PAKISTAN’S BANGLADESH PROBLEM
Pakistan’s former military ruler Pervez Musharraf has recently revealed that he went for Kargil in 1999 as a retaliatory measure against India for its role in the creation of Bangladesh in 1971. The statement is yet another affirmation of the myopic assessments the Pakistani establishment has made about the 1971 conflict since the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign state.
Successive governments in Islamabad have consistently peddled the notion that Bangladesh was the outcome of Awami League and an Indian conspiracy. Never for a moment have Pakistan’s leaders publicly acknowledged the perfidy which the military junta of Yahya Khan and the civilian elite represented by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto indulged in to repudiate the results of the 1970 general elections and thwart a transfer of power to the triumphant Awami League. The ostrich-like attitude persists.
And to what degree it persists is seen in the incendiary statements made by Pakistan’s current interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in the national assembly over the trials of war criminals in Bangladesh. No matter how hard the Nawaz Sharif government wants it to appear that Khan’s statement was of a personal nature, the fact that the national assembly adopted a resolution condemning the execution of the war criminal Abdul Quader Molla is a clear indication of the discomfort Pakistan still feels about its collapse in Bangladesh.
The discomfort has manifested itself over the years through the attitudes and statements of its leaders. In June 1974, prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto displayed atrocious behaviour on his visit to the National Memorial at Savar. He refused to doff his cap, placed the wreath before the memorial with alacrity and then would not register his comments in the visitors’ book when it was placed before him. “Enough of this nonsense,” he hissed, and walked off.
When General Ziaul Haq came visiting in 1985, he did go to the National Memorial to place a wreath there. Afterward, when Bangladesh’s media asked him about his sentiments regarding the War of Liberation, Zia, with his enigmatic smile, came forth with an elliptical response: “Your heroes are our heroes.”
Sahibzada Yaqub Khan, martial law administrator of East Pakistan till early March 1971, came to Dhaka in 1985 as his country’s foreign minister. Asked about his feelings all those years later, he fell back on poetry: “Kaise kaise rang badalte hain asmaan ke” (how the skies change colour!). In later years, General Pervez Musharraf would say only that he regretted what had happened in 1971 but would not go for a clear expression of apology or contrition over the actions of the Pakistan army.
And Benazir Bhutto’s account of the war, as she puts it in her book, is most bizarre. She was a student abroad, in the West, at the time. Despite all the news reports on the atrocities being committed in Bangladesh, she went by her father’s self-serving versions of the war. Never in the course of her two stints in power did she express any sorrow over the tragic happenings of 1971.
Pakistani ambivalence over Bangladesh has been consistent since the early 1970s. During the War of Liberation, its establishment persisted in its description of the Mujibnagar government as a ‘so-called Bangladesh government’.
Once the war was over and Bangladesh had become a reality, Pakistan began to refer to the Bangladesh government as the ‘Dhaka authority’ — and this it did till February 1974 when Islamabad was compelled to accord diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh, albeit grudgingly, when it was made clear that Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would not attend the Lahore Islamic summit without such recognition.
In August 1975, within moments of the violent military coup toppling and murdering Bangabandhu, ZA Bhutto cheerfully announced his government’s recognition of the ‘Islamic Republic’ of Bangladesh, when no such change had occurred. He also despatched 50,000 tons of rice for the ‘brotherly people of Bangladesh.’ It has been reported that early on August 15, 1975, before the news of the coup in Bangladesh broke, senior officials of Pakistan Television in Islamabad kept asking their subordinates if any news had come in from Dhaka. The fall of the Mujib government set off wild celebrations in Pakistan, with opponents of Bangladesh distributing sweets to mark the occasion. Many even thought a reunification of East and West Pakistan was around the corner.
Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to come to terms with 1971 has not only prevented an expansion of normal diplomatic cooperation with Bangladesh but also posed problems for its young, who have never been told the truth of how East Pakistan disappeared and why. Pakistan’s schoolchildren are only briefly informed, in their textbooks, about a ‘conspiracy’ by India and ‘foreign agents’, meaning the Awami League, to cause a break-up of the country. Nowhere is there any mention of the repression, the killings and the rape committed by the Pakistan army in Bangladesh in 1971.
The state of denial has not served Pakistan well. And there are the attempts by some Pakistanis to revise the story of 1971. In March 1971, Roedad Khan, then secretary of Pakistan’s ministry of information, was in Dhaka. Early on March 26, even as the army went around murdering Bengalis all over the city, he turned up in the cantonment and cheerfully told the military officers gathered there, ‘yaar, imaan taaza ho gya’ (friends, faith has been revived).
He was clearly upbeat about the military action. Over the past few years, though, in his television appearances every December in Pakistan, he tries to convince listeners that he had pressed for a political solution to the conflict but Yahya Khan would not listen. Much the same lies have been peddled by General Omar, a leading player in the 1971 genocide.
In the light of such realities, it becomes rather easy to understand why Pervez Musharraf should link Kargil 1999 to Bangladesh 1971. Anti-history is yet a factor in Pakistan, especially where Bangladesh is the theme of discussion. A pity!
Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist, current affairs commentator and columnist.
DECEMBER 14, 2014