Martyrs betrayed ...
FORTY years of Bangladesh's independence has evoked outspoken criticism from some influential Pakistanis against "atrocities" Pakistani armed forces had committed on the unarmed people of the then East Pakistan, from March 25 to December 16, 1971. As if in a chorus, breaking out of the selective amnesia of that period, they have urged their government to formally apologise to Bangladesh.
Actually, Pakistani intellectuals and human rights activists had occasionally voiced similar sentiments before. But former Pak prime minister Nawaz Sharif and military dictator Pervez Mosharraf did not go beyond expressing "soft regrets," falling short of issuing an official apology.
In fact, Bangladesh government's formal approach to Pakistan for such an apology has met with a cryptic "let bygones be bygones" reaction from the Pakistani side.
The latest to articulate that Pakistan seek an apology from Bangladesh is cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, the chief of Tahreek-e-Insaf party. Because of his new clout -- as a rising star in Pak politics given the mammoth jalsas he's been addressing lately -- his words are a touch weightier.
Now, what has Imran exactly said about Bangladesh, going by a BBC World Service programme on 40 years of Bangladesh's independence? If my memory serves, he has made three points: one, Pakistan needs to formally apologise to Bangladesh through its parliament and if he is elected to power he would see to it; two, Bangladesh should be given its due share of assets on breakup with Pakistan; and three, the Urdu-speaking Biharis who had opted for Pakistan ought to be repatriated to their country of choice.
Two prominent Pakistanis, journalist Hamid Mir and human rights activist Begum Nasim Akhter Malik, have also aired their denunciation of the "Pakistani war criminals." BSS, Dhaka had quoted Hamid Mir as saying: "I appreciate and support any move against anyone responsible for the killing of innocent civilians in 1971. Genocide is a crime against humanity and every sensitive human being must support a move to put the criminals on trial in a court of law." He "threw his weight" also for the trial of Pakistani war criminals (195 Pakistani officers were listed as war criminals soon after Bangladesh's independence, but were let off -- that story in a bit).
Nasim Akhter for her part suggested "Bangladesh carry out a massive campaign for building public opinion regarding the trial for the sake of justice so that the perpetrators of the crime do not get a chance to hatch 'fresh plots' in the name of religion 'as they did in 1971.' "
Two other Pakistani journalists Saad Hafiz and Shahzeb Jillani, also critical of the Pak army role in Bangladesh, referred to atrocities committed in Baluchistan as well.
So much for the encouraging sentiments, mostly voiced by middle-aged eminent Pakistanis. The younger generation of Pakistanis, however, sounded a different note when the BBC had turned its recording device to them. They clearly gave the lie to accusations against Pakistan army for its role in 1971 saying they did not simply believe in such a narrative. Unsurprisingly, they have been groomed with such admiration for the army through their history books that they bluntly refused to lend credence to any other version.
Even a man like Imran Khan had been apparently hoodwinked by the disinformation campaign as he frankly admitted that previously he was also of the opinion that army operation was a good thing because there was no independent media in Pakistan in 1971. It was only when he went to England in 1971 that his eyes were opened to the reality of the army operation courtesy of his "Bengali friends."
There was total blackout of news from East Pakistan of any negative nature. Instead, a disinformation campaign was set afoot and vigorously pursued. Granted, but weren't the educated Pakistanis exposed to international media which had been so full of sinister, ethnic-cleansing-type, genocidal swipes going through the length and breadth of Bangladesh? Why was there no questioning from the intelligentsia into the conduct of Pakistan army and their collaborators?
Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto binned the Hamoodur Rahman Commission report. It didn't even invoke the specific instances of genocidal acts to try the perpetrators named in the HRC report.
The sequential dropping of curtains on options for broad-based and comprehensive trials of war crimes of genocidal proportions and crimes against humanity reads like a story of betrayal. What could be a broad-spectrum dispensation of deterrent justice has been narrowed down to a limited exercise.
This is how it happened: Simla peace accord in 1972 between India and Pakistan provided for return of 195 POWs to Pakistan. Then in 1973, India and Pakistan met again at the level of P.N. Haksar, Principal Secretary to the Indian PM, and Aziz Ahmad, Defence Minister of Pakistan, deciding to start a three-way repatriation process whereby 93,000 alleged Pakistani collaborators returned to Pakistan; stranded Bangladeshis in Pakistan were repatriated to their homeland; and Urdu-speaking Biharis opting for Pakistan started to repatriate to their country of choice. In 1974, for the first time, there was a trilateral meeting among Aziz Ahmad, Sarwan Singh and Dr. Kamal Hossain. In this meet, Bangladesh insisted on the term "clemency" for the 93,000 "collaborator" returnees to Pakistan, to which Pakistan objected saying "clemency" implied offence committed by them.
Then we dropped off to 37,000-38,000 Bangladeshis accused of collaborating with the Pak army and arrested. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman accorded general amnesty to all but 11,000 with the caveat that those who committed murder, loot, arson and rape would be brought to trial under Collaborators' Act. Then came Ziaur Rahman who abolished the Collaborators Act and the remainder 11,000 were set free.
The narrative does not in any way detract from the importance of the ongoing proceedings of the international crimes tribunal but only to point to the narrow canvass on which Bangladeshis accused of crimes against humanity will be tried.
Since there is a murmur, however faint and feeble, in Pakistan for holding the war criminals to account, could the government explore ways to associate Pakistan with the trial process?
According to a Times of India report, Pakistan's leader of the opposition Maulana Fazlur Rahman, on a visit to Delhi, asked: "Why stick to Simla accord in resolving disputes confronting the two countries" (since much water has flown down the Indus, parenthesis mine)?
By the same token, could we perhaps move to a wider inclusive trial of war crimes committed in Bangladesh in 1971?
Ending on the issue of Bangladesh's claim to share of assets on gaining independence, there is whiff of a message in Germany's "bailout" money to Greece being equated with the Greek "reparation" claim for the World War II.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.