Revisiting a violent history with objectivity and neutrality is a painful process. USA took over one century to come to terms with the horrifying experience of ‘How the West was won’ and the ‘Civil War’. The massacre of ethnic communities during colonisation of Americas blessed by the Catholic and Anglican Churches can never condone the stark realities of cleansing indigenous communities for imperialism. Cambodia and Vietnam will take a long time to get out of the traumas they endured during successive bouts of violence. Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa is the only example where leadership of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu was successful in synergising a diversity locked in a history of apartheid, violence, inequality and oppression. Forgiveness and contrition were the main components of this reconciliation.

The division and humiliation of Pakistan in 1971 backed by India and its proxies continues to add insult to injury.

Pakistan’s politic body, oblivious of the ethnic sentiments of its people and having learnt no lessons from history is no better. It is usual for self-perpetuated bitter memories to fade away in an elastic conscience. The narrative that was in 1971 and the narrative that is now are both faulty, eclipsing facts and events that led to the 1971 debacle. The danger is that if Pakistan’s establishment continues to hide its head in sand like an ostrich or close its eyes like a pigeon, history will hit back.

In the regional context, none of the three have made sincere efforts towards correcting history and finding the truth. Rather, the entire debate is being deflected to the armed forces of Pakistan as the mother of all evils. The local neo liberal media whose point persons have invariably thrived on western scholarships and channels who get funding are spewing a venomous propaganda against Pakistan army. The propaganda is not without reason; considering the Memogate Affair followed by the Civil-Military debate in Pakistani think tanks. A recent suggestion by USA aptly rejected by India to include foreign office in the DGMO talks between India and Pakistan is worth a mention. A stage has now reached wherein Indian retired Generals and intellectuals with objectivity have assumed the task of partially absolving Pakistan Army of the atrocities while our very own spare no opportunity at accusations. This is the most peevish way to restore coordination amongst institutions.

I maintain my thesis that separation of East Pakistan was a foregone conclusion as far back as 1906 when All India Muslim League was formed before the Chair of Nawab Sir Salim Ullah of Bengal. Though Bengalis remained at the forefront of Pakistan movement, the core leadership of the League deprived them of equitable leadership. They were left with no other option.

The Bengalis helped morph the Mohammadan Education Conference convened by the Aligarh School of modernity for their own reasons. They allied with the alienation of Muslim minorities in Hindu majority areas (the major theme of the League) due to the partition of Bengal in 1905. This solidified their position on separation within a federation, to rule out social injustice and economic inequality. Perhaps the League’s main leadership neither grasped nor followed this basic logic. It was only in 1930 after Allama Iqbal’s assertion of a separate identity at Allahbad, that the demand got a Punjab centric twist. Though he is credited for the idea of separate Muslim states, the fact is that he grasped and reiterated the Bengali argument. Pakistani history books have conveniently highlighted Iqbal and omitted Bengalis who were the actual proponents of this idea.

Similarly, the Lahore Resolution of 1940 was moved in the general session of All India Muslim League at Lahore by Abdul Kashem Fazlul Haq (Sher-e-Bengal), the chief minister of undivided Bengal. Yet after partition, the Sher-e-Bengal was dismissed from public office by the Governor-General of Pakistan on charges of inciting secession, and later banned from politics by Ayub Khan. This incidentally coincided with the suppression of progressive activists of Pakistan Movement in West Pakistan. The Punjab centric politics with connivance of military and religious right were taking roots in Pakistan.

Another prominent Bengali leader of Pakistan movement was the low caste Hindu Jogendra Nath Mandal. He chaired the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly, was Pakistan’s first Law Minister but was made infective by West Pakistani politics and its Bengali allies. He blamed the Objective Resolution of 1949 as a departure from the independence framework and the main instigation of the massacre of Hindus in East Pakistan in 1950. Mandal resigned in October 1950 and went into exile to die in oblivion.

Political intrigues of the 1950s weighed heavily on the minds and thought process of East Pakistani politicians. Awami League grew out of the Muslim League workers who felt alienated and admired Fazal-e-Haq, Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Choudhury Khaliquzzaman. Many ardent torch bearers of Pakistan broke ranks with the establishment to take an inclusive course. East Pakistan thence shaped into two divisions of politicians; populist that supported the ideals of inclusive politics and establishment that saw Islam as the major bond between East and West. While imprisoned in West Pakistan, Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman had insisted that he did not support division of Pakistan. Exploiting the lack of communications between Pakistani politicians and exclusive politics of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the Indian narrative was inserted into the void. The military generals, incapable of reading the wind, moved into the trap. 

In West Pakistan an alliance amongst politicians of opportunity built. They co-opted the religious right with clichés such as ‘Islam as a binding force between East and West’, ‘Defence of East lies in the West’ ‘Awami League, a party of traitors’ and ‘Thanks God Pakistan is saved’. In East Pakistan, this alliance was supported by Bengali opportunists who lacked public approval. Jamaat-e-Islami was a late entrant when the battle of hearts and mind had already been lost. Much of the pro India propaganda blurted through West Pakistan left no option for the progressive East Pakistanis but to fall into the lap of the Indian narrative. A rag tag of approximately 35,000 ground combaters with a ratio of 1:15 was expected to tame the anti-West Pakistan sentiment and hold the Indian advance. Indian victory or Pakistan’s defeat as summed up by Indian generals was incidental. West Pakistanis, Biharis and pro Pakistan Bengalis paid a very heavy price in lives and honour before the military operation and after the surrender. Molla’s execution and Bihari camps in Bangladesh indicate that they still do. Pakistan must move swiftly to halt any further executions.

Atrocities and human right violations were committed by all three sides to the conflict. It is time that India, Bangladesh and Pakistan begin to document the conflict on lines of truth and reconciliation. Alas! The sub-continent lacks the persuasion and humility of Nelson Mandela and forgiveness of Desmond Tutu.

n    The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.