Opinion: 1971 to 2021 -- as Bangladesh forges ahead, Pakistan’s denial continues
Pervez Hoodbhoy, a columnist, penned an article for the Pakistani daily Dawn in February 2019, titled "Why Bangladesh overtook Pakistan".
In the article, Hoodbhoy wrote, "The mega surrender of 1971 made West Pakistanis eat humble pie. But, even as the two-nation theory went out of the window, the overwhelming majority was loath to change its thinking. The west wing renamed itself Pakistan, many assuming this was temporary. They said Bangladesh could never survive economically and would humbly ask to be taken back."
That wish of Pakistan, however, never met reality. While Bangladesh roars loud in its celebration of the 50th year of its independence, the entire world is observing that the country got past Pakistan in socio-economic-human indices with a remarkable stride.
Hoodbhoy also foresaw Bangladesh to be the next Asian Tiger, as he delved into the economic indices of the year 2018, where Bangladesh surpassed Pakistan in numerous parameters, including the foreign reserve, per capita external debt, average life span, and female labour force participation rate, among others.
On August 18, 2020, Dhaka Tribune covered a Times of India report in "'Miraculous' Bangladesh outshines India, Pakistan on development indicators". The report termed Bangladesh's success miraculous and inconceivable.
According to the World Bank and IMF, Bangladesh went past India and Pakistan in GDP growth rate and per capita income. In the Sub-continent, Bangladesh topped in seven indicators, India in six, while Pakistan in only one.
Hot on the heels of this report came another news, which said Bangladesh outshone both India and Pakistan in per capita GDP, and is expected to keep galloping ahead of them in the days to come.
One thing, however, has been corroborated repeatedly --Pakistan is unlikely to rectify itself.
Last December, Bangladesh celebrated the nation's victory in the 1971 Liberation War. On the historic day of December 16, 1971, Pakistan army's General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi along with his 93,000 soldiers surrendered to the joint forces of Bangladesh and India. Heads lowered, they laid down their weapons at the Ramna Race Course ground in presence of the victorious people of Bangladesh.
And it was at the same venue where, on March 7, 1971, Bangabandhu had called upon the countrymen to resist the Pakistan forces with whatever they have, saying "This time the struggle is for freedom, this time the struggle is for emancipation."
People of Bangladesh turned Bangabandhu's words into action, securing independence after a nine-month long armed struggle.
Meanwhile, on December 4 last year, Pakistan's High Commissioner Imran Ahmed Siddiqui called on Bangladesh Premier Sheikh Hasina. PM Hasina, Bangabandhu's daughter, reiterated that the pain of the genocide Pakistan had perpetrated on Bangladesh was unforgettable and that Pakistan could lessen the magnitude of their crime only by extending an official apology to Bangladesh.
Citing the Pakistan envoy, a Dawn report, however, dubbed the meeting as a new horizon in development of relations between the two countries.
Undoubtedly, Bangladesh also wants to improve the relations since PM Sheikh Hasina modelled Bangladesh's foreign relations policy based on his father's strategy -- friendship to all, malice to none, but it must be aligned with the national vision and policy.
Bangladesh will never form ties with anyone compromising on the spirit of the 1971 Liberation War. The country will never betray the blood of its 30 lakh martyrs.
In recent times, relationship between China and India has been gripped by bitterness, but Bangladesh seems to get along well with both of them. Pakistan, which eyes every scope to run propaganda against our wartime ally India, replicated the same feat while publishing the details of the meeting between our prime minister and Pakistan's high commissioner to Bangladesh.
Last July, when Pakistan's PM Imran Khan rang his Bangladesh counterpart, even then Pakistani media portrayed it as Khan's success to bring aside Bangladesh from the clutches of India.
The Dawn report dubbed the war crimes trial as "so-called" and opined that the trials of the friends of Pakistan -- Ghulam Azam, Motiur Rahman Nizami, and Quader Mollah, among others -- on charges of committing crimes against humanity in the 1971 Liberation War, had soured the relationship between the two countries. It also remarked that Narendra Modi's taking over as the prime minister of India had catalysed Sheikh Hasina's renewed interest in conducting the war crimes trial.
Pakistan still cannot figure out that Bangladesh has its ideals to live by, and agreeing to unjust demands are simply off the table. When the World Bank backtracked on its decision to fund the Padma Bridge construction project by bringing allegations of corruption (which were later proven to be baseless), Sheikh Hasina opted to continue with it through self-financing instead of bowing down to the global money lender. The entire world lauded her unwavering stance.
On March 26, 1992, hundreds of thousands of voices at the people's court led by Jahanara Imam roared at the historic Suhrawardy Udyan (former Race Course ground), "Ghulam Azam must pay for his crimes with death."
The demand of trying the officers and jawans of Pakistan forces, who, along with their local collaborators, were involved in crimes against humanity in 1971, resonated at the gathering. Trying those war criminals or forcing Pakistan to conduct that trial, however, was the last thing that the then ruling alliance of BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami wanted to happen. Rather, they rewarded Al Badr and Razakar members in different ways.
On December 29, 2008, Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina in the election manifesto vowed to bring war criminals to book. As steps were taken to this effect in 2010, Jamaat-e-Islami threatened the government with a civil war if it did not stop the trial.
They called for strikes and barricades in a row to foil the initiative. Hurling petrol bombs, burning people alive or injuring them severely across the country, they made newspaper headlines.
In 2015, The Daily Star had reported that a Pakistani diplomat was withdrawn from Bangladesh after intelligence dug out his involvement in terror financing and currency forgery racket. The report read, "Mohammad Mazhar Khan, attache at the consular section of Pakistan High Commission in Dhaka, was also an agent of his country's secret service ISI, foreign ministry officials said. He had set up a wide network of producing and distributing fake Indian currency, they added.
An intelligence report said Mazhar in collaboration with some colleagues at the high commission used to channel the money earned through his currency scam to Hizb ut-Tahrir, Ansarullah Bangla Team, and Jamaat-e-Islami."
The then Pakistan regime did not call it a day at that point but kept going on with nosediving into the internal issues of Bangladesh. After Jamaat leader Motiur Rahman Nizami was executed, the Pakistan parliament condemned the war crimes trial. The Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan demonstrated in protest against the trial of the Jamaat leaders in Bangladesh.
Also, the war criminals of 1971 share an alliance with BNP. When Jamaat was disqualified from participating in the parliamentary election, BNP nominated a handful of Jamaat leaders to contest the polls on December 30, 2018, with BNP's symbol 'Sheaf of Paddy'.
In 1971, the Pakistan forces in Bangladesh orchestrated one of the worst genocides in history as the country battled for freedom. Bangabandhu, who was arrested on the night of March 25 in 1971, landed in jail of then West Pakistan (now Pakistan).
After independence, when he was released on January 8, 1972, and returned to the country on January 10, hundreds of thousands thronged the airport to receive him.
He came to that very Race Course ground where he had made his call for the struggle to earn freedom of the country. Overwhelmed with emotions, Bangabandhu said, "I feel accomplished now. Bangladesh achieved its freedom."
He also said, "Pakistan's President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto requested me to ponder on securing relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan. I told him that I would let you know following a discussion with my countrymen. Today I want to say, Bangladesh became free and will remain free. You, Pakistanis, stay well."
Referring to the barbarism of the Pakistani forces, Bangabandhu said, "You killed hundreds of thousands of people, stripped our mothers and sisters of their dignity, and compelled one crore people to take refuge in India."
He also declared that those who had become Razakars and collaborators, associated with the enemy forces, and were responsible for the mass killing and rape, would be brought to book.
Sheikh Hasina did not forget that promise of Bangabandhu. The people of Bangladesh did not budge from that course and would never do so.
That Bangladesh is moving up the ladder of development is recognised by the world, and Pakistanis do understand it well. A quarter of their eminent citizens is saying that the rulers of Pakistan should take a lesson from Bangladesh on how economic progress can be ensured, the faster that truth be realised, the better for Pakistan.
It is for their own sake Pakistan should do so. Otherwise, they will shed tears of regret as Bangladesh will keep outpacing them on socio-economic-human indices.
The writer is a researcher and former deputy editor of the daily Samakal.