December 23, 2012
M. Serajul Islam
Dr. Qader Khan, the Father of Pakistan’s Nuclear Bomb, has dug out the unresolved issues of 1971 from the archive of history in an article he wrote for The News International captioned “Events of 1971”. Dr. Khan said that the situation in Pakistan today is worse than it was in 1971 and that unless the current socio- political problems of Pakistan are resolved satisfactorily, Pakistan could split again.
In making the doomsday prediction for Pakistan, he reflected on issues that caused the split of Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent and sovereign state in 1971. In the process, he has brought out into public discussion the events of 1971 that all Pakistan Governments and the people of Pakistan have consistently pushed under the carpet in an attempt to write history their own way, denying their responsibilities for some of the worst crimes that could be committed by a government on its own people by use of the state’s powers. Dr. Khan wrote: “We saw our own army killing our own people…I was ashamed to see such cruel acts could be perpetrated by Muslims against Muslims- Pakistanis against fellow Pakistanis.”
There have not been many Pakistanis of the stature of Dr. Khan who have acknowledged the crimes committed by their military in Bangladesh in 1971. In addition to acknowledging the massacre of “hundreds of thousands” by the Pakistani army in Bangladesh in 1971, Dr. Khan also mentioned the mindset of West Pakistanis that created the pre-conditions for the split of Pakistan in 1971. He wrote that the West Pakistanis treated East Pakistan as a colony, the same way “the British used to treat West Pakistanis.” He further wrote that while millions in Pakistan knew of the reasons why the Bangladesh tragedy occurred, the Pakistan military and political establishment were oblivious to these.
Dr. Khan who transformed Pakistan from a developing third world country to an important player in world politics by giving the country the nuclear bomb did not write the article out of love for his former compatriots or regret for what the Pakistani military did in Bangladesh in 1971. He wrote it out of deep concerns that a worse situation is prevailing in Pakistan at the moment where the political and military establishments are trying to subdue the people by force that he thinks will fail because it failed in Bangladesh against “docile” people and thus cannot succeed in Pakistan where the people are “martial.” Dr. Khan feels that Pakistan’s current predicament is due to the fact that the country did not take lessons for the crimes that its military committed in Bangladesh in 1971. No one was questioned, let alone be punished and Pakistan did not learn any lesson from “past tragic mistakes.”
Dr. Khan’s article has raised many interesting issues about Pakistan; its misdeeds in Bangladesh in 1971; and about the two-nation theory that created Pakistan in 1947 by breaking an undivided India into a Hindu majority India and Muslim majority Pakistan. It would be an interesting exercise to consider these issues in some length to consider where Bangladesh stands as a result of the two-nation theory and whether its emergence in 1971 was a proof that the two-nation theory upon which the British had created Pakistan was right or wrong. But then it is not the purpose of this piece to dwell into those issues.
In September 1972, when I was in Kabul with thousands of Bangladeshis who were fleeing from Pakistan to an independent Bangladesh, I and a few of my colleagues in the erstwhile Civil Service of Pakistan and the erstwhile Pakistan Foreign Service had a chance meeting in the streets of Kabul with a senior Pakistani civil servant whom we knew while serving in Pakistan and who had served for quite some time in East Pakistan in the subdivision and district administrations. He was a Pathan. We talked for a long time that day. He was ecstatic that we had found our freedom and hugged and embraced each one of us to express his happiness. At the end of the hugs and the embraces, he told us that while he felt happy for us that we had found our freedom from Pakistan, for his people (meaning the Pathans) the dream of freedom was unrealistic because they would be chased and subdued where they would have no place to run because of their geographical contiguity with Pakistan.
The senior Pakistani civil servant revealed to us in 1972 what was the state of affairs in Pakistan at the time when Pakistan had already broken into 2 with the emergence of Bangladesh when similar hopes of breaking from Pakistan was also in the hearts of the Pathans. Between that period and Dr. Khan’s article, Pakistan’s political; military and civil leadership dominated by Punjab have not made serious efforts to strengthen Pakistani nationalism by giving the weaker federating units the sense that they all were receiving fair treatment from the Centre. The leaders of Pakistan have tried to hold Pakistan together the same way they tried to hold East Pakistan by playing the Islam card and force. The Pathans, unlike the Bangladeshis, did not enter into Pakistan out of their own volition but “by gentle as well as coercive persuasion”.
Pakistan’s major mistake between 1971 and today has been its failure to take lessons from what it did to Bangladesh. Instead of punishing the military rulers who broke Pakistan, the government that succeeded the military dictatorship of General Yahya Khan pampered the military instead. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who became Prime Minister after the emergence of Bangladesh expressed no regret that East Pakistan was lost; instead he aroused national pride for the fact that a large number of Pakistani soldiers were prisoners in India. He thus craftily shifted the focus from the military who had committed crimes against humanity in Bangladesh and from those who ordered these crimes be committed. Thus when these soldiers returned to Pakistan after the Simla Agreement was signed in 1972, they were received as heroes and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto basked in glory for his achievement!
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had his own reasons to do what he did. He could not have taken action against the Pakistani military establishment of the time because of his own complicity in the crimes that were committed in Bangladesh to which he was as much a party as was Yahya Khan and his men. In fact, many would say that the entire plot of the Bangladesh genocide may have come from his evil mind. He saw the Pakistan military roll out the tanks on unarmed civilians in Dhaka and landed in Karachi to tell in media that Pakistan had been saved. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto of course paid the price of his complicity and was hanged by the very military establishment that he had protected for the crimes it had committed in 1971.
The ghost of 1971 may be catching up with Pakistan itself as Dr. Khan’s article suggests. Pakistan is in real danger of a split but before that civil strife in the country could cause it to fail instead. It may still not be too late for the Pakistani leadership to reflect upon 1971 that could help it keep the country together. A start in the right direction would be to extend to Bangladesh a formal apology for the crimes against humanity its military committed in 1971. Together with the apology, Pakistan must come out with a White Paper on 1971 to pinpoint responsibility for one of the worst crimes against humanity committed in recent history for which no one has been held responsible or punished.
The writer is a retired career Ambassador