Part V: Debating Genocide

Dec 2012

This is the fifth of a multi-part series “Waiting for a Real Reckoning on 1971″ by Naeem Mohaiemen. Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

Beyond “settled” facts, histories produced in 1971 were burdened with the propaganda impulse in a struggle that played out both domestically and internationally and included superpower proxy rivalries. One document in particular that embodies the state narrative is the Government of Pakistan’s White Paper on the Crisis in East Pakistan, August 1971. The white paper was produced to prepare the ground for arguing at the United Nations (as Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto subsequently did) that the Bengalis had severely provoked the army with acts of violence, that the army had to step in to protect Bihari lives and property and the unitary republic, and that the entire conflagration was due to Indian interference. Several other white papers published during the war, including reports from the International Rescue Committee, (28) multiple hearings of the U.S. Senate (29) , the U.S. House of Representatives, (30) and the Geneva Secretariat of the International Commission of Jurists (31) presented a completely different picture. All these reports had problems of access and possible bias, but at the least they acted as a counterbalance to the one-sided Pakistani government narrative of its white paper. Even the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report commissioned by the Pakistani government was pressured by Bhutto to edit out unfavorable comments against the state, hence the suppression of the 1972 report and the sanitization in the 1974 supplement.

The legal definition of genocide includes the specific intention of destroying all or part of a community—racially, religiously, or otherwise defined. Therefore, the targeted killings of Hindus is the most debated part of the war narrative. The religious demographic of refugees into India, which was estimated as 80% Hindu by May 1971, (32) was considered evidence that the Pakistani army targeted individuals and communities based on religion. The targeted executions of professors, artists, and journalists in the last days of the war is another major charge against the Pakistan army. In drawing up and carrying out death lists, local Bengalis collaborating with the army had a particular role in providing local intelligence.

Historian Afsan Chowdhury notes that surveys were started by the Mujib government in 1972 in order to confirm the official death toll and were only shut down during the post-1975 Zia regime. After 1974, the issue of exhumation of dead bodies to do a more accurate accounting was permanently off the table, due to the devil’s deal Mujib was forced to cut to get support from the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC). At a time when the Bangladeshi economy was on life support and desperately needed an infusion of oil money, the understanding with the OIC was that the issue of trials for Pakistani army atrocities should be put aside and “brotherly relations” between the two countries encouraged. Later, after coming to power in 1975, General Ziaur Rahman focused on building up a power base outside of Awami League loyalists, which was partially accomplished by rehabilitation of alleged 1971 collaborators (even though Zia fought in the war).


28. Angier Biddle Duke, “A report of the International Rescue Committee Emergency Mission to India for Pakistan Refugees, submitted on July 28, 1971,” m. Also see subsequent reports by Aaron & Margery Levenstein.

29. E.g., US Senate, Subcommittee to Investigate Problems Connected with Refugees and Escapees, February 2, 1972; Senator Edward Kennedy, Crisis in South Asia, November 1, 1971.

30. E.g., Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of52 Lines of Control Representatives, Crisis in East Pakistan, May 11 and 25, 1971.

31. The Events in East Pakistan, 1971: A Legal Study (Geneva: The Secretariat of the International Commission of Jurists, 1972).

32. Richard Sisson and Leo Rose, War and Secession: Pakistan, India and the Creation of Bangladesh (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990), 296.

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One Response to Part V: Debating Genocide

  1. Qres on Jan 2013 at 6:32 PM

    The present ledaers of PP are fools,incapable and coward characters, that they don’t know what to do and what to say.Almost all of its ministers including chieftain stupid PM are proving to be quite chracterless cowards in all respects.Leader of them is Mr.Zardari,who is doing business for him and every other country except Pakistan. Look at his statement The indian planes did’nt do that on purpose and it was a technical mistake I just want to ask him that he should better go to India and start their spokesman job,is he anything to do with Pakistan? and to proving himself to be the most incapable president after (resigned due to fear of impeachment)Musharraf.I am certain that for the future to come the PP party is buried,along with all of present ledaership.I see no future of its coming back in Pakistani politics in the decades to come.Its all due to the most visionless,impotent, and characterless ledaership.

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