Shahbag Square — why we Pakistanis don’t know and don’t care

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By Pervez Hoodbhoy

Published: February 15, 2013

The writer retired as professor of physics from Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad

Shahbag Square — where’s that? Abdul Kader Mullah — who’s he?

A bunch of university students in Islamabad, with whom I was informally conversing yesterday, hadn’t heard of either. Of course, they knew of Tahrir Square and Afzal Guru’s recent execution. But they showed little interest upon learning that Shahbag Square was in Dhaka and that, as we spoke, the city was seething with protest. Between 100,000 to 500,000 Bengalis had converged to Shahbag to sing patriotic songs, recite poems and read out episodes from Bangladesh’s history of the Liberation War. At the centre of the protesters’ demands was Abdul Kader Mullah’s fate.

On February 5, the Bangladesh International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) found Mullah guilty in five out of the six charges against him. Known as Mirpurer Koshai (Butcher of Mirpur) because of his atrocities against citizens in the Mirpur area of Dhaka, he was charged with beheading a poet, raping an 11-year-old girl and murdering 344 people. The ICT sentenced Mullah, presently assistant secretary general of the Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, to life in prison. For the protesters in Shahbag Square, this isn’t enough — they want Mullah hanged. On the other side, the Jamaat-e-Islami protested violently and also took out demonstrations. But its efforts to influence global opinion foundered in spite of a well-funded effort.

Curiously enough, Mullah’s case has been taken up by the government of Turkey. President Abdullah Gül sent a letter last month to the president of Bangladesh requesting clemency for all those accused of mass murder. Fortunately, Turkey’s president appears to be an exception and much of the world has shown little regard for genocidal killers.

Pakistan has shown zero interest in Mullah’s fate. The media is silent and the Foreign Office has not issued any statement. This is quite ironical because, like the forgotten Biharis of East Pakistan, Mullah has been abandoned although he subscribed to the Two-Nation Theory and had fought alongside the Pakistan Army for a united Pakistan. In 1971, local political and religious militia groups like Razakar, Al-Badr and Al-Shams assisted Pakistani soldiers in the mass killings of Bengalis, often singling out Hindus. Many militia members were also members of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

The disinterest in Shahbag Square epitomises the enormous gulf that separates Bangladesh from Pakistan. The period of our national history — where 54 per cent of the country’s population chose to secede from the other 46 per cent — remains supremely inconsequential to Pakistanis. For them, Bangladesh could well be on the other side of the moon. The question is: why?

Searching for an answer, I browsed through textbooks currently used in Pakistani schools. The class-five Social Studies text (English), taught to 12-year olds, begins with citing the differences between Hindus and Muslims (e.g. Hindus burn the wife after her husband dies but Muslims don’t), the need to be aware of the hidden enemies of Pakistan (religious extremists are not mentioned) and the importance of unceasing jihad. It devotes a total of three sentences to a united Pakistan, the last of which reads: “With the help of India, East Pakistan separated.”

The class-eight Pakistan Studies textbook (English) is still briefer and simply states that, “Some leaders of former East Pakistan with the active help of India managed to break away from Pakistan and established Bangladesh.” The class nine-10 (Urdu) book — by far the most detailed — devotes nearly three pages to explaining the disintegration. The listed subtitles include: a) Incompetent government of Yahya Khan; b) Hindu domination of trade; c) Nefarious role of Hindu teachers; d) Language problems; e) Indian interference; f) The elections of 1970.

Having seen only grotesque caricatures of history, it is impossible for Pakistan’s youth to understand 1971. But how can I blame them? Those of us who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s knew in our hearts that East and West Pakistan were one country but not one nation. Young people today cannot imagine the rampant anti-Bengali racism among West Pakistanis then. With great shame, I must admit that, as a thoughtless young boy, I, too, felt embarrassed about small and dark people being among my compatriots. Victims of a delusion, we thought that good Muslims and Pakistanis were tall, fair and spoke chaste Urdu. Some schoolmates would laugh at the strange sounding Bengali news broadcasts from Radio Pakistan.

Even as they agonise about ‘losing’ the East, many Pakistanis still believe that 1971 was a military defeat rather than a political one. Dr AQ Khan, who met with Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Munawar Hasan this week, writes that nuclear bombs could have kept Pakistan intact: “If we had had nuclear capability before 1971, we would not have lost half of our country — present-day Bangladesh — after disgraceful defeat.”

But would this have really worked? Even with a bomb, the Pakistan Army would be surrounded by a hostile population and peppered by the Mukti Bahini’s guerilla attacks. Though armed with tanks and aircraft, the weakness of West Pakistan’s position was irreversible. With a hostile India in between, the logistics of supplying 90,000 troops from a thousand miles away were simply horrendous. India had, of course, refused permission for over-flights, leaving only the sea route. A long war would have left Pakistan bankrupt. More importantly, all occupying forces — including the Indian Army in Kashmir and the Americans in Afghanistan — typically exact disproportionate retribution when attacked. The atrocities of occupiers heighten local resentment and add hugely to the insurgency.

I am still trying to understand our good doctor’s suggestion. Could the bomb have been used on the raging pro-independence mobs in Dhaka? Or used to incinerate Calcutta and Delhi, and have the favour duly returned to Lahore and Karachi? Threatening India with a nuclear attack may have kept it out of the war, but then East Pakistanis would have been massacred wholesale.

History cannot be undone but it’s time to move on. Bangladesh is right in demanding an apology from Pakistan — one which we have so far refused to give. Let us do so now and start a new chapter in the relationship between our two states. If we have the honesty and courage to take this step, as a bonus, the problem of Balochistan might become a tad easier to understand — and perhaps, solve.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 16th, 2013.

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30 Responses to Shahbag Square — why we Pakistanis don’t know and don’t care

  1. Ghulam Faruq Hamim says:

    Thank you Mr Parvez from Bangladesh for writing your opinions which truly echoes your reflective mind. Also thanks for understanding the real truth behind the trtagic history of Bangladesh and the then Pakistan’s role.

  2. Pingback: Shahbag Square — why we Pakistanis don’t know and don’t care « drikbd

  3. Kamar Khan says:

    Indeed, an eye-operner for the Pakistani youth. Only should we accept the realities with open heart.

  4. Sabir Majumder says:

    I do not think Pakistanis will ever understand the depth of the crisis of 1971 given the fact of the arogant and ignorant nation since it very inception in 1947. If they do, it will be grace in disguise for the current nation of Pakistan. If they don’t, forget about Bangladesh, the current Pakistan will be splintered into 4 more states/countires starting with Balochistan. I am pleasantly surprised that the author was brave enough to accept the really of Bangladesh with an additional indication of the “Problem of Balochistan’.

  5. In 71 I was working with a Bengali language daily PURBODESH( eastern country)published by Observer House owned by former foreign minister of Pakistan late Hamidul Haque Chowdhury in 1956.The house used to advocate democracy and was very critical of economic disparity between East and West. In 71 I was only 31 and now 73. I use to write on economic issues. There was huge disparity between EAST and WEST in every field of life.The rulers of Pakistan was blind on this very important issue.
    The general election of 70 was based on one man one vote and Sheikh Mujib became the champion of rights of East Pakistani people. Naturally he became the leader of the majority party Awami League. General Yahya should have made Mujib Prime Minister of Pakistan.But unfortunately Gen.Yahya hatched a conspiracy with Bhutto and went for a military action to solve the problem through FORCE ignoring what action India would take. That was the great mistake of Pakistani junta. India took or avail the opportunity to dismember Pakistan and thus created a new independent state Bangladesh with 90 per cent muslim population. Sheikh Saheb never wanted to dismember Pakistan because he fought for Pakistan as a young Muslim League worker in Calcutta.
    Pakistan Government should have had asked for apology much earlier for the atrocities committed by Pakistani military and to start a new era of relationship between two muslim nation.Still time is there for Pakistan to ask for formal apology to Bangladeshi people.And I think there is no shame in asking apology for the sin/mistakes from another muslim brother. I repeat again that Gen Yahya and Bhutto are responsible for dismemberment of Pakistan.

  6. Shelley Shahabuddin. says:

    I salute Mr. Parvez for his understanding and fearless expression. I agree with all that Mr. Mojumder said above. I shall just add that Yahya, Bhutto, Pakistan Army & Fundamentalists (Headed by Jamaat E Islam) divided Pakistan.

    In 1952, we were angry because we were asked to abandon our mother tongue. But we did not want a divided Pakistan. In 1971, we wanted only autonomy. Till 25th March midnight, I had no idea that anyone is thinking about a divided Pakistan. But at the strike of midnight on 25th March, there was a SHOCK & AWE type military action in Dhaka city, followed by the rest of the country. I came to know at that moment in my heart that Bengal is not going to be a part of Pakistan any more.

    I was working as a physician and I could not leave my patients. But after about 6 months, I was planning to join the guerrilla war, but India brought it to a quick end. It would have been better for Bangladesh if the war was prolonged like Vietnam. It would have given us the opportunity to wipe out the fundamentalists.

    With the help of Jamaat informers General Rao Forman Ali drafted a secret list of top Bengali intellectuals to be abducted and killed in December 71, when defeat was apparent. My sister was among them. Jamaat and its militias executed the plan. This War Crimes Trial is about these fundamentalists.

    Pakistan is still run by the Military.

    In Bangladesh, post war counterrevolutionaries brought the Fundamentalists back to power. Till recently, they were running Bangladesh.

    In 2008 Election, the young generation of Bangladesh voted them out. But the fundamentalists have unlimited fund from the Monarchs of middle east. They have enormous financial and illegal ARMS muscle. They were about to derail the War Crimes Trial. But the young generation of Bangladesh is showing at Shahbagh that they will not let that happen.
    The counterrevolutionary governments tried to do the same thing through the text books of Bangladesh to misinform the school & college students. They still do that in the Madrassas.
    But a large section of intellectuals of Bangladesh (Writers, poets, singers, dancers, stage actors, painters, Journalists, all others) kept on working and presenting on the real history of Liberation and its spirits. The young generation of Bangladesh learned the truth, in spite of misinformation in their textbooks. Some of these intellectuals are still getting killed by fundamentalists and all of them get threatened.

    Bangladesh is suffering, but it will prevail ultimately. That is the message of Shahbagh.

    Pakistan is suffering, and is showing signs of impending coma. Only when I see people like Malala, and Mr. Parvez speaking up at enormous risk, I have a flicker of hope for this dying country.

  7. suzaal@gmail.com says:

    The wound is too deep to heal even after 42 years. Kind comments from Mr. Parvez is just a try to be Bangladesh’s friend. But one thing I would like to remind you that Jamaet Islami Bangladeh is still getitng its support from Pakistan top levels and ISI, the greater agenda is to irritate India using Jamat in Bangladesh and to create a Pakistani influence in our land, We perhaps do not need your friendship for god sake.

  8. Thanks a lot dear Shelley and Suzaal for your comments on the issue. I want deep friendship and strong diplomatic relationship with Pakistan.Pakistan should offer apology for the sin they have committed in 71.Pakistani common people are our brother.They do not know what happened in 71.
    I do not believe in the banning of any political party of any faith or philosophy. If you allow communists and atheists to do politics why not islamic parties? If you are really progressive and democratic you must respect others views and philosophies.
    Fundamentalism and secularism came and entered our country from Britain who ruled us brutally for 190 years. These two words evolved during fight between Catholic and Protestant movement in Britain.Bangladesh is a country of 90 per cent muslim. We just can not ignore our religion in our life.You are at liberty not to have any faith,but how can you stop me to practice religion and to do politics based on religion. Communism and democracy are also a philosophy.
    If you say,Jamat is being funded by Pakistan or other muslim country ,I may say, socalled secular parties are funded by India and Israyel. If you abuse my Allah,I may abuse your Bhagban or Khuda. For greater unity,we must practice highest form of tolerance. Please keep in your mind that I do not belong to any political parties. I have a political philosophy. AllaH Hafez. Be always under the protection of God.

  9. Ahmed Badruzzaman says:

    I commend Prof. Hoodbhoy’s courage in pointing our the heinous crimes his country committed in Bangladesh with support from some locals they armed and patronized. He has done so in the past too, but are his people listening? One can support the creation of Bangladesh while understanding the political arguments of those who wanted to keep Pakistan. What is unacceptable and was a crime against humanity is the murderous rampage, rape and the attempted ethnic-religious cleansing the Pakistani army engaged in with the help of its Bangali henchmen, the so-called Razakars and Al-Bad’s who came mostly from a certain political party. They should have been tried a long time back but our politicians from the very beginning either looked the other way or actively went to bed with these local murderers in their lust for power. What a shame!

    My hurt is deeply personal on two fronts. Some of my growing up years were in West Pakistan with friends who years later turned a blind eye to these atrocities and I was an eye-witness to some of these.

    How can I forget the gunning down of slum dwellers who lived near me on that fateful March day? The scene of my professor’s body rotting in the March sun at Dhaka University, the vacant look on my wife’s cousin’s face, her husband taken away and never to be found, or the terrified and helpless gaze of the young women being trucked into Peelkhana still haunt me after all these years.. I am not asking for vengeance but justice for these victims and punishment for the perpetrators no matter how pious these criminals began to sound years later under the guise of religion. That is what our new generation, congregating at Shahbagh, are demanding.

    As for what our friends in Pakistan think of these demands, I simply do not care. Either they are on the right side of humanity or they are on the side of evil. It is that simple.

  10. Thanks dear Zaman shaheb. I do share your feelings and opinion. We can not support crime against humanity,torturing women, killing unarmed civilians. Yes,one can be politically support his/her faith/philosophy but can not resort to murder and torture. But I want friendship with Pakistan if it offer apology for the sin committed in 71.

  11. Abdur Razzaq says:

    Dear Bengali friends and former compatriots

    I would gladly apologise to you if for one second you acknowledge the murder, rape and mass killing of innocent Urdu-speaking settlers that was done all over East
    Pakistan from 3 March, 1971 through April and May. This started before the Pakistan Army launched operation Searchlight on March 25.

    The news of these massacres were suppressed because the Yahya Govt. did not want retaliation against Bengalis residing in West Pakistan. Not a single Bengali was harmed in Pakistan in 1971 or 1972.

    Please also acknowledge the state-organised pogroms against Biharis in 1972 by the Bangladesh Army that would make Narendar Modi’s attacks in Gujurat look like a Tea Party.

    I am indeed sorry for your personal loss and hope you have some space in your heart to acknowledge our suffering too. Thank you!

  12. Thanks dear brother Razzak. Salam and good wishes for you all. Yes ,I do confirm the atrocities committed against non bengalees in 71 by the bengalees.This has been highlighted in the book titled `Dead Rechoning’ by Sharmila Bose. Widely publicized figure of three million killed by Pakistani army has also been challenged. 3 million is now a mythical figure.
    However,let us start writing to cement relation between Pakistan and Bangladesh. Let us reduce the gap of understanding. Pakistan Government should officially offer apology to Bangladeshi people and open a new chapter of brotherly relationship.

  13. Debashish Paul Shuvra says:

    There can’t be any relation between Bangladesh and Pakistan. Pakistan from it’s inception is a communal country, where we fought for a secular democracy and gained it. if in near future pakistan wants a brotherly relationship, they should forsake their fundamentalist character, bring all war criminals (responsible for killing 3 million people, raping 400000 woman) under justice and then apologize to Bangladesh. Till then go fuck yourself.

  14. Debashish Paul Shuvra says:

    Mr. Razzak how many Bihari’s were killed in 1972? Do you know those urdu speaking human beings along with bengali collaborators helped pakistan army to kill and rape. Pakistan’s plan was an ethnic cleansing. Could you actually feel the loss of your brother, rape of sister? May be Bangladesh should carry out a genocide and mass raping in pakistan, then u guys can leave those bullshit stories.

  15. Ghulam Faruq Hamim says:

    Dear brother Abdur Razzak, Assalamu alaikum. In every war, innocent people are mostly the victims. It has happened in this case as well. If any innocent people whatever his/her identity either as Bengalee or non-Bengalee, is killed or tortured is contemptible. But the war was waged first by the Pakistani regime that time. They pushed the Bengalee into a war. That time, there was still a way to resolve the political stalemate through consultation and negotiation. But without doing this, all of a sudden, Pakistan Army attacked with all its arms and weapons on the unarmed innocent civillian Bangalees on 25 March 1971 mid night. The mayhem started then on. The Pakistani army killed our men, youth, children and rape our mothers and sisters indiscriminately throughout 9 months of 1971. Nothing can be compared with anything like this. The book titled `Dead Rechoning’ by Sharmila Bose has already been rejected by many historians and eye-witnesses for distorted facts and figures.

  16. India is a greatest communal country. Have you heard the name of Gujrat and Narendra Modi? Mr. Modi is now dreaming to become PM of India. More than 1000 riots are taking place in India every year. I have never heard of communal riots in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Partition of 47 was based on religion. India was created for Hindus( as RSS says) and Pakistan was for Muslims.

  17. Rabiul Islam says:

    Bangladeshi hindus will keep their mouth shut when India’s (Hindu Tirthobhumi) crimes are exposed but always eager
    to blame Pakistan, Iran and other muslim land. India is the number one racist country on earth. They don’t tolerate any other religion other than hindu religion. It is a fact. India is the great supporter of ISRAEL. Qur’an says the number one enemy of believers ( true muslims, submitters in English) are Idol Worshippers ( hindus) and Jews. What we see around the world is that Quranic statement is true.

  18. Debashish Paul Shuvra says:

    There are still some assholes in our country who talk about communal riot in India when it comes to atrocities in our liberation war, they find pleasure in dispersing other religion. They find Shramila Bose’s book “Death Rechoning” some kind of holly script.

  19. Dear Debashish, I am not here to hurt you.I am not sure whether you know the real history of partition of 1947.India was divided because Congress’s wrong policy. Congress want united India under total control of Congress and muslim leaders disagreed to the proposal of Congress. Bengal partition of 1905 was opposed by Hindus very strongly while they supported partition of Bengal in 1947. Could you tell me why? Why not let us move for an united Bengal of 1947?

  20. Debashish Paul Shuvra says:

    Mr Ershad Majumder how can you justify killing 3 million people, raping of 400000 woman with the communal history of india as a human being. How can you justify the impunity of those demons by chattering some lecture on history. May be i didn’t see 47, 52, 69 & 71 but i know how to read. So before you give someone a lecture on history make sure that you are not quoting from the holy script “Death Reconing”.

  21. Dear Debashish. You are right. Why should I lecture. 3million is a figure of myth not reality or history. Future history will not be written on your or my statement. 3 million is fantasy. Even after 42 years of liberation or independence no government ever tried to establish or confirm this figure. On 71 there many books written by Indian generals, Pakistani generals and Bangladeshi generals , writers and teachers. None could confirm this mythical fugure of 3 million.In 71 I was 31 and have seen the liberation war very closely. I agree and confirm that Pakistani military rulers had resorted to killing, arson,looting and raping. By resorting to such heinous atrocities Pakistan wanted to win the war. But they failed. So we are now citizen of an independent state and country. Bangabandhu visited Pakistan in 74 and established diplomatic relation with Pakistan. If we could establish diplomatic relationship with Britain who ruled us illegally for 190 years why not with Pakistan.

  22. Debashish Paul Shuvra says:

    In every statement you purported the carnage of Bengalies in 1971. If 3 million is a fantasy to you than may be you fantasize about coveting your mother.This is ignominious that nefarious human beings like you still live in Bangladesh. Your musings epitomize the heinous act of Bengali Collaborators. In 1971 pakistani’s incinerated our motherland, but to you it was just distorted history by Indian generals, Pakistani generals and Bangladeshi generals , writers and teachers. Only you have the true knowledge of our independence war. May be you were a part of it. You manifested your fascination towards Pakistan, from that we can concur your true nature.

  23. Thanks dear Debashish for your understanding.I do not say anything on my own.No information were prepared or produced by me.You said ,you do not want relationship with Pakistan.It is Bangabandhu Who established diplomatic relation with Pakistan. 3 million is just a slogan,not history or document. Are you in a position site me any document on this figure. I love my country and I want a friendly relation with all country of world except Israyel. I respect your feelings and emotion on the issue.There are a lot of people who participated in liberation war but does not belong Awami League.(AL)
    Awami politics is one must support AL to be a freedom fighter.

  24. Faruque Ahmed says:

    What’s happening in Shahbag it should not be a concern to Pakistanis or for the world, it’s a movement in Bangladesh for Bangladesh of the Bangladeshi. So no one else need to care.

  25. Yes, I support Faruque saab.

  26. Sudhir says:

    Hood Bhoy unfortunately Knows nothing about the actual events which took place in erstwhile East Pakistan. But the saddest aspect of his personality is that he thinks that he is the last word on every issue. He has always ignored the accesses and intentions of other countries and has tried find a fault with Pakistan. this wretched man will never utter a word about what India has been doing in Kashmir for the last 24 years. He is advising Pakistan to apologize but apologize for what? Does this man know how many helpless West Pakistani men,women and children serving in East Pakistan were butchered by the Bengalies. How many house wives and young daughters of the stranded West Pakistani’s were raped. Did he know that all the banks were looted by Mukti Bahini and infra structure including railway tracks and bridges were destroyed by the bengalis. Indian interference was blatant. India and Russia were training Mukti Bahini and providing them weapons and funds. The writer should tell me any country in the world where there was a bubbling separatist movement and the Government did not use its power to suppress the rebellion. The writer is well advised to stop criticizing the Pakistani text books. Our books are based on our own values which are definitely at variance than the values held by the writer. The writer is also advised to go through the Indian text books taught in Hindu schools just to know what type of venom these books carry for the Muslims and for Pakistan.

  27. Ghulam Faruq Hamim says:

    Mr Sudhir, what do you want to justify? Do you justify the killing and rape of bangalees since you noticed the ‘killing and rape of startnded Pakistani’ by Mukti bahini? Not as Pakistani, ask yourself as a human being. Despite the atrocities perpetrated by starnded Pakistani on Bengali people in 1971, Bangladesh still (overe the last 42 years) has been feeding and giving shelters more than one million Pakistani living in Bangladesh with its limited resources. Please take back your citizen from our country and read history books written by non Pakistani, Non Bangladeshi and Non-Indians. You would then realize and compare the truth neutrally what Pakistani army did on millions of unarmed civillians in those days witha group of Bangali and non-bangali collaborators.

  28. writerershad says:

    The Times of India reported that Shahbag movement has been backed by India in the name of so called new generation. Read TOI online to know all reports published by. Shahbag is a movement organized by fanatic anti islamic so called secularists.

  29. Ghulam Faruq Hamim says:

    @ writerershad: ‘Shahbag movement is backed by India’ means what? Do you mean India is dictating our young people (who are at the forefront of this movement) and they are dancing as India wishes. Please show some respect to our people and its young generation. Young people in most of the cases, anywhere in the world, are always after truth and justice. Don’t undermine their spirit through such filthy propaganda.

  30. writerershad says:

    Dear Faruq Shaheb. I have not said anything. I have just referred Times of India.Do not shut your eyes. Just keep it open to see what is happening around you. Yes, apparently we see Shahbag is a movement of our new generation.But I see country is divided psychology .We need now unity. New generation should give call for unity. They should force political parties to forge a national unity and solidarity. Let the trial of war crimes go on as it is, not under any pressure from the street.

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