In commemoration of the Bangladeshi genocide that began (sort of) on March 25, 1971.
The birth of a nation is often (always?) violent. In many cases, the groups fighting for their freedom succeed, and in many other cases, they don’t. In the case of Bangladesh, they succeed, fortunately, but at the expense of so much violence, so much loss, so much destruction. And a genocide that it looks like only Bangladesh itself remembers while the rest of the world denies it (like Pakistan, even though Pakistan committed it) or doesn’t remember it (everyone else).
The genocide in Bangladesh wasn’t the first (or last) that Pakistan is guilty of. The first form of any violence that Pakistan committed inside its new borders was against Pashtuns in Babarra, Charsadda, on August 12, 1948. Like the genocide against Bangladesh, Pakistan denies all the other violence it has committed and continues to commit against people, both inside and outside its borders. Like Shias, Ahmadis, Balochis, Pukhtun, … and the list goes on.
What had happened was, Hindustan split into two nations: Pakistan and India. Pakistan included West Pakistan (current-day Pakistan) and East Pakistan (current-day Bangladesh). East and West Pakistanis were separated by India, and stuff just logistically made no sense, you see. But it also made no sense for other reasons, like the cultural differences between Bengalis and Pakistanis, and Bengalis wanted their own state. It wasn’t fair for a lot of other reasons, too, including, for example, the fact that East Pakistan was creating some 59% of Pakistan’s exports but was receiving only “25 percent of the country’s industrial investments and 30 percent of its imports” (as cited here). Then, of course, Urdu became the national language when less than 10% of East Pakistan could barely speak Urdu. And apparently, the elites of West Pakistan thought they was the best of God’s creation and thought the East Pakistanis inferior in all ways (then again, elites tend to do this everywhere, so). It looks like the last straw for Bengalis was the Bhola Cyclone of November 1970, which killed between 300,000 and 500,000 people in East Pakistan, and Pakistan hardly attempted to help the people – despite having the resources to do so. This was the deadliest cyclone in history.
Read about other reasons for Bangladesh’s demand for independence here.
Now, East Pakistan had some 20 million more people than West Pakistan. So during its first general elections in December 1970, a huge majority of the Bengalis voted for Mujibur Rahman, who was working for Bangladesh’s independence and who is known as Bangabandhu in Bangladesh (the title means “friend of the Bengal”). This, while West Pakistan’s voters voted for different parties. In other words, Mujibur Rahman won the elections (made sense because Bengalis were the majority in the state of Pakistan). Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto had come in second place. West Pakistan wasn’t pleased, to put it mildly, so it declared martial law in February. To quote then-president General Agha Mohammad Yahya Khan from the February conference, “Kill three million of them, and the rest will eat out of our hands.” (Cited here
East Pakistan responded by calling for civil disobedience on March 7, 1971; March 7th is also when Rahman officially announced that East Pakistan demands independence. Rahman and Yahya Khan hung out to discuss the matter and supposedly reached an agreement, except that on the night of March 25, everything that could go wrong went wrong: the genocide began.
Rahman was arrested–by Yahya Khan at the request of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto–and placed in solitary confinement in West Pakistan (he was released and returned to Bangladesh, in 1971, after Bangladesh won its independence). On the 26th, 60-80,000 West Pakistani soldiers (who’d already been occupying East Pakistan for several months) started a massacre that later became known as Operation Searchlight. The purpose was to stifle the Bengali quest for independence within a month, though the last city was fallen in mid-May. Intellectuals, students, politicians, and other civilians were murdered throughout the whole time the operation was taking place. Before the operation began
, “all foreign journalists were systematically deported from Bangladesh.” However, Pakistani journalists were actually invited to report the crisis
but with the purpose of showing what West Pakistan’s capable of doing to those who challenge its establishment. I think this is how we know that, for instance,
“the Awami League [Rahman’s party] supporters had massacred tens of thousands of civilians whose loyalty they suspected, a war crime that is still denied by many today in Bangladesh.” Eight journalists were given a tour of the area and were supposed to report what they were told to report, but one of them refused. His name was Anthony Mascarenhas. He and his family fled Pakistan before he could write a story on the event.
Dhaka University was the first place to be attacked (March 25th) and some 7,000 people were killed in that one single night, but:
“Within a week, half the population of Dacca had fled, and at least 30,000 people had been killed. Chittagong, too, had lost half its population. All over East Pakistan people were taking flight, and it was estimated that in April some thirty million people [!] were wandering helplessly across East Pakistan to escape the grasp of the military.” (Cited here
As with (all?) official, militaristic violence (Armenia, Bosnia, China, Rwanda, …), the men were murdered (as were, obviously, millions of women, too BUT), the women were raped. Rape has always been classic weapon in wars. On the rape of the women:
“When Australian doctor Geoffrey Davis was brought to Dhaka by the United Nations to assist with late-term abortions of raped women, at the end of the war, he believed the estimated figure for the number of Bengali women who were raped—200,000 to 400,000
—was probably too low.” (From here
The total number of Bengalis massacred during this time–the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, as it’s known–is unknown, but depending on whose version of history you wanna believe, it ranges from 20,000 to 3,00,000 (!!!). Pakistan’s official story is that 26,000 were killed. (My professional opinion is that it’s always more towards the latter/higher number because the official count is always reduced for PR purposes.) And over 3 million were forced to flee their homes. And then there’s this:
“…… we were told to kill the hindus and Kafirs (non-believer in God). One day in June, we cordoned a village and were ordered to kill the Kafirs in that area. We found all the village women reciting from the Holy Quran, and the men holding special congregational prayers seeking God’s mercy. But they were unlucky. Our commanding officer ordered us not to waste any time.” – Confessions of a Pakistani Soldier
As is the U.S.’s forte, it played quite a violent role in the genocide as well: West Pakistan was already BFFs with the U.S. at this time, and the U.S., in its shining armor, was already providing it plenty military support. To summarize, the U.S. (Nixon and Kissinger) needed Pakistan as an ally at this point in history because the U.S. was planning to
open a channel to China–that would help them withdraw itself from Vietnam while also exploiting the Soviet rivalry with China. (More on this exploitation here
“The recklessness of Nixon and Kissinger only got worse. They dispatched ships from the Seventh Fleet into the Bay of Bengal, and even encouraged China to move troops to the Indian border, possibly for an attack — a maneuver that could have provoked the Soviet Union. Fortunately, the leaders of the two Communist countries proved more sober than those in the White House. The war ended quickly, when India crushed the Pakistani Army and East Pakistan declared independence.”
So, basically, the war and genocide came to an end in early December when West Pakistan and India went to war, India “crushed” Pakistan, and on December 16, 1971, Bangladesh won its independence. (And, na, this doesn’t mean India was Bangladesh’s savior. ‘S not like India’s any more innocent than Pakistan, really. For starters, all the atrocities it committed during the Partition. But more on that when I grow up.)
And the struggle for peace continues ❤
Categories: Death to patriarchy, genocides, human rights, Pakistan, social justice, violence in this world
Tags: genocides, Pakistan, violence against women