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Pakistan’s former Army Chief cannot rewrite the history of the Bangladesh war

General Bajwa, in his final public statement, has laid bare the ghost that haunts the corridors of GHQ Rawalpindi. That apparition is of defeat, mass surrender and incarceration of 92,000 troops in East Pakistan.

Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa. (File)

In his final public statement as Pakistan’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa attempted to rewrite a five-decade-old history.

He said: “I want to correct some facts here. Firstly, former East Pakistan was a political failure and not a military one, the number of soldiers fighting was not 92,000 but 34,000 and the others were in different government departments.” He added, “these 34,000 soldiers were confronted by an Indian army of 2,50,000 soldiers and 2,00,000 members of the Mukti Bahini. Against these heavy odds, our army fought bravely and gave exemplary sacrifices which were acknowledged by Indian army chief Field Marshal Manekshaw.” That Pakistan had not yet owned up to these sacrifices was a “great injustice.” He said, “Taking advantage of this occasion I salute these martyrs and will continue to do so. They are our heroes and the nation should be proud of them.”

The facts, tragically, are to the contrary. The conduct of the West Pakistan army and its collaborators — the Razakars — in East Pakistan, beginning with the launch of Operation Searchlight on March 25, 1971, till their final surrender on December 16 of that year by General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi, was despicable and singularly unbecoming of any uniformed force. It was tantamount to one of the worst war crimes committed by any military establishment in recent human history. Unfortunately, for this, they went scot-free.

The Dhaka Tribune, while reporting Bajwa’s statement, described the liberation of Bangladesh in these poignant words: “It also cost the lives of three million people and the honour of nearly half a million women.”

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Now, to jog General Bajwa’s memory a bit. On March 25, 1971, the Pakistani army launched a massive crackdown against the intelligentsia in Dhaka. Taqbir Huda, in an article titled ‘Remembering the barbarities of Operation Searchlight’, recounted the atrocities as follows:

“On February 22, 1971, the military generals in West Pakistan, who hitherto enjoyed the throne, took a decision to crush the Awami League and its supporters. ‘Kill three million of them,’ said President Yahya Khan at a February conference, ‘and the rest will eat out of our hands.’… Anthony Mascarenhas, a British journalist based in Pakistan, who was the first to break the news of the Bengali genocide in international media, reported a Pakistani army major telling him:

‘This is a war between the pure and the impure… The people here may have Muslim names and call themselves Muslims. But they are Hindu at heart. We are now sorting them out… Those who are left will be real Muslims. We will even teach them Urdu.’ Meherunnesa Chowdhury, who was a Senior House Tutor of Rokeya Hall, described how female student halls were raided by army men, who, before brush-firing hundreds of students to death in their own dorms, would look for girls they thought were ‘pretty’ and would capture and drag them to their army trucks, never to be seen again.”

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“…Children described how they, while hiding underneath the bed to escape detection from the army, had to witness their parents being shot to death, as their lifeless bodies crashed against the bedroom floor, creating a pool of blood which soon seeped into their own hands and faces. Their hearts signalled them to scream their lungs out, but their brains instructed them to keep silent, unless they, too, wanted to be shot and killed. A father described how his 14-day-old baby daughter was thrown outside the window by the army, in front of his very eyes. When he screamed in protest, he too was shot and lost consciousness.”

This is part of the story of just one dreadful night. General Bajwa may, of course, term this human carnage as “collateral damage”.

Perhaps Bajwa has not read The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J Bass, a professor of politics at Princeton. The book details the perfidy of Messrs Nixon and Kissinger who continued to indulge General Yahya Khan as he was their go-between for the then-in-the-works United States outreach to China. This, despite the then US Counsel General in Dhaka, Archer Blood, repeatedly bringing to the attention of both the State Department and White House the unspeakable atrocities being committed by the Pakistani army at the instance of Khan and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on the people of East Pakistan. He used the word “genocide” to describe the rape and massacre of an entire populace.

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Maybe Bajwa has not had the occasion to watch a 2014 film by Mrityunjay Devvrat, Children of War. The film that ran to sobbing full houses in Bangladesh recounts how the Pakistani army used mass rape as an instrument to bring about macro-level racial change by trying to create a new mixed ethnic generation through the forcible impregnation of Bengali women.

Bajwa, in his rather crude attempt to rewrite history, has inadvertently laid bare the ghost that perennially haunts the corridors of GHQ Rawalpindi. That apparition is of defeat, mass surrender and the subsequent incarceration of its 92,000 troops in East Pakistan. This is a scar that is carved deep into their collective psyche. The burning zeal to level the score one day with their adversary, India, is the driving force behind the use of terror as an instrument of state policy since the mid-1970s.

Until the Pakistani military establishment comes to terms with the fact that it was defeated in East Pakistan, and that too for all the right reasons, there will, unfortunately, never be peace in South Asia.

Bajwa, rather than applauding the Pakistan armed forces, should seriously introspect and apologise for their conduct in former East Pakistan and offer reparations to Bangladesh.

The writer is a lawyer, MP and former Union minister. Views are personal

First published on: 03-12-2022 at 08:06 IST
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