By Ashis Biswas
April 26, 2018
For some time now, Bangladesh has been pressing Pakistan to apologize for the genocide of the Bangali population in 1971. The occupation army showed no compunction in butchering an estimated three million of their (mostly unarmed) fellow citizens over a nine-month period to quell a liberation struggle in its then eastern wing.
In reply, Pakistan has urged Bangladesh to forget the unfortunate incidents of the past and move on to a new, better relationship. Well short of an apology, its utterly inadequate response glosses over what remains the most shameful blot in Pakistan’s less-than-stellar history.
However, given Pakistan’s gradual morphing into a terror-sponsoring state from its theocratic origins, beginning from its intervention in the Afghan civil war, its refusal to apologize to Bangladesh is not surprising. Countries with a firmer commitment to a democratic system and minimal respect for established norms of governance would have found it easier to offer a brief, heartfelt apology.
A dignified regret would have helped Islamabad get rid of a permanent embarrassment in a civilized manner. If anything, by demanding an apology instead of adequate reparations, Bangladesh had prepared the ground for a graceful ending to a painful episode of history and for a new beginning in bilateral ties.
Evidently, the army-dominated deep state in Pakistan has little concern for either the country’s international image, its place in world history, to say nothing of the damaging legacy it leaves behind for its younger generations.
So far so bad — yet it is possible to see the signs of a major political change for the better among the younger Pakistani citizens, which augurs well for South Asia.
From Pakistan’s point of view, any apology to Bangladesh would have implied that its use of terror as an instrument of state policy had proved self-destructive. Its exploitative policy towards its eastern province was morally reprehensible and utterly wrong.
More importantly, to disavow terror as an acceptable political tactic would have significantly reduced Pakistan’s acceptability among organizations like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Lashkar–e-Toiba (some of which are internationally blacklisted), and their shadowy underworld backers.
Pakistan’s refusal to apologize to Bangladesh even in 2018 indicates how little the country has changed since 1971
So there could be no apology to anyone on the break-up of 1971, because that would have meant a loss of face for the India-hating Pakistani ruling establishment. For the military hawks, drug lords, and Islamic extremists running Islamabad’s foreign policy, it was preferable to go along with international Muslim terrorism and maintain a pro-Jihadi image post-1971.
After the emergence of Bangladesh, Pakistan became blindsided on the east. It opted wholeheartedly to concentrate on and participate in developments more closely in the deeply disturbed West Asian region. If this meant inviting unrest and chaos, there were compensations too.
So long as the US and the EU continued to use Islamabad as their ally in the battle against Islamic terrorism, the dollars kept coming — never mind the international revulsion and the moral opprobrium, which can be borne better when people are well-fed and elections are a joke.
It is another matter that the US and the West have gradually become wiser to the implications of Pakistan’s running with the hares and hunting also with the hounds, in the matter of fighting Islamic extremism.
Pakistan’s refusal to apologize to Bangladesh even in 2018 indicates how little the country has changed since 1971.
And yet, it is not fair to condemn Pakistan as a country for the shocking killing of nearly three million people in 1971. There are any number of ordinary, decent Pakistani citizens who deeply regret the breaking up of their country and the loss of its eastern wing. Mostly these are younger generation Pakistanis who have no direct experience of the Liberation War in Bangladesh.
But there are elder citizens too, including senior people in the administration, in different political parties, not to mention journalists and members of the commentariat who are bitterly critical of the 1971 break-up.
There are several Pakistani TV channels where the younger set are shown discussing how Bangladesh has left Pakistan well behind in creating better health facilities for the people, in women empowerment, poverty reduction, family planning, and general education.
Pakistan may boast of having more cars than Bangladesh and Smartphones, but the former eastern province enjoys better Forex reserves ($32 billion as against $14bn), more mobiles (84% of people as against 68%), registers a better GDP growth, and less foreign debt, despite receiving only a fraction of Pakistan’s level of foreign aid.
The average Pakistani is marginally healthier than the Bangladeshi, but joblessness in Pakistan is much more than pronounced, not to mention the terrorism-related violence and the socio/political cost thereof. The fact that Bangladesh is poised to reach a GDP of over $273bn by end 2018 and overtake Pakistan’s GDP by 2021 at present rates is highly appreciated.
Bangladesh does not suffer crippling power cuts like Pakistan, consuming around 16,000 megawatts daily, a figure expected to touch 22,000 MWs in the 2020s. In garments exports, it ranks second in the world.
By 2021, along with Myanmar and Laos, Bangladesh is poised to join the ranks of middle-income countries, an elevation from the ranks of 47 least developed countries, at its present rate of growth — in the sectors of personal income, economic vulnerability, and human assets creation.
It needs stressing here that the present writer has taken these figures mostly covering the 2016-17 period, from Pakistani print and electronic media. Especially on TV channels, it has been heartening to see young Pakistanis listening with interest to the Bangladeshi national anthem and wishing their “brothers in the East all well.”
It was also encouraging to see similar programs related to the present status and growth of major Indian cities like Kolkata on some Pakistani channels where most people expressed their appreciation. Their obvious interest in the economic growth of Bangladesh and India was a healthy sign for the political future of South Asia as a whole.
As for reactions in India to developments in Bangladesh and Pakistan, especially among the young, this writer can personally confirm that there exist a matching interest and curiosity to learn more about their (former compatriots and current) neighbours with whom they have so much in common in terms of food, language, culture, and religion.
As analyst Charubrata Ray puts it: “When today’s young generation assumes power in all three countries of the sub-continent, who knows what new possibilities may open up? Maybe Pakistan will unhesitatingly apologize to Bangladesh and India, and Pakistan may well apologize to each other — and a new era of hope may prevail in South Asia?”
An added point of interest is that of late, even blaming India for “having taken advantage of the problems in Bangladesh” is no longer done by the older generation of Pakistanis with the anger and vigour of the past. Col Sabyasachi Bagchi says, “they agree that if they were in Mrs Indira Gandhi’s place, they would have done exactly the same in Bangladesh, in a world dominated by realpolitik.”
Ashis Biswas writes from Kolkata, India.