One of the (if not the) biggest genocides after the WW2 took place in Bangladesh territory when Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared the independence of a sovereign new Bangladesh in the early hours of 26 March, 1971. It was a long journey to this great feat after 23plus years of deprivation and exploitation by neo-colonial Pakistani military backed authoritative power which culminated in the denial of the Pak regime to hand over power to the fairly elected Awami League to form the government. This was a betrayal to democracy and assurances given by the authorities to solve the political crisis that had developed in the country from its inception in 1947. Due to the mishandling, deprivation in all spheres of life and use of undemocratic means to keep East Pakistani Bangalees as second class citizens; they were at the point of staging a revolt when the Army backed government of Gen Ayub Khan had to resign but not before it handed over the power to run the country to another rouge Gen Yahya Khan. The new supremo promptly declared a fair general election in a quick foreseeable future and the Bengali nation rallied behind their would-be Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and hoped for a better future on equal footing with their West Pakistani counterparts. But that was not to happen. Elections they won alright but transfer of power was not forthcoming.
The National Assembly session already declared by Yahya scheduled to commence on 1 March, 1971 was postponed for indefinite period which gave birth to widespread dissent, protests and street agitations in erstwhile East Pakistan. Yahya flew down to Dhaka with Bhutto to convince the Bengali leaders of an acceptable solution, which the Pakistani authorities in reality did not want. Instead, they staged acts of negotiations with the Awami League leaders for days together to buy time. Yes, to buy time for bringing in forces and armaments from the West to intimidate Bengali democracy seekers by force. They opted for a scorch earth policy. Their D day was fixed. In the late hours of 25th March evening tanks rolled out from Dhaka cantonment to crush the Bengali nation. The first operation of the 1971 Genocide was named Operation Searchlight. Gen Khadim Hossain Raja's tanks, artillery and infantrymen attacked and started indiscriminate killings and destruction in Dhaka University, Police lines, East Pakistan Rifles Barracks, Hindu localities of Dhaka and Awami League strongholds. The genocide began. Similar action followed from all the other cantonments and Pak army installations. That was the end of Pakistan. Bangabandhu declared the Independence of Bangladesh in the early hours of 26 March. He urged his people to come out to fight the occupation army of Pakistan with whatever weapon they could lay their hands upon.
During the next nine months of heroic struggle of the Bengali nation, the heinous genocidal war crimes were committed by the Pakistani military authorities. Detailed accounts of those atrocities are available in archives all over the world. Newspapers and journals of those horrifying days coming out from any corner of the world used to carry the news of Pakistani army atrocities in Bangladesh which by any definition tantamount to genocide. Those documents can be obtained at ease from all over the world. Many of the victims and sufferers are still living. So are witnesses and citizens of other countries who had vivid idea about the ongoing events and still can reproduce same. Three million of our people were killed, between two to four hundred thousand girls and women were subjected to sexual violation and property was destroyed beyond imagination. Around ten million of the population was forced to leave their belongings back and flee as refugees to India to save life and dignity. Further millions were internally displaced due to the same reason. Finally, on 16 December, 1971 the Pak armed forces had to accept defeat and 93,000 of them surrendered to the joint forces of Bangladesh and India. Bangladesh won its freedom at a high cost and with the help of India, the Socialist World led by USSR and all peace loving people of the world.
Bangladeshis are enjoying their freedom and are developing well as a country. But the world still owes the country something very important, that is, the recognition of the Genocide and its consequent remedies. The Genocide which has been witnessed by the whole world has not yet been internationally recognised. As can be expected, Pakistan and its supporters will obviously opt for denial as in every single case of Genocide. But the countries of the whole world and the world bodies including the United Nations cannot just keep silent on the issue. Bangladesh Government and all sections of the country's population should raise a concerted strong voice demanding the recognition. Perhaps, so far, we could not assertively place our legitimate demand in the proper way which has caused this situation. But it is high time that we should become proactive in achieving our reasonable goal. In the recent years we see some progress in this regard. Bangladesh Government has declared 25th March as Genocide day. Civil society has also raised its voice and different civil society organisations are raising the issue in different international forums to push forth the demand of 1971 genocide recognition.
So far, two internationally acclaimed organisations working on prevention of genocide all over the world, namely Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention and Genocide Watch have recognised the 1971 genocide and issued statements to the effect. In their statements they have emphatically recognised the mass killings, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by Pakistan and called upon international community including the United Nations to come forward and recognise the genocide. They also have supported the demand of bringing the perpetrators to justice. They have rightly pointed out that such international recognition will pressurise Pakistan to work with Bangladesh towards closure of the chapter by taking all actions to achieve and ensure justice to the victims. Lemkin Institute also studied in depth the refugee crisis, sexual violations by Pak army, planned annihilation of intellectuals and mass killings, all of which were parts of genocidal act.
In the meantime, a Bangladeshi Diaspora organisation BASUG, having its base in the Hague and having ECOSOC status in the UN has submitted a statement on 1971 Bangladesh Genocide to the UN Human Rights Commission which demands recognition of the Genocide. The statement has been accepted and can be discussed under agenda number 3 of the upcoming session of UNHRC in Geneva which is due to start on the 11th of the current month. Projonmo Ekattor, an organisation of Shaheeds of the War of Liberation and Aamra Ekattor, a platform of progressive pro-Liberation War Bangladeshis, have become co-signatories to the statement. It may be mentioned here that EBF (European Bangladeshi Forum), another broad based Bangladeshi Diaspora organisation, which is active in UK, Netherlands and other European countries is the driving force behind BASUG's present steps. The acceptance of the statement is just the beginning. The Government of Bangladesh, the aforementioned organisations and all other Bangladeshi organisations and individuals have to unite, raise a strong voice and take all possible measures so that the tabled statement is raised in the session for discussion in details. Our friendly countries should be approached and convinced to support the move so that it is passed, after all the demand is more than justified. Even in Pakistan we hear some voices nowadays that echo our thoughts and justified comments.
In fact, the same organisation BASUG did send a statement on the same issue to be taken up in the previous session of UNHRC just three months ago. It was accepted and could be raised, discussed and a result could have been achieved. But due to perhaps lack of sufficient preparation and coordination amongst all the stakeholders, it did not happen. Some activities were undertaken alright but they definitely were not enough to carry us through. This time around, we should not falter again. Our confident stride towards our goal can bring us success. Hopefully all concerned and interested organisations and individuals will work with the concerned ministries of the Government of Bangladesh and the Honourable Prime Minister to achieve the desired legitimate and long overdue goal of international recognition of 1971 Genocide. Together with it will automatically come the bringing of perpetrators of the Genocide to justice, seeking of apologies for the discussed crimes will have to be solved to bring closure to the black chapter of bitter relationship between the two countries. We don't want to remain permanent foes but we deserve justice to the huge crime that has been perpetrated against our people, millions of them. We still want peace to prevail.
The writer is a columnist