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Thursday, May 23, 2024

71 War: The Mythology of Genocide

In September, this year, Bangladesh Liberation War Minister AKM Mozammel Haque urged all those “who believe in the spirit of the liberation war” to unite for the recognition of the 1971 War as genocide.

While the foreign minister of Pakistan has gone for an official tour of merrymaking in the U.S. – at the taxpayer’s expense, Bangladesh is inching forward toward its goal of getting the U.N. to declare 25 March as World Genocide Day.

In September, this year, Bangladesh Liberation War Minister AKM Mozammel Haque urged all those “who believe in the spirit of the liberation war” to unite for the recognition of the 1971 War as genocide.

The minister, while addressing a press conference at the ‘Jatiya’ or National Press Club, said that “the UN has not yet recognized the ghastly episode as genocide”. Earlier, on several occasions, Bangladesh PM Hasina highlighted that Bangladesh experienced one of the worst forms of genocide in the history of mankind. She had also made this observation just ahead of the year-long celebration that the country observed to commemorate 50 years of independence.

Read more: 1971 War: A parody of pre-emptive air strikes

Hasina has brought up the issue at several fora

In December 2020, she even told Pakistan High Commissioner to Dhaka Imran Ahmed Siddiqui that the pain of the 1971 genocide will remain forever. Hasina had brought up the issue while addressing the UN General Assembly in 2017 too. Finally, in March 2017, the Bangladesh Parliament passed a resolution to observe March 25 as Genocide Day.

Bangladesh claims that in the 9-month-long civil war against Pakistan about three million innocent people were killed and more than 200,000 women were violated. The alleged episode started at midnight of 25 March 1970 when, according to the Bangladesh narrative, the Pakistan army cordoned Peelkhana- the headquarters of the East Pakistan Rifles (EPR), Rajarbagh police barracks, and the Ansar headquarters at Khilgaon. As the Awami League claims, about 8,000 to 12,000 people were killed every day.

Undercurrents of the 1971 War

There is a well-known and much thrashed-out political background to the 1971 War. We all know that the war resulted due to a struggle for power between Awami League, the Army, and the Peoples Party. This power struggle degenerated into a civil war, which was exploited by India to dismember Pakistan. We shall briefly recollect certain facts from the past with a view to evolving a clear picture.

As a result of the 1970 general elections, Awami League emerged as the majority party in the parliament, but it did not have even a single representative from West Pakistan. Likewise, Peoples Party, the second largest party in the parliament, did not have any members from East Pakistan. In a mature democracy, handing over power to the majority party would have taken place without a hassle, provided there were no hidden motives. As the pre-poll strategy of the two largest parties suggests, the personal ambitions of Mujib and Bhutto had already reached a stage where they were not thinking in terms of a united Pakistan but nurturing ambitions of ruling their respective wing as their independent fief.

Read more: 1971 – The Naval War

There was a so-called Legal Framework Order (LFO) promulgated by Yahya Khan, which laid down the code of conduct for the elections. Both Awami League and Peoples Party had been blatantly violating the LFO by basing their election campaign on parochialism and hatred. That Yahya Khan remained indifferent to these violations amply shows that he had his own hidden agenda. Probably he was thinking that he would exploit the differences between the two politicians to perpetuate his rule.

Awami League’s six points election manifesto suggested a loose federation where the central government would not have the power to levy taxes. The central government in such a setup would be completely dependent on the constituent units for running its day-to-day and long-duration affairs. It was essentially a blueprint for, initially a confederation, and subsequently outright independence. Pakistan was carved out of India when Jinnah, instead of beating around the bush, laid down his cards on the table and demanded independence for the Muslim-majority provinces in northwestern and eastern India.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for the Congress leaders, but they agreed to India’s partition instead of living in perpetual hostility with the Muslim separatists. Whereas both Mujib and Bhutto were working for Pakistan’s division for the fruition of their personal ambitions, they did not have the moral courage and integrity of character to say so openly.

Their true intentions, though, slipped out occasionally. After the postponement of the national assembly’s inaugural session, Mujib addressed a mammoth public meeting at Dhaka’s Paltan Maidan. Responding to the crowd chanting slogans of independent Bangladesh, Mujib said “Independence, no! Not yet”. In another public meeting held at Lahore, Bhutto made his famous remarks, “There are only three forces; Peoples Party, Awami League, and the Army”. Then, addressing

Awami League, said “Yahan Hum, Wahan Tum (We here, you there)”. Had Mujib and Bhutto, instead of a tongue-in-cheek attitude, possessed the moral courage to clearly express their intentions, the unpleasant but inevitable partition of Pakistan would have taken place peacefully.

Do we have a national narrative on the 1971 War?

Presently, all we have is a distorted and confused version framed by batteries of disgruntled politicians and pseudo-intellectuals who support and peddle the joint Indian- Awami League narrative of the Bengali genocide perpetrated by the Pakistan Army. The Awami League-led Bangladeshi intelligentsia has built its ideological framework around the mythology of a holocaust reminiscent of the Nazi gas chambers. It needs this framework to remain in power.

Read more: 1971 War – Washing Hands

Sarmila Bose – the Indian-American journalist, in her book “Dead Reckoning”, gives a balanced analysis of the army crackdown on the night of 25 March 1970. According to Martin Woollacott* (2011):

Bose’s case-by-case arithmetic leads her in the end to estimate that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died in 1971. One lakh, in other words, at most. One cannot say that she absolutely proves this, but her evidence points in that direction, and, in any case vastly away from the figure of 3 million still proclaimed in Bangladesh and India. The wider revision of the conflict’s history she implies exonerates the Pakistani government of any plot to rule the east by force, suggests that the Bengali leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman let the genie of nationalism out of the bottle but could not control it, and insists that the conflict was a civil war within East Pakistan.

The killings by Bengalis of non-Bengali minorities, of Bengalis who stuck with the idea of a united Pakistan, and even of some Hindu Bengalis – all of whose deaths were attributed at the time to the Pakistani army – needs to be reckoned in any fair balance. The notion that the Bangladesh movement was non-violent, even Gandhian, was always fantastical. Bose has written a book that should provoke both fresh research and fresh thinking about a fateful turning point in the history of the subcontinent.

Pakistan Army had launched Operation Searchlight in March 1971 in a bid to control the mayhem caused by the Awami League in reaction to the postponement of the national assembly’s inaugural session. By mid-May, Pakistan Army had re-occupied all the major towns in East Pakistan and driven the battered remnants of the Mukti Bahini across the border into India, forcing the Mukti Bahini to seek training and guidance from the Indian Army for waging the insurgency in East Pakistan.

As the post-regime-change government in Pakistan remains indifferent to the propaganda campaign launched by Bangladesh, the common man remains confused about what actually happened in the wake of the 1970 general elections that led to the 1971 War and the dismemberment of Pakistan. The nation is fed half-truths woven by a dis-oriented Pakistani intelligentsia.

On 23 March 2013,  Bangladeshi PM Hasina Wajid conferred the “Foreign Friends of Bangladesh Award” on five selected Pakistanis at a ceremony in Dhaka. The recipients of awards from Pakistan were mainly those whose fathers had opposed Army action in East Pakistan. Those who were given away included  Asma Jahangir,  daughter of Malik Ghulam Jilani; Hamid Mir, son of Prof Waris Mir; Hasil Bux Bizenjo, daughter of Habib Jalib.

The award of late Faiz Ahmed Faiz was received by Saleema Hashmi who received the “Bangladesh Liberation War Honour Award” at a ceremony held in Dhaka on 24 March 2013. At the ceremony, Saleema Hashmi said: “The Pakistan government should formally apologize to the people of Bangladesh for the atrocities committed by Pakistan’s occupation army during the War of Independence in 1971.”

Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.