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  0 comments   |     by Samson Simon Sharaf

Bangladesh: The other side of story

Samson Simon Sharaf

Forty years ago in 1971, on November 14 night in Chittagong, a Pakistani sniper of the Special Service Group, felt he saw a “phantom”. The Pakistani soldier did not take any chances and opened fire. The shadowy figures melted away into the darkness. One among them was, however, dying, fatally shot. The Pakistani soldier did not know that he had just killed one of the toughest CIA-trained Tibetan guerrilla leader Dhondup Gyatotsang a brigadier of the CIA trained Tibetan Liberation Army.”

Manas Paul in his despatch Phantom Warriors of 1971: Unsung Tibetan Guerrillas

The journalist goes on to write it was this elite commando force called Establishment-22 that trained and blended with Mukti Bahini. This excerpt proves that the Indian involvement in East Pakistan began much before 1971. If Ashok Raina, a writer on Indian intelligence, is to be believed, it began much earlier around 1962-63. 1971 began with premeditated cold blooded murders, rape and tortures under the watchful eyes of RAW.

The fall of Dacca and splitting of Pakistan is conveniently forgotten by Pakistan’s establishment. The Hamood ur Rehman Commission Report ordered by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was neither released nor implemented because it could have refreshed memories. It was expedient for the power hungry corridors to continue pursuing the unethical practices and breed a culture that in the first place was the main cause of this disintegration. The biggest scare this report created was that it stood to expose the ugly role of many politicians, generals and bureaucrats. The stakes were too high for tunnel vision objectives.  Had it been released and acted upon, Pakistan would have taken a different course.

All nations have an innate conscience. This innate should never come to life. In Pakistan where politics revolves around individuals; the elites can never run the risk of awakening this conscience. Those who stand to lose most are the people who have been abandoned for over four decades. Some died before the military action, others during it and the most in the aftermath in the name of Bengali Patriotism. Many still rot in the slums of Bangladesh and Karachi. While the Bengali patriots are still celebrated and eulogised, those who ideologically supported Pakistan are still being hounded and pushed to gallows. The Bangladesh government has revised the meaning of patriotism under its latest indemnity.

But who would account for the nameless; many massacred before the military action and after the surrender till 1975? The killing sprees and ethnic cleansing in East Pakistan and Bangladesh involved many actors. Official accounts by Bangladesh and India put all blame on Pakistan. Countries that were intrinsically involved in this debacle including USA, Soviet Union and India have cleverly camouflaged facts and use fiction built perceptions to apportion blame on Pakistan Army. India has destroyed all records related to 1971.

Most accounts of the so called genocide are unsubstantiated. Unless DNA sampling is done, no one would know what ethnicity lies buried in mass graves. Still, propaganda against Pakistan invariably begins and a quote by Anthony Mascarenhas, a West Pakistani journalist is instructive. Even his reporting cannot be substantiated as he could not be everywhere at all times. However, what researchers miss in his accounts is what he filed before the military action had begun. In a despatch of June 1971 he wrote:-  

“First it was the massacre of the non-Bengalis in a savage outburst of Bengali hatred... On the night of March 25 the Bengali troops and paramilitary units stationed in East Pakistan mutinied and attacked non-Bengalis with atrocious savagery. Thousands of families of unfortunate Muslims, many of them refugees from Bihar who chose Pakistan at the time of the partition riots in 1947, were mercilessly wiped out. Women were raped, or had their breasts torn out with specially-fashioned knives. Children did not escape the horror; the lucky ones were killed with their parents.”

Tragically the death toll included officers and their families from West Pakistan. Most ladies and girls were raped repeatedly and killed.

Here is another eyewitness account of an officer. “As the ship approached Chittagong, there were bodies floating. Near the port, the bodies increased with the muddy and partially bloody water of the Brahmaputra. The ship had to wade through a sea of bodies to enter the harbour. All the roads were littered with dead bodies of Beharis and West Pakistanis; it was impossible to remove them except by Bulldozers. In the Chittagong stadium, a mass blood collection drive was going on from captured pro Pakistanis. After the blood was drained the living corpse were dumped into the Brahmaputra, which floated them to the open sea. Near Natore was a small Bihari town called Santahar. A mass massacre was taking place. Out Battalion was ordered to go reach by train. The approach was difficult because of the terrible stench of putrid bodies and blood. Corps of Engineers/EME had to get civilian Bulldozers to remove bodies from the train platforms and dig mass graves where, 17,000 men women and children corpses of Biharis were buried by my Battalion alone.”

My elder brother served in East Pakistan and surrendered well after the debacle. The first question my mother asked him on repatriation was “are your hands clean?” There are many like by brother who admit, that certainly, some collateral damage could have killed civilians, but there was never a meditated plan to this effect. The killing of non-Bengalis post surrender was so immense in his sector that the Indian officer who took him prisoner resigned immediately after his unit was de-inducted from Bangladesh. He said it was not possible for him to accept large scale massacres post 1971 under the eyes of Indian army.

Between January and April 1971 there was no State writ in East Pakistan. Massive massacre of non-Bengali population was committed by criminal gangs all over the country. Women were molested and raped before being killed. Bayonet strength of Pakistan Army was around 12,000 in March 1971 and swelled to 33,000 by the time surrender took place. Given that these soldiers faced multi direction threats, were dispersed in small pockets and were mostly deployed on Pakistan-India border, it is never possible for such low number of combatants to kill millions or hundreds of thousands of people and hide them in mass graves or commit large scale rapes. Even the illegitimate births recorded in Mother Theresa’s centres record more births of rapes committed after 16 December 1971.

Ashok Raina in his book, ‘Inside Raw: The story of India’s Secret Service’ clearly refers to the Chittagong event of March 1971: “While the troops in Chittagong disembarked, RAW operatives were frantically trying to comply with the message they had received”. The message was to convince Sheikh Mujib to establish a government in exile 100 yards on the Indian side. In the same book he accepts that India pumped 2,000 Mukhti Bahini every six weeks from its training camps. Hence by July 1971, these irregulars had tied down Pakistan army along the frontiers. Eye witnesses indicate that the methods of killing were distinctively Tibetan.

Saurab Kumar in ‘History’s Forgotten Orphans’ writes that after 16 December 1971, over 5,000 armed Awani League guerrillas dispensed mob justice killing and bayoneting pro-Pakistanis with cries of Joi Bangla. A Bengali analyst Tajammul Hussain writes that Rakhi Bahini continued to kill Pakistani federalists and non-Bengalis till 15 August 1975. He narrates one gory tale about Serajganj, a town of Pabna where many pro Pakistanis were dumped in a jail building and set on fire. He writes that such killings were a favourite sport of Mujeeb’s private armies led by Rakhi Bahini.

Sarmila Bose in her book ‘Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War’ provides a peep into what happened to pro-Pakistanis in East Pakistan in those fateful days before and after 16 December 1971. Now that she has taken the lead, as also the ire of India and Bangladesh, the government of Pakistan must inquire and bring out facts about the massacre of pro-Pakistan federalists. It is only after the truth from both sides of the divides is unraveled, would the true scale of tragedy will be known.

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