In 44 years, the state of Pakistan has failed to make an official apology for the war crimes committed by its armed forces against the people of Bangladesh in 1971. With the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ recent denial of atrocities, it is unlikely one is forthcoming.
It is incumbent therefore upon self-respecting patriots to circumvent the official leadership. In the age of the internet, this couldn’t be easier. We have started to crowd-source an apology in order to offer it to the people of Bangladesh.
President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto established the Hamoodur Rahman Commission to understand why the armed forces surrendered in the wake of Pakistan’s defeat in the 1971 war. The Supplementary Report, using information from prisoners of war who had been freed by India stated, ‘it is clear that there is substance in the allegations that during and after the military action excesses were indeed committed on the people of East Pakistan’. It stated that there was ‘evidence to suggest that the words and personal actions of’ a particular general ‘were calculated to encourage the killings and rape’. It mentioned that there ‘were verbal instructions to eliminate Hindus’.
That Pakistan’s armed forces committed atrocities against the people of Bangladesh should not be disputed.
And yet, days ago, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs appallingly stated that ‘the Government of Pakistan rejected insinuation of complicity in committing crimes or war atrocities’.
Prior to this, Pakistan had made motions of goodwill. Under pressure from fellow Muslim nations, Pakistan recognised Bangladesh as an independent state in 1974. Presidents Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf visited Bangladesh’s war memorial at Savar without behaving offensively. (Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who visited in 1974, was heard to hiss, “Enough of this nonsense.”) According to reports, in a handwritten note in the visitor’s book, Musharraf wrote, ‘Your brothers and sisters in Pakistan share the pain of the events in 1971. The excesses committed during the unfortunate period are regretted.’ Later at a banquet, he was reported to have said, “I wish to express to the Bangladeshi people sincere regrets for the tragic events, which have left deep wounds on both our nations.” Whose excesses? Tragic events caused by whom? These in 2002, came closest to — yet still fell short of — explicit official apologies.
However, since 2012, instead of progressing towards this end, matters have regressed. On the 42nd anniversary of the Fall of Dhaka, the Bangladesh government was told by the National Assembly in Urdu — a colonial language for the Bengali-speaking erstwhile East Pakistan — not to rake up the memories of 1971. Further, the National Assembly expressed its condolences for an executed Bangladeshi Jamaat-e-Islami leader convicted of committing war crimes in his support of Pakistan in 1971. While the assembly told the Bangladesh government to resolve cases against the Bangladeshi Jamaat-e-Islami amicably, the Interior Minister was reported to have called the execution ‘judicial murder’. Similar protests by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the past fortnight sparked a spat with their Bangladeshi counterpart ministry that culminated in the Pakistan ministry’s denial of atrocities.
Pakistan’s governments have failed to represent the decent people of Pakistan. Building on the efforts of a handful of intelligentsia in August 1971 and the Women’s Action Forum in 1996, an online apology, open for all to sign at any time in the future, allows for greater enfranchisement as well as hopefully more permanent memorialisation.
The online apology reads: ‘We Pakistanis apologise to Bangladeshis. We the undersigned Pakistanis deeply regret the atrocities committed in our name against the people of Bangladesh in 1970-71. Yours with utter humility.’ Petitioners are welcome to add their own personal comments. The time for patriots to end nationalist denials has come.