The Washington Journal

Once again, Sindhis are winning hearts in US capital


By Jamal Hasan 

Last year when I attended the World Sindhi Institute’s Washington DC conference, I promised my friend Munawar Laghari, the Sindhi activist, that I would not fail to miss the conference the following year.  I could not believe the time would come so soon.

This year the place of the conference was chosen to be Crowne Plaza Hotel in Arlington, Virginia and the date was fixed on November 9, 2002.  Munawar told me over phone I would be one of the speakers and my turn would be first.  The metro journey seemed to be convenient; with the rhythm of the train, most sections of the favorite Washington Post could be consumed.  My speech was slated for at 10 AM.  When the train stopped at the Crystal City Metro Station, the time was already 9:20 AM.  Who could imagine I would get lost on the way to the hotel that was supposed to be a stone throw away from the metro station.  While walking by the side of a big thoroughfare, I met a young woman who divulged she was also going to the same conference.  She was a Cuban American, a student of a local university and a foreign affairs buff.  Both of us were going to the wrong direction but my hunch guided me to the right path eventually.  Ultimately when we reached the hotel, the clock just struck 9:45 AM.  I met Munawar on the second floor along with a few of his comrades.  Apparently, they were all worried at the absence of the “first speaker.”  I apologized and explained the reason for not arriving much earlier.

This year’s theme of the conference was “Sindh, the Water Crisis, and the Future of Pakistan.”  To name a few personalities like Ram Jethamalani, the former Indian Minister for Law, Justice and Company Affairs, Dr. Louis Flam, Associate Professor of Anthropology of The City University of New York, Afrasiab Khattak, Chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, Hamida Khurro, recently elected member of Pakistan’s Parliament, Syed Qamar-uz-Zaman Shah, former Director of the Agricultural Bank of Pakistan and Selig Harrison, a Senior Scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars were included in the list of panelists.

Looking at the list of participants, I thought it could be a great opportunity to disseminate core issues of Bangladesh’s nationhood.  Munawar told me before I was allotted 15 precious minutes.  At the last moment I was however told each of the participants were allowed five minutes in the morning session.  I decided to fully utilize the time period as I came to the dais.  Readers, I do not want to bore you.  Let me give an overview of what I spoke about.  The speech started with sharp criticism of President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan.  The criticism erupted because the present Pakistani army machinery failed to make a clean break with the past.  It is quite obvious that the Pakistani army brass is still maintaining close ties with Bangladesh’s war criminals of 1971.  The justification of such argument is most recently General Tikka Khan, the butcher of Dhaka, was buried with state funeral.  My speech also covered the atrocity of the Pakistani army and the role of the superpowers in that era.  Nixon Administration’s friendly ties with the brutal Yahya junta were critiqued.  The Jamaat-i-Islami death squad’s killing frenzy was mentioned.  The Islamist war criminals those that are now living in the safe havens of western societies and some who were very active for the cause of Ummah did not skip the speech.  Unlike the Armenians or the Jewish people, why Bangladeshis failed to keep the memory of the genocide alive is a common question asked by many westerners.  Without hesitation, I told the audience that the root cause of such shameful negligence was a skewed sense of Islamic brotherhood. 

Some Islamist apologists say a few individuals who wanted to hijack Islam conducted the attacks on the World Trade  Center and the Pentagon.  I disclosed to the audience that Islam was totally hijacked in the Pak army occupied Bangladesh of 1971. Then the political Islam favoring marauding Pakistani army was omnipresent in all nook and corner of Bangladesh, which included the entire mosque system and most of the madrassahs.  That was the point of caution to the Sindhis.  I admitted with great pain that the present Bangladesh regime was nothing but an extension of Pakistani government and the Bangladesh army was very much infiltrated by the Pakistan’s powerful intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).  The presence of two notorious Islamist war criminals in Bangladesh cabinet was also disclosed.  I rebuked the US Ambassador to Bangladesh Mary Ann Peters because of her failure to see the writing on the wall.  She hardly noticed that Bangladesh was swiftly becoming a hotbed of Taliban and Al-Qaeda jihadists.  At the end, I left a question to Ambassador Peters, where did the Bengali speaking al-Qaeda detainees of Guantánamo Bay and the aides to Taliban leader Mullah Omar come from.

After delivering the speech in front of an international crowd, I felt that at last my dream came true.  After all these years, I could say what I always wanted to say before a distinguished audience.  As one international broadcaster said it this way, “it is not usual we hear about Bangladesh genocide here in the Washington metropolitan area on a regular basis.

After my speech, one after another speaker came to the dais and spoke about the tragedy of Sindh, the province of Pakistan that was neglected and ignored for many years.  Most importantly, Dr. Flam’s slide show provided us with a glimpse into the water sharing situation in Pakistan and how it affected the population near the water resources.  Malavika Vartak talked about the dams of the world and the global scenario.  Syed Qamar-uz-Zaman Shah rendered most outstanding speech.  He gathered enough experience working in the agricultural field.  This elderly gentleman knew how to keep the audience spellbound. His dramatic oratory had valuable substance ingrained in it.

One interesting aspect of the conference did not escape my attention.  Although the conference was staged in the month of Ramadan, any semblance of fasting was not visible.  While the speakers were sitting on the stage, glasses of water were placed in front of each of them.  I noticed even an elderly man with gray beard (could be mistaken to be a highly respected maulana of Bangladesh) did not mind sipping water once in a while.  Also, the conference did not incorporate typical Qur’an recital, which has become part and parcel of any Bangladeshi events at home and abroad.  Considering Sindh as an integral part of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, such sociological signifiers could raise anyone’s eyebrow.

During the lunch break, guests were escorted to an adjacent dining hall.  Along with expatriate Bangladeshi friends, I joined Zahid Makhdoom, Justice of Peace of British Columbia, Canada.  I met Mr. Makhdoom last year’s Sindhi conference.  Do you know that in 1971, after the Pakistan army crackdown, Zahid Makhdoom suffered jail sentence at the hand of Pakistani junta?  As a conscientious human being, Makhdoom protested against the brutality of Pak army that brought havoc on Bangalees.  He was in jail for eleven months.  As a pacifist, Justice Makhdoom opined his opposition to USA’s probable war on Iraq.  We differed on certain aspects of US foreign policy but my impression was our disagreement did not create any barrier on keeping our friendship rock solid.

As the second session was going to start, I noticed Dr. Stephen P. Cohen of the Brookings Institution was rushing to the auditorium.  Someone showed me a Pakistani man following Dr. Cohen like a compartment tied to a rail engine.  One Sindhi activist quipped, “that is an ISI operative who is stuck with Dr. Cohen for most part of this morning.”  In the crowd, I was introduced to a young Pathan man.  He became the most memorable individual in the whole session.  By profession, he is a physician who lives in New York.  His passion is researching Pakistani military intelligence and Bangladesh liberation war.  Quite logically, I discussed Bangladesh genocide with him.  To my surprise, he talked about the killing field in Rayer Bazar.  He also mentioned late Dr. Nurul Ullah of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.  The Pathan researcher was aware of Dr. Nurul Ullah’s videotaping of Pakistani army’s shooting of university students.  While discussing about ethnic hatred, I told him matter- of- factly, “As ashamed as we could be, we Bengalis also killed non-Bengalis during the time of Bangladesh genocide.”  I thought he would respond as most Pakistanis do.  However, he made me amazed one more time.  He quipped, “You have to see the time period- most of the revenge killings occurred after April of 1971.”  The physician turned researcher had interviewed a few Bangladeshi freedom fighters in England.  He showed his interest to interact with more Bangladeshi freedom fighters here in the U.S.

Sindhi conference ended with a louder message to Pakistani oligarchy.  The time for Punjabi hegemony and military supremacy will not last for ever.  I thought Pakistani regime got the message already.  What the world needs is more Munawar Lagharies so that the misdeeds of Punjabis against the Sindhis could be chronicled in details.  Sindhis are sleeping giants who are about to wake up from their long slumber.


Jamal Hasan writes from Washington DC.  His email address is This essay was originally published in News from Bangladesh in November, 2002.


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