by SALEEM SAMAD 31 May 2023
For more than a decade, there was a simmering debate spearheaded by the netizens, academicians, journalists, researchers, social justice activists and civil society in Pakistan on war crimes, genocide and rape as a weapon of war by marauding Pakistan military during the brutal birth of Bangladesh in 1971.
Long before the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan became Prime Minister of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan at a talk show in Urdu anchored by celebrated anti-establishment journalist Hamid Mir, admitted that “some” atrocities had been committed in Bangladesh in 1971.
He also said that it was time to reconcile with Bangladesh what happened in 1971, and Pakistan should seek an apology for the war crimes.
Obviously, this news appeared in major dailies and argued on private TV channels during prime time talk-shows in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh’s relationship with Pakistan during Nawaz Sharif was all-time low after Sheikh Hasina in 2010 when she decided to put the war crimes suspects to face the music of justice.
Islamabad scolded Bangladesh envoy in Pakistan each time when the war crimes tribunal in Dhaka handed down maximum punishment for the Islamist leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI).
The key henchmen of the Pakistan military were indicted for crimes against humanity, especially kidnapping, torture and deaths of hundreds of intellectuals by a dreaded death squad, Al-Badr recruited by JeI.
Hasina was angry with Islamabad’s statement condemning the so-called “sham” trial targeting Muslim leaders.
Well, Turkey joined Pakistan in the vilification campaign against the trial of the accused for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
She decided to withdraw the diplomats from Islamabad and shut down the Bangladesh mission in Pakistan. Her government for several years refused to give accreditation to Pakistan’s nominated High Commissioner to Dhaka.
However, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Saudi Arabia and the United States in a similar diplomatic tone advised Hasina to not a harsh diplomatic decision.
Hasina backed out, understanding that the move would jeopardize South Asian regional cooperation and the war against terror campaign.
Her government continued to deny visas to Pakistan nationals from the Bangladesh missions in Islamabad and Karachi.
Well, during Khan’s tenure as head of government, he did not take any effort to thaw relations with Bangladesh, not to speak of seeking an apology for war crimes.
Hours after the much-dramatized arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan allegedly for corruption, the country rocked with violent street protests on May 9.
Angry protesters of the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) seem to have a grudge against the military establishment.
Many are beginning to wonder if the military hawks can remain the hegemon that guides the nation, while the COAS General Asim Munir warns Khan and his cohorts from fresh attacks on military facilities.
Exasperated by the violent protests, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif at a civil-military huddle a few days ago decided to observe May 9 as a ‘black day’ and remarked that “Such scenes were not witnessed since the fall of Dhaka during 1971.”
Sharif was referring to the surrender of Pakistan’s 96,000 troops and civilians in Dhaka under the joint command of the Indian army and Bangladesh Mukti Bahini on December 16, 1971 – labelled as the “darkest day” in the history of Pakistan.
Veteran political historian Mohiuddin Ahmad says if Pakistan believes that December 16 is the “darkest day” then they should also consider seeking a public apology for war crimes committed during the liberation war of Bangladesh.
Thousands of netizens in Pakistan and PTI cohorts poured onto social media and began to compare the 70-year-old Imran Khan ‘Vandana’ with Bangabandhu [Friend of Bangladesh] Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, an architect of independent Bangladesh.
Once a blue-eyed boy of the Pakistan military establishment, Khan blamed the top military hawks in Rawalpindi GHQ for orchestrating against him to eliminate him from politics in axis with the United States, and dubbed himself as ‘Mujibur 2.0’.
The Bangladesh media and social media did not feel comfortable comparing Imran Khan with founding father Sheikh Mujib. The media with scornful eyes rebuked the Pakistani netizens for comparing a man mountain with a Lilliput.
Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor at Dhaka University is a leading political scientist who reacted to Khan’s comparison with the Father of Nation. He has demeaned Sheikh Mujib, who is adored by millions of people. Bangabandhu has never been smeared by allegations of corruption and hobnobbing with the military establishment to scale the ladder to power.
An Indian micro-blogger @Pavan_JaiHind reverberates with other netizens: History is repeating itself. Victims are [the] same, Pakistani people. [The] perpetrator is [the] same, Pakistan Army. Crimes are [the] same, Rape & Murders. [The] only leader of 1971 Sheikh Mujibur Rahman is replaced by Imran Khan in 2023.
Mehedi Hasan Shuvo @MHShuvo12053 on May 9 satires from Bangladesh: Remember these two things: 1. Every country has its own military; 2. Pakistan’s military has its own country.
The netizen in another tweet: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman whom you [have] known as a traitor, now see what your [Pakistan] army does to your own men.
“Everyone knows Mujibur Rahman and his party won the general elections in 1970. Instead of handing over power, a clever politician set Awami League and the army on a collision course,” said Khan.
A Pakistani micro-blogger Sohail @mosohail03 on May 10 tweets: Sheikh Mujibur Rahman told the military, “You can kill me, but you can’t suppress the people of Bangladesh. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the whole nation apologizes to you.”
In 1971, when Pakistan’s army battalion arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the “Father of the Nation” of Bangladesh, he was treated very badly. At that time, the Pakistan Army Chief (dictator) Yahya Khan was backed by a political puppet named Zulfikar Ali Bhutto #ImranKhanArrest
@OsintTV on May 11 tweets from Pakistan: History repeating itself…It was Sheikh Mujibur Rahman then now Imran Khani. Pakistan Army is [the] same.
“A shrewd politician (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto), in his greed for power, set the armed forces against the then largest party (Bangladesh’s Awami League), which had won elections, causing the dismemberment of the country,” lamented PTI chief during a road march in Gujranwala in last November, reports Dawn.
Khan was ousted as prime minister in April 2022 in a parliamentary no-confidence vote, reminded that Pakistan had split into two after Awami League with a legitimate political mandate was denied its right to rule. “Those who are behind all this don’t know what happened in East Pakistan.”
Despite all the deadly political drama, Imran is Pakistan’s most popular leader according to opinion polls.
The comparison of Imran Khan with Bangabandhu and the May 9 violent protests with the 1971 liberation, demonstrates appalling knowledge of the political history of the 1970 post-elections, the bloody liberation war in 1971 and culminating in the humiliating defeat of occupation troops of Pakistan.
First published in The News Times, 28 May 2023
Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist, media rights defender, recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at <[email protected]>; Twitter @saleemsamad