The month of December brings with it memories of an international conspiracy abetted by our own politicians, which severed our Eastern Wing. People from my generation and older – especially those that had connections with East Pakistan (now Bangla Desh), will forever recall the lush green landscape crisscrossed with rivers and channels filled with boats and barges of every size. These waterways and the numerous rainwater tanks that profusely dotted the country side, teemed with fish. I can still remember the wonderful hospitality of Bengali friends and steaming plates of mouth-watering ‘bhaat’ and ‘maach’, spiced with homemade pickle, consumed without the aid of modern cutlery.

My association with this beautiful piece of God’s country was created, when my late father was appointed on a senior position in a local company with interests in the paper and matchbox industry. The job came with many perks, which included a house on the much coveted Dhaka locality of Green Road and travel all over the land, especially Karnaphuli and Chittagong. The airlink between West and East Pakistan was in those days, bridged by Pakistan International Airlines, which operated a Super Constellation service from Lahore’s Walton Airport. I clearly recall the huge bouquets of giant dahlias that my father sent us on a regular basis, through the PIA crew members – dahlias, the likes of which I have never seen thereafter.

Then came 1971, the seeds of which were sown in the days leading upto the Agartala Conspiracy. A reality check will indicate that while India played a decisive and comprehensive role in the separation of our Eastern Wing, it was our shortsighted apathy to understand the highly aware, sensitive and nationalistic nature of the Bengali psyche that created fertile conditions, where seeds of rebellion were sown and later harvested by our enemy. Reading historical narratives and talking to individuals directly or indirectly linked to events in that fateful month of December, one could perhaps nurse the notion that we may have been able to neutralise the Indian conspiracy, had Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the PPP leader, set aside his lust for power, inflamed by a gigantic ego and allowed West Pakistani legislators elect to attend the National Assembly Session in Dhaka or desisted from raising the slogan of “Idhar hum, udhar tum” (Mr. Bhutto is reported to have threatened any elected member with broken legs, if they attended the session).

The Indian invasion of East Pakistan (and whatever the world may say, it was just that) generated a situation that no army, however well-equipped and strong, could withstand. Geographically surrounded on three sides by enemy territory (a fact that allowed the adoption of unlimited military options to India) and in the South by the Bay of Bengal, which could be blockaded with ease, Pakistani forces had to securely establish a supply line of over one thousand miles. Fighting an enemy on one front and continuously harassed by the rebels (many of who had at one time worn Khaki uniform) in the rear, would have taken toll of even the most professional security force on the globe.

Activities of the Mukti Bahini and military intervention by Indian Forces were backed up by cleverly devised information warfare. Stories and rumors of mass executions, rape and murder by Pakistan Army were highlighted in Indian media and proliferated amongst the locals. Resaearch later exposed these stories as totally false. My search across the internet exposed these myths, by none other than Indian sources.

Sharmila Bose, an Indian Journalist visited Bangla Desh to verify stories like the massacre of students and rape of girls in Dhaka University. She found that on the day of the alleged incident, the hostel was closed and all students had gone on leave, except seven girls. In interviews, these female students denied that they had been molested. It was however discovered that some members of Mukti Bahini masquerading as students were using the hostel to cache weapons and training students to fire them. These rebels were killed by the security forces in a shootout. During her research Ms. Bose interacted with Bengali public and was surprised that inspite of her best efforts, she could not uncover evidence that pointed to targetting of women and children. This led to the conclusion that atrocity stories were a part of a propaganda campaign to inflame public emotion in favor of the rebellion.

Then there is the myth of the ninety thousand Pakistan Army Prisoners of War. This is a travesty of truth used as leverage by India, critics of the Armed Forces, politicians and proliferated by the media. At the end of the 1971 War, the total strength of Pakistan Army personnel in Bangladesh was around twenty five thousand. In addition, there were 65 thousand West Pakistani civilians - Teachers, Bankers, Employees of Companies, Migrants and Government Servants. These non-military individuals fell under the category of ‘enemy civilians’ requiring internment and not ‘Prisoners of War’.

The sum of it all is the fact that we must as a nation, face milestones in history, however unpleasant they may be, with courage and the ability to learn from our mistakes. We must stop searching for ‘whipping boys’ and ‘scapegoats’ and cease seeking personal gains over collective good. As the New Year dawns, we must set aside individual loyalties and swear allegiance to Pakistan and our Founding Father’s vision.

 

The writer is a freelance columnist.