Malicious narrative of 1971 war must now be brought to reckoning  

 

1971

Hussain Saqib

Left-leaning media men, intellectuals and politicians were made to believe that India-funded insurgency against the “imperialism” of Punjab was a genuine home-grown revolutionary movement. This enticed the poets like Faiz and Jalib to sing praises of “freedom-fighters”. Unaware of the tactics of War of Perceptions used by India, he and others unwittingly walked into the trap laid by RAW.

 

Until a few months ago when Indian prime minister Modi proudly, albeit shamelessly, admitted India’s role in dismemberment of Pakistan, it was intellectually fashionable to strengthen the narrative that Pakistan Army while fighting the insurgents killed millions of Bengalis and raped as many women. It was next to blasphemy to raise a finger at the insurgents who, as it has now transpired, were trained commandos of Indian army. Left-leaning media men, intellectuals and politicians were made to believe that India-funded insurgency against the “imperialism” of Punjab was a genuine home-grown revolutionary movement. This enticed the poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz to sing praises of “freedom-fighters”. Unaware of the tactics of War of Perceptions used by India, he unwittingly, along with others of his ilk, fell for this and subsequent narratives developed by RAW. They walked into the trap and with their poetry provided legitimacy to the insurgency.

Pakistani intellectuals or their off-springs proudly received civil awards for helping the enemy in its task to break up Pakistan. Although Modi’s admission to the India’s crime has punctured the balloon of the fake eulogies these intellectuals have been writing for “Bengali Freedom Fighters” (read: Indian army), they have no remorse for the role they played for Pakistan’s enemies. They were not prepared to accept the facts that insurgency in East Pakistan was funded by India and the Mukti Bahini predominantly composed of Indian army soldiers some of them of Bengali descent who had deserted from Pakistan army. They even rejected the fact that Pakistan Army, small in numbers and short on logistic resources fought the enemy with gallantry.

Now that Indian prime minister has himself admitted India’s role in breakup of Pakistan, it would be appropriate to revisit the history and put to rest the narrative, developed with visible malice, by India and promoted by Bangladesh of Sheikh Mujib and his ruling dynasty. There was recently an exceptionally good research work done by an Indian Bengali scholar Sarmila Bose.

Her book, Dead Reckoning, says that one of the bloodiest wars in the past half-century has been “dominated by the narrative of the victorious side” – Bangladeshi nationalists who won independence in 1971 from Pakistan and that both sides in the conflict “are still imprisoned by wartime partisan myths”. The introduction of her book does not entirely exonerate Pakistani troops from committing atrocities during Bangladesh’s bloody struggle for freedom. Following is the summary of what she found about the debacle of East Pakistan.

In the terrible violence of a fratricidal war, the victims were from every ethnic and religious group and from both sides of the political divide and so were the perpetrators. Both sides had legitimate political arguments and their idealistic followers, along with those who indulged in opportunism, expediency and inhumanity.

Many Bengalis – supposed to be fighting for freedom and dignity – committed appalling atrocities. And many Pakistani army officers, carrying out a military action against a political rebellion, turned out to be fine men doing their best to fight an unconventional war within the conventions of warfare. Pakistani army has been “demonized” by the pro-liberation side and accused of “monstrous actions regardless of the evidence”, while Bengali people have been depicted as “victims”. “This has led to a tendency to deny, minimize or justify violence and brutalities perpetrated by pro-liberation Bengalis.”

Dr Bose went through published documentary evidence, travelled to remote areas of Bangladesh to interview elderly villagers and journeyed to Pakistan to question retired army officers. Her book says the Bengali nationalist rebellion in what was then East Pakistan “turned into xenophobic violence against non-Bengalis” especially against West Pakistanis and mainly Urdu-speaking people who migrated to East Pakistan from India at the time of partition who were known as Biharis.

Dr Bose also examines the widely reported suggestion that three million Bengalis were killed by the Pakistani army. These figures are sacrosanct in Bangladesh, where the overwhelming majority of people continue to honor and respect those who died in the liberation struggle. Describing the three million figure as a “gigantic rumor”, she says it is “not based on any accounting or survey on the ground”.

“Claims of the dead in various incidents wildly exceeding anything that can be reasonably supported by evidence on the ground – ‘killing fields’ and ‘mass graves’ were claimed to be everywhere, but none was forensically exhumed and examined in a transparent manner.”

 

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