By Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi
20 April 2016
I do not want to write about the incidents that led to the secession of East Pakistan from United Pakistan and the creation of the new state of Bangladesh. Prominent academics, researchers and journalists have written many articles and books, in addition to holding seminars and conferences, on this issue.
Some call these incidents part of a liberation war or civil war while others highlight the atrocities perpetrated by the Pakistan army or the militias affiliated to the Awami League party, which enjoyed the support of India. In these cases, the victims were mostly Bengalis or Biharis. At any rate, this issue was settled on the basis of the Shimla Agreement signed by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan, and his Indian counterpart Indira Gandhi, and later this agreement was complemented by the Delhi Agreement, inked by India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Under this agreement, prisoners of war and detainees were released and diplomatic relations were established between Pakistan and Bangladesh. The rapprochement among the three states was made possible on the principle of “forget and forgive.”
This was emphasized by the famous words of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation of Bangladesh: “Let the world know how Bengalis can forgive.” He made these remarks after abandoning the demand to try 159 Pakistani soldiers who were accused of war crimes committed during the civil war.
What has prompted me to recall these incidents are some of the observations made by Safi H. Jannaty in his article titled “History cannot and should not be forgotten.” In the article, Jannaty repeated the arguments that he had raised in a rejoinder to my previous article. Furthermore, he presented some pieces of new information and statistical figures. Being a person who closely follows what has happened and is happening in Bangladesh, I have only encountered this information and statistics in his writings.
Jannaty also goes back to the past to rake up a new controversy by asking whether there was any utility in the partition of the subcontinent and the creation of the new state of Pakistan. I fail to see that such controversy has any benefit considering the fact that Pakistan has become a reality and at present is one of the leading nations at the global level.
The leaders of the Muslim League were fully convinced of the need to create a separate state for Muslims in 1930s. On the basis of this conviction, they adopted the historic Lahore Resolution or Pakistan Resolution. It was Abul Kasem Fazlul Huq, the then prime minister of Bengal, who presented the resolution at the Lahore conference. All of the leaders of the Muslim League, headed by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, worked hard for seven years to convince the leaders of the Indian National Congress, including Mahatma Gandhi, of the need to create a separate nation for Muslims. The Muslim League leaders were also successful in convincing the British colonial rulers of the need for a new nation for Muslims. Millions of Muslims from all over the subcontinent were fully satisfied with the partition of the country and eventually they abandoned their homes and migrated to the new nation of Pakistan.
Of course, there was opposition against the partition of the subcontinent, and this was mainly from the Hindu extremist organizations. They are still chasing the Muslims of India and blaming them for the partition and asking them to shoulder the responsibility for what happened in the past.
Jannaty asks whether there has been any real benefit from the partition of the subcontinent. He tries to bring home the idea that the interests of Muslims might have been served in a much better way had India remain united. But at the same time, he acclaims the secession of East Pakistan and presents a lot of stories and fables that have not been heard until recently when the government of Bangladesh conspired to eliminate its political rivals. Subsequently, several opposition leaders were framed with the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity that purportedly were committed during the civil war that led to the creation of the new nation of Bangladesh. None of those who have been executed or who face trial for war crimes at present was charged with war crimes during the governments which came to power after the creation of the new state. This was the case with the first government, headed by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the nation, who ruled from 1972 to 1975, and even during the period of his daughter Sheikh Hasina in her first tenure as the prime minister of Bangladesh from 1996 to 2002.
Jannaty also drew attention to the comments made by some Americans about the atrocities perpetrated by the Pakistan army during the civil war in East Pakistan. In so doing, he forgets or pretends to forget what Americans committed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki when they killed hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians within seconds. Jannaty also forgets or pretends to forget what Americans committed in Vietnam and Iraq in killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of people, besides triggering sectarian strife. He should recall many such incidents from history and not turn a blind eye toward them. He should also not forget the tragic fate of the Native Americans in the United States.
History Cannot and Should Not Be Forgotten
By Safi H. Jannaty
Apr 1, 2016
AS Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi in his article “Return to the past may spoil the present” (Mar. 23) referred to my rejoinder to his earlier article, let me present my clarifications and arguments. I was happy to learn that Dr. Al-Ghamdi had the opportunity to meet the leaders of Bangladesh including the present Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed. I was also pleased to learn that he is an alumni of Aligarh Muslim University and obtained a doctorate from that prestigious Indian university, founded by a very dynamic and broadminded scholar, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan.
As I wrote previously, regardless of the number of people who were killed during the 1971 war, there is no denying the fact that it was genocide at large and is referred to as such by different international governmental and nongovernmental organizations. The International Commission of Jurists concluded that the atrocities carried out by the Pakistani armed forces “were part of a deliberate policy by a disciplined force”. Many of the confidential documents which have recently been declassified by the US government reflect the tyranny and the ruthless manner in which the Pakistani army unleashed a reign of terror and indulged in the killing of innocent people and raping of hapless women.
The now infamous “blood telegram” by Archer Blood, who was the US Consul General based in Dhaka during the war, sent to his bosses in Washington showed his utter displeasure over the silence of the US on the widespread carnage and indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people by the Pakistani army. The statements of the Pakistani chief and commanders of that time showed utter disrespect toward people of Bangla origin. These statements which were recorded and cannot be disproved reflect hatred and enmity against Bengalis.
A political scientist and writer, R J Rummel, in his book, “Death by Government: Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900” asserted, “the human death toll over only 267 days was incredible. Just to give for five out of the eighteen districts some incomplete statistics published in Bangladesh newspapers or by an Inquiry Committee, the Pakistani army killed 100,000 Bengalis in Dacca, 150,000 in Khulna, 75,000 in Jessore, 95,000 in Comilla, and 100,000 in Chittagong. For eighteen districts the total is 1,247,000 killed. This was an incomplete toll, and to this day no one really knows the final toll”. Another renowned writer Mulk Raj Anand, who first targeted and decried the caste system in India, was quoted as having said about Pakistani army actions: “The rapes were so systematic and pervasive that they had to be conscious Army policy, planned by the West Pakistanis in a deliberate effort to create a new race or to dilute Bengali nationalism”.
As regards the comparison between what Korean women suffered at the hands of Japanese men during World War II and the hapless Bangla women, I contended that the crime Pakistani men in uniform committed was against their own compatriots. Probably, for the first time in history, rape was used as a weapon of war to subdue the uprising and the perpetrators and instigators sought sadistic pleasure in desecrating the chastity and honour of women. Again, there is no point in arguing whether the number of women who suffered such horrific cruelty was 200,000 or 400,000.
The acts, the thought process behind such acts and the justification for such acts, were all sordidly disgusting and unquestionably unpardonable. In an interview in 1972, Indira Gandhi, the Indian prime minister at that time, justified the use of military intervention, saying, “Shall we sit and watch their women get raped?” The usual politics notwithstanding, the statement underlined the magnitude of suffering by women. Of course, there might have been some acts of revenge against Bihari women at that time and later, which must also be condemned without mincing any words.
However, it is the Pakistani army which should take the blame fully for having initiated the operation with full force against the weak Bangla people and allowing its military to target womenfolk. If people of Bihari origin are still suffering in Bangladesh, the government should take up the matter and resolve it.
I stated before and reiterate again that “forget and forgive” is indeed a good principle and ideology and I am not at all averse to it. However, we need not be blinded or close our eyes to the past or evade analysis. Careful analysis will help us avoid the recurrence of such bitter experience and avoid the killing of innocent people. In any case, it is always for the victims to forget and forgive, which is much easier said than done. How can the families who lost their breadwinners, women and children forget the atrocities or the women who were forced to remain ostracized by society and live in isolation forgive the perpetrators? How can we even understand the feelings of the men and women born out of those rapes who grew up in an orphanage with shame?
One reader commented that in my article I did not consider historical justifications or background. In fact, I had laid emphasis in my article on the origin of the dispute. When we return to the origin, it is easy to realize that the seeds of unrest were planted right at the moment when the Muslim League leaders insisted and got a separate nation on the basis of religion or faith. It was well-nigh impossible to create a nation where all of the Muslims living for centuries in different parts of India or the majority of them could be accommodated in a single contiguous physical and geographical area. India was and still is a very large country and the movement of people from east to west and south to north was not easy. Besides, people do not wish to leave their roots and origin and go to strange lands.
The arguments raised in favour of having a separate nation so that Muslims could practice their faith without any fear sound to me superfluous. Muslims like other minorities in India practice their faith without any hindrance and fear. Let me stress here that among all the so-called free and secular countries, India is probably the sole country that allows Muslims to have their religious affairs managed or governed by Shariah principles under what is referred to as “Muslim Personal Law”. For instance, it allows Muslims to distribute inheritance as per the principles of Shariah and any deviation can be challenged and the courts will apply these principles in determining the matter.
Many European countries which claim themselves to be very free and secular have succeeded in banning the use of “Niqab” or covering of the face by women. Yes, like any other place in the world, we hear voices against Muslims, but those voices are not strong enough to deny Muslims their fundamental rights.
The issue of the ban on cow meat in India is mentioned a lot among people who believe that they would have been denied the meat of the cow if they had remained in India or if India were to be united, as if the whole basis of religion revolves around eating or not eating cow meat. If strict adherence to faith were to be the criteria, why do they not object to the production and sale of alcohol in Pakistan?
Another issue that is raked up often among such people is communal strife in India. However, does it not also affect Pakistan despite that country having a predominantly Muslim population? There have been dozens of gun and bomb attacks on mosques and worshippers by different sects in Pakistan in the last few years? In none of those attacks were non-Muslim sects involved. Pakistan also suffers a lot more from the scourge of terrorism and the loss of lives and property. Unfortunately, the country had no choice but to allow the US to use its land to attack terror cells inside its territory and capture Al-Qaeda leaders. One of the reasons for tensions between Pakistan and India relates to the presence of terrorists in Pakistan who target India.
We have to see the picture on a much larger canvas to analyze the situation objectively. What did the whole region or the three countries which were partitioned gain ultimately and what is the amount of progress achieved by each of them in the last six decades? In terms of per capita income, literacy rates and industrialization, doubtlessly India is much ahead of the other two, although, not very satisfactory by international standards.
If India had remained united, the rate of progress and development would have been much higher as the nations would not have spent huge sums on military budgets (between 3-5 percent of GDP) to defend themselves against each other nor would they have faced the threat of large-scale terrorism. Needless to say, peace and the lack of fear are the first requirements for development and growth.
It is good to be patriotic and loyal toward one’s nation; yet, one should not close one’s eyes to reality. Nor should one claim a monopoly in religion and consider others to be infidels. Let me stress that Islam also teaches secularism and there is nothing wrong with being secular. True secularism is not equivalent to atheism nor does it call for waging a war against religions or religious values. Islam is a dynamic religion and has more tolerance than any other religion. Therefore, let us not try to restrict it for our own motives.