West Pakistanis who stood for Bangladeshis’ rights
By Babar Ayaz
For the last 40 years while the Bangladeshi’s celebrate their liberation on 16th December, some ultra-nationalist Pakistanis mournfully blame the ‘separation of East Pakistan to a conspiracy.’ They are still convinced that the traitors of Awami League hatched a conspiracy to break Pakistan in collusion with ‘scheming Indians.’
Though it has taken four decades, most Pakistanis now do realise that we pushed the Bengalis over the cliff, with no choice but to fight for liberation. Thankfully the number of such-thinking people is growing every year. Many such Pakistanis now ask every year: Have we learned any lesson from the ‘separation’ of East Pakistan?
Ironically, the plain and simple answer to this is “sorry no we haven’t”. If we had, we wouldn’t be asking this question over and over again. If we had, we wouldn’t have avoided apologising to Bangladeshis about our war crimes. If we had, we wouldn’t have been mourning on the liberation of Bangladeshis from the Pakistani colonialism. If we had, we wouldn’t have been pursuing the same hawkish policies in the region in the name of national security. And most importantly, if we had we wouldn’t have been following similar tactics in Balochistan.
Forty years ago in January people of Pakistan were happy to have participated in the first-ever general elections held on the adult franchise basis. The people had spoken. The majority was in favour of maximum autonomy contrary to the impression created now. Bengalis, Pushtuns, Balochis and Sindhi speaking people were for autonomy with slight differences. It was the Punjabi establishment supported by the right-wing Urdu speaking immigrants who did not accept the majority’s verdict. Don’t be misled that a Sindhi leader Zulifikar Ali Bhutto had opposed the autonomy demand of Mujibur Rahman. He was defending the case of his real power constituency — centrists of Punjab and the military leadership. He was short of majority in Sindh.
“The new generation on both sides,” a Bangladeshi friend told me last week, “do not know that there were many leaders and political workers in West Pakistan who condemned the military operation.” Wali Khan and Mir Ghous Baksh Bizenjo made several trips to Dhaka to break the impasse created by Bhutto and the Army. They were clear that if power is not transferred to the majority party — Awami League — the country will break. So when Bhutto said on the postponement of the Assembly session that “thank God Pakistan is saved,” NAP leaders were not the only one who said Pakistan might break. Other leaders who opposed the military operation were Asghar Khan, Nur Khan, Maulana Shah Ahmed Noorani, Mufti Mahmood, to name a few.
Then the military operation started to suppress the upsurge in East Pakistan ruthlessly. That indeed was the beginning of the end. I was in the final year of my masters in 1971 when Assembly session was postponed. Fiery communist poet Hasan Hameedi and trade union leader Aizaz Nazir asked me to accompany them to invite famous Sindhi poet Sheikh Ayaz for a protest meeting in Sukkur. He shunned us away saying that the military will not tolerate any meeting challenging their operation in East Pakistan and that we are mad to take a stand against their policy. He was right cases were registered against us as the people who wanted to break the country. Then, perhaps in August, we distributed pamphlets condemning military operations and saying that the country will break if it is not stopped immediately. This was the country-wide initiative of the left.
In Sukkur Sheikh Ayaz and Rasheed Bhatti who was the leading Sindhi short story writer, trade union activist Faiz Ghangrio and Hassan Hameedi were arrested. Except the last two, Ayaz and Bhatti were not involved in distributing the pamphlets. But the biased Urdu-speaking intelligence officials reported against them because Ayaz and Bhatti were Sindhi nationalists. I was picked up for a rough interrogation but was released something I had to hide from my family as they also disapproved of my politics.
In Karachi a Marxist leader Dr. Rukunuddin Has’an, Mehmoodul Haq Usmani, student activists like Shahid Hussain, Hidayat Hussain and many others were arrested for opposing military operation and distributing pamphlets. Young Shahid, who was a college student, was tortured so badly that he later needed psychiatric help. Punjabi poet Ahmed Saleem wrote a powerful poem against military oppression, which was published by Dr. Has’an in a weekly, both were awarded sentences for one year by the military court. Similarly, many left leaders were arrested across the country.
I know that Mukti Behani, the militant freedom fighters of Bangladesh, also committed many atrocities, but that was the reaction. I have a honour to meet people like Ali Ahmed Khan, a well known journalist, whose family members were killed in East Pakistan but he still supports the Bangladesh liberation movement. Late S.G.M Badruddin, who was Morning News Editor in Dhaka, had to hide with his Bengali friends for months, lost the only house he made in life and came back to Pakistan. But his objectivity and progressive outlook regarding Bangladeshi movement was not dictated by his personal losses. People who can hold enlightened view despite personal suffering deserve to be acknowledged.
Interestingly, DSP Tathir who had opened files against us in Sukkur for opposing military operations met me in 1973 in Karachi, by which time he had retired. With tears in his eyes he apologised and said: “Son we used to think your group wanted to break the country by opposing the military operation in East Pakistan, but now we know you were actually trying to save the country.” At least he had the courage to apologise and correct his perception. The trouble is we hear no apology from our military junta that what they did was wrong. And that air of arrogance to rule over the elected government is still blowing over Islamabad this winter. No lessons learnt. Sad, but true. (firstname.lastname@example.org)