A Pakistani's re-assessment of 1971 | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 14, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, January 14, 2008

A Pakistani's re-assessment of 1971

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As a humanist, I hold this belief in my heart that most common people are good everywhere -- across every race, religion and ethnicity. This is not just a hypothesis for comfort. I have seen this from my own observation.
Yet, I must admit, sometimes my mind defies what my heart holds dear. One such case is when every time I think of the horror which Pakistan inflicted upon my country and people in 1971. During my conversation with a few Pakistanis, I discovered that their version of 1971 was distorted; it was mostly "a conspiracy by India" to split Muslim Pakistan.
"OK. For argument's sake, India exploited 1971 to corner Pakistan, but tell me, who gave India this opportunity?" I contend. "Was it India that denied the rights of Bengalis for 23 long years, and refused to hand over power to the Bengalis in 1970 as per the mandate by the people of East Pakistan (today's Bangladesh)?"
Therefore, I was not surprised when I heard a similar refrain on 1971 from Mr. Naeem Ahmed Malik, an expatriate Pakistani in New York, although I noticed that Malik hates mullahs and blames them for today's miserable situation in the Muslim world in general, and Pakistan in particular.
"I saw the violent nature of Bangladeshi mullahs on TV during their anti-Quadiyani movement. They are no better than the Mullahs of Pakistan," Malik tells me. His view is less dogmatic than that of probably most Pakistanis. Maybe it is because he is a Quadiyani Muslim, and has witnessed the persecutions, killings and sufferings of fellow Quadiyanis in Pakistan itself.
His curiosity about 1971 grows further. "Tell me about 1971. What happened exactly? Wasn't it a war between India and Pakistan?" Naeem Malik asks me. "It was a nine-month long bloody war -- from March '71 to December '71 -- and India did not involve itself until December of 1971 when Pakistan attacked India. It all started in the dark night of March 25, when Pakistani soldiers abruptly started killing several thousands of people in Dhaka following the collapse of Sheikh Mujib's meeting with military President Yahya," I said.
I then tell him about the 1970 general election, Awami League's landslide victory, and General Yahya's refusal to allow Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib to become the prime minister of Pakistan. I also briefly narrate to him the political unrest and turmoil that preceded 1971. "I know almost nothing about it," Naeem Malik tells me.
With internet access at my work place, I decided to show Malik some of the pictures and documents of the 1971 war of liberation and genocide, which had I compiled, edited and kept on our website (www.mukto-mona.com). "Here is a 1972 report from American NBC news channel on the Bangalee women who were raped by the West Pakistani soldiers."
I also show him a few other foreign video footages -- the massacres at Dhaka University and Khulna. Amid pin drop silence, Malik watches and listens -- how millions of Bangali men and women were killed and tortured, and several million were forced to flee to neighbouring India.
I notice Malik's eyes filling with tears. While watching the gruesome tale and pictures of the 1971 genocide, he repeatedly says astakhfirullah, meaning, God's disgrace be upon them, the perpetrators of this heinous crime. "I always wondered why Bangalis dislike Pakistanis so much but nobody told me the reason behind it. Now I know what Pakistan did to Bangalis in 1971," Malik tells me. "That's because most Pakistanis, I suppose, are unaware of the background history of 1971. All they know about it is that it was a fight between India and Pakistan," I say. "Not most," Malik says, "almost 100% of Pakistanis are unaware. Only the old people know about it."
I notice an expression of guilt in Malik's face. He requests me to e-mail him all the online links of 1971 so that he could send them to his fellow Pakistanis and friends. "Certainly, with pleasure," I assured him.
I feel good that I have made at least one Pakistani aware of 1971. I hope Naeem Malik will inform his friends and other Pakistanis about the truth of 1971. "Whether the figure is one million or three millions is not an issue. It was a crime against the humanity -- plain and simple," I tell Malik. He nods his head in agreement.
I tell him about some Pakistani intellectuals and journalists offering apology to Bangladesh for Pakistan's massacre in 1971, but so far no Pakistani government has apologise for 1971. "People with conscience would not, and cannot, support this kind of atrocity," Malik tells me.
He is right. People of good will and conscience do exist; however small in number. And that's probably the best reason for all of us, whether humanists or not, to remain optimistic about the future of mankind. I am thankful to Naeem Malik for reinforcing this conviction in my mind.

Jahed Ahmed is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.

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