As Bangladesh celebrates independence day I am reminded of the human rights violation, war crimes and atrocities that I witnessed as a child. I first saw a young man hung by the electric pole not far from our house in Saidpur- but it was the beginning of a series of horrendous events that I will never forget. Instead of recounting my personal encounter during the historic events of 1971, I am reposting an article by Malik Rashid:
16 December 1971 marked the end of a nine month long saga of chaos; genocide, arson and rape, when Pakistan army surrendered East Pakistan to the Indian army. This day is etched as the day of ultimate betrayal in the hearts and minds of many Pakistanis who were promised by their President and Commander in chief that the fight would continue indefinitely, just a few hours before their 96,000 soldiers surrendered in Dhaka.
“Kill three million of them,” said President Yahya Khan, “and the rest will eat out of our hands.” Robert Payne writes in his book titled ‘Massacre’, referring to a meeting of Pakistan army’s top brass held
on February 22, 1971.
“For month after month in all the regions of East Pakistan the massacres went on,” writes Robert Payne. “They were not the small casual killings of young officers who wanted to demonstrate their
efficiency, but organized massacres conducted by sophisticated staff officers, who knew exactly what they were doing. Muslim soldiers, sent out to kill Muslim peasants, went about their work mechanically and efficiently, until killing defenseless people became a habit like smoking cigarettes or drinking wine. … Not since Hitler invaded Russia had there been so vast a massacre.” Robert Payne goes on to assert through his analysis that military dictatorship is the most corrupt form of government.
R.J. Rummel, in his book ‘Death by government’ describes: These “willing executioners” were fuelled by an abiding anti-Bengali racism, especially against the Hindu minority. “Bengalis were often
compared with monkeys and chickens” said Pakistani General Niazi, ‘It was a low lying land of low lying people.’ The Hindus among the Bengalis were as Jews to the Nazis: scum and vermin that [should] best
be exterminated. As to the Moslem Bengalis, they were to live only on the sufferance of the soldiers: any infraction, any suspicion cast on them, any need for reprisal, could mean their death. And the soldiers were free to kill at will. The journalist Dan Coggin quoted one Punjabi captain as telling him, ‘We can kill anyone for anything. We are accountable to no one.’ This is the arrogance of Power.
Susan Brownmiller, in her book “Against our will: Men, women and rape” puts the number of women raped from 200,000 to 400,000. She wrote, “Eighty percent of the raped women were Moslems, reflecting the population of Bangladesh, but Hindu and Christian women were not exempt. … Hit-and-run rape of large numbers of Bengali women was brutally simple in terms of logistics as the Pakistani regulars swept through and occupied the tiny, populous land …” Brownmiller quotes a description of one such assault which targeted a recently-married woman, as reported by Aubrey Menen: “Two [Pakistani soldiers] went into the room that had been built for the bridal couple. The others
stayed behind with the family, one of them covering them with his gun. They heard a barked order, and the bridegroom’s voice protesting. Then there was silence until the bride screamed. Then there was silence again, except for some muffled cries that soon subsided. In a few minutes one of the soldiers came out, his uniform in disarray. He grinned to his companions. Another soldier took his place in the extra room. And so on, until all the six had raped the belle of the village. Then all six left, hurriedly. The father found his daughter lying on the string cot unconscious and bleeding. Her husband was crouched on the floor, kneeling over his vomit.”
The human death toll reported during this nine month long genocide varies from 300,000 to 3 million. Mukti Bahini, the armed volunteers waging guerilla war against Pakistan army with the help of India,
avenged by murdering Biharis, the urdu-speaking migrants. Tens of thousands of Bihari men, women and children were murdered, their property looted and women raped. Biharis saw another round of murder after December 16, as Bengalis celebrated their independence by killing the friends of Pakistan army.
With signing of the surrender document, 96,000 Pakistani soldiers and civilians were interned into Indian jails and camps. Indian government that gloated on the success of their war against traditional rivals and gleefully announced themselves as liberators of Bengalis, did not mind sending the perpetrators of genocide back to Pakistan, after a deal was struck on border disputes. Those who committed murder and rape of their fellow countrymen in East Pakistan returned home to
receive pension from the national ex-chequer and they were awarded lands. A commission was set to investigate the war but its findings were never made public in Pakistan.
Two and a half million Biharis languished in refugee camps and their demand to be repatriated to Pakistan was struck down by various Pakistani governments. Families in those refugee camps lived under inhuman conditions for almost four decades and saw another generation grow-up. A few months ago the Supreme Court of Bangladesh decreed that Biharis be considered citizens of the country and allowed them to vote.
The army took over the rein of power again in Pakistan in 1977 and executed the elected Prime minister. They partnered with America in their war against Soviet Union in Afghanistan and the world forgot their crimes of 1971. There was military operation in Baluchistan. Sindhis were brutalized during Zia’s regime and Pakhtuns have been thrown in a war for 3 decades. The army/ISI, with its choke-hold on President Zardari’s government seems poised to push Sindhis into a clash again.
Pakistan army continues with its murderous ways and receives praise and aid for its efforts. With the International tribunal conducting trials and issuing warrants against culprits of crimes against humanity, one wonders whether Pakistan army did commit any crime or the victims of their crimes were not humans.