How many monsoons? | By Sultan M Hali


How many monsoons?

DECEMBER 16 marks the secession of our eastern wing in 1971, recalling terrible memories of the bleakest chapter of Pakistan’s history.

An independent Bangladesh moved on and is progressing well, maintaining good relations with its severed partner Pakistan.

A 1975 military coup resulted in Mujib and his family’s slaughter. Hasina Wajid, the Sheikh’s daughter, who had survived the assassination being out of the country, is currently the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

The scars of Pakistan’s 1971 tragedy appeared to be healing but are bleeding again because Hasina stipulates a formal apology from Pakistan.

In her earlier stint as Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Hina Rabbani Khar, had gone to Dhaka to personally invite the Bangladeshi Prime Minister to attend the D-8 Conference hosted by Islamabad, but she was spurned by Sheikh Hasina, demanding an apology from Pakistan first.

Soon after the diplomatic rebuff, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s autobiography titled The Unfinished Memoirs based on his long-lost diary was published, raking up old wounds.

Some Pakistani journalists, enamoured by the one-sided version, are also urging the government to apologize for Pakistan’s misdeeds against Bengalis, without delving deep into historical facts.

West Pakistan does deserve major blame for alienating its Eastern Wing. Until 1947, East Bengal had been heavily dependent on Hindu management.

After partition, West Pakistanis and Muhajirs took their place; simultaneously Muslim banking shifted from Bombay to Karachi, resulting in investment in East Pakistan originating from West Pakistani banks/entrepreneurs.

Additionally, due to lack of administrative experience, Bengalis were excluded from the managerial level and from skilled labor since West Pakistanis tended to favour the more experienced non-Bengali Muslim settlers from India.

To add fuel to the fire, in 1948, the declaration of Urdu as Pakistan’s state language, ignoring Bengali — the mother tongue of 54% Pakistanis — caused a major cataclysm leading to language riots.

Violence was quelled after the National Assembly in 1954 designated “Urdu and Bengali” to be the official languages of Pakistan but the seeds of dissension had been sown.

West Pakistani bureaucrats continued to treat their East Pakistan counterparts with disdain.

Qudratullah Shahab, one of Pakistan’s pioneering bureaucrats, narrates an eye-witness account of an incident in his autobiography Shahabnama, shedding light on the West-Pakistani mindset.

During a cabinet meeting chaired by the Minister for Finance, Ghulam Muhammad, in the realm of reconstruction of government buildings and residences, budget allocation was made for the import of sanitary fittings for toilets.

Maulvi Fazalur Rahman, the only Bengali Minister then in the Cabinet made a submission that funds for sanitary fittings should also be allocated to East Pakistan.

His West Pakistani counterparts sarcastically commented: “you (uncouth) Bengalis, who relieve yourselves behind banana plants, what do you need sanitary fittings for? ” and burst into laughter.

It was attitudes like the one narrated here that estranged our East Pakistani brothers, who were once in the forefront of the Pakistan Movement.

India capitalized on this sense of deprivation and allegedly recruited Bengali leaders like Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who was at the forefront of the language riots, to promote its machination to dismember Pakistan.

Mujib has conveniently omitted from The Unfinished Memoirs his surreptitious visit to Agartala on a “Top Secret” mission to meet Indian co-conspirators on 5 February, 1962, substantiated by an official diary-note endorsed by Khowai SDO Smarajit Chakravarty, quoted by Manas Pal, in his Op-Ed: ‘A Diary Note on Mujibur Rahman’’, published in Agartala’s daily Bengal Newz of 5 November 2012.

Sheikh Mujib was arrested and tried for the Agartala Conspiracy Case for sedition and attempts to dismember Pakistan but despite irrefutable evidence being presented to convict him, succumbing to public pressure, the government was forced to release him.

The Sheikh’s “Six-Point” programme was a virtual demand of independence; on its rejection by the government, on 5 December 1969 Mujib renamed East Pakistan as “Bangladesh”.

Despite his landslide victory at the 1970 polls, Mujib’s integrity was doubted and he was not handed power, compelling him to call for independence, launching a major armed resistance campaign.

Independent research, like Sarmila Bose’s book “Dead Reckoning” has corroborated the massacre of non-Bengalis and Pakistani defence forces personnel by Bengali mutineers.

Pakistan Army retaliated with full fury to crush the rebellion. Fishing in troubled waters, India invaded East Pakistan and Bangladesh achieved independence.

Pakistan’s first Prime Minister Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan’s popularity with the Bengalis prevails even today and he is revered by ordinary Bengalis.

With prescience, Liaquat Ali Khan amended the criteria for medical fitness i.e. , minimum height and chest for young men joining defence forces so that Bengalis could also be selected.

Liaquat’s grandson, Nawabzada Musharraf Ali Khan, narrates that in 1998, he visited Bangladesh.

During his visit, while travelling in a taxi in Dhaka, the driver asked him if he was a Pakistani, when he replied in the affirmative, the driver stated that he had heard that the grandson of Liaquat Ali Khan was visiting Bangladesh with the Pakistani delegation.

When Nawabzada Musharraf Ali Khan admitted that he was the grandson, the driver stopped the vehicle, came around and kissed his hands and invited him to come to his home as his old father would be very pleased.

The Nawabzada accepted the offer. When he reached the driver’s home, he was taken to his father, an old invalid.

When the driver explained to him in Bengali language, regarding the identity of his guest, the old man struggled to his feet and held the Nawabzada’s hands with trembling hands and tears in his eyes.

Overwhelmed by emotions while narrating the incident, the Nawabzada stated that he looked around the sparsely decorated hovel; there were only two pictures that adorned the walls, one of Nawab Liaquat Ali Khan Shaheed and the other of Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy (Pakistan’s fifth Prime Minister).

It is high time we reap the goodwill that still exists and accept the mad atrocities on both sides; bury the past and move forward.

In the words of Faiz (freely translated): We remain strangers despite so many reunions! When will the leaves be cleansed and become verdant? How many more Monsoons are required to wash away the bloodstains?

—The Author is a Retired Group Captain of PAF, who has written several books on China.