By Ali Al-Ghamdi
Muslims from the Indian state of Bihar made great sacrifices for the establishment of the state of Pakistan during the struggle for a separate nation for Muslims of the subcontinent. The Muslims of Bihar were among the worst victims of the conflict between Muslims and Hindus at the time of partition with the massacre of Muslims in that state. This was what prompted Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to say: Without the massacre of Bihar, Pakistan would not have materialized.”
When the struggle for Pakistan was successful and the new Muslim nation had become a reality with two parts of West Pakistan and East Pakistan, the Muslims in Bihar chose to migrate to East Pakistan due its geographical proximity. They played a constructive role, and replaced Hindus, who migrated from East Pakistan to India, in many trades. When the movement for seceding from Pakistan gained momentum in East Pakistan, these Biharis stood by the Pakistan army in order to safeguard United Pakistan. Subsequently, these Bihari Muslims became the biggest losers in the secession of East Pakistan and the creation of the new state of Bangladesh.
Bangladeshis considered them traitors because of their decision to stand by the Pakistani army during the period of secession. As a consequence of this, they were subjected to killing and rape and were driven out of their homes. Bihari Muslims have been languishing in squalid camps for more than four decades without having the basic amenities of life.
Despite the promises made by successive Pakistani governments to repatriate and rehabilitate these Biharis or stranded Pakistanis in Pakistan, there have not been any major efforts to make this happen. President Gen. Zia ul-Haq established, in cooperation with Dr. Abdullah Omar Naseef, secretary general of the Muslim World League, the Rabita Endowment with the objective of realizing the repatriation and rehabilitation of stranded Pakistanis on land donated by the Punjab provincial government. But the unexpected death of Gen. Zia led to the disruption of the project. Later, there was an attempt to revive the Endowment when Nawaz Sharif became the prime minister. He took over the presidency of the Endowment and began implementing the project. However, the military coup that ousted him from power halted the ambitious project once again.
These Biharis and those who sympathize with them hoped that when Sharif took over as prime minister of Pakistan for the third time that he would make the issue of stranded Pakistanis one of his top priorities by reviving the Endowment for the repatriation of these hapless people. But unfortunately, he has paid no heed to this pressing issue despite the appeals made from many quarters in this regard.
In Jeddah, the Pakistan Repatriation Council (PRC) recently organized a symposium titled “Repatriation and rehabilitation of stranded Pakistanis on a self-finance basis.” An eminent journalist from Pakistan Syed Muzaffar Ejaz, editor in chief of Jasarat daily newspaper published in Karachi, was the chief guest. This Urdu newspaper gives prominent coverage to Muslim issues in general and the issues of Kashmir and stranded Pakistanis in particular.
In his speech, Ejaz praised the PRC for pushing for a solution of the Kashmir problem and the stranded Pakistanis issue. He said the 46-year-old issue of stranded Pakistanis is a matter of national pride and patriotism instead of a political issue for Pakistanis. “While Pakistan admitted 3.5 million Afghan refugees into the country on humanitarian grounds, we have failed to repatriate a quarter of a million Pakistanis, which is very unfortunate.” He said that the government should seriously study the PRC proposal and try to implement it in good spirit to solve the issue without any financial burden on Pakistan’s national economy.
Earlier, Hamid ul Islam Khan, deputy convener of the PRC, welcomed the guests and presented the PRC proposals for the repatriation of stranded Pakistanis from Bangladesh.
The program started with the recitation of verses from the Holy Qur’an and its interpretation by Shahzad Butt. Praise of Allah was offered by Mohsin Alvi and Naat by Raza Hashmi. Some leaders of the Pakistani community in Jeddah also spoke on the occasion. In his speech, Amir Mohammad Khan, chairman of the Pakistan Journalists Forum (PJF), said that like politicians, the majority of media personalities also put vested interests above national interests and hence the bitter issue of the stranded Pakistanis is totally ignored by them.
Asif Mahmood Butt, member of the Engineers Welfare Forum (EWF), said that Pakistani engineers are ready to play their role for the settlement of stranded Pakistanis. Shamsuddin Altaf said Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Mamnoon Hussain should take immediate measures to repatriate those quarter million Pakistanis and settle them in Afghan camps being vacated by the departing Afghanis.
Syed Neaz Ahmed, president of the Pakistan Writers Forum (PWF), said it is still not too late to bring them respectfully back and settle them in light of the PRC proposal. As for Mohammad Akram Agha and Mohammad Amanatullah, they said it is the need of the hour to bring our brethren from Bangladeshi camps and settle them in Pakistan.
PRC Convener Syed Ehsan-ul-Haque thanked all of the attendees. He presented resolutions for approval by the audience, in which the PRC urged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to restart the process of the repatriation and rehabilitation of stranded Pakistanis. It also asked for the implementation of the PRC proposal of the “settlement of stranded Pakistanis on a self-finance basis“. The resolution also asked the Pakistani High Commissioner in Dhaka to take care of the food, health, life and security of the quarter of a million Pakistanis stranded in Bangladesh. The function concluded by offering special supplication for the forgiveness of senior community member Rana Jawed Mahmood who died in a recent road accident in Rabigh.
Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs.