Regarding 1971

Action for a Progressive Pakistan, a group of like-minded folks (I am a proud member) has just published an op-ed in Dhaka’s Daily Star concerning the actions of West Pakistan’s army against the people of (now) Bangladesh: We Apologize.

On May 13th, Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister Dipu Moni asked that Pakistan formally announce an apology for 1971. To which Pakistan answered: Let bygones be bygones. I thought the Daily Star had a powerful retort.

APP wanted to chime in:

The outrageous dismissal of Bangladesh’s demand by the Pakistani foreign office — “let bygones be bygones” — is a shameful reflection of Pakistan’s constructed amnesia over the horrific actions of its army and its political leadership. Not only has there never been any move on the part of the Pakistani state to apologise to Bangladesh, there has not even been any sustained effort by citizens’ groups to pressure the government to publicly acknowledge the truth.

As Pakistanis, we find this unconscionable. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani army raped, killed and pillaged our brothers and sisters in East Pakistan in 1971. We find it unconscionable that the Pakistani state has steadfastly refused to acknowledge these atrocities for the past 38 years, leave alone hold those responsible for them accountable as suggested by its own chief justice in the state commissioned inquiry. We reject the Pakistani state and army’s claim that these atrocities were committed in our name.

Dear Spencer

You have so many interlocuters here, here, here and here that to respond to your answer to my earlier comment, I am afraid that I have to move it up here above the fold.

We finally come to the nub of the matter. Your response makes it crystal clear that in your reading Taliban = Talibanization = Islamization = Pakistan (with the Muslim League and the Iranian Revolution as historical evidence). Against this absolutely ahistorical reading of present, I have been spewing on this blog for 5 long years. Go read the archives, should you want to guffaw with me.

You don’t grant any history to Pakistan or Afghanistan. You don’t want to hear their voices. You don’t care about any facts because for you, the more “salient” facts are the ones you have constructed. Here is the thing, though, what you marshall as evidence isn’t factual, at all. It is your analysis masquerading as facts. The sad reality is that your thinking is (and has been) the dominant trend in the US reaction to 9/11. I am certainly the minority voice.

The “Taliban”, according to your response, are a “broad political movement”. They are indeed political – on this we agree, absolutely. But if they are more than warlords – enabled by opium trade or Pakistani army – spewing religious screeds than you will have to show me the proof. What is their political base? If they are a political movement across Afghanistan and Pakistan since the 1990s, then show me when they contested in any of the 6 elections held in Pakistan or Afghanistan? Do they have candidates? Slogans? Now, I admit that I am refusing you the equivalence of Taliban with any old “Islamic-faith” based party – because it is a preposterous claim.1 But even if I grant you that: the fact remains that those Islamic parties have never garnered more than 7% of the popular vote. Ever. Facts do matters, Spencer. If you wish to convince others of your point of view. If, on the other hand, like the Bush (and now Obama) administration, you merely want to assert your known unknowns than you can do as you please.

Fundamentally, I understand the following to be your point of view: There is expansionsist Islamic-fascist power called the Taliban in Afghanistan/Pakistan. This power has to be stopped only by military means. This military might must be U.S. or its surrogate (though, don’t trust the surrogate). After the destruction, the Left can spearhead a flowering of democracy in South Asia. Or in your own words:

It is clear that the political struggle against Islamism in South Asia, as elsewhere, has a military aspect and that any marginally desirable political outcome will have been brought about at least in part by means of the violence of state action. Moreover, as most Leftists would doubtless be loathe to admit, the very prospect of reconstituting Leftist politics in South Asia rides to no small extent on the ability of the U.S. and NATO to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On this we disagree. And we disagree vehemently. I hate the radical Islamicists as much as you. As a historian and as a Pakistani, I recognize the immense damage that Z. A. Bhutto and Zia ul Haq’s Islamization (more specifically Sunnification) policies have caused to the Pakistani nation. As a secular humanist, I appreciate your concern and I will readily join you in working towards spreading a left-based democracy in Pakistan.

But, I don’t believe in the healing power of napalm. I have family and friends in Manshera, in Peshawer, in Abbotabad. I have spend time in those streets and alleys. I may be powerless against the drone, but I will speak out against it. I will make my stand – intellectually, ethically and morally – against raw military aggression of either the warlords or the national and international armies. The military response, now that it has come to it, should be smarter, focused, counter-insurgency based, and should not disrupt more lives than the warlords ever deemed imagine. It should incorporate a political front on which the long-standing grievances of the people in NWFP and Baluchistan would be addressed. To my non-expert eyes, those are the concerns which should shape Pakistani state’s response.

Let me end here. I would prefer that we continue this conversation at Jimmys.

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  1. To claim that the 40-odd years of Muslim League political (with leadership coming from U.P and Bengal) understanding of Islam as a cohesive force is the same as the Taliban’s terror-based implementation of “Islamic law” is flabbergasting. []