TILL late, the relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh have been hostage to the historical baggage of bitterness of 1971, as a consequence of general elections. The brewing political differences at that time between Awami League, the winner party and Pakistan’s Peoples Party, the runner up party were exploited by India by inciting Awami League leaders and activists to revolt and separate East Pakistan from Pakistan through a guerrilla war that was to be supported by India. Hence, the revolt by the Awami League activists led to calling the military in aid of civil power to control disturbances. Ultimately, as a consequence of an India engineered and supported civil war by Awami League militants, and then the military aggression launched by India in the then East Pakistan in December 1971, Bangladesh came into being. In this context, during his visit to Bangladesh in June, 2017, PM, Modi had admitted that India played a role in the break-up of Pakistan in the 1971. He had stated that he was proud that Indian troops sacrificed themselves for the liberation of Bangladesh.
To preserve its vote bank in Bangladesh since 1971, the Awami League has found it convenient to exploit misguided sentiments of the Bangladeshi people, by alleging the then Pakistani military in East Pakistan for committing atrocities on the people of Bangladesh. This blame campaign was also initiated by the Awami League to cover the rampant atrocities, which its own activists had committed in 1971, on those East Pakistanis who were favouring that the country should not be broken into two parts. At that time, although the people voted for the Awami League, but approximately 70 percent silent majority of Bengalis of East Pakistan was not in favour of the division of Pakistan. Hence, to terrify them and compel them to support the so-called liberation war, Awami League activists ruthlessly killed and maimed those who were refusing to collaborate.
In those lawless conditions, armed Awami League activists/guerrillas also found an opportunity to insult Bangladeshi women by raping many and killing those who were not cooperative. In this respect, the Awami League leaders should also consider about taking into account the fact that one night before calling on the military to keep law and parliamentary law, the Awami League activists had carried away the cold blooded murder of almost all West Pakistani officers and their families, who were then serving in the East Pakistan rifles deployed on borders with India. In this regard, rather than conducting trials of its own criminals of that time, the Awami League government is busy in carrying out trials of the leaders of Jamat-i-Islami of Bangladesh in the name of being involved in 1971 war crimes, but actually to punish them for their loyalty to Pakistan in 1971. As far as Pakistan’s military in the then East Pakistan was concerned, while fighting insurgency by Awami League activists/guerrillas and during actual war with India, in which Awami League guerrillas also participated, whatever casualties and the collateral damage occurred on both sides were unavoidable.
As strained relations between Pakistan and Bangladesh go to India’s favour, since 1871 that country has exploited Awami Leaguers anti-Pakistan sentiments by keeping 1971 memories alive by jointly organizing propaganda programmes to make and maintain hatred among the people of Bangladesh and Pakistan. This includes setting up of the war museum, exchange of wartime documents, Indian army soldiers’ mausoleum, making of documentaries and feature films. In this regard, India has recently circulated a movie via YouTube showing 1971 war events and boasting about self-proclaimed superiority of the Indian military.
Since Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and governments of other parties were more pragmatic about 1971 events, BD’s relations with Pakistan had progressed considerably under the governments of Ziaur Rahman, Begum Khalida Zia, and Hossain Mohammad Ershad. Five Pakistani heads of government have made official visits to Bangladesh since the 1980s. In 1985, Pakistani President Muhammad Zia-UL-Haq visited the Bangladeshi war memorial, and said “Your heroes are our heroes. Bangladeshi President Erhsad also visited Islamabad in 1986. Despite that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid visited Pakistan in 1998 and, Pakistani President, General Pervez Musharraf, visited Bangladesh in July 2002, including the war memorial, saying “Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pain of the events of 1971, the relations have not improved further for the simple reason that India plays a spoiler’s role by exploiting Awami Leaguers sentiments on 1971 events. In view of the above, it would be wiser on the part of the leaders of both the countries, especially Sheikh Hasina Wajid, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, to bury the past history of 1971 events and focus more on developing mutual relations based on shared interests of economic development of their countries by exploiting CPEC-related trade and investment opportunities and people-to-people contacts using pre-1971 common bonds.
—The writer is a retired Col and a former Research Fellow, Islamabad Policy Research Institute.