Abdul Quader Molla’s hanging in Dacca demonstrates that the demons of 1971 have yet to be exorcised. The common refrain is the West inflicted Nazi-like carnage on the East. But it overlooks the largely unseen dark side of the brutality inflicted on hapless West Pakistanis in East Pakistan. No Bengali got killed in 1971 in West Pakistan.
Sarmila Bose, grand-niece of Indian freedom fighter Subhas Chandra Bose, amply documents the atrocities inflicted on pro-Pakistan elements in her 2011 book, “Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War.” I was present at its Washington launch.
In Lahore, a segment of self-loathing Punjab elite over-simplifies issues and fashionably pins all blame on Punjabi chauvinism, thereby nourishing separatist seeds, entrenching victimhood, and bypassing broader issues of misgovernance, unfairness, and avarice.
Lest it be forgotten, East Pakistan was a province of Pakistan. And those who try to forcibly secede from the larger union are not greeted with a bouquet of daffodils. Abraham Lincoln’s war (1861-1865) against the seceding American South is one prime example.
Not heard in the conversation on 1971 has been the voice of General Yahya Khan, whose misfortune it was to preside over the vivisection of a united Pakistan. The nation’s misfortune became someone else’s good fortune.
A lot is known about 1971; but so little is understood. If Pakistan has to pull itself back from the brink, it needs to know what went wrong in 1971 to ensure that those calamitous blunders are not repeated and the warning signals not ignored.
Yahya passed away in 1980, leaving only an affidavit, “Yahya Speaks,” filed in the Lahore High Court in 1978. Here are Yahya Khan’s exact words about Bhutto’s stance in 1971:
“That this threat of Mr. Bhutto that whosoever will go to Dacca his legs will be broken…aggravated the situation in East Pakistan. …It put at stake the national solidarity…provided a cause of revolt in East Pakistan. This was no less dangerous than the Six Points and clearly meant separation of the two wings of the country. It was tremendously perilous to the integrity of Pakistan. Rather, it was more suicidal to the integrity of Pakistan than the six points formula of Mujib. …Bhutto was slave to his lust for power so much that he proposed the concept of two prime ministers in one country. Such statements ultimately contributed to the breakup of Pakistan.”
Sadly, the self-inflicted wounds of 1971 were overshadowed by the unjust trial and execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1979, which at some personal cost I had then publicly opposed and condemned.
You are a traitor when absent from power; and a savior when present in power. Yahya was the first chairman of CDA and oversaw Islamabad’s construction and, yet, did not own even a plot in Islamabad. He had a pivotal role in Nixon’s China initiative. In the White House letter of August 7, 1971 to Yahya, Nixon wrote that “the generations to come will forever be in your debt.”
To conclude with Shakespeare: “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”

The writer is an attorney-at-law and policy analyst based in Washington DC. He is the first Pakistani American member admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar.