No lessons learnt in forty years

Published: December 15, 2011

The writer is assistant professor of history at Forman Christian College and an editor at Oxford University Press

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the day when Lt General AAK Niazi, martial law administrator and commander, Eastern Command Pakistan, unconditionally surrendered to Lt General Jagjit Singh Aurora, general officer commanding-in-chief India and Bangladesh forces in the Eastern Theatre. The bloody civil war between the people of East Pakistan and the military of West Pakistan started with Operation Searchlight on March 26, 1971, and finally came to an end after Pakistan’s pre-emptive attack on India on December 3, 1971 brought the direct intervention of the Indian military. After a 13-day direct confrontation, nearly 80,000 soldiers and 12,000 civilians were taken as prisoners of war by India. Pakistan was broken and Bangladesh was born.

During the long-drawn civil war, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people were tortured, raped and killed. The argument over how many people were exactly killed will continue, but what is important to recall is that the Pakistan Army, which was supposed to defend the borders of the country, went on a rampage. That is why the Bangladeshis observe March 26, 1971, the day when Pakistan declared war on its own people, rather than December 16, as their independence day.

The remainder of Pakistan, West Pakistan, almost immediately showed exemplary signs of amnesia, refusing to regret its role in the debacle and stubbornly rejecting to change its attitude. As a sign of defiance and, dare I say, insentitivity, Pakistan appointed General Tikka Khan, who was called the “Butcher of Bengal” by Time magazine for leading Operation Searchlight, as the chief of army staff in 1972, whereas this person should have been court-martialled for killing innocent civilians.

Similarly, we immediately forgot that the East Pakistan debacle was primarily caused by the unwillingness of the powers in Pakistan to allow the East Pakistanis to remain part of Pakistan on an equal footing — let us not forget that the six points of Mujibur Rahman were within the framework of a united Pakistan and not outside it. But we refused to accept that the country would only become strong if all ethnicities and regions were allowed autonomy within the federal framework. So, we charged the Sindhis with attempting to secede when they had only passed an act which gave official status to their own language — Sindhi — in 1972. In Balochistan, we went even further and launched yet another military operation against them in 1973 under General Tikka Khan, which lasted five years. Again, we unleashed our military on our own people, simply because they were demanding a share in national governance. Treating all parts of the federation honourably and giving them their fair share, is something which keeps evading us even now.

Deeply mired in conspiracy theories and imagined theories of ideology and identity, with an aversion to questioning and freethinking and hence lacking development, Pakistan is a country which is fast choking on its own vomit. It is as if we know that we are sick and are about to vomit, but rather than letting the bad stuff out and dealing with the disease, we try to keep it in so much so that we are well on our way to choking ourself to death. Better still, a section of our society, echoing the sentiments of Jinnah himself, wants to keep ‘its conscience clean’ and does not even want to acknowledge the sickness.

Let me leave you with one real life example of how we still refuse to even accept, let alone learn, from the East Pakistan debacle. In my Pakistan Studies class at Forman Christian College, I spent a whole week on the Bangladesh issue. Teaching them just the bare facts of the whole problem, I could see how uneasy most of the students were, some shocked by what they had learnt, some regretful, but still there were some who refused to even accept that some atrocities might have been committed. At one point, we had a heated debate in the class when a person refused to believe that a Bengali Muslim woman, whose first-hand account we had just read, had been repeatedly raped and tortured. Another student directly confronted this person and said, “Will you only accept her story if she gets raped in front of you?”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2011.

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Reader Comments (44)

  • thinktank
    Dec 15, 2011 - 11:49PM

    Well said.. I propose that first you start by implementing strict rule of law- punish guys from LET and JUD, stop covert support to cross border militancy, deport dawood ibrahim, cease interference in other country’s affairs. Next step would be conduct free and fair elections, you can then reduce military expenditure and divert that money to development. After all that you can think of giving equal representation to all sections of society. My point – there are matters far more pressing than equal representation. Its a long term plan dude…

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  • faraz
    Dec 15, 2011 - 11:50PM

    It was an unusual occasion in history where a majority sought independence from a minority after its electoral mandate was rejected.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 15, 2011 - 11:58PM

    And yes we learn lesson and thats why children of those Faujis build it WMD for pakistan so
    in the future no one break us.

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 16, 2011 - 12:16AM

    @faraz,
    hahhahahahahah its nice one man.

    Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 16, 2011 - 12:21AM

    Yes we learned lesson and thats why children of thsose Faujis build it WMD for pakistan so
    in the future no one can dare to break us apart…

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  • Patrik
    Dec 16, 2011 - 12:25AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    My dear friend, soviet union had a lot of WMDs but still it broke up and now former members of soviet union have joined NATO. WMD do not protect against self destruction

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  • M
    Dec 16, 2011 - 12:50AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    So your plan is to nuke Balochistan & Sindh if they threaten to secede?

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  • Nadir
    Dec 16, 2011 - 1:13AM

    We should also remember how many Pakistanis were left to fend for themselves in Bangladesh. They still flew the Pakistani flag over the refugee camps and it was only until a few years ago that the Bangladeshi government offered its citizenships to children and grandchildren of those refugees, Like everything else they became a forgotten population for West Pakistanis, who for all there emotional buster on honour and patriotism had no qualms forgetting the plight of those who remained Pakistanis in the face of the partition of the country.

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  • Babloo
    Dec 16, 2011 - 1:59AM

    @M, Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, if they are ever used, will most likely be used in a suicidal act , born out of vengeance, against its own people.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 16, 2011 - 2:49AM

    @Babloo,
    Dont wory nothing gonna happend man u dont scare.
    @M,
    Why making U-Turn out of my message.

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  • A Fahran
    Dec 16, 2011 - 3:53AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    Ali-no critical judgement-Pakistan will break into two overnight if not for resistance offered by US and others like Afghanistan-we simply can do it and nuclear weapons have actually made you weak and fragile nation. Today its not India but NATO will bomb you to stone age if you act irresponsibly.

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  • JM
    Dec 16, 2011 - 4:49AM

    I am surprised that everybody is blaming the army for the break up of Pakistan. How come no no one is accusing ZAB along with the army for the break up the country. It was ZAB who had threatened ot break the legs of any MNA who dared to attend the NA session in Dhaka. It was Mir Khalilur Rehman who had written an editorial in Jang that we will not tolerate Sheikh Mujib for even 24 hours.

    Let us not blame a single entity for the break up of Paksitan. I personally feel that ZAB in connivance with the army, media and some Punjabi elites conspired to break this country so that ZAB could be the Prime Minister or President of theis truncated country.

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  • M
    Dec 16, 2011 - 4:55AM

    @Ali Tanoli:
    Just trying to shatter the delusional world you guys live in. If the nukes were supposed to protect the Pakistani state then that objective has failed miserably. In fact you should be more worried about terrorists gaining hold of the nukes. The rest of the world indeed is.

    Who needs external enemies when a deep rot has set within. Here are some grim stats:
    – 1000′s of innocent people are killed each year by suicide bombers
    – US is carrying out bombing missions and killing your soldiers with impunity. The politicians and army will make convenient noises but not do anything because they fear the aid on which their grand lifestyles are based will be cutoff.
    – China is shamelessly grabbing territory piece by piece without giving anything of significance in return(protection,aid,investment,etc)
    – Sectarian violence is rampant. Now that Hindus & Christians have been virtually eliminated, it is one Islamic sect against another
    – Leaders who talk about human rights are gunned down and their assassins are worshiped
    – Not even visting foreign sports teams are spared by terrorists
    – Last but not the least Osama was killed in a daring raid right under the noses of your armed forces who at best harbored him & at worst had no clue of his being in Pakistan(The only institution that supposedly works)

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  • You Said It
    Dec 16, 2011 - 5:01AM

    @M:
    So your plan is to nuke Balochistan & Sindh if they threaten to secede?

    This proves Pakistan has learnt a lesson in 40 years: if you have to conduct a genocide against your own people, don’t let it drag out over 9 months. Get it over with in a couple of days. ;o)

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  • cantargue
    Dec 16, 2011 - 5:23AM

    This is really one ‘soul searching’ article.

    Now, about comments regarding the ‘owners of WMD’ – it has been a while since pakistan had these fearsome weapons. But it didn’t matter one bit during the Kargill fiasco.Mr.Sharif still had to get President Clinton’s help to stop the escalating situation.

    It hasn’t done a thing to stop the drones from taking out the terrorists one by one.

    So, when exactly are these ‘ Crown jewels of WMD’ supposed to step in and restore the glory that is rightfully pakistan’s!

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  • American Desi
    Dec 16, 2011 - 5:31AM

    Denialistan, and that’s what it is. People who don’t learn from history tend to repeat it.

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  • vasan
    Dec 16, 2011 - 6:20AM

    Ali Tanoli : After all that had happened in bangladesh, after all the Humudoor commission report, you still think it is the Pak army that will safeguard Pakistan. What a delusion. Most of Pak’s problems , both civil and military are due to 2 reasons, Its imagined enimity with India (again created by Pak army) and the encashment of the fear to the Army’s own welfare. Unless and until your army comes out of both, no clear econimic upgradation will happen to Pakistan now that US is planning to stop its aid

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  • Dec 16, 2011 - 6:32AM

    In the end of 1970′s I arrived in the US as a student, and was shown the NY library with which I fell in love, for I had never seen anything remotely similar in Pakistan wherein libraries were non existent. I went to NY news papers archives and began to search the Pakistan surrender and lo and behold, every word of history I had learned in Pakistan was an outright lie. I read the history from several perspectives and found what happened in the 1960′s in our first major war. Later on in the US I met Bangladeshi academics and students who shared their stories, one of the academic had lost his father in the massacre of the countries elite educators belonging to the Universities who were brought into the stadium and were butchered by our army. Yet this man never held me responsible for their acts and became my best friend. Until we read the truth and hold war crimes trials we will never be absolved of our collective acts. Indeed those who committed war crimes are dead, however their trials must take place to rest the blame appropriately and for our children to learn about our acts and omissions.

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  • allasia
    Dec 16, 2011 - 7:19AM

    WMD dont protect unless you want to commit suicide. Without financial aid from my country (USA) you would have been bankrupt long ago. Without Clinton’s help India would have cleaned your clock during Kargil.

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  • N
    Dec 16, 2011 - 8:15AM

    One very good article written by a man with decency and courage. Recommend

  • PakiKaki
    Dec 16, 2011 - 10:07AM

    @JM:
    Ofcourse the author blames the powers that refused to accept East Pakistan as part of it. That power was ZAB who in his mindless ambition of becoming the prime minister, catalysed the break up of East Pakistan. What the army did is another story…
    BTW great article Yaqoob.

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  • KZ
    Dec 16, 2011 - 11:38AM

    To the victors go the spoils.
    Indeed atrocities were committed by the Army on the Bengalis but what of the violence against non-Bengalis especially against the mainly Urdu speaking people who migrated to East Pakistan from India at the time of partition. History needs to shed some light here.

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  • Zalim singh
    Dec 16, 2011 - 1:02PM

    great article indeed. Pakistan is onto real history.Not fabricated one.

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  • wonderer
    Dec 16, 2011 - 2:37PM

    Well said Sir.

    I have been wanting to put across, for a long time, the very thoughts you have expressed, but could not due mainly to the fact that I am a Pakistani Indian who also happens to be one of those who took the surrender of Pakistani forces in Dhaka. Who would believe me?

    Thanks!

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  • Meekal Ahmed
    Dec 16, 2011 - 3:11PM

    The 6 Points were not within the framework of a united Pakistan. You should read it again.

    If I recall it correctly, the 6 Points said that only defense and currency should remain at the center and everything else would be devolved. It was like a decleration of independence.

    None of this is intended to cover-up or make excuses for the crimes that were comitted.

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  • sagar
    Dec 16, 2011 - 4:58PM

    I also remember the brave way in which 90,000 of pakistanis Marched valiantly into India and ate up all of our Rations.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 16, 2011 - 6:01PM

    @Patrick
    Soviet union collapesed also because of pakistan if we did not helped that time american or afghan were not able to do any thing even in westren cpitals every one in believed that Red
    flag is got kabul so just lived with it and it was pak army or i will say Akhter Abdul rehman
    who said do or die and that was a reason all illegal occupation of esat europe and central asia
    got end and by the way why west did not do any thing when russian were marching in east germony and whole eastren europe and one last thing why russian never dare to accopy turkey??? and one more thing for them WMD were cursed but for us they are god gifts u know why i think u do if not can see ground realities..
    @M,
    why this all happening i think whole world knows and who starts it and when its gonna finish
    that we know tooo.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 16, 2011 - 7:01PM

    @A Farhan,
    Ye jahan nahi zaheefow ka.

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  • narayana murthy
    Dec 16, 2011 - 7:10PM

    @Wonderer…

    What do you mean by “a Pakistani Indian” and “took the surrender of Pakistani forces”?

    Explain, please.

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  • You Said It
    Dec 16, 2011 - 7:17PM

    @Meekal Ahmed:
    If I recall it correctly, the 6 Points said that only defense and currency should remain at the center and everything else would be devolved. It was like a decleration of independence.

    You confuse autonomy and independence. You implicitly argue that countries cannot stay united when power is devolved to member units. To say that this was a declaration of independence indicates you are making the same mistake that Yahya and Bhutto did, which was to treat Bengalis as dissidents and traitors.

    Given the distance between the two parts, and the disproportional governance, it was only natural that Bengalis would want to manage trade and tax revenues. Allowing some goods to come in only from West Pakistan made them prohibitively expensive in East Pakistan. Development needs were also different.

    Evidence proves that countries which have strong local governments, also tend to have stronger and better democracy.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 16, 2011 - 7:27PM

    Central Asians and East European should be thankfull to pakistan for there freedom,.Recommend

  • antony
    Dec 16, 2011 - 8:00PM

    @Ali, The above composition of english words show you dont possess the minimum writing skills in english required in US and still by their mercy you are there and still talking about using nuclear weapons against balochistan ,US etc.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 16, 2011 - 8:12PM

    Bhutto sahab was a great man he saved pakistan from becoming a sinking Putson boat.

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  • wonderer
    Dec 16, 2011 - 8:55PM

    @narayana murthy

    Pakistani Indian – I was born in what is now Pakistan, but had to escape to India in October,1947 to save my life.

    “took the surrender of Pakistani forces”- I was among those Indian military forces that liberated Bangladesh along with Mukti Bahini. I was in Dhaka this day 40 years ago.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 16, 2011 - 9:20PM

    @Antony
    There are millions of italians and south american and also indians who are living for decades
    and dont know english so please for u this is enough.

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  • V K Bajaj (Delhi)
    Dec 16, 2011 - 9:39PM

    @ Bangash

    Really it is a balanced write-up.

    Bangladesh’s main demand from Pak is still there to say sorry for killing and raping own countrymen.

    Bhutto was also a key and involved person so a reference to his role must have been mentioned.

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  • narayana murthy
    Dec 16, 2011 - 10:26PM

    @Wonderer…

    U must be at least 85 years old!!! Coherent in English. Good. By the way, u are not a Pakistani Indian. U r Indian.

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  • Raj NJ
    Dec 16, 2011 - 10:31PM

    @Ali Tanoli

    Agreed upon what you said about Italians, South Amricans and Indians. But any given day they support America over nation they left behind. They migrated with Hearts and body.

    Reminds me of the saying – You cannot live in a country with your hearts some where else

    Tired of ranting how bad west is. As recent as the debacle of Lowe’s pulling the ads and how the Senator/Congressman from California asking for explanation is the building block of this west and how will they stay afront because of their philosophies.

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 17, 2011 - 5:42PM

    Raj,
    Why NRI (Non residential indians) support, lobbiest, and comment for india even they abandon india for long long time ????

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  • Ali Tanoli
    Dec 17, 2011 - 6:12PM

    what happening to us thats we know and feels.

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  • wonderer
    Dec 17, 2011 - 6:18PM

    All those interested in the events in East Pakistan are referred to this vey interesting article in BBC News Magazine:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16207201

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  • Deb
    Dec 17, 2011 - 10:54PM

    The 1971 East Pakistan issue was unique in one sense.The only time the Army and the civilians were together on board.A pip into the newspapers and public opinion prevailing those days will bring out interesting revealations.

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  • Raj NJ
    Dec 18, 2011 - 3:15AM

    Why NRI (Non residential indians) support, lobbiest, and comment for india even they abandon india for long long time ????

    The question here is supporting the west and enjoying all the priveleges extended by them.

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  • Deb
    Dec 18, 2011 - 3:29PM

    Sorry for the typo. It’s ‘peep’ not ‘pip’.

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