“Do you remember when they said there were 1,000 bodies and they had the graves and then we couldn’t find twenty?”
– Henry Kissinger
Time is a great healer of psychological and physical wounds. Yet, the pain of Pakistan’s breakup in 1971, still maintains its dull throb. The month of December each year, brings up its moments of reflection and sadness. But as they say, life must go on!
Bangladesh is now an independent country; duly acknowledged and accepted by Pakistan and there is a swell of goodwill and wishes harboured in our hearts for its well being and bright future. As a matter of saving grace, the emergence of a new country in the subcontinent, with a strong and distinct Muslim identity, has not snuffed out the Two Nation Theory, as was the grand Indian design in promoting the secessionist movement.
Pakistan and Bangladesh have made their peace and a warm cordiality marks the bilateral relations. Yet, there are elements with vested interests, which are active to cash on the buried and forgotten hatred and rancour and turn the blade in the wounds since long healed. As shown by experience, such pointless witch-hunting is bound to register an upward trend whenever a pro-India governments holds the reins of power in Dhaka.
Hasina Wajid, Bangladesh’s PM in chair, carries the burden of her father’s legacy and an Indian bent comes naturally to her. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was close to India and his daughter too seeks affinity with India and wants to promote a view of events, as portrayed by the Bangla Bandhu. Scratching of old wounds that should rake up tensions with Pakistan is gratuitous from an Indian perspective. For this purpose, the institution of ‘Liberation War Affairs Ministry’ that is entrusted with the task of keeping alive some of the most vicious and divisive anti-Pakistan themes that were devised during and in the aftermath of the civil war to create internecine hatred and bloodletting, comes handy. This year, the ministry has undertaken a four-phased activity to hold ceremonies for honouring the ‘Foreign Friends of Bangladesh’; not much imagination is needed to guess the country to whom the bulk of honours would go. The first event of the series in July provided an occasion and platform to serenade ex-PM Indira Gandhi, who used civil war’s ‘opportunity of the century’ to cut Pakistan into half. For her devoted services to truncate Pakistan, the accolade of ‘Bangladesh Freedom Honour’ was posthumously conferred upon her in Dhaka during the first conclave of the friends of Bangladesh. The fourth and concluding ceremony, scheduled on December 15, features the presence of the Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee, who along with a 150 organisations and individuals has been invited to grace the occasion. A dozen or so Pakistanis have been invited as well for being honoured as Bangladesh’s friends for supporting its revolt against their own country. As past experience is any guide, the participants will rake up some of the most outrageous themes, which were fabricated by the India-Bangladesh combine in the aftermath of the civil war to castigate, vilify and demonise Pakistan and its army.
Forty-one years have passed since the climactic upheaval and by any standard, this is a long enough period for the facts to emerge. Yet, it is enigmatic to observe that a strong state of denial remains prevalent in Bangladesh as well India to let go of the endemic hype and finally face up to the truth of the 1971 secession in which the lines of Indian induced insurgency and the Indo-Pak war seamlessly merged. There is a dogged obsession among anti-Pakistan elements in Bangladesh to create their own version of history to perpetuate perceptions of victimisation and distort events that led to the birth of Bangladesh. This campaign of lies and half-truths, which blames Pakistan Army with commission of unbelievable atrocities, has been waged with such single-minded intensity that the reality has been effectively blindsided. At other end of the spectrum, there is an overwhelming propensity among Bangladeshis to “deny, minimise or justify the brutalities committed by Bengali nationalists” and Mukti Bahini against Pakistanis, non-Bengalis and non-nationalists during 1971.
The most pernicious and fallacious myth inextricably linked to Sheikh Mujib is the assertion that Pakistan Army committed a “genocide” of “three million Bengalis” from March to December 71. The sources for his claim will never be known since, ostensibly, this was a figment of Sheikh’s own imagination; yet, it gained currency around the world despite its gross incredulity - even believed by many in Pakistan. The figure has been quoted endlessly in books, articles, newspapers, films and websites without citing any source or reference; yet, who told Mujib of this preposterous lie, as he emerged from his nine months’ incarceration, remains shrouded in mystery. A victim of his own lie, Sheikh Mujib tried to establish a framework for providing evidence in support of his claim within days of his tumultuous return to Bangladesh by setting up a committee of inquiry in January 1972. There is, however, no available record on the proceedings or findings, if any, by the much trumpeted inquiry committee. A deadly silence and dead-ends confront any attempts to reach the truth, but it lives on; prompting occasional and obtuse demands by elements in Bangladesh for conducting war crimes against perpetrators of the “genocide” and demands for an apology from Pakistan keep surfacing from time to time; sometimes from misinformed quarters in Pakistan as well.
Pakistan and Bangladesh share strong bonds of religion and the legacy of a common struggle to rid themselves of the yoke of an impending enslavement by a Hindu majority in an undivided India. The break-up of the two wings of Pakistan is now history and need not cloud prospects for working together for common good of their people. A true reconciliation can only emerge if both countries boldly face the true or imaginary demons of the past, forgive the perpetrators on both sides and then bury the rancour and unpleasantness forever.
For this to happen and to demystify the persistent myths, it would be in order that both countries begin an analytical, transparent and forensically authentic process to forsake open-ended rhetoric and unearth the buried truth. The scholars, academicians and media persons have to get engaged in an earnest research to sift reality from myth - a step that is overly delayed to correct the warped narratives. For this, Bangladesh will have to take the lead and open up the “killing fields” and the “mass graves” to forensic investigations - even the ones located in Dhaka University to conclusively establish the on-ground facts. This is essential since only truth can break open the shackles that have restrained growth of bilateral relations and finally and irrevocably bring the two people to the warmth of a brotherly embrace.
The writer is a freelance columnist.