By Syed Badrul Ahsan*
After the fiction-peddling Pakistan-apologist Sarmila Bose, we have a new myth-maker in our midst. Junaid Ahmad sets out on a mission to explode ‘myths’ behind the creation of Bangladesh. Ironically, he ends up being only a maker of myths.
And that is not all. His fiction, a result of a fervid imagination at work, begins to implode right at the beginning. The implosion runs its full course, all the way to the end of a work which is clearly trapped in a time warp dating back to the 1960s and early 1970s. The jacket of the book, ‘Creation of Bangladesh: Myths Exploded’, highlights the writer’s ‘accomplishments’ as an academician, researcher and management consultant in Pakistan.
As you go through this fiction of what he would like to see presented as history, you realise that there is nothing of an academic nature about the work and certainly the research is but another term for propaganda. As for the management bit, this writer with a background in consultancy should never have ventured into the expansive field of history, a subject certainly not his forte. But wait. He is also said to have been a student at Concordia University and then McGill University in Canada in the mid-1970s. The education appears to have been flawed, a waste, for such prestigious universities hardly ever produce scholars of the kind which Ahmad has made himself out to be.
So what is Junaid Ahmad’s sin? Fundamentally it is one of profound ignorance. The ignorance is founded on the premise, his premise, of anger at the brutal manner in which the state of Pakistan was dismembered in 1971. East Pakistan, after the murder of three million Bengalis at the hands of the Pakistan occupation army, simply ceased to exist.
Junaid Ahmad’s anger has its roots in the transformation of Islamic Pakistan’s eastern province into the secular People’s Republic of Bangladesh. Could the two wings of Pakistan, with a thousand miles of Indian territory between them and despite all the bloodletting caused by the Pakistan Army, have remained a single country? For an answer, observe Ahmad’s disquiet about the role Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did not or would not play following the surrender of his nation’s army in Dhaka. Bhutto could not influence a yet imprisoned Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to agree to some arrangements to keep Pakistan united.
Ahmad’s naivete goes up by leaps and bounds. If Bhutto could not bind Mujib to a deal before letting him go free, he could at least have stayed his hand in the matter of Pakistan’s recognition of Bangladesh as a sovereign state on the eve of the summit of Islamic nations in Lahore in 1974, couldn’t he?
How much more ignorant can a ‘scholar’ get to be? The war is over, East Pakistan is dead and gone, the world has begun conducting business with a free Bangladesh, but Junaid Ahmad sulks. Had his comprehension of the history of 1971 been of the informed kind, his sulking would not be overly worrying. But then, throughout this tome of a work which the Pakistan authorities seem cheerfully to have gone around distributing to the outside world, Ahmad spews the kind of lies that would put any student of history, even in Pakistan, to shame.
During the war, if Ahmad is to be believed, the Pakistan Army was a bunch of decent, polite soldiers whose business was saving East Pakistan from the Mukti Bahini. The Mukti Bahini started it all, says he. It was in place even before it took shape in the course of the war. The myth-making goes on, at an increasingly faster pace. The villains were all in the Awami League, particularly Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. There were other villains, and they were the Hindus of India. That is Junaid Ahmad’s take on history.
There is something psychologically wrong about this ‘scholar’. For him the trauma associated with 1971 has nothing to do with the genocide the Yahya-Tikka junta initiated in March. Nothing was wrong with Bhutto’s decision to stay away from the National Assembly session called for early March. The problem was the ‘Awami League and its fascist political policies, the terrorist group of Mukti Bahini, the propaganda campaign of the Indians and some global media outlets….’
In essence, what you have here is nonsense elbowing out history. The Bengalis, says this ‘scholar’, murdered thousands of people, especially Urdu-speaking Biharis throughout the war. That is pretty intriguing a proposition. It boils down to a shamelessly revisionist version of history the world has so far not been made familiar with. The writer, in his time warp, of course, blatantly papers over the realities of the conflict, one created by his own country, as they were observed and have been recorded by history.
He does not speak of the massacres committed by the Pakistan Army through Operation Searchlight, but goes into a rant about the ‘armed resistance’ the soldiers met at the residential halls of Dhaka University on the night intervening March 25-26. The responsibility then devolved on the soldiers, didn’t it, to sort out the mess and restore order? Ahmad says not a word about the sorting out being the organised murder of sleeping students at the university.
This work is carefully but crudely orchestrated anti-history, certainly condoned if not actively supported by the establishment in present-day Pakistan. In a very large way, it is one more hint of why successive governments in Pakistan, along with those rabid elements which have kept their eyes shut to the atrocities committed by their soldiers in Bangladesh, have stayed away from taking a rational view of history.
Junaid Ahmad cheers the military crackdown of March 25, after the Awami League had engaged in ‘loot, plunder, and massacre of the people loyal to Pakistan’. Not a word is there in this account from this faux historian of the gruesome killings of teachers of Dhaka University in the initial stages of the genocide. Not a whisper is there on the killings of the revered Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta and Gobindo Chandra Dev. Should we be surprised? Not if we have already been exposed to Ahmad’s hate directed at Hindus and, of course, at the secular nation of Bengalis.
Everything that went wrong for Pakistan in 1971 had to do with India, with its Hindu mentality, with the secret workings of Delhi’s Research and Analysis Wing. Racism drips from every word Junaid Ahmad writes.
This work is a study in unadulterated insanity. Junaid Ahmad stumbles on ‘discoveries’ relating to India-Bangladesh ties the world remains ignorant of. And how does that happen to be?
The writer thinks that in October 1971, the Bangladesh government-in-exile and the Indian government arrived at a deal that would, post-war, ensure an Indian military and administrative presence in Bangladesh. There would be no armed forces formed by Bangladesh since a required number of Indian soldiers would stay on in the new country. Vacant posts in Bangladesh’s civil service would be filled by Indian civil servants.
Ignorance, you see, plumbs newer depths at every point. And the ten million Bengali refugees who found sanctuary in India? Ahmad comes forth with a new ‘discovery’: they were largely Hindus and they were terrorists in the guise of refugees. And the young Bengalis who joined the Mukti Bahini? To Ahmad, they were ‘brainwashed Bengali students’.
And did you know that even Indian military officers were part of the Mukti Bahini? You bet you didn’t know that, but it appears that Junaid Ahmad’s excessive patriotism as a Pakistan leaves him maimed as a teller of history.
Junaid Ahmad’s interpretation of history as it was shaped in the course of Bangladesh’s War of Liberation ends up shaming him. Scholars through the ages have never been peddlers of falsehood. Ahmad peddles lies and, therefore, cannot be treated as a scholar. For him, the Pakistan occupation army was a body of innocent, professional men serving their country.
Ahmad does not speak of the killings and rape and pillage these soldiers, abnormally driven by religious and racist hate, committed day after day in the occupied country. Hindus are an obsession with him. He moves to the Ziaur Rahman era in Bangladesh in order to find validity in his attitude toward Hindus.
Observe his encomium to Bangladesh’s first military dictator: “He weeded out the Hindus from public services, police, and army. These Hindus after their termination went to India and sought asylum. This also clearly proves that the Indians were present in large numbers in the civil and military establishment of Bangladesh since her creation.”
Junaid Ahmad’s work should be read for the amusement it typifies, for the tragicomedy it seems to be propagating. Once that is done, it should either be flung out of the window or relegated to a dark corner where no human hands can reach. The book does not deserve respect and neither does its author. Pakistanis would do well to steer clear of this pamphleteer masquerading as a historian.
*The author is Associate Editor of Daily Observer, a daily published from Dhaka, Bangladesh. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to [email protected]