December 16 marks the secession of our Eastern Wing in 1971, recalling terrible memories of the bleakest chapter of Pakistan’s history. An independent Bangladesh moved on and is progressing well, maintaining good relations with its severed partner Pakistan. A 1975 military coup resulted in Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family’s slaughter. Hasina Wajid, the Sheikh’s daughter, who had survived the assassination being out of the country, is currently the PM of Bangladesh.

The scars of Pakistan’s 1971 tragedy appeared to be healing, but are bleeding again because Hasina stipulates a formal apology from it. The Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Hina Rabbani Khar, who had gone to Dhaka to personally invite the Bangladeshi PM to attend the D-8 Conference hosted by Islamabad, was spurned by Sheikh Hasina, demanding an apology from Pakistan first. In the aftermath of the diplomatic rebuff, Sheikh Mujib’s autobiography titled The Unfinished Memoirs based on his long lost diary was published, raking up old wounds. Some Pakistani journalists, enamoured by the one-sided version, are also urging the government to apologise for Pakistan’s misdeeds against Bengalis, without delving deep into historical facts.

West Pakistan does deserve major blame for alienating its Eastern Wing. Until 1947, East Bengal had been heavily dependent on Hindu management. After partition, West Pakistanis took their place; simultaneously, Muslim banking shifted from Bombay (now Mumbai) to Karachi, resulting in investments in East Pakistan originating from West Pakistani banks and entrepreneurs. Additionally, due to lack of administrative experience, Bengalis were excluded from the managerial level and from skilled labour, since West Pakistanis tended to favour the more experienced non-Bengali Muslim settlers from India. To add fuel to the fire, in 1948, the declaration of Urdu as Pakistan’s state language, ignoring Bengali - the mother tongue of 54 percent Pakistanis - caused a major cataclysm leading to language riots. Violence was quelled after the National Assembly in 1954 designated “Urdu and Bengali” to be the official languages of Pakistan, but the seeds of dissension had been sown.

The West Pakistani bureaucrats continued to treat their East Pakistani counterparts with disdain. Qudratullah Shahab, one of Pakistan’s pioneering bureaucrats, narrates eyewitness account of an incident in his autobiography Shahabnama, shedding light on the West Pakistani mindset.

India capitalised on this sense of deprivation and allegedly recruited Bengali leaders like Sheikh Mujib, who was at the forefront of the language riots, to promote its machination to dismember Pakistan. Mujib has conveniently omitted from The Unfinished Memoirs his surreptitious visit to Agartala on a “top secret” mission to meet Indian co-conspirators on February 5, 1962, substantiated by an official diary-note endorsed by Khowai SDO Smarajit Chakravarty, quoted by Manas Pal, in his Op-Ed: “A Diary Note on Mujibur Rahman”, published in Agartala’s daily Bengal Newz of November 5, 2012. Sheikh Mujib was arrested and tried for the Agartala Conspiracy Case for sedition and attempts to dismember Pakistan, but despite irrefutable evidence being presented to convict him, succumbing to public pressure, the government was forced to release him. The Sheikh’s “six point” programme was a virtual demand of independence; on its rejection by the government, on December 5, 1969, Mujib declared East Pakistan as “Bangladesh”.

Despite his landslide victory at the 1970 polls, Mujib’s integrity was doubted and he was not handed power, compelling him to call for independence, launching a major armed resistance campaign. Independent research, like Sarmila Bose’s book “Dead Reckoning”, has corroborated the massacre of non-Bengalis and Pakistani armed forces personnel by Bengali mutineers. The Pakistan Army retaliated with full fury to crush the rebellion. Fishing in troubled waters, India invaded East Pakistan and Bangladesh achieved independence.

It is high time we accept the mad atrocities on both sides; bury the past and move forward. In the words of Faiz (freely translated):

“We remain strangers despite so many reunions!

When will the leaves be cleansed and become verdant?

How many more Monsoons are required to wash away the bloodstains?”

The writer is a former group captain of PAF, who also served as air and naval attaché at Riyadh. Currently, he is a columnist, analyst and host of programme Defence & Diplomacy on PTV.  Email:     Twitter@nairangezamana