Friday, August 26, 2011

SOUTH ASIA: End Of A Bad Dream

After five days of intense negotiations in New Delhi last week, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh signed an agreement resolving the last two major issues left over from the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war. The accord clears the way for normalization of diplomatic and economic relations among the three countries and for Bangladesh's membership in the United Nations, which until now has been vetoed by China at Pakistan's behest.

Under the terms of the agreement worked out by Foreign Ministers Kamal Hossein of Bangladesh, Swaran Singh of India and Aziz Ahmed of Pakistan, Bangladesh agreed "as an act of clemency" to drop its plans to try 195 Pakistani prisoners for war crimes. The prisoners will now be returned to Pakistan, along with the remaining 6,500 of the 90,000 P.O.W.s captured during the war and held since then in camps in India. That repatriation, begun last August, is expected to be completed by the end of the month.

Bangladesh's decision to abandon the war-crimes trials was a major concession. But it had been more or less expected after Prime Minister Zulfikar
Ali Bhutto announced that Pakistan would recognize its breakaway eastern wing at the Lahore summit meeting of Moslem leaders in February. More surprising was Pakistan's formal acknowledgment in the agreement that the prisoners had, in Bangladesh's words, committed "war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide." The Pakistan government "condemned and deeply regretted any crimes that may have been committed."

Best Forgotten. The New Delhi accord was less precise in dealing with the fate of the 500,000 Biharis (non-Bengali Moslems) in Bangladesh. Many of the Biharis—so called because they emigrated from the Indian state of Bihar at the time of the 1947 partition—sided with the Pakistani military during the war, and for that reason face a painful future if they stay in Bangladesh. Most of them live in fear and squalor in huge refugee camps outside Dacca and other cities.

So far, Pakistan has returned about 110,000 Bengalis who were trapped in the western half of the country at the start of the war and has accepted or given entry clearance to 140,000 Biharis. Under the agreement, it pledged to accept all those who formerly lived in West Pakistan, ex-employees of the Pakistan government and members of divided families. Pakistan also pledged to review applications previously denied. That probably means that the number of Biharis accepted by Pakistan will not substantially exceed 140,000. Pakistan is reluctant to accept more for fear that they will aggravate unemployment.

In a magnanimous gesture, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Ahmed gave chief credit for bringing an end to a "painful chapter" in South Asia's history to Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheik Mujibur Rahman. Later in the week, Mujib flew into New Delhi for a brief visit after two weeks of medical treatment in Moscow. Added Swaran Singh: "The trials, tribulations and conflicts of our subcontinent will become a thing of the past—something of a bad dream that is best forgotten."

TIME Magazine :Monday, Apr. 22, 1974