Tell it as it was -- Afsan Chowdhury


Bir Farid: The only son of a mother - Shamsul Hossain


Journey to victory - Major Genral Shafiullah spoke to Kaushik Sankar Das

'I would rather die than sign any false statement' - An interview with 'Weekly Bichitra'

'I would rather die than sign any false statement' - Arnold Zeitlin


A terrifying victory day -- Shamsher Chowdhury


'Our past has become unpredicatable' - Major General Moin-ul Hussain Choudhury speaks


Streets of Dhaka on 16 December - Nilufar Begum


The ecstasy of victory -- Nurul Islam Anu


Through the eyes
of a diplomat - MM Rezaul Karim


A boy's memory of the war - Ekram Kabir


Fall of 'Dacca'- Siddiq Salik


Towards nation's prosperity -- Ashraf
Al Deen


The story of six brothers -- Akbar Hossain


As I look back -- A
M M Shawkat Ali


on Kalachara -- Lieutenant
General M Harun-Ar-Rashid, BP


assemblages -- Major
Qamrul Hassan Bhuiyan


memories -- Mustafa Zaman


of the tortured


Fearless Female Fighters -- Manisha


Following the path of freedom -- Fayza Huq


Passion for independence -- Novera Deepita


Depicting the actual massacre -- Afsar Ahmed


Missing links of history- Brigadier General M. Sakhawat Hussain


Looking the past in the eye - Habibul Haque Khondker


Missing links of history

Brigadier General M. Sakhawat Hussain

On 15th December 2003, ARY Digital TV network, a Pakistani owned private TV station that beams from Dubai, aired a program that no Pakistani or Pakistani media had done before. It was an interview based TV talk show that centered on a few characters that played keys role in military operations in the then East Pakistan in 1971. Not only Pakistanis, but one of the Bangladeshi stalwarts, the only surviving sector commander and post Liberation Chief of Army Staff, Major General KM Shafiullah also participated in voicing his opinion. In his interview General Shafiullah in brief explained the aim and objective and the circumstances that led to Bengali resistance to Pakistani brutality that led to the War of Independence.

The TV programme was designed to dig out the 'missing links' of the story around the fall of Dhaka and emergence of Bangladesh, particularly in the Pakistani perspective and inform young Pakistanis what twist that history took to break, in presenter's opinion, the largest Muslim country in the world, by trying to put some missing links together.

The compere of the program raised couple of pertinent questions. One of those was a very pointed allegation on his Pakistani guests, two of the infamous generals involved in the Bengali massacre, Major General Rao Farman Ali, Civil Affairs adviser to the then governor of East Pakistan, and the last Pakistani Commander Eastern Command, Lieutenant General AAK Niazi, the man who surrendered to the joint Indo-Bangla command on 16th December 1971. It may be mentioned that that was the last phone-in interview of these two infamous generals, a week before their death. The only other civilian person interviewed, was Mr. Saleh Khaled then SSP of Dhaka.

However, the TV program was laudable in that it tried to extract some vital information from two main characters i.e. Generals Farman Ali and Niazi in a bid to find the missing link of the black history of Pakistan. The two issues that formed the basis of the programme were one, who was responsible for killing of the Bengali intellectuals. Two, who is to be blamed for the actions that saw the end of united Pakistan?

It was Rao Farman Ali, first to be interviewed, who blamed the trio, General Yahya, Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and General Pirzada for the Bangladesh crisis. For the military defeat he blamed General AAK Niazi.
However, Farman Ali was asked about his role in the killings of the Bengali intellectuals on 14 December 1971, couple of days prior to the liberation. Farman Ali partly denied his connivance with this gruesome cold-blooded execution that rivals Hitler's SS force but he inclined to make Niazi culpable for the crime. What the General said as an effort to clear his name was that it was the work of al-Badr anti-liberation militia, and he only came to know about that once he was in the Indian POW camp. He rather sheepishly agreed that he did control the movement of this militia raised and armed by Civil Affairs Adviser's office. Al-Badr was essentially controlled by Jamat-e-Islami, but Farman Ali totally declined the suggestion that he did move or authorise any armed group to seize any one from Dhaka University area. But the factual position was that Farman Ali, having been the Civil Affairs Adviser, controlled the operation of such armed militia that operated in support of the Pakistani authority.

What happened in 14th December 1971 could not have taken place without the connivance of the Pak Military oligarchy. In his disposition he said that after the resignation of the governor in first week of December, he (Farman Ali) moved inside Dhaka cantonment where he found Niazi listing people to be arrested to which he (Farman) wanted to intervene suggesting that when the Indian army was within striking distance of Dhaka there was hardly any time to indulge in such a foolhardy operation. What Farman Ali implied was that it was Niazi who could have done such an atrocious act but he could not ascertain the names that Niazi insisted on arresting prior to surrender.

To the charge of intellectual killings Niazi denied to have had any hand. What transpired from the interview was that, among these two, any one of them could have had a hand in the most coward and un-soldierly act. History however records the name of Rao Farman Ali who had total control on the events of then East Pakistan and the anti-liberation forces, arming and training them as the Civil Affair Adviser to the provincial government. Be that as it may, the question that remains unanswered is why these intellectuals were killed couple of day before the surrender of Pakistani troops when for the entire duration of the liberation war these celebrities never left their premises? The irony is that no inquiry was ever held in Pakistan to ascertain the conduct of their officers in a war that they had lost. This could have helped Pakistan army to shed the historical burden that they will carry for generations.

However, when asked whom they would hold responsible for 1971, all the Pakistanis interviewed had no hesitation in pointing that it was Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto who had misguided Generals Yahya Khan, Hamid and Pirzada. Mr. Bhutto proved to be a power-hungry man, who not only tacitly supported the military action but also planned the action in advance before he left Dhaka under the cover of darkness on 25th March 1971. On reaching Karachi he had thanked God for saving Pakistan, a phrase that is still haunting Pakistani politics.

A very interesting piece of information that Farman Ali revealed was Bhutto's ambition to be in power. Farman Ali, who met Bangabandhu in one of the political parleys that was taking place in the Governor's house, told the general that Mr. Bhutto had cajoled Awami League to assure him of the presidency but Mujib declined to commit as he (Mujib) is said to have told Bhutto that it was the parliamentary committee to decide. Farman Ali further said that the Awami League had some one else in mind to appoint as president of Pakistan. The LFO for drafting constitution provision for a West Pakistani president in case of a East Pakistani prime minister and vice versa. One could take Farman Ali's statement as nearer to fact as he had access to both the leaders, though as he stated, he never attended any political parleys. In sum and substance General Farman Ali absolved Sk. Mujibur Rahman and the Bengalis as responsible for the event.

What these two main players of 1971 events revealed would burden Pakistan history for betrayal with their people for generations to come. What the Bengalis aspired in 1970 election was minimum of autonomy within Pakistan but that was denied by those who had played little a part in creating Pakistan.

Yet the then East Pakistan was considered a burden for Pakistan since exploitative policies faced challenges from Bengalis. It was the Pakistani ruling elites who were even ready to trade off the majority province for rest of Kashmir. The fact that West Pakistan was more than willing to leave East Pakistan at its 'mercy' was well documented by Lieutenant General AAK Niazi in his book 'Betrayal of East Pakistan' where he exposed how over the years Pakistani policy makers became less interested to keep Pakistan united. Niazi writes, "immediately after 1970 elections Mr. Bhutto had asked MM Ahmed, advisor Economic Affairs Division, and Mr. Qamar-ul Islam, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, to prepare a paper for him ( Bhutto) to prove that West Pakistan could flourish without East Pakistan.

A still from 'Muktir Gaan'

However, the question remains why is that we could not foresee the events that had clear indication of the execution of the plan? The political build up prior to the war of liberation had no plans incorporated to resist the probable military onslaught. The fact is well documented even by those who led the War of Liberation and confirmed from the statement of Rao Farman Ali. He said that Bangabandhu was working for a political agreement and a minimum of his earlier 'six point' till last.

The fact remains that Bangladeshis were hardly prepared to face the military onslaught on night 25th March 1971. It was a handful of Bengali members of the Armed Forces, EPR (East Pakistan Rifles) and Police who took up arms to initiate the war of liberation and provide space for politicians to render political support. Major General KM Shafiullah substantiated the fact when he spoke at the TV talk show. Major General KM Shafiullah, categorically stated that they remained loyal to Pakistan Army till the army he was part of launched murderous attacks on unarmed Bengalis. It was sheer patriotism of Bengalis that motivated them, not necessarily under any particular ideology.

It was a people's struggle. And struggle continues to achieve excellence as a forward-looking nation in the world community.

Photo courtesy: Tareq Masud

Looking the past in the eye

Habibul Haque Khondker

Sidrah, a student of mine of Pakistani origin at National University of Singapore came to see me the other day. She asked me some questions on the course I was teaching, and then she asked me whether I would answer some of her questions not related to Sociological Theory, the course I was teaching. I agreed.

Sidrah was born more than a decade after the birth of Bangladesh or the breakup of Pakistan -- depending on which way you look at it. Her family has lived in Singapore for a long time now. The distance from Pakistan gives her some detachment, if not complete objectivity. A Pakistani in Pakistan would know, more or less, what happened. There the official story was that India helped some "misguided" Bengali leaders such as Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to break up Pakistan. And that was all. So there was not much to find out.

Sidrah wanted to know what happened looking straight into my eyes. She wanted to know in what way people of Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) were different from Pakistan (then West Pakistan) and why Pakistan could not remain united. After over three decades these questions made me look back at a time when I was younger than Sidrah today, a witness to hopes, tragedies, anguish, fear, relentless patriotism, nationalism, revolution, liberation war -- in a word, history.

Memories came back to haunt me. Some of my dear friends perished in that war. I was lucky to tell the stories to none other than one who descended from the same people who were on the other side of the divide. I do not know how the children of the Jews from Auschwitz looked at the children of Nazis, or Palestinian children would look at an Israeli.

I did not see her as an enemy. She was just a twenty year old girl slightly older than my own daughter who grew up in foreign land unencumbered by animosities or past baggage. They are members of the "Cell phone generation." They listen to Anasthesia and Eminem. They do not care much about history. They look into the future with eyes wide-open.

Sidrah was different. She wanted some answers. Is Islam in Bangladesh and Pakistan the same? I asked her whether she was fasting. She said she did. Luckily on that day, I could also say to her that I too was fasting. I told her that as far as religion was concerned, we were practicing the same religion.

What was different was our ways of life, our dreams, aspirations, our language, our ways of eating and what we ate, our marriage ceremonies, in a word, culture. The language movement of 1952 when people of East Pakistan fought for the rightful status of their mother tongue. At this point Sidrah interrupted. "What movement?" she asked.

Somehow, her history lessons did not include 1952. The language movement, the sacrifice of Bengalees on the streets of Dhaka, Shahid Dibosh, etc were not part of the history curricula in Pakistan, I presume. And when I told her of the banning of Tagore songs in 1967, she exclaimed: "What!" in utter disbelief.

I told her about economic exploitation and disparity; how Pakistan had used the hard earned foreign currency from the export of jute that the peasants of Bangladesh grew to build and modernize their cities and to industrialize and so on. The economic disparity was glaring. All the cushy jobs went to the Pakistanis, and Bengalis became second class citizens in their own country. It was nothing but an internal colonialism. I told her the stories of political oppression and cultural discrimination.

I told her how the rulers of Pakistan systematically followed a strategy of exclusion. I told her that the Muslim League which brought Pakistan on the map itself was created in Dhaka in December, 1906, more than twenty years after the creation of Indian Congress Party.

I told her that in 1946 a large number of Muslims of East Bengal voted in favour of the creation of Pakistan and how over the years they were excluded. By and large, the Bengali Muslims -- both the elite and the common people -- were involved in the movement of Pakistan but their hopes were dashed and they felt a deep sense of betrayal.

In 1971, after winning 167 seats in the election of National Assembly of 300, Awami League under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was denied political power. I told her of the brutalities of March 1971. I told her of the systematic extermination of our intellectuals in the declining days of Pakistan.

I told her the whole story -- not in anger but in a dispassionate tone of forgiveness. Why should I be angry? She had nothing to do with the crimes of the past. Why should I put her on the spot? I told her to read Hassan Zaheer's book. But can we just forget and forgive?

I remember one moment of history vividly. President Nelson Mandela came to Singapore to deliver Singapore Lecture on March 6, 1997. We were waiting with batted expectation at the Ball Room of Hotel Shangri-La. Mandela walked in escorted by a single bodyguard. A tall, handsome, crew cut, smart, young white man followed Mandela closely.

Here was a man who spent nearly three decades of his life in jail imprisoned by the white ruling class in one of history's cruelest episodes. Now he was free man who forgave his oppressors. He stood taller.

Copyright 2004 The Daily Star. All Rights Reserved.