1971 – 2011
The month of December, every year, brings with it memories of 1971 and the secession of East Pakistan that established the independent nation of Bangladesh. It provides us with a chance for deep, thoughtful introspection and to learn from the mistakes of our collective past. It is, therefore, incredibly unfortunate that 40 years on we have not been able to deal with the ghosts of ’71.
Yesterday, many people on Twitter were sharing a piece written by Anthony Mascarenhas in June 1971 on the conditions in East Pakistan. Mascarenhas used to be the Assistant Editor of the Morning News in Karachi at the time. (I highly recommend everyone to read this piece here.) The piece itself was published in the Sunday Times in London.
While the entirety of the account is deeply disturbing and harrowing, a few specific portions of it left me sick to my stomach. I would just like to highlight a few of these portions from the account:
“”Why kill him?” I asked with mounting concern.
“Because he might be a Hindu or he might be a rebel, perhaps a student or an Awami Leaguer. They know we are sorting them out and they betray themselves by running.”
“But why are you killing them? And why pick on the Hindus?” I persisted.
“Must I remind you,” Rathore said severely, “how they have tried to destroy Pakistan? Now under the cover of the fighting we have an excellent opportunity of finishing them off.”
Sitting in the office of Major Agha, Martial Law Administrator of Comilla city, on the morning of’ April 19, I saw the off-hand manner in which sentences were meted out. A Bihari sub-inspector of police had walked in with a list of prisoners being held’ in the police lock-up. Agha looked it over. Then, with a flick of his pencil, he casually ticked off four names on the list.
“Bring these four to me this evening for disposal,” he said. He looked at the list again. The pencil flicked once more. “… and bring this thief along with, them.”
Riding with Iftikhar to the Circuit House in Comilla on another occasion he told me about his latest exploit.
“We got an old one.” he said. ” The bastard had grown a beard and was posing as a devout Muslim even called himself Abdul Manan. But we gave him a medical inspection and the game was up. ”
Iftikhar continued :” I wanted to finish him there and then, but my men told me such a bastard deserved three shots. So I gave him one in the balls, then one in the stomach. Then I finished him off with a shot in the head. “
Reacting to the almost successful breakaway of the province, which has more than half the country’s population, General Yahya Khan’s military Government is pushing through its own “final solution” of the East Bengal problem.
“We are determined to cleanse East Pakistan once and for all of the threat of secession, even if it means killing of two million people and ruling the province as a colony for 30 years,” I was repeatedly told by senior military and civil officers in Dacca and Comilla.
The West Pakistan army in East Bengal is doing exactly that with a terrifying thoroughness.
The treatment of a province as a colony; the belief that minorities are traitors waiting for a chance to pounce; an abiding belief that excessive force must be used to deal with dissent – these are all aspects of our collective, and particularly military, behaviour that are no different today than they were in 1971.
They say that madness is expecting a different result while employing the same methods over and over again. If I were to take this maxim at face value I would have to declare the state of Pakistan insane.
In Pakistan today, we derive our sense of honour from the barrel of the soldier’s gun and our dignity from the statements issued by our intelligence agencies.
I reject such false notions of honour and dignity.
The nation’s honour comes from the wishes of the people, and we can only be dignified when we ascribe dignity to the lives of the Pakistani. Our various elite structures, dominated by the military, continue to trample on the stated desires of the people for the purpose of following their narrow institutional interests. Interests which include the acquisition of economic and politicalpower, the collection of weaponry, and the accumulation of retirement benefits that rival the greediest bankers in the West.
This elite structure spoonfeeds the nation a belief of honour and dignity that divorces everyday life from both those concepts. It somehow necessitates poverty and hardship for the good of the nation, when we have seen, time and again, that it is for the good of the few. A willing and abetting media, great beneficiaries of the elite structure, broadcast these notions to all and sundry. Anyone deviating from this belief is a miscreant or a traitor in their eyes.
I wish for all Pakistanis to live in a society that provides them with basic rights such as food, economic security, education, and health. Aspects of life which would enable them to live truly dignified lives. Not false notions of honour, where the individual’s dignity is tied up with the opacity of our defence budget. Or where those that have abused us the most are unanswerable to the state itself.
Such honour is false.
I refuse to derive my feeling of pride for the nation from it.