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    Volume 10 |Issue 45 | December 01, 2011 |


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The Subdued Voices of Pakistan

Shahriar Kabir, noted writer, filmmaker, journalist, activist and a member of the national committee that has been formed to prepare a list of foreign nationals for their remarkable contributions in our Liberation War, shares his experience of his recent visit to Pakistan with The Star.

I have been to Pakistan after five years on a twelve-day visit on a mission to find the whereabouts of the Pakistanis, who during the Liberation War criticised the genocide perpetrated by the occupying Pakistani Army, protested through various means and wanted the peaceful transition of power and supported democracy. I had quiet a few interesting experiences during my mission.

I stayed at the guest house of PILER — Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research — a non-government institution in Karachi, which educates and researches on labour movement and trade unions. They arranged the exhibition of my film “Portrait of Jihad” at the PILER auditorium, where more than hundred students, young journalists, labour union leaders and members had taken part in a discussion.

They highly appreciated how along with the rise of religious extremism, our government has taken different steps in curbing terrorism in Bangladesh, which I mentioned in my discussion. They said, "Bangladesh can be our role model in this instance." The PILER members said that it is unimaginable that the top brass of Jamaat is in prison in Bangladesh awaiting the tribunal of war crimes. In Pakistan, it is almost unthinkable that any Jamaat leader can be tried.

Shahriar Kabir, Photo: Star File

I have talked about our civil society who has continued their fight for secularism, democracy and human rights since 1947. They said that it is a matter of inspiration for Pakistan because now in Pakistan the word secularism cannot even be pronounced. The Jamaat chief (of Pakistan) has given fatwa that anyone who speaks of secularism will be considered as apostate and given due punishment, which is reflected in Salman Taseer's murder.

Under the circumstances, the discussants viewed Bangladesh as a role model. On the other hand, some students had some strange perceptions. One young woman asked me, 'What is the similarity or difference between Muktibahini and Al-Qaeda?' It seemed that the girl considers Al-Qaeda members as freedom fighters just like the Muktibahini and thus draws a parallel. The chairman of the function, BM Kutty felt embarrassed by the question but I reassured him saying, "There is nothing to be embarrassed about. They have developed such assumptions because they grew up without history. They do not know the actual history. It also seemed that they do not have a clear idea about AL-Qaeda. Let me explain."

I explained the situation to the woman and the next day it received a huge coverage in all the leading dailies of Pakistan. Except for the daily Dawn which wrote, 'Mr Kabir made some aggressive comments about 1971,' referring to my comments on the torture of Pakistani Army, all the other news reports were positive.

At our ambassador's party, many human rights activists, foreign ministry officials came. They basically showed interest and wanted to know more about:

1) the steps our government has taken to tackle terrorism and religious extremism
2) the war crimes tribunal.

They positively view the steps that have already been taken and their appreciation is evident in the editorial published in the Daily News on October 5, 2011. They have welcomed the initiative of the Bangladesh government in conducting the tribunal.

They also wanted to know why we had not taken any steps to try the Pakistanis. I replied that all the trials cannot be held simultaneously. Our primary task is to try the war criminals of our country and then comes the trial of the Pakistanis. Of course, we will have to try the Pakistanis. Otherwise the question of their trial will rise if victims come forward and name Pakistani army officials who have victimised them or their families. In that case, tribunal has to give them justice. It is an International Crimes Tribunal and this issue is covered under our Act. However, the priority is now trying our country's war criminals, against whom evidence is available and everyone can name them.

A list of 195 generals and senior officials of the Pakistan army was made but in most cases it was seen that, during torture common soldiers did not wear their badges. So nobody could identify them. In this regard, I believe, the conscious citizens of Pakistan will help us. They have already started a campaign that demands an official apology of Pakistan to Bangladesh for committing crimes in 1971. Hamid Mir is one of the main initiators of the campaign and he is lobbying for this through the senators, who include both Muslim League and Pakistan People's Party leaders along with left politicians.

The young people of the country feel remorse for the deeds of a couple of generals in the past. They ask us not to misunderstand them. They opine that the perpetrators should be tried, Pakistan should apologise and the stranded Pakistanis who want to go back should be taken back. However there is a debate on the last issue. Some, especially, the Sindhis feel that such a measure will put pressure on the population of Karachi to which I disagreed.

Regarding history, at school level in Pakistan, the Pakistan Studies textbook refers to the events of 1971 as war between India and Pakistan which resulted into the fall out of Bangladesh. There is no mention of genocide anywhere and there is nothing more said about the war. Changing the textbooks of Pakistan is a for-fetched issue, which I do not think is possible at the moment. We cannot place all our demands together now; rather we should pursue:

1. Recognition of the genocide. I told them that they had to admit that Pakistan Army had perpetrated the genocide.
2. Condemnation of genocide.
3. Officially apologise for the war crimes.
4. Help in conducting the war crimes tribunal since they have a lot of documents and evidence.
5. Settling the war reparation.
6. Repatriating the stranded Pakistanis.

Regarding Sharmila Bose's work, even Pakistanis do not perceive her positively. After the publication of Sharmila's book, Hamid Mir, a Pakistani journalist, was asked why being Pakistanis both he and his father recognised the occurrence of genocide in East Pakistan by the occupying Pakistan Army while Indian scholar Sharmila demands otherwise. His reply was that his investigation shows that the project (Sharmila Bose's publication) was sponsored by Pakistani generals.

About compensation I told them that in 1947, during the Partition, Pakistan received 70 crore rupees, which Delhi immediately paid off. If you considered ours as separation; in 1971 two separate countries were formed, therefore there should not be any ideological or legal barriers in giving us our dues. They also think that this should be done. However, the amount has to be decided by the governments of the two countries through political and diplomatic discussion. Although only the progressive civil society in Pakistan nurtures such perceptions, I have met a Muslim League senator at a party who said that he would bring up the topic of apology at the parliament.

Definitely we want to see a secular democratic Pakistan not a country divided into pieces. We do not have any hatred for the present generation of Pakistanis or the ordinary people of Pakistan. However those who justify the genocide or support it, we will always view them as our opponents.

as told to TAMANNA KHAN


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