Afrasiab Mehdi Hashmi Qureshi
This is a fact, not fiction. Islam binds Pakistan and Bangladesh. Islam connects the people of the two countries in a bond which will never break. Both share common history. Pakistan would like to have the best of relations with Bangladesh.
Unfortunately, at the Indian instigation, serious allegations have continued to emanate from Dhaka against Pakistan. It is alleged that in 1971, Pakistan Army in East Pakistan committed a “genocide” of “3 million Bengalis” and was responsible for the “rape” of “200,000 Bengali women.” This has been the official position of the Awami League government, reiterated every now and then. Not everyone in Bangladesh and outside, agrees with these statistics. Many in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the Jamaat and other opposition parties in the country, have seriously questioned the veracity of these figures.
Syed A Karim, the first Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, while referring to the subject categorically stated, “The figure of 3 million killed” was “a gross over-statement.” Indian-origin (Hindu) Bengali scholar at the Oxford, Sarmila Bose, underscores in her book on 1971, “The number of 3 million appears to be nothing more than a gigantic rumor.” According to her, around 100,000 persons could have perished in 1971, which includes “Bengalis and non-Bengalis, Hindus, Muslims and Indians & Pakistanis.”
Professor Gary Bass of Princeton University observes, “A senior Indian official put the Bengali death toll (in 1971) at 300,000 (not 3 million). On his part, the then Indian Foreign Minister Swaran Singh, declared that one million (not 3 million) people were killed in Bangladesh. There is a wide variation in the estimates. There is of course another account, which suggests that Sheikh Mujibur Rahman made a mistake when he asserted that 3 million Bengalis had been massacred in 1971. According to Serajur Rahman, former Deputy Head of the BBC Bangla Service, what Mujib really meant was that 300,000 Bengalis were killed, and not 3 million. In a categorical refutation, Swedish journalist Ingwar Oja wrote in March 1973, “The allegation regarding killing of 3 million people is highly exaggerated.” Peter Gill opined in the Daily Telegraph in early 1973, “The wild figure of three million Bengalis killed during those 10 terrible months is, at least 20 times higher (than the reality), if not 50 or 60 times.”
Same is the case with the allegations of rape and sexual assaults, which in so many cases were “systematically committed” by activists of the India-based Hindu fundamentalist organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). November in 1971, was in fact the holy month of Ramadan. And in Ramadan, only the vilest Muslim would ever think of committing such acts of repugnance.
Ambassador Bartleman also speaks of “millions of persons” incarcerated in “huge refugee camps” in Bangladesh, who had “sided with Pakistan” during the 1971 war. Here, also comes the question of the number of the Pakistani troops who surrendered on 16 December 1971. The general view which has been massively propagated is that 90,000-93,000 soldiers of the Pakistan army laid down their arms. This is not true. This is pure fiction, certainly not a fact. In his book ‘Betrayal of East Pakistan,’ the then Pakistani military commander in East Pakistan, Lieutenant General AAK Niazi categorically states that he had “a fighting force of 34,000 in East Pakistan in 1971.” Sarmila Bose agrees with this view. According to her, “93,000 Pakistani soldiers were not in fact taken prisoner.” Independent analysts in Bangladesh, the United States and even in India, have opined that the number of Pakistani troops in East Pakistan who surrendered, was not more than 34,000 – 35,000.
The total figure of 90,000 Pakistanis taken prisoners by India in December 1971 may be correct. But out of this figure, Pakistani troops (officers and soldiers of all three forces, Army, Air Force and Navy, included) who were taken prisoner by India, was not more than 34,000. Rest were West Pakistani civilians, including the police and civil services personnel, doctors and para-medical staff, engineers & contractors, and members of the West Pakistani community in East Pakistan which also includes the members of their family.
Significantly, these 34,000 or so soldiers of the Pakistan armed forces deployed in East Pakistan in 1971 were fighting against more than 200,000 soldiers of the Indian Army. And, also more than 100,000 Bengali insurgents, ‘Mukti Bahini,’ who had been given training in terror by India on the Indian soil.
Of relevance would be an interview by the sitting Deputy Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament, Colonel (Retd) Shawkat Ali, in which he openly admitted his and Sheikh Mujib’s involvement in the separation of East Pakistan.
The comments by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, about her father’s interaction with India, would also be noteworthy.
Language issue is important.
Urdu has not been the language spoken by all in (West) Pakistan, as has been propagandized in Bangladesh. Apart from a very large number of persons who migrated to the new country in 1947 who speak Urdu, Sindhis speak Sindhi language, Pathans speak Pashto, Punjabis speak Punjabi, and Balochs speak their Balochi language. The fact of the matter is that culturally and historically, Urdu has been the language of the Muslims of the subcontinent.
Due to the Muslim historical heritage in the subcontinent, it was but natural to see Urdu adopted as the national language of the new Muslim country, Pakistan. Urdu is a mixture of Persian, Turkish, Pashto, Sanskrit and other languages. Above all, Urdu is closest to Arabic, the language of the Quran. Had the Bengali demand on the language issue been accepted, then Punjabis, Pakhtuns, Balochs and the Sindhis, each could have made similar demands in respect of their language, creating difficulties for the newly established Pakistan.
JN Dixit served as the first head of the Indian Mission in Dhaka after East Pakistan became Bangladesh. In his book, ‘Liberation and Beyond – Indo-Bangladesh Relations’ (pages 189-190, Konark Publishers Pvt, Delhi-1999), Dixit who later became Indian High Commissioner in Islamabad, India’s Foreign Secretary and then his country’s National Security Adviser, refers to the first visit to Bangladesh by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1974.
The question is, if Pakistan and its army, were as ‘monstrous’ as has been alleged in Bangladesh today, why was the Prime Minister of Pakistan given such a tumultuous welcome in Dhaka in 1974, just a little two years after the establishment of Bangladesh! If Pakistan army had committed a genocide of 3 million Bengalis and raped 200,000 Bengali women in 1971, as is being alleged in Bangladesh today, why was the Prime Minister of Pakistan given a hero’s welcome in Dhaka within a short span of time after the creation of Bangladesh.
If the common man in Bangladesh considered India as the benefactor of the people of Bangladesh, why was the Indian Ambassador’s official car garlanded with shoes? If Pakistan has been such a hated country in Bangladesh, why is it that so many Bangladeshis came to the airport to welcome Zulfikar Ali Bhutto? They should have raised full-throated slogans against the Prime Minister of Pakistan, rather shouting ‘Bhutto Zindabad.’
Bangladesh never joined India, nor would it ever like to. Today, a large number of Bangladeshi Muslims call Indians, ‘Malaoon (despicable) Hindus.’ On their part, Indians tauntingly describe Bangladeshis, ‘Cockroaches’ and ‘the most ungrateful nation on earth.’
The Two-Nation theory of Quaid-e-Azam is valid today, the way it has always been. The coming into power in India of Narendra Modi’s Hindu fundamentalist government in 2014, has further reinforced the importance and validity of the Two-Nation theory.
A few people in West Pakistan and a few in East Pakistan were responsible for 1971. The common man in both East Pakistan and in West Pakistan was not responsible for 1971. The people of East Pakistan suffered the real brunt of the conflict. Unaware of what was going on, on ground in East Pakistan, their brothers in West Pakistan, were only hoping and praying for the unity of Pakistan and for the welfare of their brothers in East Pakistan.
India had engineered the tragedy; India emerged as the principal beneficiary.
The question is not whether 30,000 people were killed or 3 million were massacred in 1971. The question is why was a single Pakistani (East Pakistani or West Pakistani) killed, without any justification! The question is not whether ten women were violated or 200,000. The question is, why was even one Pakistani (West Pakistani or East Pakistani) mother or a sister violated?
During his visit to Bangladesh in July 2002, the then President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf stressed, “My brothers and sisters in Pakistan share with their fellow brothers and sisters in Bangladesh, profound grief over the calamitous events of 1971. As a result of this tragedy, a family, having common religious and cultural heritage, and united by a joint struggle for independence and shared vision of the future, was torn apart. We feel sorry for this tragedy, and the pain it caused to both our people.”
No Pakistani would disagree with the view of Pervez Musharraf.
Bengali Muslims are loving people. They are resilient. At the same time, they are bitter, because of 1971. As proud citizens of a proud country, they have every right to be bitter. Importantly, Pakistan has always stood by Bangladesh. In the 1980s, at Dhaka’s request, Pakistan gifted 46 fighter aircrafts to Bangladesh. This was done free of cost, with no strings attached. Islamabad has also been assisting Dhaka in strengthening its defence on other occasions. Similarly, economic assistance has been regularly provided to Bangladesh.
Pakistan has, since its birth, had major successes and major failures. The fatal mistakes of 1971 should never be repeated.
The Muslims of Pakistan and the Muslims of Bangladesh are part of one large Muslim nation. Pakistan wishes Bangladesh well.
–Afrasiab served as Pakistan’s High
Commissioner to Bangladesh from 2011 to 2014. He has authored several books. This write-up has been derived from his book 1971: Fact and Fiction.