South Asia Research and Analysis Studies

Witch Hunt in Dacca
Momin Iftikhar

The secession of East Pakistan in 1971, following a bitter civil war abetted by an Indian aggression, undeniably remains the most traumatic watermark of our national history. The birth of Bangladesh is by now an abject reality duly accepted in Pakistan with a concomitant reservoir of good will and wishes and a strong desire to forge a strong bond of brotherhood and amity. Despite this, there are strong under currents of vested interests in Bangladesh, which, with strong Indian leanings and persuasions, are working relentlessly to gnaw at the prospects of friendly relations with Pakistan through keeping alive a hateful agenda based on unsubstantiated myths.

This was evident during the kangroo court trial of Abdul Kader Mullah, assistant secretary general of the Jamaat-e-Islami, who was recently sentenced to life imprisonment by a war crimes tribunal in Dacca for being guilty of crimes against humanity during the 1971 civil war. The special court which convicted Mullah was set up in 2010 by Hasina Wajid’s Government with the mandate to deal with those who stand accused of collaborating with Pakistani forces and undertaking efforts to prevent East Pakistan from becoming an independent country. Hasina is manifestly driven by a desire to rehabilitate the reputation of Sheikh Mujeeb, her father , who met a sordid end at the hands of a clutch of young army officers who shot and killed him in Aug 1975.
She is also driven by a desire to paddle baseless propaganda against Pakistan which his father unabashedly initiated based on nothing more than the hallucinations of his feverish mind. These myths owe their lasting currency to the flavor of the time in January 1972 when Mujeeb returned from imprisonment in Pakistan. His stature then, as the founding father of Bangladesh, was tall and what he said was gulped down by the world media at large without any scrutiny for any substantiating proof. It remains an abiding measure of his mystique that many major engines of media have picked up and believed the widely spread disinformation by Mujeeb and his coterie without conducting any research. Prominent among these are the charges of a non existing genocide in which a staggering rather unbelievable figure of three million Bangladeshis were allegedly killed by Pakistani troops and their collaborators and 200,000 women raped during the period of civil war that barely lasted nine months topped by a beleaguered one month long war with India.
In January 1972, Mujeeb, like her daughter 42 years later , was extremely keen to paint Pakistan red with the charges of genocide and rape. Despite his public utterances of three million killings and 200000 rapes there was no evidence on record on which to hang such a preposterous lie. Indeed not only the post-16 December Government of Bangladesh was on record committing themselves to conduct a survey but Mujeeb himself set up , not one but two separate bodies to find the ‘facts’. On 16 January 1972 newspapers in Bangladesh carried news that Sheikh Mujeeb had ordered his party workers and Members of the Constituent Assembly (MCA) to collect detailed information on Pakistan Army’s genocide in Bangladesh and to file these with the Awami League office within two weeks. In January 1972 Mujeeb announced a compensation plan for families of those who had been killed at the hands of Pakistan Army and their collaborators; announcing a compensation of TK 2000 through a widely publicized media campaign. Despite such vigor from ‘the Father of the Nation, Friend of Bengal , President of the Awami League and the Prime Minister’ nothing worthwhile turned up. In the end Mujeeb and his Government kept a studied silence over the outcome of such determined fact finding efforts. The question as to what happened to the MCA’s report set in motion on 15 January 1972 and the findings of the 12-member Inquiry Committee which was constituted on 29 January 1972 with instructions to report on or before 30 April 1972 still go unanswered.
The facts on ground didn’t support Mujeeb’s wishful; make believe thinking. On 6th Jun 1972 the Guardian posted a report , “Since the third week of March , when the Inspector General’s office began its field investigations , there have been about 2000 complaints from the citizens about deaths at the hands of Pakistan Army have been received.” The outcome of the campaign to grant compensations also didn’t prove fruitful as well. According a document of Bangladesh Ministry of Finance, only 72000 claims were received of which the relatives of 50000 victims were awarded the declared compensation. The claims , understandably, included a large number of bogus claims by people wanted to make an easy buck. Failing to conjure up desired results all such facts that challenged the veracity of three million deaths and 200 000 rapes’ myth were placed under a firm lid by the then incumbent Government , letting torrents of insidious propaganda rage on.
On flip side of the coin, Pakistan has remained insouciant in response to vitriolic baseless propaganda emerging from Bangladesh hoping that the mischief mongers will some how exhaust themselves in their campaign for paddling baseless lies. This has allowed quite a few in Bangladesh and India, to concoct their own version of history castigating Pakistan and the valiant effort made by Pakistan Army to defeat the secessionists. This calls upon Pakistani researchers, scholars and media to get focused in sifting truth from lies in the fallacious narrative promoted by Bengali nationalists. This also calls for undertaking efforts to expose elements in Bangladesh which deny, minimize or justify the brutalities committed by their compatriots against non-Bengalis and non-nationalists during 1971 civil war.
The charade of ‘war trials’ in Dacca is a disruptive effort. To exorcise the demons of the 1971, perpetuation of lies and resorting to witch hunting is no worthwhile remedy. With passage of over four decades the passions have somewhat subsided and we can now have the liberty to dispassionately look back at the tumultuous events and unearth the reality. Only facing the objective truth shall enable the two countries to bury the acrimony and purge the mutual relations of the seething underlying hatred based on trumped up fallacies; paving way for forging a positive and enduring relationship.