12:00 AM, November 14, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, November 14, 2012

Ground Realities

Our Pakistan question

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Syed Badrul Ahsan

We have been given to understand that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will not be going to Pakistan for the D-8 summit. The reasons, of course, are yet to be known given that the prime minister had earlier accepted the invitation brought to her by Pakistani foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar. Be that as it may, we now have a rather good opportunity to observe and comment on the wariness with which Bangladesh and Pakistan have circled each other since the surrender of the Pakistan army in Dhaka on December 16, 1971.
First, a basic point. For all their professions of brotherhood with Bangladesh, one needs to remember that a very large number of Pakistanis are yet to express contrition over the genocide conducted by their army here in 1971. Pervez Musharraf once expressed his regret over the tragedy, but regret falls far short of an expression of apology. So if Sheikh Hasina has opted not to go to Islamabad over the apology question, we have no complaints. She speaks for all Bengalis.
For more than two years after Pakistan's battlefield defeat in Bangladesh, you might recall, the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto described the Bangladesh government as the "Dhaka authorities" and did all it could to prevent the new nation from gaining membership of the United Nations and other global bodies. Worse, it sent out Bengali collaborators of the Pakistan army, then stranded in Pakistan, to the Middle East in order to influence governments in the region into staying away from a recognition of Bangladesh's sovereignty as a state.
But, then, Pakistan ate humble pie in February 1974 when leaders of Islamic nations gathering for a summit in Lahore pressed for Bangladesh's presence at the conference. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would not go without Islamabad's formal acknowledgement of Dhaka as a free country. Bhutto capitulated; and Bangabandhu travelled to Lahore, where the killer of tens of thousands of Bengalis in 1971, General Tikka Khan, then, ironically, Pakistan's army chief of staff, saluted him at the airport. At a civic reception arranged by the Pakistan government, a number of Pakistanis, apparently on cue from the authorities, attempted to embarrass the Bangladesh leader with incendiary questions. They did not succeed.
A few months later, in June 1974, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto demonstrated the contempt in which he still held the people of Bangladesh. He did not wish to visit the national martyrs' memorial in Savar but did so when the Bangladesh government made it clear that it was a procedure followed by all heads of state and government visiting Bangladesh. At the memorial, Bhutto refused to doff the Mao cap he had on and looked irritated. When the visitors' book was presented to him, he refused to write anything. He pushed it away, muttering: "Enough of this nonsense."
The Pakistan government was thrilled at the murder of Bangabandhu in August 1975. Many Pakistanis distributed sweets in Pakistani cities to celebrate the fall of a "traitor to Pakistan." Bhutto, happy beyond measure, publicly recognised, mistakenly, the emergence of the "Islamic Republic" of Bangladesh and ordered bags of rice to be sent to the "brotherly" people of Bangladesh.
On Bangladesh's part, some disturbing moves were made under the military regime of General Ziaur Rahman. The country, by then forced into counter-revolutionary rightwing mode, agreed to an exchange of ambassadors between Dhaka and Islamabad in 1976. And this was done despite the fact that Pakistan had yet to agree to a settlement of the Bihari question and arrive at a solution to the issue of assets and liabilities of pre-1971 Pakistan. It was capitulation on Bangladesh's part, a position to which substance was added when Ziaur Rahman made an official trip to Islamabad in 1978 for talks with General Ziaul Haq. Nothing of substance came of the meeting.
Ziaul Haq visited Dhaka in 1985 in the aftermath of the tornado at Urir Char. Quite a charmer, he visited the national memorial at Savar to place a wreath in honour of Bangladesh's fallen Mukti Bahini guerrillas. Asked for his views on Bangladesh's freedom fighters by Bengali newsmen, he smiled and made the perplexing comment: "Your freedom fighters are our freedom fighters."
In her time, Benazir Bhutto, who as a student in America refused to believe (because her father told her so) that Pakistan's soldiers could kill Bengalis, visited Bangladesh briefly to see a pir. In the process, the Ershad government raised with her the matter of the repatriation of the stranded Pakistanis (Biharis) to Pakistan. She said nothing, but once out of Bangladesh airspace she made it clear that the Biharis were not Pakistani citizens. It was a frontal assault on the deal her father had agreed with Bangladesh in 1972.
These are the realities of history. Pakistan has not taken its citizens for resettlement in its territory. It has never been serious about the assets and liabilities issue. Its schools still teach wrong and bad history to the young and have never explained to them why or how "East Pakistan," once a part of the country, suddenly vanished. There are innumerable Pakistanis who will tell you that they did not know what their army was doing in Bangladesh forty one years ago. That is an untruth, for they knew all right and indeed looked forward to a suppression of the Bengali struggle. The defeat of their army was a shock they have not fully recovered from.
The men who played instrumental roles in the genocide -- Yahya Khan, Abdul Hamid Khan, S.G.M.M. Pirzada, Tikka Khan, Rao Farman Ali, Khadim Hussein Raja, A.A.K. Niazi ---were never punished, though the Bhutto government had publicly informed Bangladesh that if Dhaka agreed to free Pakistan's prisoners of war, Islamabad would on its own try these and other men over their transgressions.
And, of course, Pakistan has never apologised. Hina Rabbani Khar has advised us to leave the past behind and look to the future. Japan and Germany have atoned for their past and have marched, conscience clear, into the future. Pakistan has done no such thing.
Observe the irony. Today, the Pakistan army takes a bad mauling from the Pakistani Taliban in Waziristan. American drones kill hundreds in Pakistan and the army does not know how to respond. Guerrilla groups fight on for freedom in Baluchistan.

The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
E-mail: bahsantareq@yahoo.co.uk

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