By Syed Badrul Ahsan
August 7, 2013
Hamid Mir’s is one of the more respectable and liberal voices in Pakistan these days. He has always been regarded as a friend of Bangladesh, naturally, because he has publicly made it clear that his country needs to offer an apology to ours over the genocide committed by the Pakistan army in former East Pakistan. His sympathies for Bangladesh have earned him quite a good deal of criticism in his country, where rabid Pakistanis are always fond of labelling fellow citizens drawn to truth and justice as Ghaddar or traitors. Individuals like Mir, Asma Jehangir and the poet Ahmad Salim have regularly waged a hard battle in Pakistan over the Bangladesh question.
Given such realities, Hamid Mir springs quite a surprise on us when he attempts a study of the Ghulam Azam case in Bangladesh. In a recent write-up in Pakistan’s Urdu-language daily Jang, Mir makes little attempt to conceal his concern over the judgment delivered against the pro-Pakistani Bengali Jamaat leader by a war crimes tribunal in Dhaka. Mir refers to the ninety-plus Ghulam Azam as a Buzurg, Urdu for respected elder. He also notes that Bangladesh has not been able to emerge free of its 1971 fixation, which is indeed surprising seeing that the columnist knows only too well why 1971 takes up so expansive a slice of the Bengali psyche.
Incomplete details of Ghulam Azam’s political career have been disseminated in Pakistan by his friends there, the clear objective of which is to demonstrate before the international community that the Bangladesh leadership is determined to make a scapegoat of an individual known for Islamic scholarly pursuits. Mir appears to have been taken in by such a white-washed presentation of the Azam case. He makes little mention of the Jamaat leader’s active role in augmenting the strength and reach of the Pakistan army in occupied Bangladesh through playing a pivotal role in the formation of the Razakar, al Badr and al Shams forces in Bangladesh.
But why put the burden of blame on Mir only? A vast majority of Pakistanis have remained in denial mode about the acts committed by their army and its local collaborators in Bangladesh forty two years ago. Not long ago, the vice chancellor of Hamdard University in Sind, a retired High Court judge, informed a team of visiting Bengali journalists that it was India’s Hindus who were behind Pakistan’s break-up in 1971. And he had been a judge! General Tikka Khan never acknowledged the murder of Bengali academics and students his soldiers committed on the night between March 25-26, 1971, at Dhaka University, save only to say that two citizens had been killed by stray bullets. Benazir Bhutto believed what her father told her in his letters to her in 1971. At Harvard, she considered news of the crisis in ‘East Pakistan’ a concerted campaign against her country.
Where the Ghulam Azam case is the issue, Hamid Mir skips across some necessary details of the Jamaat politician’s career and seems unable to believe a ninety-year prison term has been imposed on the man. Mir does not remember or does not know of the perfidious role Azam played before and after 1971. In 1972, he went touring the Middle East on Z.A. Bhutto’s instructions to inform governments in the region of how ‘East Pakistan’ had been ‘occupied’ by the Indian army, how Muslims were being decimated, how Hindus were dominating social life. Mir does not speak of the scores of intellectuals Azam’s goon squads in the Jamaat-e-Islami picked up and murdered in the three days before Bangladesh’s liberation. Of course, Azam is buzurg. The men he and his friends killed are but a footnote in history.
And history of course was denied, even repudiated, by other Bengali quislings of the Pakistan army. Syed Sajjad Husain, passionately fond of western table manners and a correct British pronunciation of English, decided in 1971 to save Pakistan and Islam in the face of the Bengali struggle for liberty. He did that through blatant lies. No academic, he noted with a straight face, had been killed in ‘East Pakistan’ by the army. He knew, even as he spoke, that G.C. Deb and Jyotirmoy Guhathakurta had been bloodied to death by the army. Perhaps Hamid Mir knows of all these gory details of 1971? Perhaps he knows too that the Biharis who he thinks waged a brave war for Pakistan in 1971 are guilty of some of the most atrocious criminality in history? They willingly aided the army in its missions of murder and rape and pillage.
The Pakistani journalist M.B. Naqvi told yours truly more than a decade ago that, like the ancient mariner, he needed to unburden himself of guilt planted in his soul in 1971, when a tour of ‘East Pakistan’ by newsmen from West Pakistan, arranged by the Yahya Khan regime, revealed to him the enormity of the crime the army was cheerily engaged in. He is dead, though his book is in the Pakistani market. You wonder if he did manage to reveal what the world knew forty two years ago. Two decades ago, Mubashir Hasan, friend and colleague of Z.A. Bhutto, was asked if he planned to put his experience of the war to pen and paper. He looked sad. “What can I write?” He asked plaintively, did not seem to know the answer, and slowly shuffled off.
History textbooks in Pakistani schools do not enlighten the young on how and why East Pakistan broke away from the rest of the country, save only to point the finger at Indian and other ‘conspiracy’ to explain things away. Ask the writer Yasmin Saikia. She will tell you how the Pakistan army officers who murdered and raped Bengalis in 1971 today look away from uncomfortable questions and instead draw attention to the flowers in their gardens.
That Ghulam Azam and the likes of him assisted the Pakistan army, that they went looking after Bengali freedom fighters to kill with the help of Yahya Khan’s hordes, that in the interest of Pakistan’s unity they let the blood flow from Bengali men and women are truths men like Hamid Mir should be popularising in Pakistan.
Men like Abul A’ala Maududi and Ghulam Azam grow bitterly into old age. Their parochial, sectarian and murderous politics prevents them from claiming the high places that are the natural calling of buzurg, of respected elders.
Syed Badrul Ahsan is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.