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The War Within Islam ( 20 Dec 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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West Pakistanis Who Stood for Bangladeshis’ Rights

By Babar Ayaz

Punjabi poet Ahmed Saleem wrote a powerful poem against military oppression, which was published by Dr Has’an in a weekly; both were awarded one-year sentences by a military court. Similarly, many leftist leaders were arrested across the country

For the last 40 years while the Bangladeshis celebrate their liberation on December 16, some ultra-nationalist Pakistanis mournfully blame the separation of East Pakistan on a conspiracy. They are still convinced that the ‘traitors’ of the Awami League hatched a conspiracy to break Pakistan in collusion with the ‘scheming Indians’.

Though it has taken four decades, most Pakistanis now do realise that we pushed the Bengalis over the cliff, and left them with no choice but to fight for liberation. Thankfully the number of such people is growing every year. Many such Pakistanis now ask every year: have we learnt any lesson from the ‘separation’ of East Pakistan? Ironically, the plain and simple answer to this is: ‘Sorry, no we have not.’ If we had, we would not be asking this question over and over again. If we had, we would not have avoided apologising to the Bangladeshis about our war crimes. If we had, we would not have been mourning the liberation of the Bangladeshis from Pakistani colonialism. If we had, we would not have been pursuing the same hawkish policies in the region in the name of national security. And most importantly, if we had, we would not have been following similar tactics in Balochistan.

Forty years ago in December 1970/January 1971, the people of Pakistan were happy to have participated in the first ever general elections held on adult franchise basis. The people had spoken. The majority was in favour of maximum autonomy contrary to the impression created now. The Bengalis, Pashtuns, Baloch and Sindhi-speaking people were for autonomy with slight differences. It was the Punjabi establishment supported by the right-wing Urdu-speaking immigrants who did not accept the majority’s verdict. Do not be misled that a Sindhi leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had opposed the autonomy demand of Mujibur Rehman. He was defending the case of his real power constituency — the centrists of Punjab and the military leadership. He was short of a majority in Sindh.

“The new generation on both sides,” a Bangladeshi friend told me last week, “does not know that there were many leaders and political workers in West Pakistan who condemned the military operation.” Wali Khan and Mir Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo made several trips to Dhaka to break the impasse created by Bhutto and the army. They were clear that if power is not transferred to the majority party — the Awami League — the country will break up. So when Bhutto said on the postponement of the Assembly session, “Thank God Pakistan is saved,” NAP leaders were not the only ones who said Pakistan might break up. Other leaders who opposed the military operation were Asghar Khan, Nur Khan, Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani and Mufti Mahmud, to name a few.

Then the military operation started to suppress the upsurge in East Pakistan ruthlessly. That indeed was the beginning of the end. I was in the final year of my masters in 1971 when the Assembly session was postponed. Fiery communist poet Hasan Hameedi and trade union leader Aizaz Nazir asked me to accompany them to invite famous Sindhi poet Sheikh Ayaz for a protest meeting in Sukkur. He shunned us, saying the military will not tolerate any meeting challenging its operation in East Pakistan, and that we were mad to take a stand against military policy. He was right. Cases were registered against us for wanting to break up the country. Then, perhaps in August, we distributed pamphlets condemning military operations and saying that the country will break up if it is not stopped immediately. This was the countrywide initiative of the Left.

In Sukkur, Sheikh Ayaz and Rasheed Bhatti, the leading Sindhi short storywriter, trade union activist Faiz Ghangrio and Hassan Hameedi were arrested. Ayaz and Bhatti were not involved in distributing the pamphlets. But the biased Urdu-speaking intelligence officials reported them because Ayaz and Bhatti were Sindhi nationalists. I was picked up for a rough interrogation but was released — something I had to hide from my family as they also disapproved of my politics.

In Karachi, Marxist leader Dr Rukunuddin Has’an, Mehmoodul Haq Usmani, student activists like Shahid Hussain, Hidayat Hussain and many others were arrested for opposing the military operation and distributing pamphlets. Young Shahid, who was a college student, was tortured so badly that he later needed psychiatric help. Punjabi poet Ahmed Saleem wrote a powerful poem against military oppression, which was published by Dr Has’an in a weekly; both were awarded one-year sentences by a military court. Similarly, many leftist leaders were arrested across the country.

I know that Mukti Bahini, the militant freedom fighters of Bangladesh, also committed many atrocities, but that was a reaction. I had the honour to meet people like Ali Ahmed Khan, a well known journalist whose family members were killed in East Pakistan but he still supported the Bangladesh liberation movement. Late S G M Badruddin, who was editor of the Morning News in Dhaka, had to hide with his Bengali friends for months, lost the only house he made in his life and came back to Pakistan. But his objectivity and progressive outlook regarding the Bangladeshi movement was not dictated by his personal losses. People who can hold enlightened views despite personal suffering deserve to be acknowledged.

Interestingly, DSP Tatheer who had opened files against us in Sukkur for opposing the military operation met me in 1973 in Karachi, by which time he had retired. With tears in his eyes he apologised and said, “Son, we used to think your group wanted to break up the country by opposing the military operation in East Pakistan, but now we know you were actually trying to save the country.” At least he had the courage to apologise and correct his perception. The trouble is we hear no apology from our military junta about being wrong. And that same air of arrogance to rule over the elected government is still blowing over Islamabad this winter. No lessons learnt. Sad, but true.

Source: The Daily Times, Lahore