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    Volume 9 Issue 25| June 18, 2010|

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A Change of Heart?

Shahnaz Parveen

Qashaf, a 23-year-old hotel receptionist in Islamabad was terribly curious when he learned that a Bangladeshi media delegation was staying at the hotel he works for.

His curiosity led to conversations that included topics such as “Are Bangladeshis happy being separated from Pakistan?” To his surprise Qashaf found that Bangladeshi people prefer to term the episode as independence, not cessation and that they are quite content with their freedom, which was the fruit of a nine-month long bloodshed.

Qashaf had very little idea about the bloodshed and the events taking place in 1971. The gruesome genocide executed by the Pakistani army in Bangladesh came as a huge revelation for him. With the advance of the conversation, his curiosity about the land that was part of his country 39 years ago, increased.

Post-1971 Pakistani youngsters like Qashaf, are increasingly becoming curious about Bangladesh. According to the Pakistani intellectuals we met during our brief trip, it was the educated youth that was taking the lead in the efforts to unlock what has been kept under the rug for so long in Pakistan.

"Omissions and distortions of the events of 1971 from the school curriculum by former military dictator late General Ziaul Haque created a vacuum and thus confusion among many youngsters in Pakistan,” says Rashed Rahman, Editor of Daily Times, one of the widely circulated newspapers in Pakistan.

"After Zaiul Haque, every new government announced a new education policy along with corrected curricula. However, the event of 1971 that created Bangladesh has never been corrected. It always remained shadowed," he says.

Rahman indicated that an uncomfortable silence about the topic of 1971 ruled over Pakistan's drawing room discussions for quite some time with elders discouraging curiosity amongst the young minds.

"However the flow of information resulting from the invasion of technology such as the Internet is beginning to invoke curiosity among the young people about Bangladesh eventually leading them towards the truth,” he adds.

One such curious Pakistani youth Saad Arshad, an MBA student at the Lahore University of Management and Sciences (LUMS) spoke out.

"In general the young Pakistanis don't know much about Bangladesh. The general idea is that it was once part of our country and the Indian politics separated the two sides in 1971," he says.

"But this much I learned that a lot of injustice was done against them (Bangladeshis) in 1971 and the blame lies with us Pakistanis,” Saad acknowledges while having an uncomfortable conversation with this correspondent in the presence of the PR people of the university.

Echoing Saad's comment, another student of LUMS, Mohammad Ali says, "We have been fed with a lot of negative propaganda, which is why what we know about Bangladesh is quite vague."

Most youngsters however stumbled on the question of formal apology from Pakistan government to ease the existing bitterness, a topic bound to appear during any official visit by Bangladeshi nationals to Pakistan.

Mohammad Ali from LUMS says, "The question of apology should not come up. Both sides were at war then so it should be from both parties."

While most youngsters are just beginning to unveil the different sides of the episode known as 'separation' in Pakistan, some young, enlightened intellectuals are already beginning to move into the future.

"Our generation wants to look forward,” says Umer Mujib Shami, Editor of Daily Pakistan, one of the new breeds of young newspaper entrepreneurs in Pakistan.

"Most young minds believe the bitterness needs to go,” he states adding that both the countries share common historical backgrounds and are currently facing similar economic and political problems, which should be a reason to move ahead.

Umer believes, "The way forward is focusing on economic progress and the first step should be made by enhancing people to people contact to ease the bitterness."


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