Pakistan, 1971

Military voices now challenge the established narrative of the Bangladesh war.

Every year, December 16 is observed in Pakistan as a moment of morose stocktaking, in which India is held responsible for the break-up of Pakistan in 1971. However, over the years, the Pakistani media has taken to mixing the message. It now balances the short-term culpability of India with the long-term culpability of Pakistan.

This year, the familiar pattern was disturbed by the hanging of a Jamaat-e-Islami (Bangladesh) leader, Abdul Quader Mollah, for "war crimes" including the rape and slaughter of women, while he opposed the "war of liberation" for the new state of Bangladesh.

As the NGOs protest at the way Mollah was punished, the world has accepted the hanging. The Islamabad foreign office pointed to the violation of human rights in the "war crimes" tribunal, but called it an internal matter for Bangladesh. The Pakistani parliament, though, decided to condemn the hanging through a non-unanimous but bitterly-worded resolution that has not been taken kindly by Dhaka.

The Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan — having recently won back Taliban and al-Qaeda protection — flexed its street muscle by protesting against the hanging of a man it feels affiliated to. It rightly expected the parliament to bend in deference to this new "empowerment". But the media in Pakistan has mixed the message more than usual this time. The "secret" Hamoodur Rehman Commission report on the atrocities committed by the Pakistan army in East Pakistan in 1971 has been taken out of the state's closet of collective conscience and quoted to great effect.

Unread books by honest military officers are now being quoted to the embarrassment of the Jamaat, which had thought the battle for its new leg-up had been won after the Mollah hanging. What Pakistan is still forgetting is the fundamental critique of its conduct towards East Pakistan contained in a book by senior bureaucrat, Hasan Zaheer — The Separation of East Pakistan (1994). In this, linguistic nationalism was more properly understood as the element which alienated the Bengali Muslim from the West Pakistani Muslim.

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