1971, from a Pakistani’s perspective

December 19, 2021

Separation of East Pakistan – The Untold Story attempts to provide Pakistan’s perspective on the events of the 1971 war

1971, from a Pakistani’s perspective

Separation of East Pakistan — The Untold Story provides a Pakistani’s perspective of the 1971 war that led to the separation of East and West Pakistan.

The documentary is an effort by writer and public intellectual Javed Jabbar, a former senator, to get to the heart of the matter, capture the melancholy of events that led to the separation of East Pakistan, and analyze how, for years, narratives and numbers have been distorted and manipulated to make Pakistan appear the only villain in the conflict. The objective is a clear one, to give the global audience a chance to hear the other side, without prejudice.

First of its kind, the documentary features comments and analyses by several eminent local and international scholars, army veterans, and international journalists. One can never be entirely objective when the subject brings back memories of a terrible civil conflict that led to a painful division of their country. Nonetheless, it is a valiant effort.

December 16 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the secession of East Pakistan and creation of Bangladesh. Over time, the narratives surrounding the conflict have changed forms for the countries involved, i.e., Pakistan, Bangladesh and India.

For Bangladesh it was a war for emancipation and liberation. For Pakistan it is a grim chapter in its history involving breakup of the country and another war with India. India, for fifty years, has painted itself as the gallant saviour of the downtrodden, oppressed Bengalis.

It is the Indian narrative that has dominated global forums. The documentary points out that this may have been partly on account of the presence of many international journalists in India at the time and none in Pakistan.

The horrors of war, civil unrest, and extreme barbarianism witnessed by those in the conflict zone have left an indelible mark on their minds. The unrest that followed the rejection of Sheikh Mujib ur Rehman’s Six-Point formula and Gen Yahya’s tactless handling of a highly sensitive sociopolitical situation, caused the calamity that we remember as the Fall of Dhaka.

Pakistani scholars have not shied away from pointing out the missteps of political stakeholders whose decisions led to the divide. Many agree that the seeds of alienation and isolation had taken root long before March 1971, when the conflict turned into a full-blown non-cooperation movement and civil unrest.

Denying the fact of a war is impossible. Lives were lost on all sides. Bangladesh became a separate nation and many were left no place to call their homeland. Women whose stories are the most troubling were rendered shelterless, with no protection and safety, especially those belonging to low-income Bengali and Bihari families. The politicisation and militarisation of youth is also a focus of the documentary.

For years, the discourse surrounding the 1971 war has been limited in Pakistan. There is a need to talk about the years leading up to the conflict, the war, and its aftermath. The documentary is a step in that direction.

The writer is a staff member

1971, from a Pakistani’s perspective