Changing Planet

Healing the Wounds of War between Bangladesh and Pakistan

Waiting for Peace?: Rickshaw Traffic in Dhaka. Photograph by Saleem H. Ali

The flight from Karachi to Dhaka spans the heartland of South Asia and gives travelers an appreciation for the complexity of The Great Partition. So many linguistic and ethnic divides had to be traversed to formulate national identities for countries that now exist in the area. Nearly a fourth of the world’s population resides here. Identities in any geographic context are inherently synthetic and evolving, and the region that most acutely depicts such dynamism on the subcontinent is Bengal.

This is the land where the mightiest rivers of the subcontinent, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, converge to form the world’s largest delta. The fertile planes of the delta lured scores of peasants to the region over the centuries, now making it the most densely populated place on earth. In the medieval period, there were moments of Bengali imperialism, with dynasties such as the Pala and Sena gaining ascendance, but these were were largely non-expansionist in cadence. The Bengalis contributed their talents to whoever ruled them, whether Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim, with great generosity of spirit. While tenaciously guarding their language, Bengalis were, to their great credit, willing to embrace other communities and “outsiders”.

It was in Bengal that the British first established their foothold through the East India Company which later became what has been termed “the world’s first corporate raider.” Yet the resistance to British rule in its various forms also had its epicentre in Bengal. The Muslim League, which now prides itself as the vanguard of Punjabi politics in Pakistan, was also founded in Dhaka in 1906. At the same time avowedly anti-religion Marxists also find a home in Western Bengal. Such is the diversity of Bengali society. This land has also produced numerous notable scholars and artists that have made Bangladesh proud, and at one time Pakistan could also lay some claim to their fame. Nobel laureates such as Rabindranath Tagore, Amartya Sen and Muhammad Yunus, or singers like Runa Laila or film icon Shabnam.

A Tragic Sense of Loss and Gloating

Pakistanis often encounter a peculiar mix of nostalgia and relief when they visit Bangladesh. There is a bittersweet affection that visitors feel as if being reunited with an estranged sibling. On the one hand, the clogged traffic of Dhaka, the cyclone-ridden hinterlands and the levels of poverty that by some measures exceed those in Pakistan  are by no means enviable. In recent years, Bengali friends tend to mildly gloat on Pakistan’s misfortunes that makes it out of bounds for international cricket and other events due to security,  while there is relative peace in Bangladesh. However the differentiation in that regard seems more illusory with extremist incidents sadly rising in Dhaka as well in 2015.

Pakistanis must reflect further on what a devoted and talented citizenry  they have lost to the arrogance of electoral politics in 1971.  Bengali nationalism is still very strong and memorials to the Liberation War are found all around the country. There are some indelible impressions of the country’s Pakistani lineage as well, such as the parliament building in Dhaka whose construction started during the Ayub Khan era. Designed by the famed Jewish-American architect, Louis Kahn, the building is emblematic of the kind of grand urban planning that Ayub Khan endorsed in the construction of Islamabad as well.

During my visit to Dhaka in 2009, I frequently heard the Bangladeshi account of the brutality of the 1971 war. There is an entire museum devoted to this period with some very graphic details of how civilians were affected by this tragic period in our history. At the campus of Dhaka University is a monument to the struggle for Bengali language, commemorating a 1952 shootout with the police who were trying to enforce Urdu. Several students were killed in this clash. The United Nations recognises February 21, the day of that tragedy, as the international day of language.

No doubt the linguistic imperialism of West Pakistan deserves censure but international norms should also not be misused to claim excessive victimhood by Bangladesh.  For example, the oft quoted demographics of the casualties in the 1971 war and labeling it  “a  genocide” by some Bengalis is highly  divisive and unhelpful as the international legal definition of genocide does not apply to this conflict. There are also counter-claims of atrocities by the Bengali Mukti Bahini guerrilla forces. Unquestionably tragic as they were, over-playing the 1971 events and trying to establish some moral equivalence with the Holocaust or other genocides will serve no purpose and will only entrench hatreds further. The erudite British-Indian writer and human rights activist Salil Tripathi has grappled eloquently with historiographic precision on this matter in his landmark book The Colonel who Would not Repent: The Bangladesh War and its Unquiet Legacy.

Anger and Arrogance

A definitive historical question that is frequently asked in both Bangladesh and Pakistan on the events of 1971 is : “Why did Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (the West Pakistani leader) not let Mujibur Rahman (the Bengali leader) become the prime minister when he had a majority of the seats in the 1970 election?” It was this power struggle that spurred the 9-month civil war within Pakistan (Liberation War for Bangladesh), leading to the independence of Bangladesh. In my personal view, Mr. Bhutto, indeed demonstrated despicable hubris in his conduct at the time which was emblematic of his supreme arrogance in international relations. There was also an undertone of racism in the behaviour of many West Pakistanis towards Bengalis which enabled such conduct. Historians can argue ad infinitum about the causes of the break-up of the country. Perhaps it was inevitable given the geographic and cultural divide; perhaps it was galvanized by Indian intervention. Whatever the confluence of circumstances, it was a horribly tragic event in the way the separation occurred.

Time should heal wounds of war but sadly South Asian politics in the contemporary context are stoking the demons of the past through vengeance narratives. Rather than learning from countries like South Africa and Japan in turning the page on past oppression through a politics of healing and reconciliation, there is a craven impulse to dismiss any gestures of concord. In 2002, erstwhile Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf visited the Liberation War memorial in Dhaka and officially expressed remorse for the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army during the 1971 war. Yet for many Bengali politicians this is still not enough and the revenge impulse continues to dominate. The obstinacy to accept healing narratives is an ominous sign. As the famous 5th century Theravadic Buddhist commentator Buddhaghosa in his famed text  Visuddhimagga noted: ““Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of harming another; you end up getting burned.” The politics of hatred is burning both Bangladeshis and Pakistanis alike, not to mention the regional hegemonic power India that smolders in its own embers of ethno-religious nationalism but whose security hawks continue to spell doom for neighboring countries. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan need to reject such fear, hate and hegemony, and to learn from Partition rather than be poisoned by its bitter past.

Parted but Peaceful

As exemplified by the break-up of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, there is a civilized and peaceful way to undertake such deliberate nationalism. Perhaps the same could have happened in South Asia too, if there had been greater regional leadership and a willingness for mediation from past colonial powers such as Britain.  Yet during those troubled days of the Cold War, and the peaking pique of Indo-Pak rivalry, such a path was not followed.  However, we have to stop languishing in past follies and there are proponents of peace in Bangladesh and Pakistan that deserve to be heard. Despite strong resentment towards Pakistan, there is also a palpable political maturity in some parts of the Bangladesh intelligentsia that do not use the ill-fated actions of a few politicians to build hatred towards Pakistan. However, many of these forces of moderation are being marginalized by contemporary Bangladeshi politics. Some of my Bengali friends living abroad are now afraid of voicing support for peace with Pakistan because of the bullying tactics of the current regime in branding them traitors for questioning the ultra-nationalist narrative. They have personally voiced fears that their families back home would be targeted by ultra-nationalist forces if they showed any peace-building solidarity with Pakistan. Indeed, the opposition party itself is being intimidated for showing ostensible loyalty to Pakistan in public statements. Sadly, academics have become embroiled in this muzzling of any conversation with Dhaka University issuing an end to even academic collaborations with Pakistani universities. This is a very troubling sign of what some analysts have referred to as the “narcissism of victimhood.”

On a personal level, this is very distressing for me and my family who have always viewed the pluralistic culture of Bangladesh with admiration. Some of my Punjabi mother’s best friends during adolescence days in Lahore in the 1940s and 1950s were Bengali. I grew up with fond stories of these friends and she has continued to maintain affectionate correspondence with them even after the parting of our two nations. I am sure there are multitudes of such stories of human connection and camaraderie that must be cherished and passed on to the next generation. Showing a spirit of forgiveness and magnanimity will only make Bangladesh stronger —  not weaker. It should also be noted that Bangladesh and India both agreed to the terms of clemency and forgiveness in the 1974 tripartite agreement whereby no further trials would be conducted.

Tenuous democracy has returned to both Pakistan and Bangladesh in the last few years. Yet old political families still control electoral politics in both countries. The families of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Mujibur Rahman — two political rivals in the erstwhile West and East Pakistans still have major political sway in both countries. Both politicians were tragically killed in their own divided lands by internal political forces, and possibly with external interference. The assassination of Sheikh Mujib and much of his family by assailants of his own ethnicity and many from his own army in 1975 was particularly bloody and left a bitter legacy for the nascent nation. Let us hope that the next generations will learn from the unfortunate fate that befell their forefathers. Pakistan and Bangladesh are now in a state of cold peace that needs a healing process to further a more functional and mutually productive relationship. A joint reconciliation commission (an important follow-up to the unilateral West Pakistani led Hamoodur Rahman Commission which also squarely criticized the Pakistani army) should perhaps be established by both countries which allows for a recognition of past injustices, but with a positive goal for moving towards a fruitful future together as two friendly nations. Tough issues such as reparations of funds lost in the Partition can be addressed through such a joint commission. With abject poverty and myriad other social and ecological problems confronting both countries, we must move beyond the momentary gratification of settling scores and work towards constructive reconciliation.

Some parts of this article are derived from material published earlier by the author

Saleem H. Ali is Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Energy and the Environment at the University of Delaware (USA) and a Professorial Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia. He is also a Senior Fellow at Columbia University's Center on Sustainable Enterprise. Dr. Ali is a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for 2010 and World Economic Forum "Young Global Leader" (2011). His books include "Environmental Diplomacy" (with Lawrence Susskind, Oxford Univ. Press) and "Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future" (Yale University Press). He can be followed on Twitter @saleem_ali.
  • H uddin

    This is a sheer attempt by the writer to tone down the heinous genocide committed by the Pakistani army with impunity. Not a single murder army general was brought to justice. Also while Pakistan has more than 22 person people labelled as destitute and Bangladesh has 17% (as shown in the link of this article)

  • Khubaib

    Nice Article, we need to learn from previous mistakes and its time move forward in a positive way, gradually establishing friendly relationship with each other.
    Message of love from Pakistan to Bangladesh 🙂

  • Farooq H Gagroo

    In 1971 I was a College student where Bengali students also studied. Even before elections and war, there were open demand of separation. This call for separation was mostly bucked up by Indians. Every problem has a solution. Pakistan was not an imperial country at that time. People in west Pakistan equally suffered at the hands of adminstrative mismanagement under military rule. The demand put forth byAwami League was neither in favour of federation nor for confederation. Today after soma years of living separately, there is no need for reconciliation. We must not look back. Pakistan alhamdilillah is a far better country to live today. The extremism is nearing its end. And the middle class is continuously expanding. This is a sign of positivity. The only way for reconciliation is an apology for their counter State activities against Pakistan

  • @BAN_FAN

    The then East Pakistan always preferred Pakistan, but not with the kind of disparity that existed between east and west Pakistan. I was a young boy of standard 2 then, so I was primarily a listener in the discussions of the elders. There were severe disparity but the anger really was not respecting the result of election.

    I can see a common tendency amongst many Pakistanis, that it’s a conspiracy of India to divide Pakistan, which is very native and it’s like ignoring the real issues. There can’t be any logic supporting the reaction of an election result which was conducted under the military; then there was continuous negotiation for no reason to give up the right to power by Awami League who won the election. In the process the east Pakistan has shown trimendous patience to negotiate and that reached & finally stuck into 6 points demand by mujib. Which was still very very short of independence. That was a partial autonomy.

    Then there were series of lies and false promises by the military power, along with Bhutto who lost the election. Finally Pakistan broke the promise of calling the parliament session and cracked down on civilians on 25th March, does any person with common sense expect that under this situation east Pakistan and Mujib would still sit idle?

    So independence and fighting for independence remained the only option Infront of the people of Bangladesh. India wasn’t ready to intervene immediately and took 8 months to prepare for the intervention, had it been an Indian plot, they would have intended immediately. And Bangladeshi Mukti Bahini was a very effective force. Without that no Indian force would be able to beat 93,000 strong Pak army & capture Dhaka in 12 days. The fact that India couldn’t recapture Kashmir in 50 years prove that.

    Indian support for ur freedom fight was a huge morale booster and as a conventional force they boosted the strength of Mukti Bahini manifold. Yes India had a benefit in divided Pakistan, while we had to be separated to stop the disparity and uneven development between the two parts of Pakistan. So this was a cooperation in mutual interest of Bangladesh and India.

    The fact that we are now much much better than what we would be if we were together and we have almost caught up west Pakistan in almost every area, economy, education, health etc etc … Proves that, independence was the best decision for Bangladesh.

    Even if we look at Baluchistan, NWFP we can see the disparity with Punjab, they are kept backward to rule, the same was happening with us, but we rightly didn’t take the bulshits of Punjabis and got our independence. Thank God.

    I hope common Pakistanis will get over the propaganda of Pak army and politicians and read the history of war from different writers to find out the truth. An unconditional apology from Pakistan won’t erase the injustice we faced, but that might Atleast make the relatives of the victims of atrocities feel a little better and pave the way for a better relation.

  • Mohammed Mominul Haque

    WHY I COULD NOT SEE ANY FREEDOM FIGHTERS OF BANGLADESH IN THIS IMAGE, 1971, I AM THE SON OF FREEDOM FIGHTER, WHO WAS RECOGNISED BY INDRIA GHANDI, We should ask question to the present illegal Govt. supporters, allies and activist in Bangladesh – where is our spirit of independence, why Pakistani soldiers were surrender to Indian soldiers, why Bangladesh Freedom Fighters were ignored on 1971 surrender time, why after liberation war SK. Mujib given permit ( Ration shop and food permit, Pakistanis assets, fund) to only AL associates, why many freedom fighters were kidnapped and killed by Rakki Bhahini, why peoples voice were ignored, why 3 million peoples died, why we lost our nearest person and belongings, why so many kids lost their parents, why women were rapped, why many people under disability, why younger generation is sleeping with sever drug addiction, why everyone are not getting same benefits or service from Govt., why we have inequality in resources and power, why at present sovereignty went to other country hands, why from jute to RMG to stock to every business sectors has been lost,why peoples demand has been denying by present govt., why innocents still have to beg to the doors to the corrupt officials as well business people, We demand our rights, we want answers, not the same record player,

  • JR

    And this is why Bangladesh and Pakistan will not have normal relations anytime in the near future: the arrogance and sense of superiority have never left. Any other country would have hung its head in shame, as Germany and Japan (the latter more grudgingly) did. Not so Pakistan, where denial is worn like a badge of honor.

    And this shamelessness is passed on from one generation to the next – from elementary school, Pakistanis are fed a steady diet of genocide-denying slop such as that promoted by Sarmila Bose.

    Pakistanis like to pretend that reconciliation efforts are pointless given that there were no atrocities, and if there were, they were evenly committed. On this point, they are somewhat correct, but for different reasons – there is no point in Bangladesh chasing an outcome with what will cease to be a modern state in a few years, given the extremist cancer that runs through it.

    And when it does happen, you can be sure that Bangladeshis won’t shed too many tears.

  • Riaz Osmani

    While this article is well intentioned, it misses the main point. And that is Pakistan MUST offer an official apology to Bangladesh for the genocide in 1971. And it must stop meddling in Bangladesh’s internal affairs vis a vis the trials of the local collaborators of the Pakistan army. Until these two things happen, there is no prospect for peace with Pakistan.

  • Greetings, I respect the sentiments of outrage expressed by some commenters since this is a sensitive matter. The joint commission I have suggested in the article could address the official apology issue and other matters as well. What is more meaningful and consequential is to engage rather than be outraged. Japan is mentioned by one commenter as an example but please recall that there are many Japanese who could also demand an apology from the US for killing at least 250,000 people in the world’s only nuclear attack. Yet, they have not insisted on this and moved on to further engage with the US and focus on the future rather than the past. That does not mean the horrors of Hiroshima are forgotten but rather that a new relationship is forged based on pragmatism. I would urge Armenia to do the same in its approach with Turkey of reconciliation which is even more fraught than Pak-Bangla relations (languishing on past follies beyond a certain point becomes mutually destructive and futile). As for interventions in internal affairs, sadly many countries can be accused of this across the region. Organizations like SAARC could also be further empowered to play a more constructive role to mitigate negative interference and ensure positive interface instead.

  • Ali

    You know what’s sad? How we feed hatred to our children. I mean what good is that? To dwell on the past? Chauvinism is a disease. And if you hate some one you don’t even know because of their caste/race/religion than you are a SICK individual. I mean I get it if you don’t like the people you encounter but to make sweeping statements like ” I hate Pakistanis”, or ” I hate Bangladeshis” or indians or US or whatever is immature don’t you think? I mean C’mon!
    Romeo n Juliet was a cringe worthy piece but at least it taught an important lesson. If this doesn’t stop now than our future generations will find themselves in a war they never started. It’s a vicious cyle.
    Salam from Pakistan!

  • Rukunuddin Ahmed

    Why contradiction after 44 years of liberation on 5Jan2014’s 10th national parliament election of Bangladesh or is it illegal?

  • M. Khan

    While I support the spirit of peace and reconciliation with which this article was written, I must express my disappointment at some of the statements made by the author, which clearly seem to be biased in favour of the traditional Pakistani narrative of the events in 1971.

    Firstly, this article seems to put a great deal of emphasis on the political rivalry between Z.A. Bhutto and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whilst almost ignoring the 24 years of colonialism (there is really no other other word describe it) that the people of East Bengal had to face at the hands of West Pakistan. Bengalis were always treated as second class citizens under the West Pakistani régime and were denied their most basic social, economic, cultural and linguistic rights.

    An illustration of this would be that, despite having a larger population, the share of the national budget spent on East-Bengal from 1947 to 1971 represented on average a mere 40% of what was allocated to West Pakistan. Moreover, despite East Bengal having a higher overall literacy rate than West Pakistan, Bengalis were systematically kept out of most civil service positions and represented only 5% of the Pakistani military forces due to the “martial race” theory which was still in effect. Hence, the call for independence was in every sense an initiative taken against the years of subjugation – and at times subhuman treatment- which the people of East Bengal had to face despite their contributions to Pakistan’s economy and to its social fabric.

    As far as reconciliation is concerned, it is certainly desirable and much needed. However, this can only be done when Pakistan officially recognizes and apologizes for the 1971 genocide – on this note, I should point out that no where in the article cited by the author does it indicate that the international legal definition of genocide does not apply to the conflict. This is not simply a question of “Bengali nationalism”, but a question of justice for all the victims of the carnage of 1971. Furthermore, as the Bangladeshi government rightly pointed out after a Pakistani diplomat was reacalled by her country for financing terrorist groups in Bangladesh, Pakistan should not make it of its business to interfere in the internal matters of Bangladesh.

    I sincerely hope that the author as well as some of those who are commenting will, in the future, deepen their analysis of the Bangladesh Liberation War and of Bangladesh-Pakistan relations in general.

    Best regards,

  • M. Khan – thanks for your detailed comment. I have been careful in not following the dominant Pakistani narrative and have noted the sense of past linguistic imperialism and other lingering grievances which led to the 1971 situation. However, the immediate spur was the Bhutto / Mujib rivalry. Let us hope that whatever narratives people subscribe to, they can see the virtue and value of moving on towards reconciliation.

  • Arman Rashid

    If there is to be any sort of reconciliation between these two countries the following prerequisites must be met:

    1. A public display of true remorse from the Government and People of Pakistan for the atrocities committed in 1971.
    2. Start the investigations and trials for those military personnel involved in that genocide (in accordance to the promise Pakistan made at the time of signing the Simla Accord).
    3. Start repaying Bangladesh for its rightful claim on the portion of the national wealth of combined Pakistan (taking today’s value of money into account)
    4. Return the stolen wealth, including the the million of dollars worth of foreign aid that were illegally transferred out the central bank of Dhaka to West Pakistan during the war.
    5. Pay reparations to the victims of the war
    6. Start teaching the right version of history to the Pakistani youth. The history that will teach facts regarding plight of the Bangalis.
    7. Stop interfacing in Bangladesh’s internal affairs by supporting the war criminals convicted by the International Crimes Tribunal or by funding political parties during national elections.
    8. Stop training, arming, supporting and funding the Islamist fundamentalist/terrorist elements within Bangladesh or using Bangladesh as a hub for their campaign against India.

    Once all these conditions are met only then people of Bangladesh can start thinking about any kind of long lasting reconciliation with Pakistan.

  • Saikat Acharhee

    @khubaib: Friendly relationship is a far cry between us should you not deal with those above points (1-8) raised by Mr Arman Rashid (see 1st comment) with immediate effect. Ask your government and people to rise to the occasion this time round!

  • Note that the “conditions” presented for peace by some of the friends on this comments section are in contravention of the 1974 tripartite agreement which Bangladesh and India signed along with Pakistan “to forgive and forget the mistakes of the past, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh stated that the Government of Bangladesh had decided not to proceed with the trials as an act of clemency.”

    Bengali friends are letting the politics of vengeance and conspiratorial rhetoric about Pakistani intervention on each and every matter (similar to Pakistan’s own paranoia about US and Indian Intervention) occlude their better judgement. Peaceful gestures would themselves negate any conspiratorial designs – real and illusory. Yet, fear-mongering, hate and division are far more potent means of maintaining political power and sadly the Bengali populace appears adamant to stay the course of such a path. Pakistan should go further to address Bangladesh’s concerns through the suggested commission noted in the article but the narrative from Islamabad is far more conciliatory than from Dhaka. Note, even the most recent statement in November 2015 from Pakistan foreign ministry read: “Pakistan reiterates its desire for further enhancing relations with Bangladesh, because we believe that the hearts of the people of Pakistan beat in unison with the people of Bangladesh…. and an ardent desire to develop brotherly relations with Bangladesh…It is therefore, imperative to move forward in the spirit of goodwill, friendship and harmony for the collective good of the peoples of Pakistan and Bangladesh.”

  • Chris Blackburn

    The war crimes tribunals were designed to halt the culture of impunity which has been present in South Asian politics for the last half century.

    The target is the Pakistani military and its allies.

    The tragedy is that Pakistan never learnt from 1971 and continues to act with impunity along with its current crop of religious zealots.

    The tribunals could help Pakistan to start dealing with its neighbours with more humility rather than hostility.

  • @ChrisBlackburn – as noted before the tribunal process was not followed because Bangladesh and India agreed to the tripartite agreement in 1974. Religious fanaticism is sadly a reality for much of South Asia. Pakistan suffers most acutely from it and the victims are primarily on its own soil as a result. That cant be used as an excuse to stall peace processes as it simply plays into the extremists narrative of exclusion.

  • JR

    Dr Ali – the reason you see outrage expressed in these comments is not because this is “a sensitive matter”; it’s because your piece attempts to rewrite history. Pakistanis can of course afford to spout nonsense like “engage not outrage” and “let us look forward, not back”, seeing as it is in their best interest to deny what can be denied and to bury the rest.

    2 million dead from the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I see that you have taken the factor of 10 that Pakistanis like to divide the 1971 casualty figures by and applied it as a multiplier here. Moreover, your analogy is a false one: Japan – unlike East Pakistan – was the aggressor, or perhaps World War II history has also been Pakistanified in your schools.

    You can talk about pragmatism and reconciliation all you want, but it’s telling that you are only willing to achieve this on your own whitewashed terms.

  • @JR – history in such matters is always contested. I am not rewriting history, only trying to transcend the negativity with some context. I have corrected the Japanese fatality numbers in my comment (though the total loss from the bombing and the broader military incursions into Japan are quite possibly around 2 million). As for “Pakistanized” texts, the same could be said of the Bangladeshi schools teaching a biased view where identity is framed by making Pakistan the arch-villain. There is enough blame to go around and I have quite clearly laid far more blame on Pakistan but it was indeed a terrible civil war. The question now is how long do both sides want to languish in the past? If you dont like the Japan / US analogy, consider the China /Taiwan analogy (an even more fraught relationship because China still threatens to absorb Taiwan – something Pakistan has never done at all since 1971). Yet despite a horrible history of conflict, economic ties and commerce are fine between China and Taiwan due to pragmatic leadership. No analogy is perfect – but the case for peace is quite perfect. It has become a pattern for many Bengali intellectuals to dominantly bully any peaceful conversations that question the hawkish narrative. Oxford Professor Sarmila Bose has endured such attacks as well, and if she has to endure them as a Bengali for adding nuance to the dominant “Pakistani villain” narrative, then I with my Pakistani lineage will surely have to endure ad hominem attacks as well. Such is the way of the world. I have abundantly criticized Pakistan but the world is not black and white – and we have to show some willingness to engage with complexity. My only allegiance in these matters is to rigorous historiography and to a pragmatic sense of peace-building which surely Pakistan and Bangladesh both need. It is important to note, however, that my article does not intend to validate Sarmila Bose or her detractors or any other “camp” – it is simply a plea for meaningful peace out of pragmatism which is being stifled by emotional stagnation as well as political opportunism.

  • Khalid

    Islamabad miserably and deliberately failed to deliver any help during the 1970 cyclone of then East Pakistan . Compare Bangladesh today, we have early warning systems, shelters, etc., which have prevented large scale death’s since the Independence. He also blames Bhutto with Sheikh Mujib for the breakup of Pakistan yet forgets to mention that Bhutto and Yahya collaborated to nullify the election which led to the Pakistani Army butchering it’s own “citizens.” Fact is, Bangladesh is prospering in all criteria compared to Pakistan and most importantly it is no longer a colony of Panjabis. Thank God we are free albeit we have way’s to go to be the Golden Bengal.

  • @Khalid – I have shown clear affection for Bengal and valorized the Bengali spirit of resilience numerous times in the article. I have also squarely laid the blame on Bhutto rather than Mujib in the article. Note the very harsh words I have used against Bhutto, but you choose to read selectively what supports your own contentions. West Pakistan should have definitely done more for Bengal during 1947-1971 period. No doubt about that but Pakistan has sent relief whenever there has been a cyclone since Bangladesh became independent. See, as an example:

    I will try to do my part to build greater positive feelings towards Bangladesh in Pakistan and hope Bengali academics will also try to find ways of healing rather than simply digging up negativity. Another analogy, imperfect as it may be, is the reconciliation between the US and Vietnam. There has been no big apology issued or reparations paid or indictments and trials by the US for what were clearly heinous crimes committed in Vietnam (at least 2 million Vietnamese died, some with napalm and use of Agent Orange, ~60,000 Americans died). Yet both countries have decided to reconcile and move on beyond the negativity. It is quite clear to me that the ruling Bangladeshi government (and sadly also the current Indian government) wants to perpetuate negativity for their own political ends without realizing that cooperation with Pakistan is in its own interest. I would say the same to Pakistan about having better cooperation with India where the Pakistani ruling elite have also played a very negative role. As scholars of peace-building approaches we have to find ways of resolving the problem rather than perpetuating past grievances. I have noted the 1974 tripartite agreement, Humood Rahman commission as starting points to developing a new joint commission to once and for all resolve all grievances for more productive relations. Let’s try to make that happen with a spirit of truth and reconciliation.

  • Jamuna

    To forget is to be human but to Forgive is Divine. No matter how you dissect the history for a noble cause of peace and harmony between the two nations, it is Pakistani authorities who have to ask for forgiveness in order for Average Bengali’s to Forgive. But it must be initiated by Pakistani government irrelevant of it’s humility which is a sign of bravery.

  • Davender Bhardwaj

    Dr. Saleem your attempt to reconcile will be more effective if it is not selective only towards Pakistan and Bangladesh but encompasses India, too. Let the history of that partition not hide behind our heartburn for the second partition.
    By cleaning just one part of our heart we can not completely clean our soul – Buddha.
    Once that greater purpose is adopted by the intelligentsia, this reconciliation will be just a band aid on a big gaping wound on our civilization.

  • Muhammad Ghyasuddin

    Bangladeshis will never accept that they also committed atrocities of the same order by killing tens of thousands of un armed non Bengalis, during the nine month long civil war. When army action was started in Dacca on 25-26th. mid night, in most of the East Pakistani cantonments, Junior Bengali officers butchered their senior Pakistani officers and took control of their respective cantonments. Major Zia ur Rahman can be cited as an example. Major Khaled Musharraf took his senior officers into protective custody and handed them to Indian Army officers. This incident shows that Bengali officers of Pakistan Army were already in contact with Indians, which means both Indians and Bangladeshis have already decided to create Bangladesh either by hook or by crook. Hatred developed between the two wings of Pakistan while staying together, was so deep rooted, that if not in 1971, may be we would have stayed together for another five to ten years, and finally would have ended with the same outcome.
    Under the present circumstances, I do not see any good gesture from either side but from side, as always, it is
    Joi Bangla for my Bangladeshi friends and Pakistan Zindabad for people of my country.

  • Muntaha S Hossain

    As a Bangladeshi I don’t think there is any need for keeping good relationship with pakistan. Pakistan is a failed state and terrorist ridden country. People of pakistan are sympathetic to this terrorist. Harsh truth it is. There are absolutely no economic advantage for Bangladesh to keep up good ties. Why should we care for such country that bathed our country in blood. You are so wrong we Bangladeshis have moved on. We dont care for make relation with this failed state. We make friends with country with similar interest and economically developed. And it is Pakistan who wants to have a good relation not Bangladesh. We dont want to import terrorist. If we let pakistani people in no wonder they will make some followers here whom we call “razakar”. They will be trained as terrorist and unleash terror. My father have such close ties with begum khaleda Zia. A central leader of BNP. But yet i say Luckily we have Sheikh Hasina who is very active against this terrorist uprising. She have dominated jamat-e-islami (who is the source for this terrorist) and other terror groups. And our people are not sympathetic to this isolated group of terrorists. If we were no government would be strong enough to make this terrorists paralyzed. She have literally brushfired on this terror people. They dont go to jail direct killed. Because of Hasina i can proudly say no terrorist can attack in Bangladesh. All these isolated murder claimed by some groups though they will be caught and executed. Such shame for my party they tried to build relation with Pakistan. And brought terrorist. But my party started to realized what it had done then executed shayokh abdur rahman and JMB leader Bangla Bhai. Who have testify before court both have been on training in Pakistan and they have fought in afganistan sent by ISI. These terrorist target and brainwash only madrasah students and yatimkhana students because they have no parents. If they had parents no single parents would sent they boy or girl in this disgusting terrorist business. There have been no big bomb blast in Bangladesh in last 10 years because of Sheikh Hasina which is everyday happening or to be precise every friday happening in Pakistan. We have forget you guys please dont bother us anymore. Those who betrayed with the own kind in 1971 which is one of the highest sin ALLAH said in Qur’an are being hanged now. Pakistan is selling Islam for terrorism. 170 million people in Bangladesh everyone of my people hates pakistan. No point of arguing with the history. We dont look back where we abandoned. We move and look forward. In Bangladesh women gets the respect and right what Hazrat Muhammad (SAWS) gave to women. And in pakistan they throw bomb on women if a women wants to study or work. Sone would say its been fabricated against pakistan. Maybe but it is believable because actual situation is nothing better there.

  • Saquib

    It is sad indeed to see the perpetuation of hatred and animosity against the entire population of Pakistan by a certain section of Bangladesh’s educated elite. Without a doubt grievous atrocities were committed by the Pakistani Army and its cohorts in Bangladesh in 1971. This has also been recognized by many members of Pakistan’s civil society. However to continue the hatred against the entire country of Pakistan is futile and pointless. Reconciliation is very important and essential for pace and stability in South Asia. Bangladesh should see itself as a regional hub and calibrate her relationship with Pakistan in economic terms, while continue to build her growing cooperation with India. A country like Bangladesh would benefit greatly if Pakistan, China and India can invest together in the subcontinent, particularity in infrastructure, trade and connectivity. Instead Bangladeshis are busy labeling each other as pro-Pakistan or pro-India or atheist or razakar. We must never forget the sacrifices of the Freedom Fighters of 1971 but our time and efforts at present should be directed towards collaborating on peace and and the emancipation of millions of people in our region and not at spewing hatred and animosity at any neighboring country, particularly India and Pakistan. If Bangladesh can re-calibrate her relationship with Pakistan, this may even have a positive impact on Islamabad’s relationship with New Delhi. Pakistan on the other hand will do well do avoid making commentaries on the War Crimes Trial, which is a very sensitive issue in Bangladesh. The civil society and educational institutions should work together to try to normalize relationships between the two countries, but they have mostly been adding fuel to the fire. It is time to stop the perpetuation of hatred, While recognizing the past, we need to look forward to the future.

  • Khan

    Pakistan is a failed TERRORIST exporter country,there is no chance that Bangladesh offers Friendship toward pakistan and bring back terrorist people again !!pakistan state should try too make Friendship with Somalia,Afghanistan cause this two countries also export terrorist and failed states.Bangladesh and Bangladeshi people still love ordinary pakistan citizens who everyday mistreated by punjabi army(napak pakistani army)
    Eid mubarak in advance to all pakistani people.

    A Bangladeshi from Liechtenstein

  • Irfan Mahmood Butt

    I served Bangladesh industry for at least 4 years. I contributed well according to my knowledge and experience. The people of Bangladesh respected and loved me more than my own countryfellow men. The Bangladeshi nation is a true Islamic Nation and love Islam. They like and respect ordinary Pakistanis, In practical experience they cared me more than ours. Conclusively it can be remarked that Bangladeshis were right and today also right and educated Pakistani people also give tribute to Bangali Nation. I think we both nations are same and love each other. There were and are some forces who guards their personal interests by creating hatred between the two nations. I hope the current generation will evaluate the forces and get benefits for both nations by united thinking and love for each other. Nawab Khawaja Ehsan ullah and Nawab Khawaja Salim Ullah were the legends in making of United Pakistan. Muhammad Ali Bogra is still symbol or constitution reformer. M M Alam was the person who is symbol of Bravery and intellectual. Pakistani Leadership arose later but all the above mentioned Bangladeshi leadership created Pakistan for Pakistanis and Bangladesh should not forget that they made Bangladesh due to the struggle of Independence by their above legends particularly Nawab family. Both Nations should forgive their mistakes and move for brother hood and love and economical ties to benefit from their experiences. I taught the people a lot of and I learnt from them which I did not before. Pakistan must evaluate the forces which are inside the country and Bangaldeshi Nation must sort out the forces which are out side the country for better future of both the nations.

  • Ausal

    Peace be upon you;

    Killing innocent people took place from both sides: the Pakistani military and pro-Pakistani Bengalis and non-Bengalis on one side and Bengali Mukti bahini and Indian military on the other side. Indo-Bangladeshi propaganda of 3 million killed and 0.25 million raped is a total lie that created only hatred. Unbiased books by Berkeley & Penn State professors Sisson & Rose, Harvard Ph.D. Sarmila Bose and U.K’s Dr. Abdul Mu’min Chowdhury seem better sources who look for truth. I am a Bangladeshi who was a young officer in 1971. Bangladesh, India and Pakistan can not afford to continue hatred any more. Our people already suffered too much for selfish policies. Regards,

  • Muhammad

    I as a Pakistani say that anyone who wronged the Bangladeshi people in any way should be brought to justice. It sickens me, to think that people who have had committed such heinous crimes haven’t been prosecuted by my state. The problem lies in the Fact that the Pakistani people know nothing about went on in Bangladesh during the civil war, There is nothing in the curriculum that would even suggest any wrong doing the lay person doesn’t know of the crimes the elite and the military committed in the states name and as a result the public doesn’t demand trial or justice for the Bangladeshi people. Hell everything I learned about the 1971 was from my Bangladeshi friends, I never knew of the genocide that took place. My apologies to the people of Bangladesh and a message of love and peace. A process of reconciliation can only start with a state apology and repatriation to the victim of the genocide, True honour lies in admitting ones mistakes hell look at Germany after world war 2 the paid fully for their mistakes, Pakistan can do the same. It is up to our generation to push our countries forward

  • Allama Shafi

    As one would say nowadays – Lol Wut?!?? Using Sarmila Bose as one of your primary source and expressing the thought that it wasn’t a genocide was such a dead giveaway. Seriously read a few more books and not use the ones that support your narrative.
    It is fair to give you benefit of the doubt since neither politics nor history is your area of expertise but one would have hoped that a person with the educational background as yours would have had the mental capacity to figure out some of the facts from fiction. I pray that you will let go of the shame you feel of being on the losing side of history and let the grudge go by accepting it and moving on.

  • Rocky

    War is bitter & heartless. What happened in 1971 was the outcome of the powerplay by 3 megalomaniacs. Interestingly, all three main characters of this war, who played havoc with the lives of so many people, were brutally killed by their own countrymen. Mujeeb ur Rehman the founder of Bangladesh was assassinated by officers of his army, Indira Ghandi of India was killed by her bodyguards & Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged after a coup. Call it a coincidence, karma or wrath of God.

  • Dipto Islam

    It is indeed a great idea to normalize and strengthen mutually beneficial bilateral ties with Pakistan. However, we Bangladeshis are skeptical about Pakistan’s motives for friendship. We are well aware that Pakistan has the motive to influence Bangladesh to have the kind of relation with India which is favorable for Pakistan. It is pretty clear that both India and Pakistan have been trying to influence Bangladesh to remain within their grasp of influence. It is obvious to say that Pakistan has the motive to use Bangladeshi territory against India. If we allow Pakistan to influence Bangladesh the way they want, Bangladesh will end up becoming a hot bed of extremist Islamic terrorists and with tense war like situation with India. Simply, Bangladesh’s relationship with Pakistan will cost us dearly unless Pakistan mends its ways as far as exporting militant creed is concerned.

  • Dr. Mohammed M Rahman

    Whatever happened it brings lot of memories of the time when we were together. A marriage breaks but memories live. I am from that period when I have my classmates were from Pakistan, they are in my memories. By the way you might know that no body wanted separation of the country, they wanted economic equality.

  • Sumon Mojumder

    “No doubt the linguistic imperialism of West Pakistan deserves censure but international norms should also not be misused to claim excessive victimhood by Bangladesh. For example, the oft quoted demographics of the casualties in the 1971 war and labeling it “a genocide” by some Bengalis is highly divisive and unhelpful as the international legal definition of genocide does not apply to this conflict. There are also counter-claims of atrocities by the Bengali Mukti Bahini guerrilla forces.” … Mr. Dr. Ali you may not read the article of Noam Chomsky ” Responsibility of intellectuals” . Peoples like you, specially veteran and doctorate like you, who are repeatedly ignoring and denying the Genocide , RAPE , Looting , Arsoning and killing of Hindu Minority just for being Hindu in 1971 – which led about 10 million refugees to left this hell by taking shelter in India and where millions of peoples died due to malnutrition and epidemic throughout the 9 months of war – are still now the main cause for the aggravated relationship between Pakistan and Bangladesh, are still now the main cause for military violence in other province of Pakistan. Peoples like Syed Asif Shahkar are available from Pakistan for proof of Genocide. To observe Rape Victims you need not come Bangladesh , go to Canada and you will find information in their state-archive that how much Canadians adopted war babies from Bangladesh . Honestly to say this is really unexpectable from a doctorate . By the way, if you still do not amend this article then it will of course prove your magnanimity to lie , to lie on a Genocide . Although, it is also not possible for a citizen of military controlled state to confess war-crime by its military in Bangladesh during 1971 war for their military. “Say sorry and apolige…

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