Healing the Wounds of the Past
May 22, 2009 § 38 Comments
On May 13, 2009, the Government of Bangladesh demanded an unconditional apology from the Government of Pakistan for war crimes committed during the 1971 army action in what was then East Pakistan. The Pakistani government’s response was to dismiss the demand, telling Bangladesh to ‘let bygones be bygones’. This was not the first time this demand was made, nor the first time it was dismissed with such flippancy by Pakistan.
Between 25/26th March 1971 – the start of the military offensive – and the signing of the instrument of surrender on 16th December, 1971, the Pakistani army engaged in what essentially amounted to genocide against its own citizens for daring to demand that their electoral writ be implemented. The army’s atrocities were both indiscriminate and targeted – the rape of countless Bengali women, the killing of hundreds of Bengali intellectuals and students, and the senseless murder of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Bengalis and indigenous people, besides looting and pillaging on an unprecedented scale. Nearly forty years on, even a reliable estimate of the number of people killed by the army isn’t possible because mass graves continue to be unearthed, a powerful testimony to the horror that was perpetrated on our people. This is the horror which the Pakistani army continues to cravenly refuse to acknoweldge. The sole recognition of these atrocities – the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report – which was an official Government of Pakistan panel – was ignominiously suppressed by then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and successive governments, and declassified only in December 2000.
The outrageous dismissal of Bangladesh’s demand by the Pakistani foreign office – “let bygones be bygones” – is a shameful reflection of Pakistan’s constructed amnesia over the horrific actions of its Army and its political leadership. Not only has there never been a move on the part of the Pakistani state to apologize to Bangladesh, there has not been any sustained effort by citizens’ groups to pressure the government to publicly acknowledge the truth.
As Pakistanis, we find this unconscionable. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani army raped, killed and pillaged our brothers and sisters in East Pakistan in 1971. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani state has steadfastly refused to acknowledge these atrocities for the past 38 years, leave alone hold those responsible for them accountable as suggested by its own Chief Justice in the State commissioned inquiry. We reject the Pakistani state and army’s claim that these atrocities were committed in our name.
Today, as we stand at the brink of yet another army action aimed at our own people, at the brink of another human catastrophe brought about by and for the same interests and institutions, namely the Pakistani military, we remember 1971. We demand that our state acknowledge and apologize for the actions of its army, punish those responsible for the atrocities (and named in the HR Commission’s report) and pay reparations for the extensive infrastructural damage and looting to Bangladesh. Only through such an expiation can we – as a people and a state – heal the wounds of the past and hope to build a new partnership with the people of Bangladesh.
On his return from his first and only trip to Dhaka following the establishment of Bangladesh, Faiz Ahmed Faiz asked in anguish ‘Kab nazar mein aaye gi, bedaagh sabze ki bahar, khoon ke dhabbe dhulen ge kitni barsaaton ke baad’. We must atone for the death and destruction visited upon our brothers and sisters in our name, and do it soon, lest these stains on our national conscience become permanent.