Ramish Kamal Syed : 09/09/2017
1971 was the year that the people of the dual wing Pakistani republic witnessed their nation split in two; a Pakistan composed of the former West Pakistan, and the new nation of Bangladesh, a historical event that many termed inevitable and unavoidable, after all, any sane individual educated in either politics or history could recognize just how impractical the set up was. One nation split into two wings, separated by 1000 miles of hostile Indian Territory with nothing but a majority religion and shared branch of a linguistic family (The Indo-Aryan language) in common? Preposterous! The arrangement was ultimately doomed to an inevitable collapse, as it was simply not viable in the long run unless, of course, one wing subjugated the other…
However, it must be noted that the manner in which separation occurred was by no means inevitable, it was more or less a product of governmental incompetence, made worse by supremacist tendencies, coupled with blatantly obvious economic exploitation. Indeed, the whole 1971 affair could’ve been avoided had certain actions not taken place, certain policies not forced, and certain politicians not barred from office unjustly. Yet even if this were true this, a separation would’ve still been forthcoming regardless, and ideally it should’ve happened without war & conflict, and on terms favorable to Pakistan, unfortunately, in its stead, we witnessed a bloody conflict in Bengal.
For this war & conflict the Bengalis, and state, to this day remain adamant on extracting an official apology from Islamabad for actions that may or may not have happened. The standard figures presented is a total of 3 million civilian casualties, and 300,000 cases of rape organized, orchestrated by, and intentionally institutionalised, by the Pakistani military in an effort to subjugate the populace. Now there can be absolutely no doubt that war crimes were committed, they occur in every single war without exception, so there is no doubt that many Bengali civilians would have been massacred or sexually abused; that is an inevitable consequence of war, however; by no means is it morally justifiable.
It must also be observed in this context that in any war, both sides commit atrocities and war crimes. The onslaught against the Bihari’s and other similar non-Bengali ethnicities living within Bengal, accused not technically incorrectly of harbouring some pro Pakistani sympathies, is an undeniable act of illegal violence, incorrect as much as Pakistani war crimes against Bengali civilians and if justice is to established; all Bengali ethno-nationalists who took part in these purges must also receive proportionate condemnation and like the “genocide” of Bengalis the estimated death toll of Biharis varies widely from 20,000 to 500,000 depending on the source.
The victorious Allies committed war crimes upon the unarmed civilian populace of Germany following its defeat in the Second World War. Soldiers belonging to NATO powers also occasionally indulge in the exploitation of local peoples in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, and there is most certainly evidence of this. In the same manner, in the 1971 war, crimes were, in fact, a mutual exchange between pro and anti-Pakistan forces. Of course, the number of individuals brutalized by the Bengali separatists and ethno-nationalists is most likely to be but a fraction of those killed by the Pakistani armed forces, and there is absolutely no reason to believe, at least as far as I am currently aware of, that it indicates that as many civilians were violated by Bengali separatists, as they were by the Pakistani military; to believe with certainty to the contrary, without sufficiently procured objective evidence from an independent, nonpartisan origin, is an act of blind stupidity, and no Pakistani nationalist should condemn himself/herself to such a state.
Now, the figure of 3 million deaths comes to us directly from the Bangladeshi government itself, that fact alone is enough reason to doubt its authenticity. No government practices impartiality towards matters of such magnitude, and the simple fact that the political establishment of that nation has every interest in blowing this number up as much as possible, in order to ride on the bandwagon of popular support and stir nationalist sentiments to their benefit, only further questions its validity. It is an extreme act of naivety to not be wary of this ever present reality. Political entities have rarely ever shielded away from dishonesty when it is to their benefit. Our Pakistani Republic also engages in this form of statistical manipulation, it is an everyday part of power politics that transcends nationality and ideology.
Beyond mere speculation, there have been multiple independent pieces of research and studies into the “genocide”, and some highly question the claim of 3 million casualties. The most controversial book dealing with this is Sarmilia Bose’s ‘Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War’. There is no doubt that one may find several studies that offer support the 3 million casualty figure to some extent. Hence forth, if and until it can be established through empirical evidence, conducted via thorough research by individuals who have no inherent political, economic, social, or any other form of interests to show a bias to either Pakistan or Bangladesh, the Islamic Republic Of Pakistan must neither recognize the figure nor offer any condolences for it. It is extremely inappropriate to apologize for a statistic that has not been sufficiently proven yet, and any requests or demands for an unverified claim are completely unfair.
An official statement can, of course, be made for the war crimes in general, without recognizing the 3 million casualties, and completely ignoring the accusations of genocide, but it is unlikely to be considered acceptable to Dhaka; no nation that believes it has been wronged to the nth degree (regardless of any reality) will deem it anything other than simply insulting for its suffering to not be fully recognized. However, the people of Bangladesh must understand in their sensibilities that the “genocide” they supposedly faced, where more people would have had to have died per day than the Holocaust, is still unproven as of this date. If there is solid proof of 3 million victims of a systematic campaign of annihilation, and the Bengalis possess it, they should waste no time in presenting it to the world, and before Pakistan, to scrutinize and examine and, if it is indeed proven that 3 million unarmed men, women, and children were brutalized by the Pakistani military in 1971 as part of a systematic campaign of unholy slaughter, then the state must recognize it, Pakistani nationalists must be the first to accept it, and from there on out every single individual of Pakistani ancestry or citizenship must be made aware of it. Our commitment is to facts, not feelings.
The war crimes committed by Bengali nationalists and separatists upon individuals or communities suspected of collaborating with the regime should also not be forgotten, and definitely not forgiven. War crimes are war crimes, whether it’s the soldier of a state committing the gruesome act, or a guerrilla fighter doing it, in the eyes of the international community and common humanity they are both equally reprehensible. The state of Bangladesh is as obligated to apologize and offer condolence for violations of human rights committed by its militants, who have the status of heroes, upon pro-Pakistan civilians during the 1971 conflict as much as Pakistan is for the actions of its military.
In conclusion, for the sake of fairness, neither country can be asked to recognize, nor be held accountable for death tolls beyond what has been verified. Neither republic should apologize for its crimes if the other does not agree to reciprocate in kind. The objective of this endeavor is to grant some justice to the noncombatants killed during 1971 (more killed by the Pakistani military than Bengali separatists as mentioned previously), and to facilitate a new chapter in Pakistani-Bengal relations, both politically and socially. There is nothing to be gained from entertaining popular narratives of limited authenticity. The Islamic Republic Of Pakistan has no interest in an exercise of strengthening Bengali nationalism, and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has nothing to gain from downplaying its own narratives, thusly if the exchange is not mutual and absent of politicking, it will be a waste of time and energy for both republics.
Image Credits: Rashid Talukder/Drik