HEALING A NATION
Some of the ghosts of the terrible events of the 1970-73 period are returning to haunt us today
The monstrous brutality of the militant extremists is apparent as they indoctrinate teenaged suicide bombers to hate and make shrapnel of their own bodies and thereby kill and maim other human beings, as they massacre innocents in their places of worship, as they behead soldiers, as they shoot girls going to school, as they kill health workers who try to administer polio drops to infants and kidnap young men for ransom.
Such inhumanity usually elicits outrage from a nation that is conscious of the values that define it, for outrage occurs, as Barrington Moore Jr argues, when the values that a community holds dear have been violated. Yet in our case, there are strata in the political community who sympathise with the militant extremists, indeed wish to bring them into their fold.
When Hakimullah Mehsud, a leader of the organisation that is waging war on the state and people of Pakistan was killed, he was declared a martyr by one of the leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami, a mainstream right wing political party. The overwhelming majority of the people may be opposed to such tendencies, but they are silenced by fear and ideological confusion.
Reason and compassion are being marginalised from Pakistan’s political discourse and public action. It is a nation that is in danger of losing its moral bearings.
These moral bearings are drawn from the great intellectual tradition of the Sufis who showed that Islam is rooted in the universal values of love, truth, justice, and nurturing the sense of beauty. It is through loving care of the “Other” that the Self is enhanced. “Tain milliaan maindey taazgi wo” – “In meeting you I am rejuvenated,” says Shah Hussain, the 18th century Punjabi Sufi poet. The “Other” in this tradition is not simply to be tolerated but constitutes an essential fertilizing force in the growth of the Self.
Thus meeting the “Other”, whether an individual, another identity or another religion, initiates the dynamics of love through which the Self is experienced afresh within a broader frame of reference, and is thereby enhanced.
The provinces that constituted Pakistan in 1947 had different languages and cultures, and hence provided the possibility of an enriching interplay. A unity that is woven from diversity is vibrant. When multiple identities are balanced within the whole, it becomes dynamic and powerful, just as a river flows stronger when it is fed by many tributaries.
Pakistan’s national integrity would have been strengthened if its identity had been nurtured by the thoughts of the great Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore, of the Pakhtun Sufi poet Rehman Baba, of the Sindhi Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, of the Baloch Sufi poet Mast Taukali. The national identity could have been sustained by the flowering of diverse cultures of the communities in various provinces.
Instead, the institutional structures of education, politics, and governance began to induce a deadly narrowing of identity and associated tendencies of hatred and violence towards the Other. The centralised form of governance under the “one unit” framework in the Ayub regime led to a denial of regional identities and culture.
Thus the forms of governance and political culture began to deny diversity instead of nurturing it.
One of the turning points of this process of going astray was the launching of Operation Searchlight in 1971 by a military dictator, instead of implementing the 1970 electoral verdict under the Constitution. This military operation involved the systematic and large scale killing of our own citizens in East Pakistan in 1971, which later emerged as the independent state of Bangladesh.
There is no doubt that there were atrocities from both sides once the civil war began. This introduced violence in the political culture of independent Bangladesh just as it did in the remaining Pakistan. However, the fact remains that the civil war was triggered when the military was sent in to crush the demands for political autonomy and preventing the victorious Awami League from forming a government as was its right under the constitution.
Apart from the protests of a few, the majority remained silent in the face of this outrage: A silence eerily similar to the present one as the Taliban reject the constitution as well as the values which underlie it. The collective apprehension of these core values constitute nationhood and at the same define the relationship between state and society as argued by Jacques Rousseau in discussing the concept of the “social contract” in his Geneva Manuscripts.
Failure to abide by the values and norms that underpin the formal rules of an institutional structure induces instability in the state, and undermines the fabric of society. The complicity contained in silence amidst acts of inhumanity scars the very soul of a nation.
Some of the ghosts of the terrible events of the 1970-73 period are returning to haunt us today. When the Supreme Court of Bangladesh upheld the conviction of Abdul Quader Molla (one of the leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami), for war crimes during 1971, the response of some of Pakistan’s political parties again manifested indifference to the terrible human toll of the events of 1971.
The Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami moved a resolution in the National Assembly against the hanging of Quader Molla. This resolution was supported by the ruling Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. It may be pertinent to give the gist of the statement of Momena Begum, before the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh on February 5, 2013.
According to Momena Begum, on March 26, 1971, Abdul Quader Molla and his companions forced their way into her family home. Molla first shot Momena’s pregnant mother then slaughtered her with a machete. Momena and her sister Amena hid under a cot.
She saw Molla and his companions kill her two-year-old brother Babu by repeatedly smashing him against the floor. When Momena could not resist crying out, she was discovered by the attackers, pulled out from under the cot and then violated till she was senseless. The moral depravity of Abdul Quader Molla is apparent just as it is in the case of the Taliban groups who stalk this land.
The National Assembly ought to have offered an apology on behalf of the people of Pakistan to the people of Bangladesh for the military action of 1971. Instead, a resolution was passed in support of Abdul Quader Molla. This once again indicates that our political representatives in their choices sometimes fail to bring to bear the norms of compassion, justice, and truth.
Fortunately, the government through the foreign office took an appropriate position: Pakistan considered the judgment by a Bangladeshi court against a Bangladeshi citizen an internal matter of a sovereign state.
This commendable rectitude by our foreign office ought to be followed by a process of healing the scars of 1971. Let us form a Pakistan-Bangladesh bilateral commission that can be called the Mandela Commission. Let us seek the truth about those terrible events and forgive each other.
Let not our common future be marred by the wounds of the past. Let truth and compassion be a balm for the people of Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Dr. Akmal Hussain is distinguished Professor of Economics, Forman Christian College University and a member of the governing board, South Asia Centre for Policy studies.
December 28, 2013