Fifty Years On: Why Are Pakistani Generals Not Held Accountable For Events Of 1971?

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Even today, the Bengali liberation effort confuses many Pakistanis – over losing a part of the country to Indian forces or no longer having to deal with the Bengali identity crisis prior to the liberation of Bangladesh.

After independence in 1947, Pakistani governments and military did not consider Bengalis a worthy member of their circles. They glossed over the Bengali Liberation War. But, now, will they recognise the mass massacre they sponsored 50 years ago?

East Bengal was never considered equal to West Pakistan. Pakistan’s declaration of independence in 1947 supported Urdu as the official language. The demand of East Pakistan to make Bangla one of the main languages was resisted. Public rallies or meetings to discuss the idea of Bangla as a language were outlawed. On February 21, 1952, students of the University of Dhaka protested and called for the recognition of Bangla as the main language in East Pakistan. They met severe resistance from police, killing four students.

In response to the tragic events of 1952, the UN recognises February 21 as International Mother Language Day every year.

In 1956, the Iskander Mirza government finally gave in to the Bengali cause, and recognised Bangla as an official language under the newly-formed Islamic Republic’s constitution. Regardless, protests against highhandedness by West Pakistan become a regular occurrence in East Pakistan. The Pakistani government approved ‘Operation Searchlight’ — a mission to subside the Bengali calls for independence. It had specifically called for the removal of Sheikh Mujib, the leader of Awami League.

Mujib had won a decisive majority in East Pakistan, yet Pakistanis were unwilling to transfer power to him and his party. This, however, proved to be least of problems for Bengalis. Over a nine month period, West Pakistan, led by General Tikka Khan and General Khan Niazi, was responsible for deaths of over three million Bengalis, and rape of some 400,000 women across the region.

On February 21, 1952, students of the University of Dhaka protested and called for the recognition of Bangla as the main language in East Pakistan. They met severe resistance from police, killing four students.

Major Khadim Hussain Raja, in his book A Stranger in My Own Country, discussed the unholy tactics employed by Niazi throughout the genocide — “in the presence of Bengali officers, Niazi was often found to say ‘I will change the race of the Bengalis.’”

The Hamoodur Rahman Commission of 1971 received many witness statements which confirmed Niazi’s sentiment for genocidal rape. One witness statement read, “stationed troops used to say that when the Commander himself was a rapist, how could they be stopped?”

The genocide which had ensued in 1971 was entirely destructive to Pakistan’s reputation in the world. Pakistan continues to hold a pick-and-choose sentiment when it comes to events that took place 50 years ago. Still many of us look back at 1971 with great justification, using straw-man arguments to back up the cause for the genocide — much to do with a select number of Bengalis targeting Biharis for their allegiance to West Pakistan.

Genocide, however, in any form, is intolerable. To simply hold a ‘forgive and forget’ attitude, as Pakistan much does, is unacceptable. Why are Pakistani generals not held accountable for crimes against humanity?

Once a symbol for universal poverty, Bangladesh has long dismissed the chains of impoverishment it once spearheaded. The Bengali Taka’s buying power is now double that of Pakistani rupee. The republic of Bangladesh has long forgotten its relation in adversity, choosing instead to thrive.