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December 26, 2019

What East Pakistan meant to us


December 26, 2019

Former minister Javed Jabbar asked a question on Saturday which vital assets of Pakistan would be at stake vis-à-vis Bangladesh. “It is not important to us,” he said answering his own question in a cynical manner, because it is perhaps not as much important as Saudi Arabia is to us, for millions of Pakistanis work there.

Yet, he added, “one feels now, who has been to East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, Sonar Bangla, golden Bengal, beautiful country, beautiful people, their heart of gold, wonderful human beings and they have a soft corner somewhere hidden for Pakistan. In the service of history and truth, we should make our public and official diplomacy more rigorous and strengthen relations; it is in our interest.”

Jabbar, who is also known as an advertising giant and author, was speaking at a talk on “The loss of East Pakistan as a national tragedy and international milestone” at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs on Tuesday.

Recalling the painful fall of Dhaka in 1971, he said that East and West Pakistan were the most unique nation state, not religiously, but no country in the world had its two wings separated by a thousand miles.

“Can you imagine the US being with New York and California separated by a thousand miles of Russia, and you will get my point,” he said during his slightly over 30 minutes’ presentation to an audience from civilian and military spheres and students seated in the library of the institute, which houses a collection more than 30,000 old and new books.

Referring to the failures that disintegrated the country, he said the foremost of them was disregard for the majority principle not in terms of political voting but in terms of language, which turned out to be a hypersensitive issue. There was also an attitudinal, behavourial bias and lack of comprehension about the roots of the culture of East Pakistan, he added.

“We assumed that just because Bengali women put their ceremonial dot on their forehead, everyone was is really a de-facto Hindu,” he said, “That was a profound insult to the totality of commitment of every Bengali Muslim towards Islam.”

Jabbar said that already the East Pakistanis were suffering from the crisis of isolation and their patriotism was discriminated in the 1965 war because the thesis in Islamabad was that “the defence of East lies in the West”.

He said the violation by General Ayub Khan of his own constitution, the stubbornness of Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman, the lethal decision of General Yahya Khan to postpone the National Assembly session, insensitive and incompetent military leadership in the two wings and the totally ineffective use of the global media to project facts of East Pakistan, made India run away with the story.

He said that falsehood about rapes and murders in Bangladesh was spread, referring to news that every single day for 262 days, 1,1450 Bengalis were killed and 1,145 women raped. “It is absolutely so absurd that for an army that is engaged in battle at three fronts is possible, yet this myth exists in 2019 and questioning it begets castigation and conviction,” he added, saying that under Haseena Wajid, prime minister of Bangladesh holding anti-Pakistan views, expecting better relations was not so realistic.

Later, PIIA chairperson Dr Masuma Hasan spoke on what East Pakistan meant to the people. She added that her ancestors lived in Panipat and in Delhi for 700 years, but entering Pakistan during Partition seemed to be a reality for them though it cost them their land, wealth, status, friendship and linkeages.“My parents travelled three days to reach Karachi – too late to join Independence celebrations – but they proceeded to sink their roots in their new land and East Pakistan was part of that land,” she said. “Losing East Pakistan was a great loss for my parents’ generations.”

She said these blunders and schemes of the past made her see a change in her subsequent visits to Bangladesh. “I went to a post office to buy some tickets, but none of the clerical staff would respond to me in any language that I knew, neither English and nor Urdu, and because I could not speak Bengali, I could not buy the postal stamps. And I left the post office embarrassed and confused.”

She argued that not enough introspection has taken place among the intellectuals and political leaders on this great tragedy, but the Hamoodur Rehman commission report tells a great deal about it. She said the report was declassified in 2012 only after and Indian weekly media picked up a story by Dawn carrying excerpts of the supplementary report.

She said that at that time the cabinet, including her as secretary and Jabbar as information minister, considered that the publishing of the report meant to divert attention from Indian atrocities in Jammu and Kashmir. “The report is a remarkable document,” she said, because of the material it dealt with. She commented that the document records worst apartheid for General Yahya, as in the view of the authors, he was never interested in handing over power to the civilians, his negotiations were fraudulent and his assumption that the vote would give a divided parliament was wrong.

The report, she added, also gives a “graphic” account of the Awami League, which came out victorious in the then elections, and describes it as a reign of terror. She further stated that Yahya Khan and his advisers should have realised that a military solution upon once own people was invalid, oblivious to the fact that the hostile India would intervene in the fight.

Dr Hasan said that the supplementary report was even painful because it read the accounts of the military commanders who surrendered before India. “It was a fallacy that India would never cross the East Pakistan border,” she added, asking a question if General AAK Niazi of the Eastern command was bound to obey the orders of surrenders. General Niazi has written his point of view in his book ‘The Betrayal of East Pakistan’.