On December 12, 2013, at exactly 2201 hours Bangladesh time, a leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, Abdul Quader Molla, was hanged for ‘war crimes’ perpetrated during the 1971 civil war. The execution brought violence to the already tense Bangladesh, with Jamaat supporters going on a rampage killing innocent civilians — reminiscent of the days of 1971 when Jamaat supporters went on a similar rampage. The future of a democratic Pakistan was at stake in 1970-1, just as the future of a democratic and secular Bangladesh is at stake now. This execution, coming days before the anniversary of ‘Victory Day’ — December 16 — in Bangladesh, and ‘Surrender day’ in Pakistan, shows how the wounds of yesteryears are still fresh and need to be addressed with honesty, humility and justice.
Recently, a visitor to Lahore remarked how, remarkably, the 1947 Partition is still a topic of conversation in the city. It is as if the event took place just a few years ago, and that people are still trying to come to terms with it. Indeed, Lahore, and Punjab in general, on both sides, has only recently begun to grapple with the cataclysmic events of 1947 which rent asunder this land. While we have begun to understand and unpack 1947, the events of 1971 have yet to be understood, accepted and atoned for. Since Pakistan suffered a humiliating military defeat, resulting in the dismemberment of the country, and the resultant questions it raised about the ‘Two-Nation’ theory and its implications for the initial rationale of the country, Pakistan has always shrugged from even talking about the tragedy. However, the recent war crimes trials in Bangladesh, while being partially politically motivated, do show that the Bangladeshi nation still reels from the pains of 1971 and our consistent state of denial about it only makes it worse.
As expected, the reaction to the execution of Molla has been shameful in Pakistan. While the Foreign Office, rightly, gave a very subdued statement, other sections were appalling in their self-deception. The Pakistan branch of the Jamaat-e-Islami, shamelessly protested the execution of the criminal and, in fact, the Jamaat’s posters have Molla as ‘Rehmat ullah Alai,’ and ‘Shaheed’. Such glorified portrayal of a criminal should be condemned at every opportunity and deserves no further comment.
However, what was really saddening was that our usually sensible federal minister of the interior also made unfortunate remarks. According to news reports, Chaudhry Nisar stated that “Till the very end, before (the) creation of Bangladesh, he (Molla) remained (a) supporter of a united Pakistan and today every Pakistani is saddened and grieved on his death”. While Molla might have supported a united Pakistan, something Sheikh Mujib also supported till it became impossible to keep the country together, the killing of scores of fellow countrymen and women can never, ever, be justified in the name of the country. I am sure that there are millions of my fellow citizens of Pakistan who would never condone the killing of innocent people in the name of the country, and would in fact be glad that a heinous criminal has received the just reward for his actions. As a Pakistani, I am neither ‘saddened’ nor ‘grieved’ by Molla’s death.
Chaudhry Nisar also said that “with this unfortunate incident, an effort is made to revive old wounds of the past”. While it is sensible to move past an incident after some time, it is not easy to do so when there has been no justice, no reconciliation. Just imagine if we ask the same of the Kashmiri people? Surely after 65 years they should also ‘forget’ the wounds of the past? The ‘wounds of the past’ will only fully heal if we honestly accept them and atone for them.
The Hamoodur Rahman Commission report gave numerous instances where Pakistani officers and civil servants admitted that scores of Bengalis had been killed indiscriminately. Military officers noted that “there were verbal instructions to kill Hindus,” that, “army personnel acted under the influence of revenge and anger during the military operation,” and that “Many junior and other officers took the law into their own hands to deal with the so-called miscreants”. The Additional Deputy Commissioner of Dacca noted: “after the military action the Bengalis were made aliens in their own homeland. People were picked up from their homes on suspicion and dispatched to Bangladesh, a term used to describe summary executions…” With this, and more, admitted by our own men, we should apologise to Bangladesh and set up a ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ to finally deal with the events of 1971—our religion demands it, our country demands it, humanity demands it.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 19th, 2013.