October 07, 2017

Pakistan is carrying a systematic genocide of Baloch the same way it did with Bengalis.

Pakistan is carrying a systematic genocide of Baloch the same way it did with Bengalis.
Remembering 1971: A retired major tells the story he’d rather forget.

By Taha Siddiqui.

A retired soldier does not want you to know his name. He is not ashamed of what he did for the Pakistan Army in what is now Bangladesh in 1971. Rather, he knows that, forty years on, this period of history is as strained and fraught as ever – and he fears the military might not be pleased that he wants to set down his version of the truth.

He just wants you to hear his tale of discrimination, confrontation and misunderstanding that led to the events of December 16, 1971.  This is a day, the retired major says, he does not want to remember.

“We were surrounded by the Indian army for a week, and would have continued fighting till our last breath,” says the Pakistan major, who was posted in Comilla, a town a few kilometers from the Indian border, when war broke out in 1971.

With all communication cut off, supplies running short and having to defend the cantonment area with bare-bones resources, the situation was dire. “But on December 16, the Indians intercepted our radio communication efforts and told us that General Niazi had surrendered in Dhaka and there was no use in continuing fighting,” he says.

None of them believed it could be true, but confirmation came via the ever-reliable BBC radio. His commanding officer, a brigadier who was leading the battalion of some 4,000 men, agreed to surrender.

The major, who had been attacking the Indians from nearby hills with 1,000 men under his command, also retreated after the orders came. He was taken by the Indian military as a prisoner of war and spent two years in India before being set free.

When asked if he ever thought he would be surrendering in a country he thought of as his own, he says he never knew things could get so bad, but also claims the cracks in the system had started to show long before 1971.

The retired major, who is a third generation military officer, says that when he was young, he used to visit his father who was also posted in Chittagong, Bangladesh. “The civil service, military and other high ranking government positions were all occupied by West Pakistanis, who considered Bengalis an inferior race,” he says. Many times he saw Bengalis openly humiliated and treated like ‘untouchables’.

He saw the discrimination up close when he himself was posted to Bangladesh. “In 1970 I was sent to the same city where my father served – Chittagong. I made many close friends who were Bengalis there.”

He adds with a sigh that he lost all these friends, as they started avoiding him after the rifts that followed the elections of December 1970; some even became military enemies.

“The Bengalis had obviously won the majority, and wanted the first assembly session in Dhaka, but the army chief Yahya Khan, who headed the government then, refused. When talks failed in March 1971 a military crackdown against them was ordered,” the retired officer says.

“As a repercussion, the Bengalis started attacking back, and one of the largest orchestrated attacks which formed the basis of the independence movement for Bengalis was on March 26th 1971.”

“But not everyone defected from the military. One of my friends, who is a Bengali by origin, remained loyal till the end and retired as a brigadier and is now living in Rawalpindi,” he says, adding that many of his brigadier friend’s family members were killed because of his loyalty towards Pakistan.

“If the civilian government and the army of West Pakistan had realized that a military solution was not the answer, things would have been different. But the problem is that officers like me were discouraged from sharing our opinions on politics, so we kept quiet and followed orders,” he says.

For the officer, Pakistan’s own weakness in failing to make Bengalis feel a part of Pakistan led to the nine months of war and the break-up of the country. “We have not learnt much from the war. If we had, we would not be doing the same in Balochistan, where we are again depriving people economically. The government must act before it’s too late.”

Published in The Express Tribune, December 16th, 2011.

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