Bangladesh’s foreign minister on Friday asked his Pakistani counterpart to apologise for “war crimes” committed by the army during the 1971 war, a ministry official said.
Dipu Moni made the request during a meeting in Dhaka with Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar following previous discussions about the issue between the two countries, said Bangladesh’s Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes.
“The foreign minister has raised the 1971 issue and expects that Pakistan would apologise at one stage,” Quayes told reporters after the meeting.
“There are some unresolved issues between the two governments and he expects that Pakistan would come forward to resolve them,” Quayes said.
Khar was on a six-hour visit to Bangladesh to formally invite Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to a summit scheduled to be held in Islamabad on November 22.
“The Pakistani foreign minister said that they have regretted in different forms in the past and that it was time to move forward,” Quayes said.
Bangladesh, formerly called East Pakistan, was created in December 1971 following a bloody war. The war began after tens of thousands of people were killed in Dhaka when then-West Pakistan launched Operation Searchlight against separatists who were aided by Indian troops.
The current government says up to three million people were killed in the war, many murdered by locals collaborating with Pakistani forces. It has set up special tribunals to try the collaborators for war crimes.
Musharraf already apologised: official
The long-standing demand by Bangladesh to Pakistan for an apology over the excesses committed by the army against the then citizens of East Pakistan has no justification as Islamabad has already tendered an apology, a senior official in the ministry of foreign affairs told The Express Tribune, requesting anonymity.
Former president Gen Pervez Musharraf during his visit to Dhaka had already tendered the apology in July 2002, the official said.
Musharaf had expressed his regrets twice during his stay in the Bangladesh capital which was welcomed by the then prime minister Khalida Zia. However, the opposition, particularly the Awami League party, did not consider it sufficient and maintained that Musharraf should have specifically asked for apology. The opposition said that Musharraf expressed his regrets in vague terms.
The opposition demanded that Pakistan should specifically ask for an unconditional apology over the excesses committed by its army against the people of Bangladesh during the 1971 independence war. Islamabad claims that the apology tendered by Musharraf should suffice as it was accepted by the then government in Dhaka.
Gen Musharraf visited a war memorial at Savar, near capital Dhaka and left a handwritten note in the visitors’ booth. “Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pain of the events in 1971,” Musharraf wrote. “The excesses committed during the unfortunate period are regretted. Let us bury the past in the spirit of magnanimity. Let not the light of the future be dimmed”. Later he repeated his regrets at an official banquet in Dhaka.
AGENCIES (WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY QAISER BUTT IN ISLAMABAD)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 10th, 2012.