Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Bangladesh Independence Day

December 16th is Victory Day in Bangladesh and I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about it, busy as I am. This day is celebrated with great fervor by almost everyone in Bangladesh. For them, the creation of Bangladesh is the fruit of a long struggle, whose seed was planted long ago by a bigoted West Pakistan government. But there’s one group that regrets the creation of Bangladesh, and they’re members of Jamaat-e-Islami.

Collectively, the independence of Bangladesh was a calamity for Jamaat and other Islamists. They tried to keep Pakistan whole, and even invoked Islam to do it—but to no avail. The thirst for independence could not be slaked by religion alone, so Jamaat and their minions resorted to violence instead. Thousands were killed, of course, and most of the killers got off scot-free.

Today, Jamaat has been rehabilitated into a major political force, courted by both major parties for their discipline and ability to bring out the vote. However, this does not mean the past has been forgotten, or forgiven. After all, Jamaat has history to answer to. This is why several Jamaat members and it supporters made some well-publicized gaffes about the independence movement and Jamaat’s role in it. They called it a civil war when it was no such thing. They said Jamaat had a positive role to play when, in reality, it tried to suffocate the movement, including murdering intellectuals, raping of women, and supporting marauding Pakistani troops.

In essence, it was an exercise to whitewash history. Fortunately, reaction from many quarters came swiftly and strongly. I was glad to read editorials, articles, and listen to public utterances denouncing Jamaat for the liars they are.

And what does Pakistan have to say about this day? They played the biggest role in Bangladesh’s independence. Very little from what I’ve been reading. This day is like a bad memory, better to be forgotten then remembered. But I believe this Pakistan Observer editorial says it best, as it’s the voice of the establishment:
WE are glad that barring the crisis generated by the infighting of two Begums that brought political and economic instability in Bangladesh, the brotherly country was otherwise doing well in all spheres of life. BD is progressing well and is considered a respectable member of the comity of nations. This is a source of satisfaction and encouragement for people of Pakistan, who have best of relations with Bangladesh.

However, as far as people of Pakistan are concerned December 16 is day of recollection as the then united Pakistan met with a great tragedy on this day in 1971. Regrettably, barring a few statements and insignificant events taking places here and there was no worthwhile function to remember the day when the country was dismembered due to internal and external factors. No one – neither political leaders nor governmental personalities or media took any significant notice of the most tragic and shameful incident of surrender at the Paltan Maidan in Dhaka where commander of the Pakistani forces was insulted publicly. We have also forgotten contemptuous remarks of the then Indian Prime Minister that her country has taken revenge of 1,000 years of Muslim rule in the Sub-Continent. It is very important for the Government and the political parties to realize that what led to the addition of one of the blackest chapters in the Muslim history. Of course, India too played a crucial and decisive role in the fall of Dhaka by abetting feelings of people of the then East Pakistan and by imparting training and providing funds for destabilization in that part of Pakistan. However, it is also important to remember that the perception of injustices and trampling of the mandate of the people were the other major factors that culminated into dismemberment of Pakistan. We must not forget this lesson.
It sounds like it was written by some Foreign Office PR flack. Nevertheless, it has been the official view of every government since 1971, following the same script. First, it plays up the supposed “brotherly” relations between Bangladesh and Pakistan when no such relation exists. Relations are cordial, but hardly brotherly. In fact, it can be argued, that Bangladesh has more “brotherly” relations with India.

Second, that the independence movement was a vast conspiracy, engineered by India, instead of an indigenous movement. This is a total fabrication. The Pakistan Movement began in what was then East Pakistan and ended there, as well.

If Pakistan wants to have better relations with Bangladesh, it must do two things: first, take full responsibility for its actions that let to Bangladesh’s bloody independence; and second, take back the thousands of Bihari refugees who are currently stranded in Bangladesh, which has created a humanitarian crisis that is Pakistan’s making.

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