The secession of East Pakistan in 1971, following a bitter civil war aided and abetted by an Indian aggression, undeniably, remains the most traumatic watermark of our national history.
This was evident during the kangaroo court trial of Abdul Kader Mullah, Assistant Secretary General of the Jamaat-i-Islami, who was recently sentenced to life imprisonment by a “war crimes tribunal” in Dhaka for being guilty of crimes against humanity during the 1971 civil war. The special court that convicted Mullah was established in 2010 by Sheikh Hasina Wajid’s government with the mandate to deal with those who stand accused of collaborating with the Pakistani forces and undertaking efforts to prevent East Pakistan from becoming an independent country. Hasina is manifestly driven by a desire to rehabilitate the reputation of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, her father, who met a sordid end at the hands of a clutch of young army officers, who shot and killed him in August 1975.
She is also driven by a desire to paddle baseless propaganda against Pakistan, which her father unabashedly initiated based on nothing more than the hallucinations of his feverish mind. These myths owe their lasting currency to the flavour of time in January 1972, when Mujib returned from imprisonment in Pakistan. His stature then, as the founding father of Bangladesh, was tall and whatever he said was gulped down by the world media at large without scrutiny for any substantiating proof. It remains an abiding measure of his mystique that some major engines of the media have picked up and believed the widely spread disinformation by Mujib and his coterie without conducting any research. Prominent among these are the charges of a non-existing genocide, in which a staggering rather unbelievable figure of 3,000,000 Bangladeshis were allegedly killed by Pakistani troops, and 200,000 women raped during the period of civil war that barely lasted nine months, topped by a beleaguered one-month long war with India.
In January 1972, Mujib, like his daughter 42 years later, was extremely keen to paint Pakistan red with the charges of genocide and rape. Despite his public utterances of the above quoted figures of killed and raped, there was no evidence on record to support such a preposterous lie. Indeed, not just the post-December 16 Bangladeshi government was on record of committing itself to conduct a survey, but Mujib himself set up two separate bodies to find the ‘facts’.
On January 16, 1972, newspapers in Bangladesh carried news that Mujib had ordered his party workers and Members of the Constituent Assembly (MCA) to collect detailed information on Pakistan Army’s genocide in Bangladesh and to file these with the Awami League office within two weeks.
Further, he announced a compensation plan for the families of the victims who had been killed at the hands of the Pakistani army; announcing a compensation of TK 2,000 through a widely publicised media campaign. Despite such vigour from the ‘Father of the Nation’, ‘Friend of Bengal’, ‘President of the Awami League’ and ‘Prime Minister’, nothing worthwhile turned up. In the end, Mujib and his government kept a studied silence over the outcome of such determined fact-finding efforts. The question as to what happened to the MCA’s report set in motion on January 15, 1972, and the findings of the 12-member inquiry committee, which was constituted on January 29, with the instructions to report on or before April 30, still go unanswered.
The facts on ground did not support Mujib’s wishful, make-believe thinking. On June 6, 1972, the Guardian published a report: “Since the third week of March, when the Inspector General’s office began its field investigations, there have been about 2,000 complaints from the citizens about deaths at the hands of Pakistan Army have been received.”
The outcome of the campaign to grant compensations also did not prove fruitful. According to a document of the Bangladesh Ministry of Finance, only 72,000 claims were received of which the relatives of 50,000 victims were awarded the declared compensation. They, understandably, included a large number of bogus claims by the people, who wanted to make an easy buck. Failing to conjure up the desired results, all such facts that challenged the veracity of 3,000,000 deaths and 200,000 rapes’ myth, were placed under a firm lid by the then government, letting torrents of insidious propaganda rage on.
On flipside of the coin, Pakistan has remained indifferent to the vitriolic propaganda emerging from Bangladesh, hoping that the mischief mongers will somehow exhaust themselves in their campaign for paddling baseless lies. This has allowed quite a few in Bangladesh and India to concoct their own version of history castigating Pakistan and the valiant effort made by the Pakistani army to defeat the secessionists. This calls upon Pakistani researchers, scholars and media to get focused on sifting out truth from lies in the narrative promoted by the Bengali nationalists. This also calls for undertaking efforts to expose elements in Bangladesh that deny, minimise or justify the brutalities committed by their compatriots against non-Bengalis and non-nationalists during the 1971 civil war.
The charade of ‘war trials’ in Dhaka is a disruptive effort. To exorcise the demons of the 1971, perpetuating lies and resorting to witch hunting is no worthwhile remedy. With the passage of over four decades, the passions have somewhat subsided and we can now have the liberty to dispassionately look back at the tumultuous events and unearth the reality. Only facing the objective truth shall enable the two countries to bury acrimony and purge mutual relations of the seething underlying hatred based on trumped up fallacies; paving the way for forging a positive and enduring relationship.
The writer is a freelance columnist.