Bangladesh was, up till 1971, East Pakistan. But the transition from East Pakistan to Bangladesh was not an easy one. Tired of being clubbed with groups they felt they did not belong to – the Sindhs and the Pashtuns – and dominated by the leadership in West Pakistan, the Bengalis in the East desperately wanted to break free. However, Pakistan was not ready to cut them loose. And so ensued devastating violence and destruction.
On the night of 25 March 1971, the forces of Pakistan launched an “Operation Searchlight” to end the resistance once and for all. The Bengalis, the Hindus and anybody who resisted was brutally suppressed and slaughtered.
There is no exact estimate of how many died that night, but the figure ranges from 10,000 to 35,000. Educational spaces were not spared either, with hundreds of students killed in Dhaka University.
Simultaneous attacks were launched in Peelkhana and Rajarbagh.
Offices of dailies such as Daily Ittefaq were burned down too and a number of journalists and newspaper staff were charred to death. Anyone who resisted was violently put down.
According to a Dhaka Tribune report, before the violence was unleashed, however, the then President Yahya Khan left for the safety of Lahore. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, president of the Pakistan People's Party, observed the operation from the Hotel Intercontinental of Dhaka.
Thanks to God that Pakistan could have been saved.Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto
On 26 March, Bhutto even expressed his appreciation of the army's actions before leaving from Dhaka.
But while 25 March did mark the beginning of the ruthless, ambitious Operation Searchlight, the forces from West Pakistan did not succeed in crushing the rebellion completely. By the end of that year, the Bengalis had gained their independence.
The fateful day, however, is remembered each year as "Genocide Day" in Bangladesh.
On 25 March 2018, Bangladesh will be observing a one-minute blackout in memory of all that was lost on Genocide Day.