Pakistan Is Suffering From Amnesia About Bangladesh – OpEd

By Syed Badrul Ahsan*

Pakistan’s politicians are quite a sight these days: they are hopping mad; they are huffing and puffing. They simply have no idea what to do about Bangladesh. After all, the sovereign nation which was once their eastern province, has had the audacity to send their ageing, Bengali-speaking loyalists to the gallows one after the other. These five men who have faced justice have not merely been proven to have committed crimes against humanity in 1971. In a larger way – and that is why Pakistanis like Sartaj Aziz have gone apoplectic – the evidence against the five collaborators is also a clear reflection once again of the guilt of the state of Pakistan itself. The war crimes trials remind Sartaj Aziz of the crimes committed by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, in the name of Islam, in Bangladesh. The discomfort is palpable.

Of course we have always known that. Pakistan’s leaders and people have also known that, without willing to admit it and lose face (which face they lost decades ago anyway when they lost East Pakistan) before the world. With the likes of Nizami and Salahuddin and Mollah and Mujaheed meeting their end in such a sordid manner, Pakistan’s self-important men know that it is just a small sign of what could have happened to their military officers and general soldiers had Bangladesh been able to get its hands on them. Don’t forget that Sartaj Aziz and his kind are mad at us because through the executions of their five loyalists we have only reminded them of the wool they have pulled on the shame all of Pakistan went through forty five years ago. Who, after all, wishes to be reminded of old shame, especially when he or she doesn’t want to think he or she did anything wrong despite having done everything wrong?

And, so Sartaj Aziz says his country will take the issue of the executions in Bangladesh to the United Nations. It is a rather curious thing that every time Pakistan has been in trouble, through the imbecilic bellicosity of its leaders one after the other, it has made a dash for the United Nations. Go back in time, to 1948. A plebiscite to decide the future of Kashmir was what everyone looked forward to. Nehru had agreed to it, but then Jinnah tried being a little too clever for his own good. Having successfully broken up India through means clearly foul and politics patently misleading, he had Pakistani soldiers disguised as tribals stream into Kashmir, the goal being a forcible seizure of the state.

That seizure didn’t happen, of course, though part of the state came under Pakistan’s control. Caught in its act of deception, Pakistan complained to the UN. It was behaviour it would repeat in the years after 1948. Field Marshal Ayub Khan and his foreign minister Z.A. Bhutto cooked up, in 1965, duplicity they called Operation Gibraltar and Operation Grand Slam. It was nothing but another instance of mischief relating to Kashmir. It came apart the moment the Indians attacked Lahore. Pakistan’s leadership were left with their jaws wide open. They had never thought that while they were busy trying to stir up a revolt in Kashmir, the cunning Indians would hit them in their underbelly. Over a period of seventeen days, Pakistan struggled to hold its own against India on the battlefield, despite all the patriotism spewing out of the songs of Noor Jahan and Mehdi Hasan.

Law Minister S.M. Zafar was flown to New York to speak for Pakistan at the UN. And then it occurred to Ayub Khan that the law minister did not need to be in the global body when Foreign Minister Bhutto was around. And so Bhutto went before the Security Council and made a spectacle of himself. His rhetorical flourishes couched his jingoism. Despite being a highly educated man, he slipped to the levels of the uncouth at the UNSC. He described the Indian delegation led by the respected Sardar Swaran Singh as dogs. Back home, Pakistanis cheered. They have, by the way, always cheered crude rusticity in their leaders. Bhutto came back home, for the UN would not do his bidding. What it could do was bring about a ceasefire, which it did soon enough. Ayub Khan went to Tashkent, to eat humble pie before Lal Bahadur Shastri, as Alexei Kosygin watched.

Coming back to Sartaj Aziz, you have to admit he is a brave man to be able to inform his country and his fellow parliamentarians in Islamabad that he will take the Bangladesh executions issue to the UN. But shouldn’t someone advise him to carry in his briefcase a copy of the findings of the Hamoodur Rahman Commission which, though an inadequacy of a report on Pakistan’s defeat in the war of 1971, nevertheless reveal a good number of facts regarding the rapacious nature of Pakistan’s soldiers in Bangladesh? The UN, for all its flaws, remains a body where you can of course tear up, in theatrical fashion, copies of resolutions (Bhutto did that in December 1971 and made a fool of himself). But the UN is not drama. Sartaj Aziz had better be briefed on all the skeletons in Pakistan’s old, creaky cupboard that will tumble out when Bangladesh turns up to cut him down to size. Pakistan’s 195 military officers may have escaped the gallows in Bangladesh, but the files and the evidence are all there.

Maybe we in Bangladesh can help Sartaj Aziz in a special way. When – and if – his prime minister decides to send him to New York, with all that evidence of the gigantic injustice we may have done to the collaborators, the razakars, we should pass on an additional file to him. It will be a thick file, with details of all the Bengalis murdered by or on the instructions of the five hanged traitors in 1971. Our diplomatic mission in Islamabad may be suitably instructed by our Foreign Office to assist Sartaj Aziz in remembering a war his country initiated and lost 45 years ago. The danger with Pakistan’s politicians is that they have systematically and seasonally suffered from well-ordered amnesia, if not dementia itself. Which is why we Bengalis must remind them of every detail related to the war.

So let Pakistan go to the UN. Let it howl in indignation at the doors of the Commonwealth, which it left in 1972 and years later went back to in sheepish demeanour. Let it complain to the Muslim world, something it did back in 1971. Despite the Muslim world, despite Saudi Arabia and Libya and their allies, we ran Pakistan’s soldiers out of town. Sartaj Aziz can run around now, as much as he wishes, along with his colleagues in the Pakistani establishment, re-enacting the old nonsense.

Headless chickens do run around for a while before falling silent. 1971 is a case in point.

*Syed Badrul Ahsan is the Associate Editor of Daily Observer, a daily published from Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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