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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Recognizing the Bangladesh Genocide of 1971

Muslims constituted a quarter of the total population of India under the British. It was concentrated mostly in the eastern and western parts of the country. It had been originally proposed to form a loose confederation of these parts with the rest of India but it did not find favor with the Hindu majority.

On October 14, 2022, US Congressman Mr. Chabot tabled the following resolution on his own behalf and that of Congressman Kanna calling upon the House of Representatives to recognize the killing of three million Bengalis by the Pakistan Army as genocide. It has since been referred to the House Foreign Relations Committee. Sadly, the wise men of the media and others are so preoccupied with the ongoing local political shenanigans that its implications have escaped their notice.

The above Resolution has been referred to the House Foreign Relations Committee by the House that proposes it should declare the actions taken by the Pakistan Army in then East Pakistan in 1971 as genocide. There are always two sides to any story. Unfortunately, the proposal seems to be based on incomplete and misleading information for whatever reasons.

In the circumstances, it would not be advisable for the House nor would it be in the interest of the United States to condemn a friendly and strategically important state.

There is nothing to be gained by any such move

A synopsis of the events that took place leading up to and during the crisis in then East Pakistan in 1971 is appended below to clarify the picture for the committee.

Muslims constituted a quarter of the total population of India under the British. It was concentrated mostly in the eastern and western parts of the country. It had been originally proposed to form a loose confederation of these parts with the rest of India but it did not find favor with the Hindu majority. The British then decided to divide the country into two parts and leave. Their expectation was that Pakistan as conceived was unworkable and would be obliged to sooner or later rejoin India as made clear to the Provincial Governors by the last Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten on 15 April 1947 (Transfer of Power Documents, vol. X, pp. 242-44, 250).

Read more: Recognizing Bangladesh’s dedication to upholding human rights

East Pakistan was mostly composed of Muslim Bengalis. An attempt was made on their behalf to join up with the Hindus in West Bengal to form an independent state of Bengal but this was rejected by the Congress Party as well as the British (Transfer of Power Documents 1942-47 vol. X p. 452 and vol.XI p. 3). Nonetheless, the inherited ethnic and linguistic differences as well as geographical separation continued to pose problems for the new nation, Added to these was an influx of more than a million Bihari Muslim refugees from India into East Pakistan. The friction caused by all these issues was exploited by the parochial politicians in collaboration with hostile India.

As early as 1962, Shaikh Mujib-ur-Rahman wrote a letter to the Indian Prime Minister Nehru asking for military help in an uprising that he had planned to stage in February of the next year in East Pakistan. When the latter failed to respond, he asked the chief minister of Tripura, the neighboring Indian state, to personally intercede with Nehru (Liberation of Bangladesh, vol. 2, by Faiz Ahmed, p. 137). India became actively involved in the destabilization of East Pakistan in 1968 (‘Inside RAW: The Story of India’s Secret Service, by Asoka Raina, p. 48).

In March 1969, the President of Pakistan Ayub Khan resigned following political protests and unrest. He was replaced by the head of the army Yahya Khan, an alcoholic and debauched man who had no understanding of politics and even less of running a state. Without going into details, it was a disaster writ large for Pakistan.

To appease the politicians he decided to hold elections and refused to postpone these even after East Pakistan was lashed by a monstrous cyclone. Worse still, he gave Shaikh Mujib’s Awami League hooligans a free hand to intimidate opposition candidates, election officials as well voters. As a result, Awami League won a landslide victory in East Pakistan and a nominal majority in the National Assembly but had no representation in the western half of the country.

A series of meetings between Yahya Khan and Shaikh Mujib followed but there was no agreement which was never Shaikh Mujib’s goal. As his main constitutional adviser at the time, Dr. Kamal Hossain puts it in his book, ‘Bangladesh: Quest for Freedom and Justice, pp. 89,91: ‘Therefore it was decided that the position to be taken should not be an explicit declaration of independence. In order to exert maximum pressure on Yahya, specific demands should be made and the movement sustained in support of these demands with independence as the ultimate goal’.

The political as well as the law and order situation in East Pakistan in the meantime got from bad to worse. Mujib demanded the power to be handed over to him as the majority party leader while politicians in West Pakistan insisted on a political settlement first. The civil servants and police in East Pakistan decided to take orders only from Mujib. Organized gangs of hooligans went on a rampage of looting, burning and murder of non-Bengalis on a massive scale. More than 30,000 Bihari men, women and children were mercilessly slaughtered. The rest are still languishing in refugee camps under deplorable conditions with no signs of hope.

Read more: How Bangladesh can ensure a free and fair election using EVMs?

A detailed plan for staging a mutiny by the Bengali troops, at a time to be decided by Mujib, was discovered in the private office of Brigadier Mozamdar, commander of the East Bengal Regimental Centre in Chittagong. It included the killing of army officers and men of West Pakistan origin and taking their families hostage. It also transpired that Mujib had ordered the mutiny to start at dawn on 26th March. Presumably, this is what prompted Yahya Khan to order Operation Searchlight the night before.

At the time, the total number of troops of West Pakistan origin in all of East Pakistan was no more than 12,000. These were confronted by four regular battalions of Bengalis plus another 3,500 men in the Regimental Centre in Chittagong, 12,000 strong paramilitary East Pakistan Rifles and more than 100,000 armed Bengali policemen. Given the dire situation, for anyone to suggest that the army had the time and inclination to embark on a campaign of genocide is ridiculous.

The army first attacked Dacca University which had earlier been closed because of the troubles. There were no students and it had been taken over by the mutineers and infiltrators belonging to the Indian Border Security Force. It was occupied after many hours of pitched battle. More than six thousand machine guns, automatic rifles and ammunition were recovered along with scores of young non-Bengali girls who had been terrorized out of their wits and repeatedly raped.

Most of the army mutineers crossed over the border into India and relative calm was restored as more troops were airlifted from West Pakistan. Before things could settle down the Indian Army attacked with a formidable force, estimated at three hundred thousand strong, supported by her navy and air force.

Earlier, India had signed a ten-year Mutual Defence Treaty with the erstwhile Soviet Union to preclude the possibility of any outside intervention. When the Pakistan ambassador in Moscow, Jamshed Marker questioned the Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister, he replied, ‘The game is being played for higher international stakes. It has nothing to do with you. You are the victim of an objective situation’ (‘Memories and Reflections of a Pakistani Diplomat’, by Sultan M. Khan, p.380). Surrounded from all sides and with no hope of help, Pakistan was left with no choice but to surrender.

Read more: The reality of the human rights situation in Bangladesh

The way forward

Given the impossible odds against it, to suggest that the Pakistan Army had the time and means to perpetrate genocide that killed three million innocent Bengalis in a few months defies imagination. It is the same number that died in all the years of the Vietnam War. To accept anything like it unquestioningly and without credible proof has to be unthinkable for an august body like the US House of Representatives.

It is not that some men and women of conscience have not tried to find the truth. Among them is Professor Sarmila Bose of Oxford University who has recorded the result of her research in her book, Dead Reckoning: ‘Killing fields and mass graves were claimed to be everywhere, but none was forensically exhumed and examined, not even the one in Dacca University —– the number “three million” appears to be nothing more than a gigantic rumor. Until and unless credible accounting can be produced to substantiate it, scholars and commentators must cease reporting it (p. 177).

There is also William Drummond who wrote in an article under the heading, ‘The Missing Millions’ in The Guardian of 6th June 1972, ‘My judgment based on numerous trips around Bangladesh and extensive discussions with many people at the village level as well as in the government, is that the three million deaths figure is an exaggeration so gross as to be absurd.

Read more: How Bangladesh promotes military diplomacy for peace and stability

In view of the above and to protect the reputation, dignity and integrity of the august institution, it is requested that the House Foreign Relations Committee must refrain from proposing the passing of the Resolution that unjustly and unfairly condemns Pakistan without any credible evidence or proof and due diligence for, otherwise, it could damage US relations with her for no good reason.



The writer is a retired naval officer and is the author of ‘Pakistan: Roots, Perspective and Genesis’ and ‘Muslims and the West: A Muslim Perspective.’ The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.