In December 1971, Pakistan’s eastern wing broke away to form the independent nation of Bangladesh following a bloody civil war, genocide, and war with India. It was a great tragedy but to this day denialism still exists within Pakistan’s national consciousness. We are unwilling to discuss what happened and why it happened.
An editorial in Dawn acknowledges that in 1971 their paper carried headlines quoting then president and military ruler Gen Yahya Khan “as saying that the war would continue till victory.” The editorial also acknowledged that “A less conspicuous news item carried truer details: Indian troops had entered Dhaka and fighting had stopped “following an arrangement between the local commanders of India and Pakistan…”. While for West Pakistanis Dhaka had fallen, most in the eastern wing saw it as ‘liberation’. Censorship had kept West Pakistanis in the dark about the situation.”
As Dawn notes, “half a century later, many questions still remain unanswered. For instance, why, for decades, was the population of East Pakistan treated as second-class citizens resulting in their alienation from the state? Ayub Khan’s One Unit scheme merging West Pakistan’s provinces to create ‘parity’ between both wings was actually an attempt to counter the eastern wing’s numerical majority.”
Further, “One of the most egregious mistakes was to deny the majority their right to form a government after the 1970 elections. Instead, a military operation was launched in March 1971 in the eastern wing. Thousands fled to India for refuge. Innocent people were killed on both sides — Bengalis as well as non-Bengalis living in the eastern wing — by state forces and Bengali militias.”
Yet, as the editorial points out, “Fifty years later, a thorough and honest national debate is still pending on the separation of the eastern wing so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated. If a section of people agitates for their rights, they are not working against the state; they are simply seeking the fundamental safeguards promised to them in the Constitution — they cannot be termed traitors as they were in East Pakistan. Evolving better ties with Bangladesh is in Pakistan’s interest but fulfilling the social contract at home, between citizens and the state, must also be on the list of priorities.”