Pakistan’s Forgotten Citizens and the Reality of 1971 Massacres

From 1971 to this day, Pakistan has never made the nation and the world community aware of the fact that the separatists had already started killing the non-Bengalis and patriotic Pakistanis from March 1 on, while the Pakistan Army was confined to the army barracks until March 25.

Posted on 01/25/23
By Ehtesham Arshad Nezami | Via Pakistan Week
The future of Biharis remain uncertain more than 50 years after they were stranded in Bangladesh. (Photo by Ehtesham Arshad Nezami)
Fifty-one years ago Pakistan split into two parts within 24 years of its existence. The tragedy of the Fall of Dacca in 1971 is still fresh in sensitive hearts. Unfortunately, in Pakistan even today the discussion goes only on regarding who was responsible for this debacle – the Army or the politicians? Pakistanis are so engrossed in their own internal political conflicts that they have no realization of what has been happening in the world around them in order to destabilize their country.

Last year in March, the Bangladeshi government announced that every year March 25 will be observed as ‘Genocide Day’. The country already celebrates Victory Day on December 16, and Independence Day on March 26, but now March 25 will also be a National Day. According to Bangladeshis, the Pakistan Army started the military operation on March 25 in which 3 million Bengalis and Hindus faced ethnic cleansing. I had written then also that the Pakistan Army should have made it clear that the massacre was not perpetrated by the Pakistan Army but by the East Pakistani Separatist, in cahoots with the Indians, against the non-Bengalis.

According to several books and eye-witnesses’ accounts, at least 500,000 Biharis, West Pakistanis and other non-Bengalis were killed before December 16, 1971. On December 16, when the victorious Indian Army entered East Pakistan, then those Mukti Bahini cadres who were fighting with Pakistani Army also came with it. These elements, once again, started indiscriminate killings. As the Pakistan Army, then, was under the custody of the Indian Army, no one was there to protect those innocent and unarmed Pakistani patriots. It is reported that a total of 1,000,000 to 1,500,000 non-Bengalis were killed. Following the capture of East Pakistan, there was chaos and confusion all around and people were struggling to save their own lives and dignity; so no effort could be made to determine the exact number of people killed.

Surprisingly, as Bangladesh announced to observe Genocide Day on March 25, in October two US Congressmen tabled a resolution in Congress charging Pakistan with the ethnic cleansing of millions of Bengalis and Hindus in East Pakistan in 1971. Both have demanded President Biden declare Pakistan the villain of the Genocide Day. It is worth noting that one of the two Congressmen has some connections with India. Rep Rohit Khanna (D) is an Indian American politician. So, it is not difficult to assume that both India and Bangladesh are a party to tabling this resolution. This could be very dangerous.

This could be very dangerous if the US Congress does pass this bill because, then, Bangladesh could try, in the UN and in the International Court of Justice, to charge Pakistan with war crimes. Therefore, the complete silence from Pakistan is quite concerning.

From 1971 to this day, Pakistan has never made the nation and the world community aware of the fact that the separatists had already started killing the non-Bengalis and patriotic Pakistanis from March 1 on, while the Pakistan Army was confined to the army barracks until March 25. Sheikh Mujib and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto were engaged in discussions with General Yahya Khan in Dacca until March 24. But, behind the scene, Mujibur Rahman had already organized a liberation force under the command of Col (Rtd) Usmani, which later assumed the name of Mukti Bahini.

Once the talks broke down, the Pakistani generals decided to take military action against the rebels, and only then the troops left the barracks. The reason for the final action was that Mujib had already launched the civil disobedience movement on March 7 and, practically, the whole of East Pakistan was being governed by him. East Pakistan Rifles (a paramilitary force), police, and East Bengal Regiment within East Pakistan had openly revolted. Armed with their weapons they were moving through the rivers, ravines, and fields towards India where training camps were set up in Calcutta and the various other border areas.

Mukti Bahini cadres would receive military training there, re-enter East Pakistan and would encounter the Pakistan Army. The rebels would decimate all the non-Bengali settlements, one after another, that they came across on their way to India. This was possible because the Pakistan Army could arrive at these settlements only several weeks later.

Even the massacre of the non-Bengalis, who had taken refuge in the mosques, was at such a large scale that the Army found five- or six-inch thick layers of clotted blood on the floor.
By the time the Army arrived in Mymensingh, it didn’t find any rebels there but dead bodies upon dead bodies of the non-Bengalis. Even the massacre of the non-Bengalis, who had taken refuge in the mosques, was at such a large scale that the Army found five- or six-inch thick layers of clotted blood on the floor.

Similarly, thousands of people were killed in Santahar, Bhairab Bazar, Dinajpur, Takurgaon, Khulna, Chittagong etc. Even today, many Pakistani Army officers are alive who had taken part in the war in East Pakistan. According to them, they never encountered any Bengali rebels because they all had fled to India; so how can the question of their genocide arise?

The Bengalis who were killed were either those rebels who had stayed behind after March 25 and had been involved in the guerilla warfare within East Pakistan or those Bengalis who were involved in cross-border activities along with the Indian Army.

Most surprisingly, why did the Pakistani generals not inform the world of these atrocities? As a consequence, Pakistan is now facing many damaging actions initiated by foreign countries. Sadly, those non-Bengalis who had survived in the beginning were, after the creation of Bangladesh, punished as harshly as facing a renewed massacre, just for supporting Pakistan. And those who survived this massacre were forcibly removed from their homes to the open fields where, even after fifty years, they live in the dilapidated camps – a life worse than an animal.

Neither Bangladesh is willing to accommodate nor Pakistan wants to accept them despite several international agreements and the availability of necessary funds.

In 1973, Pakistan entered into an agreement with India and Bangladesh whereby it had agreed to accept a certain number of non-Bengalis in Pakistan, but it didn’t take the promised number. Then in 1988, an agreement was reached between Pakistan and Muslim World League whereby all the stranded Pakistanis in all the Bangladeshi camps would be repatriated to Punjab. The Punjab government announced its decision to accept them. Again in 1992, when the Bangladeshi prime minister made an official visit to Pakistan, the prime ministers of both countries issued a joint declaration that stipulated that all the stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh camps would be repatriated to Pakistan.

In this regard, it is worth noting that even in 1988 a Rabita Trust was established by the Pakistani government and Muslim World League which, as of now, has accumulated two billion to two and a quarter billion rupees; but no government is presently working on this humanitarian issue. The Pakistani Military Establishment should play an active role in it as this institution is the only eye-witness to the fact that the relatives of those stranded Pakistanis had supported Pakistan in its fight against India. The government of Pakistan should hold discussions with the Bangladeshi Government regarding how to solve this humanitarian problem.

(The writer Ehtesham Arshad Nezami is a freelance Pakistani American journalist, author, political analyst, Chairman of Voice for Humanity International and Chairman of Pakistan Repatriation Council International, who lives in Chicago, Illinois.)

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