Oped

An open letter to Hasina Wajid

  • The Bangladesh government must be commended for bringing war criminals to justice
- Zulfiqar Shah

Jan 12, 2014-

We owe you applause, your Excellency Sheikh Hasina Wajid, for your government's significant steps in bringing the perpetrators of war crimes in 1971 to justice. This expression of cheer by a Sindhi in exile is the continuity of an earlier generation of Sindhis and Balochs who shed blood tears over heart-wrecking brutalities, like massacres and rapes, rendered by the Pakistan Army in 1971 in Bangladesh. The political, social, and literary leadership of that time in Sindh and Balochistan in Pakistan was supporting Banglabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. Hundreds, if not thousands, took to the streets of Sindh cities and towns against the military operation in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan). Although, Sindhis and Balochs themselves are today facing gradual an ethnic cleansing-like situation.  

War crimes

Humanity can never forgive those who killed three million civilians and raped hundreds of thousands of innocent women with the support of the military-supported right-wing terrorists of Al-Shams and Al-Badar in Bangladesh, who were outfits of Jamait-e-Islami Pakistan. Unfortunately, these local butchers were ethno-linguistically non-Bengalis of Bihari origin, who were playing the same tune as a Karachi-based party of refugees (muhajirs) has been playing in Sindh for the last two decades at the behest of Pakistan's security establishment.  

It was the political course of 1960s. The Awami League of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman had a relatively strong existence in Sindh after East Pakistan. Both Sindh and East Bengal together fought against the banning of Sindhi and Bengali languages and the introduction of a One-Unit federal mechanism by the military regimes of General Ayub and Yahya Khan. The vote bank of Sindh was divided along the lines of the supporters of Benazir Bhutto and the supporters of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. Political icons like G M Sayyed, Qazi Faiz Mohammad and many others were staunch critics of the ethnic Punjabi domination of Pakistan and thus, lost their seats due to rigging engineered by the military regime of General Yahya Khan.

In commemoration

In early 1972, a highly popular Sindhi nationalist-cum-leftist leader Rasool Bux Palijo wrote the first ever book on Bangladesh war crimes and organised a peasant protest in Sindh for the freedom of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman while also demanding action against military officials accused of war crimes. As expected in a militarised country like Pakistan, the Hammod Rehman (Judicial) Commission was constituted to inquire into the war crimes and secession of Bangladesh. However, the commission's crucial findings and observations have not yet been made public and nor has the guilty military leadership been punished.  

It is also worth appreciating that your government has bestowed awards to the G M Syyed, Qazi Faiz Ahmed and Anwar Pirzado from Sindh and Ghous Bux Bizanjo from Balochistan for their support of the Bengali people during the 1971 military operation. Although your second lieutenants forgot to include Rasool Bux Palijo in the list, a Lahore-based Punjabi activist-cum-lawyer, who like other Punjabis, kept mum over the war crimes during 1971, has also been given an award.

Similarly, the Punjab-born prominent Urdu progressive poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz was also given an award for his poem 'Hum ke thahrey ajnabi, itni mulaqaton ke baad'. Faiz chose 'Suqot-e-Dhaka' (The Fall of Dhaka) as the title for a poem. But the poem is in fact an expression of grief over the separation of East Pakistan from the West, not a condemnation of war crimes against Bengalis during the eight-month military campaign. Activists, journalists and intellectuals of that era in Pakistan recall when Faiz, who was a retired captain of the army, was interviewed by BBC Radio Urdu Service during the military operation in Bengal. He announced that he would return the Lenin Peace Prize if the Soviet Union did not stop supporting the Bengali secessionists.

To the ICC

Bengal won its freedom from the ethnic monopoly of Punjab. The rest of the people in Pakistan are still undergoing a form of apartheid. Since your government has already started cleaning house, the time has come to take one-step forward. Criminals in the Pakistan military and their cronies in the Pakistani establishment need to be taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for their war crimes in Bangladesh. Such an initiative will be true justice for the thousands of civilians killed and raped. This will not only inch Bangladesh towards international justice but also prove to be great support to the oppressed peoples of Sindh, Balochistan and Pakhtunkhuwa in Pakistan, as well as a long-term bailout for peace and security in Southasia.

There is no iota of possibility for the sustenance of internal social movement to demilitarise Pakistan's polity and society and offer salvation to the people of Sindh and Balochistan from the ethnic hegemony of Punjab. Bangladesh going to the ICC would permanently restrict the Pakistani military from derailing democracy and prevent them from committing crimes against humanity concerning Sindhi, Baloch, Hindu, Christians and Ahmedi people. Moreover, the military would then limit itself to defence affairs and avoid interfering in the political arena of the country. Such a step would be a great contribution to the stability and security of Southasia. Joy Bangla! Joy Sindh! Long live the Indus people!  

Shah is a stateless refugee activist, analyst and journalist from Sindh, Pakistan, currently living in India

Published: 12-01-2014 09:08

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