East Pakistan is separated from West Pakistan by the 1,000-mile width of India and by a smouldering hatred. East Pakistan pays most of Pakistan's taxes, provides most of the sterling and dollar earnings, but gets the short end of revenues. Though 56% of Pakistan's population live in East Pakistan and four out of seven Pakistanis speak the Bengali tongue, until last fortnight the nation's official language was West Pakistan's Urdu.
Even in his own area, the East Pakistani feels like a second-class citizen, exploited by carpetbaggers from Karachi who hold most of the top government posts and most of the top police jobs. Last week the news seeped through tight censorship that East Pakistan's hatred had flared into appalling bloodshed.
How it began is unclear; why is plain. The owners of the world's newest, biggest jute mill at Narayanganj, East Pakistan, pampered their imported West Pakistan workers, gave them better jobs and a higher wage scale than the East Pakistan Bengalis. On payday, when the West Paks were lording it over the Bengalis, the atmosphere was tense. According to one version, a West Pakistani fireman reproved a Bengali teastall keeper for allowing the flames to burn too high in his oven. The Bengali took offense, and when a factory watchman intervened, another Bengali stabbed the watchman.
Next morning the West Paks hoisted black flags over their houses, in mourning, and staged an impassioned mass meeting. From the meeting they surged toward the Bengali labor barracks, armed with rifles and revolvers. The Bengalis took up swords, pickaxes and knives. All morning both sides sweated in the humid heat and butchered. One band of West Paks selected a block of Bengali quarters, set it afire, then systematically shot down the Bengalis as they fled.
By midday two Bengali villages were in ashes, the water in two hyacinth-covered ponds was red from the blood of floating bodies. When the troops arrived, they found some 400 dead, including 25 women and nine children, and guessed that the total would rise to at least 600 and possibly to 1,000.
West Pakistan newspapers thundered for punitive martial law in the east. But East Pakistan's chief minister, 82-year-old Fazlul Huq, the wily "Lion of Bengal," stomped aboard a plane for Karachi, closeted himself for hours with Premier Mohammed Ali, then stomped out, announcing that his people wanted no less than independence. Said he: "Of course, they [West Pakistan] will try to resist such a move. But when a man wants freedom, he wants it."