Inspired by Bangabandhu’s historic speech on March 7, 1971, retired army personnel assembled at Outer Stadium in Dhaka to prepare for the Liberation War RASHID TALUKDER/ PHOTO SOURCE: MUKTIJUDDHO E-ARCHIVE TRUST
The rapid population growth was mentioned as the top economic factor in the report estimating the number of people to be 73-75 million in East Pakistan, a land area about the size of Florida or Arkansas, with 90% rural population and 20% literacy rate.
Based on a conservative growth rate, the CIA predicted that the population would be 115m in 1985 and 180m in 2000.
The average per capita income of East Pakistan was about $60, far below that in West Pakistan and not much higher than the level in 1948.
According to the 1961 census, only 4.3% of the East Pakistani labour force was engaged in manufacturing, almost entirely in small-scale industry.
Private enterprise was generally very inefficient in East Pakistan, where “numerous small, uneconomic shops produce similar products, using outdated methods and without sufficient capital for expansion,” the report said.
There had been little private investment in East Pakistan in comparison with the West wing, accounting to about 25% of the national total. Capital was largely in the hands of a few wealthy families who had migrated from Pakistan, India and Myanmar.
Much of the managerial class resident of East Pakistan was “composed of Urdu-speaking Muslim refugees [known as Biharis] from India, who have never been accepted by the Bangalis and who would probably move to West Pakistan if the East wing became independent.”
The CIA underscored the need for more workers with technical skills for the development of an independent East Pakistan.
Jute was the main cash crop at that time while 45% of the total industrial workforce was engaged in manufacturing jute products. But jute products had already started facing competition in the world markets from synthetics, the report said.
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The agricultural sector used to face massive setback due to annual flooding and drought, while the country was also subject to high salinity and devastating cyclones. The November 1970 cyclone killed at least 500,000 people in coastal areas.
East Pakistan was also facing power shortages and frequent outages due to lack of mineral resources. Until 1970, the country had only one gas field in Sylhet for power generation and producing fertiliser.
“There are no easily exploitable coal fields in East Pakistan … hydroelectric power possibilities in East Pakistan are limited.” A nuclear power plant was set to be constructed at Rooppur of Pabna with the support of Belgium in five years.
Lack of adequate transport system was another reason behind sluggish growth in East Pakistan.
Civil service and foreign ties
In 1965, there were 151 Bangalis in the civil service out of a nationwide total of 461, the CIA report said, adding: “Under Mujibur Rahman, however, a civil service might not have as great a role to play.”
As of late 1970, only a few government agencies drew as many as half of their employees from East Pakistan. Many Bangalis had held lesser positions in the bureaucracy below the elite civil service level.
In 1970, only 11 out of 53 Pakistani heads of missions were Bangalis.
“Mujib is relatively well travelled and has expressed himself on certain foreign policy aspects. He favours the restoration of trade ties with India and the peaceful settlement of outstanding disputes.
The CIA anticipated that the independence of East Pakistan might give rise to dreams among Bangalis on both sides and concern in New Delhi over the formation of a “Greater Bengal.”
“The AL does not appear to be particularly sympathetic to communist China, and some AL leaders seem suspicious of Chinese intentions,” the CIA document reads.
The US is apparently held in high esteem by several senior AL leaders. At the same time, the report stated, “there have been frequent contacts between Soviet diplomats and AL leaders, and Soviet assistance after the cyclone of 1970 was substantial.”
Previous stories on the CIA CREST records:
CIA CREST records:
On January 17, the CIA published around 930,000 declassified documents to the standalone CIA Records Search Tool (CREST) system online, some of which are about Bangladesh and erstwhile East Pakistan. Earlier, the records were only accessible in person at the National Archives Records Administration (NARA) in College Park, Maryland and through four computer terminals.
Since 1999, the CIA has regularly released its historical declassified records to the CREST system.
The documents on Bangladesh – 1,937 posted in December last year and 95 in January – include views of the CIA and the US’ Dhaka embassy about events related to politics, economy and Bangladesh ties with India and other countries.
On the other hand, the database includes 857 posts on erstwhile East Pakistan posted in December and 45 in January.