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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Hasina Sheikh’s Politics: Where the fantastic Fig of Three Million came from?

Dr. Junaid Ahmad|

The fantastic figure of three million Bengalis massacred by west Pakistani army has been debunked by series of journalists and historians but with Hasina Sheikh now hinting at declaring March 25 as the “Genocide Day” this figure is back in news – at least in Bangladesh and to a lesser degree in India.

Let us think for a few moments about the implications of believing in a massacre of 3 million Bengali Muslims at the hands of the Pakistani armed forces in 1971.

Was such a massacre possible, could it have remained hidden? or is it even conscionable – to believe that the Pakistan armed forces – numbered around 26,000 in March 1971 – were capable of perpetrating, on their own country folk, a genocide so heinous that it would put Emperor Leopold II at shame and draw cheers from the Nazis. It defies common sense and rationality and there is ample proof that it did not happen.

The notorious Dr. Joseph Goebbels has been credited with saying something along the lines of; “if you tell the same lie enough times, people will believe it; and the bigger the lie, the better.

This quote truly encapsulates the designs of the Bangladeshi establishment -once again under Hasina Sheikh, and under Indian tutelage – in their efforts to endlessly benefit from the tragedies of 1971 at the expense of Pakistan. Goals are also to control Bangladeshi politics and to sow seeds of hatred between future generations of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.

read more: SAARC’s failure: held hostage to whims of India?

Hasina’s political move of ” March 25 as Genocide Day” 

I am writing this piece because recently, the debate over the massacre of three million Bengalis by the Pakistan Army during the 1971 insurgency, 45 years ago, has suddenly resurfaced. I have been following the proceedings in the Bangladeshi parliament and on 16 February, after an emotive session on the my recently published book, “Creation of Bangladesh: Myths Exploded”, PM Hasina Wajid once again thundered to her emasculated kitchen cabinet that indeed Pakistan perpetrated a genocide of biblical proportions on the Bengali people in 1971.

Many of those present, like controlled in a science fiction horror movie, nodded and cheered in agreement. They were visibly angry against this author for presenting facts that challenged a range of myths that have been made defaults by the Bangladeshi establishment over the past several decades. Now a “War of Liberation Denial Act”, on the pattern of European Holocaust Denial Act is also being talked off.

The Bangladeshi PM did not stop at political talk; she formally registered her protest against Pakistan and this author.  She has hinted, in unambiguous terms, that she now plans to declare March 25 as “Genocide Day” – to remind her electorate that indeed a great wrong was done to the Bangladeshi people at the hands of the Pakistan armed forces on that fateful day in 1971. Hasina’s politics justifies all kind of lies; but absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.

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Time to debunk the “three million dead” lie for ever

Pakistan is at an important juncture in regional history; taking steps towards self-sufficiency, sustainable and inclusive human and economic development through regional integration with China, Iran and Central Asian economies. Its trying to erect a regional infrastructure that, in due time, will be of use to people of India and Bangladesh, we therefore, in the interest of future generations of this region, cannot afford to let machiavellian characters like Hasina and her mentor “Narendra Modi” mislead the world through the gibberish of these “political myths”

Sheikh Hasina plans to declare March 25 – “Genocide Day” – to remind her electorate that a great wrong was done to the Bangladeshi people at the hands of the Pakistan armed forces in 1971

The timing therefore now is vitally important to dispel once and for all the myth of three million Bengalis killed. It has cast a wound unbelievably deep, and has so baldy hamstrung our politics that to move forward and away from it since has been, almost impossible. Its a gigantic failure on part of Pakistani academia, media and governments that they have not shouldered the responsibility to effectively explain what really happened. No civilized people having been blamed and shamed for a massacre of three million innocent could simply forget and move on.

How this myth originated? 

Dr. Junaid Ahmed will join in the discussion on his book, in a seminar that will examine the “tragedies of 1971 & the politics of narrative shaping in South Asia” in Serena Hotel, Islamabad on 6th March. Editor, GVS

This myth has been repeated ad nauseam over the years by various Bangladeshi and Indian political personalities to undermine, humiliate and constrain Pakistan. Let’s be very clear: where its coming from. The historical roots of this myth of three  million is based on an editorial piece published on 23rd December, 1971 titled “Enemy Occupations” by “Pravda” – the then mouthpiece of the now defunct USSR. India was Soviet Union’s closest cold war ally; this alliance was further reinforced before initiating a war of aggression against Pakistan. Pravda’s piece, clearly a disinformation act, written without any evidence whatsoever, against Pakistan, then a staunch US ally in Nixon/Kissinger era, claimed that three million Bengalis had been killed in the war of 1971.

This “figure”, which was not based on any body counts, expert testimonies or photo/video evidences, got further traction or legitimacy after it was endorsed by Mujib ur-Rahman in his interview with BBC’s David Frost on 18th January, 1972 – when he arrived in London, immediately after his release from Islamabad. Eye witnesses reported that Mujib ur-Rahman, during this interview, was heavily intoxicated. Whether this impaired his judgment, I will leave that conclusion to the reader.

Here is the first testimony from Serajur Reman, the former deputy head of the BBC Bangla Programme in the UK contesting Mujib ur-Rahman’s claim.

He told David Frost later that “three million of my people “were killed by the Pakistanis. Whether he mistranslated “lakh” as “million” or his confused state of mind was responsible, I don’t know

In a letter to The Guardian on 24th May, 2011 he wrote, “On 8th January 1972, I was the first Bangladeshi to meet independent leader Shiekh Mujib-ur-Reman after his release from Pakistan …. I [Serajur Rehman] explained that no accurate figure of the causalities was available but our estimate, based on information from various sources, was that up to “Three lakh” (300,000) died in the conflict. To my surprise and horror, he told David Frost later that “three million of my people “were killed by the Pakistanis. Whether he mistranslated “lakh” as “million” or his confused state of mind was responsible, I don’t know, but many Bangladeshis still believe a figure of three million is unrealistic and incredible”. 

Sayyid Karim, Bangladesh’s first foreign secretary, as reported by David Bergman, a Bangladesh based British Journalist in 2011, wrote, “As for the number of Bengalis killed in the course of the liberation war, the figure of 3 million mentioned by Mujib to David Frost in January 1972, was a gross overstatement. This figure was picked up by him from an article in ‘Pravda’ the organ of the communist party of the Soviet Union”.         

Mujeeb ur Rahman’s subsequent attempt to prove the “three million massacred” miserably failed                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

In order to cherry pick proof for the plucked-out-of-thin-air three million figure, Mujeeb ur-Rahman constituted a Commission on 29th January, 1972 to locate mass graves or other verifiable evidence.

But the Commission set up by Sheikh Mujib, after several months of work could only conjure up a figure of maximum 56,743 deaths as a result of the 1971 insurgency.

Chowdhary Abdul Mumin in his book Behind the Myth of Three Million, published in 1973, reported that this Commission comprised of representatives from the Bangladesh Army, Border Security Force, Rangers, Police and Civil Administration. Despite their best efforts, this Commission completely failed to locate any mass graves or other evidence of any kind to substantiate the claims made by the great leader to a world media then overeager to believe anything against Nixon’s ally – Pakistan. Western media’s mind set in early 1970’s was reactive; its consciouness shaped by anti-Washington feelings engineered by Vietnam conflict.

But the Commission set up by Sheikh Mujib, after several months of work could only conjure up a figure of maximum 56,743 deaths as a result of the 1971 insurgency. This obviously was far less than the three million being publicly touted by Bangladeshi and Indian politicians – websites of both countries are still full of such propagandist figures.

Sheikh Mujeeb ur-Rahman was outraged at the Commission’s findings and disbanded them, stating: “I have declared three million dead, and your report could not come up with three scores thousands! What report you have prepared? Keep your report to yourself. What I have said once shall prevail”.

With this information, we can start to see a bigger picture: Sheikh Mujib was a man desperately wanting to sustain his power and legitimacy by creating collective delusions – or myths. Myths subsequently used by his daughter of the same purpose.

Mujeeb – “I have declared three million dead, and your report could not come up with three scores thousands! What report you have prepared? Keep your report to yourself.

Western independent sources gradually started to rubbish the figure of “three million”

The Peace Research Institute in Norway along with Uppsala University of Sweden in their findings in 1972, estimated that about 58,000 people died in 1971. In addition to this, in June 1972, William Durmmond in the LA Times reported that “……. the figure of 3 million deaths is an exaggeration so gross as to be absurd ……  no more than 25,000 people died.” 

On March 1st, 1973, Swedish journalist Ingvar Oja reported in Dagens Nyheter, the largest daily of Stockholm: “The allegation regarding the killing of 3 million people is highly exaggerated, not more than 50,000 people died in East Pakistan”.

Sharmila Bose the famous Bengali Indian writer and Research Associate at Oxford University, in her book, “Dead Reckoning” in 2011, writes “…. the number 3 million appears to be not more than a gigantic rumor”. She estimated that around 50,000 – 100,000 people including Bengalis, Beharis and West Pakistanis may have perished in the conflict in East Pakistan.

Even senior Indian military officials have not accepted the three  million dead figure. Mohammad Tajamul Hussain, noted Bangladeshi journalist/writer in his book Bangladesh, Victims of Black Propaganda Intrigue and Indian Hegemony quotes the Indian Army Chief, General Manekshaw during 1971 that “the figure of 3 million killed in 1971 and 200,000 women alleged to have been violated seem fictitious, baseless and far removed from the truth”.

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And the 200,000 Rapes?

In addition to the above myth of 3 million killed, Pakistan Army is also accused of raping more than 200,000 Bengali women. This too is a fantastically false figure which was widely circulated by the same coterie of Indian and Bangladeshi politicians and media and was later found to be of no substance. The gross inaccuracy of this allegation was first borne out when an abortion team from Britain in early 1972 found that its total workload involved the termination of only a hundred or slightly more pregnancies. Even there the nature of those pregnancies was not clear.

The fall of East Pakistan was a deeply painful episode for an entire generation of East and West Pakistanis.

The figure was also denounced by Australian Research Analyst Bin D Costa. He argued, “the figure of 200,000 women raped by the Pakistani Army in 1971 is considered to be too high”. Likewise, US Congressman Charles Wilson, who was eulogized in the Hollywood movie Charlie Wilson’s War, on December 9, 1987 stated, “to say that Pakistan army massacred its own 3 million Bengali people and dishonored 200,000 Bengali women, to me is an allegation so gross that it goes beyond human imagination.”

The repeated claims of 3 million killed and the rape of 200,000 Bengali women were stopped after a tripartite agreement between Pakistan, India and Bangladesh in April 1974.

During the regimes of Gen Zia-ur-Rehman, Gen Husain, Mohammad Ershad and later Khaleda Zia, the Bangladesh governments were pragmatic, tried overcoming the legacy of Sheikh Mujib and his delusions, and made friendly overtures to Pakistan.

Arithmetic never added up: Numbers never made sense

Despite a documented history of past four decades, the present government of Sheikh Hasina, Mujib-ur-Rehman’s daughter, and Awami League leader continues to use the fantastic lies of three  million killed and 200,000 rapes to play with the base emotions of its electorate to cultivate support, to marginalize her political opponents and also to court favors from India – that sees all this as a part of its own “isolate Pakistan strategy”

Numbers don’t make sense! 6 million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany in 6 years comes to only 2,740 killed every day vs 11,450 Bengalis claimed killed every day.

Even basic arithmetic, which seems to be beyond the grasp of all those who continue to propagate these myths – shows the unabashed absurdity of the myths of three million killed and 200,000 women raped.

To illustrate, perhaps at the expense of disgusting my readers, the Army action in East Pakistan started on 26 March and lasted till 16th December, 1971 – a total of 262 days. Pakistan army’s total strength in March 1971, before reinforcements was around 26,000-27,000 and it never received reinforcements of more than 20-25000. However the figure of “three million” implies that about 11,450 Bengalis would need to have been picked-up, killed and buried every day. This would have been practically impossible even if the whole Pakistani army was not doing anything except killing and burying.

When compared to the 2nd World War for instance, the tragedy of six million Jews killed by Nazi Germany in 6 years comes to only 2,740 killed every day. However the voluminous research done in holocaust tragedy tells us that Nazis, a huge military machine inside Germany, had a whole system erected in the form of concentration camps, killing techniques and disposal. These comparisons are telling. Historians have to analyze the dynamics of tragedies too.

The fall of East Pakistan was a deeply painful episode for an entire generation of East and West Pakistanis. To channel that pain in the manner that the Awami League in Bangladesh continues to do for courting favors from its powerful neighbor and to keep their electorate emotionally charged, borders on criminality. They really ought to have the sense to see that no other reasonable individual, institution or government (besides India ofcourse) takes their myths seriously. Not even Wikipedia.

read more: How ‘digital Bangladesh’ has started online accountability of country’s parliamentarians

I feel a degree of confidence that no intelligent Bangladeshis do either. What the Awami League needs to do, is to base their politics on real and meaningful issues that their populace faces – stark poverty, a justice deficit and an institutional corruption of the most nefarious type. Be reasonable PM Hasina Wajid, stop lying to yourself and your people and move on.

All originals and references cited are available to inspect in my book “Creation of Bangladesh: Myths Exploded”. I hope readers will tune in to read Part-2 of my 6 part series on myths surrounding 1971. Part 2 will contain a frontal lobotomy on another myth: Pakistan army surrendering 93,000 personnel in Bangladesh – the largest ever mass surrender in perhaps all human history.

Dr Junaid Ahmad, Author of ‘Creation of Bangladesh: Myths Exploded.’ The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.