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Time For Pakistan To Apologize To Bangladesh

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Muhammad Ziauddin argues that Pakistan needs to apologise to the people of Bangladesh for the mistreatment they were subjected to and start seeing it as an independent country. Pakistan’s reluctance to do so is unnecessarily adversely impacting normal relations between the two independent countries, and India is benefiting from this hostility.

Now is just the right time for us to tender our heartfelt, sincere apologies to the people of Bangladesh for all the discrimination they were made to suffer during the 25 years they were part of Pakistan. Special forgiveness needs also to be sought from them for the bloody atrocities that were let loose against them in the last nine months that had led the dismemberment.

The matter as to who actually started the drift would always remain a matter of chicken and egg mired in history. The questions as to why do we need to apoligise for something that was ‘crafted’ by Indian military or even about the extent of human and material losses suffered during the military action in East Pakistan are now in the hands of impartial historians. Both of us need to accept their verdict.

In a couple of years, Bangladesh would be celebrating its 50th birthday. Time enough for Pakistanis to recall sans any acrimony or heartburn the circumstances under which our brothers from eastern wing departed Pakistan on December 16, 1971. Indian chicanery and its army though did exploit an already tenuous political link between the two wings in the final show down but it certainly was not what had actually caused the final split. On its part, India thought it was militarily debunking the raison deter of Pakistan. But what it actually did was to re-enforce Jinnah’s two-nation theory by helping one more Pakistan to emerge on the map of the subcontinent as a result of its military folly.

Let us take a pause here to delve a little deeper into British Raj’s history to throw into bold relief one of the major triggers that had set the stage for the passage of 1940 Lahore resolution which was moved by one of subcontinent’s greatest Muslim leaders, Maulvi Fazal-ul-Haq, well-known as the Sher-e-Bengal (lion of Bengal).

The then British Viceroy Lord Curzon partitioned Bengal on October 16, 1905 for administrative purposes, but the move actually separated the largely Muslim eastern areas from the largely Hindu western areas. The Hindus of West Bengal, who dominated Bengal’s business and rural life, were outraged. The partition animated the Muslims to form their own national organisation and as a follow up emerged Pakistan’s mother party, the All India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906. However, in order to appease the majority Hindu sentiment, Bengal was reunited by Lord Hardinge in 1911 as he annulled the partition in response to the Swadeshi movement’s riots in protest against the growing belief among Hindus that East Bengal would have its own courts and policies.

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This act of reunification of Bengal at the behest of its Hindu majority added one more argument to the prediction of Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan of Aligarh Movement fame that the majority would one day thrust its policies down the throats of the minority.

So, the seed of Pakistan movement was first sowed in what is Bangladesh today. But Pakistan’s history since the very first day of its emergence on 14th August 1947 is replete with events and developments that steadily pushed our brethren in the eastern wing to the point of no return. The quota system introduced in the early years of independence had excluded from the country’s governance the voice and participation of those who had worked and sacrificed relatively more for the liberation of Pakistan. This was immediately followed up by what was known as language movement which was a genuine struggle for recognizing Bangla as one of the two national languages along with Urdu.

Soon, the politically unpopular system of parity was introduced which brought the relatively more populated eastern wing politically at par with the western wing. Ayub Khan’s basic democracy further reduced the political presence of the people of eastern wing in the national scheme of things.

In due course of time, the eastern wing was turned into a captive market for the goods made in western wing. Most of the foreign exchange earned by exporting jute, the golden fibre of the eastern wing which compared to cotton, the silver fibre of western wing was much in demand the world over during the 1950s and 1960s, especially during the Korean war was being spent on boosting the economy of West Pakistan.

Most of the multilateral and bilateral assistance and the fruits of country’s economic growth were being spent on the development of western wing with a paltry share going to the eastern wing. And in the armed forces the presence of people from eastern wing was negligible because of the eligibility criteria of physical measurements (more suited to the physic of people of western wing) fixed for qualifying for entering the armed forces.

Even in civil services as well, the quota system had worked against the relatively more brilliant citizens of the eastern wing.

Indeed, if one were to study from a distance of almost 50 years and without discriminatory blinkers, the six points of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman would appear to be closer to the 18th Constitutional amendment which perhaps the Sheikh’s victorious party in the 1970 elections would have agreed to if the West Pakistani political leaders plus the then Army leadership had the willingness and the sagacity to sit across the table with the Sheikh. They could have negotiated as civilised people rather than ordering military action against our own people seemingly fed up of the ‘drain’ on our economy due mainly to what we perhaps mistakenly thought to be the perpetual backwardness and poverty of the people of the eastern wing.

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From one historical angle the whole episode of the dismemberment appears to be a pre-arranged move by West Pakistan to what at that time we thought of ‘good riddance’ of an extraordinarily heavy burden!

‘Ugly’ Pakistan

After having tendered a formal apology, the government of Pakistan should, on urgent footings, remove the ‘ugly’ Pakistan that is located right in the heart of Dhaka. The people living in this ghetto claim that they are Pakistanis who had in the bloody imbroglio of 1970-71 supported the elements which were opposed to the eastern wing going its separate way. But following independence of Bangladesh they were left behind by Pakistan unclaimed. Though in the early years, a good number of them was brought home but as the residual Pakistan got engrossed even more deeply in sorting out its new problems, these Pakistanis began receding from our memory.

We must, therefore, immediately do something about the issue. In fact, had we done this in time, perhaps we could have persuaded the Bangladesh government to spare the lives of those who were subsequently tried and hanged for helping the Pakistan Army during the civil war that preceded the emergence of Bangladesh.

As of today, Pakistan has no apparent conflict with Bangladesh except the ‘apology’ proviso hanging unnecessarily adversely impacting normal relations between the two independent countries. But since we had failed to follow up with all the political and diplomatic needful that could have helped bring the two nations back in a friendly embrace, Pakistan and Bangladesh drifted away from each other enhancing further our historic misunderstandings. This has created the needed space for India to use a willing Dhaka in its move to isolate Pakistan in South Asia.

We must, therefore, look at today’s Bangladesh with new glasses – as an independent country in the neighbourhood whose presence on our side would be more helpful than having it remain fixated in our 1971 memory. Today, Bangladesh is certainly a more advanced country than Pakistan itself in economic and social terms. Its political presence in the region as well in the comity of nations is more pronounced than many of its neighbours. So if we were to adopt a politically more pragmatic approach rather than looking at it from not -so -savory historical perspective we would certainly come to the conclusion that a friendly Bangladesh is a political and diplomatic necessity of Pakistan today.


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