Raja Habib Raja is an economist and currently is working for a leading development finance institution. He is also a co-editor at Pak Tea House.
One of my friends, who is from Bangladesh once told me in detail about the way his nation thought about years from 1947 to 1971 and about what happened during the war. He then told me that the scars of the brutal repression by the Pakistani armed forces have not completely healed. That was the time when Shahbag protests were taking place demanding capital punishments for those who had been convicted of war crimes.
He then posed a question to me: “ Why doesn’t Pakistan apologize? A mere word of apology would make a lot of difference and allow us to move forward.” He countered the criticism that trials were nothing but a political stint by Haseena Shaikh’s government to extract mileage. “ Even if the government is benefitting, the fact is this is what Bangladeshis want”.
I already have written on the need for apologizing to Bangladesh in my article titled as “Sorry Bangladesh” and I personally think that as Bangladesh grapples with the execution of Jamat-i-Islami leader and its aftermaths, the need for apology becomes even more significant.
I find it strange that as Bangladesh puts to trial those nationals who allegedly participated in the 1971 massacre, the real culprits, the Pakistani military men, are still scot free thousands of miles away.
Frankly if Pakistan was a proper civilized country it would have itself put its generals and rank and file officers to trial for committing war crimes against its own citizens. Let us not forget at that time, those civilians who were killed were Pakistani citizens. Even if they had not been Pakistanis, a crime is a crime.
However, I understand that perhaps this expectation is too far-fetched as even USA has not always put its soldiers for war crimes. And in this case, Pakistani soldiers were indulging in violence and rape in not merely in individual capacity. In fact it was state sanctioned massacre and consequently it is understandable that it won’t do so.
But an apology is something which is the least Pakistan could do and yet even that has so far proven to be unforthcoming. In fact even the moral persuasion by the population is lacking as an overwhelming majority is still in denial with respect to the extent of Pakistani atrocities. In fact for many it was merely a military failure due to collaboration between Mukti Bahini and Indian army. And moreover according to them, it was just Mukti Bahini which committed atrocities against Pakistani citizens in Bangladesh.
The fact that much more horrific was committed by their own armed forces is simply not acknowledged and in fact most of the population is simply in denial. Even today our discussions about 1971 revolve around number of killed by Mukti Bahini and in our collective psyche, the massacre conducted by Pakistan army either simply does not exist or is clearly less atrocious compared to killings by Mukhi Bahini.
When I say Pakistan should apologize, the apology is not merely for killing its own people but also what preceded that. What happened in 1971 is merely the culmination of a nightmare which frankly started immediately after independence.
The fact is that the idea that there should be East Pakistan was even a bigger anomaly than the idea of Pakistan itself which in fact was a big anomaly . One thousand miles separated the two and Bengalis were extremely different than those residing in West Pakistan. Even if Two Nation Theory had to be applied, it should have resulted in a different country right from the beginning.
And once it materialized, the only way forward was a very loose confederation as there was absolutely no point going for a federal structure with a strong center. Ethnic identity is a reality which needs to be integrated by allowing sufficient degree of political, economic and cultural autonomy. Only when an ethnicity has this kind of autonomy , it will align itself with the state. You cannot make the ethnic identity disappear by whipping religion or imposing a different language as national language on the pretext that national language is not spoken by other ethnicities also and hence is “neutral”. Nor you can address possible fracture in the state on ethnic lines by administrative measures such as One Unit.
Secession takes place when ethnic identity transforms into ethnic nationalism aimed at complete separation from the state. And this transformation happens when the perception develops that the state is biased on ethnic lines.
The apology for which I am making a case is perhaps even less for the final drop scene but more for what we did before that. In a united Pakistan, Bengalis were grossly underrepresented in employment. Revenue generated by them was being spent in West Pakistan and above all there was adoption of that derogatory tone and condescending attitude towards them which was often expressed in terms like “Bingos”..
And we did all that to who had whole heartedly supported creation of Pakistan.
My dear Pakistanis, who just see the entire episode through Indian conspiracy paradigm, kindly open your eyes. If those people who were far more vigilant in supporting creation of Pakistan , end up seeking Indian help for independence, then it merely shows the humiliation which they must have felt.
And lets accept it, you humiliated them and with due apologies they have a far richer culture and intellect than you. Call me a Bangladeshi appeaser now, but this is the truth..
Sorry Bangladesh…..Once again…Because now I know Pakistani state wont apologize..