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The Liberation of Dhaka and the Whitewashing of Pakistan's History

Map of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Image from Flickr by dawpa2000. CC BY 2.0

Map of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh drawn by an Indian high school student. Image from Flickr by dawpa2000. CC BY 2.0

Imagine yourself advocating for the absolution of the masterminds behind the Peshawar Army public school attack. Imagine that those killers have been given the highest medals of honor and are being celebrated as heroes— brave soldiers who killed for the sake of their country. Now imagine that it is not a single person, but a whole nation standing together to justify such a brutal act.

I can’t, and I don’t want to imagine a world like that for either myself or for anyone else. Unfortunately, the truth is that I am part of such a world, community and nation that stands proudly and defends firmly war crimes that were committed against their own fellow citizens. Do you remember the “fall of Dhaka“, on December 16 1971?

We are all bloodthirsty, closet war lovers. We justify wars, violence and atrocities for our own convenience. If this premise is untrue, and if it is still unimaginable to endorse a world where killers and looters are allowed to walk freely, then why is it that we have still been silent for decades about our Bengali brothers and sisters demanding justice?

When I look at my newsfeed today, on December 16, it is full of grief for the children who lost their precious lives in the Army Public School attack one year ago today. Everyone is being explicitly kind towards the victims’ families and condoling with them on the anniversary of their children’s deaths. Messages and special songs, courtesy the Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR), the public relations wing of Pakistani army, are being shared to show that the entire nation stands united against terrorists. The message of the day is that no kind of terrorism will be tolerated.

“Pakistan’s education system is a smokescreen designed to alter the course of history for the upcoming generation. It fails to mention a single word about the atrocities and war crimes committed by the country’s armed forces in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971.”

ISPR’s “heart-warming” music video, “Mujhe Dusham Key Bachon ko Parhan hai” (“I want to take revenge and educate enemies’ children”) is one such “beautiful” attempt. The concept of sending books instead of bullets to our enemies’ children makes my heart melt on the one hand, but on the other, my mind still poses questions. Shouldn’t we do some soul searching before we send books that are filled with hatred? The irony is, the enemy referred to in this song is not from other lands, but our own—being created and nurtured in our very own religious education facilities, or madrassas.

Education that furthers ignorance

Pakistan’s education system is a smokescreen designed to alter the course of history for the upcoming generation. It fails to mention a single word about the atrocities and war crimes committed by the country’s armed forces in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) in 1971. Our curriculum cites Indian-backed “Mukti Bahini” as the culprits. The Al-BadrAl Shams and Razakar militia are referred to as “armed volunteers” of Jamat-e-Islami supporting West Pakistan’s armed forces.

The other side of the story, in which these “volunteers” allegedly acted as the Pakistan army’s death squad to kill off the left-wing intellectual elite is conveniently absent from our textbooks. The same books also cite “lack of resources” as one of the main reasons for the loss of Pakistan’s eastern province, and do not highlight the fact that it was in fact the economic and cultural repression of Bengalis by the Punjabi ruling elite that led to the separation.

One example of such cultural repression was the ban imposed in 1967 on playing the works of the great Bengali poet, Rabindranath Tagore on Radio Pakistan. Tagore was the first non-European to win Nobel peace prize in Literature in 1913.

These perceptions are evident not only in our text books but in our political and social opinions as well. Pakistanis, for instance, have expressed great concern and have deemed the trial of former Al-Badr leader Mujahid “deeply flawed”. Time and again, Pakistanis have opposed judgments against the Jamat-e-Islami leaders for war crimes committed and proven.

Feed lies, breed violence

Pakistan’s school and college textbooks are full of hate speech and convenient lies. The official narrative whitewashes war crimes and endorses jihad as a noble act in religious history. The National Commission of Justice and Peace has discovered blatant religious biases in textbooks used in English, Urdu, Pakistan studies and social studies classes.

K.K. Aziz’s Murder of History: A critique on History textbooks used in Pakistan is an insightful book that raises pertinent questions about the education system and challenges the conspiracy theories being taught. It was published in 1985, and is a solid source of information for those interested in examining the divide between historical evidence the information presented in our textbooks. In one of the chapters, Aziz questions the false account of 1971 war, according to which the Pakistani armed forces are celebrated as setting new records for bravery, and Indian forces are portrayed as the defeated. As a child, I’d always found it  confusing and wondered what really happened.

In addition to Aziz’s book, there are war museums full of historical evidence and international newspapers, books and journals with pictures and videos that prove what the Pakistani military did in 1971 in Bangladesh was not brave, but heinous.

“…And the students at the university
Asleep at night quite peacefully
The soldiers came and shot them in their beds
And terror took the dorm awakening shrieks of dread
And silent frozen forms and pillows drenched in red…

Bangladesh, Bangladesh
Bangladesh, Bangladesh
When the sun sinks in the west
Die a million people of the Bangladesh”

From “Song of Bangladesh” by Joan Baez, performed live at the concert of Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Sunday, 1 August 1971, in front of 40,000 people.

44 years have elapsed since these crimes were committed, since the Pakistani army raped Bangladeshi women and murdered their country’s children and youth. In 2002, one of Pakistan’s military rulers, Pervez Musharraf, expressed regret for the harm done, and was the first to offer a subtle apology.

Earlier this month, however, Pakistan suddenly retracted that stance, and categorically denied that any war crimes were committed in 1971. The statement came after one of the Jamat-e-Islami leaders was executed in Bangladesh for those crimes in November.

By issuing this denial, is Pakistan sending a clear message of support to killers, and stating that military boots are still stronger than any democratic force? Back then no one dared to question the army, and it looks like no one will question them for their failures now. The 195 Pakistani war criminals handed over in 1974 under the tripartite agreement were supposed to be tried under Pakistani law, but were—and remain—protected.

My thoughts are with the families who lost their children last year in Peshawar, but I also can't stop thinking about those Bangladeshi families who suffered at the hands of Pakistani army. Those families know their enemies and want justice for their loved ones, and their pain must also resurface every year, just as it does, and will continue to, for the families of APS victims.

I just wonder how long the combination of pain of loss and sense of injustice will have to be endured by those on both sides.

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  • Deen Sheikh

    hey you self hating Pakistani, what about the War Crimes committed by the Bengali nationalists against non Bengali’s and Pro Pakistani Bengali’s. Why are you taking so boldly the same old time after time after time mentioned narrative that it was and is purely the fault of the Pakistani armed forces. Where is the Pakistani narrative, I was born, raised and schooled in Pakistan, I am yet to come across brain washing and lies fed to us about 71, no one wants to talk about 71 because of the trauma it caused to the nation as a whole. There is no lie in the fact that Indian aggression happened, India invaded what was a sovereign country at the time, joint forces with traitors separatists and handed control off the country to them. I am not denying the fact that the Pakistani army conducted war crimes, but the Bengali nationalists, the Awami League thugs and the Indian establishment who cooked up this plan to dismember Pakistan were not exactly innocent either. A lot of Bengali war veterans from the time admit to treason and war crimes they committed back then. If anything The Government of Pakistan should be demanding for an apology from the Sheikh Hasina Government for Treason committed in 1970-71 and Pay for damages of an un necessary civil war that Pakistan had to go through and lose half its resources as a result of greedy Awami League Thugs backed up by India who only cared about being in power. They provoked secessionist agitation and hatred among the Bengali’s which lead to the civil war. Find me one single nation on this earth which tolerates secessionist movements, Britain brutualy cracked down upon on traitors in Northern Ireland, Spain cracked down on movements in Basque country, Russia cracks down on the Chechen regions, Turkey cracks down on the Kurdish region. The beloved India that you love so much, commits far greater war crimes off suppression in the North East and Kashmir. You are nothing more than an Indian appeasing self hating Pakistani.

    • Shehzad Ali

      Hey Mr, if England, Turkey, Spain, Russia are suppressing their secessionist movements then are they right in doing so? I think any State who is supprressing any secessionist movement is a “Vampire”. if you are advocating State’s suppression then think for a minute about yourself! No One has the right to snatch the Liberty of any one whether it is State or an Individual.

    • allaisaxuver

      In Law school they teach you that two offences if successful are not considered crimes. Treason is one of them. Bangladesh does not consider it an offense and if Pakistan wants to try some of the people under its law, then good luck to it. But killing 3 million innocent Bangladeshis for fun IS greatest of all war crimes. In fact of this Hitler would have been proud. It took 5 long years to kill 6 million Jews.

      India you say invaded. But you do not mention that over 10 million, mostly Hindus, that were forced into India from Bangladesh because of the killing fields you set up in Bangladesh. That eventually India allowed 100,000 POWs of your miserable Army to go scotfree shows its magnanimity.

    • Rifayat

      Do you have any clue what you’re talking about? Firstly, West Pakistan tried to take away our language, Bangla, and replace it with Urdu as a state language in 1952. When Bengali’s protested on the 21st of Feb (mind you, Bengali’s weren’t armed), they opened fire. There was incredible protests that took place and eventually, Bangla was declared a state language in ’56. That’s why 21st of Feb is called International Mother Language day, because Bangladeshi’s gave their life to defend their language.

      Let’s talk about more instances of unfairness under West Pakistani rule over then East Pakistan. The election that Awami Muslim League won (mind you, majority of the seats were won by an East Pakistani party), but somehow, playing politics, West Pakistan didn’t give away power and seized it. Bangladesh had the fertile land, we produced the world’s largest supply of jute and exported it, which mostly went for development of West Pakistan. So please educate yourself on how “resources” were divided when they were MOSTLY coming from then East Pakistan and MOST of it was going to the West.

      Also, the night of 25th March when Pakistani army opened fire in the middle of the night, or when the army killed the most influential and the most educated and renowned people of Bangladesh to cripple the economy and country before they were going to lose the war. We were called “Muktibahini” because we fought for our liberation. Thirty thousand men, women and children died, hundreds of women were raped and mass genocide happened. And you say, AL should apologize? For what? For fighting for our rights? For our independence? For wanting our sovereign nation where we would all be equals, and not cash cows for West Pakistan? Nope. We deserve an apology from the Pakistani government, still today- for the disgusting things that were done during the war, and before. I have a lot of Pakistani friends who acknowledge the atrocities their government and army committed against my country men. You need to educate yourself on your country’s dark past. Your ignorance, in this day and age, baffles me.

      I’m one who wants to look ahead, where countries accept their flaws, take responsibility for it, and move forward. For sure, Bangladeshi government currently has flaws, but that fact that you’re calling my countrymen traitors to your country is offensive and says a lot about your character.

  • Waqas

    such a boring article. Author needs some lemonade and coffee.

    • Sheikh

      I think we as a nation needs to wake up and smell the coffee!

      • Waqas

        Sheikh sahab whole nation cannot afford coffee. So Chill and sip behind your screen.

  • Zawar

    If Tony Blair can appologise the African nations for slavery- can’t we have the morals of accepting it openly and being great enough to apologise?
    Secondly as Mr Deen Sheikh justified by examples of other countries doing the same – two wrongs don’t make a right!

  • Khadija Khan Lodhi

    If one cannot understand the writer’s point of view then have a look at the ongoing brutal and unjustified acts in Bolochistan province, once again in the name of national security by our “Nobel and naive Army”.

  • Shamim Islam

    Thank you for your insights. I hope conscience will guide the authors of some of the hateful messages I have read here. Thanks again.

  • Arsam Saleem

    Honestly, thanks a lot for writing this. It’s really heartening to see that at least some people here read actual history from multiple sources and can actually go beyond knee-jerk, nationalistic sentiments. I’m so gonna share this article every year on this very date.
    Great job :)

  • Rifayat

    This is a fantastic article. Thank you for writing it so well!

  • Sajjad

    Read Sarmila Bose’s “dead reckoning”. Do your research properly before ‘blogging’ others.

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