1971 was the year that the people of the dual-wing Pakistani republic witnessed their nation split into: (I) A Pakistan composed of the former West Pakistan and (2) the new nation of Bangladesh; a historical event that many termed inevitable and unavoidable. After all, any sane individual educated in either politics or history could recognise just how impractical the setup was. One nation split into two wings, separated by a 1000 miles of hostile Indian territory with nothing but a majority religion and shared branch of a linguisticfamily (The Indo-Aryan) in common? Preposterous! The arrangement was ultimately doomed to an inevitable collapse as it was simply not viable in the long run, unless of course one wing subjugated the other…
However, it must be noted that the manner in which separation happened was by no means inevitable; it was more or less of a product of governmental incompetence made worse by supremacist tendencies coupled with blatantly obvious economic exploitation. Indeed the whole 1971 affair could’ve been avoided had certain actions not taken place, certain policies not forced and certain politicians not barred from office unjustly. Yet even if this were true, a separation would’ve still been forthcoming regardless, and ideally it should’ve happened without war and conflict, and on terms favourable to Pakistan but unfortunately in its stead we witnessed a bloody conflict in Bengal.
And for this war & conflict the Bengalis, people and state, to this day remain adamant on extracting an official apology from Islamabad for acts that may or may not have happened. The standard figures presented is a total of 3 million civilian casualties and 300,000 cases of rape organised, orchestrated by and intentionally institionalised by the Pakistani military in an effort to subjugate the populace. Now there can be absolutely no doubt that war crimes were committed, they occur in every single war without exception so there is no doubt that many Bengali civilians would have been killed or sexually abused; that is an inevitable consequence of war, by no means is it morally justifiable.
It must also be inserted into context that in any war both sides commit atrocities and war crimes. The onslaught against the Biharis and other similar non Bengali ethnicities living within Bengal, accused not technically incorrectly of harbouring some pro-Pakistan sympathies, is an undeniable act of illegal violence, incorrect as much as Pakistani war crimes against Bengali civilians and if justice is to established, all Bengali ethno nationalists who took part in these purges must also receive proportionate condemnation and like the ‘genocide’ of Bengalis, the estimated death toll of Biharis varies widely from 20,000 to 500,000 depending on the source.
The victorious allies committed war crimes upon the unarmed civilian populace of Germany following its defeat in the Second World War. Soldiers belonging to NATO powers also occasionally indulge in the exploitation of local peoples in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan and there is evidence of this. Similarly in 1971, war crimes were in fact a mutual exchange between pro and anti-Pakistan forces. Of course the number of individuals brutalised by the Bengali separatists and ethno nationalists is most likely a fraction of those by the Pakistani armed forces and there is absolutely no reason I am currently aware of that indicates that as many civilians were violated by Bengali separatists as there were by the Pakistani military; to believe with certainty to the contrary without sufficiently procured objective evidence of independent, nonpartisan origin is an act of blind stupidity and no Pakistani nationalist should condemn himself/herself to such a state.
Now the figure of 3 million deaths comes to us directly from the Bangladeshi government itself. This alone is reason enough to doubt its authenticity. No government practices impartiality towards matters of such magnitude and the simple fact that the political establishment of that nation has every interest in blowing this number up as much as possible in order to ride on the bandwagon of popular support and stir nationalist sentiments to their benefit only further questions its validity. It is an act of extreme naivety to not be wary of this ever present reality. Political entities have rarely ever shied away from dishonesty when it is to their benefit. Our Pakistani republic too engages in this form of statistical manipulation, it is an everyday part of power politics that transcends nationality and ideology.
Beyond mere speculation there have been multiple independent researches and studies into the “genocide” and some completely rubbish the claim of 3 million casualties. The most controversial book dealing with this is Sarmilia Bose’s Dead Reckoning: Memories of the 1971 Bangladesh War. No doubt one also may find several studies that offer support the 3 million casualty figure to some extent. Hence, until it can be established through empirical evidence conducted via thorough research by individuals who have no inherent political, economic, social or any other form of interests to show a bias towards either Pakistan or Bangladesh, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan must neither recognise the figure nor offer any condolences for it. It is extremely inappropriate to apologise for a statistic that has not been sufficiently proven yet and any requests or demands for an unverified claim are completely unfair.
An official apology can of course be made for the war crimes in general, not recognising the 3 number of casualties and completely ignoring the accusations of genocide but it is unlikely to be considered acceptable to Dhaka, certainly, no nation that believes it has been wronged to the nth degree (regardless of any reality) will deem it anything other than simply insulting for its suffering to not be fully recognised. However the people of Bangladesh must understand that the ‘genocide’ they supposedly faced where more people would have had to have die per day than the Holocaust is still unproven as of this date. If there is solid proof of 3 million victims of a systematic campaign of annihilation and the Bengalis possess it, they should waste no time in presenting it before the world and before Pakistan to scrutinise and examine it and if it is indeed proven that 3 million unarmed men, women and children were killed by the Pakistani military in 1971 as part of a systematic campaign of unholy slaughter then the state must recognise it. Pakistani nationalists must be the first to accept it and from there on every single individual of Pakistani ancestry or citizenship must be made aware of it. Our commitment is to facts, not feelings.
The war crimes committed by Bengali nationalists and separatists upon individuals or communities suspected of collaborating with the regime should also not be forgotten and definitely not forgiven. War crimes are war crimes, whether it’s the soldier of a state committing the gruesome act or a guerrilla fighter doing it, in the eyes of the international community and common humanity are they not both equally reprehensible? The state of Bangladesh is as obligated to apologise and offer condolence for violations of human rights committed by its militants, who have the status of heroes, upon pro Pakistan civilians during the1971 conflict as much as Pakistan is for the actions of its military.
In conclusion, for the sake of fairness neither country can be asked to recognise nor be held accountable for death tolls beyond what has been verified. Neither republic should apologise for its crimes if the other does not agree to reciprocate in kind. The object of this endeavor is to grant some justice to the noncombatants killed during 1971 (more killed by the Pakistani military than Bengali separatists as mentioned previously) and facilitate a new chapter in Pak-Bengal relations both politically and socially. There is nothing to be gained from entertaining popular narratives of limited authenticity after all. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan has no interest in an exercise of strengthening Bengali nationalism and the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has nothing to gain from downplaying its own narratives thusly if the exchange is not mutual and absent of politicking. It will be a waste of time and energy for both republics.