A group of progressive Pakistani activists has published an important piece in Bangladesh’s Daily Star acknowledging and apologizing for Pakistan’s 1971 atrocities against the Bangladeshi people. The piece, We Apologize, was written by the members of Action for a Progressive Pakistan.
As Pakistanis, we find this unconscionable. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani army raped, killed and pillaged our brothers and sisters in East Pakistan in 1971. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani state has steadfastly refused to acknowledge these atrocities for the past 38 years, leave alone hold those responsible for them accountable as suggested by its own chief justice in the state commissioned inquiry.
In 1971, then “East Pakistan” (Bangladesh) politically separated from “West Pakistan,” following a breakdown in political discussions and the arrest of a major Bangladeshi political leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, by Pakistan’s dictator at the time, Yahya Khan. Khan then launched a brutal military assault on Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s secession followed years of resentment over language discrimination, political exclusion, and economic neglect. The two “parts” of Pakistan were on opposite sides of India and shared no physical border. Though both are Muslim regions, they are culturally quite different, with Bangladeshis’ mother tongue — Bengali — not spoken in what is Pakistan today.
(West) Pakistan’s military response to the Bangladeshi independence movement was quite brutal. It is alleged that Pakistani soldiers raped hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi women, and that many more civilians were slaughtered. Bangladesh achieved its independence with the help of the Indian military, all of which became part of the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971.
You can read the full opinion piece by Action for a Progressive Pakistan below. There is additional insightful discussion of the piece at Manan Ahmed’s Chapati Mystery.
On May 13, the government of Bangladesh demanded an unconditional apology from the government of Pakistan for war crimes committed during the 1971 army action in what was then East Pakistan. The Pakistani government’s response was to dismiss the demand, telling Bangladesh to “let bygones be bygones.” This was not the first time this demand was made, nor the first time it was dismissed with such flippancy by Pakistan.
Between March 25-26, 1971 — the start of the military offensive — and the signing of the instrument of surrender on December 16, 1971, the Pakistani army engaged in what essentially amounted to genocide against its own citizens for daring to demand that their electoral writ be implemented. The army’s atrocities were both indiscriminate and targeted — the rape of countless Bengali women, the killing of hundreds of Bengali intellectuals and students, and the senseless murder of hundreds of thousands of ordinary Bengalis and indigenous people, besides looting and pillaging on an unprecedented scale.
Nearly forty years on, even a reliable estimate of the number of people killed by the army isn’t possible because mass graves continue to be unearthed, a powerful testimony to the horror that was perpetrated on our people. This is the horror, which the Pakistani army continues to cravenly refuse to acknowledge.
The sole recognition of these atrocities — the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report, which was an official government of Pakistan panel — was ignominiously suppressed by then Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and successive governments, and declassified only in December 2000.
The outrageous dismissal of Bangladesh’s demand by the Pakistani foreign office — “let bygones be bygones” — is a shameful reflection of Pakistan’s constructed amnesia over the horrific actions of its army and its political leadership. Not only has there never been any move on the part of the Pakistani state to apologise to Bangladesh, there has not even been any sustained effort by citizens’ groups to pressure the government to publicly acknowledge the truth.
As Pakistanis, we find this unconscionable. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani army raped, killed and pillaged our brothers and sisters in East Pakistan in 1971. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani state has steadfastly refused to acknowledge these atrocities for the past 38 years, leave alone hold those responsible for them accountable as suggested by its own chief justice in the state commissioned inquiry. We reject the Pakistani state and army’s claim that these atrocities were committed in our name.
Today, as we stand at the brink of yet another army action aimed at our own people, at the brink of another human catastrophe brought about by and for the same interests and institutions, namely the Pakistani military, we remember 1971. We demand that our state acknowledge and apologise for the actions of its army, punish those responsible for the atrocities (and named in the HR Commission’s report) and pay reparations for the extensive infra-structural damage and looting to Bangladesh. Only through such expiation can we — as a people and a state — heal the wounds of the past and hope to build a new partnership with the people of Bangladesh.
The above apology to the Bangladeshi people for the atrocities of 1971 is made by the group, Action for a Progressive Pakistan. You may learn more about this group at its website: progpak.wordpress.com, or contact it at: firstname.lastname@example.org.