Friday, December 28, 2012
Bangladesh Firm on Pakistan Apology
IT WAS a five-hour visit to Dhaka but it was long enough to bring Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar face-to-face with a reality that she and her countrymen have long tried to gloss over but the people of Bangladesh have not. Her host, foreign minister Dipu Moni surprised her by bringing up the 1971 genocide committed by the Pakistani armed forces and said that Bangladesh was still waiting for an official ‘apology’ from Islamabad. She added that Bangladesh was not satisfied with the ‘regrets’ expressed by Pakistan over the crimes perpetuated as a part of deliberate official policy of teaching a lesson to the then East Pakistani Bengalis.
Khar tried to wiggle out of the situation by using the familiar refrain that she uses with Indian leaders: forget the past and move on. She had used the same line with S. M. Krishna, her Indian counterpart at the time (since changed) as she told him that that the two countries should ‘move on’ without looking back.
Krishna was probably
a patient listener. Not so Dipu Moni who insisted that future relations with Pakistan depended on the awaited official
apology from Pakistan
The Bangladeshi minister probably saw through the hollowness of the ‘move on’ plea advanced by her petite Pakistani counterpart. It was only a few months ago that Islamabad was making such a hue and cry about an ‘apology’ from Washington for a drone attack on Salalah post on Pakistani side of the Pak-Afghan border. The
President and others had expressed ‘regrets’ over the incident that claimed the
lives of several soldiers. But Pakistan
would not accept anything less than an official ‘apology’.
Eventually, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tendered some kind of ‘apology’ although it was not paraphrased as apology. Cash-starved Pakistan , desperate to come out of an awkward situation it had created, accepted the‘apology’ and went to town about it, much to the amazement of many at home and abroad.
Dipu Moni was aware that the Pakistani leadership which talks of ‘forget and move on’ does just the opposite in regard to the so-called
Kashmir dispute. Whatever one might say in the
current simulated atmosphere of Indo-Pak bonhomie, the fact remains that Pakistan makes it abundantly clear that it was
not going to ‘forget’ Kashmir even if it stalls
further movement in bilateral relations.
Be that as it may, there is a very strong case for
Bangladesh insisting on an official apology from
. The pogrom ordered by General Yahya Khan, as the military ruler in what was
then known as East Pakistan has few parallels in recent history, except perhaps
the holocaust of the Jews ordered by Adolf Hitler in Germany .
Though it was the Pakistani military which had unleashed unspeakable atrocities on the Bengalis, the civilians of
Pakistan were equally enthusiastic supporters of the mass murder
plan. The reason was the contempt the West Pakistanis had for the Bengali
speaking fellow citizens; they were seen as inferior in physique and intellect
and, in addition, were considered not Islamised enough.
In December 1970 general election, the Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had swept the polls in the eastern wing of
Pakistan . Being
more populous, East Pakistan sent more members
to Parliament (National Assembly), and, therefore, the Awami League qualified
to rule the country. The Punjabi military and the West Pakistanis, led by a man
called Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, would have none of it. They used to call the
Bengalis of East Pakistan ‘monkeys’ and ‘chickens’ who did not share their (West
Pakistanis) hatred for India
and the Hindus.
When Bengali nationalism, already fuelled by the neglect of their language by the ruling elite, began to assert itself, the military decided to deal with them ruthlessly. Gen Yahya Khan, generally preoccupied with his favourite mistress and a bottle of Scotch, asked his men to mercilessly crush any sign of rebellion in
. Men, women, children, old and infirm, none was to be spared by the bullets of
The Pakistani army went on a killing spree. They did not have to think much about their target. But in many cases they were helped by local religious fanatics, who led them to the ‘traitor’ and Hindu targets. A Pakistani journalist of Goan origin, Anthony Mascrenhas, (he died in
London in December 1986), who had worked for Karachi daily, Dawn, wrote a graphic account of the mass
murder planned (in East Pakistan ) by Yahya
Khan’s ‘Operation Searchlight’.
There is no definite word on the number of people killed but most opinions settle for a seven figure. At one time half of the then 70 million population of
East Pakistan was
running for the elusive safety. Ten million refugees had poured into India adding to the drain on a fragile economy
and forcing the hand of the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, to take on the
US-backed might of Pakistan
The Richard Nixon administration backed
Islamabad unmindful of its grossest human
rights violations. In fact, after Yahya Khan launched Operation Searchlight in
March 1971, Nixon sent nearly $4 million worth of arms to Pakistan and also dispatched his naval fleet
from the Pacific to the Bay of Bengal.
After the creation of
continued to play tricks with the new nation. It refused to accept the Urdu-speaking
‘Biharis’ stranded in East Pakistan who were unambiguous in their allegiance
. That problem still remains as does the question of divisions of common assets.
Taking advantage of the presence of religious zealots, who had collaborated with the Pakistani army during the Bangladeshi war, the notorious ISI of Pakistan began to spread its wing in the new nation. It helped the ISI that the subsequent events in
Bangladesh brought to the fore
political forces that were opposed to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the father of the
nation. Bangladesh became a major hub of ISI activities that included helping
in all possible ways the insurgent groups operating in eastern India, and
pumping of fake Indian currency into India either directly or through Nepal.
The ISI network also helped the Islamist groups in
opposed their country wearing the ‘secular’ tag. Prime Minister Sheik Hasina’s
government is under threat from the religious fundamentalists and their
political pivot, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which is said to have
received help from the Pakistani spy agency.
The BNP opposes almost everything that the Awami League does or says. That is why
never offered an official apology to Bangladesh for the 1971 genocide. It
is the opponents of Awami League who are also vehemently opposing the current
trial of ‘war criminals’, the collaborators during the liberation war of 1971. But
there is a strong public opinion against the pro-Pakistani elements. It is this
section that stands firmly behind Hasina. That must have been a factor behind
Dipu Moni’s firmness in demanding the long overdue apology from Pakistan —and
rejecting Hina Rabbani Khar’s hypocritical plea to forgive and forget. A
natural corollary of this firmness was Hasina’s decision not to attend the four-day
D-8 summit Pakistan convened
from Nov 19.
D8 or Group of developing eight Muslim countries - Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Nigeria, and Turkey besides Pakistan -- is a relatively low key forum which meets once in two years. Its bargaining power thus far has been limited but it is determined to leverage the fact that D 8 accounts for almost 60 percent of global Muslim population to enhance their share of world trade by 15 per cent by 2018. Already D8 has achieved trade volumes worth $130 billion, which is double its share of global trade three years ago.
The message from Moni’s snub of Khar is therefore clear. And it is that
Pakistan can hope
to have a turnaround in relations with Bangladesh
only on Bangladesh’s
must put on trial military and political personalities involved in the 1971
genocide, and tender a public apology. These terms, as Prime Minister Hasina
and Foreign Minister Dipu Moni told Hina Rabbani Khar are not negotiable.
Dhaka can afford this luxury as an in-depth analysis on 'Pakistan-Bangladesh Economic Expansion Challenges and Opportunities’ conducted by
Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) in September shows. Bangladesh
is miles ahead of Pakistan
with a robust manufacturing base and real GDP at an impressive 6.3 per cent. In
contrast, the land of the pure remains dependent on regular IMF bailout and US treasury
largesse to avert defaults on loan repayments.
First published in South Asia Analysis Group SAAG, December 26, 2012
Rajeev Sharma is a New Delhi-based journalist-author and a strategic analyst who regularly writes for several leading international media outlets. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org