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OP-ED: It’s high time for an apology

  • Published at 05:46 am March 26th, 2021
1971
SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Why Pakistan needs to own up to its crimes

Pakistan, as a state, has not apologized even once in the last 50 years for its genocidal atrocities in 1971. A state apology could help heal the agony of the Bangladeshi people, which could normalize a regional relationship between the states and future generations.

In March 1971, a barbaric Pakistani crackdown in Bangladesh started the Liberation War, then East Pakistan. Scores were killed under Operation Searchlight on the night of March 25, 1971. Bangladesh snatched its historic independence through nine months of bloody war, making almost 100,000 Pakistani soldiers surrender at the Ramna Race Course in Dhaka. The masses of Bangladesh had been struggling for nearly 25 years for rights, including economic, social, and cultural rights, since independence from British rule.

Following the continuous discrimination toward East Pakistan by the West, people of this wing replied through their 1970 election, where Pakistani rulers intentionally abstained from transferring power to the elected people’s representatives. With a master plan, the Pakistan army started killing mass people, students, teachers, intellectuals, political leaders. The killing was intended to destroy the whole or part of the Bengali ethnic group, and it has matched up to the definition of genocide as written in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948.

The Bangladesh-Pakistan relationship has been frosty for the last 50 years. This bitter relationship got worse after some derogatory remarks were made regarding the trial of crimes against humanity committed by Pakistan and its collaborators. The gradual souring of inter-state relations fell when Pakistan’s National Assembly and Foreign Affairs Office issued a condemnation of the sentencing of the war criminals from Jamaat-e-Islami. As a consequence, Bangladesh refused to join the 2016 Saarc summit in Pakistan.

The history of Bangladesh’s birth is a struggle for rights, for years. From deprivation to genocidal atrocities in 1971, Pakistan has not apologized for its crimes against humanity even once as a state, for killing 3 million people in nine months. Pakistan has deliberately concealed these genocidal atrocities from its textbooks, so that the next generation remains in the dark about the committed genocide. But this deadlock should be ceased. Seeking apology as a state is not uncommon for misdeeds committed by an earlier generation. Germany, France, Canada, Japan, the United States, and countries set the example of state apology for war crimes or other wrongful acts done by their predecessors.

The most important step of apology is to acknowledge and accept the misdeeds committed against anyone. Pakistan should acknowledge their genocidal atrocities committed on March 25, a pure infliction of violence without declaring war, on unarmed civilians. It cannot be termed as preventive war, as the attack was illegal, disproportionate, systematic, and unjust. 

Figuring out the exact number of people killed on March 25 is hard, but historian Muntassir Mamoon has estimated that about 30 thousand people were killed just from March 25 to March 31, 1971.

With the utmost viciousness, the Pak Army and local collaborators murdered more than 1,000 Bengali intellectuals, unprecedented in history. It is important to take moral responsibility by giving a state apology which can bring some measure of closure to the victims and families. An unconditional state apology would help heal many deep wounds.

The Liberation War is always an emotional matter in Bangladesh, contributing to shaping social and political discourses. Pakistan needs to apologize and own up to the disgrace they perpetuated. This will boost the relationship between new generations of both countries in the future.

From Bangladesh’s perspective, a state apology from Pakistan can help heal 50 years of agony to an extent. Such an apology will make room to hold responsible the military officers and local collaborators. It will also provide a chance to gain international recognition for March 25 as the day of genocide. Bangladesh is growing faster economically than any other state in South Asia. 

Hence, our country needs to strengthen regional cooperation alongside a sustainable economy which will reflect the principle of Bangladesh’s foreign policy: “Friendship towards all, malice towards none.”

Md Jahedul Islam is a graduate student of law.

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