By Salman Zafar
March 26, 2014
During the late hours of March 25, 1971 the Awami League leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, announced the independence of East Pakistan in the form of Bangladesh. What followed was the Bangladesh Liberation War which culminated in Pakistan’s defeat in the end of December that same year and Bangladesh celebrates its independence day on March 26.
The surrender by Pakistan resulted in the largest accumulation of prisoners of war since the Second World War. Two wings of a country divided by almost 1,600 kilometres of presumably hostile territory was never a feasible idea logistically, politically, socially and militarily. Add to this, the startling gap of economic conditions in East Pakistan compared to its Western counterpart and Bangladesh’s independence was a time bomb waiting to go off.
However, despite losing half our territory in 1971 due to our own inept governance and unjust racially motivated economic, military and social preference from 1947 to 1971, the narrative taught to children in our school books has still not changed.
To this day, the separation of East Pakistan is taught as an Indian ploy, built up by Hindu conspirators while the truth behind the debacle is conveniently omitted from our text books. It is only once you grow out of our schooling system and do some very basic research on the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971 that you come across facts ugly enough to chuck a significant amount of ill-found Pakistani ‘nationalism’ out of the window.
This is not to say that being patriotic is a bad thing.
Patriotism for your country is extremely healthy but the line separating desirable and undesirable levels of patriotism is very thin and it is a tragedy that every child coming out of our school system is on the wrong side of that line.
Our history is filled with a long list of political, social, foreign affair and economic blunders. But no event in our history manages to bring together all these blunders in one massive mould of earth-shaking revelations better than the 1971 debacle. Yet, the cold hard facts about the entire episode are dragged under the carpet and what is fed to our young minds is the exact opposite.
This sows the seeds of myopia and hatred in a nation that is crumbling under its own weight. The problems we face as a nation today are a direct result of the monsters we ourselves built. It is no wonder that a large chunk of our population has grown into what they are today – hard-lining bigots, perpetually beating their chests to the anti-India sentiment. This is the narrative that has been incorporated into our text books from 1947 and it is sad that despite facing the repercussions of this narrative more than once in our history, we still hold it dear to our hearts and are not willing to adapt to an alternate, more honest one.
It can be argued and rightly so, that the nation needs to promote a positive narrative about its history in order to enlist patriotism in its citizens. And there is nothing wrong with that. However, the problem arises when facts are completely over-turned to build the most ridiculously fake picture.
Unfortunately, this has been the case in our history books every time national blunders are discussed. The factual picture is given the shape of an anti-Pakistan conspiracy, whereas the opposing self-constructed picture is tattooed across every mind across classrooms. The concept of martial races for example, where the Punjabis and Pashtuns were identified as ‘the most capable – physically and militarily – while Hindus and Bengalis were perceived to be weak, was fed to us by the military even before the independence of Bangladesh in 1971.
Shockingly, this narrative still holds strong even to this day – one of the many reminders to us of how a narrative once built, eventually settles into the minds of people and starts being treated as an accepted fact.
The truth about what transpired in 1971 needs to be a part of our historical narrative, whether it is in our Pakistan Studies textbooks or in discussions between common people.
1971 was a dark year in Pakistan’s history and it was squarely our fault, make no mistake about it. But by continuously overlooking the shocking atrocities committed by us and the biased agenda pursued by the West Pakistani establishment leading to the events that year, we do ourselves more harm than good.
Correction only comes after self-reflection. It is only after you realise that you were at fault that you might make an effort to avoid making the same mistake again. If you don’t admit to your mistake in the first place, whatever minimal chance you have of making amends doesn’t take birth to begin with.