Monday, December 16, 2019
By Anam Zakaria
Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan each have created a very distinct memory of what happened 48 years ago. Forty-eight years after the 1971 war, which led to the independence of Bangladesh, each country involved in the conflict has institutionalized a distinct memory of the events of that year. In Bangladesh, the war is remembered as the Bengali people's struggle against an oppressive Pakistan army.
In India and Pakistan, the war is often remembered as the third Indo-Pakistan war. This representation is resented by many Bangladeshis, who feel it erases their role in what they see as a liberation war.
However, disagreement on who played the central role in the war is not the only point of contention between the three countries. Today, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India have their own closely held war stories, with 1971 taking on unique meanings across the subcontinent.
Bangladesh: The liberation warThe struggle for Bengali rights started shortly after Pakistan gained independence as a country with two incontiguous territories known as West Pakistan (today's Pakistan) and East Pakistan (today's Bangladesh). The refusal to accept Bengali as a state language of Pakistan in the early years after Partition, economic disparity between the two parts, the hegemony of the West Pakistani ruling elite over Pakistan, martial laws, and a demeaning attitude towards Bengali culture and the Bengali population soured relations between the two parts.
Tensions rose in December 1970 when the Awami League party, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman (also known as Mujib) and based in East Pakistan, won the national elections but West Pakistan parties, namely the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), refused to hand over power. Tensions between Bengalis and Biharis - the Urdu-speaking communities that had moved to East Pakistan from different parts of India after Partition and who were seen as pro-West Pakistan - rose, which led to attacks on some Bihari communities.
In March 1971, using the violence as an excuse, the Pakistan Army intervened to stem the growth of nationalist sentiments in the east. It recruited local pro-Pakistan Bengalis and non-Bengalis, including members of the Islamic organisation Jamaat-e-Islami for its operations against Bengali factions. As the violence escalated throughout the summer, a large number of refugees streamed into Indian territory, which New Delhi used as an excuse to intervene militarily in early December 1971.
The nine-month conflict ended with the surrender of the Pakistani army on December 16; the death toll is estimated to have been between 300,000 and 3 million people, with hundreds of thousands of women raped.
Since the end of the war, various forces have tried to control the narrative in Bangladesh, most notably the Awami League - which came to be perceived as "pro-Indian" - and the Bangladesh military and Bangladesh National Party (BNP) - which has been deemed "pro-Pakistan" and "pro-Islamist". This has hurt the process of transitional justice and frustrated many victims and their families for decades.
Having played an important role during the war, Mujib took power after independence. He banned Jamaat-e-Islami and introduced special laws that allowed for the arrest and prosecution of those accused of "collaborating" with the Pakistan military. After Mujib's assassination in 1975, General Ziaur Rahman seized power and started to change the public narrative on the liberation war. He made efforts to showcase the role various military actors played in the conflict and pushed to the background the role of the civilians. He also released the suspected war criminals and lifted the ban on Jamaat-e-Islami. In the following years, his party, the BNP, put some of its members accused of war crimes in influential positions, leaving victims increasingly troubled.In the early 1990s, a group of civil society actors created the Committee for Eradicating the Killers and Collaborators of 1971, which held mock trials against suspected war criminals. Even though it had no legal legitimacy, the committee put pressure on the BNP government, which filed sedition charges against the organisers.Sheikh Hasina, Mujib's daughter who took over the leadership of the Awami League in the 1980s, used the momentum the committee created in her struggle for power against the BNP. She sought to recast what happened in 1971 as a struggle led solely by the Awami League.
During her 2008 election campaign, Sheikh Hasina also sought to appropriate the transitional justice process, promising to bring war criminals to justice by setting up a tribunal. The war crimes trials launched, however, have been marred by controversy. Some critics have alleged that Sheikh Hasina is using them to punish opponents and keep them out of power. There is concern that the politicised nature of the trials may render justice, which many survivors ache for, increasingly elusive.
Today, Sheikh Hasina has managed to solidify her narrative of the 1971 war to such an extent that, if one criticises her party, they are seen as criticising liberation itself, and therefore perceived as anti-state.
Meanwhile, the Bihari community who became stateless after the war until a 2008 Supreme Court judgement extended citizenship rights to them are concerned that those accused of attacking, killing and raping members of their community will never be brought to justice. This is because in official memory, as institutionalised by the Bangladeshi state, only crimes against Bengalis are remembered.
Today, thousands of Biharis continue to reside in camps. They live in marginalised conditions, labelled as "stranded Pakistanis" and pro-Pakistan collaborators for their alleged role in the war.
India: The finest victoryIn India and Pakistan, 1971 may not be as actively remembered but it remains central to how both nations view themselves and each other. In India, the war is fondly recalled as the nation's finest win, a testament to its military prowess and superiority, and as revenge for Pakistan having "broken" India in 1947. Having lost the Indo-Sino war in 1962 and having only achieved a ceasefire in the first two wars with Pakistan, the victory in 1971 became symbolic for India, signalling that it was on its way to becoming a regional superpower. Today, politicians, as well as the armed forces, continue to make references to the war, to indicate India's strength vis-a-vis Pakistan.
As one Indian journalist told me during in an interview for my book, 1971: A People's History from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India, "1971 has become part of day-to-day life in India. Be it for motivating the soldiers or demeaning Pakistan. 1971 changed the way we look at ourselves as Indians. Till the war, we didn't see ourselves as being competent militarily. But post-1971, we have had quite a tough posturing in international diplomacy. 1971 has become almost folklore in India."
The Indian narrative of the war is a story of gallantry and bravado, championing India as a saviour of the oppressed Bengalis. It is often brought up during any escalation of tensions between the two countries. In 2016, during one such escalation, an Indian soldier posted a video in which he taunted the Pakistani army, reminding it of its "defeats of 1965, 1971 and 1999". However, 1971 also holds other meanings for contemporary India. The large number of refugees which poured into Indian territories - approximately 10 million by the estimate of the Indian government - later became a major internal issue.
Tensions between refugees and host populations ensued, with fears that the refugees from opar Bangla (the other side of Bengal) may permanently settle, putting a burden on already stretched resources and changing the demographics of the host states. This unwelcoming feeling towards the refugees did not dissipate with the war.
In the Indian state of Assam, where many Bengalis have settled over the years, their presence has remained contentious. Recently, the final list of the National Register for Citizens was issued, with March 24, 1971, set as the cut-off date for inclusion in the register. It is the day before Pakistan launched its military operation in East Pakistan, which pushed many Bengalis across the border.
Close to 2 million people, those who could not prove that they or family members resided in the state prior to March 1971, have been excluded from the register, which can render them stateless. Critics have argued that the register is being used to target Muslims in an increasingly Hindu majoritarian country. The war of 1971 thus remains central in India, tied both to the saviour narrative as well as the question of who truly belongs.
Pakistan: The forgotten conflict
In Pakistan, the state has resorted to selective forgetting of what happened in 1971. Perceived as a humiliating defeat, the war is brushed over in textbooks and there is little acknowledgement of the military oppression and the resulting atrocities in East Pakistan.
What is hailed as liberation in Bangladesh is awkwardly recalled by Pakistanis as the Fall of Dhaka or dismemberment of Pakistan every December 16. When 1971 is addressed it is often to stress upon the killings of non-Bengalis before the war, presented as a justification for military action.
However, just because 1971 does not factor into mainstream discourse significantly does not mean it has not left lasting imprints on Pakistan's psyche. In fact, 1971 remains one of the most defining events in the nation's history, shaping its self-identity and regional policies. The loss of East Pakistan created a "never again" mentality in the country. Resolving to never let a similar situation arise again, Pakistan increased its defence spending and launched a nuclear programme aimed at developing a nuclear weapon as early as January 1972.
The lesson learned from 1971 was the military has to be stronger to prevent another defeat. Moreover, in the post-war years, Pakistani textbooks were revised with an overt anti-India and anti-Hindu slant. The loss was blamed on its "arch-nemesis", with little reflection on Pakistan's own policies that resulted in a mass movement for independence among Bengalis. To this day, the Pakistani narrative makes some exaggerated claims, such as Indian-influenced Hindu teachers manipulating students and breeding secessionist sentiments in East Pakistan.
Furthermore, as new independence struggles erupted in the region, in the form of the Khalistan movement for a separate Sikh state and in the movement in Kashmir, scholars have argued that Pakistan resorted to using similar strategies to those India had in East Pakistan to support these movements.
Local grievances were closely studied and support was offered to groups fighting against the Indian state just as India had provided support to Bengalis fighting the Pakistani state.
Today, just as India accuses Pakistan of fuelling terrorism in Kashmir and dismisses genuine Kashmiri grievances as Pakistan-sponsored, in the Army Museum in Lahore, Pakistan has put up a plaque which labels the Bengali movement for independence as Indian-sponsored terrorism. In both cases, people's struggles are appropriated and hijacked, narratives carefully crafted to turn popular sentiment against movements for self-determination.
Close to 50 years after the war, 1971 remains poignant both at the people's level and the state level in Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. It continues to shape the lives of those who suffered and witnessed the war while also remaining central to each state's national project. 1971 reinforces distinct narratives, emphasising liberation in Bangladesh, victory in India, and loss in Pakistan. All three countries hold on tightly to their war story and frame their images of themselves and the other through the lens of that fateful year. 1971 has left a lasting legacy across all three children of Partition.
#APSPeshawar #APSMartyrs #APSAttack #APSPeshawarAttack - Netizens demand whereabouts of Ehsanullah Ehsan on APS attack day
As the country marked its remembrance of the brutal carnage claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), many took to Twitter to demand why the group's former spokesman was still at large in the country. Ehsanullah Ehsan was once the Taliban's chief correspondent for the Pakistani media, sending videos of himself speaking on behalf of the militant group. It was Ehsan who announced to the world that the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a break-away faction of the TTP, was responsible for the Easter bombing in Lahore of 2016. According to Ehsan, the group meant to deliberately target Christian families on a day they were expected to be celebrating their holiday in public, killing at least 75 people, and injuring more than 300. The majority of the victims were women and children. Ehsan is also the prime accused in one of world history's most deadly attacks on schools, the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014. But Ehsan remains within Pakistan, free from any kind of confinement. In April 2017, the former ISPR in-charge, Asif Ghafoor shared that Ehsan had surrendered to the Pakistani military. In 2018, the Peshawar High Court (PHC) ordered the federal government to not give Ehsan clemency, for the court held directly responsible for many acts of terrorism, including the shooting of Malala Yousafzai in Mingora in 2012. However, Ehsan was ultimately released nonetheless. Since then, Ehsan has kept a low-profile in the country. On social media, politicians, academics, journalists, and lawyers expressed their resentment against the state for failing to take action against Ehsan. Aseefa Bhutto-Zardari tweeted: "Today we remember the senseless violence that led to the martyrdom of 130 children in APS Peshawar. The fact the Ehsanullah Ehsan has not been prosecuted is a stain on our national character. My thoughts and prayers with the families still searching for answers and justice." Dr. Nida Kirmani, a sociologist, said: "5 years since one of the most horrific days in Pakistan’s history, and we’re still asking, where is Ehsanullah Ehsan? Why have he and his enablers not been brought to justice?" Many sarcastically called Ehsan a "state guest". The Awami National Party leader, Asfandyar Wali, seems to have coined the phrasing in last year's remembrance of the Peshawar attack. ANP leader Bushra Gohar wrote: "Other than trivialising the APS massacre by releasing songs & building monuments, what has been done to ensure justice? Why is the judicial inquiry under wraps? Why is Ehsanullah Ehsan not charged & under trial?" Little official information is available to learn more of Ehsanullah Ehsan's case, but the fact remains that he is still a free man who has not been held culpable for the crimes he has confessed to.
As the nation marked the fifth anniversary of the Army Public School (APS) attack, Qaumi Watan Party (QWP) Chairman and former federal interior minister Aftab Ahmad Sherpao on Sunday paid rich tributes to the martyrs.
In a statement issued from the party headquarters Watan Kor, he recalled that the attack had united the nation in the fight against terrorism. Remembering the martyrs of the APS attack, Sherpao said the nation will always remember the sacrifices of the innocent children and that the country still hurts from the loss.
The QWP leader said that the attack had prompted the government to declare an all-out war against militants and to restore viable peace in the country. The nation is still in a state of shock and grief over the brazen attack in which innocent school children were targeted, he added.
Earlier in Peshawar, members of the APS Shuhada (martyrs) Forum held a demonstration outside the Peshawar Press Club.
Not too long ago, terrorism and violence was a common occurrence in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The province became the hub of terrorist activities and then came its worst nightmare – the assault on the Army Public School (APS) on December 16, 2014. A gang of militants walked in and sprayed teachers and pupils with volley after volley of bullets, killing more than 140 that morning five years ago.
The methodical slaughter that unfolded not only paralysed Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) but all of Pakistan. Across Peshawar, mosques filled with mourners carrying small coffins and wailing family members became a common sight. The city was living its worst nightmare, its worst tragedy. While the city and the country won its battle against terrorism shortly after the APS attack, many are still reeling – mostly emotionally.
The APS tragedy not only left an indelible mark on the family members but also on those who witnessed the event unfold on their television screens. And despite promises by the government to provide psychological assistance, many have been found to silently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and many of them have yet to recover.
Shortly after the attack, the government promised to build a state-of-the-art trauma centre in Peshawar. But like all other promises, this too was meant to be broken. For the people who were suffering, help arrived from unexpected quarters. An army of volunteers came together to help those who continue to reel from the APS tragedy. While the government still hasn’t been able to provide psychological assistance to those suffering from mental trauma in the wake of the APS tragedy, volunteers are providing counselling services to survivors, family members of those killed, and everyone who suffers emotionally as a result of the attack.
“We have received people who are suffering directly and indirectly as a result of the attack,” said Dr. Khalid Mufti, a consultant psychiatrist.
In recent times, Peshawar has struggled with violent attacks, but APS crossed every limit of human endurance, so much so that, in the wake of the attack, the military launched a full-scale offensive to eliminate terrorism that was targeting the most vulnerable across Pakistan.
The military won, and the terrorists lost. But for the people of Peshawar, the post APS struggle has been long and unending. Dr Mufti believes, everyone who witnessed the brutal massacre requires counseling.
Not just APS survivors or their families, but everyone who was told about the attack or watched it unfold on their screens needs help,” said Dr. Mufti. Reintegrating those who continue to suffer was not easy. Dr.Mufti is joined by an army of volunteers, including journalists, spiritual leaders, teachers, and general practitioners.
So far, Dr. Mufti has dealt with more than 150 people. The list includes survivors, family members, and those who were indirectly influenced by the attack.“Initially, siblings and family members of those who had died were reluctant to talk,” said Dr. Mufti. “They were defensive and perhaps feared everyone who wanted to talk about the attack,” the medic added.December 16 will forever live infamously in the memory of those who survived. The day will forever remind Pakistan of death and destruction. The suffering and tragedy claimed many lives, directly and indirectly. Dr. Mufti claimed many suffered cardiac arrest because the tragedy was beyond their tolerance level.
Five years on, Dr. Mufti and his volunteers are fighting an uphill battle. Each year on December 16, many survivors, he said, relapse.
“We have no option but to start from where we were many years ago,” he claimed.
The assault on the Army Public School five years ago ended in bloodshed and never-ending sorrow for the families who lost loved ones. Around this time of the year, survivors are reminded of the harrowing event that gripped the attention of the world.
The images from the eight-hour-long rampage remain fresh even after all these years. Even as he treats patients, there are moments when Dr.Mufti feels vulnerable.
“These selected puppets [incumbent government] cannot provide you with those benefits,” The Express Tribune quoted the PPP Chair as saying. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari has said that the people of Balochistan province had been deprived from reaping the benefits of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) by changing the route of the project.
“We (PPP) brought revolutionary projects like CPEC that was meant for you, the people of Balochistan, (particularly) the residents of Gwadar... It was supposed to create job opportunities for you and strengthen your economy,” Mr. Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari said on Sunday while addressing supporters in the provincial capital of Quetta.
“Unfortunately, unlike the vision of [former] President Zardari who wanted that the project should benefit the most impoverished areas... that the route should start from FATA to Balochistan, the route has been changed. Now it’s starting from Lahore and Sindh.
“These selected puppets [incumbent government] cannot provide you with those benefits,” The Express Tribune quoted the PPP Chair as saying.
He added that said his party was the only one that ensured that a project benefitted the residents of the area where it was launched.
Chairman Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Bilawal Bhutto Zardari Sunday paid tribute to the innocent martyrs of Army Public School (APS), Peshawar on the 5th anniversary of this tragic attack in which around 132 students and teachers embraced martyrdom.
In a message here issued by the party secretariat, Bilawal Bhutto said that extremism and terrorism were the enemies of peace and human development.
He said those who facilitated and sponsored the scourge of terrorism had committed crimes against humanity and it was the responsibility of us as a nation to say ‘Never again'.
Bilawal Bhutto said that extremism and terrorism had been used as a tool to advance certain vested interests and impose specific agendas in an attempt to hold the nation hostage to constant fear.He said that the PPP has always maintained its stance against terrorism, besides giving bold and clear statements in favour of the people by condemning the terrorist activities.Bilawal Bhutto said that the PPP due to its loud and clear stance on had suffered greatly as its leadership and workers were martyred in fight against authoritarianism or all its forms. Bilawal Bhutto pointed out that the nation had paid heavily in this war against terrorism. Amongst the blood of the 60,000 innocent victims of terrorism was also the blood of Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated for standing up against terrorism and country's dictatorship.
He pledged that the PPP would continue to be on the forefront in the battle against extremism and terrorism and always stand for an egalitarian, peaceful, prosperous and progressive Pakistan.