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1971: A Blot of Shame

Posted on November 30, 2009
Filed Under >M.P. Bhandara, History, Pakistanis Abroad, Politics, Society
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M.P. Bhandara

(Editor’s Note: This is the second in our series of lessons to be learnt from the events of 1971. This particular piece was written by the late M.P. Bhandara, then member of the Pakistan parliament, for Dawn in 2005. The intensity of the sentiment on stranded Pakistanis remains equally valid today.)

There is a blot of shame on the fair name of Pakistan. And each one of us, who has the means and the power to do something about it but chooses to be silent, bears the burden of this guilt.

The story is familiar enough. On December 16, 1971, the Pakistan created by the Quaid-i-Azam, was lost. A sizable population who had migrated from Bihar to East Pakistan at the time of partition were declared non-citizens by the new Bangladesh government. Being culturally and linguistically different, they had not fully integrated with the people of East Pakistan.

During the civil war in East Pakistan between March and December 1971, they readily opted to defend a united Pakistan. The army used (and abused) them as human shields for the more dangerous operations.

For this crime, they have never been forgiven by the people of Bangladesh. After the war, they were herded into unsanitary ghettos on a virtually prison diet. They were branded as “traitors”, and this mark of infamy remains on their children and even their children’s children to this day.

These “traitors” are now considered as “pariahs” by Pakistan that has stopped owning them for the reason that, on migration here, they are likely to settle in Sindh and join the ethnic political ranks of New Sindhis. The estimate of those now eligible for repatriation is said to be between 100,000 and 150,000.



How cynical can we get as a nation? We can tolerate the presence of a million plus illegals from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Burma and Afghanistan in Karachi but we shut the door tight on our “own” citizens.

We don’t recognize them as ours on the specious plea that they had migrated to East Pakistan. The logical tailpiece of this reasoning is that our eastern province was never considered part of the nation.

We accepted four million Afghan refugees in the 1980s and beat our breast in the name of Islamic solidarity. The truth is there was little solidarity but a case of push come to shove on a porous border.

Pakistan’s selective Islamic solidarity extends to Palestinians and Kashmiris, but not to Kurds in Iraq (when they were gassed) or the Sudanese in Darfur (currently in the throes of a genocide) and above all, to our own stranded “citizens” who made the mistake of their lives by siding with the Pakistan army and not the Mukti Bahini during the 1971 civil war, which is now commonly referred to as war of the Bangladesh liberation.

We choose to look the other way. This ugly blip is longer on our political radar screen. Islamic solidarity has suddenly vanished. Our rejection of these people exposes a visible crack in the mirror of Pakistan.

It calls into question the two-nation theory. Let us be honest and say that this theory was a means to an end and not an end in itself. The theory apparently died long ago when Pakistan was transformed “from a homeland for the Indian Muslims” to a theocratic Islamic state.

In any case, mass migration in the subcontinent is no longer possible and in the context of over 125 million Muslims in India, the two-nation theory does not seem to be operative for the time being.

This dichotomy on what Pakistan is or is not is the root cause of our carefully developed hypocrisy, double standards and sectarian violence. We have moved from one concept to another but find ourselves in limbo.

No wonder, the better part of our educated youth is alienated. The Quaid’s concept of Pakistan was a liberal, humanizing, outward-reaching modern state, which was a homeland for those Muslims of the subcontinent who chose to migrate at the time of partition.

The Quaid gave us the right direction, but instead, we have entered a black hole of pseudo-religiosity and are struggling to get out of it. Our amnesia on the stranded Pakistani issue calls into question our singular devotion to the Kashmir cause.

How is a suffering Kashmiri any different from a ghettoed Pakistani in Bangladesh? Both are Muslim. Does this not smack of hypocrisy and double standards? The former is regarded as a mazloom, the latter a “pariah”.

It must be heartrending to hear these “pariahs” sing the Pakistani national anthem and see them hoist our flag in the ghettos of Bangladesh on our national days.

The Rabita Trust Fund founded in 1988 succeeded in repatriating a few hundred families. It was frozen in 2001 and the process has since stopped. It is a shame that we must invite outside money to bring home our own citizens.

Have we lost all honour? We seem to have plenty of funds for all types of grandiose projects under the sun but cannot allocate a couple of hundred million rupees each year to recommence the process.

The government should meet the costs of improving the living condition in camps in Bangladesh, open schools and vocational centers and take immediate steps to repatriate 200 to 300 families annually and settle them in the Punjab. Where integration is possible in Bangladesh this should be encouraged by fiscal and other means.

Our parliament has a Kashmir committee on which millions are spent on members romping the globe to highlight the Kashmir cause with marginal results; the National Assembly can spend time to discuss the shortage of Sui gas in some remote town, it can spend hours to discuss the infringement of minor privileges of members, but it has never found the time to discuss the issue of stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh.

Not being true to ourselves shames all of us.

31 comments posted

Comment Pages: [4] 3 2 1 » Show All

  1. Dee says:
    June 20th, 2014 7:52 am

    The plight of the Biharis is shameful for both the Pakistanis, who won’t allow those who want to, to return, and the Bengalis, who will not give them citizenship. On the face of probabilities; I would state that most of the ills ly with Pakistan. Pakistan subjugated the Bengali population, raping, pillaging, killing, taking all ‘it’s’ wealth and distributing it, only in Pakistan, hence, the Bengalis still remain as the most undeveloped nation of South East Asia , whilst Pakistan was able to enter a period of industrialisation from the gains pillaged from the Bengalis. Biharis possibly thought that as the Pakistanis ‘ruled’ over there, they would be looked after handsomely. This was a bad gamble because there is no nation that would allow a conqueror to forever last there, especially one who only had one thing in common with it, a majority who practiced the same religion (that in itself was not enough to rule). It is also probable that most Biharis would have sided with the Pakistanis, as they had much more in common, and also, originated from Pakistan. I am not condoning their treatment by the Bengalis but the ‘mess’ was created by Pakistan. How they thought they would be able to rule a nation so dissimilar to them, from 6, 000 miles away, whilst stealing it’s riches and subjugating it’s people for at least 25 years (and killing them in massive numbers e.g. the figure of 3 million is commonly read). And to cap this, doing it to mainly their fellow Muslims. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the banning of the Bengali language i.e. did they really think that a language dated to many thousands of years of age, would be so easily got rid of!
    How can Pakistan move forward if it does not address it’s past and admit to the horrors of what it’s Army and rulers did to the Bengalis (and it’s treatment of Biharis)? And also state this in it’s history education, as the youth are not aware of what it’s forefather did 6, 000 miles away between 1947-1971. I really believe that without this owning up to the genocide perpetrated by the Pakistani Army and it’s government then social ills such as the fate of the Biharis will never be solved.

  2. MEHMOOD HUSSAIN says:
    November 6th, 2012 11:18 am

    I PRAY TO ALLAH, HELP THOSE POOR STRANDED
    PAKISTANI, THOSE WHO SACRIFICED THEIR LIFE
    AND FUTURE OF THEIR CHILDREN, FOR THE CAUSE OF
    PAKISTAN ZINDABAD, ALONE IN A TERRIBLE CONDITIONS THEY HOST THE FLAG OF PAKISTAN, WHEN WHOLE EAST PAKISTANI, BECOME VOICE FOR
    INDEPENCE OF BENGLDESH, IN RETURN THESE POOR EARNED TORTURES, ALL KIND OF OPRESSION
    EVEN TODAY AFTER 40 YEARS, WHO ARE BEHIND THEM, MAY ALLAH HELP THEM (AMEEN)
    MEHMOOD HUSSAIN,
    KARACHI-PAKISTAN

  3. Tipusultan says:
    March 10th, 2012 10:30 am

    DEAR READERS,
    MY BEST WISHES FOR YOU ALL, WHAT IS THE CRIME OF
    THESE PATRIOTIC PAKISTANIS, STRANDED IN A VERY
    MISERABLE CONDITIONS OF LIFE, IF THEY LOUDED AND FAVOURED FOR ONLY PAKISTAN, AGAINST INDIANS AGENTS AND LEFTIST BENGALIS, NO ONE HELP THEM TO TAKE THEM INTO PAKISTAN, HOW MANY PAKISTANI LEADERS MOVE FOR THEM,
    I HUMBLY APPEAL TO ALL OF YOU, PLEASE TAKE
    POSITIVE STEPS TO CALL THEM IN PAKISTAN, BECAUSE THEY ARE PAYING TO SAY LOUDLY-
    PAKISTAN ZINDABAD IN FRONT OF MUKTI BAHANI AND INDIAN HINDUS.

    WITH BEST WISHES,

    TIPUSULTAN,
    KARACHI-PAKISTAN
    tipusultan1973@yahoo.com

  4. MEHMOOD HUSSAIN says:
    November 24th, 2010 12:37 am

    THOSE WHO SACRIFICED THEIR LIFE, PROPERTY AND
    ALL THE EARNINGS OF THEIR LIFE TIME, IN REPLY WE CLOSED OUR EYES, AT THE TIME OF THEIR NEEDS,
    BECAUSE THEY WERE TRUE PAKISTANIS, THEY CHALLANGED MIGHTY INDIAN FORCES AND HINDU BENGALIS TO HOIST FLAGS OF BENGLADESH AND INDIA,
    NOW THEY LIVING A DESPERATE LIFE, NO PROGRESS,

    ASHEMED FOR US, WE CLAIMS OURSELVES MUSLIMS
    AND PAKISTANI, WHAT ARE WE DOING FOR THESE
    TRUE, MUSLIM PAKISTANIS, NOW LIVING IN MIRPUR AND MOHAMMAD PUR,WE HAVE NO GOOD FEELINGS FOR THEM.
    OUR POLITICS FOR PLASTINE, FOR CHICHNIA, FOR OZBIKS, FOR BERUIT MUSLIMS, WHY NOT WE SHIFT
    THEM OVER HERE IN PAKISTAN,
    BECAUSE THEY CALLED BEHARIS,
    PLEASE HELP THEM TO COME OVER HERE FROM A VERY MISERABLE LIFE IN BENGLADESH.

  5. Tariq says:
    October 13th, 2010 3:08 am

    Dear Mr. Bhandara,

    I Thank you for the posting regarding the tragic story of the Bihari’s in Bangladesh. I am from Bangladesh and a witness of their plight and devastated condition. I saw in what kind of sub-standard life they are living in and in what condition the kids are growing up without education. Even though repatriation was started and halted for unknown reason and was never initiated again. But I always wondered why Gen Mosharraf didn’t help. While in the office General Mosharraf could play an important role about this problem. In fact he could have brought back the left overs but never did. So far I know Mr. Mosharraf himself was a Muhajir and why didn’t carry out his share of responsibility only he knows. Does any body know the answer to this question let me know ? I kind of agree with Mr. Bhandara some of the Muhajir’s are better off there but most of them are still living in terrible condition as perfect integration is proven impossible. So history cries and the unfortunate victims of the Indo-Pak Political experimentation are still paying the price yet continue to look towards Pakistan.

    Sayeed Tariq
    Stariq7@gmail.com

  6. Nusrat Pasha says:
    March 23rd, 2010 12:52 pm

    Truths have to be reconciled with at any cost. We can not continue to live in a state of denial for ever. We won’t be able to. These are some truths:

    1. To say that in 1971, we lost half the country is incorrect. There were more Pakistanis in East Pakistan than there were in the Western wing. The truth is that the majority was lost. The greater part of the nation of Pakistan simply chose to reidentify themselves. Why? What were they convinced they would not get – and ironically from the minority? It was “equality”.

    2. Nations can not and do not survive without equality existing at every single plane.

    3. There has to be perfect equality, of all kinds, at all levels, among all federating units.

    4. There has to be perfect equality, of all kinds, at all levels, among all ethnic denominations.

    5. There has to be perfect equality, of all kinds, at all levels, among all religious denominations.

    6. There has to be perfect equality, of all kinds, at all levels, between urban and rural.

    7. A common religion evidently could not prevent the nation of Pakistan from breaking up. This proves that it takes a lot more than a common creed to bind a nation together. In fact sometimes a State Religion serves the purpose of a perfect distraction. Elusive dividing forces act while the nation slumbers in the illusion of a common religion.

    Equality and absolute equality on all these planes will have to be established. 1971 to 2010 makes 39 years of denial. The lesson to be learned is that there are no shortcuts to survival, and there are no concessions for those who deem themselves “more equal”.

  7. Aftab Alam Ashrafi says:
    December 19th, 2009 2:37 am

    MUSLIM BIHARI AND PAKISTAN:

    I would like to open the eyes of those who claim Pakistan as a property of them or to those who think Muslim Biharis stranded in Bangladesh as a beggar or like people but they don’t know they are the really own the Pakistan because they have sacrificed for the creation of Pakistan and most of the people living in the present Pakistan even dont know the history of Pakistan Movement and the role of Muslim Biharis otherwise they never forget them and they must salute them as a true patriotic Pakistani:

    Lets see what the Father of the Nation Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah said for the founder members of this country while speaking at camp housing Moslem refugees from communal disorders in Bihar the Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah said:

    “The sufferings Moslems underwent in Bihar and elsewhere clearly showed we should have the separate state of Pakistan. I am really proud of the Bihar Moslems who sacrificed so much. Their sacrifices will not go in vain. They have brought the Pakistan goal nearer and have shown readiness to make any sacrifice for its attainment.”

    (Pottstown Mercury, Pottstown, PA. Monday Morning, February 24, 1947)

    Is there any community exist in the present Pakistan for whom such golden words are ever told by the Father of the Nation!

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