WITH the awesome fury of a cyclone off the Bay of Bengal, civil war swept across East Pakistan last week. In city after crowded, dusty city the army turned its guns on mobs of rioting civilians. Casualties mounted into the thousands. Though the full toll remained uncertain because of censorship and disorganization in the world's most densely populated corner (1,400 people per sq. mi.), at week's end some estimates had 2,000 dead. Even if President Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan is prepared to accept casualties of a geometrically greater magnitude, the outcome is likely to be the final breakup of East and West Pakistan and the painful birth of a new nation named Bangla Desh (Bengal State).
The indistinct battle lines reflected the ethnic and cultural divisions that have beset Pakistan since its creation as a Moslem homeland when British India was partitioned in 1947. Two predominantly Moslem areas that used to be part of India became a new country, the two parts separated by 1,000 miles of Indian territory. Thus, though 80,000 West Pakistani soldiers were on hand to keep order in East Pakistan last week, their supply bases were 1,000 miles away and most food and ammunition had to be carried 3,000 miles around the coast of India. The troops mostly tall, fierce Punjabis and Pa-thanswere surrounded in East Pakistan by a hostile population of 78 million Bengalis. The civil warand it could be called no lesspromised to be long and bloody. The Bengalis, armed with a few looted guns, spears and often just bamboo staves, were ill-trained for a guerrilla war. But a resistance movement, once organized, might eventually force the West Pakistanis to depart. In a way, the struggle evoked haunting memories of the Nigerian civil war of 1967-70, when the federal regime sought justification in the name of national unity and the Biafrans in the name of self-determination.
First Shot. Until last week, Pakistan's political leaders seemed on the verge of settling their differences. Then, in rapid order, three events carried the nation over the brink of violence. In Chittagong, a mob surrounded West Pakistani troops unloading supply ships. Where the first shots came from is unclear, but when the troops opened fire, 35 Bengalis were killed. Their political leader, Sheik Mujibur Rahman, called a general strike to protest. Then, Yahya Khan outlawed Mujib and his Awami League Party as "enemies of Pakistan" and ordered the armed forces to "do their duty."
In Dacca, army tanks and truckloads of troops with fixed bayonets came clattering out of their suburban base, shouting "Victory to Allah," and "Victory to Pakistan." TIME Correspondent Dan Coggin, who, along with other newsmen, was subsequently expelled from Pakistan, reported: "Before long, howitzer, tank artillery and rocket blasts rocked half a dozen scattered sections of Dacca. Tracers arced over the darkened city. The staccato chatter of automatic weapons was punctuated with grenade explosions, and tall columns of black smoke towered over the city. In the night came the occasional cry of 'Joi Bangla [Victory to Bengal],' followed by a burst of machine-gun fire."