In Search Of Truth
dedicated to my Apa (elder sister), Farah Deeba Deepti, the member of Election Management Committee (of Bangladesh Awami League) and Executive Member of Bangladesh-India Friendship Society…
A young lady was heard stating in a melancholic tone: “There was a mistake that might have been committed by anybody… both the parties apologise for the same.” (“Ek galti hui, kisi se bhi – maang lete hai mafia dono.“) This is the concluding line of a recent Pakistani movie ‘Khel Khel Mein‘, directed by Nabeel Qureshi. In fact, this is a Brechtian fervidity. The plot of this movie revolves around a group of college students in Pakistan, who have formed a theatre group, and decided to stage a play on the fall of the Bangladeshi capital city of Dhaka five decades ago (on December 16, 1971). The group, in its quest, arrives in Dhaka to find out how the events took place, and the persons responsible for this. The Political Statement of the movie is: ‘Forget the past… and let’s start again!’
Those interested in Military Science can well conjecture that it is the preparation for a Psychological Warfare. There is one accepted narrative of the birth of Bangladesh in 1971 in the Indian Subcontinent. It is known that the narratives form an essential part in the reconstruction and study of history. Pakistan, seemingly, is trying to change the narrative of the birth of Bangladesh not only through films, but also through other ways.
As per the conventional narrative, a relatively non-violent mass movement, under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (March 17, 1920 – August 15, 1975), was formed in Bangladesh (the then East Pakistan) against the Pakistani authorities in March 1971. It is because the top Political and Military leaderships in (West) Pakistan were reluctant to accept Sheikh Mujib as Prime Minister, even after his Awami League had won an absolute majority in the Pakistani Parliament in the 1970 General Election. Shortly afterwards, the Pakistani Armed Forces launched Operation Searchlight (on March 26, 1971), triggering a Genocide. The Pakistani Military personnel reportedly raped and murdered thousands of women from the then East Pakistan, apart from detaining members of the Awami League. They also arrested Sheikh Mujib, and sent him to Pakistan as a prisoner. As the genocide continued in the then East Pakistan for nine months, the Bengalis began a historic armed resistance, popularly known as the War of Liberation, against the (West or Urdu-speaking) Pakistanis. Meanwhile, millions of homeless and endangered Bengali people crossed the border, and took refuge in the neighbouring eastern Indian Province of West Bengal. Hence, India had no other option, but to get involved in Pakistan’s internal affairs. The Indo-Pak War, which started on December 3, 1971, lasted only 14 days, with Pakistani Army Chief (in East Pakistan) Major General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, along with 93,000 troops, surrendering to the Indian Army on December 16. The Indian Army had taken and held Major General Niazi as a Prisoner of War, and repatriated him to Pakistan on April 30, 1975. As the war ended, Sheikh Mujib was released from a Pakistani jail, and became the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in 1972.
Historians from different places have documented the history of Bangladesh’s War of Liberation, without changing the basic structure of this narrative. The nationalist reminiscences of these three countries – namely Bangladesh, Pakistan and India – are supposed to differ, as it is expected that there should be enough scope of defending one’s self in the history written by the Pakistani historians. While the Bangladeshi version of history is all about the heroic resistance offered by the Bengalis under the leadership of Sheikh Mujib, the Indian versions often render Pakistan as a villain.
So far, several anti-India leaders have ruled Bangladesh. The anti-India elements enjoyed an upper-hand after some members of the Bangladeshi Army assassinated Sheikh Mujib on August 15, 1975. However, they could not stay in power for long. After becoming the Prime Minister of Bangladesh for the second time in 2009 (the first time was from 1996 to 2001), Sheikh Mujib’s daughter Sheikh Hasina Wajed cracked down upon the pro-Pakistani section of society, and punished the murderers of her father, who were against the concept of Sovereign and Independent Bangladesh. One of them was Motiur Rahman Nizami (March 31, 1943 – May 11, 2016), the founder of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami. Pakistan, and even Turkey, condemned the execution of Nizami. He was executed as per an order issued by the War Crimes Tribunal formed by the Hasina Administration in 2016. Despite all these, the conventional narrative remains the same. According to this narrative, the Urdu-speaking Punjabis of (West) Pakistan used to hate the Bengali Muslims in the then East Pakistan, and were not ready to share power with the latter as per Democratic norms.
Pakistan recently started making attempts to change this narrative. In July 2021, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi made a phone call to his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina, and invited her to visit Islamabad. However, Prime Minister Hasina did not visit Pakistan. Experts are of the opinion that Islamabad is trying hard to normalise ties with Dhaka in order to put arch-rival India under diplomatic pressure. When Begum Khaleda Zia was the Prime Minister of Bangladesh (in 1991-96 and also in 2001-06), she had agreed to allow Pakistan to set up a squadron park of fighter jets in Dhaka. However, Hasina scrapped the project after becoming the PM in 2009.
It does not mean that Pakistan is no longer interested in the Dhaka Project, as the main aim of this project is to change the conventional narrative of the Liberation War of Bangladesh. In an answer to why Sheikh Mujib was not allowed to form the Government (of Pakistan) in 1970, despite winning the election, the Pakistani analysts have said that there was a lack of mutual discussion between the two sides. They have also rejected the issue of enmity or hostility between the Urdu-speaking and Bengali-speaking Muslims. According to the Pakistani experts, the Liberation War was triggered by the Indian Army and Intelligence officers. Group Captain (Retired) of the Pakistan Air Force Sultan M Hali recently penned a book, titled ‘Tormented Truth 1971 and Beyond‘. The author, whose father was a Lecturer at Dhaka University in 1971, claimed in his publication that no genocide had taken place at the university campus on March 26, 1971. He has made such a claim, as his main aim is to get rid of the myth (read fact) that three million Bengalis were killed by the Pakistani Army in 1971. This is called distorted history.
In fact, Sarmila Bose‘s 2011 publication ‘Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War’ had inspired the Pakistani historians to distort the fact a decade ago. There are two elements in this completely one-sided interview-based narrative that has made Islamabad particularly interested. Firstly, Bose mentioned that she was not sure whether a genocide had taken place in the then East Pakistan. She further stated that the concerned authorities in Bangladesh have increased the number of death toll in recent times. Secondly, the Pakistani Army and Razakars had killed the minorities (or Hindus). It may be noted that Razakar was an East Pakistani paramilitary force organised by General Tikka Khan in then East Pakistan during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. Since the 1971 war, it has become a pejorative term (implying traitor) in Bangladesh due to the numerous atrocities committed by the Razakars during the War. The Razakar force was composed of mostly anti-Bangladesh and pro-Pakistan Bengalis and Urdu-speaking migrants who lived in Bangladesh at the time. In other words, Bose made an attempt to establish the fact that the Pakistani Army wanted ethnic cleansing of East Pakistan in 1971, and the story of Pakistan’s racial hatred towards the Bengali Muslims is just a fabrication! Naturally, the propagandists of Pakistani Foreign Policy have taken Bose’s statements seriously.
Bangladesh has repeatedly asked Pakistan to apologise for committing the Genocide in 1971. However, the hardliner Islamists in Pakistan have advised their government in Islamabad not to do so. Given the situation, Pakistan’s local guardian China could play a mediating role. It may be noted that China has not only strengthened ties with Pakistan, but also with Bangladesh, especially in the defence sector, in recent times.
Perhaps, a wrong decision of the Narendra Modi Government in New Delhi has also inspired Pakistan to change its Bangladesh Narrative. Ahead of the 2019 General Elections in India, Prime Minister Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) relied on the belief that Religious Divisions were strong in the border province of West Bengal. The Government of India also passed the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) in the Parliament on December 11, 2019 to provide citizenship to Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Parsis and Christians, who had come to India from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan before December 31, 2014. The CAA has a negative impact on India-Bangladesh relations, despite the fact that the two South Asian neighbours have maintained cordial ties since 1971.
Since the Partition of Indian Subcontinent in 1947, India has refuted the Two Nation Theory of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the man who founded Pakistan. In 1940, Jinnah had delivered a seminal speech in Lahore, setting out the need for a separate state for Muslims in the Subcontinent. Prior to the division of India, Hindus and Muslims used to live together across the country. However, Jinnah described them as two separate nations, saying: “It is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality. Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literary traditions. They neither intermarry nor eat together, and indeed they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions.” Unfortunately, the BJP, too, believes in the Two Nation Theory. As a result, the Indian Foreign Policy is in deep crisis, and Pakistan is taking full advantage of this.
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