‘After a nuclear attack it was like the sunlight’

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This Day in Bangladesh Liberation War History: The Road to Freedom


The New York Times today published passages from a study by a World Bank team that visited East Pakistan in June 1971 and from a report by Hendrik van der Heijden, an economist who was a part of the mission, on a survey of the western area of Bangladesh.

“The situation is far from normal,” the mission report stated, “and there are no signs that normalcy is approaching or that things are even moving in that direction.”

“Approaching Jessore, it became clear that this was the area where the army punitive action had been very severe: from the air, completely destroyed villages were clearly visible, a building was still on fire, and a good many houses had been destroyed to the eastern side of the runway,” Hendrik van der Heijden reported.

“The authorities estimate that Jessore’s population has dropped from 80,000 to 15,000–20,000 people. In Jessore, 20,000 people were slaughtered. The city’s heart has been shattered, and business has come to a halt. “More than half of the stores were damaged,” he continued.

According to the economist, in Kushtia, “The population had plummeted from 40,000 to 5,000 people. 90% of the houses, stores, banks, and other structures were completely destroyed. People seemed bewildered as they sat around. Everyone fled when we moved around. It was as if it had been the morning after a nuclear war. People were afraid, as well as stunned and dazed. I requested them to show me a store that sold food, but it was difficult to find one in the following ninety minutes.”


Senator Edward M. Kennedy released a survey on East Pakistan prepared by two American officials today, claiming that it revealed that millions of people will hunger if emergency measures were not implemented by August 1.

He declared that this “new material,” when combined with the conclusions of a World Bank special mission, constituted a “mockery of the Administration’s policy toward Pakistan” and should “finally break our Government’s official optimism.”

Senator Kennedy’s allegations drew a rebuke from State Department officials, who said they couldn’t locate any evidence in the department’s field reports to support the prediction of widespread starvation by August 1. They claimed that the issue was mostly one of internal distribution, and that US monies had been made available to hire river steamers to help with food delivery.

Regular economic assistance to Pakistan had been put on hold pending the conclusion of the World Bank’s study, officials said.

According to the World Bank study, the military assault had wreaked such havoc on East Pakistan that new international development efforts “would have to be put on hold for at least the next year or two.”


As part of an attempt to eradicate Bangalee culture, street names in Dhaka were modified to erase any Hindu names as well as those of Bangalee Muslim nationalists. Shankhari Bazar Road in Dhaka was renamed Tikka Khan Road after the lieutenant general who served as East Pakistan’s martial law administrator and was known as “the Butcher.”


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