Power Genocide And Independence – OpEd


At the historic moment of Bangladesh’s 54 Independence Day it goes without saying that power, genocide and independence are historically interlinked and based on the same formula. The most brutal and terrible genocide in the history of human civilization occurred in 1971 due to the use of repressive ‘power’ by the Pakistani regime on the people of Bangladesh to exterminate the Bengalis.

Pakistan’s political ‘power’ was religion-based, militaristic and exploitative. On the other hand, the Bengalis who were the victims of genocide stood up against this exploitative ‘power’ of Pakistan. The Bengali nation woke up unprecedentedly in the spirit of non-communal struggle under the leadership of Bangabandhu with the aim of gaining the ‘power’ to establish and manage ‘independent Bangladesh’. On the one hand, the unyielding Pakistan with the aim of sustaining the ‘violent exploitative power’, and on the other hand, the strong fighting spirit of Bengalis based on the ability and capability to establish an independent nation-state in its own political territory. Pakistan’s ‘extreme’ attack on Bengalis to sustain ‘power’ vs. ‘extreme’ efforts of Bengalis to gain the ‘power’ to run an independent state to survive.

In 1971, the ‘extreme’ Pakistani effort to sustain ‘power’ through ‘genocide’ and crimes against humanity on the one hand, and the ‘extreme’ psychological situation of the self-sacrificing Bengali people were observed. On the other hand, the Bengalis had no choice but to jump into the liberation war based on their own ‘ability and capability’ to establish an independent homeland.In this way, power, genocide and independence have become a saga in the life of the Bengali nation.

The late Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan (1938–2018) emphasized in his Nobel speech in 2001 that the “crime of all crimes” begins with a single murder. In 1971 it took place in a devastating way in Bangladesh. But the United Nations has not yet recognized this genocide in Bangladesh! Acknowledgment of the brutal genocide of 1971 in relation to the independent existence of Bangladesh is the need of the hour. 

The reason for the ‘genocide’ committed by the Pakistani army against Bengalis, and the lack of international recognition of this ‘genocide’ after independence can all be explained by the logic of ‘power relations’. Note that the concept of ‘power relations’ was coined by the French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984). According to Foucault, different patterns of dominance and resistance can be observed in different social settings. He further maintained that society cannot exist without ‘power relations’.

Before 1971, present day Bangladesh was actually a religious-colony of Pakistan. Pakistan was created on the basis of communal division based on religion. Therefore, it is under the guise of that religion that the ruling coterie of Pakistan has been exercising its colonial rule on the basis of exploitative ‘power’ over Bangladesh for 23 years. Considering the logic of ‘power relations’, the Bengalis had an ‘exploiter and exploited’ relationship with the Pakistanis. Since time immemorial the exploited Bengalis have sought to break such exploitative “power relations”. But the Pakistani ruling class sought to maintain their exploitative “power relations” with the Bengalis through force. At the final stage, therefore, a face-to-face conflict became inevitable.

In the 1970 elections, the majority of the voters and the people of the then East Bengal expressed their absolute support to the Awami League led by Bangabandhu. As a result, Bengalis (with a few minor exceptions) were able to demonstrate unity in the goal of breaking the exploitative “power relationship” with Pakistan and establishing an independent Bangladesh.

With this, the historical verdict of the Bengalis on the absolute legitimacy of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the undisputed leader of the Bengalis was proved and declared. But the Pakistani military ruler did not agree to hand over “power” to the Awami League under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the elected and legitimate representative of the Bengalis.

On March 1, 1971, ahead of the session of the National Assembly, the Awami League Parliamentary Party met in Purbani Hotel of Dhaka to discuss the formulation of the draft constitution of Pakistan in the light of 6-point charter. Suddenly, on that day General Yahya Khan, through a message on Radio Pakistan, announced the closure of the National Assembly session for an indefinite period.

Bengalis were in a protest mood. With processions the Bengalis proceeded towards Purbani Hotel of Dhaka where the meeting of the Awami League parliamentary party led by Bangabandhu was going on. Meanwhile, Bangabandhu met the journalists at that hotel. He announced the programme of hartal in Dhaka on 2nd March, hartal across the country on 3rd March and mass gathering at Ramna Race Course Maidan (present-day Suhrawardy Udyan) on 7th March. At that time the whole Bengali nation was eagerly waiting for Bangabandhu’s guidance. However, respecting and responding to Bangabandhu’s legitimate leadership, tens of millions of Bengalis gathered at the historic Ramna Racecourse to hear Bangabandhu’s directive speech on 7 March 1971. In front of this ocean of people, Bangabandhu historically declared, “This time’s struggle is the struggle for liberation, this time’s struggle is the struggle for independence.”

On 25 March 1971, the genocide to wipe out the Bengalis begun with notorious “Operation Searchlight” by Pakistan occupation army! This time also, Bangabandhu again declared independence. He called upon the Bengalis to start resistance struggle against the Pakistani occupation forces. The “genocide” of the Pakistanis against the Bengalis began. However, in response to the call of Bangabandhu, the liberation war of the Bengalis began. The aim was to liberate Bangladesh from the Pakistani occupation. Robert Payne in his book “Massacre” quotes Yahya Khan of Pakistan killing three million Bengalis in 1971. Yahya Khan said at that time “Kill three million of them, and the rest will be out of our hands”. The then Secretary General of the United Nations described the indiscriminate killings of Bengalis by the Pakistani occupation forces as ‘the saddest episode’ and ‘a terrible stain on the pages of human history’. Thus Bangladesh has paid the highest price for freedom with blood. The relationship of the Pakistani rulers with the Bengalis, centered on ‘power’, ‘genocide’ and ‘independence’. This relationship became completely hostile. 

Bangladesh became free from the occupation after the sacrifice of more than thirty lakh Bengalis, the loss of honor of nearly four lakh mothers and sisters, and the destruction of the entire Bangladesh. However, the UN has not recognized this genocide and crimes against humanity committed against Bengalis by the Pakistani army, the most despicable in the history of human civilization. The main reason has been the internal politics of Bangladesh. Especially after the assassination of Bangabandhu on August 15, 1975, the governments of killer Khondaker Mushtaque, Generall Ziaur Rahman, General H M Ershad that seized power illegally were completely unwilling to talk about the ‘genocide’ and crimes against humanity of 1971. The government of Khaleda Zia was also unwilling to deal with the matter to trial the murderers of ‘genocide’. Since then, the prosecution of “genocide and anti-humanity” criminals has been stopped. The Indemnity Ordinance was promulgated to stop the trial of Bangabandhu’s murder. Along with this, naturally, the recognition of the genocide of 1971 by the World community became irrelevant to the military and civilian governments of Bangladesh at that time!

Adam Jones, a professor of Political Science at the University of British Columbias draws attention to the issue, saying, ‘In terms of comparative genocide research, the Bangladesh genocide is still, sadly, little known — something that I and a few others have tried to remedy to the best of our ability.’ This is a reflection of the marginal position of Bangladesh in the global system of power, which accounts for the lack of international interest and intervention at the time. While presenting his paper titled The Bangladeshi Genocide in Comparative Perspective”  on the eighteenth anniversary of the Liberation War Museum on March 22, 2014, Adam Jones further said ‘In comparative perspective, however, the Bangladesh genocide of 1971 was one of the most extreme and devastating genocides of the 20th century, killing three million people.’ 

The situation started to change after the Awami League came to power after winning the parliamentary elections. A fundamental change in Bangladesh’s “power relationship” with the international community was initiated. In 1996, the Awami League under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of Bangabandhu formed the government and the course began to change. The Indemnity Ordinance was repealed.Following the repeal of the Indemnity Ordinance, the trial of the killers of Bangabandhu began and accomplished, the International Criminal Tribunal was formed to try those guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Some criminals have been tried and punished accordingly.

Later on, the Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad on 11 March, 2017 unanimously called on the United Nations to recognize March 25 as Genocide Day. In 2021, Tawhid Reza Noor, son of martyred journalist Siraj Uddin Hussain, wrote a letter to the Lemkin Institute and Genocide Watch requesting them to acknowledge the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh. These organizations have responded positively. In addition, the Bangladesh Liberation War Museum requested the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience to publish their statement of recognition of the 1971 genocide in Bangladesh. In 2021 and 2022, three US organizations, the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention, Genocide Watch, and the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, recognized the atrocities committed by the Pakistani occupation forces and their allies during the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War as ‘genocide’. Accordingly, international support was further accelerated by the recognition of the 1971 massacre of Bengalis by the Pakistani occupation forces as a ‘genocide’. 

In an international conference held at Dhaka University in May 2023 on achieving international recognition of the genocide committed in Bangladesh in 1971, the European delegates expressed the opinion that the genocide committed by Pakistanis in Bangladesh during the Liberation War in 1971 should not wait too long to get international recognition. They then expressed hope that, “this recognition will be available within the next few years.”

International recognition of the ‘genocide’ committed by Pakistan in 1971 to annihilate Bengalis is now going to get international recognition after more than fifty years. The increase of Bangladesh’s ‘power and prestige’ at the international arena is related to this situation. Bangladesh has now been promoted from the list of least developed countries to the status of a developing country. Besides, Bangladesh is now recognised as a role model for development in the world.  On the other hand, the status of Pakistan, the defeated power in the 1971 liberation war and the perpetrator of genocide, is now on the decline.

Prominent personalities of Pakistan dream of making their country like Bangladesh. They expect the leadership of a leader like Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina. In this situation, Bangladesh’s “power and dignity” at the international and regional level is in the direction of improvement. Therefore, Bangladesh’s request is also accepted by the World community with respect. Earlier, in response to the request of Bangladesh, the memorable day of Bangladesh’s Language Movement, 21 February was recognized as International Mother Language Day by the UNESCO. In the near future, as per the request of Bangladesh, the 1971 genocide will be recognized internationally and according to the proposal of the Bangladesh Jatiya Sangsad, the United Nations will recognize March 25 as International Genocide Day.

Professor Dr. Arun Kumar Goswami

Professor Dr. Arun Kumar Goswami, Director, Centre for South Asian Studies(CSAS), Dhaka; Former Dean, Faculty of Social Science and Former Chairman, Department of Political Science, Jagannath University, Dhaka.

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