Hameed Nizami Conference Room of the Institute of Communication Studies, University of the Punjab.From Left to Right: Prof. Dr Ahsan Akthar Naz, Farrukh Sohail Goindi, Altaf Hassan Qureshi,Jamil Athar, Major Aftab.
Recalling the events of 1971 and the factors which led to the creation of Bangladesh, the Institute of Communication Studies (ICS), University of the Punjab, arranged a seminar on December 13, 2012. Hameed Nizami Conference room of ICS had sketched the year 1971 in front of the future communicators. The seminar was hosted by the Director of the Institute of Communication Studies, Prof Dr. Ahsan Akhtar Naz and presided over by Altaf Hassan Qureshi. Other speakers included: a former army officer (Major Aftab), Farrukh Sohail Goindi and Jamil Athar.
In his preliminary note, the Director explained the aim of arranging a seminar with the title, ‘In Memory of East Pakistan‘. He told the students about the significance of December 16, 1971. As per his view, students of mass communication should outweigh others while exhibiting their knowledge about socio-political issues in a historical context. “This seminar is arranged to let you know that the country in which you all live, used to consist of two wings. The Eastern one got separated in December 1971 while conspiracies are ensuing to disintegrate the Western half as well,” remarked the Director. Referring to the complexity of East Pakistan’s separation, the Director said that it’s an ongoing debate and books are still being penned down about the creation of Bangladesh.
Jamil Athar (President of Council of Pakistan News Editors-CPNE) was the first one to address the students. He read out an excerpt from the book of late Syed Sajjad Hussain who was the Vice Chancellor of Dhaka University in 1971. The key points of the excerpt reflected Sajjad Hussain’s lamenting account of a grieve-stricken day in the history of Pakistan that suggested the dichotomy of ‘truth’ and ‘fabrication’ related to the liberation of Bangladesh. According tot he excerpt, ‘soldiers of West Pakistan were martyrs who fought with valour to defend their homeland. The number of Bengalis killed is overstated in accordance with the will of RAW (Research and Analysis Wing of Indian Intelligentsia).
Farrukh Sohail Goindi, media analyst and columnist, discussed at length his perspective on the fall of Dhaka. He called it the ‘first unique paradox of modern history’ as a result of which a majority population (East Pakistan) sought independence from minority population (West Pakistan). Goindi disagreed with placing the blame of ‘1971 tragedy’ on a few politicians or military generals. He held everyone accountable for the separation of East Pakistan. According to his view-point, ambiguity of power concentration and the power-hungry generals generated a conducive environment for the creation of Bangladesh. Moreover, the intelligentsia and the bureaucracy were equally responsible for ill-treating the Bengali brothers. Furthermore, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto‘s statements had been manipulated and misinterpreted after he was hanged to make him the culprit of Pakistan’s division. Goindi shared with the students his experiences as a young school going student at that time, which culminated to form a ‘bad memory’ of his life. The most tragic aspect for him was that Pakistan lost the ‘intellectual hub’ (Bangladesh) of subcontinent. He explained that Bengali poetry, story writing and intellectual capabilities had no match in the subcontinent. While clearing the misconceptions associated with the events of 1971, he told the students that a Bengali youngster calculated the ratio of ‘Bengalis killed during the war of 1971’ and the ‘population of East Pakistan’. His findings concluded that if 3 million Begalis had been killed during the war then one Bengali from each home in East Pakistan must have been killed. However, the youngster himself confessed that no one from his family or village even was killed during the war of 1971. As for Bagladesh, Goindi suggested that a demand for trial should be made by the government of Bangladesh only after discovering the truth.
Elaborating the relevance of Bangladesh with the turmoil in FATA and Balochistan, Goindi amazed the students by revealing a discussion with his Balochi friend. According to the Balochi native, Goindi stated, Arab ships land on the strips of Balochistan without any official license or permission in order to support the transportation of ‘narcotics’. “If we could have questioned the past and explored the truth then Pakistan could have prevented the political debates in Balochistan and FATA”, said Goindi.
“Injustice in the society and the propagation of ideological taboos had done most of the damage to the country. Instead of using diversity as a strength in an inherent federation like Pakistan, the political elite of Pakistan has always exploited ‘diversity’ to create disharmony and dissent among provinces”, Goindi stated.
He wrapped up his speech by emphasising on the need to learn from the past, creating a just society and advocating “authentic truth”. The persuasive speaker emphatically labelled ‘vast knowledge of the political history’ as a prerequisite for achieving excellence in the field of journalism. Goindi identified, ‘injustice’, ‘poverty’ and ‘ blunders of the past’ the real enemies of Pakistan against which the nation should unite.
Deviating to some extent from the views of Farrukh Sohail Goindi, Major Aftab Ahmed Khan (fought the 1971 Indo-Pak war triggered by a civil war in the then East Pakistan) shared his perspective on the creation of Bangladesh by explaining the military dimension. Before plunging into the topic, he connected the events of 1971 with the sacrilegious month of Muharram ul Harram. “The war of 1971 was not less than the battle between the army of Hazrat Hussain (A.S) and the army of Yazeed,” the Major said. According to him, the bureaucracy had laid the foundation for widening the gap between the Eastern and Wetsern half of the country by functioning like a colonial authority. In addition to this, the army had always treated Bengalis as second class citizens. Major Aftab considered the army action of March 25, 1971 baseless and illogical. He opined that the decision of the electorate in 1970 should have been respected by the army, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) under the leadership of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and the rightist Jammat-e-Islami. He expressed his views about Shiekh Mujeeb ur Rehman, recalling him as a patriot who always resisted any move towards independence. It was only under increased public pressure and the pre emptive attack of March 25, 1971 by Yahya Khan‘s army that Mujeeb had to retaliate, according to Major Aftab.
While pointing out the common charatceristic of Mukti Bahini and Yahya Khan’s army, the Major tagged both of them as ‘mutinous forces’, which allowed India to intervene in the bout. “When co-religionists belonging to the same nation fight against each other than foreign elements get a chance to take advantage of the situation,” remarked Aftab. For him, the most ‘shameful’ part of the tragedy was that the army of West Pakistan had to surrender in front of General Aurora (commander of Indian army) instead of Mukit Bahini’s commander Colonel Usmani (who was senior than General Aurora and demanded that the army of West Pakistan should surrender in front of Mukti Bahini). Aftab declared that he was a patriot soldier who support the army as the saviour of the people and opposes the political involvement of Generals.
“I can claim that my love for army cannot be measured or compared and the separation of East Pakistan is the bleakest moment of my life, worse than the death of my son,” said the emotionally charged Major. Major Aftab was a part of the army that surrendered on December 16, 1971, but he won the hearts through his words, the students of ICS gave a standing ovation to him after his speech.
Despite being the last speaker, Altaf Hassan Qureshi (founder of Digest Journalism in Pakistan) gave an interesting presidential note. “I am,perhaps, the only journalist in West Pakistan who went to East Pakistan during 1971 and reported events as they were not as they I liked them to be,” said the veteran Digest Journalist. He called 20th century an epoch of both , an extreme glory (creation of Pakistan) and extreme misfortune (creation of Bangladesh) for the Muslims who strived for their ideological and political rights.
Altaf recalled an interview with Shiekh Mujeeb ur Rehman (1969), during which the Sheikh reiterated his reluctance to seek independence. However, Altaf as an interviewer requested him to cease the negative role of the press that was fomenting hatred among the local populations of Eastern and Western wings. Sheikh Mujeeb ur Rehman was a fascist politician, according to Altaf, who garnered support through force in the elections of 1970. In his opinion, the delay in the process of constitution making, the abrogation of the constitution by military dictators and the economic disparity during General Ayub’s regime contributed towards the separation of Bangladesh. The solution, as presented by Altaf, lied in maintaining the sanctity of the constitution by following it in letter and spirit. Besides that, he believed in the cultivation of a mature political process by allowing the growth of political parties. “Nations do not unite through army or bureaucracy, political forces alone can integrate the nation if they work in a disciplined manner and according to the aspirations of the people,” said Altaf. He accepted that democratic trends are not engendered in political parties of Pakistan, therefore, such trends should be developed. Altaf opposed the way army had always lashed out at politicians to justify its rule. He requested the students to learn and broaden their vision regarding the events of 1971.
The seminar was concluded by the Director of ICS, Prof Dr Ahsan Akhtar Naz, who expressed his gratitude towards the speakers. This seminar was the most prolonged one at the ICS during the past two years.