The Schism

From cel­e­brat­ing dif­fer­ent fes­ti­vals to speak­ing dif­fer­ent lan­guages, the two wings of Pak­istan were al­ways two dif­fer­ent na­tions.

Southasia - - COVER STORY - By Taj M Khat­tak

Right from the time of cre­ation of Pak­istan, there was some­thing odd about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween its east­ern and the western wings. Al­though the coun­try was cre­ated as a sep­a­rate home­land for Mus­lims of the sub­con­ti­nent, and Mus­lims of East Pak­istan had played a greater role in the Pak­istan Move­ment, yet there were ob­vi­ous and glar­ing idio­syn­cra­sies be­tween the two.

For ex­am­ple, while peo­ple

of the western wing cel­e­brated the two Mus­lim fes­ti­vals of Eidul-Fitr and Eidul-Adha with ut­most religious fer­vor, for the peo­ple of East Pak­istan it was al­ways the oc­ca­sion of ‘Po­hela Boishakh’ or Ben­gali New Year and, his­tor­i­cally a Hindu fes­ti­val, which they cel­e­brated with fer­vor and en­thu­si­asm far ex­ceed­ing that of the two Eids. So when the split came in 1971, for many in West Pak­istan, it was like the po­etic ex­pres­sion of Parveen Shakir – ‘Iss tark-e-rafaqat pe pare­shan to hun lekin, ab tak ke tere saath pe hairat bhi bo­hat thi’.

The bit­ter­ness of the split be­tween Pak­istan and Bangladesh could be traced back to nearly a quar­ter cen­tury of ac­ri­mony since 1947 - first on the is­sue of lan­guage and later on dis­tri­bu­tion of re­sources. Even­tu­ally, in 1966 when Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman launched his fa­mous six points from La­hore on the eve of Po­hela Boishakh,

it was akin to trig­ger­ing a chain re­ac­tion with dev­as­tat­ing re­sults later in 1971.

There have been se­ri­ous dif­fer­ences of opin­ion be­tween the two sides about what ac­tu­ally hap­pened in 1971. Bangladesh has ac­cused the Pak­istan Army of wan­ton killing of civil­ians and has come up with fig­ures con­sid­ered as be­ing too ex­ag­ger­ated by neu­tral ob­servers, while Pak­istan has main­tained that it were Ben­gali na­tion­al­ists aided by In­dia who started it all when they mas­sa­cred in­no­cent non-Ben­gali cit­i­zens in large num­bers well be­fore the March 1971 cri­sis bal­looned.

In the decades fol­low­ing in­de­pen­dence of Bangladesh, var­i­ous for­eign pol­icy ini­tia­tives were un­der­taken by the two sides but the goal of nor­mal­iz­ing re­la­tions to their mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial goal of diplo­matic, political and com­mer­cial in­ter­ac­tions has eluded them due to many rea­sons. Fore­most amongst them was the dif­fer­ence in per­cep­tions in Dhaka and Is­lam­abad about their re­spec­tive na­tional in­ter­ests.

The per­cep­tion in Dhaka has been three-di­men­sional; firstly it has in­sisted on an apol­ogy from Pak­istan for the ex­cesses of the army dur­ing the civil war in 1971. Se­condly, the proIn­dia political fac­tion rep­re­sented by Awami League and headed by Hasina Wa­jid, daugh­ter of Sheikh Mu­jee­bur-Rehman, is gen­er­ally per­ceived as op­posed to any friendly re­la­tions with Pak­istan be­cause of its own close links with New Delhi. The third di­men­sion is the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion of Bangladesh which de­sires broth­erly re­la­tions with Pak­istan.

This last-men­tioned di­men­sion is in sync with Pak­istan’s for­eign pol­icy ori­en­ta­tion which aims at coun­ter­ing In­dia’s hege­monic at­ti­tude to­wards Bangladesh. The pop­u­lar sen­ti­ments of the peo­ple are re­flected most vis­i­bly in the crowd sup­port for the Pak­istan cricket team when­ever it plays against In­dia on Bangladesh soil. The man on the street in Bangladesh also de­spises In­dia’s sup­port for the in­sur­gency move­ment in the Chit­tagong hill tracts.

This strand of pub­lic opin­ion feels that since the peo­ple of Pak­istan and Bangladesh have jointly car­ried out a strug­gle for an in­de­pen­dent home­land for the Mus­lims in the pre-par­ti­tion pe­riod, in the changed en­vi­ron­ment, they have no dis­puted bor­ders nor ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes. It would there­fore be ad­vis­able to for­get the past and move on with the global tide. They have, how­ever, re­mained largely cap­tive to the whims of the pro-In­dia forces that are in power in Bangladesh.

A thou­sand miles away in Pak­istan, most peo­ple at the hu­man level are sym­pa­thetic to the Bangladeshis. But that was also a pe­riod when the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion in Pak­istan could do very lit­tle as it was nei­ther fully aware of what was hap­pen­ing in the dis­tant Bangladesh. The coun­try’s elec­tronic and print me­dia did not re­port much on the events in that part of the world.

Pak­istan, as a state did not ten­der an un­con­di­tional apol­ogy to Bangladesh for what the lat­ter termed as ‘atroc­i­ties’ of the Pak­istan Army. Fore­most amongst the rea­sons for this that the events of 1971 were far too com­plex and multi-di­men­sional than what has been con­ve­niently por­trayed by Bangladesh as ‘atroc­i­ties’ of the Pak­istan mil­i­tary. There are two sides to this, as of any nar­ra­tive. Un­for­tu­nately, it is only one side of the tragedy which is pre­sented to the world.

Other than the de­mand for an apol­ogy, there are is­sues of divi­sion of as­sets ac­cord­ing to the size of the pop­u­la­tion of sides at the time of breakup. The repa­tri­a­tion of stranded nonBen­galis to Pak­istan is also an is­sue. Some progress been made in this and some 127,000 non-Ben­galis have been repa­tri­ated to Pak­istan but Bangladesh con­tin­ues to ag­i­tate for repa­tri­a­tion of more peo­ple. Ob­vi­ously, there is a limit to what Pak­istan can do in this re­gard.

Also, while Bangladesh calls them ‘stranded Pak­ista­nis’, it has been con­sis­tently no­ti­fied by Pak­istan that they are cit­i­zens of Bangladesh and it has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to treat them as equal cit­i­zens in ac­cor­dance with its con­sti­tu­tion. Mil­lions of peo­ple who have lived in the coun­try for gen­er­a­tions can­not be de­prived of their homes and lands overnight sim­ply be­cause they speak a dif­fer­ent lan­guage.

The political lead­er­ship of the Awami League also vi­o­lated in­ter­na­tional laws of non-in­ter­fer­ence in the in­ter­nal mat­ters of sov­er­eign and in­de­pen­dent state when it sought mil­i­tary as­sis­tance from In­dia for ful­fill­ment of its political ob­jec­tives. The UN char­ter and the post-1945 global world or­der was vi­o­lated. There is also the view held by some that af­ter the 1971 war, the newly born coun­try could have called it­self the Re­pub­lic of East Pak­istan but by chang­ing its iden­tity and call­ing it­self Bangladesh, it has no le­gal stand­ing for claim­ing as­sets and re­sources.

Iron­i­cally, the is­sue of divi­sion of as­sets also goes back to the pe­riod of the com­mon his­tory of Pak­istan and Bangladesh when the east­ern wing felt de­prived of its fair share of re­sources of the com­bined Pak­istan for de­vel­op­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties.

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