THE ROAD TO VICTORY
The historic date of 16th December is approaching us once again, and like every other year, it is welcomed with enthusiasm, joy, passion, patriotism and pride. It marks our day of victory and celebration. For a patriotic nation like Bangladesh, victory and independence are celebrated, remembered, valued and cherished every single day, every single moment. We as Bangladeshis value our freedom, and celebrate victory with the utmost dignity and pride. December 16th is when we express our joy through celebration. We love our country, and hold an immense sense of pride. As a proud nation, the country’s achievements are never forgotten by its people. We are continuously marching forward as a nation of success, and I, another proud Bangladeshi, fervently believe we shall continue to do so.
As December 16th approaches, the celebrations begin in advance. Proud, nation loving people are already seen carrying flags. Shops are decorated with a highly patriotic theme. Finally, when the day arrives, the feeling, the sights and sounds and the sheer joy that one feels is simply incomparable. Songs of patriotism and victory echoes throughout and the sense of pride and joy are clearly exposed on the faces of people, from the young child to adults. People carry the flag with them, and the way it is carried highlights our commitment to the nation. When we hold the flag, we hold it with a proud grip, with an intense passion. Even adults have their faces painted in green and red along with children. Bandanas and caps of the same colour are worn by most, and T shirts featuring our honoured flag can be seen everywhere. Most even decorate their cars with the Bangladeshi flag and roam around, loudly playing songs of freedom, victory and patriotism. The streets are filled with such jubilant sights. Our flag is hoisted atop several buildings. The day is marked with victory parades, special concerts and fairs. All around, there is pride and celebration. Newspapers are filled with felicitations and special supplements. Television programs feature special Victory Day programs. The day of victory is abundantly highlighted. The people who gave their lives are remembered and honoured.
Although we celebrate occasions such as Victory Day and Independence Day to the full, we as a proud nation love our country and value our victory and independence on an everyday basis. We never forget the sacrifices made by those brave souls who fought for the victory we celebrate. I for one know that I carry a great sense of pride at all times. As a proud Bangladeshi, I cannot help but think about those who have given their lives for our freedom, for our day of victory. They are the true heroes whose everlasting spirit shall forever live on in all our hearts.
Pakistan was an absolutely absurd geographic entity. It was created as a divided nation, with its eastern and western sectors separated by more than 1,500 km of Indian territory, at the time of independence from Britain in 1947. According to most Bangladeshi historians at least three million people were killed and over 200,000 women abused by West Pakistani forces and their local agents during the nine-month armed struggle that ended with West Pakistan troops’ surrender on Dec 16, 1971.
As a matter of fact our victory celebrations after 16th December were being overshadowed by grim discoveries of one after another of mass killings. Most horrifying discovery was that of Rayer Bazaar. Many of our national top doctors, professors, linguists, scientists were among the mangled dead bodies found here. In 1971, Bangladesh was part of Pakistan, a geographical monstrosity, created by the British in 1947.
People from East Pakistan accounted for the majority of Pakistan’s population, yet it was economically exploited and politically marginalised by the West Pakistani elite consisting of mostly the landed aristrocats and the military. Pakistan, translated as “The Land of the Pure”, was intolerant of Bengalis because the West Pakistani elite considered them not ‘pure” Muslims.” This perhaps was one of the main reasons that despite a landslide victory, winning 167 seats out of the169 allotted for East Pakistan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was still refused the control of the state. Bangladeshis could not fail to acknowledge the conspiracy hatched by the Pakistani military junta.
Numerous incidents in the past showed neglect, callousness and a growing indifference toward the Bangladeshis. Even while Sheikh Mujib held talks with Yahya Khan, regarding a growing conflict prior to this day, Pakistani army platoons were sailing in through the ports of East Pakistan in plain clothes.
The sheer sense of dread that lay in the minds of most Bangladeshis was overshadowed by an ambition to thwart the domination. To ‘pacify’ the people, the Pakistani army, led by Lieutenant General Tikka Khan, initiated Operation Searchlight from the midnight of March 25. It was not pacification but genocide, where even children were not spared. Women were raped, residential areas were shelled and the slums were pasted onto the grounds by the tanks and jeeps while people screamed inside them.
The next day saw bewildered Bangladeshis running toward the villages and the border areas, clinging onto their loved ones and necessities, with only the prayer of living to see another day. On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani Army launched Operation Searchlight to “eliminate” the Awami League and its supporters in East Pakistan. The goal was to “crush” the will of the Bengalis. It was one of the worst genocides in the history of the world. “Kill three million of them,” declared the then Pakistan President Yahya Khan , “and the rest will eat out of our hands.” Millions of Bangladeshis took refuge in neighboring India. Quite contrary to the government policy some peace loving people of US created the forum “Americans for Bangladesh” and arranged a poetry recital program on 20th November 1971 in Saint George Church, New York.
Among the poets who performed were Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovski, Ed Sanders etc. Ginsberg wrote and recited the famous poem “September on Jessore Road” which depicted the plights of the refugees. 1st of August 1971 in Madison Square Garden, New York. Some 40,000 people attended the “Concert for Bangladesh” arranged by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar to increase awareness for the Bangladesh’s cause and to raise funds to help the refugees. Bangladeshi freedom fighters resisted the Pakistani Army and India gave shelter to the refugees and helped the freedom fighters. The Valiant Freedom Fighters Three companies of the ‘Z’ force, lead by Major Shafat Jamil attacked Pakistan army convoy in Dewanganj near Jamalpur. The battle that ensued had probably left a burning impression of the Mukti Bahinis fighting prowess and agility in the minds of those Pakistan army soldiers, who managed to retreat to Jamalpur after the attack. Freedom fighters believe that this was one of the turning points and would forever be a milestone achieved by them as they rarely lost in the scattered skirmishes and battles that occurred with the enemy for the next four months. Although their support was initially passive, the Indian army began operations inside Bangladesh with the Mukti Bahini.
Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Aurora became the commander of this joint forces and the move gained ground with the Pakistan Air Force bombing Srinagar, Amritsar and other parts of India prior to this day. The Indo-Pakistan war broke out as a result. The joint forces of the Mukti Bahini and Indian army continued to rampage into Bangladesh with the surrender of Pakistan army becoming more viable with every passing second. The Mukti Bahini and the Indian forces entered Dhaka city at 10:10am.
Along with Group Captain A K Khondoker, deputy chief of staff, representing the Mukti Bahini, the instrument of surrender was signed by Jagjit Singh Aurora and Lieutenant General A A K Niazi at the then-Ramna race course (now Suhrawardy Uddyan) at 5:01pm on this day, materialising the dream that so many had fought for nine months. December 16, 1971 (A newspaper report) “Jai Bangla! Jai Bangla!” From the banks of the great Ganges and the broad Brahmaputra, from the emerald rice fields and mustard-colored hills of the countryside, from the countless squares of countless villages came the cry, “Victory to Bengal! Victory to Bengal!” They danced on the roofs of buses and marched down city streets singing their anthem Golden Bengal. They brought the green, red and gold banner of Bengal out of secret hiding places to flutter freely from buildings, while huge pictures of their imprisoned leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, sprang up overnight on trucks, houses, and signposts. As Indian troops advanced first to Jessore, then to Camilla, then to the outskirts of the capital of Dacca, small children clambered over their trucks and Bengalis everywhere cheered and greeted the soldiers as liberators. At a meeting of the military top brass, Yahya Khan declared: “Kill 3 million of them and the rest will eat out of our hands.” Accordingly, on the night of 25 March, the Pakistani Army launched Operation Searchlight to “crush” Bengali resistance in which Bengali members of military services were disarmed and killed, students and the intelligentsia systematically liquidated and able-bodied Bengali males just picked up and gunned down.
The violence affected all parts of East Pakistan. Residential halls of the University of Dhaka were particularly targeted. The only Hindu residential hall – the Jagannath Hall – was destroyed by the Pakistani armed forces, and an estimated 600 to 700 of its residents were murdered. In the first of many notorious war crimes, soldiers attacked Dhaka University, lining up and executing students and professors.
Their campaign of terror then moved into the countryside, where they battled local troops who had mutinied.
Initially, the plan seemed to work, and the army decided it would be a good idea to invite some Pakistani reporters to the region to show them how they had successfully dealt with the “freedom fighters”. Foreign journalists had already been expelled, and Pakistan was also keen to publicise atrocities committed by the other side. Awami League supporters had massacred tens of thousands of civilians whose loyalty they suspected, a war crime that is still denied by many today in Bangladesh.
Eight journalists, including Mascarenhas, were given a 10-day tour of the province. When they returned home, seven of them duly wrote what they were told to.
But one of them refused.
Yvonne Mascarenhas remembers him coming back distraught: “I’d never seen my husband looking in such a state. He was absolutely shocked, stressed, upset and terribly emotional,” she says, speaking from her home in west London.
“He told me that if he couldn’t write the story of what he’d seen he’d never be able to write another word again.”
Clearly it would not be possible to do so in Pakistan. All newspaper articles were checked by the military censor, and Mascarenhas told his wife he was certain he would be shot if he tried.
Pretending he was visiting his sick sister, Mascarenhas then travelled to London, where he headed straight to the Sunday Times and the editor’s office.
Evans remembers him in that meeting as having “the bearing of a military man, square-set and moustached, but appealing, almost soulful eyes and an air of profound melancholy”.
“He’d been shocked by the Bengali outrages in March, but he maintained that what the army was doing was altogether worse and on a grander scale,” Evans wrote.
Mascarenhas told him he had been an eyewitness to a huge, systematic killing spree, and had heard army officers describe the killings as a “final solution”.
Evans promised to run the story, but first Yvonne and the children had to escape Karachi.
They had agreed that the signal for them to start preparing for this was a telegram from Mascarenhas saying that “Ann’s operation was successful”.
Yvonne remembers receiving the message at three the next morning. “I heard the telegram man bang at my window and I woke up my sons and I was: ‘Oh my gosh, we have to go to London.’ It was terrifying. I had to leave everything behind.
“We could only take one suitcase each. We were crying so much it was like a funeral,” she says.
To avoid suspicion, Mascarenhas had to return to Pakistan before his family could leave. But as Pakistanis were only allowed one foreign flight a year, he then had to sneak out of the country by himself, crossing by land into Afghanistan.
The day after the family was reunited in their new home in London, the Sunday Times published his article, under the headline “Genocide”.
The Pakistani army denies any cold blooded killings at the university, though the Hamood-ur-Rehman commission in Pakistan concluded that overwhelming force was used at the university. This fact and the massacre at Jagannath Hall and nearby student dormitories of Dhaka University are corroborated by a videotape secretly filmed by Prof. Nurul Ullah of the East Pakistan Engineering University, whose residence was directly opposite the student dormitoriesThe scale of the atrocities was first made clear in the West when Anthony Mascarenhas, a Pakistani journalist who had been sent to the province by the military authorities to write a story favourable to Pakistan’s actions, instead fled to the United Kingdom and, on 13 June 1971, published an article in the Sunday Times describing the systematic killings by the military. The BBC writes: “There is little doubt that Mascarenhas’ reportage played its part in ending the war. It helped turn world opinion against Pakistan and encouraged India to play a decisive role”, with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi herself stating that Mascarenhas’ article has led her “to prepare the ground for India’s armed interventionHindu areas suffered particularly heavy blows. By midnight, Dhaka was burning, especially the Hindu dominated eastern part of the city. Time magazine reported on 2 August 1971, “The Hindus, who account for three-fourths of the refugees and a majority of the dead, have borne the brunt of the Pakistani military hatred.”
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was arrested by the Pakistani Army. Yahya Khan appointed Brigadier (later General) Rahimuddin Khan to preside over a special tribunal prosecuting Mujib with multiple charges. The tribunal’s sentence was never made public, but Yahya caused the verdict to be held in abeyance in any case. Other Awami League leaders were arrested as well, while a few fled Dhaka to avoid arrest. The Awami League was banned by General Yahya Khan.
Thus amid a war that still raged on, the new nation of Bangladesh was born. So far only India and Bhutan have formally recognized it, but it ranks eighth among the world’s 148 nations in terms of population (78 million), behind China, India, the Soviet Union, the U.S., Indonesia, Japan and Brazil. Its birth, moreover, may be followed by grave complications. In West Pakistan, a political upheaval is a foregone conclusion in the wake of defeat and dismemberment. In India, the creation of a Bengali state next door to its own impoverished West Bengal state could very well strengthen the centrifugal forces that have tugged at the country since independence in 1947. The breakaway of Pakistan’s eastern wing became a virtual certainty when the Islamabad government launched air strikes against at least eight Indian airfields two weeks ago. Responding in force, the Indian air force managed to wipe out the Pakistani air force in the East within two days, giving India control of the skies. In the Bay of Bengal and the Ganges delta region as well, the Indian navy was in unchallenged command. Its blockade of Chittagong and Chalna harbors cut off all reinforcements, supplies and chances of evacuation for the Pakistani forces.
Soon after the military operation ‘Searchlight’ began in former East Pakistan on March 25, 1971, the uprising became the subject of discussion all over the world. Chained by censorship, West Pakistan newspapers did not give a single word to their readers about what was happening in the Eastern wing; hence only foreign news radio was heard and believed. BBC’s were the most popular broadcasts.
March and April saw the worst. Roads were literally littered with garbage and bodies. A number of civilian volunteer groups were armed by the army to get organised and stage encounters. History will record with disgust the role of such organisations which undertook arson, looting and dishonouring not only of pro-Awami League people but also of innocent Bengalis.
They included members and supporters of the right-wing parties, led by Jamat-i-Islami. They had been routed by Awami League in 1970 elections and now wanted to take full revenge by calling the AL anti-Islam. The most active were three armed groups, Al Shams, Al Badar and the Razakar. These and other similar groups were accused of working as thunder squads, looting and disgracing Bengalis who were labelled as non-Muslim. Reports said that before action, these groups used to prepare plans and lists of those who were to be taken to task.
t is hard to understand why Yahya Khan seemed so confident about the success of his Operation Searchlight and thought that peace had been restored as thousands succumbed to death. In the beginning of April 1971 he was told by his cronies that the situation had improved.
Generals Hamid, M Pirzada, Omar and Rao Farman Ali even told him that the issue of East Pakistan had been resolved.
Banking on their advice former judge Justice Corneillius was asked to prepare a constitution for the country which should grant maximum provincial autonomy to East Pakistan while remaining a part of Pakistan. In fact the situation had gone contrary to all that. Politicking continued in West Pakistan. Bhutto kept meeting Yahya and his men, however Yahya appeared to be losing the reins. On May 24, at a press conference in Karachi, Yahya painted a very gloomy picture of the country’s affairs and said that the economy had fallen to the lowest ebb.
His answers to newsmen were irrelevant and sometimes off the subject.
His approach towards the East Pakistan crisis seemed to have changed, and he appeared to evolve some positive solution. What made Yahya Khan change his stance is anybody’s guess, but on June 28, he announced the appointment of a team of experts to form a constitution and pledged that transfer of power would take place in four months. He had the misconception that holding by-elections and making the Assembly functional would cool down the people.
While Bangabandhu languished in Mianwali jail, Bhutto continued to meet Yahya. He visited Iran and wanted to visit Afghanistan with the aim of impressing upon Yahya that he was still popular with these countries. However during his visit to Iran Bhutto gave an interview to BBC in which he said that the crisis had not risen due to Mujib, but then quickly denied having said that. Perhaps he had second thoughts leading him to a new proposition.
Some Pakistani now believe that their country should apologise for the brutality of their army. Ali Ehsan , a journalist writes Since the 1980s, five Pakistani heads of government have made official visits to Bangladesh and when president Pervez Musharraf visited Bangladesh in August 2002, he actually came very close to offering an apology. After laying a wreath at the National Martyrs’ Memorial outside Dhaka, dedicated to those killed in the war, he wrote in the official visitors’ book “Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pains of the events of 1971. The excesses committed during the unfortunate period are regrettable”. However, this obviously was not enough.
I am not sure whether the state of Pakistan will ever formally apologise to Bangladesh considering that there were two horrors committed during the Bangladesh tragedy and by that account there are not one but two reciprocal apologies that seem to be due.
This seems to be amply stated in his article by Anthony Mascarenhas, who at that time was an assistant editor with the Morning News of Karachi, a villain for most Pakistanis but for the world, an honest journalist credited for the role he played in exposing the genocide in Bangladesh and for encouraging India to play a decisive role in ending the war. On June 13, 1971, Mascarenhas wrote an article titled “Genocide” in the Times. In the article, he pointed out that there were in fact two horrors to the Bangladesh tragedy. One was committed by Bengali troops and paramilitary personnel stationed in East Pakistan who mutinied in early March 1971 and put to death many non-Bengalis and Biharis. The second horror, he wrote, was committed by Pakistani forces that in a punitive response to the killings of non-Bengalis at the hands of the mutineers and their accomplices, initiated a military operation codenamed ‘Operation Searchlight’ on the night of March 25, 1971.
However, it was the rebels who initiated the violence in March of 1971 and what happened in the ensuing months speaks of a sorry tale of killing and mayhem. In the seven months that followed, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives.
The conventionally accepted death toll agreed by most researchers is between one and two million. The fact is that many innocent people died in deliberately executed acts of genocide and blame for this lies on both parties to the conflict. The Mukti Bahini targeted the West Pakistanis and Biharis and the Pakistani army’s military operation targeted the Hindus and the Bengali civil population. Both sides committed war crimes that warranted state apologies and not general amnesty; not yesterday and not even today.
As a Pakistani, I feel no shame in suggesting that we must apologise to Bangladesh but before we do that we must first as a state apologise to the people and the land we used to refer to as East Pakistan. An apology to them is due on two accounts. The first is that we showed wilful intent to keep the eastern wing militarily exposed, defenceless and vulnerable to India, courtesy our military strategy which was based on the reasoning that the battle of the east will be won in the west. The second has to do with the shameful manner in which the eastern wing was neglected when it was part of Pakistan.
Both these did little to allay the fears of Bengalis, and in fact, added to their insecurities and distrust that resulted in creating momentum towards a point where many started demanding secession and a separate homeland. Yes, we must apologise to Bangladesh for not doing enough for it and for being unable to guarantee the safety and security of its people when it was a part of our country.
The military solution that the government of General Yahya Khan favoured may have been in line with the principle of preservation of national unity, integrity and ideology and if better executed, may even have prevented East Pakistan’s secession from the rest of Pakistan. However, clearly it wasn’t the only solution that could have kept Pakistan united, as the events of 1971 showed. No army can hold a country together by force and it was this mistake by the military government of General Yahya Khan that made us lose half of our country. In that regard, we must also apologise to the lost Eastern Wing for using a military solution against its people and not one based on dialogue and democracy.
In a war that we lost, the minimum the state could have done was not to benefit the military leaders; in fact, they should actually have been retired and allowed to fade away. General Yahya Khan was a beneficiary of two pensions, one as Chief of Army Staff and the other as president of Pakistan. Lt Gen Yaqoob Ali Khan, who resigned and was removed from his post of Commander Eastern Command on March 1, 1971, was instead rewarded by being made ambassador to France and America and later was even appointed as Pakistan’s foreign minister. General Tikka Khan, who took over the military command from him and who initiated the infamous military operation in Dhaka on the night of November 25-26, was rewarded with the post of army chief. His generals who supervised and executed this operation in Dhaka included General Farman — he was appointed chairman of the Fauji Foundation on his return to Pakistan and Brigadier Jahanzeb Arbab was eventually promoted to lieutenant general. All these were benefits given to generals returning from a defeated war theatre.
Apologising to Bangladesh may be difficult and may take a long time in the coming but is repatriating 250,000 stranded Biharis — who call themselves Pakistanis — from Bangladesh a difficult thing as well? At the very least Pakistan should accept them.”
As we celebrate Victory Day today, we carry the spirit of those who gave their lives, and we shall continue to do so. Let us keep celebrating, keep being proud to be Bangladeshi and keep on burning that eternal flame that will shine brightly forever. We shall continue to move forward, dreaming brighter dreams, while never forgetting the past. Our hearts shall forever be filled with pride and love for our country. We are the sons and daughters of Bangladesh, a nation of achievers, and a nation filled with dedication.
DECEMBER 12, 2014