Archive for the ‘Bangladesh Genocide’ Category

Major General (Retired) Jamil D. Ahsan’s interview

June 1, 2009

Major General (Retired) Jamil D. Ahsan, Bir Protik, psc is a valiant freedom fighter of Bangladesh Liberation War. He is a coordinator of an important freedom fighters’ organization in Bangladesh, namely, The Sector Commanders Forum. General Jamil visited USA in June of 2008. Jamal Hasan interviewed him in Virginia. Here is the link to that interview, which was done in Bengali.


Fire in the soul: the predicament of the millions.

June 1, 2009


By Jamal Hasan

The twentieth century, more than any other, was witness to the most tumultuous events in the history of the subcontinent. And to many of us, 1971 was the year that proved to be the most momentous of the century in shaping our subcontinent.  Other cataclysms of the century like the fulfillment of the vision of “two-nations” in 1947 and the mass killings and migrations that followed, pale into insignificance when compared to the bloodletting, inflicted on Bangladesh in 1971, that forged its 75 million people into a nation.  That is why it is so very important to accurately document the events of 1971 for a proper understanding of the history of the subcontinent.

The survivors of 1971 have a lot to say of those days of fire and blood in 1971.  Unfortunately we, Bengalis,  have never been media savvy enough to do justice to our history, in general, and to the events of 1971, in particular. Furthermore,  to those that suffered personal tragedies in 1971,  it is often as distasteful as it is painful to recapitulate all the butchery and treachery that culminated in the largest genocide since the days of Hitler. Not surprisingly, all these have served to  leave an unfortunate gap in our understanding of the history of Bangladesh.

Recently, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Rafiqul Islam, a professor of Bangla at Dhaka University. He was in USA to attend a Conference on Nazrul in Florida. He was kind enough to  invited me for a meeting with him at his sister’s residence in Maryland. It was my opportunity to come face to face  with history. My visit turned out to be more fruitful than I had ever dared to imagine. I met not just Dr. Rafiqul Islam but also a number of other Bengali-Americans who were activists in 1971 and had lived dangerously in the days of fire and blood. They were men of resolve who had chosen to be led by the fire in their soul even through the thickest gloom.

Professor Nurul Islam is one of them. I found Dr. Rafiqul Islam respectfully addressing him as sir. In fact he seems to be one of the most respected Bengalis among the expatriate folks. Dr. Nurul Islam was kind enough to reminisce about those days for our benefit.

During my university days in Bangladesh, I did not have a clue that Dr. Rafiqul Islam had been jailed by the junta in 1971. I  was aware of the ordeal of a few martyrs who had been jailed (like Shaheed Altaf Mahmud). They had ultimately met their end at the hands of a firing squad. After listening to both Dr. Rafiqul  Islam and Professor Nurul Islam I came to the conclusion that but for the grace of God they could not have lived through 1971 to tell their tales. I will now give readers a few glimpses of the 1971 saga from what I heard from Dr. Rafiqul Islam.

When Professor Nurul Islam was lobbying with Senator Kennedy and others at the Capitol Hill to save the lives of Bengali intellectuals, Dr. Rafiqul Islam and four other Dhaka University professors were already in Pakistani prison at the Dhaka Cantonment. They were in solitary confinement in small cells which looked more like cages than anything else.

Fortunately, political pressure from Washington did have some effect. Zulfiqar Ali  Bhutto conveyed the thinking in Washington to Yahya Khan. The army administrators in the erstwhile province of East Pakistan thought it prudent to  take token measures to reassure the world that not every jailed intellectual would face the firing squad. In September, Moulvi Farid Ahmed visited some of the jailed intellectuals. Late Moulvi Farid Ahmed, who supported a united Pakistan, was not unaware of the brutal measures of the junta. In spite of his ideological commitment to a united Pakistan, he had given  shelter to the family of Professor Ahmed Sharif and to many other individuals who were in the bad books of the junta.

Dr. Rafiqul Islam had known Moulvi Ahmed personally for quite some time.  Just before Moulvi Farid Ahmed’s departure from the detention center, Dr. Rafiqul Islam had whispered to Moulvi Ahmed, ” Can you tell me about the situation outside?” Moulvi Farid Ahmed replied, “Rafiq, we are through. There are 10 to 12 Indian divisions encircling East Pakistan. There is no way we can make it.” This extraordinary conversation took place  in the month of September 1971.

Regarding the disappearance of Zahir Raihan, Dr. Rafiqul Islam said that the late film maker went to Mirpur to see for himself the Al-Badr killing field where his brother had been murdered. According to Dr. Rafiqul Islam, Zahir Raihan was escorted by a group of Bangladeshi soldiers. It may be mentioned that during the liberation war, a regular Bangladesh Army had been formed on Indian soil. This army was destined to fight conventional  warfare with the Pakistani fouz.  The present prime minister’s late brother Sheikh Kamal and Major General Jamil D. Ahsan (currently Director General of Bangladesh  Institute of International and Strategic Studies) and Shaheed Lt. Ataus Samad were products of this army that was born during the war. Dr. Rafiqul Islam said he has visited the spot where Zahir Raihan was killed along with a group of Indian soldiers at a later time.

In the occupied city of Dhaka during the days of blood and thunder, the army administration left no stone unturned to keep track of all the city dwellers suspected of pro-Bangladeshi political leanings. All Bengali businessmen were also under constant scrutiny from Pak army intelligence.

For most of the Ayub and Yahya Khan era (1958-1970), the DIB or Police intelligence in the city of Dhaka had maintained dossiers on suspected political activists.  After the crack down of 25th March, the barbaric Pak army had easy access to those files which came in very handy. A veteran  politician like ex-Awami Leaguer Abul Mansur Ahmed was in no danger, but not because he had sold his soul to the devil. Thanks to the dossier on him, the military rulers were in a position to make sure that Mr. Abul Mansur Ahmed would find it prudent to acquiesce to the rule from Islamabad.

One of my close relatives used to be a local leader of the National Awami Party (Muzaffar) in Comilla town. During the war period he decided not to flee the country. He first sought refuge in his village home. But still feeling insecure, he came back to Dhaka and stayed at our house in Dhaka which was lying empty after we had fled to Tangail.

In September when I came to Dhaka for a brief visit. I saw my relative quite content with living in “exile” in the city under siege. He had decided to turn inactive in the political sense. But, in the end, that wasn’t enough to save him.  One fine morning, in October, the Pak army surrounded our Dhaka house and arrested our relative.  He was taken to the Cantonment prison where he was detained indefinitely and tortured.

Another relative, the Chief Executive Officer of a gramophone record company was luckier. He had not underestimated Pak army intelligence. After the crack down, he took shelter on the outskirts of the city. Later, he lived for a while in a cousin’s house in yet another part of the city. Fortunately, he had obtained a passport during the good old days of Ayub Khan. After the army crack down on 25th March, 1971, everyone had been made to fly via West Pakistan to go overseas.  It seems that the army junta had failed to anticipate that anyone would dare to flee from its clutches by flying into West Pakistan! My relative was astounded by what he saw when he landed in Karachi. Life was quite normal in West Pakistan. There was no curfew in the evenings, no knock on the door in the middle of the night. West Pakistan was oblivious to what was going on in the East wing. My relative had no problem in booking a flight to U.K. from Karachi. He stayed in U.K. till Bangladesh was liberated.  His departure from Pakistan proved to be just in time – a few days after his departure, the army knocked at the doors of his Dhaka shelter only to discover that “chireya bhaag gaya.”

As I was writing this article, the Islamic Circle of North America
concluded its convention in Baltimore, Maryland. Ashrafuzzaman Khan, an accused war criminal of 1971 graced the event with his presence. This soft-spoken Islamic scholar is well respected in the Islamic circle of this region. But his dark past is hard to ignore. He was accused of killing seven Dhaka University professors with his own hands. Mofizuddin, who had chauffeured the accused killer, has testified against Ashrafuzzaman in a court of law.

One of the victims of Ashrafuzzaman was Professor Ghiasuddin Ahmed of the History Department. On 24th September 1997, a complaint case ( case no. 115/1997 Ramana Thana) was filed against Ashrafuzzaman Khan, now resident in USA, and  others,  for alleged crime committed by him in 1971 during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Mrs. Farida Banu, sister of martyred intellectual Professor Ghiasuddin Ahmed, filed the case at the Ramana Police Station in Dhaka under the Penal Code of Bangladesh ( Sections: 120(b), 448, 364, 302, 201, 34, 114). In the  complaint, it was reported  that on  14th December 1971 morning , Professor Ghiasuddin was abducted by Asrafuzzaman Khan, Chowdhury Mueen Uddin ( now resident in London)  and others.  Professor Ghiasuddin was never again seen alive and his dead body was finally found at Rayar Baazar killing Fields on 5th January 1972.

The fire in the soul of millions of Shaheed families is still burning. I mentioned Moulvi Farid Ahmed’s name. Unlike many other supporters of Pakistan’s integrity, politics did not blind him and that is why he saved a number of innocent lives during the war of liberation. His membership in a local Peace Committee gave him some leverage in influencing the auxiliary forces of the Pakistani killing machine. It was almost like Oscar Schindler’s scenario. His son recently mentioned in a news group discussion about his father’s role in 1971. According to him, Moulvi Farid Ahmed made a number of phone calls to various places after Professor Ghiasuddin Ahmed was abducted by “Pakistani paramilitary force.” And that paramilitary force is nothing but the infamous Al-Badr, the military wing of Jamat-i-Islami, now a legitimate party of Bangladesh. Moulvi Farid Ahmed’s life died a  horrible death. According to his son, a faction of overzealous freedom fighters tortured Moulvi Farid Ahmed to death. He didn’t even get a decent burial.

We need to document more and more facts to get a broad perspective of our liberation war. The pains and sorrows of all victims need to be made known to the world.  We have an obligation to tell the world about our ordeal in 1971 so that our cry of, “Never again,” takes on the urgency that it deserves in a world that had watched from the sidelines in 1971 as Islamabad’s army junta perpetrated the most horrendous genocide since the days of Hitler.


Originally published in NEWS FROM BANGLADESH / Readers’ Opinion / July 6, 2000

Glimpses from my trip to the good old Dhaka.

May 28, 2009


By Jamal Hasan

A sudden family urgency prompted me to visit Bangladesh, which became my top priority. It was going to be my sojourn to our native land after almost a decade. My frequent flier relatives warned me one thing about the first encounter in Dhaka. They told me quite a few horror stories. How some greedy officials of the airport and civil aviation jump on the tired and unwise Bengali visitors like vultures on a robin’s nest or how the countless transportation agents fall onto their preys, etc. etc. I was also told not to give my luggage to anyone unless I have absolute confidence in that person. As the typical demand from the over-enthusiastic helpers is for U.S. dollars, I was well advised to carry as many single dollar bills. My preparedness for unforeseen circumstances became futile. As I reached my final destination, things did not come out as I apprehended.

After an exhaustive journey through the Middle East, my plane landed in a sweaty summer-day in Dhaka. I realized the humidity is much more in abundance than that of the tropical South Florida, which used to be my place of residence for more than sixteen years. Now a bonafide Marylander who is being accustomed to shoveling snow in the front yard, my body is yet to readjust to fresh barrage of humidity. But I was mentally prepared to embrace any kind of maladjustment of mundane physical comfort.


My journey to my native land was primarily occurring at a time of historical ethos. The leakage of Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report could produce such a ripple effect was hard to fathom. After I arrived in Dhaka, I found a few dailies were carrying excerpts from the report on a daily basis. Twenty-nine years is a long period and a calculated policy of erasing the memory of 1971was successfully conducted during much of the two successive army generals’ rule. And suddenly, the HRC report comes in the forefront and things would never be the same! I thought my trip to Dhaka was occurring at a time where an Ekattur activist may find the ultimate Nirvana.

The colossal buildings and apparent affluence of certain segment of the population gave me the awe. The well-decorated restaurants catering to authentic oriental and South Asian cuisine could make a westerner spellbound. The excessive glamorization of eateries may someone wonder is the country one of the least developed countries in the world? As I peeped through the 19th floor window of a multistoried BRAC (Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee) building, Dhaka’s skyline reminded me of a South Florida urban landscape. The concrete jungles are reminiscent of any metropolis. But the road condition and traffic situation? I would rather say we are destined to a black hole to comment rather mildly.

Going back to Ekattur matters. The invitation to join a seminar by the esteemed editor of Ajker Kagoj, a Bengali daily was something I could hardly reject. The seminar was a Round Table Conference on the Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report. On a September day the meeting was scheduled at five p.m.

The Meena House (where the Paper office is located), a multistoried building is not too far from my Dhaka residence. The round table in the meeting place could fit the literal meaning of the terminology. I reached the place may be half an hour before the scheduled time. The presence of wireless microphones was an indication that Bangladesh is not far behind in present day technology of audio matters. I was contended to see that most of the participants took their seats before the bell struck five. Two BNP MPs, namely Col. (Ret’d) Oli Ahmed (Bir Bikram) and Col. (Ret’d) Akbar Hossain, two former Muktijoddhas were the star participants. The other Muktijoddha from across the aisle was Awami League MP Major (Ret’d) Rafiqul Islam who happened to be a former Home Minister. Three Dhaka University Professors, namely, Dr. Rafiqul Islam, Dr. Shamsul Huda Haroon and Dr. Momtajuddin Ahmed represented the liberal and secular wing of the complex and effervescent Bengali intelligentsia. Also were present a veteran leftist political leader Haider Akbar Khan Rano, Ambassador Waliur Rahman and the Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs Abdul Matin Khosru. I realized, the moderator of the session the newspaper editor Kazi Shahed Ahmed had quite a big task to conduct.

I was totally impressed and definitely amazed watching the exchange of  comments between the minister and opposition MP’s. It was an extraordinary example of civility. I was thinking if Bangladesh politics in every facet could be an arena of such civility, we would seldom be termed as a nation of uncivilized political elements. While the moderator appeared to have good rapport with most of the participants, sometimes he had to face the hurdles of smoothing out the bitter and often emotional outburst of seemingly divergent points of view. I found, although, the common denominator of the participants’ background to be pro-liberation, there was definitely certain difference of angle. This became more evident in the deliberation of BNP MP’s presentations. In his speech MP Col (Ret’d) Oli Ahmed made it a point that the present lawlessness in the society gets precedence over the tragedy of 1971. Similarly MP Col. (Ret’d) Akbar Hossain brought the now debated subject of the exact casualty figure of 1971. He mentioned that the total figure of the war casualty would not be more than few hundred thousand. Interestingly Major (Ret’d) Rafiqul Islam became forthcoming in refuting that argument. He brought a number of sample scenarios and gave some statistical inferences that might be attributed to estimating a figure close to three million. The difference in Ekattur philosophy gave me a realization of the bottom line where the partisan politics had some layers of influence. I assessed that there was evolving an unparalleled linkage among the pro-Ekattur political personalities going beyond partisan lines. This I felt a healthy sign in a nascent democracy.

Dr. Rafiqul Islam gave startling background information of Hamoodur Rahman, the person. He made the case that the one time Chief Justice of Pakistan could be anything but a friend of Bengali cause. Dr. Shamsul Huda Haroon provided a vivid conjecture of the menace of parochial politics in Bangladesh history. While exchanging divergent opinions, the often usage of “apology” gave an ideal parliamentarian setting. In this respect, Ambassador Waliur Rahman should be given due credit. Most interesting thing to observe was the presence of Stanley Wolpert’s autobiography of Z.A. Bhutto in the Parliamentary Affairs Minister’s hand. He was quoting from the book a few times. And interestingly Zulfi story became very relevant with the discourse.

An acting minister on my left side and an opposition member of parliament on my right, I was having the ultimate surreal experience. My dream of seeing all the Bengali pro-Ekattur activists beyond party lines might come true was becoming true. From far away through the Internet we may gather the stereotypical view that all the Bangladeshi politicians are on each other’s throat, the Round Table Conference did not give me that idea. Rather, I had every element to be positive about future. I became more than a bit of optimistic that the figments of unresolved issues of 1971 may get a chance to be resolved.

When the microphone came to me, I gave a rather dismal picture of expatriate Bengalis in USA. I mentioned about the noble activism of Armenians worldwide who even lobbied US Congress during Soviet era to launch a Congressional hearing on Armenian genocide converting the then
Senator Bob Dole as a great champion of Armenian cause. Interestingly, at the Ajker Kagoj meeting I did not have any clue that Armenian genocide issue could once again hit the consciousness of American psyche and open a Pandora’s box in American politics today. Just a few days ago, Washington Post carried big headlines about the ultimatum from the powerful Turkish lobby to halt any more condemnation of Ottoman Turkish genocidal act occurred eighty years ago. Pakistan strategically, in US view, falls far behind Turkey. Yet, the expatriate Bengalis failed miserably to create any uproar in Capitol Hill opening the old wound of 1971. May be that is why Pakistani Chief Executive’s spokesperson Javed Jabbar or Abdus Sattar show the audacity to forget the past. What a cruel joke!

My short trip to Bangladesh gave me high hope of fulfilling the political obligation of the nation where our roots belong. I think the current dynamic should lead us to the ultimate destination of resolving the unresolved issues of Bangladesh genocide of 1971. The timely disclosure of Hamoodur Rahman Commission Report gave a new jolt in the moribund politics of 1971 activism. I felt there was a resurgence of Spirit of Liberation in Bangladesh. That was the biggest hope I gathered during my short trip to Dhaka.


The essay was originally published in News from Bangladesh in the Feature section on October 11, 2000.

Balkan Tragedy : A Re-enactment of the 1971 Genocide in Bangladesh.

May 6, 2009

By Jamal Hasan


The escalating human tragedy in Kosovo gives me a sense of deja vu.  All of a sudden, Kosovo has taken on the center stage of a tragic drama. Slobodan Milosevic turned Kosovo into a tinderbox a decade ago when he scrapped the region’s autonomy in response to demands from the xenophobic section of Serbians. And now a veritable fire rages uncontrollably in the region. Much the same had happened in the erstwhile province of East Pakistan when a racist military junta played a dirty trick on the region once too often by a “postponement” of the convening of the newly elected national assembly. It was the last straw for the East Pakistanis who had chaffed at their second class citizenship from the very day that the nation had come into being on 14th August, 1947.

There is an eerie resemblance between what is happening in Kosovo in 1999 and what happened in East Pakistan after March of 1971. There is only a difference in scale of the tragedy. Bengalis had to sacrifice three million lives before it could take its rightful place in the comity of nations. That is one million more than the total population of today’s Kosovo! More than ten million refugees had to flee to the safety of neighboring India to escape the brutality of the marauding soldiers from West Pakistan. The 1971 genocide in Bangladesh at the hands of Pakistani army is undoubtedly the worst that the world has witnessed since the days of Hitler.

Chaos can prevail whenever the ruling elite of a country deliberately pits one of its ethnic group against another in its bid to hold on to power. Hatred begets even more hatred. Mobs take over as law and order breaks down under the stress of ethnic conflict. Lot of innocent people pay a heavy price, even their lives, as the ruling elite deliberately instigates ethnic hatred in a bid to perpetuate its hold on power. Three years ago the present leadership of Yugoslavia committed vicious crimes against humanity. The Dayton Peace Accord had brought the oppressor to the peace table, but the Milosevic regime deliberately chose to continue with its  genocidal policy. The Yahya Khan  regime in 1971 had done much the same thing as it went on an unprecedented crime spree in the hope of  getting away with murder.

Apologists for the infamous military junta that ruled Pakistani in 1971 shed crocodile tears quite copiously for the “Biharis” who have been rotting in refugee camps in Bangladesh for over quarter of a century. The indignation of the apologists knows no bound as they explain away the military junta’s crimes against humanity as its attempt to curb acts of violence against “Biharis” in the supercharged ambiance of 1971. The very riots that were instigated by the rulers by playing off “Biharis” against the rest of the population become the raison d’etre for the merciless mass killings by the army. Systematic extermination of targeted sections of the population by the Pakistani soldiers is justified as a necessary evil. It is indeed  a travesty of the highest order that the apologists of the Pakistan’s military junta would even try to explain away the wanton murder of three million Bengali civilians as the justified reaction to random acts of violence by unruly mobs in isolated pockets of the country.

It is fully in keeping with  international law that the world is demanding war crime trials for the leading luminaries of a regime that has caused untold suffering among the Kosovars. But apologists of this regime have a way to play down its crimes that will ring familiar to observers of the 1971 tragedy in Bangladesh. The Yahya Khan regime always brought up the “Bihari” issue whenever it was challenged in any forum for its crimes in East Pakistan. It is no different in the Balkans. When Serbs systematically evicted, tortured and murdered the Bosnian Muslims, there were indeed instances of revenge killings. Muslim mobs did attack and kill innocent Serbs in isolated pockets of the region where the Serbs were in a minority. Serbian propaganda machine latches on to these isolated acts of mob violence to justify the ruthless and systematic campaign  to cleanse the land of all Muslims. And much like Pakistan’s ruling class, the rulers in Belgrade have not only exaggerated but even fabricated stories of brutality perpetrated by the Kosovars on the Serb minority.

Jinnah had campaigned for the founding of Pakistan as the homeland of the Muslims of the subcontinent. After the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, some Urdu-speaking Indians  migrated to East Pakistan where they settled down in segregated areas or enclaves. The important “Bihari” enclaves were in places like Syedpur, Shantahar or Mirpur, and Mohammadpur in greater Dacca.  Dictator Ayub Khan helped the community with special  dispensations like soft loans for houses and preferential recruitment for employment in railways, jute mills etc. The West Pakistan based ruling class used them as proxies to rule East Pakistan. The “Biharis” were encouraged to act as agents of the oligarchy that ruled the land from their safe haven in Karachi and Rawalpindi.

It was at the instigation of the rulers that the “Biharis” refused to assimilate. They thought  it beneath their dignity to learn the language of the land they had settled in, preferring instead to continue with the “imperial language,” Urdu, which had already become the language in the corridors of power even in West Pakistan. The Urdu-speakers were no more than 1% of the population. But imperial arrogance led to its imposition on the native subjects in every corner of Pakistan.

The situation in Kosovo is very similar.  Serb minority in Kosovo is no more than 10% of the population. But the Serbs, as proud members of the ruling ethnic group, never bothered to learn Albanian, the language of the subject people. The “Biharis” in East Pakistan, likewise, disdained the language of the natives. They were brainwashed into becoming the cat’s paw for Pakistan’s ruling oligarchy. Inevitably, and tragically, they got singed when the ruling junta used them to retrieve chestnuts from the fire. What is worse, the “Biharis” were discarded unceremoniously like the rind of a squeezed lemon once they were no longer useful to the rulers in Islamabad. A quarter million of the hapless “Biharis” have been rotting in refugee camps in Bangladesh for the last 27 years as successive rulers in Pakistan feigned lack of funds to repatriate them to the country of their choice.

At this point it is relevant to present this writer’s personal experience in 1971. Residents of Dhaka started fleeing the city soon after the 25th March crackdown by the Pak army.  This writer was among them. He fled towards Tangail via Mirpur which was  a big Bihari settlement. The day was 30th March, 1971. The writer and  his family,  packed in  two cars, were driving towards Savar.  As the first car approached Mirpur bridge, not far from the movie theater, it was accosted by a mob of “Biharis.” It was sheer luck that both the cars managed to speed away from the mob. But not before we had witnessed the horrifying sight of arson and carnage. Burnt down  cars were lying all around. It is unlikely that Bengalis who were in those cars had survived the mob violence. We must have been among the lucky few who survived our passage through Mirpur on that day.

A few weeks ago, I came across an article  by a Pakistani on the Internet. It gave a grotesque account of decomposed bodies of “Biharis” unearthed by Pakistani soldiers in Shantahar. The account was a riposte to a discussion on the 1971 mass murders in Bangladesh. It was an attempt to prove that Bengalis had nobody but themselves to blame for the genocide. Quite a few Pakistanis and even some Bengalis will never tire of this line of blaming the victims for the crimes. To them, the crimes of 1971 were nothing more than the inevitable response to those that challenged their cherished ideology of religious apartheid. The carnage is seen as a clash of history where to be on its right side one must accept the primacy of Urdu and Pakistani brand of Islam under the aegis of West Pakistan’s ruling class. 

A similar disinformation campaign on behalf of the rulers in Belgrade have swung into action. The Serbs are being portrayed as the eternal martyrs in the cause of making Europe safe from Islam. In this exclusionist view, you must accept the primacy of “European” and Christian values  to be the righteous on the right side of history. Systematic ethnic cleansing in Kosovo by Belgrade’s ruling elite is being portrayed as a necessary step to counter “certain brutalities” committed by  displaced Kosovar-Albanians on the Serbs who constitute a beleaguered minority. It is East Pakistan all over again. I am not in the least surprised, for this is how the oppressor’s disinformation campaign has always operated.

In the early days of the liberation war in Bangladesh, there were instances of sporadic violence  by unruly Bengali mobs against the “Biharis.”. Chittagong was one of the places where the “Biharis” suffered significant casualties. That mob rampage in Chittagong in the immediate aftermath of Pak army’s crackdown will for ever be a blot in the history  of the nation’s struggle for freedom.

There isn’t a Bengali patriot who will condone what happened to the “Biharis.” To the army junta, however, this tragedy was a heaven-sent bounty. It would provide them with a rationale to justify the mass murders perpetrated by the Pakistani soldiers over the next nine months. It mattered little that the Pak army, at the same time, instigated “Bihari” mobs to wreak terrible vengeance on the Bengalis in the outskirts of Chittagong in places like  Pahartali and Shitakunda. In a particularly grisly “incident, ” a train full of Bengalis were mercilessly slaughtered. This happened when the Pakistani rulers had already consolidated their grip on most of East Pakistan after the 25th March crackdown.

Apologists for Pakistan’s military junta deliberately and calculatingly explain away the systematic genocide by the established government of the land as a justifiable reprisal for mob violence in isolated pockets of the country. And, unfortunately, such apologists are not limited to Pakistan. They can be found even in Bangladesh among ideologues who saw 16th December, 1971 not as a day of victory but as a day of defeat. Some of them had openly sided with the blood thirsty regime to the point of lobbying on its behalf in foreign lands and even in the corridors of the United Nations even as their compatriots were being mercilessly slaughtered and raped in the killing fields of Bangladesh. Others had maintained “strict neutrality” and a discrete silence even in the safety and comfort of well paying jobs in America and other western nations. These Quislings, to this day, will moan the brutalities inflicted on “Biharis” and collaborators even as they pointedly evade any word of condemnation for the military junta that murdered more people than the entire population of Kosovo.

If a person cannot love his neighbor whom he sees every day, he cannot possibly love God whom he has never seen. Yet such a person will never tire of justifying his contempt for his neighbor under the guise of regard for his God. Bangladesh knows of professors who have not a word of condemnation to spare for the crimes of the Pakistani army on the night of 25th March, 1971 in the Dacca University campus. These Quislings could condone the wholesale slaughter of their colleagues because it was perpetrated in the name of making Pakistan safe from the enemies of Islam. To this day they find it difficult to even acknowledge, let alone condemn, the slaughter of the innocents that started on that “Kal Ratri” of  March 25, 1971. On that black night the marauding soldiers, implementing  a blue print for eliminating “enemies” that had been prepared by their commanders, went to the Dacca University Teachers Quarter to finish off  members of the teaching staff  in order to save Pakistan!

It was a diabolical plan where people were selectively targeted for elimination to reduce the Bengalis to a subject race. Such selective murders continued till the very end. General Tikka Khan had been brutally frank from the very beginning. He said in no uncertain terms that he wanted the land in East Pakistan but didn’t care a damn for its people. The wholesale murder of Bengali intellectuals was part of a systematic attempt to annihilate a nation. It  made a complete mockery of the expected norm in a post-Nuremburg world.

Dusan, a Serb pro-democracy activist was featured in a recent article in the New York Times (31st March, 1999).  Dusan, like most of his compatriots,  is against NATO’s bombing mission in Kosovo and Serbia. He complained that the world is demonizing Serbia to justify aggression against a sovereign country fighting internal insurgency. Doesn’t his refrain ring a bell? Back in 1971,  supporters of Pakistan’s military junta had advanced exactly the same argument.To them the struggle for the liberation of Bangladesh was nothing more than a regional insurgency in a sovereign nation. The Bengali freedom fighters were merely a group of insurgents fighting against the established government of the country.  The Pakistani army was doing its duty by fighting for the integrity of Pakistan. To this day Pakistan’s ruling elite bitterly blames India for tearing Pakistan asunder to cut Pakistan down to size. Belgrade’s ruling elite must now blame NATO  for cutting Yugoslavia to size. After all, it is so much easier to blame the rest of the world for misdeeds of one’s own.

In the early days of the war in the Balkans, the cities of Srebrenica and Mostar came to epitomize the evils of ethnic cleansing. The Serb majority, in an inhuman display of intolerance, emptied the two cities of all Bosnian Muslims. Once again there was a sense of deja vu for those that had followed the 1971 tragedy in East Pakistan. The Pakistani army systematically and ruthlessly eliminated Bengalis from “Bihari” majority enclaves like the one in Syedpur. Such state sponsored ethnic cleansing in East Pakistan was immoral in 1971. And it is just as immoral in Bosnia-Herzegovina today.

There can be no crime worse than a deliberate attempt at ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the established government. Perpetrators of such a heinous crime must be brought to justice at all costs.  The International War Crime Tribunal in the Hague should set up precedents to make the world a safer place than it has been till now. The crimes of 1971 were particularly vicious. All Bengalis suffered but the Hindu Bengali suffered disproportionately more than his Muslim compatriots. The Hindus were specially targeted for elimination by the rulers in West Pakistan. It was their “final solution” to make Pakistan safe for Islam.

It is interesting that the Yahya Khan regime took a leaf out of the Nazi regime in Hitler’s Germany to identify those that must be eliminated for the “final solution.” A religious ritual became the basis of separating out the victims. Any male without a foreskin became destined for the gas chamber in Hitler’s Germany. And any male with a foreskin faced the bullet or had his throat slit in Yahya Khan’s Pakistan.

The Yahya Khan regime made no secret of its goal to eliminate the Hindus. Not even the most notable among them were spared. Dhiren Dutta, a member of parliament during the early days of Pakistan was picked up from his home and shot dead on the spot in front of horrified relatives and neighbors. Ranada Prasad Saha, a notable philanthropist was killed instantly as soon as the Pak army came to town. The octogenarian owner of  the Kundeswari Ausadhaloy in Chittagong was similarly eliminated without much ado. These victims were caught unawares. As prominent citizens it had never occurred to them that the army of their country could be so ruthless.

The International War Crime Tribunal had indicted Zeljiko Raznatovic, the  Serbian militia leader known as Arkan. Other Serb leaders have been forewarned that they would be accountable for violence against civilians in Kosovo. But not even a single Pakistani general has been indicted till now for the crimes of 1971. General Rao Farman Ali Khan, for example, had masterminded the murder of Bengali intellectuals. It was he who had prepared the list of the intellectuals who were targeted for elimination. It is truly unfortunate that criminals like Rao Farman Ali got away with murder. T

he ethnically cleansed cities like Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina reminds this writer of Dacca, Bangladesh  in 1971. My family and I had fled from Dacca on 30th March. In September of 1971, I went to take a look at my abandoned house in the historical Indira Road in the Farmgate area. The five or six months since my departure had completely changed the ambiance of the area. I felt as if I was part of an episode from “Twilight Zone.” There was hardly a shop in the area that was not owned by a Urdu speaker. The shops  proudly displayed the store signs in Urdu. There were quite a few Bihari  gunmen patrolling the street rechristened as Anarkali Road. I am convinced that if the war had not ended in December, Dacca would have turned into another ethnically cleansed Srebrenica.

After  Bangladesh became independent, hundreds of thousands Bengalis were left stranded  in the former west wing of Pakistan. The new regime in Pakistan used them as hostages to obstruct justice. Bangladesh government had drawn up specific charges against 195 Pakistani army officers to try them for war crimes. Pakistan was against any war crime trial. It warned that Bengalis in Pakistan would have to pay a heavy price if Bangladesh went ahead with the trials. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto openly declared that he would try Bengali military officers (who were interned in different camps  under subhuman conditions) and civil servants stranded in Pakistan for treason if Bangladesh went ahead with the trial of the 195 officers.

A central government employee’s plight will give the readers some idea of the desperate situation faced by the Bengalis in Pakistan after 16th December, 1971. Bengalis could quickly sense the heightened animosity. This civil servant was living in Hyderabad, Pakistan. After December of 1971, he and  his family was subjected to constant harassment by the neighbors. Then they discovered that someone under the stealth of night had painted a sinister mark on their doorstep. It was an eerie reminder of the fate of Jews in Nazi Germany.  That was the turning point in their life. They abandoned every thing, including the recently bought brand new car, and headed towards Afghanistan. They had to trek through tough hilly terrains to reach the safety of Kabul. The smugglers had to be paid a fortune for the  safe passage. Today’s Kosovo is no different. People are paying all they have to get out of the land before the Serbs finish them off.

In a careful and sweeping warning to the Yugoslav commanders, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook declared recently: “Anyone who carried out atrocities against the civilian population, anyone who gives orders for them to carry it out, or is complicity in those orders being given, and anyone who fails to prevent such orders or to prevent those orders being carried out – anyone in those categories is liable to face indictment before the international war crimes tribunal”.

Active members of the Pakistani military junta of 1971 like General A.M. Yahya Khan (posthumously), General Abdul Hamid Khan,  Lt. General Gul Hassan Khan, Lt. General Tikka Khan, Lt. General A.O. Mitha, Lt. General A.A.K. Niazi, Major General Rao Farman Ali Khan, Major General Khadim Hussain Raja and Brigadier Z.A. Khan fit the profiles of  war criminals. They should be brought to trial. We will not be forgiven by future generations if we fail to have them tried for their heinous crimes.

Jamal Hasan writes from Washington DC.His email address is  This essay was first published in April, 1999.