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Tense Pakistan-Bangladesh Relations

08 May, 2016

By Asif Haroon Raja


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An international conspiracy was hatched in 1971 to cut Pakistan to size and create Bangladesh (BD). India supported by former Soviet Union had engineered the gory plan of dismemberment. SEATO, CENTO, Common Wealth of which Pakistan was a member as well as the UN and Muslim world quietly and helplessly watched a sovereign country getting brutally bisected and did nothing to prevent the amputation of Pakistan’s eastern limb.

Indian PM proudly claimed in Dacca last year that India had played a pivotal role in the creation of BD. Deputy Speaker of Bangladesh Parliament Shawket Ali had stated in 2011, “I would give 100% credit to India for the liberation of Bangladesh.” (Bangladeshi Newspaper ‘The Independent” December 17, 2011).

Archer Blood in his book: “The Cruel Birth of Bangladesh – Memoirs of an American Diplomat” published by The University Press Limited, Dhaka in 2002: p-304, writes, “Indian soil was made available for training camps, hospitals and supply depots for the Mukti Bahini of the Bengali resistance movement. The Mukti Bahini came to enjoy that great asset of a guerrilla army, a safe haven to which it could retire for rest, food, medical supplies and weapons, safe from the pursuit of its conventionally operating and legally restricted foe. India was in fact waging a proxy war against Pakistan.”

After surrender to the joint command of India and BD on December 16, 1971, the Mukti Bahini who had carried out genocide of non-Bengalis in March 1971 and then had taken part in the nine months insurgency, undertook second round of mass killings and rapes of Biharis and pro-Pakistan Bengalis in the border towns captured by Indian forces from

October/November 1971 onwards. The third round of massacre was undertaken by several Bahinis after the surrender. The killers using bayonets and lances were not stopped by anyone. Survivors were declared as collaborators, interned and subjected to trial and worst persecution for decades and they are still suffering.

93000 Pakistani prisoners of war (25000 regulars, 20,000 irregulars and 48000 civilians) were shifted to India where they languished in prison camps till mid-1974. Being signatory to Geneva Convention, India had an obligation to treat them lawfully with respect and dignity that the soldiers are entitled to in accordance with provisions of Geneva Convention. BD government (govt) however insisted on trial of 1100 military prisoners for war crimes. This figure was later reduced to 195. In retaliation, Pakistan decided to use 400,000 Bangladeshis living in West Pakistan as bargaining chips. Many were accused of giving information to India during the war.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and other Bengali leaders in the meanwhile gave fuel to the orchestrated propaganda campaign against the troops that were deployed in former East Pakistan by stating that 3 million Bengalis had been killed and 300,000 Bengali women and girls raped by soldiers. These myths that were fed to Mujibur Rahman by India have now been proven to be concocted, baseless and frivolous.

Like many Bengali and western writers, Sarmila Bose a senior research fellow at Oxford University – a former BBC presenter and author of book ‘Dead Reckoning’– “says the Pakistani army has been “demonized” by the pro-liberation side and accused of “monstrous actions regardless of the evidence”, while Bengali people have been depicted as “victims”. Her book says the Bengali nationalist rebellion in what was then East Pakistan “turned into xenophobic violence against non-Bengalis” especially against West Pakistanis and mainly Urdu-speaking people who migrated

to East Pakistan from India at the time of partition who were known as Biharis.” (BBC News June 16, 2011)

On July 2, 1972, Bhutto-Indira signed Simla Agreement without deciding the fate of prisoners. On August 10, 1972, Bhutto stated that in case all Pak prisoners were not released, Pakistan will not recognize BD and China will use its veto power to bar BD from becoming a member of the UN. These pressure tactics worked and India-BD-Pakistan signed an accord at Delhi on August 28, 1973 to repatriate prisoners simultaneously. First consignment of 6000 prisoners were released by India in November 1972. This gesture was reciprocated by Pakistan by releasing 10,000 Bengalis.

When BD held on to its demand of trying 195 prisoners on criminal charges, Pakistan rejected their stance saying the alleged criminal acts were committed in a part of Pakistan by citizens of Pakistan and as such only Pakistan had the right to try them. Pakistan then seized 203 Bengalis and announced that they will be put on trial.

BD finally accepted Pakistan’s proposal and withdrew its demand of trial of 195 prisoners. (This list included the names of Lt Gen AAK Niazi, all division, brigade and battalion commanders). This was formalized on April 10, 1974 through a tripartite agreement. It was mutually agreed to forgive and forget the mistakes of the past in order to promote reconciliation. Consequently all the prisoners returned home by mid-1974 and Pakistan not only released all the stranded Bengalis but also agreed to take back 50,000 Biharis. Pakistan recognized BD in February 1974.

BD went through most agonizing times after its independence and it did not take long for the people to realise that they had been taken for a ride. Only 9% had wished for independence, while the rest were against

it. People fondly recalled the contributions made by Ayub Khan and hated India’s meddlesome role. They developed aversion for India after seeing the systematic plunder of their resources by the Indian Army while returning home in 1972. Those who had remained in refugee camps in India narrated sorrowful tales of mistreatment and rape of every Bengali/Bihari girl and women by the camp custodians. Their sins were put in the basket of Pak Army.

Sheikh Mujib distrusted BD Army and gave preference to Mukti Bahini and other freedom fighters groups over them, which bred discontentment. Ultimately, a military coup took place and troops murdered Mujib and 23 of his family members in August 1975. All were dumped in a mass grave. Later on, Gen Ziaur Rahman took over the reins of power. He restored some semblance of order by pursuing Ayub Khan’s policies and he mended fences with Pakistan. Alarmed by these developments, RAW created trouble for BD by instigating insurgency of Chakmas in Chittagong hill tracts and supporting the rebels.

Likewise, RAW had been assigned Sindh and Baluchistan in Pakistan as future targets of subversion in 1973. RAW in collaboration with KGB and KHAD actively supported Marri-Mengal led Baloch insurgency in Baluchistan and also supported Sindhu Desh movement in Sindh.

Pakistan-BD relations remained friendly when Gen Ziaur Rahman, Gen Ershad Hussain and Khalida Zia (Begum of Gen Zia) were in power. However, relations strained during the two previous and ongoing third stint of Sheikh Hasina Wajid, daughter of Mujibur Rahman. She owes her third time premiership to India and she has virtually made BD a satellite of India.

In order to further spoil Pak-BD relations, Hasina Wajid at the behest of India started trials of the collaborators in 2010, accused of alleged war crimes in 1971 war. Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) members (political ally of

Khalida’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party - BNP) are the main target since Islamists are posing a serious threat to secularism espoused by ruling Awami League. An International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) of BD by 2012, indicted nine members of JI and two from BNP.

They were accused of collaborating with Pak Army and carrying out genocide of Bengalis. Kangaroo courts have utterly failed in giving due justice to the accused. Al Jazeera recorded on October 29, 2014, “Human Rights Watch and the International Bar Association are just two of a number of bodies that have formally criticized the ICT for being incompatible with international standards on matters of transparency and fairness, and for not following due process.”

So far four JI leaders (Abdul Kader, M. Kamaruzzan, Salahuddin Quader Chowdhry and Ali Ahsan Muhammad) have been hanged to death and some awarded life sentence and several more are in firing line. Ghulam Azad awarded 90 years jail sentence died in custody. Most were ministers in BNP govt and were Islamic scholars.

When Pakistan condemned the trials and executions saying those were in violation of the 1974 tripartite agreement, Asma Jahangir consistently supported so-called war of liberation of Bengali rebels in 1971 and accused Yahya regime for denying power to Sheikh Mujib She stated: “It is ridiculous for Pakistan to be so concerned about executions in BD when the govt failed to raise any concern about Pakistanis executed in Saudi Arabia, or about own trials which result in executions”.

There are quite a few morons in Pakistan who have persistently put the entire blame on Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Tikka Khan and Gen Niazi for the genocide of Bengalis and breakup of Pakistan and projected Mujib and extremist Bengalis as victims and innocent. They ignored Mujib’s rebellion against the state and gruesome atrocities of Mukti Bahinis who had initiated the carnage against non-Bengalis. The likes of Asma

Jahangir and Hamid Mir have been demanding trial of the military and said so on BD TV, which in my view was a treasonous act. They didn’t have the modesty to mellow it down by asking for the accountability of the Mukti Bahini and those who conspired with India to breakup Pakistan. The two as well as Saleema Hashmi received awards from BD govt for promoting BD cause.

As if this was not enough, the BD ruling junta has now decided to carry out a symbolic trial in absentia of 195 Pak Army officers for their alleged war crimes. It has taken the plea that the 1974 Tripartite Agreement was not ratified by BD Parliament and hence trials could be held under their ICT formed in 1972. The ICT Act is not an international tribunal, and more so, it was promulgated in 1973, much after the war. As such, it cannot be applied retrospectively. There is no clause in 1974 Tripartite Treaty which says that the act of clemency can be withdrawn by BD govt. Furthermore, ICT Act 1973 is inconsistent with Constitution of BD as well as of Tripartite Agreement.

BD govt has also decided to move the case in International Criminal Court (ICC) in Hague. Of course, ICC is not empowered to undertake a trial for 1971 war crimes.

Richard Sisson and Leo E Rose writing in 1990 in their book “War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh” stated that it remained impossible to obtain reliable estimates of how many ‘liberation fighters’ were killed in combat, how many Bihari (non-Bengali) Muslims and supporters of Pakistan were killed by Bengali Muslims, and how many people were killed by Pakistani, Indian or Mukhti Bahinis fire and bombing during the war. In this case, the only credible source would have been the population census conducted before 1971 and after the war which BD did not do”. So how come BD govt has determined the atrocities committed per person per Army officer and why it has completely excluded barbarities committed by Mukti Bahini.

In case BD still wishes to proceed with the trials despite glaring oddities, it will have to request Pakistan to extradite 195 accused for trials. A request if made after lapse of 45 years, will be unjust and entirely politically motivated and Pakistan will be on a high moral ground to turn it down.

BD decision to start mock trials related to 1971 war carry a sinister agenda. On one hand India wants to keep Pakistan and BD at loggerheads since friendship between the two will become a security hazard for India. India remains fearful of the possibility of the two joining hands and collaborating militarily to pose a twin threat to India. BD threatens the soft belly of India in the northeast which is the hub of so many insurgencies.

It is widely believed in Pakistan that war trials are aimed at raking coals to besmirch Pak Army’s image which has scaled new heights of popularity among the public because of its splendid performance against foreign funded terrorists. Political weather is also getting rough because of Panama Leaks involving the highest civilian office that has created a serious credibility issue for the incumbent Prime Minister.

After 9/11, another international conspiracy against Pakistan was conceived. This time India had the support of USA, Israel, Afghanistan, and the West. These conniving partners created terrorist groups TTP in FATA, and BLA, BRA, BLF in Baluchistan and cultivated MQM in Karachi. Later on, all the militant groups in FATA and Punjab as well as Kashmir specific Jihadi groups were brought under the umbrella of TTP.

The situation is however different to what it was in erstwhile East Pakistan although the scope and dimensions of the conspiracy are much wider and dangerous. 14 years have gone by and mercifully the conspirators have failed in their sinister schemes because of matchless

bravery and dogged fortitude of armed forces and ISI, and resilience of the people.

In the wake of Pakistan having submitted substantive evidence of involvement of RAW in FATA, Baluchistan and Karachi to the UN and the US and informing the international community, India is now playing all sorts of tricks to hide its crimes and to put Pakistan on defensive. Besides the false flag operation in Pathankot, it has asked Afghan unity government to adopt a hostile posture against Pakistan. Trial of 195 in BD, blocking sale of eight F-16 jets to Pakistan by the US Congress are indicators that adversaries of Pakistan are as active as ever.

The writer is retired Brig, war veteran, defence analyst, columnist, historian, Directors Measac Research Centre, Director Board of Governors Thinkers Forum Pakistan. He delivers lectures and takes part in TV talk shows. His five books include ‘Maarka Hilli’ and ‘Roots of 1971 Tragedy’, and his sixth book ‘East Pakistan Crisis: Battle of Hilli’ is under publication. asifharoonraja@gmail.com

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