// // I would have never known Mr. Yasser Latif Hamdani had it not been for the so called information technology revolution. Mr. Hamdani is a practicing lawyer in the Lahore High Court of Pakistan and runs his own blog and also writes for the Daily Times published from Pakistan. Blogs have become good source of information in many cases though brick bating through blogs are also very common. Obviously not many people in Pakistan write appreciating the achievements of Bangladesh something that Mr. Hamdani did. Writing for the Daily Times recently he congratulated the steps taken by the Bangladesh Government for clamping down on the Jamaat leaders for their war crimes in 1971 and lauded the contribution made by the people of East Bengal in creating Pakistan. He writes ‘Bengalis have never been any less proud as Muslims than Pakistanis. Say what they may, champions of the so-called ideology of Pakistan cannot deny that had it not been for peasant nationalism in Bengal, the Pakistan movement would have fallen flat on the its face. While opportunistic landowners jumped onto the Pakistan bandwagon in what became West Pakistan, it was the common man in the then East Pakistan who waged the struggle for a new nation.
It may also be remembered that Huseyn (sic) Shaheed Suhrawardy, the founder of the Awami League, was also one of the founding fathers of Pakistan.’ Hamdani traced how Pakistan drifted into a theocratic state under the military dictator General Zia Ul Hoque and congratulated Bangladesh for being successful in keeping at bay the preachings and teachings of Maudidi, the founder of Jamaat-e- Islam. However many Pakistanis still unfortunately refuse to recognize the realities of history and the events that led to the unfolding of the mayhem in 1971.
Every year on March 26 and December 16, I review the Pakistani media and try to learn how they view the events leading up to the tragedy of 1971. Usually the Pakistani press is silent on March 26. and a section tries to justify the events leading to the surrender of Pakistan Army to the joint command of Bangladesh and Indian forces on December 16, 1971. What was victory for us in 1971 was defeat for Pakistan. This is an irreversible history. The common people of Pakistan and its soldiers in 1971 were made to believe their invincibility until December 16. About four decades later how do they look at this day? Do they accept the reality and reconcile with the past? Well not always. Few years ago, during a visit to Lahore, I was invited by the founders of a private university in Punjab to come and give a talk to their students. The university was located in the heart of Punjab, a very affluent locality, inhabited mostly by the ‘Chowdrys’— the Punjabi landlords. About two hours drive from Lahore, the journey to the campus was wonderful. The Board President sent me his personal car along with a young lecturer from the university. On our way we discussed all possible issues under the sun, from childhood movie idols, Sabiha and Santosh of Lahore to Pakistani cricket. I recalled the days of the Little Master Hanif Mohammad and the hero of Pakistan’s historic Oval Test victory in 1954 Fazal Mahmood. The young lecturer however seemed a bit ignorant about the events of 1971. He vaguely remembered that once Bangladesh and Pakistan were one country and for some reason they split. His uncle told him that it happened because the Indian Hindus were always conspiring against the Muslims. After arriving at the campus, I was warmly welcomed by the entire Board and the Vice-chancellor and his colleagues. Following a very sumptuous lunch in a local restaurant I asked my hosts what should I be talking about. They had no idea and left it on my choice. In a situation like this, considering the audience and environment, I decided to speak on a general subject, like ‘coming of the knowledge society,’ and how Muslims were slipping into a dark age because they were shying away from the world of knowledge. The auditorium was packed with about few hundred students and faculty members and my one hour long talk was interrupted frequently with loud applause. While having coffee, I was surrounded by scores of young students and surprisingly quite a few even wanted my autograph. Casually I asked them if they had any idea about what happened to Pakistan in 1971? To my utter surprise not a single student had any idea; most even did not know once Bangladesh and Pakistan were one country. Some told that they were taught in school about how Hindus conspired in 1971 to break up Muslim Pakistan. I could only just pity my young friends. An entire generation had been denied the right of knowing their own country’s history. This is the generation that is expected to lead their country in future and no leader can lead a nation whose apathy towards its own history is so telling. Have things changed since my last visit to Pakistan? Not really.
On last December 16, two prominent Pakistani English Daily News papers carried one editorial and four op-eds on events of 1971. The oldest English language daily ‘The Dawn’ (published from Karachi) carried two op-eds, one by Misha Hussain titled ‘Joy Bangla’ and the second one by Saima Shakil Hussain titled ‘ Lest we forget.’ Misha Hussain is a Bangladesh born free-lance journalist living in Scotland while Saima Hussain is the editor of Dawn’s ‘Book & Authors’ magazine. The Nation, owned by Nawa-e-Waqt Group in Lahore published an editorial titled ‘Recalling Dhaka’s Fall’ and its editor Shireen M Mazari published an op-ed titled ‘Same enemies; same blunders?’ along with another analysis by one Tariq Majeed titled ‘Forced surrender in 1971.’ Nawa-e-Waqt previously had a strong Jamat-e-Islami leaning. I do not know about their current loyalty. Its editor Shireen Mazari is an academic, defense analyst, journalist and a politician with Imran Khan’s Tehreq-e-Insaf. Tariq Majeed, I presume is a contributor.
Misha Hussain narrates the usual festivities of Bangladesh’s Victory Day and quotes few people who disclose their usual frustration with independent Bangladesh. He talks about the Awami League-BNP nationalism issue tussle and how the school history books keep on changing with the change of the government. There are all those talks about poverty, the Human Development Index of UNDP, the Hill Tracts issue. He does not forget to mention the people’s struggle for democracy and the young generation’s desire to see the war criminals brought to justice. Saima Hussain feels emotional on this day and is angry with what happened in 1971. She writes ‘at times, I become so overwhelmed by my own feelings that tears come to my eyes. The mistakes, the injustices, the terrible suffering, and the barbaric treatment, both of a people and ideal.’ She mentions her first reading of Brigadier Siddiq Salik’s book ‘Witness to Surrender’ (Urdu Version: Mainey Dhaka Doobtay Dekha) in 1978 and realized why they were taught the concocted history in school. She writes about the positive contribution made in understanding the people of the two countries when Pakistani writer/translator Asif Farrukhi and Bangladeshi professor of English Niaz Zaman collaborated to compile an anthology titled ‘Fault Lines: Stories of 1971’ where they chose to render various Urdu, Sindhi, Punjabi, and Bangla writings into English.
The Nation’s editorial ‘Recalling Dhaka’s Fall’ mentions 1971 was all about power sharing and the usual enemy India, its intelligence agency RAW took advantage to break up Pakistan. The editorial mentions RAW ‘inducted and trained and supplied mukti bahini force of 80,000 consisting of Hindus, into the scene, posing as local freedom fighters.’ The most audacious comments came from Shireen Mazari. She thinks the break up of her country was because of a collective conspiracy of India, Soviet Union and indirectly the US, and United Nations. She writes ‘at the time the US feigned support by trying to “send in” the Sixth Fleet-but in reality that never happened and UNSC was not allowed to call for a ceasefire till the Soviet Union, the US and its allies were sure of the loss of East Pakistan.’ Mazari goes further and says ‘luckily for Pakistan, the Two Nation theory proved its strength and so an independent Muslim nation of Bangladesh was created instead of East Pakistan being swallowed into Indian West Bengal!!’ Tareq Majeed, expressing his opinion in an usual rhetoric, often shared by many Pakistanis of his variety says ‘the political chaos in 1971 culminating in secession of Pakistan’s Eastern Wing was the result of a plan executed jointly by USA, Israel, Britain, India and former Soviet Union…..East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, may still one day rejoin with the parent country…..The Muslims of Bangladesh have realized that they were misled by design into looking upon Indians as their friends and West Pakistanis as enemies.’
The irony is that people like Mazari and Majeed or the young lecturer’s uncle and many others in Pakistan still either fails to acknowledge the reality of history and the backdrop that led to the creation of independent Bangladesh or decides to sleep over, even after four decades, though the existence of Pakistan is now at stake partly due to the same mistakes repeated even after the creation of Bangladesh. Independence of Bangladesh was obvious due to the colonial attitude of the Pakistan rulers towards its majority people who fought for its creation in the forties. Disparity and inequality between the two wings of Pakistan and political and cultural oppressions just speeded the creation of Bangladesh. It was not the fruit of Indian or other conspiracies. The fact was rather a foregone historical conclusion resulting from the perpetual conspiracy hatched by the ruling clique against the people of East Bengal since the early days of partition.
The good thing is everyone in Pakistan does not think of events leading to 1971 as Shireen Mazari or her likes. A new generation small in number; people like Yasser Latif Hamdani, Saima Shakil Hussain and quite a few others appreciates the events of history. May be the heart is changing, but the change is dismally slow.
Professor Abdul Mannan is a former Vice-chancellor, University of Chittagong. Currently he teaches at ULAB, Dhaka
First published in the Daily Sun