Pakistan, Bangladesh and memories of 1971
Dhaka, Dec 20 : The contrast cannot be greater. December 16 is celebrated by Bangladesh as "Victory Day" and observed in Pakistan as "the Fall of Dhaka".
This year, there was a bit of poetic justice too. On December 16, more than 27,000 Bangladeshis formed the largest human national flag, consigning to the waste-paper basket, the record held by - you guessed it - Pakistan.
Forty-two years after, they physically threw the Pakistanis out, the Bangladeshis saw their flag triumph over the Pakistan one. Bangladesh went a step ahead and also set a world record by gathering an estimated three lakh people at Suhrawardy Udyan to sing the national anthem together at 4:31 p. m.,
commemorating the exact time when Lt. General A. A. K. Niazi of Pakistan surrendered to India's Lt. General Jagjit Singh Aurora 42 years ago.
Despite the passage of 42 years, for most Pakistanis, the collective hurt of the loss of the then East Pakistan is so intense, that December 16 is one day in the year they would rather forget.
This year, however, the hanging of the 'Butcher of Mirpur', Abdul Quader Molla, in Dhaka, on December 12, was a rude awakening that even the most die-hards could not ignore.
Reactions were on predictable lines.
First, on the context - Sheikh Mujibur had granted amnesty and his successors as President Khondaker Mushtaq Ahmed and General Zia-ur-Rehman, also confirmed the immunity.
Second, the philosophical argument - 'justice delayed is justice denied'. The opening of cases forty years after the alleged crime smacked of political expediency and Molla's execution in the run up to elections in Bangladesh served as a diversionary tactic to shift the public attention from the on-going political crisis.
Third, the trial process was flawed - As the Pakistan Foreign Office put it "we have noted the concerns raised by the international community and human rights organisations on the way the recent trials have been conducted which have added to the current instability in Bangladesh."
Fourth, the escape route - all sides in a conflict resort to violence whenever a country slips into a civil war. It were the Bengali militants who resorted to a whole range of heinous crimes against non-Bengali ethnic groups, especially Biharis.
Fifth, stung by the execution of one of their own, the Islamic parties led by the likes of Hafiz Saeed, Abdul Rehman Makki and JI chief Syed Munawar Hassan etc., have alleged that the verdict was carried out on India's behest. They have added that Abdul Quader accepted the hanging and revived Nazaria-e-Pakistan in Bangladesh; Pakistan should raise the matter before the U. N. Security Council, the OIC and the International Court of Justice since it was a violation of a bilateral agreement between Islamabad and Dhaka which provided amnesty to all those who resisted or supported the separation of East Pakistan to become Bangladesh.
While the above reactions were predictable, what was surprising was that the Pakistan National Assembly got into the act and passed a resolution on December 16, moved by the Jaamat-i-Islami. The resolution demanded the BD government not to resurrect the wounds of 1971 and end all cases against leaders of JI Bangladesh through the spirit of understanding.
During the debate, Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan described the execution as "judicial murder" and stated that Mollah was punished for his loyalty to Pakistan in 1971, and that every Pakistani was saddened and grieved over his death.
Not to be outdone, Javed Hashmi of Imran Khan's PTI, called Mollah as 'Shaheed-e-Pakistan' for rendering numerous sacrifices for Pakistan.
What the National Assembly and people like Nisar Ali and Javed Hashmi failed to mention was that 'rendering numerous sacrifices' for Pakistan included assisting the Pakistan Army in perpetuating the worst genocide in human history - the murder of three million Bengalis and the rape of over 200,000 Bengali women.
The National Assembly resolution, the debate and numerous articles and talk shows, with some exceptions, all point to the continuing inability of Pakistan to forget the humiliation of the loss of Bangladesh, and especially, India's role in it.
That's why the Hamoodur Rehman Commission Report has never been made public. That's why no Pakistani government since 1971 has apologised for the genocide. (Musharraf came closest by expressing "regret" for 1971).
That's why, despite Bhutto's pledge, Pakistan did not even put on trial the 195 Pakistani military officers Bangladesh wanted to try for war crimes.
Despite not wanting to remember the humiliation of 1971, it is the sub-text of Mollah's hanging that explains the strong, across the board reaction in Pakistan.
Mollah's hanging has created a nightmare scenario for Pakistan - that after justice is meted out to the Bangladeshi collaborators, an emboldened Awami League government would recall the pledge made by Pakistan to try Pakistani war criminals and make a push to try them. This would force the Pakistanis to face the horrendous reality of what their army did in 1971 and unmask and strip the layers of deception with which the events of 1971 have been packaged for the people of Pakistan.
Hence, the wording of the resolution - not to resurrect the wounds of 1971 and end all cases against leaders of JI Bangladesh through the spirit of understanding.
It is this sub-text that accounts for the strong reaction from Pakistan on Mollah's hanging.
December 16 will never be the same for Pakistan.
The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Salim Haq. (ANI)