Notes on South Asia in crisis | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 05, 2015 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:57 PM, March 20, 2015


Notes on South Asia in crisis

Here we publish a letter and an excerpt of an article. The letter was sent by four West Pakistani academicians in protest of West Pakistan's brutal attack on East Pakistan in 1971. It was published in The New York Times on April 10, 1971. The article was written by the famous West Pakistani scholar Eqbal Ahmad. It was first published in Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (Vol 4, No.1: Winter 1972). He was conferred the “Friends of Liberation War Honour” by Bangladesh in 2013.

Chroniclers will record December 17, 1971[ December 16, 1971], as the day of the dismemberment of Pakistan. Historians will say that the destruction of the country, as conceived and constituted by its founding fathers, began on the night of March 25. From that moment, the movement toward disaster was inexorable, for the men who held our destiny were oblivious to reason of politics, diplomacy, morality, and military strategy. Eight months later, that is, some 2,50,000 dead persons, millions of displaced citizens, thousands of raped women and orphaned children later, the disintegration of Pakistan climaxed in the surrender of 100,000 soldiers and civilians and the betrayal of millions who had, out of choice or necessity, remained loyal to the state. Few nations can claim a chapter so dark in history. To honor our past and for the sake of our future, we must ask why it happened? 

We welcome the appointment by Mr.Bhutto of a Commission to inquire into the causes of Pakistan's present predicament. Yet we fear the prevailing tendency to put blames on blundering individuals who, in fact, were mere agents of the forces that caused the crisis. The Commission will fail in its historic obligation if it does not examine the roots of the problem and satisfies instead the passions of the moment by finding scapegoats.

We must recognize that the disaster occurred because we permitted it to develop. The excesses of the Awami League notwithstanding, the issues were relatively clear cut, the inhumanity of the military intervention unquestionable, and, from the start, its consequences obvious to anyone who dared to think. Yet few educated citizens at home or at road had the clairvoyance or the courage to disrupt their lives, jeopardize their ambitions, and take risks to challenge the junta they are so vociferously condemning today. Almost to the last day of ignominious surrender, no leader of importance seriously questioned the basic premises of the junta's policies. In that sense many who are now calling for the trial of Yahya and his cronies are not free of complicity in the crimes against the country and its people. Finding scapegoats, surrogates of our crippled sensibilities and bruised consciences, will serve no good purpose. To the contrary, it may prevent the needed concentration on fundamentals.

The fundamental cause of the crisis lies in the betrayal of our people's ideals of Pakistan. The common muslims' struggle for a state was based on their longing for a society free of oppression, injustice and inequality. When the muslim masses rallied to the appeal of an Islamic state, it was their way of saying that they wanted a good state and just government. Hence Muslim nationalism had earlier and stronger popular roots in those regions -- like Bengal where the oppressor class was largely Hindu. For the muslim elite, however, Pakistan meant the end of hindu competition and the establishment of its own monopoly of power and privileges. The tragedy of Pakistan lies in the fact that for 23 years this elite, consisting of landlords and capitalists, bureaucrats and military men, held on to its privileges at the expense of the people and clung to power at the cost of participation. The lesson we must draw is that only the total transformation of Pakistan's economic and social structure will provide the basis for constructing a progressive, just and durable new order.

The sub-continent's worst colonial heritage was consecrated in Pakistan. We were ruled in the vice-regal tradition of executive centralism. When permitted to exist, the legislature was required to be a rubber stamp. Independent judiciary was judged a liability and emasculated. Power was concentrated in the bureaucracy and the army, both trained and tested by colonial Britain and aided and armed by imperial America. The poor were disenfranchized; government was unaccountable to the public. The callousness of our rulers was undiscriminating. Yet the more disadvantaged people of East Pakistan could only comprehend their condition as caused by regional discrimination. Their efforts to exercise their rights as a majority people were subverted in 1954, 1956, 1958, and 1968. In 1971 they were utterly brutalized. 

In order for Pakistan to prosper in freedom and dignity we must withdraw the power presently vested in the army and bureaucracy and restructure both institutions. Our armed forces are better trained to occupy the country than to defend it. The bureaucracy is raised to rule the people, not to serve them. Their colonial ethos, authoritarian structure, mediocre standards, and managerial outlook were suited to the service of their foreign mentors, and are unfit for a modern, independent nation. They must be transformed into popular, participatory institutions emanating from and accountable to the people, capable of defending the country, and serving the public. I hope that our defeat at the hands of an equally obsolete, if more numerous and gadget-heavy, Indian army will compel us to creativity and innovation rather than to put on more military fat and to harden the authoritarian arteries of the bureaucracy.

Similarly, I hope that renewed quest for national unity will not lead us again toward mindless centralization. We are still a diverse country united by culture, religion, nationality and a yearning for justice, equality and freedom. Diverse lands like Pakistan do not respond to European models of "integration." Nor can genuine regional grievances be suppressed by the repressive arms of government. Respect for regional cultures and traditions and maximum local autonomy within the framework of popular, national planning are the requisites of unity and strength.

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