Part I: Waiting for a Real Reckoning on 1971

Dec 2012

Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi, the Army Commander of all Pakistani forces in the area, signs the Instrument of Surrender and hands it over to Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Army Command of the Indian Army.

Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi, the Army Commander of all Pakistani forces in the area, signs the Instrument of Surrender and hands it over to Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora, the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Army Command of the Indian Army. Source: http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/1971/Dec16/index.html

I remained in the (insane asylum) for six months in 1973. What drove me mad? Well, I felt the collective guilt of the Army action which at worst should have stopped by late April 1971. —Colonel Nadir Ali, Pakistan Army, “A Khaki Dissident on 1971,” Viewpoint, December 17, 2010

Our fathers committed a deadly mistake, a crime—they made Bengal into Pakistan. We did not want to stay sons of slaves, so we created Bangladesh. Now, let us imagine Bangladesh never became independent, we were still East Pakistan. What would we see around us? We would see the flag with moon and stars, we would hear ‘Pak Sar Zamin Sad Bad’, Urdu would be spoken everywhere, the cinema hall would be showing ‘Bahana’ and ‘Banjaran,’ the president would be some Punjabi, the army—from major to brigadier to general—would be filled with Pathans and Punjabis, the millionares would all be Pakistani, the roads would be filled with laughing Sindhis in their jeeps. Those who roar around in Pajeros today—they would be standing on the roadside shaking in front of those same jeeps. The Adamjis, Dauds, Bawanis, and Kabuliwalas would run this country. We would be happy to lick the dust off their feet. —Humayun Azad, Amra ki ey Bangladesh cheyechilam? [Is this the Bangladesh we wanted?] (Dhaka: Agamee Prakashani, 2003), 21.

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Forty-one years ago today, Pakistan surrendered to the Indo-Bangladesh High Command, paving the way for an independent Bangladesh. The country’s 1971 liberation war, during which it broke away from Pakistan, and the genocidal killings during the conflict, remains the defining fulcrum for Bangladesh’s existence and trajectory. But outside Bangladesh, 1971 is mostly a forgotten moment. In the western media, it is routinely referred to as the “Third India-Pakistan War,” usually in the context of understanding Indo-Pak hostility. This mislabeling suits India and Pakistan, as they leverage available history to argue for primacy of claims. Local historians have produced much of their work only in Bengali, contributing further to this marginalization.

In the run-up to this 41st anniversary, new books have been released, or are forthcoming, from Yasmin Saikia (1), Nayanika Mookherjee (2), Srinath Raghavan, and Salil Tripathi. Much of the newer research continues to work through the debates about the death toll, definitions of genocidal action, examination of targeted populations, and the question of war crimes trials—for both the Pakistani army (a symbolic demand at this time) and their partners inside Bangladesh (a practical demand with impact on current politics). What is still missing are more fluid narratives, less focused on “settling” political questions than on leaning more toward structuring a new synthesis.

Inside Bangladesh, political parties pose the greatest threat to historians. Every few years we are gifted a new government, and a whole set of “established” histories are wiped out. Every time there is a change at the top, inevitably an official comes down to the archives and asks to see what is inside. With a tradition of abrupt and forced pala bodol (changing of the guard), every state functionary assumes that nothing that came before his time will help his cause. Therefore, the safest path is to destroy all documents, which the official does with mechanical and unemotional efficiency.

1. Yasmin Saikia, Women, War, and the Making of Bangladesh: Remembering 1971 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011).

2 Nayanika Mookherjee, The Spectral Wound: Sexual Violence, Public Memories and the Bangladesh War of 1971 (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012).

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6 Responses to Part I: Waiting for a Real Reckoning on 1971

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