Monday, December 19, 2011

All they want is an apology : Pakistan's viewpoint

As Bangladesh is gearing up to celebrate its 4o years of independence on 16th December, young Bengalis, growing up with the haunting narratives of 1971, seek apology from Pakistan for the alleged war crimes committed by the Pakistan Army.

Twenty-nine years old journalist Zahidul Haq from Rajshahi District emphasizes: “Although the slaying of innocent Benaglis during military operation is beyond apology for the Bangladeshi people yet an official apology from Pakistan will console our suffering souls and aggrieved minds. We cannot bring back the departed but it is a matter of grave concern for us to seek justice for the hideous war crimes committed by Pakistani establishment. I think this is the least compensation for the criminal acts of Pakistan Army but it will make a huge difference to lessen the prevalent Bengali repugnance against Pakistanis”.

This repugnance as Deeba, 28, who hails from Natore tells us is against those who raped women, looted businesses and killed civilians during military operations. “It makes my blood boil when I think of those atrocities and feel nothing but disgust for those Pakistanis but it doesn’t mean I hate all Pakistanis as they can’t be blamed for their for past events. Yet as a common Bangladeshi woman I think an official apology is all that we need from Pakistan to mend our blood-tainted relationships”

Sabbir Ali, a Bangladeshi student living in Germany, said that “it is a concept of modern democracies to bury the past amiably and move ahead for future relationships. If Germany can express its regret over the Holocaust and international figures like Willy Brandt can kneel down before Poland then why can’t Pakistan admit its mistake and apologize to Bangladeshi people?”   

Recently in November 2011 Bangladeshi Foreign Minister, Dipu Moni in, a meeting with Pakistani officials demanded an official apology from Pakistan and stressed that resolving long standing issues is crucial for the bilateral relations in future. Moni’s demand echoes the feelings of Bengali people like Riazul Hasan, a post-graduate student of Media Studies at Bonn University Germany, who feel their friendly ties with Pakistan rely only on an honest confession of Pakistan of its army’s excesses. In Riazul’s opinion “Pakistan must admit the cruel treatment incurred upon us otherwise we cannot have good relations while having hatred and malice in our hearts”.

Ghosts of a bloody Past

Politically conscious and fully aware of their history Bangladeshis, especially the youth, don’t appear to have forgotten their history and insist that the world must acknowledge their claim of ‘genocide’ by the Pak Army.

Most of them believe that the linguistic and ethnic discrimination in the early years of Pakistan led to their demand for ultimate independence from suppressive Pakistani regime.  “Not a single significant step was ever taken by the Pakistani state for the welfare of Bangla people in the East Pakistan,” says Deeba in a bitter voice. “They were even deprived of speaking their own language right at the formation of Pakistan when Urdu was declared as national language by Mr. Jinnah,” she adds. Sharraf Ahmed a teacher from Rjshahi, however, views Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s decision of making Urdu a national language his political mistake not bad intention. “Mr. Jinnah was an enlightened leader but  could not judge the sensitive correlation between Bengali culture and identity”.  Riazul too believes that Mr. Jinnah’s decision was awful for Bengalis “he didn’t have the right to determine what should we speak it was our right to make Bangla our official language. Yet it is not fair to blame Jinnah solely for what Pakistani state and marshal law administrators did later”. According to Zahidul Haq, Mr. Jinnah was under the influence of elite leaders of Muslim League who wanted the domination of Urdu.

For Riazul, independence or separation of East Pakistan was somehow inevitable as Bangla people had very distinct culture, customs, language and history and it was only ‘religion’ that united them with Pakistan. “Perhaps it was bound to happen sooner or later since there was a willingness among Bengalis to be independent. In 1947 Bengalis actually wished a divided Bengal but it did not happen so they deemed it better to be part of Pakistan” . He adds: “Though there was a possibility that if the power was democratically handed over to Mujeeb he would not have declared independence but the alienation of Bengalis had brought them at a point of no return”.

Disagreeing with Riazul Hasan, Zahidul, Deeba and Ashraf, however, hold Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto responsible for the chaos that followed the Election of 1971. While Sabbir thinks that Bhutto had a personality clash with Mujeeb, Deeba accuses Bhutto of betraying Mujeeb: “The army operation was started right after the night Bhutto met Bagabandhu who was arrested afterwards. Bhutto in fact tried to manipulate Mujeeb’s influence but couldn’t succeed”.

“Awami League had stolen the 71s election from right under Bhutto’s nose,” tells Ashraf Ahmed,  “and the people had elected Sheikh Mujeeb with a heavy mandate. Bhutto and the military did not want a Bengali to rule Pakistan that is why they sabotaged the democracy. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto could have convinced Yahya Khan for transferring power to Mujeeb but he himself wanted to become the prime minister”. Ashraf Ahmed thinks, “Bhutto was hand in gloves with Yahya Khan who ordered Operation Searchlight and tried to quell the Bengali movement by butchering intellectuals and teachers”. 

While insisting on the Bangladesh’s official claim that Pakistan Army massacred 3 million people, they acknowledge the Pakistani allegations of Mukti Bahini’s involvement in target killing of pro-Pakistani Bengalis and Biharis.

“It is an open secret that Mukti Bahini was trained by Indian Army to fight against Pak Army during liberation movement but their activities were confined to the border areas not inside the city centres, however, it can by no means justify the massacring of Bengalis by Pak Army,” says Ashraf Ahmed. Riazul sees the reprisal of Mukti Bahini as a retributive justice: “When you are attacked and violently suppressed then you have no choice but violence. It was liberation war and in war everything is legitimate to get your freedom. It was Pak Army and its collaborators who initiated aggression against innocent Bengalis” .  

When asked who was the real villain of the Bangla movement, “all Pakistani leaders are equally responsible for the massacre of Bengalis” was the common response. As Zahidul Haq puts it: “Whether it was Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Gen Tikka Khan, Gen.Niazi or Z. A. Bhutto all the civil and military leaders of West Pakistan were our enemies and we still hate them”.  “Actually it was not just a few persons rather a whole system of injustice and discrimination which treated the Bengalis as second class citizens,” says Riazul. 

Bangladesh and Pakistan today

With an estimated growth rate of 6.3 percent e Bangladesh’s economy has seen significant rise since the days of its independence, however, with 40 percent of its population still living below poverty line Bangladesh has many challenges ahead.  

But the optimism of Bangalis is remarkable. “We are free now and we can do everything we want without any fear of economic or social domination,” says Deeba. Zahidul shares the same view: “Of course we are far better than Pakistan which has failed as a country and embroiled in terrorism. Bangladesh has no issue of Islamic extremism since it is a moderate and secular country. Bangladesh has tackled and nipped the Islamist terrorism which erupted in 2004 and 2005.”  

“40 years on Pakistan has a whole new generation which could not be blamed for the crimes it was not involved in,” thinks Sharraf Ahmed. “But we cannot forget those crimes against humanity committed 40 years ago,” says Riazul and explains: “I still feel terrible when I think of the war of liberation. I have met many Pakistanis who express their guilt and shame but there are those who don’t have the least idea what Bengalis have gone through”. For emotionally charged Deeba it is very important for the young Pakistanis to know the sufferings of Bengalis.

Zahidul Haq also feels the same: “Since Pakistan hasn’t apologized for its brutalities I feel a bit apprehensive when I hear the word ‘Pakistan or Pakistani’ but I think Pakistani youth acknowledges the inhuman treatment and plight of the (then) East Pakistanis”.

On India

Bengalis view India as their “savior and liberator who made it possible for us to win freedom. Most of the Mukti Bahini guerrillas were trained in Agartallha, India and without India we could not have made it,” says Zahidul.

Riazul also feels indebted to India for the liberation which “helped us achieving independence but we are not influenced by India rather have foreign relations based on equality”. Zahidul Haq says, “We don’t consider India a big brother since we don’t like to be taken as minnows of South Asia. Though India sometimes underestimates the state of Bangladesh for instance India is constructing dams like Tipaimokh without taking Bangladesh into confidence which is not acceptable to us”.  

On the defensive:  Pakistan

For Pakistanis discussions about the debacle of East Pakistan are very painful and upsetting since they lost their eastern wing and had to surrender the arch rival India which reached its defining moment by successfully segregating Pakistan. It is interesting to note that as compared to Bengalis, Pakistani youth don’t know much about the breakup of East Pakistan except the text book narrative, though some are even unable to recall schoolbook description of the 1971 war.

“Recollecting the debacle of 1971 is a shocking and depressing experience which leaves so many questions unanswered. I think it is the most horrific time in our history,” says 22- year-old Saira Zaman who teaches at a local school in Lahore. She blames Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto for being stubborn and selfish at such a crucial time: “Actually Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto broke Pakistan up and let India take advantage of our internal anarchy. He was very proud Sindhi feudal lord who thought it was his right to be the next prime minister. He could not accept a Bengali as the head of state therefore he had had a power tussle with Mujeeb ur Rehman who was very popular in East Pakistan”.

Then there are those who believe it was a great international conspiracy against Pakistan spearheaded by none other than ‘our greatest enemy India’ who according to Tanveer Rizvi, a medical representative in Lahore, “wanted to take revenge of the ‘defeat in the war of 1965’ and eventually succeeded due to the inefficiency of a retarded and drunk general Yahiya Khan”. Some Pakistanis like Abid Ali,  who resides in Rawalpindi, rely more on facts than rhetoric for analyzing this great national catastrophe: “We never treated Bengalis equally and let me say that even today we think we are superior to them. You might have heard people making fun of a weak and poor person by calling him Bengali. What we reaped in 71 was just what we had sown.” 

History as told by text books

Restating the narrative presented by the course books, 19 years old Sana Tehrem says, “We lost one  of our province because of Hindus who entered from the neighboring India and provoked rage among the Bengalis”. Frarooq Khan,28,  thinks “geographical, cultural and ethnic divisions caused estrangement between the people of a same country and India took full advantage of it”. He laments the incompetence of “power-hungry politicians who were incapable of safeguarding national integrity in the aftermath of Bengali uprising”. Abid Ali discredits the information given in the books and highlights the fact that “What I studied about fall of Dhaka during school days was basically half-truth. The facts about the surrender were fudged by the inclusion of statement that UN intervened and a enforced a ceasefire”.   

Military vs Mukti Bahini

Abid Ali thinks that this kind of misleading information impedes the possibility of holding the military accountable of its alleged corruption and incompetence which led to the chaos. Others, however, think that it was Pakistan Army’s national duty to control the rebellion which was orchestrated by India. “When insurgents challenge the writ of state as Mukti Bahini and Mujeeb did, then all countries have only one option…crush the rebellion using all means,” justifies Farooq Khan. On Army’s accountability he says, “There was a massive infiltration of Indian guerillas in East Pakistan and it is really hard to say who killed whom in this situation. Besides, if Indian Army’s interference and military support to Bengalis was justified then India should also not bitch about Pakistan’s involvement in Kashmir as they also demand freedom,” he concludes.

Saira Zaman, too thinks similarly: “What Pak Army is often accused of is just disinformation. They were in a state of war when Agartallha Conspiracy was exposed. They might have killed some innocent people while hunting the traitors of Mukti Bahini so they should be tried but accusing them of genocide is totally sham propaganda”.

“It is very important to set up an international war tribunal which may judge objectively and independently  what actually happened during the separation of East Pakistan. There is evidence that both Pakistan Army and Mukti Bahini killed people but the figures presented by both are disputable,” argues Abid Ali.

On comparing Bangladesh and Pakistan Saira and Farooq believe its illogical since “we are Pakistanis and we think our country is best no matter how turbulent these days are”. Moreover,  “it is unfair to compare Bangladesh’s economic growth with Pakistan which is destroyed by the prolonged war on terror” Farooq says. “Bangladesh is growing it is good but you know they don’t have 3 million Afghan refugees scattered across their country,” he thinks. In Tanveer’s view: “Bangladesh is hugely dominated by political and social intervention of India”.

On Apology

It is interesting that all these Pakistanis this writer talked to dispute the allegations of war crimes yet feel for the Bengalis and regret this part of history deeply. Saira Zaman says: “If our apology can heal their wounds we must go ahead. I want to apologise for the loss of all those pro or anti-Pakistanis killed during the war even if I am not a culprit”.

Abid Ali and Tanveer Rizvi are also ready to reconcile with Benaglis because “we both are Muslim nations and Islam preaches that a Muslim shall not hurt another”. Abid Ali has his own reason: “Pakistan is already notorious for extremism and militant mindset it will help us improve our image as a tolerant and responsible society”.

Farooq Khan is an exception in this regard as he opposes the idea of apologizing: “They cannot ask for an apology without an inquiry rather we should urge Bengalis to apologize for betraying and dividing Pakistan. There is no single Pakistani who had not mourned the separation….it tore us apart. Can Bengalis undo the hurt and tragedy we have suffered after the fall of Dhaka? ”.