A New To­mor­row

Given a trou­ble­some his­tory, do Pak­istan-bangladesh re­la­tions re­ally have a fu­ture?

Southasia - - Contents - By S.G. Ji­la­nee S.G. Ji­la­nee is a se­nior po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst and for­mer ed­i­tor of Southa­sia Mag­a­zine.

For four and twenty years be­fore its birth, what is now Bangladesh was an in­te­gral part of Pak­istan. It was the coun­try’s east­ern “wing.” It was called ‘East Pak­istan’ and the peo­ple liv­ing there were “us.” But the clash of in­ter­est be­tween the po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of the two wings and the ex­ploita­tion of the east by the west caused a crack, very early. With the pas­sage of time as one side re­mained in­tran­si­gent the other be­came more stri­dent. The crack there­fore be­came a fis­sure; then a gulf which be­came wider and wider, un­til ul­ti­mately the East­ern “wing” cut it­self adrift, adopt­ing a new ti­tle: Bangladesh.

The “union” was jinxed from the very start. Ex­cept for a com­mon re­li­gion, the peo­ple of the two wings were to­tal strangers to each other in ev­ery re­spect: lan­guage, cul­ture, his­tory, dress and even their world­view.

In East Pak­istan, they wrote from left to right. Rice and fish were their sta­ple food. Their women wore sari and blouse. All in all they were plain peo­ple -- law abid­ing, po­lit­i­cally con­scious and dis­ci­plined. Even be­fore

za­min­dari was abol­ished (1951), there were no feu­dal lords and no serfs; no waderas and haris; no ma­liks and kam­mis. There were ra­jas, ma­hara­jas and nawabs --such as the Ma­haraja of Bur­d­wan, the Ma­haraja of San­tosh, the Nawab of Dhaka. De­spite this, no one ever pa­raded the wom­en­folk of their ry­ots naked in the bazaar. Dis­putes were set­tled and crimes pun­ished through the courts of law.

In sharp con­trast, those in­hab­it­ing the western wing wrote from right to left, ate roti and meat and drank lassi. Their women wore shal­war and

qameez. They were so­phis­ti­cated and loved to dis­play their wealth. Feu­dal lords en­joyed droit de signeur over the wom­en­folk of their serfs whom, when an­gry, they pa­raded naked in the mar­ket­place. They of­ten mar­ried their young girls to the Qu­ran. Their so­ci­ety was, by and large, tribal with clans and bi­radris. Blood feuds lasted for gen­er­a­tions. Lo­cal dis­putes were set­tled through jirga -- a lo­cal coun­cil of el­ders which of­ten or­dered giv­ing away a mi­nor girl of the of­fender’s fam­ily in mar­riage to, per­haps, an old man of the ag­grieved, as pun­ish­ment. The gang rape of Mukhtaran Mai awarded by a pan­chayat that re­ceived in­ter­na­tional lime­light is a case in point.

West Pak­istani po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, in­clud­ing Quaid-eAzam, knew very lit­tle about the peo­ple of East Pak­istan. They did not know, for in­stance, that East Pak­istani Mus­lims were no less ar­dent in their faith than their West Pak­istani com­pa­tri­ots. In­stead, for un­known rea­sons, they nursed the no­tion that Hin­dus ex­er­cised po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence over the Mus­lims in the east­ern wing. Even Quaid-e-azam sub­scribed to this idea. That was why he de­clared Urdu, alone, as Pak­istan’s na­tional lan­guage; a fa­tal mis­take that ig­nited Ben­gali sen­si­tiv­i­ties and be­came the cat­a­lyst for a sep­a­rate Bangladesh.

If in Canada, where English and French speak­ing parts are phys­i­cally united and can have both French and English as na­tional lan­guages, it was all the more im­per­a­tive to have Ben­gali and Urdu ex­ist si­mul­ta­ne­ously in Pak­istan, where the two wings were sep­a­rated by a thou­sand miles of alien ter­ri­tory.

The sub­se­quent saga of ex­ploita­tion of East Pak­istan’s re­sources, the dis­dain­ful treat­ment meted out to the peo­ple that drove them to re­bel­lion, the wan­ton mas­sacre to put it down cul­mi­nat­ing in the emer­gence of an in­de­pen­dent Bangladesh, is too well­known to re­quire de­tailed treat­ment.

Pak­istan’s eter­nal hos­til­ity to­wards In­dia also played a sub­stan­tial role in the de­noue­ment. Be­cause West Pak­istan had alien­ated the peo­ple of the east­ern wing by in­sult­ing their mother tongue, In­dia ex­ploited the lin­guis­tic unity of the peo­ple of the In­dian part of Ben­gal (West Ben­gal) with their East Pak­istani brethren. Their re­li­gions were dif­fer­ent, but their lan­guage and lit­er­a­ture, their po­ets and writ­ers and even their songs were com­mon.

In­dia made an ex­tremely fa­vor­able im­pres­sion on the peo­ple of East Pak­istan when it re­frained from at­tack­ing the wing dur­ing the 1965 Indo-pak­istan war. The Gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan had been con­cerned chiefly with de­fend­ing West Pak­istan. It left East Pak­istan to­tally un­de­fended. In­dia would have had a cake­walk had it wished to

cap­ture it. But it did not.

The peo­ple of East Pak­istan felt be­trayed and lost all trust in the gov­ern­ment of Pak­istan, be­cause it ap­peared to cater to the in­ter­est of West Pak­istan solely. The event fur­ther ag­gra­vated the bit­ter­ness of the en­dur­ing frus­tra­tion on the eco­nomic front. The Agartala Con­spir­acy and the sub­se­quent agitation for the Six Point de­mand of the Awami League were the log­i­cal off­shoots of that tragic ex­pe­ri­ence.

Pre­dictably, In­dia ex­ploited this new de­vel­op­ment. It poured its heart out to the Ben­gali peo­ple of East Pak­istan, by em­pathiz­ing with their woes and in­vok­ing lin­guis­tic and cul­tural unity be­tween the two Ben­gals. And fi­nally, when the chips were down, it ren­dered ac­tive sup­port in their “lib­er­a­tion war” and ul­ti­mately won them in­de­pen­dence.

Pres­i­dent Yahya re­neged on call­ing the Na­tional Assem­bly ses­sion on March 1, 1971. Later he re­jected the Awami League de­mands dur­ing nego- tia­tions. And when it ig­nited an up­ris­ing in East Pak­istan, he un­leashed ter­ror to quell it. The wan­ton killings of peo­ple and destruc­tion of prop­erty left a deep scar on the hearts and minds of the lo­cal peo­ple. Com­pounded by the lack of con­tri­tion and ac­cep­tance of the ex­cess by the suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments of Pak­istan, the wounds con­tinue to fes­ter.

Pres­i­dent Pervez Mushar­raf was the only one who mus­tered the courage of his con­vic­tion to ex­press re­grets for the events of1971 at the War Me­mo­rial in Dhaka. Only an of­fi­cial apol­ogy from the Pak­istan gov­ern­ment could of­fer the re­quired salve to the wounds. But it is not forth­com­ing.

Egotistic, ar­ro­gant and smug by na­ture, Pak­istan’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers fail to ac­knowl­edge that it is a sign of no­ble­ness of char­ac­ter to own one’s mis­takes and ex­press re­morse. In con­se­quence, there are is­sues that ran­kle, such as the di­vi­sion of as­sets or the repa­tri­a­tion of Bi­haris who rot in camps be­cause they claim to be Pak­istani and have not ac­cepted Bangladeshi na­tion­al­ity.

Mak­ing up with Bangladesh would ben­e­fit both sides, es­pe­cially by im­prov­ing trade re­la­tions. Pak­istan can im­port raw jute and jute goods, tea, be­tel nuts and be­tel leaves, newsprint, fresh fruits such as ba­nanas and pineap­ples, bam­boos, and so forth. It can ex­port ce­ment, raw cot­ton, cot­ton yarn and fab­rics as well as dry and fresh fruits. In fact, Pak­istan could seek over­land tran­sit fa­cil­ity through In­dia to Dhaka in re­turn for al­low­ing sim­i­lar fa­cil­i­ties to In­dia for trad­ing with Afghanistan.

If Pres­i­dent Zar­dari ex­tends his well-known pol­icy of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion to Bangladesh as well, it may her­ald the dawn of a new day in Pak-bangladesh re­la­tions.

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