Let bygones, be bygones
Whilst Salima Hashmi, an acclaimed TV artist, social activist and columnist, has been handpicked by the Caretaker Punjab Chief Minister Najam Sethi as a Minister in the interim set-up, the civil intelligentsia is quite mindful of her recent anti-Pakistan rhetoric on the eve of 6th BD Foreign Friends Award ceremony held on March 24, 2013. After receiving the posthumous “Bangladesh Liberation War Honour Award” of her late father poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Salima Hashmi said that Pakistan government should formally apologise to the people of Bangladesh for the atrocities committed by Pakistan occupation army during the War of Independence in 1971. As a part of its larger campaign, Bangladesh has planned to confer awards of “Bangladesh Liberation War Honour” and “Friends of Liberation War Honour”, to the nation's foreign friends for their wholehearted support to its liberation in 1971. Besides inviting 568 foreign friends from all over the world, a phased-wise invitations to 41 Pakistani were also extended. During the recent phase, the Bangladesh government had honoured 68 foreign nationals, including 13 Pakistani nationals. Amongst Pakistanis, the Human right activist Asma Jahangir also received award on behalf of his late father Malik Ghulam Jilani, who was Vice President West Pakistan Awami League.
Late Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo was posthumously given ‘Bangladesh Liberation War Honour Award’, which was received by his son Mir Hasil Bizenjo. Tahira Jalib received the award declared for Habib Jalib. Begum Tahira Mazhar Ali Khan, Ahmed Salim, Dr. Iqbal Ahmed, Sindhi poet Inwar Pirzada and Qazi Faez Isa were also given awards for their contributions to oppose military operation in the then East Pakistan. While some patriotic people may call the ceremony as well-articulated campaign to belittle Pakistan, yet 13 Pakistanis revealed their inclination to accept the award and inadvertently or consciously involved in incriminating their own motherland. However, some experts in foreign diplomacy had termed this “Bangladeshi move” as a litmus test on the faithfulness/allegiance towards Pakistan of the incumbents in question.
Pakistan-Bangladesh relations have been eclipsed by the tragic events of 1971, which led to the formation of Bangladesh as a separate state. The war between East and West Pakistan in 1971 lasted only for nine months. Actively supported by Indian Army, the eastern flank of Pakistan was separated from the rest of Pakistan. While Pakistan acknowledged that the unpleasant incidents that took place during the 1971 war, the excesses were done in retaliation against Indian Army’s wickedness coupled with Mukti Bahini’s brutalities. What Mukti bahinis did to the Pakistani families is also equally horrified and gruesome. Mujibur Rahman’s Awami League, the political party that advocated for an independent East Pakistan, is blamed in provocating the West Pakistan army to commit these excesses on their part. Most of the incidents alleged by Bangladesh authorities did not take place at all, while other incidents were distorted in such a manner to appear as atrocities on the local populace, manipulated for the purpose of maligning the Pakistan army and gaining world sympathy. Indian writer Sharmila Bose’s book titled ‘Dead Reckoning: Memoirs of the 1971 Bangladesh War”, is a testimony to the facts that makes Bangladesh’s demand for an apology illogical and unfounded. Nobody knows exactly how many people were killed, but the claim that Pakistani soldiers aided by local collaborators killed 3 million people was too much exaggerated. Nonetheless, Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission to investigate into the excesses perpetrated in then East Pakistan, had put the figure of casualties at twenty six thousand including the killings of West Pakistanis, members of Pakistan’s security personnel and Biharis that were butchered by Mukti Bahini guerillas.
Despite repeated expressions of grief over 1971 tragedy, the Bangladesh’s demand for an apology has not only become a regular feature in Bangladesh-Pakistan foreign relations, it took the form of an electioneering campaign to gain political mileage over opponents at domestic level. The issue was raised by PM Hasina Wajid when she demanded an ‘unconditional apology’ from the visiting Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar to Bangladesh last year. This shows that some internal as well as foreign forces are hell-bound to re-ignite the dead issue to incriminate Pakistan Army and create a wedge between Bangladesh-Pakistan good relations. The statements of Salima Hashmi and many other recipients of the award, may be seen in the context of promoting reconciliation between Pakistan and Bangladesh, but at what price? The country is passing through such a critical stage that any misadventure will make the country in a position of strategic peril. Working on a well deliberated strategy, the detractors are leaving no stone un-turn to defame the sacred institution with an aim to draw a wedge between the people and armed forces. Cornering our own armed forces would be disastrous blunder for the country, especially when it is coping with militants in tribal areas, besides facing a perennial wave of suicide attacks on the security officials across the country. Such like developments have not only undermined public’s confidence in the military, it is also creating rifts amongst the high command with low-tier hierarchy command of the military. Pakistan Army is one of the most professional, responsible and goal-directed segment of the Pakistani society and this nation can never repay the debt of the Martyrs of our Armed Forces. Asking to apologize from Bangladesh for the wrong done by West Pakistan would be adding more vagaries to the guilt, especially in the light of Tripartite Agreement-1974, where Pakistan had already regretted the incidents that took place in 1971. At this critical juncture of Pakistan chequered history, it is the duty of every patriotic and peace-loving citizen of Pakistan to stop the anti-Pakistan elements from disparaging the army/ISI/civil administration. Criticism is always healthy for a thesis, but it should have been a balanced one, otherwise unnecessary criticism may be causing demoralization in military ranks. The COAS Gen. Kayani said that media campaign against Pakistan Army cause demoralization within institutions.
Nonetheless, harboring a four decade old resentment is not going to solve the rift between the two countries. We can take a fresh start by agreeing to forget past disagreements and differences. Although Pakistan shares a common cultural heritage and maintains kinship and religious affinity with the Muslim brethren of Bangladesh during all seasons, both the countries should mutually agree to strengthen cooperation in the fields of trade, economy, diplomacy, culture and people-to-people interface. However, the relationship between Pakistan and Bangladesh is still based on leaders and their perception of their own country’s relationship with India that determines the nature of bilateral ties between the two parts of what was undivided Pakistan. Both the countries need to reconcile with the historical facts that the large scale genocide in that distasteful era would not do good to respective future generations of both the Nations. This may be in contravention of the vision of Shiekh Mujibur Rahman who dreamt of prospective Bangladesh as a progressive and developed nation. There appears to be significant difference between opposing the military action in the then East Pakistan and those receiving awards for being friends of Bangladesh, especially in the backdrop of stated stance of Pakistan. Just as ‘unbiased scrutiny’ by the ECP has rejected the nomination papers of the former Pakistan Muslim League-N lawmaker and noted columnist Ayaz Amir, similarly, a closed scrutiny of remaining anchorpersons, bureaucrats, technocrats, politicians etc, who have sneaked into the Interim set-up, should be undertaken meticulously with the people having questionable track record ought to be brought to justice by democratic forces.